Dialogue July-September 2007, Volume 9 No. 1
Indo-Bangladesh Border Scenario and our National Security
Three key aspects have been discussed in this paper. (i) The ceaseless increase of population through infiltration and other means assumes a new dimension when it slowly and steadily takes the shape of a sort of demographic invasion. The consequent socio-political disturbances can possibly destabilize the entire eastern and north-eastern region of India. (ii) The socio-political development of Bangladesh society, particularly in the border region adjoining the east and north-east India during last three and half decades, is in the form of the India bashing and pro-radical Islamic orientation. On the other hand, secessionist tendencies and instability are on the increase in the Indian side with support from the above forces. These grave realities are not conducive to our security management. (iii) Illegal trade, border violation and its implications in this region are widespread and also in an unmanageable proportion. We need an effective and comprehensive border management policy because of a long yet soft border management with Bangladesh.
Changed Horizon—Changing Vision
During and after Bangladesh war till the change of leadership with the brutal assassination of Mujibur Rahman people residing in the entire border regions of Bangladesh were not only lending support to Mujib’s struggle against Pakistan they also were sympathetic and respectful to India’s attitude and help for their cause. But today this cannot be so surely claimed. Rather, people now residing within Bangladesh side of the border are vehemently anti-India of its power and people. This is a significant change in the political culture amongst the Bangladeshis. Added to it, an incessant cross border migration from Bangladesh, deep into the regions bordering on Indian side along with cross-border smuggling trade has created a highly favourable political climate of anti-Indian psyche inducing a tremendous pressure upon the demographic composition of the society along the line of border. Prevailing practice and conditions of living of the people on Indian side have become so often precariously uncertain and threatful that both the political-administrative and security arrangement of the border have become oftener than not hopeless and helpless.
This sustaining experience on both sides of the border creates most congenial and highly favourable social base for the forces armed or unarmed, to continue and improve the organizational capability of their proxy war at benignly low level against national and internal security of eastern region of India.
Last but not least is to note that in such a skyline as described above, the state governments of the Indian union may or may not share the perspective and or tactical operations for national security – the entire alien socio-political forces at the social and popular level might be more courageous to continue their activities which presuppose a evolving pattern of social living. Koutilya, long before our time, when was shaping and forming the first principles of the relations amongst the strong state and the weak states encircling it, confronted such situation and came forward with a suggestion on an almost timeless deep insight. In analyzing and suggesting how a weak state (king) should behave confronting a strong state (king) he observed: “one should neither submit spinelessly nor sacrifice oneself in foolhardy valour. It is better to adopt such policies as would enable one to survive and live to fight another day.”
To live to fight another day remain the basic and historical foundation of Pakistani vision facing India. The core structure of the Bangladeshi power centers has never disowned this vision, although, there might be some redistribution of emphasis on the secular and strategic forces of such a Pakistani vision. The events of armed conflicts and smuggling upon a flow of cross-border migration remains a sustaining arrangement to “live to fight another day.”
Cross-Border Migration and Infiltration
On account of the Partition in 1947, refugees moved from Pakistan to India, especially to West Bengal till 1971 when political boundaries in South Asia were redrawn. Even after the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent country in 1971, the march of refugees to India from Bangladesh appears to be ceaseless.
Flow of migration to India had increased after some important anti-minority and pro-Islamic political changes had taken place in Bangladesh viz. (i) killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, (ii) declaration of Islam as state religion in 1988, (iii)massive communal disturbances in 1990, (iv) Begum Khaleda Zia’s debut to power in 1991 and massive communal pogrom/violence in 1992 (v) consequence of the Enemy Property Act (Vested Property Act) and (vi) massive attrocities on minorities in 2001 onwards after begum Zia led 4-party alliance came to power.
Policies and activities of all the governments of Bangladesh are the root-cause of Hindu eviction and migration from Bangladesh. On the other hand, even leading Bangladeshi strategic analysts and intelligentsia introduced the theory of lebensraum in the 1980s for further encouraging Muslim infiltration into India. They claim that their right to settle in India’s eastern and north eastern states is to be considered as the natural course of overriding, what is to them, an unacceptable political demarcation of the border.
