Friday, October 29, 2004

Bangladesh: Border on the Brink


The loose propaganda network of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of the government of India itself has been relentlessly suggesting in a number of newspaper and Internet publications of late that the IM (DT) Act of 1983 allows an “illegal immigrant” to be treated as a “foreigner” as defined by the Foreigners Act of 1946, and “facilitates immigration rather than prevents it”, making it “impossible to detect and deport illegal immigrants”. The result is that, according to these propagandists, the Assam elite embraces “Bangladeshi infiltrators” who adopt Assamese as their mother tongue, and the Congress party remains the beneficiary of the vote bank of “rehabilitated” immigrants. Now Assam is under threat of Muslim Bengalis who are the single largest block of ethnic population in Assam, which intrinsically retains latent separatist tendencies to join Bangladesh. The “revolutionary offspring” of Assam, the United Liberation Front of Assam, has already joined, along with Minorities United Liberation Front of Assam, an “Islamic manch” or umbrella organisations of clandestine Islamic groups active in Bangladesh, West Bengal, Assam and Nagaland, and the Arakan state of Myanmar, to establish a “trans-national Islamic state with Bangladesh at its core”.

Border skirmishes not a minor matter
Sadeq Khan

Parts of the India-Bangladesh border have become hot again. Tension gripped the north-western and western frontiers of Bangladesh as the Bangladesh Rifles and Indian Border Security Force exchanged gunshots in Panchgarh after an abortive Indian attempt to push in Bangla-speaking Indian Muslims.

Hails of bullets were fired by both sides from Baroshashi of Boda upazila to Banglabund of Tentulia upazila as BSF tried to push in Indian nationals in small groups through 15 points of the border.

The BDR, with the help of villagers, foiled all but one push-in attempt. Nine Indian Muslims including three men, two women and four children were forcibly pushed through the Rawshanpur border of Tentulia in the early hours of October 26.

The BSF retreated in all other points in the face of strong resistance. There were intermittent shots as and when the BSF attempted to push in people.

The BSF of Tiapara outpost had pushed in 8 Indian nationals through the Ghagra border, but soon they were pushed back. The BSF opened fire at BDR, leading to a fierce battle.

In Lalmonirhat, reports of the installation of new Indian outposts along the Aditmari border have been creating panic among 12,000 Bangladeshis living in Batrigachh and Kishamat Batrigachh enclaves.

Residents of the enclaves said they were facing difficulties in communicating with the mainland as the BSF suddenly increased the number of patrols. The BSF was raising new outposts at Kutibari, Daribas and Noonkhawa, besides three boat camps in Jari Dharala river.

BDR officials in Rangpur said the clashes began after simultaneous attempts by India to push in its Bangla-speaking Muslim citizens overnight into Bangladesh territory through Panchgarh, Thakurgaon, Dinajpur and Rangpur borders.

The Indian border force fired about 4,000 shots, and the Bangladesh Rifles replied with several hundred shots, they said.

The BDR members and the frontier villagers also foiled a number of more push-in attempts along the 1,200 km borders in Kurigram, Lalmonirhat, Nilphamari, Panchgarh, Thakurgaon, Dinajpur, Joypurhat and Naogaon.

The BDR has been put on full alert all along that border belt and also in Jessore sector, where push-in attempts were made through the Benapole border. The BDR has requested a sector commander-level flag meeting to address the matter.

This new phase of border tension with India is a pity, as it spoils the conducive climate of security cooperation created through the latest Home Secretary-level as well as BSF and BDR Director General-level meetings between the countries. The modalities were in the process of being worked out for coordinated parallel patrol of borders by BSF and BDR to ensure border security and prevent illicit traffic. On the matters unfinished, such as border delineation and settlement of enclave-related problems, there were assurances of earnest attention to speed up the process.

The new spate of push-in attempts under the UPA government led by the Congress Party in Delhi appears to be the Congress-led government’s response to internal pressures by the Indian opposition, who were alleging that Congress policies in the past were responsible for a critical situation in Assam. That crisis, according to critics beholden to the immediate-past NDA government of India, arose because Indira Gandhi had brutally suppressed anti-immigrant nationalists in Assam in the first place in the eighties and then scuttled necessary checks on Bengali Muslim immigration from Bangladesh into Assam by allowing loopholes in the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act of India, 1983.

