One-sided actions subvert partnership

Sadeq Khan

The Dhaka meeting this December at Director Generals’ level on bi-annual BGB-BSF consultation and cooperation in border management has been postponed. Nearly half the Indian team from BSF had already arrived in Dhaka, but those due on 22 December including D.G., BSF had to stay back and cancel the meeting, since a BSF aircraft crashed off Delhi airport, killing 10 people on board including two DIGs and one officer of BSF. The DG, BGB has expressed his condolences on phone and in writing to the DG, BSF, as he agreed to the postponement of the border conference pending fixation of a new date of mutual convenience.

One of the issues on the agenda of the December meeting of BGB and BGB Director-Generals was the disturbing incidents of continued killing of Bangladeshi nationals at the border, sometimes well inside Bangladesh territory, by BSF fire, chase, abduction and custodial killings. This is despite standing agreement signed between the two countries for any suspected illegal immigrant to be arrested and handed over to authorities on the other side, and not to be tortured in custody or killed on the run.

BSF’s ‘killing field’
Bangladesh has been repeatedly protesting against “shoot at sight” policy of the BSF, and obtained promises from Indian political leaders of the current and previous administrations in Delhi that border-killings would be brought down to zero by appropriate command and control. But such promises were never fulfilled. As a matter of fact, notwithstanding all the mutual goodwill and camaraderie being expressed from time to time by the power elite in Dhaka and Delhi, borders around Bangladesh, appropriately named “killing fields” by the international media, have become more dangerous than before.
In the last 4 years, since the understanding was reached for BSF to detain suspect illegal intruders and hand them over the BSF, the border killings have increased rather than decreased year to year. In 2011, the number of killings at the border was 31, in 2012 it increased to 38. In 2013, after the-then Indian premier Dr. Manmohan Singh’s promise to stop killings, the number came down to 29, only to shoot up again to 33 in 2014. This year the number is 45, of whom 31 were killed by gunfire and 14 physically tortured to death. The BSF personnel appear to have been tutored that the lives of Bangladeshi “criminal” suspects have no value, particularly if they may have anything to do with cattle import for slaughter in Bangladesh. But our government and Border Guards have a duty to protect Bangladeshi lives, inland and at the borders. The BGB and the Home Ministry must be up to that task at the next Indo-Bangladesh border conference as well as in diplomatic exchanges.
All the more worrisome is a report that came out in influential Indian daily The Hindu early this month. The report called for surveillance of Bangladeshi ship movement in the Sunderbans by Indian Navy. At present under a bilateral accord between India and Bangladesh, a category of ships called River Sea Vessel (RSVs) are plying both sides for India-Bangladesh coastal shipping.

Surveillance of BD vessels
The Hindu report quoted Naval Officer-in-Charge (West Bengal) Commodore Ravi Ahluwalia on December 3 talking about the necessity of ensuring surveillance in the cargo vessels from Bangladesh as they pass through the Indian side of the Sunderbans and move upstream. “It is a requirement (installation of transponders) which has been accepted and it will surely happen…. For protection of maritime interest it has to be there. Otherwise you will see a Mumbai (happening) again,” Mr Ahluwalia said referring to the 26/11 in Mumbai where terrorists used a marine route to the city. The RSVs do not have transponders on them. A number of Bangladeshi vessels, which enter the country from Hemnagar checkpoint and move upstream are seen in the Hooghly.
The Naval Officer-in-Charge (West Bengal) expressed concerns over the arrest of a suspected Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agent working at a defence public service utility (PSU) Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Limited (GRSE). According to Kolkata Police Irshad Ansari arrested on Nov. 29 was a contractual labourer at the GRSE and maps and photographs of GRSE installations were allegedly found in his possession. A number of vessels commissioned by the Indian Navy are built at GRSE.
Whatever may be the concern about the GRSE incident and possible loophole in security cover there, why take it on Bangladeshi vessels and impose one-sided restriction on their freedom of movement under SUV accord? In anti-terror partnership, both under SAARC and under Asia-Pacific cooperation, Bangladesh is participant on equal footing and open to consultation on all issues. The reported attitude of the Indian Naval Officer-in-Charge (West Bengal) is most regrettable.

Source: Weekly Holiday


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