Ambulances leave after a police operation against militants in Dhaka in July 2016. There are concerns over extrajudicial killings after the 'war on drugs' launched by the Hasina government two weeks ago. File photo: Reuters/ Mohammad Ponir Hossain

Bangladesh has launched a war on drugs, Philippine style, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale. The Bangladesh Chronicle website reported on May 30 that 112 drug suspects have been gunned down by the police in just a little over two weeks. Another 9,000 drug suspects have been arrested since the campaign began on May 14 and it is expected to go on as long as necessary.

Most of the killings appear to have taken place near the Myanmar border in southeastern Bangladesh. The drugs are mostly methamphetamines manufactured in Myanmar and brought in from across the border.

The border town of Teknaf has in recent years emerged as a distribution center for illicit narcotics, which are then sold in cities, towns and even villages all over the country. Authorities estimate that about 300 million methamphetamine pills were smuggled into Bangladesh last year.

So far, 1.7 million methamphetamine pills and 23 kilograms of heroin have been confiscated. A home ministry official, quoted in the report, said that the country’s intelligence agencies have sent lists with the names of suspected drug dealers, and the Bangladesh police and the Rapid Action Battalion — an elite anti-crime and anti-terrorism force — have then tracked down the dealers and killed them.

The campaign is popular with the general public because drug addiction is out of control in certain parts of the country, which has led to a dramatic increase in crime. But human-rights advocates say the campaign amounts to extrajudicial killings — and peddlers are shot while the masterminds behind the trade are being spared.

Some critics also suspect that the government has launched the campaign because there are elections in Bangladesh this year, and tackling the drug problem with a firm hand could win votes for the main ruling party, the Awami League.