Category Archives: National Security/Strategic Issues/Foreign Policy

Killing thy neighbour: India, and its Border Security Force

Killing thy neighbour: India, and its Border Security Force
Rahnuma Ahmed

Felani’s clothes got entangled in the barbed wire when she was crossing the Anantapur border in Kurigram. It was 6 in the morning, Friday, 7th January 2011. Felani was 15, she worked in Delhi and was returning home with her father after ten years. To get married. She screamed. The BSF shot her dead. They took away her body.

THE fence is made of steel and concrete. Packed with razor wire, double-walled and 8-foot high, it is being built by the government of India on its border with Bangladesh. When completed, it promises to be larger than the United States-Mexico fence, Israel’s apartheid wall with Palestine, and the Berlin wall put together. It has been dubbed the Great Wall of India.

The fence is being constructed, with floodlighting in parts, to secure India’s borders against interests hostile to the country. To put in place systems that are able to ‘interdict’ these hostile elements. They will include a suitable mix and class of various types of hi-tech electronic surveillance equipment such as night vision devices, handheld thermal imagers, battlefield surveillance radars, direction finders, unattended ground sensors, high-powered telescopes to act as a ‘force multiplier’ for ‘effective’ border management. According to its rulers, this is ‘vitally important for national security.’

Seventy per cent of fencing along the Bangladesh border has been completed. In reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha on November 10, 2010, the Indian state minister for home affairs said, fencing will be completed by March 2012. One estimate puts the project’s cost at ?600 million.

The colonial boundary division between East Pakistan/Bangladesh and India, notes Willem van Schendel, had little to do with modern concepts of spatial rationality. It was anything but a straight line, snaking ‘through the countryside in a wacky zigzag pattern’ showing no respect for history, cutting through innumerable geographical entities, for example, the ancient capital of Gaur. It was reflective of someone with an ‘excessively baroque mind’ (The Bengal Borderland: Beyond State and Nation in South Asia, 2005)

The fence divides and separates. Villages. Agricultural lands. Markets. Families. Communities. It cuts across mangrove-swamps in the southwest, forests and mountains in the northeast (Delwar Hussain, March 2, 2009). It divides villages. Everyday village-life must now submit to a tangle of bureaucracy as Indian Muslim law clerk, Maznu Rahman Mandal and his wife Ahmeda Khatun, a Bangladeshi, discovered after Ahmeda’s father died. To attend the latter’s funeral in the same village, Bhira, they would now have to get passports from Delhi, visas from Kolkata (Bidisha Bannerjee, December 20, 2010). It split up Fazlur Rehman’s family too, the fence snaked into their Panidhar village homestead, his younger brother who lived right next door, is now in another country (Time, February 5, 2009). Other border residents have had their homes split in two, the kitchen in one country, the bedroom in another.

To access one’s field, or markets, residents must now line up at long queues at the BSF border outposts, surrender their identity cards. They must submit to the BSF’s regimen, which often means disregarding what the crop needs. As Mithoo Sheikh of Murshidabad says, ‘The BSF does not understand cultivation problems.’ By the time we get to the field it is noon. Sometimes we get water only at night. But we have to stop working at 4pm, because they will not let us remain in the field. If we disobey, they beat us, they file false charges. (‘Trigger Happy’. Excessive Use of Force by Indian Troops at the Bangladesh Border, Human Rights Watch, December 2010).

This lack of ‘understanding’ percolates to the topmost levels of both border forces. During an official visit to Bangladesh and talks between the BSF and the BDR (Bangladesh Rifles, recently renamed Border Guard Bangladesh) in September 2010, Raman Srivastava, director general of the BSF, in response to allegations that BSF troopers were killing innocent and unarmed Bangladeshi civilians said: ‘The deaths have occurred in Indian territory and mostly during night, so how can they be innocent?’ Ideas reciprocated by the BDR chief Major General Mainul Islam in March 2010, who, while explaining that there was a history of ‘people and cattle trafficking during darkness’, said, ‘We should not be worried about such incidents [killings]…. We have discussed the matter and will ensure that no innocent people will be killed.’

Abdur Rakib was catching fish in Dohalkhari lake, inside Bangladeshi territory. It was March 13, 2009. A witness saw a BSF soldier standing at the border, talking loudly. ‘It seemed that he wanted the boy to give him some free fish.’ Heated argument, verbal abuse. ‘The BSF pointed a gun at the boy. The boy ran and the soldier started to shoot.’ Two were injured. Rakib was shot in the chest. He died instantly. He was 13.

