Drug War Redux: Security Implications of Cross-border Drug Smuggling on Bangladesh

The cross-border drug smuggling poses transnational security threat to Bangladesh, which spurred decisive efforts by the law enforcement officers of Bangladesh at sporadic interval to stop the unbridled inflow of drugs to Bangladesh. In 2018, the government waged drug war to eradicate the complex networks of drugs smuggling. The War-on-Drug (WoD) had resulted in execution of approximately 300 people while around 25000 people were incarcerated. The drive of the law enforcement officers was successful since the rampant drug peddling was countered. 

Recently, there has been an evident surge of illicit activities in Bangladeshi borderlands. The cross-borders crimes and trafficking have proliferated and the overall situation has become destabilized. On Nov. 15, the killing of DGFI officers allegedly in clashes with drug smugglers has unsettled the observers regarding the resurgence of drug trafficking to Bangladesh through exploiting the porous border. The fact that the killing transpired close to the Rohingya camp, further compounds the security challenges as the Rohingya camp remained the bastion of drug peddling.

The killing of the DGFI officers instigates some troubling questions regarding the security and stability of Bangladesh and the wider region.

Due to the geographical location of Bangladesh at the heart of three drug trafficking regions – Golden Crescent, Golden Triangle, and Golden Wedge – Bangladesh remains vulnerable to the exploitation of transnational drug cartels. As Bangladesh remains at the fulcrum of drug trafficking routes, international drug rings maintain presence in the country exploits the country’s geographic location.

The drug smuggling poses threats to the national security and stability of Bangladesh. The inflow of drugs deteriorates the law-and-order situation and undermines the holistic security of the population, as drugs bred a series of other crimes. 

Much of the drugs in Bangladesh enters through land and sea routes from Myanmar. Approximately, 15 drug trafficking routes have been traced that links Bangladesh, Myanmar and India. Besides, the threat of narco-terrorism also springs from the North-East India, as drug smugglers had reoriented their focus and refined strategy. 

There has been reports regarding a new route of trafficking Yaba from Myanmar through Bangladesh crisscrossing Tripura, Mizoram and Bangladesh. Furthermore, the involvement of the Islamic student organization in trafficking cross-border narcotics trafficking has also become a reason for concern for security organizations. As security has been beefed up in the border region to curb drug trafficking from Myanmar, hence the drug traffickers have resorted to new routes. 

Thus, the trans-border narcotic syndicates are exploiting the borderlands between India and Bangladesh, amplifying the sources of threat for Bangladesh. Furthermore, there has been evidence of the trafficking of narcotics to financing anti-national activities, which has further complicated the security situation.

Firstly, the transnational threat posed to Bangladesh extends beyond the bounds of drug trafficking. The threat of terrorism looms large at a transnational scale; however, the vigilant role of law enforcement agencies had curbed the terrorism menace. Bangladesh is exploited as a transnational route for arms trafficking. The proliferation of arms trafficking worsens traditional and non-traditional violence. In this context, an array of transnational threats e.g. arms trafficking, drugs trafficking, terrorism poses formidable challenges to the stability of the country. 

Thus, traffickers find Bangladesh as a convenient conduit for trafficking drugs. While Bangladesh had promulgated a war against drugs, however, the country has received international flak for the operation against the drug barons. This allowed the drug cartels to thrive in this region exploiting the interlude of the stringent actions. This has resulted in a resurgence of the drug trafficking menace in the region.

Secondly, one of the damning allegations against RAB while sanctioning included the supposedly extra-judicial killing during the previous iteration of the government’s war on the drug in 2018. However, it remains farcical in so far as the war on drugs in 2018 was effective in extirpating the roots of drug trafficking and drug peddling. Nonetheless, due to the international scrutiny that the campaign instigated, the war on the drug had been stymied. Given the sheer extent of the war on drugs in 2018, any untoward incident based on misidentification and security lapses were warranted.

Although RAB has endured considerable scrutiny, however, the contribution of RAB in eliminating the menace of drugs and terrorism is laudable. Other security organization e.g. DGFI and NSI have been at the forefront of the war against drugs, as evident from the vigilant role played by DGFI in the recent drive. Moreover, a coordinated security operation is at place against the diabolical axis of ARSA, myriad insurgent groups and radical terrorists.

Thus, security activities in the border region need to be ramped up. Besides, in terms of the war against drugs, drug peddlers often exploit the legal loopholes and sustain their illicit activities unhindered by dilatory judicial procedure. In this context, swift actions by law enforcement agencies are necessary to curb the resurgent drug trafficking menace.

Thirdly, Cox’s Bazar region remains the stronghold of drug traffickers due to the volatility of the region after the inflow of Rohingya refugees. Besides, the involvement of Rohingyas in drug trafficking is documented. With the lingering Rohingya crisis, the crisis is set to worsen in the future with transnational implications. Due to the strategic geographical position of Cox’s Bazar, the route can be exploited as a transnational drug route extending to much of South and South-East Asia.

The reincarnation of the threat of drug war poses complex challenges for the government. Drug can be weaponized to vitiate the youth populace of the country, thus undermining the potentials of the youth, and inciting violence and disorder. Drug can be strategically employed to wage silent war against a population, since drug wields benumbing potency that dispossess people of vitality and conscience. The political economy of the drug networks emboldens other criminal activities. It is evident that drug has evident nexus with the terrorism, and terrorist financing might spur drug smuggling. 

Moreover, the recent killing of a DGFI member has sparked debates surrounding the susceptibility of the region to cross-border drug trafficking. Besides, it also inflames fears regarding the plausible involvement of Rohingyas in drug trafficking. While the previous iteration of the drug war had been effective, however international scrutiny had scuppered government attempts aimed at the elimination of drug trafficking. In this context, vigilance needs to be spruced up and swift actions need to be ensured to address transnational drug trafficking. Moreover, there is room for more actions by the security organizations to streamline security in the region to ensure that such unsolicited events don’t recur. This requires a modicum of international recognition of the menace of trafficking in the Bangladeshi borderlands and its transnational implications, and international community should not mobilize unwarranted moral outrage to thwart the security actions in the volatile southern region. 

[Representational image by Labib Ittihadul, Flickr]

*Sam Harris has earned an M.Sc. with distinction from University of Leiden, majoring in Governance of radicalism, extremism and terrorism. His area of interest lies in the intersection of religious identity and politics in the South Asian region. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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