India & Bangladesh share a 4,096-km land boundary — the largest among the international boundaries that India shares with its neighbours.
The 44th Border Conference in Dhaka, which was held from February 18 to 22, was co-chaired by K.K. Sharma and Maj. Gen. Abul Hossain, DGs of India’s Border Security Force and Bangladesh’s Border Guards Bangladesh respectively.
India and Bangladesh share a 4,096-km land boundary — the largest among the international boundaries that India shares with its neighbours. Maj. Gen. Hossain expressed grave concern about the incidents of firing and killing of Bangladeshi nationals and emphasised the need for bringing the death toll to zero through exercising extreme caution by BSF and sensitising Indian nationals.
Highlighting the fact that though the non-lethal strategy has proved extremely successful in reducing deaths across the border, Mr Sharma stated that it has also resulted in an alarming increase in incidents of attacks by the criminals on BSF personnel. He further stated that BSF personnel fire with non-lethal weapon only in self-defense. He sought cooperation of BGB in stopping Bangladeshi nationals from crossing the international boundary.
Joint efforts by BGB and BSF will be undertaken by increasing coordinated patrols in areas vulnerable to cattle and drug smuggling, educating border population about the sanctity of IB and preventing criminals from crossing it. Both sides agreed to conduct joint spot verification and appraisal on major incident/ killing in the bordering areas of Bangladesh and India. This will go a long way to reduce the differences of opinion or understanding regarding any major incidents.
Mr Sharma sought further cooperation from BGB for destruction of reported hideouts of Indian Insurgent Groups (IIGs) in Bangladesh and safe release of Indian nationals whenever abducted by IIGs. Maj. Gen. Hossain stated that there are no IIGs camp/ hideout inside Bangladesh. He further mentioned that Bangladesh does not allow her soil to be used by any entity or element hostile to any country which stems from the principle position of the highest leadership of the country.
Highlighting the importance of Coordinated Border Management Plan (CBMP) in curbing the menace of trans-border crimes — smuggling of arms, ammunition, explosives, drugs and narcotics including Yaba (Amphetamine), fake currency notes, gold and cattle, dacoities, theft, abductions etc — both sides agreed to implement CBMP in letter and spirit.
Mr Sharma mentioned that construction of the Effluent Treatment Plant (ETP) inside India at Agartala and related drainage with box culvert at Akhaura inside Bangladesh territory, which is expected to start soon, would reduce the environmental hazard in the affected area. And also, the Retreat ceremony at the joint border posts/gates will make it a tourist attraction.
India also requested to expedite verification of nationality for early repatriation of Bangladeshi nationals detained in Indian jails/correction homes.
Mr Sharma also informed that the Indian government has authorised BSF for repair and maintenance of border pillars except in the state of Meghalaya. Both sides agreed to formulate common modalities for repair and maintenance of border pillars.
Both the DGs decided to approach their concerned ministries to increase the number of border “haats” (periodic markets) and promote border tourism, which will help improving socio-economic conditions of the people living in the border belts.
After detailed discussion, confidence building measures like joint training and exercises, adventure activities and cultural exchange programme will be conducted. BSF will also sponsor scholarships for selected brilliant children of BGB personnel in Indian medical and engineering colleges.
Both DGs expressed their satisfaction over the outcome of the conference and reiterated their commitments to work jointly for maintaining peace, tranquility and security along the border. The next DG level conference will be held in New Delhi in the first week of October 2017.
On March 3, 2017, the government announced that half of the 4,096-km long border that India shares with Bangladesh has been fenced. The remaining half will be fenced by 2019 deadline. Its aim of fencing the India-Bangladesh border is to curb infiltration and smuggling of cattle and fake Indian currency notes. However, land acquisition is a major challenge to meet the deadline. Besides, government is going to use technological solutions such as cameras and lasers across cross-border rivers, where fencing is not possible.
While a long overdue land swap between India and Bangladesh was done after BJP came to power, there are still unresolved pockets. One such example is Hili, which is divided by the international boundary. An India-Bangladesh border check point, part of Hili is located in Bangladesh, known as Hili in Hakimpur Upazila in Dinajpur district, the other is in India.
Another major unresolved issue is the river waters, which was stymied by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
On March 10, 2017 it was reported that BSF discovered a tunnel dug to a depth of 20 to 25 feet under the India-Bangladesh border in the militancy-prone south-west Garo Hills district of Meghalaya.
No doubt much has been revived and achieved in India-Bangladesh relations since Awami League’s crushing defeat of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party after its long tenure packed with anti-India policy and activities. However, much needs to be pursued —including what has been mentioned and other pending issues — to ensure that the relationship between the two nations flourishes, becomes beneficial to India’s vast Northeast and Bangladesh and denies Pakistan any foothold or scope for targeting India from the East.
The writer, a retired Army officer, is a defence and security analyst based in New Delhi