Indian forces gunned down almost 1000 Bangladeshi Intruders involved in Drug peddling,Illegal Cattle Trade,Smuggling Weapons,Human Trafficking in last 10 years

Border killings, human trafficking, drug dealing, cattle trade and smuggling are among the many challenges pertaining to border security between the two neighbors, Bangladesh and India. Speakers at a seminar in Dhaka on Sunday, highlighted the need for national consensus and cooperation among all quarters and political parties within Bangladesh to tackle these challenges effectively.

The seminar on ‘Cross-Border Security: Challenges and Cooperation, Bangladesh Perspective’ was organized by the Centre for Governance Studies (CGS) at the BIISS (Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies) auditorium in the capital city Dhaka.

Presenting the keynote at the seminar, Associate Professor of International Relations at Jahangirnagar University, Shahab Enam Khan focused on what he termed as ‘fixing the pins and needles in Bangladesh-India relations.’ He highlighted the contentious issues of border security, water, trade, migration and other factors which constantly shadowed the relations between the two South Asian countries.

Despite many apparently positive developments between India and Bangladesh in recent times, such as finally implementing the Land Boundary Agreement signed 41 years ago, there has been increased controversy too. The keynote indicated a growing willingness on the side of Bangladesh to acquiesce to India’s many demands, particularly during the rule of the incumbent government. Shahab Enam Khan stated in his keynote presentation that this ready-to-please attitude has not led to a balanced or positive outcome.

The issue of paramount concern to the people of Bangladesh is border security. It was pointed out in the keynote paper, “According to Human Rights Watch, India’s force has killed almost 1,000 Bangladeshis over the past ten years. That implies a shooting every four days. The death toll between two democracies dwarfs the number killed attempting to cross the inner German border during the cold war. Shockingly, some Indian officials endorse shooting people who attempt to cross the border illegally, even if they are unarmed. The public outcry against the BSF’s shoot-to-kill policy in Bangladesh has been huge. Until now, Bangladesh’s politicians have played down such killings but the public opinion against the BSF atrocities is rising sharply. This has implications on the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government as well as on Bangladesh’s rapprochement with India.”

Further data presented at the seminar, quoting Ain-o-Salish Kendra, Human Rights Watch, Odhikar, US Department of State and the Daily Star and other sources, indicated the burgeoning number of cross-border killings. It was said that between January 2000 and October 2014, approximately 1006 Bangladeshis were killed by BSF. 21 people were killed at the border over the last eight months. On February 22, 2017, The Independent noted: “Since the independence achieved from Pakistan with the help of India on December 16, 1971, the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) and nationals have, till the end of last month, killed a total of 1,391 Bangladeshi civilians and personnel of Border Guard Bangladesh, formerly known as Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), along the border between the two neighbours. According to statistics available from different government sources including BGB, during this period, a total of 1,206 Bangladeshi civilians and 22 BGB personnel were injured by BSF and Indian nationals”.

Former chairman of the National Board of Revenue (NBR) Muhammed Abdul Mazid deliberated on the economic aspect of cross-border challenges, saying that basically relations between two countries were dictated by economy. From the 1947 partition, the division of Pakistan and Bangladesh, down to the present times, economic disparity was a determining factor. A strong sense of nationalism was required to remedy this disparity. He termed the prevalent informal trade and informal revenue between the two countries as a ‘black hole’. “Nationalist feelings must grow, values must grow,” MA Mazid contended.

Former member of parliament Major Akhteruzzaman (retd) suggested that a Free Economic Zone be set up. “It is already there in reality,” he said, also referring to the booming informal border trade. He said that Chittagong port could have facilitated the northeast states of India as this was their nearest port. “We don’t have good relations with India and nor do the ‘seven sisters’,” he said, referring to the seven northeastern states of India, suggesting a closer equation between Bangladesh and these states.

In highlighting the border-related problems and discrepancies, Sinha MA Sayeed raised the issue of cattle trade which led to border clashes and killings at regular intervals. He said the problem was that trading in cattle was legal from the Bangladesh side, but illegal from the Indian side. Since it was profitable on both sides of the border, he said, the issue of cattle trade needed to be addressed pragmatically and given recognition.

Calling for more introspection concerning cross-border challenges, senior journalist and editor Matiur Rahman Chowdhury asked, “Who is to blame? India looks after its own interests, we don’t. We look towards India with suspicion and India looks at Bangladesh with suspicion. Barbed wire fencing doesn’t solve this problem. On our part, we need unity among our political leaders. We need to grow that culture. ”

Going beyond Bangladesh-India relations, Matiur Rahman Chowdhury pointed to problems along the border with Myanmar due to the Rohingya issue. He said this was a humanitarian problem which called for political dialogue. It had been hoped that after the military rule, the problem would abate with democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s arrival on the scene, but instead it has exacerbated.

Former minister Dilip Barua said the problem and the solution regarding cross-border challenges lay in mindset. There was a need to change the political mindset in Bangladesh. He said, “Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has a mindset of bilateral relations with India on an equal footing, but does India respect that? That is the crux of the problem and will remain a problem until this question is resolved.”