A new dimension in the political and social arena has emerged in this eastern and north eastern region of India after independence of Bangladesh in 1971. During the last three and half decades, illigal migration from Bangladesh to India are going on unabated. During the last five decades (1951—2001), the growth rate of Muslim population is 244.68% as against 23.16% of Hindu population in Bangladesh. Side by side, the growth rate of Muslim population in West Bengal during the same period is 310.93%, i.e., much higher than in Bangladesh. How can it be possible when the growth rate of Hindus in West Bengal in the same period is 198.54% inspite of massive Hindu migration from East Pakistan and Bangladesh? Consequently, the share of Muslim population has increased by about 6% in West Bengal, i.e., from 19.85% in 1951 to 25.25 in 2001.
In the last three decades powerful economic push factors combined with politically and economically motivated pull-factors in India have generated an unending flow of Muslim infiltrators into the border states of India. This process is fast changing the demographic and communal composition of our border population. Here I quote P.M. Sayeed, former Minister of State for Home Affairs, Government of India from his speech in Parliament in 1995. “There has been a continuous influx of Bangladeshi nationals into India for a variety of reason, including religious and economic considerations. The demographic composition in the border areas has been altered with new entrants flooding the area and the locals migrating into the interior. Besides, the Indo-Bangladesh borders are inhabited by a population which is ethnically, culturally, linguistically and religiously identical. Large scale infiltration of Bangladeshi nationals is one of the factors responsible for growth of Muslim population in West Bengal and other border areas.” This perception of threat to our national and internal security will not be clearly understood unless we analyze the role of Bangladesh in this regard. Since the days of partition the Muslim psyche in both the parts of Pakistan is suffering from an injury of loosing half of Bengal and Assam. They ruthlessly have been pursuing policy of lebensraum since the days of Pakistan. Acting perhaps, on the philosophy of the great Italian, Machiavelli who observed in the 16th century ‘sending immigrants is the most effective way to colonize countries because it is less offensive than to send military expeditions and much less expensive’, Bangladesh with a single-minded devotion has been following this policy and to say the least, it has been quite successful in this endeavour.
While there is a persistent hue and cry about the infiltration of Bangladeshi people to Assam and some other states, the government of West Bengal, very conspicuously, has not only remained indifferent about the large scale infiltration of Muslims and migration of Hindu refugees to the state of West Bengal.
Changing profile of religio-cultural ethos in our bordering states/regions under the impact of massive Bangladeshi migration, particularly Muslim immigration and introduction of Islamic education (madrassa) and neo-cultural values with encouragement and support from across the border and international Islamic organisations is endangering Indian national security. The rancour of Bangladesh towards India which is not only historically inherited from Pakistan but also is being nuorished by the ISI, now encouraging pro Islamic leadership including BNP openly to state that ‘Bangladesh has the power to create havoc in the north-east, since the seven states there are Bangladesh locked’. General K. M. Safiullah—former Chief of Army Staff and ex-Defence Advisor to the Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina thinks ‘Bangladesh has to build such an army that our neighbours count us. India and Pakistan fought three major wars and still they are not good neighbours. But they count each other not for their good relations(!) they know both of them have been biting powers. To earn respect, we must have earned teeth like Pakistan.’ To destabilize India would not only be a triumph for Bangladeshi patriotism but it would also help to implement the long term project of radical Islamist that was lost in 1971 to Pakistan. Though militarily Bangladesh may not pose a danger to India but socially and politically it is out to destroy social and economic fabric of this region jeopardizing at the same time India’s national security and sovereignty, at least in north-east region.
Bangladesh Scenario and Indo-Bangladesh Border Situation:
If we analyze the political and social scenario of Bangladesh during the last 36 years and evaluate the socio-political reorientation in the border region of Bangladesh adjoining the eastern and north-eastern states of India we will find that during post-independence period i.e. after 1971, the anti-Awami League (AL) and pro-Islamic forces have become stronger and stronger. Primarily the India bashing and pro-Islamic political parties have been able to increase and consolidate their strength in these border areas. Side by side in the border states of India, the secessionist tendencies and instability are on the increase.