Smuggling, cattle rustling and human trafficking has increased in the border areas as poor farmers and landless people faced by population increases, poor irrigation, flooding, and continuous river erosion struggle to make ends meet. While both the BSF and the BGB accuse each other of corruption, the reality, says the recent Human Rights Watch report, is that some officials, border guards, and politicians on both sides are almost certainly involved in smuggling. It quotes a senior BSF official, ‘There are a lot of people involved, including our chaps. That is why only these farmers, with one or two cows are caught, not groups that ferry large consignments of cattle or drugs.’

A culture of impunity prevails, says Kirity Roy, head of Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (Masum), a Kolkata-based human rights organisation. We have repeatedly approached the courts, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the National Minorities Commission, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights. But none of the cases raised have been brought to a satisfactory conclusion. In some cases, family members appeared before the BSF court of inquiry but we, as the de facto complainant, were never summoned to appear or depose before any inquiry conducted by BSF. No verdicts have been made public.

Neither has the BSF provided any details to Bangladeshi authorities of any BSF personnel having been prosecuted for human rights violation. Impunity is legally sanctioned as the BSF is exempt from criminal prosecution unless specific approval is granted by the Indian government. A new bill to prohibit torture is being considered by the Indian parliament, it includes legal impunity.

On April 22, 2009, when Rabindranath Mandal and his wife were returning to Bangladesh after having illegally gone to India for Rabindranath’s treatment, a BSF patrol team from Ghojadanga camp detained them. She was raped. Rabindranath tried to save her, they killed him. The following morning, the BSF jawans left her and her husband’s dead body at the Zero Line at Lakkhidari.

The reason for building the fence, said an Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson, is the same as the United States’ Mexico fence. As Israel’s fence on the West Bank. To prevent illegal migration and terrorist infiltration.

But Rizwana Shamshad points out that the hysteria generated by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party during the 1980s and 1990s—Bangladeshi Muslim ‘infiltration’ by the millions constitutes a serious strain on the national economy, it poses a threat to India’s stability and security, it represents a challenge to Indian sovereignty, demographic changes will soon lead to Bangladeshi citizens demanding a separate state from India—did not withstand investigation. A study carried out by the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism in 1995 revealed that the BJP-Shiv Sena allegations were not only an exaggeration, but a complete fabrication. Fears and insecurities had been deliberately whipped up to consolidate Hindutva ideology; migrants, it seemed, were more preoccupied with struggling to make a living. While the BJP-Shiv Sena had alleged that there were 300,000 illegal Bangladeshi migrants in Mumbai, they were able to detect and deport only 10,000 Bangladeshi migrants, when in power (1998-2004).

The numbers vary with each media or official report, writes Rizwana. A BJP National Executive meeting declared over 15 million (April 1992). Nearly 10 million, said former Union Home Minister Indrajit Gupta (May 6, 1997). The group of cabinet ministers (home, defence, external affairs, finance) set up by prime minister Vajpayee post Kargil, reported 15 million (2000). The definitions, she adds, are prejudiced: Muslim migrants are described as ‘infiltrators’. Hindu migrants as ‘refugees’. Neither is there any mention of the Indian economy having benefited from cheap labour.

The HRW report notes, few killed by the BSF have ever been shown to have been involved in terrorism. In the cases investigated, alleged criminals were armed with nothing but sickles, sticks and knives, implements commonly carried by villagers. Nor do the dead bodies bear out the BSF’s justification that they had fired in self-defence. Shots in the back indicate that the victims had been shot running away. Shots at close range signal they were probably killed in custody.

The BSF kills Indian nationals too. In Indian territory. Basirun Bibi and her 6-month old grandson Ashique, May 2010. Atiur Rahman, March 2010. Shahjahan Gazi, November 2009. Noor Hossain, September 2009. Shyamsundar Mondal, August 2009. Sushanta Mondal, July 2009. Abdus Samad, May 2009. The imposition of informal curfews on both sides of the border at night, reportedly to prevent the accidental shooting of villagers, has not lessened the number of innocent people killed.

Beatings, torture, rape, killings. What could be the reason for such compulsively violent behaviour? According to the HRW report, it could have been caused by previous deployment in the Indo-Pakistan border in Kashmir, by ‘difficult and tense periods of duty.’

However, checkpoints, curfews, hi-tech electronic surveillance equipment, harassment, intimidation, beatings, torture and sniper fire remind me of Gaza. Not surprising, given that once finished, the fence will ‘all but encircle Bangladesh’ (Time, February 5, 2009).

