Instead of tiresome rallies, India should serve the aces that it is capable of
Enraged by statistics that show the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) kills one Bangladeshi every five days, Wamy, a Bangladeshi blogger affiliated to the Jamaat-e-Islami party, recommends that the Bangladeshi government deliver an ultimatum on India: stop the killings or face retaliation. It is tempting to say, “yeah, right!”.
But a Bangladeshi retaliation is not entirely in the realm of fantasy. For a few days in April 2001, a ‘war-like situation‘ prevailed in the region along the border between Bangladesh and the Indian state of Meghalaya. Before the tension was defused, several Indian soldiers were killed, some of whom were found to have died ‘brutal, non-combat deaths’ that were attributed to civilian mob violence. Compared to what passes off as a normal day along India’s border with Pakistan, the skirmish with Bangladeshi troops was a bar-room brawl. Yet it showed that Bangladeshi troops were sufficiently emboldened to provoke (or retaliate against) Indian forces.
The April 2001 armed conflict clearly points towards inadequate force projection on the part of India, when deterrance failed. Shooting incidents and skirmishes are still common, along with ‘push-back’, where the BSF is accused of forcing illegal immigrants/Muslim Indian citizens into Bangladeshi territory. The construction of a border-fence may have helped check the volume of illegal immigration, but has not eliminated the exchange of fire between the two countries. That would require stronger force projection — exemplary punitive action against Bangladeshi security forces or armed groups with hostile intentions. Ironically, India’s unwillingness to project its military power ends up failing to prevent the outbreak of hostilities.
Civilian deaths are a matter of serious concern. But it would be out of place to blame this entirely on India. For its part, the Bangladeshi government must prevent its citizens from straying close to (or across the border with India). Provocative acts by its security forces too contribute to the general climate of hostility in which civilians end up as the net losers. Indeed, if Bangladesh is serious about protecting the lives of its citizens, it should be an enthusiastic supporter of border-fencing. Bangladesh, especially under the Khaleda Zia government, has shown no serious commitment to do its part to prevent civilian deaths, apart from using them to fuel anti-India sentiments.
India too cannot escape responsibility for civilian deaths along the border. There are three inter-related methods to avoid these — increase force projection and impose an ‘Indian peace’; strengthen border fencing; and promote better coordination and cooperation with Bangladeshi forces.
Update: Wamy has clarified that he is not affiliated to the Jamaat-e-Islami party, and those were his personal views.