Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Analysis: Fencing Bangladesh IN

[The ministry is seeking the highest civilian mandate for the purpose after having notified Dhaka of New Delhi's intention to "exercise its sovereign right of erecting fences on the Indo-Bangla border, well within 150 yards of its certain stretches."Dhaka was notified of New Delhi's intention by Home Secretary Dhirendra Singh last month during the Home Secretary level Indo-Bangla talks there. Bangladesh is fiercely opposed to border fencing in general and New Delhi's plans of fencing roughly 285 kilometres of the 4096 km of Indo-Bangla border, in particular. Dhaka's opposition is based on a non-pragmatic, archaic grounds rule of 1975, agreed between the forces guarding the border of the two countries. The rules prohibit construction of any "defensive structure" within 150 yards on either side of the zeroline of the Indo-Bangla border.]

Fence, best form of defence

Rana Ajit

The Union Home Ministry will shortly approach the Cabinet Committee on Security seeking its mandate to erect fences within 150 yards of the zeroline along certain stretches of the Indo-Bangla border, amidst fierce opposition by Bangladesh.

The ministry is seeking the highest civilian mandate for the purpose after having notified Dhaka of New Delhi's intention to "exercise its sovereign right of erecting fences on the Indo-Bangla border, well within 150 yards of its certain stretches."

Dhaka was notified of New Delhi's intention by Home Secretary Dhirendra Singh last month during the Home Secretary level Indo-Bangla talks there.

Bangladesh is fiercely opposed to border fencing in general and New Delhi's plans of fencing roughly 285 kilometres of the 4096 km of Indo-Bangla border, in particular.

Dhaka's opposition is based on a non-pragmatic, archaic grounds rule of 1975, agreed between the forces guarding the border of the two countries. The rules prohibit construction of any "defensive structure" within 150 yards on either side of the zeroline of the Indo-Bangla border.

But with many Indian villages and towns extending right upto zeroline along some stretches of the border, it is imperative for India to include these inhabitations within the fence to ensure that the whole purpose of the fencing is not defeated.

According to a latest survey done by the Border Security Force, in Tripura alone there are over 160 villages, comprising 16,000 dwelling units and 58,000 inhabitants, which stretch upto within 150 yards of the zeroline.

Similarly, there are several towns in other eastern States, like Kacchar, the district headquarters of Karimganj in Assam with over 5,000 houses and 50,000 population, Hilli in West Bengal, Agartalla Town in Tripura and North Tripura's district headquarter Kailash Sarovar, which lie on the zeroline of the IB.

India has been expressing its concern to Bangladesh and Myanmar about the influx of ultras into northeast India, which recently saw a bloodbath in Assam and Manipur. Though Bangladesh Prime Minister Khaleeda Zia has assured that Dhaka will not allow its territories to be used by extremists hostile to India, obviously the Government thinks fencing may be a good defence mechanism.

Accordingly, India has fixed March 2006 as its deadline to secure its 4096 km of eastern border with Bangladesh by fencing it along 3,286 km. It has already fenced 1,559 km.

In the last Budget, it has also revised the cost of border fencing from Rs 1,334 crore to 2,876 crore.

But Bangladesh continues to be opposed to erection of fences by India. Demonstrating Dhaka's fierce opposition to fencing, Bangladesh Rifles chief Major General Jahangir Alam Chaudhary, during a joint Press conference with BSF chief Ajay Raj Sharma after the conclusion of Indo-Bangla border coordination conference on October 1, insisted that the erection of the fences within 150 yards of the zeroline would be violative of the 1975 agreement.

Asked by The Pioneer whether the BDR would resort to firing, like Pakistan, in case India begins erecting fences within 150 yards of the zeroline at certain stretches of the border, Chaudhary said: "The situation will dictate. The BDR ground commanders know their instructions." But he did not rule out opening fire.

Asked how would India tackle the situation if Bangladesh resorts to the propaganda that India is playing "big brother" by violating the mutual agreement, a senior Home Ministry official said: "The 1975 agreement was not a treaty reached between the two governments. It was just a set of rules framed by border guarding forces on the ground as per their mutual convenience. Bangladesh must realise that the rules do not serve their purpose in the changed circumstances when a global war against terror is on."

Asked why Dhaka is so fiercely opposed to mutually beneficial border fencing, the official said: "The reason is not far to seek. The present Bangladesh Government does not want to be seen giving any concession to India."

Sify 12/10/2004