India risks becoming the boiled frog
The Bangladesh Rifles are on a roll. One of their helicopters violated Indian airspace amid reports of its border positions being reinforced. As usual, there are reports of Bangladeshi civilians being killed at the hands of the Indian Border Security Force. One would be forgiven for thinking that last week’s incident — involving the brutal killing of an Indian officer (and Bangladeshi civilian casualties) — did not happen at all. In spite of a reported apology by a Bangladeshi minister, there does not seem to be any accompanying moves to prevent the clashes from escalating further.
The government of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia has either lost operational control over some of its security forces or is playing a dangerous and duplicitous game with India. Either way, as long as the Indian government does not increase the cost of this strategy, the Bangladeshi government has little to lose. Politically, it stands to gain by stoking anti-India feelings — even reasonable Bangladeshis are outraged by reports of innocent civilians losing their lives at the hands of Indian soldiers. It also leaves the various ‘armed villagers’, local border guards, smugglers and other elements to exploit this environment.
Bilateral negotiations between border security officials have not been able to prevent these skirmishes. The latest intrusion by a Bangladeshi helicopter, so soon after the killing of Assistant Commandant Jeevan Kumar raised the hackles in India, suggests that the Bangladesh government expects that the costs of keeping tensions alive outweigh the benefits of allowing the border situation to stabilise. Unless the Indian government immediately raises those costs substantially, both in political and military terms, there is nothing to deter Bangladesh from playing the same game.
Simultaneously, we must strengthen and intensify our border security management arrangements to counter not only the phenomenon of illegal migration, smuggling, and so on, but the impulses of anti-Indian political attitudes entertained by some political segments, encouraged and abetted by extremist religious forces and Pakistani intelligence agencies.
One cannot wish away the fact that our initial reaction has resulted in a public perception of India being a soft state, though our governmental reactions are based on long-term considerations affecting Indian interests. Such a perception can only be removed by structured and purposive action to stabilise Indo-Bangladesh relations. We must do this without Bangladesh taking Indiaâ€™s tolerance threshhold for granted. [IE]
The late J N Dixit wrote this in May 2001. Little seems to have changed since then.