Thursday , 16 August 2018

War on drugs: A 360-degree view

Shafiq Rahman, Professor and Chair, Department of Communication and Social Sciences, Chadron State College, Nebraska, USA.

The so-called war on narcotics is going on in full swing in Bangladesh. Thus far, more than 100 people were killed in this war.
The war is being apparently waged between security forces comprising of police and Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) on one side, and the so-called drug peddlers on the other.
According to official versions, the war takes place at the dead of the nights where the drug peddlers are engaged in “gun-fights” and they are killed. The fatalities are one-sided; unlike any other war we know. Always the so-called drug peddlers are killed.
The police and RAB members must have been trained so well that they leave the operation with zero casualties in every encounter! The major political parties are silent about it. The media are reporting the incidents in an awkward manner, using the phrase “so-called” and putting sensitive words within quotations.
Drug is a vexing global problem. It’s a drag on economy, it harms health on a mass scale, and it creates multitudes of social problems. But tackling this problem is not easy. Calling this a war does not change the fact that there is no easy solution to this problem. Other nations that waged war on drugs did not have a decisive win. In many cases, many nations were left with bruises following lengthy wars on drugs. It’s imperative that Bangladesh learns the lessons and takes a broader view on drugs.
First of all, does it help to bring the war analogy when it comes to addressing the drug issue? It’s catchy and might enjoy popular support in the beginning. Government might be tempted to use it touting it as success in election campaign. But, in the end, the war posture to tackle drug issue will prove not only ineffective but also erosive for the society.
The so-called war on drugs gives extra-legal and rhetorical power to law enforcement agencies. Police and other law enforcing agencies are known to have corrupt elements within them. It’s an open secret. It is almost certain that the security forces will be tempted to abuse their power in the nation-wide massive drive conducted without any real check and balance mechanism. We have seen reported cases of elite RAB members’ involvement in criminal activities. The seven-murder case in Narayanganj is a stark reminder that unchecked power corrupts people in power. The killing of Akramul Haque of Teknaf also raises serious question about carrying out of the so-called war on drugs. While the Home Minister says that the government is probing the incident, one can smell serious foul play in the killing of the local ruling party leader and an elected representative of the local municipality.
Serious legal and moral questions surrounding the so-called gun-fight, which appeared to be main apparatus of the war on drugs, can be raised. In a civilized nation, people should enjoy the due process, especially when it is a life and death matter. It seems the only evidence against those who are killed in the shoot-out is that their names appeared in the list that the government agencies created. We do not know how those lists were created, because the process was not transparent. Police claim that those who were killed in shoot-out are criminals and wanted in different cases. Granted that some of them might have committed some crimes, but do they deserve to die for those offences? Don’t they have a right of a trial in an open court and a chance for self-defense?
As the published reports suggest, most of the people killed in the shoot-outs might have been involved in drug-trading at street level. But as we know, drug trade is a billion-dollar enterprise, and it is almost impossible to run the drug network without the blessings of people in power. Media reports surfaced that a few law-makers, family members of government ministers and some members of police force were involved in drug trade, directly or indirectly. The war on drugs stopped short when it comes to prosecute the powerful people. This, unfortunately shows that the state of Bangladesh is fundamentally unfair and tilted heavily toward those who have money, power and influence.
The anti-narcotics drives, which are often carried out sporadically, eclipse other crucial questions that must be addressed. The sporadic drives may curtail the flow of drugs in the street for the time being but a sustain campaign is needed to manage the drug abuse in the society. According to media reports, most of the chemical and synthetic drugs are illegally transported from other countries. Therefore, enforcing control in the border is necessary. Narcotics trade is a cross-border criminal activity, which requires joint operations with other nations and entities. Prosecution of narcotics traders should be done more efficiently. Many nations are decriminalizing some less harmful drugs so that resources can be marshaled to tackle deadly drugs.
Treating drug users must be an important pillar of the campaign against drugs. There is a growing realization throughout the world that drug abuse is more of a health issue than a criminal one. According to available data, Bangladesh is not prepared to treat vast number of drug users. Specialized health facilities must be created with trained doctors and nurses. We must also remember that societal and family issues usually push people to the dark world of drugs.
Bangladesh is making progress in economic fronts but lagging behind when it comes to address the social issues. During my recent Bangladesh visit, I met a man whom I have known for a long time. He is married with one young child. His wife and he work fulltime. He comes from a lower middle-class family but they are well off now. He told me that money was not a problem in their life. However, they had to grapple with problems concerning relationship, trust and other issues of similar nature. Those problems did not exist in their life before, and they are not prepared to deal with those problems just by themselves. As society is progressing, people are finding that they cannot strike a balance in their life anymore.
Unfortunately, drugs sometimes fill the hole created by social and relational problems. It sounds cliché but family and social bonds must be restored to combat drug epidemic. All the good elements of social forces must come together to combat the problem. An open, honest, and inclusive social conversation must begin now.

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