In 1971 during the liberation struggle, the freedom fighters of Bangladesh wielded control over 15 to 20 km stretch of border region of Bangladesh and the people of these areas had lent support to the freedom fighters in many ways. A large section of youth had joined the liberation army from this region to fight the Pakistani oppression and many families had taken shelter in the refugee camps of India. Consequently, AL was able to establish a firm political control over these areas. This was reflected in the 1973 general election. After the gruesome killing of Sheikh Mujib in 1975, there has been a rapid change in the socio-political scenario of Bangladesh during 31 years of rule by General Zia, General Ershad, Begum Khaleda Zia and even Shaikh Hasina. India-bashing and Islamization have taken a firm root in the body politic of Bangladesh during these rules and has percolated to the social fabric of the country to a considerable extent. The military and Bangladesh rifle have been raised accordingly through sustained training and orientation, and consequently, India has become their arch enemy. A close relationship was established in 1971 between the Bangladesh military personnel and the people living in the border areas of Bangladesh which subsequently increased after 1975, since both the people and the military belonged to the same area, language, religion and culture. This was non-existent during the Pakistan regime. Though anti-India feeling was present during the Pakistani regime, Islamization was not so complete as of now among the military and the East Pakistan Rifles (EPR). It is worth mentioning that since the last 35 years Jamaat-e-Islami has been propagating uninterruptedly anti-India feeling and radical Islamic ethos among the people belonging to the border districts of Bangladesh. All these factors have contributed to the growth of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Jatiyo Party (JP), the Jamaat-e-Islami of Bangladesh (JIB) and other Islamic parties in these areas. In all the 30 border districts, even in Rangamati and Khagrachari hill districts, pro-Islamic parties like BNP, JIB, IOJ JP and others have been able to increase their foothold quite considerably. It is worth mentioning here that a sizeable section of AL supporters also indulge to India bashing. There is no truth in the generalized notion that AL is pro-India and soft to Indian interests. During the last three decades and even now all the major parties of Bangladesh have been very active in making India a scape-goat in their internal politics by manufacturing various anti-Indian myths and issues to reap political advantage. This tendency is more marked in the border region. Consequently the bon-ami that was established in 1971, through the liberation struggle between India and Bangladesh, had gone to the winds long ago, instead an unfriendly relationship has developed. It has been our experience during the past years that small incidents related to smuggling and minor skirmishes between BSF and BDR have been utilized by BDR to instigate Bangladeshi people against India and build up an anti-India euphoria. It has been found that BDR even hand over arms to the people and criminals as well to fire at the BSF personnel and resort to dacoity. They even propagate at times that “India has attacked Bangladesh”. Similar things happened on April 15 and 18, 2001 when Pyrdiwah village in India was occupied and 16 BSF personnel were killed at Boraibari. It is seen that the village Prydiwah is adjacent to Sylhet-4 (Goainghat/Jaintapur) Parliamentary Constituency and Sylhet-5 (Kanaighat/Zakigonj) is near to it. If we analyze the voting patterns of general election of 1996, we find that the BNP, JP, JIB and Islami Oikyojote combination secured more or less 75% votes in these constituencies and in the Sylhet-5 constituency, in particular, JIB and Islamic Oikyojote is pronouncely powerful compared to AL.
Consequently, the residents of adjacent villages of Pyrdiwah and BDR were able to conduct a combined onslaught to capture Pyrdiwah and then to resort to plunder quite easily. On the other hand Boraibari is one of the segments of Kurigram-4* constituency and is located in Roumari Police Station. In this area while JP is extremely powerful AL is extremely week. The JIB also has a powerful presence here. In the general election of 1996 the three opposition parties (BNP, JP and JIB) together polled 76% of the votes. All these factors have contributed to the gruesome killing of 16 BSF personnel by the joint assault of the BDR and local people.
Percentage of votes polled by different
in 1996 general election
Sylhet-4 22725 23946 10578 3095 14294 17009
Sylhet-5 29483 4860 15054 28120 Islami 26267
Kurigram-4* 40076 30908 84377 23623
(21.99) (16.96) (46.30) (12.96)
Figures in parentheses give percentages
# Jamaat Ulema Islam
*Chilmari, Roumari, Rajibpur P.S.
