Myanmar: The yaba-monger neighbor
Sarwar J. Minar, Senior Officer, International Programs and Relations, IUB : After causing awful atrocities against the Rohingya people, another identity of Myanmar is gradually unfolding. It is a massive yaba producer and supplier; it has been smuggling yaba to its neighboring countries for a long period of time.
Yaba (also known as energy pill, crazy pill, horse medicine etc.) is a small tablet that contains methamphetamine (also known as crystal meth) and caffeine. Yaba gives a false sense of extra energy, confidence, and happiness etc. However, it gradually destroys the abuser’s life, both psychologically and physically. Once taken, the abusers feel compulsion to continue intaking it.
Though the history of narcotics in this region can be traced back to the colonial era, yaba as a narcotic drug is essentially the discovery of Myanmar. It is found that in the early 1990s when the usage of opium and heroin declined, Myanmar discovered yaba and filled up the narcotic-drug vacuum. Since then Myanmar has been smuggling yaba to its neighboring countries. Cheap production cost, easier production method, and easier to smuggle made it possible. Though Thailand is considered as one of the largest distributors, Myanmar is considered to be the biggest producer and distributor of yaba. However, there is record of methamphetamine-pill use during the World War II. Nazi force used a pill named Pervitin to enhance soldier’s belligerence and perseverance in the war.
Shan state of Myanmar is home to numerous known yaba production factories and about dozens of types of yaba are produced in those factories. The designated smugglers collect these and deliver to the drug dealers of different countries. The production rate and quantity of smuggled yaba has increased at an alarming rate and this made it pervasive and more readily available in the neighboring countries.
Thailand has been one of the biggest yaba (yama) markets as well as a smuggling route to other countries for Myanmar. Interestingly, the very word yaba came from Thai language. Around the 70s yaba started gaining popularity in Thailand and the Thai government banned yaba, but it still persists. Due to surge of yaba supply, the Thai government took stern steps several times since the 80s. Steps taken in 2003 resulted in the death of 2,500 yaba dealers, but the problem remained unsolved. While the yaba market in Thailand started shrinking since 2003, new yaba-markets in other countries were sought. Thus, the yaba dealers gradually started smuggling yaba in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, India etc.
The experience of Bangladesh to tackle yaba smuggling has been very difficult. When Bangladeshi law enforcing agencies caught yaba being smuggled, the government reached out Myanmar for solution. Though Myanmar agreed to take action and fight against yaba smuggling along with Bangladesh several times, especially in 2011, 2015, and 2017, nothing fruitful happened; reversely, the amount of smuggled yaba went up from thousands to millions.
State sponsored or not, various militia groups operated factories or not, such a huge business cannot operate without the acknowledgement, security, and cooperation of the law enforcement agencies and especially without the involvement of influential people who are integral part of the ruling authority and/or military junta in Myanmar.
All the countries around Myanmar have become yaba-victim nations. Till date, all the countries have been taking initiatives to fight drug-crime in own countries which turned out to be futile. Therefore, all the countries around Myanmar should come together to take action so that Myanmar stop production of this harmful narcotic-drug. Bangladesh may take the initiative to bring all the countries together. Yaba threatens people, society, progress, wellbeing of the people and causes significant national loss of all the countries. If necessary, the countries should find ways to force Myanmar to take immediate steps. As Myanmar has been a member of Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) since 1997, it may be a good mechanism. Yaba defeats ASEAN’s goals – decelerates social progress and harms economic development of the member countries. The countries should also investigate how a meaningful legal action can be taken through international arrangements (e.g., UN Convention of Transnational Organized Crime, International Court of Justice etc.).
The countries along with regional and global powers may also think about establishing a multilateral platform and dialogue (i.e., Myanmar inclusive) regarding how to stop this yaba menace.
In this 21st century globalized world, while the global community is championing human rights, economic development, well-being, extraordinary scientific and technological achievements, ways to healthier and better life, we hope that Myanmar will soon come forward with concrete steps to solve the yaba problem in meaningful ways.