The 1947 colonial border division was reflective of someone with an ‘excessively baroque mind.’ Its brutal enforcement through fencing, through the deployment of trigger-happy BSF soldiers speak of a Nazi-state mentality.

Not too far-fetched given Israel and India’s ‘limitless relationship’ (Military ties unlimited: India and Israel, New Age, January 18, 2010). This includes Israeli training of Indian commandos in urban warfare and counter-insurgency operations (in Kashmir), and proposals for offering the Border Security Forces specialised training. Given Israel’s behaviour, which Auschwitz survivor, Hajo Meyer, likens to the Nazis. ‘I can write up an endless list of similarities between Nazi Germany and Israel.’

Israel’s inability to learn to live with its neighbours is increasingly turning it into a ‘pariah state’ (British MP). Its ‘paranoia’ has been noted by Israelis themselves (Gideon Levy). That a similar future awaits India is increasingly clear.


British MP leads march against Tipai dam

British MP leads march against Tipai dam
Staff Reporter

To drum up Bangladesh demand to stop construction of planned Tipaimukh dam British MP George Galloway and a large delegation from Britain marched on Sunday from Sylhet city to the Bangladesh border with India where the river Barak divides into the Surma and Kushiara.

The British delegation along with a huge Bangladeshi crowd began the long-march towards the site of India’s proposed Tipaimukh Dam in the morning. Border guards stopped them from crossing the border.

The march was arranged to draw global attention to the devastating potential impact of the proposed dam on Sylhet and the entire north-eastern region of Bangladesh. “The potential impact on both depriving Sylhet of vital water and threatening serious flooding make this a ‘weapon of mass destruction’ aimed at the heart of Sylhet and the people of Bangladesh,” Galloway said.

Along with George Galloway MP, the delegates include MP candidate from Respect for the upcoming UK election, councillors Abjol Miah and M Mamunur Rashid, and 17 other British representatives.

Galloway has already met with the former prime minister and BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia, former president and Jatiya Party chairman H M Ershad, Jamaat-e-Islami Ameer Motiur Rahman Nijami and Sylhet Mayor Badruddin Ahmed Kamran.

They will meet with the president Zillur Rahman and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina this week.

Indian Border Security Force (BSF) Must Stop Killings and Violating Human Rights against Bangladeshi Citizens

Indian Border Security Force (BSF) Must Stop Killings and Violating Human Rights against Bangladeshi Citizens
Wednesday November 18 2009 11:57:59 AM BDT

Press Statement By Odhikar

The Indian Foreign Secretary, Ms. Nirupama Rao, is in Bangladesh for a 2 day official visit for preparing grounds to finalise which issues should be discussed during the Bangladeshi Prime Minister’s upcoming three day visit to India from December19, 2009.The Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Mr. Mohammed Mirajul Quayes and Indian Foreign Secretary Ms. Nirupama Rao yesterday finalised the issues to be discussed. However, the burning issue of human rights violations in the border areas, the allegations of constant indiscriminate killing, injury and abduction of Bangladeshi citizens by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) has not been included in the meeting agenda so far.

Odhikar routinely monitors reported incidents of killings, injury, abduction and other human rights violations perpetrated by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) on Bangladeshi citizens. According to Odhikar’s statistics, between 1 January 2000 and 15 November 2009 a total of 821 people were reported killed, 858 injured and 903 abducted by the BSF. BSF carried out 91 such killings this year till 14 November, 2009. Odhikar feels that the human rights violations perpetrated by the Indian Border Security Force on Bangladeshi nationals cannot be justified in any pretext, and that international laws have been totally ignored. Furthermore, many of the civilians who were killed were reportedly poor farmers who were working in their fields. On 06 November 2009, Monjuara Khatoon, a 12 year old girl of Kurigram, was gunned down by the BSF of Shahapara Camp under 162 Battalion, when she went near the Izlamari frontier of the Bangladesh side to search for her goat.

The deliberate and unjustified killing of civilians of another country constitutes a crime under international law and Odhikar calls upon the Foreign Secretaries of Bangladesh and India to include this issue in the agenda in order to actively take up the issue with the Government of India and put in place appropriate measures to provide security to civilians residing in border areas in Bangladesh. It also calls on the Government to adequately compensate victims of BSF violence and atrocities and/or their families and demand not only a thorough investigation and exemplary punishment of the perpetrators, but also proper compensation and reparation from the Indian Government in this regard.