The loose propaganda network of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) of the government of India itself has been relentlessly suggesting in a number of newspaper and Internet publications of late that the IM (DT) Act of 1983 allows an “illegal immigrant” to be treated as a “foreigner” as defined by the Foreigners Act of 1946, and “facilitates immigration rather than prevents it”, making it “impossible to detect and deport illegal immigrants”. The result is that, according to these propagandists, the Assam elite embraces “Bangladeshi infiltrators” who adopt Assamese as their mother tongue, and the Congress party remains the beneficiary of the vote bank of “rehabilitated” immigrants. Now Assam is under threat of Muslim Bengalis who are the single largest block of ethnic population in Assam, which intrinsically retains latent separatist tendencies to join Bangladesh. The “revolutionary offspring” of Assam, the United Liberation Front of Assam, has already joined, along with Minorities United Liberation Front of Assam, an “Islamic manch” or umbrella organisations of clandestine Islamic groups active in Bangladesh, West Bengal, Assam and Nagaland, and the Arakan state of Myanmar, to establish a “trans-national Islamic state with Bangladesh at its core”.

Balbir Poonch, writing recently in the Indian newspaper “The Pioneer”, went so far as to suggest that violent ethnic infighting between various tribes of Assam with their territorial claims of exclusive domain and counter-claims, and their combined opposition to Delhi (for the creeping growth of which he holds the Congress policies squarely responsible), will go on until the tribes, like ULFA, succumb to the spell of the old slogan of “Bang-e-Islam” formulated by Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, or the more recent coinage of the idea of “Mughalistan” by unspecified elements in Bangladesh.

Indeed, in Bangladesh, no one in knowledgeable circles has even heard of Mughalistan or any current slogan of Bang-e-Islam involving Assam. This type of propaganda tirade in India appears to be designed to give ideas to impressionable Bangladeshis, and induce an aggressively expansionist movement in Bangladesh, in order to create grounds for Indian intervention in the internal affairs of this country.


Specifically, said Balbir Poonch, contrary attempts to clear upper Assam of “Bengali Muslim” settlers were still being pursued by the National Democratic Front of Bodoland, as demonstrated by the recent killings of settlers in Dhubri. The NDFB wants to build a Bodo homeland north of the Brahmaputra and is still committed to the exclusion of Bengali migrants from their domain. But it also cooperates with ULFA in subverting the Indian administration in Assam. And lower Assam tilts the demographic power balance, as “for every ten Bengali Muslim migrants killed, 200 are born (or infiltrate)”.

Balbir Poonch at least provides latent security threat as a reason for his antipathy towards Bangladesh. M.V. Kanath, contributing to the Internet page of India First Foundation, does not even maintain the pretence of an excuse to dismiss Bangladesh as a freak historical development, which must be terminated by annexation into the Republic of India: “Let it be said in plain and simple language: Bangladesh has no business to exist. Its creation, in 1947 was as historic a mistake as Lord Curzon’s partition of Bengal was in 1905. Curzon’s plan to divide Bengal was annulled because, in the end, the Bengal sense of unity prevailed. Bangladesh, if it wants to survive, must return to India, and India, in turn, must help it do so. The answer to the problem of illegal immigration of Bangladeshis into India lies in one word: Federation. No matter how loudly the current rulers of Bangladesh may deny it, Bangladesh can never be self-sufficient. It has a cultural identity of its own that it shares with West Bengal. It can never be part of Pakistan and its creation should have been foreseen. So should its ultimate unity with India, no matter what resistance Begum Zia may offer, or the Jamaat-e-Islami. What needs to be worked out is the nature of Bangladesh’s reconciliation with India.”

These are ominous words and thoughts. Bangladesh cannot and should not ignore such rabid propaganda, which is aimed at the sovereign dignity of Bangladesh. Nor can Bangladesh, in the context of such adverse propaganda and open suggestions in leading Indian newspapers advocating Indian military intervention in Bangladesh, ignore as minor border skirmishes the latest spate of push-in confrontations accompanied by lavish firepower on the Indian side.

Foreign Minister M. Morshed Khan is going to Delhi to invite Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to attend the SAARC summit. If a free and frank tete-a-tete is not initiated by the Indian Prime Minister covering some bilateral topics including border security, it might not be the right occasion to raise the concern of Bangladesh over the skirmishes and over adverse Indian propaganda at the audience given by the Indian Prime Minister to our Foreign Minister in connection with the SAARC. The SAARC initiative was the brainchild of late President Ziaur Rahman, and Bangladesh is deeply committed to the SAARC process. As such, the occasion for inviting the Indian Prime Minister to the Dhaka summit should not be mixed up with any other issue that might cast a shadow. Nevertheless, either through second-track diplomacy or direct talks at appropriate political levels, Dhaka ought to urgently find ways to discuss with Delhi the disturbing developments.

HOLIDAY 29/10/2004