“India has nothing more to ask from Bangladesh,” said Barua, “We have given all, but received nothing. We have ensured that there are no ULFA insurgents on our soil and ensured India’s security, but we are not receiving our rightful dues.”

Dilip Barua went on to highlight the role of China, saying, “We desperately need a deep sea port and China was interested in constructing this for us. They were even willing to keep the US and India on board in the consortium for this deep sea port. China’s Belt and Road proposition, BCIM, would bring about an economic boom to our country, but we succumb to outside pressure. We need national consensus on the deep sea port.

Also referring to China, researcher Shahidul Islam pointed to Chinese border management strategies. He said that the ASEAN borders had been riddled with problems of drugs, human trafficking, arms and such. He said this had been turned around from battlefields to a thriving market place by means of formalized trade. Giving the example of Yunan province, he said that had formed 135 border cities.

“India’s foreign policy is reflected in Chanakya’s policy from historic times – neighbouring countries are either enemies or slaves,” said Barrister M Sorwar Hossain. He said, unless this psyche of India changed, there could be no good relations with its neighbours. Issues such as the heinous border killing of the young girl Felani would continue. And no strong voice was raised from the Bangladesh government regarding Felani, as if nothing against India can be said. Even when an official of the Indian state bank made off with a huge sum of money from the Bangladesh central bank, this was hushed up.

Dr. Rezwan Siddique, editor of Dinkal, agreed that the present Bangladesh government had made the country into a slave. “So what rights does a slave have?” he questioned.

“Even Nepal and Bhutan have stood staunchly up against India now,” he said, “but Bangladesh is simply handing over everything at the cost of its own interests.”

Former member of parliament of Awami League Prof Abdul Mannan refuted that Bangladesh was a slave, insisting that India was a tried and tested friend.

Former ambassador Shafiullah said that despite Bangladesh resolving many issues in favor of India, India failed to reciprocate. “India’s northeastern states were rife with unrest since the British rule, Pakistan time times and beyond. We have uprooted that. But India still blames Bangladesh for any insecurity. They even castigate us for buying two submarines from China. On the other hand, they haven’t even given us our fair share of water. As for us, before we negotiate, we give all.”

“When it comes to the question of border security,” asked Ambassador Shafiullah, “are we prepared?”

Jatiya Party leader Kazi Firoz Rashid pointed out that India was a huge and powerful neighbor, surrounding Bangladesh all around. The weakness, he said, was in Bangladesh’s foreign ministry and foreign policy. “Have our people in our Kolkata and Delhi missions bothered to go to the borders to see for themselves the phensidyl factories there from where the drugs are being smuggled into our country?” He said the drug yaba coming in from Myanmar was also as cross border challenge which needed resolution.

Maj Gen Syed Muhammed Ibrahim BP, Chairman of Kalyan Party, said that we have given all but now it is high time we protest about what ever little we have left. The issues are many – killing for beef, India snatching our jamdani rights, border killings. “We must not remain silent,” he said.

Human rights activists Advocate Shahjahan posed the question, “Is there any other country in the world that kills people over cows?” He said that the border killings of India were a human rights issue, devoid of ethics and humanity. He condemned a senior leader of the government who had dismissed the Felani killing as an isolated incident that did not warrant vehement protest.

Guests of honor at the seminar, former DG of the Border Guard of Bangladesh (BGB) Lt Gen Mohammed Mainul Islam (retd) and former Election Commissioner Brig Gen M Sakhawat Hussain (retd) rounded up the deliberations of the seminar.

Mohammed Mainul Islam said strong political will was essential to meet the border challenges of killing, smuggling, trafficking and more. The border forces of Bangladesh were prepared. All they needed was an order from the higher authorities.

He pointed to the sensitivities and the very different context of the border people, which required understanding and careful handling. He said we need to retain our bargaining tools when it came to transit and other such matters. He highlighted the change made to BGB as a border force and said it had the capacity to not just tackle the smuggling, but to protect the border in all manners. He pointed to the weaknesses in the ministerial level meetings and the lack of preparation to meet the cross border challenges. “This made things difficult for us in the forces,” he said, “Our forces, politicians and bureaucrats need to come up with a strategy paper to address the challenges comprehensively.”

Sakhawat Hussain said that the border between the two counties was interesting, with some houses divided though the middle, one side in India and the other in Bangladesh. So the management of this border was difficult.

The problem was that the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) was manned with persons who had no idea about the social structure of Bengal. They were non-Bengalis imbibed with the idea that Bengalis were bad. They looked down on Bengalis. India as a whole was ruled by North Indian non-Bengals.

With Myanmar, the only real problem on the borders was the Rohingya issue, Sakhawat Hussain said.

Also referring to China, Sakhawat Hussain said we have to decide on our relationship with China. This must be reflected in our foreign policy, our defence policy and economic policy. We must look after our own interests. Why do we not go for a deep sea port, he questioned. We want good relations with all, but not at the cost of our own interests, he concluded.

Presiding over the seminar Prof Ataur Rahman, President of Bangladesh Political Science Association and Chairman of CGS, summarised the challenges along the 4000 km border with India, emphasing the need for public debate in this regard.

The seminar was moderated by noted TV anchor and CGS Executive Director Zillur Rahman.


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