Here I offer a live example of existing border settlement in Indian side at Jalpaiguri district in West Bengal. The BSF outpost at Sakati is just 9 km away from Nagar Berubari, located in the Sadar P.S. of Jalpaiguri. Nekipara village is only 1 km from Sakati. Along this village runs the border between India and Bangladesh. The Indian side is known as India’s Nekipara and the Bangladesh portion as Bangladeshi Nekipara. On the Indian side reside 9 families, Moinuddin Pramanik, Kalu Hossain Pramanik, Ayub Ali Pramanik, etc. etc. These nine families own about 196 bighas of land. Only 36 bighas fall within Indian territory. They cultivate both the portions of the land without any hindrance. As BSF personnel come to them so come the BDR. The family members are voters of both the countries. They cast their votes at Nekipara No.1 primary school in India and at Chaklahat booth in Bangladesh. The house of Jalaluddin Pramanik, a relation of Ayub, is adjacent to Ayub’s house in the Bangladesh territory. He is a supporter of AL in Bangladesh and he thinks there is no alternative to Jyoti Babu’s party in West Bengal. The local CPM leader Gautam Saha admits that it is a known fact that they are the voters of both the countries but nobody raises any objection. The district commissioner admits they have nothing to do in the matter. In all practical purposes they are Indian citizens, and they possess ration cards as well as voter identity cards [Anandabazar Patrika, 25.4.2001]. The significance of all these bitter and undesirable incidents occurring in the border regions during the last three and half decades can be discerned from this situation. This pattern of human settlement in the border region is not only visible in West Bengal but in Assam as well. The Indian side near Boraibari is no exception to this. All the information about the activities and movements of BSF personnel reach Bangladesh in no time. It is an understatement to say that this is just only one of the big loopholes in the border-management and security of India. BSF is at a loss to maintain minimum security. Even if the problem of ‘enclaves’, “adverse possession” etc. are solved by implementing Indira-Mujib Treaty, establishment of normalcy, security and peace in the border region will be a far cry – unless the ground situation obtaining here is properly addressed.
There remains still a question to be answered: both BSF and BDR are deployed on two sides of the border to keep vigilance upon the behaviour of the opponent country. Even then, why the same stretch of 40-50 km of the region on both sides of the border for BSF is alien (foreign) and non-sympathetic but for BDR the whole stretch remains congenial and hyper-sympathetic and finally the BDR is taken by the local people as a part of their society. It shows, the entire population of the both sides of the border could have successfully evolved a demographic culture which functionally could behave autonomously drawing their own benefit from Dhaka and Kolkata at the same time. What a soft soil to bread all kind of militant and militarized terrorist groups serving for myriad vested interests which thrive and survive on special type of economic activities which are otherwise less permissive or altogether illegal in any civil society.
Illigal Trade, Border Violation and Its Implications:
Illegal trade relations between the two countries spearhead multifarious actions and also counter actions which in the final analysis seriously affect their mutual relationship. It is possible to identify at least three motivations determining illegal trade transactions.
1. Illegal trade transactions between the two countries arising out of their internal economic compulsions: The effect of such transactions on both the countries is expected to be favourable in terms of growth in one country and stability on the other. This was the guiding spirit behind the Indo-Bangladesh Border Trade Agreement of 1972 which could not be implemented. The motivation behind such trade transactions even though it is illegal is in most cases positive acceptable to both sides of the border.
2. Illegal trade transactions prompted by political considerations: One side of the border is bent on exporting its politics to the other side with a secret objective to destabilize it. There are indication to suggest the existence of such a strategy of Bangladesh vis-à-vis India. This is a dangerous motivation often couched in illegal trade transactions.