ASM Nasiruddin Elan

Dutch firm’s Bay survey job raises eyebrows

Dutch firm’s Bay survey job raises eyebrows

Many raised their eyebrows over the recent government decision to award a Dutch firm a Tk 80 crore (11.77 million US dollars) contract for conducting a seismic survey in the Bay of Bengal to gather data for marking out its maritime boundaries with India and Myanmar. They have expressed their surprise as experts feel that awarding such work without tender is a clear violation of the existing public procurement rules.

The cabinet committee on economic affairs on August 20 awarded the contract to the Dutch firm at a cost of Tk 800 million ($11.77 million).

In its proposal to the cabinet committee, the foreign ministry admitted that the contract should be awarded in line with the Public Procurement Act (PPA) 2008.

But it said that there were some strategic complications and problems in following the PPA as it would require a longer time.
Arguing in favour of the move to avoid open tenders, the ministry said that firms from the countries with which Bangladesh has disputes over the maritime boundary, might turn out to be the lowest bidders if the open tender process were followed.

About the process of awarding the contract, the foreign ministry said that it requested some countries including the USA, Canada, Japan, Norway, the Netherlands, Germany and France to provide technical assistance under the government-to-government cooperation.

According to the foreign ministry, among these seven countries, only the Netherlands expressed its interest to provide cooperation in this regard and a Dutch company assured of conducting the required survey.

According to the proposal, the ministry would collect quotations from some internationally reputed companies and then would negotiate with the Dutch company over the amount to be paid for the work.

But experts have said that the above process is in violation of the PPA as it is neither following the open tender nor the limited tender. Outsourcing the work from one country also raised questions whether reputable companies from other countries were contacted by the ministry as the proposal said that quotations from some internationally reputable companies would be sought.

Asked whether awarding such contracts without any kind of tender was lawful, former adviser to the caretaker government Dr Akbar Ali Khan said told The Independent recently if the company was awarded the contract without any kind of tender, it would be unlawful.

“One cannot ensure providing the suitable firm through open tender such a technical work, but there should be a limited tender for this. And the concerned authorities should pick someone from the selected firms short-listed through the limited tenders,” he said.

Dr Khan, who was also cabinet secretary to the government, said that for accomplishing such works there must be more than one firm in the world.

That is why awarding a single firm without approaching others would be unlawful, he added.

“Sometimes there might be exceptions. For example, when one wants to procure machinery to replace those in a big plant – the machinery being manufactured by a certain company, he might find that the machinery made by the other company would not fit into that plant. In such cases, there are provisions for avoiding tenders,” he explained.

He noted that for ensuring good governance corruption and irregularities in public procurement should be resisted.
‘And without political will no country can eliminate corruption,’ he said.

Talking to The Independent over the issue, TIB chairman and former adviser to the caretaker government M Hafizuddin Khan said that definitely awarding contract without tender for such a survey would be illegal.

“There must be a number of firms who have the expertise in conducting such survey. So there should be a pre-qualification tender for picking up the suitable one,” he explained.

He reminded that even the defence purchase was conducted through tender process except a state-to-state deal.

He said that the existing public procurement act has the provisions for awarding contract for such specialised works.

On the issue of awarding a law firm for representing Bangladesh’s case in the international court over the maritime boundary, he said that the same process should also be maintained there.

As there are a number of firms in the world who are expert on the law of the sea, there should have to be a pre-qualification process to short-list the suitable firms before awarding contract, he added.

Indian BSF kills 4 Bangladeshis in 2 day

Indian BSF kills 4 Bangladeshis in 2 day
Total border killings since January stands at 84

Friday November 13 2009 00:19:53 AM BDT

Indian Border Security Force killed two more Bangladeshis on Thursday on Lalmonirhat and Satkhira border taking the total of such killings to four in just two days. With this the number of Bangladeshis killed by BSF on the border since January 1 this year to 84.(TBT Report)

The number of Bangladeshis killed by BSF during the period from January, 2000 to November 12, 2009 rose to 84. According to UNB News Agency, BSF killed two Bangladeshi nationals along Lalmonirhat and Satkhira borders on Thursday. In Lalmonirhat, BSF men gunned down Mohammad Ali, 36, son of Ismail Hossain of Kisamat Nijjoma village in Patgram upazila, while he was entering India through Srirampur border, leaving him dead on the spot at about 6am.

