Two sterling members of the police force posted in the most notoriously unsettled area of the country were sentenced to be hanged for the killing of an ex-army man Sinha. He was producing a travelogue that turned into a documentary on drugs, extra-judicial killings and the attendant economy of Cox's Bazar and Teknaf over which Prodip held sway. Sinha's army past may have made him feel 'safe' but the stakes are really big in the drugs and encounter killing economy and the price was paid.

What Prodip and his gang hadn't taken into account was that Sinha was not a "civilian", many of whom they had bumped off, but an ex-army. After his killing the institutional protest was way too big for the authorities to ignore. He almost pulled it off with support from the police high ups who even justified extra-judicial killings as a legitimate way to counter the drugs trade. This argument is false as there has been no reduction of drug supply. And it's in this link that the problem may lie.

It was also reported that Prodip was close to the Indian embassy and had links of some kind, all part of the conspiracy armada that came into view after the killings. His lawyer Rana Dasgupta also tried to make it a Hindu-Muslim issue. Nevertheless, they could not withstand the pressure mounted by the armed forces as an institution. So after killing many civilian Bangladeshis, he was trapped after ending the life of an army person. Had Sinha been from any other profession, Prodip would have gone free.

Drugs are here to stay

Drug related deaths are so common that nobody cares what is on. Penetration of the drug economy is deep and involves many people including politicians and policemen. Extrajudicial killing (EJK) is part of it. However, since the Sinha murder, it went down dramatically though it had also recently revived. However, the sanctions against RAB have brought in a new dimension in state management and extrajudicial killing has again become scarce. Once the sanctions become a little older, they can be expected to revive again.

The factors that contribute to it however remain as strong as ever. They are mostly around the simple fact that the law enforcement agencies don't have the skills or capacity to deal with law and order issues. So EJK is not simply a matter of cruelty and impunity but a declaration of inefficiency and helplessness to deal with the situation. Whether police or RAB, they are unable to contain the situation. So when their frustration level is high they resort to EJKs or when they have pressure to do it. It is also an easy way to make a whole lot of money as Prodip did.

People are not concerned, if EJK is legal or illegal as no one asks them. What they mind is the use of EJK as a blackmailing tool to extort money or kill. Or kill even when the money is paid. This was the big complaint of the crowd that had gathered to hear the sentence against Prodip and company. Money was paid to him but the person was killed. Extortion is accepted in Bangladesh but not killing after the payment is done.

But it's not about drugs...

In any society, where EJK becomes halal, they may stop temporarily for some reason but it's a matter of time before better winds blow. In future, EJKs will be more carefully executed and avoid important targets but the factors that contribute to its rise will not go away.

That is because the law enforcers, like most formal state service delivery mechanics not sufficiently efficient and EJK gives the impression of being competent and powerful. The crisis is that of functioning within the framework of result based activities. But going by the anti-drugs campaign, it can hardly be called a success. So EJK makes the police and RAB look successful when they may not be that formidable.

The problem therefore is the issue of the survival of the image of law enforcement rather than law enforcement. Once in a while, they do catch criminals but they are so few and far between that it's seen more as "entertainment "providing than proof of law and order. There are far too many extra economic benefits given the public experience to believe that they are so. They are far more active in non- law and order issues to create an image of power. EJK makes them look powerful even when they are not.

It's an odd situation indeed that the crisis is not of human rights but efficient delivery of services. Normal law enforcement work appears less possible by them just as normal public services work is beyond the capacity of most Bangladesh civil servants. Corruption is not an indicator of crime but lack of capacity. It's not a problem of the law enforcers but of the public service delivery system.

Prodip and his team were not just perpetuating the system but became victims too. A dysfunctional machine eats its own nuts and bolts.

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