3. Illegal trade
transaction which are often triggered off by one side of the border as its
strategic objective vis-à-vis the other side: (1) programme of
Islamization of entire border belt through (a) influx of Muslim infiltrators
which is changing fast the communal composition of the border population and at
the same time spreading Islamic religious and cultural ethos. (b) Madrassah
education, (c) consolidation of community and demographic domination by driving
out Hindu population from the border areas, (d) by implementing Islamic
political agenda; (i) encouraging Muslim infiltration from Bangladesh
(ii) espionage for ISI and other anti-Indian lobbies, (iii) create communal disharmony, law and order situation through Islamic terrorist network aiming at destabilizing the internal peace and security in India. (2) trans-border crime and border clash because of smuggling, infiltration, espionage, etc. which forced to involve the Border Security Force(BSF), police and other Indian officials and public representatives in corrupt practices.
What Should Be Done
Effective border management is the corner stone of national security. In the absence of secure frontiers the state becomes vulnerable to illegal and undesirable trans-border activities ranging from infiltration to smuggling to espionage, subversion and sabotage. These activities adversely has impact on state sovereignty and give rise to serious problems of internal security. On account of our long soft-border with Bangladesh the problems of illegal migration and illegal trade have assumed unmanageable proportion. For the purpose of designing an effective and comprehensive border management policy an indepth study and analysis of the problems of on-going infiltration and illegal business transactions and their implications for the economic, political and strategic security of India has become imperative.
(a) Immediate measures
Ø There is a need to look at the border along Bangladesh as a region and not as a line. The Border region should be regarded as a special zone with necessary administrative framework, development scheme and appropriate security measures.
Ø Land records in the border region should be updated and proper monitoring of land transaction of the border districts should be done, so that aliens cannot acquire land.
Ø Issue of identity cards to the genuine citizens of India in the border region with special emphasis to identify the aliens.
Ø To introduce border trade with a view to minimizing smuggling and criminal activities and at the same time generating employment opportunities in consonance with the Indo-Bangladesh border trade agreement in 1972.
Ø To introduce campaigns among the people of the region highlighting the menace of cross-border insurgency and radical Islamic militancy which is disturbing internal security, peace and development.
Ø To take effective diplomatic initiative to encourage the liberal democratic forces within Bangladesh to combat the growing menace of radical Islamic fundamentalists in that country which is helping to promote terrorist network in India.
Ø Indian policy regarding cattle export to Bangladesh must be reviewed.
Ø Unfinished barbed-wire fencing, intensive patrolling and effective vigilance along the border should be immediately done.
Ø To take initiative to strengthen cohesion among the different religious and ethnic communities under the banner of mainstream Indian cultural ethos.
(b) Long term initiative
Ø A special study of the Indian Check Posts (ICPs) and Border Out Posts (BOPs) involving their respective infrastructure, manning, organizational strength, command area, and finally their community relation. The focus of the study should be to examine the viability of the existing ICPs in managing the border traffic and at the same time ensuring security of the border.
Ø To prepare an all comprehensive map showing the communication facilities of the border areas, the trade routes and illegal trade points, both on land as well as water ways between India and Bangladesh.
Ø An effort should be made to study the sensitivity of the Indo-Bangladesh border which is caused by illegal transactions both in terms of business as well as migration. A study of the impact of this border sensitivity on the politics and economics, security and the development of the border states – on the side of India should be given priority focus.
Ø A study of the Madrassah education and radical Islamic fundamentalist activities in the border districts with Bangladesh also should be given priority focus.
Ø Based on the findings of this study an attempt should be made to provide a broad policy perspective for re-organizing Indo-Bangladesh border management in the present context of Indo-Bangladesh relations and the security of India.
1. ‘Demographic changes in the eastern and north eastern states : a growing menace to secular harmony and national security’—- a research report submitted to ICSSR by Bimal Pramanik,2004.
2. ‘Endangered Demography—nature and impact of demographic changes in West Bengal 1951—2001’ a book by Bimal Pramanik, 2005.
3. ‘Recent armed skirmishes at Indo-Bangladesh border—a review of national security’ — a report submitted to MEA, Government of India
by Bimal Pramanik, 2001.
4. ‘Migration and its implications on national integration and security of India: a
case study in the border districts of West Bengal’
Bimal Pramanik and Mihir Sinha Roy, 2002.
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