In Satkhira, Habib Gazi, 18, a cattle trader and son of Lutfur Rahman Gazi of Nangla village in Devhata upazila, was found dead at Ichhamati River along Basantapur Damdam border in Kaliganj upazila Thursday. Receiving information by local people, victim’s relatives recovered the body of Habib from a char of the river at noon Thursday.

Victim’s family said BSF men of Barun camp detained Habib, who went to India to buy cattle four days ago, while he was returning home from India along with cattle. Local sources said BSF men dumped the body of Habib at the river after killing him. The body bore injury marks.

According to statistics projected by ‘Odhikar’, a non-government human rights watchdog, some 62 Bangladeshi civilians were killed by the Indian BSF from January 1 to July 11 this year. It said in more than nine years between 1 January 2000 and 10 July 2009 a total of 789 people were reported killed, 846 injured and 895 abducted by the BSF.

The killings of unarmed Bangladeshis by the BSF on the border are continuing in clear violation of the spirit of good neighborliness as well as international law and despite repeated pledges by the Indian authorities to stop it. In every meeting between BSF and BDR and also between the higher level officials of the two countries, the Indian side assures that killing of Bangladeshis by its forces on the border would come to an end immediately. But this pledge is seldom implemented.

Govt needs to raise BSF excesses with Delhi

Govt needs to raise BSF excesses with Delhi

THE Border Security Force of India has yet again killed a Bangladesh national, needless to say, without any apparent reason. According to reports published in the media, the victim, a 13-year old girl, went to Kalo Dewanir Hat along the Roumari border in Kurigram, along with two other girls, to pluck flowers around 6:00pm on Friday when the Indian border guards opened fire on them.

The killing has naturally touched off tension along the border, with the Bangladesh Rifles asking people of the bordering villages to shift to safer places. With the death of the teenager, the number of people killed in BSF firing over the past 10 months or so rose to 87 – i.e. just over eight persons a month.

The BDR, according to reports, was to send a letter of protest to the BSF; however, if past records were any indicator, it is unlikely to bring about changes in the BSF behaviour, let alone rein in the trigger-happy members of the Indian border guards.

In July this year, at the end of a three-day director general-level conference in Dhaka, the BSF chief, while assuring to take stern action against Indian border guards for violation of human rights through killing of unarmed Bangladeshis, nonetheless claimed that ‘most of those killings, almost 85 per cent, took place at the dead of night when public movement across the border is prohibited under section 144.’ Surely, the killing of the 13-year old girl did not take place at the dead of night. One wonders what explanation the BSF top brass would come up with this time around.

Regardless of what the BSF authorities in particular and the Indian government in general would like to have us believe, the fact of the matter remains that most of the Bangladesh nationals killed by the Indian border guards over the years were poor and unarmed people. True, there may have been, and may still be, trespassing by Bangladesh nationals into the Indian territory and vice versa; however, it is often driven by reasons other than criminal intent.

The people on the Bangladesh-India border share a long history and have come to be inter-dependent over not days or years but centuries. Many people in the border areas, while officially Indians or Bangladeshis, share the same family roots and often cross the border just to meet their relatives on the other side. Regarding such human impulse as criminal intent is inhumane and borders on the criminal.

As we have written in these columns before, the continuation of killings of Bangladesh nationals by the BSF despite repeated assurance from the BSF top brass, at flag meetings and biannual conferences, tends to underline the fact that the problem is beyond the BDR-BSF leaderships to resolve and requires political intervention by the governments of the two countries.

Hence, Dhaka needs to seek political resolution of the border problems at the summit-level talks with New Delhi. Dhaka needs to make New Delhi understand that unabated killings of Bangladeshis in BSF shooting only deepens resentment against India among the people of Bangladesh and that such resentment is detrimental not only to the relations between the two next-door neighbours but also to the greater peace and harmony of the region.

Raumari tense as BSF kills Bangladeshi girl

Raumari tense as BSF kills Bangladeshi girl
Our Correspondent . Kurigram

A Bangladeshi minor girl was killed when the Indian Border Security Force without provocation.

The body of the girl was handed over to Raumari police at about 10:00pm for autopsy, said Raumari police chief Kafiluddin.

Locals said the Indian border guards had continued fringing intermittently into Bangladesh territory after the incident. The Bangladesh Rifles returned the fire.

Deployment of BDR soldiers along the border has been reinforced.

The BDR commander at Raumari border outpost, Abdul Kalam Azad told newsmen that they had instructed the people of the bordering villages to shift to safer places.