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.

The maritime boundary issue

The maritime boundary issue

The situation has now come to a point where some of our diplomats earlier involved in negotiations on the issue with other countries feel that not only we may be denied our right to the sea to the south but we may even be reduced to a sea-locked state. Moreover, experts on oil exploration of the deep sea are of the opinion that the claims by both India and Myanmar of the sea fall within the limits of our boundary, writes Professor M Maniruzzaman Miah

The minister for foreign affairs, Dipu Mani, revealed in a press conference the government’s decision to go for arbitration to settle our dispute with both India and Myanmar in regard to the delimitation of our maritime boundary. It would be interesting for the general readers to know as to how international law in this regard has evolved and why and how this problem has arisen. In the course of the discussion naturally the issue involved will be brought to the fore.

First, the evolution of the law of the sea. Several conferences on the law of the sea were held to formulate and define the rights and obligations of each littoral state. The first conference was held in Geneva in 1958 with the participation of 86 member states. This conference adopted four conventions in regard to the territorial sea, the high seas, the continental shelf and fishing and conservation of living resources.

The second conference met in 1960 but ended up in disagreements on some vital issues. This was followed by three other conferences successively held in 1967, 1968 and in 1970. Having held very important deliberations the one in 1970 agreed to declare the sea-bed and ocean floor and the sub-soil thereof as the common heritage of mankind beyond the national jurisdiction of any one country. It was also decided to hold another conference to formulate laws governing the peaceful uses of the seas.

The next conference met in ten long sessions between 1973 and 1981 either in Geneva or in New York. On the conclusion of the last session, the text of the draft convention (UNCLOS III) was issued though the final decision-making session was held in 1982. On December 10, 1982 the draft was opened for signature at Montego Bay, Jamaica. Bangladesh was among the 119 countries that became a signatory on the same day.

As is evident from the above, the UNCLOS III document is the product of work of specialists spread over a long time. This is so for the simple reason that the shape and location of each country in relation to the adjacent one is different. Therefore the peculiarity of each had necessarily to be taken into consideration.

Summarily speaking the document sets out the principles for delimitation of maritime boundary of all countries each one of which may have a coastline with its own peculiarity. In any case, UNCLOS-III defines the maritime zones in the following manner. From a well-defined line called the baseline each country may claim an area stretching up to 12 nautical miles known as the territorial sea. Adjacent to the territorial sea and up to a limit of 24 nautical miles is a country’s contiguous zone, beyond which is the EEZ stretching up to 200 nautical miles.

The continental shelf of a coastal state comprising the seabed and the subsoil thereof may under certain circumstances stretch up to 350 nautical miles. The UNCLOS document has precisely explained as to how these boundaries have to be fixed and the rights and obligations of each coastal state within each zone so defined.

How have we acted in this respect so far and why has the conflict arisen with the neighbouring country in this regard? As early as in 1974, the baseline from where the boundaries of each maritime zone have to be drawn was defined by an act of parliament in terms of geographical co-ordinates. However, India has not agreed to the western reference point of the baseline and Myanmar has also disputed the eastern one. From 1974 to 1982 several meetings were held between India and Bangladesh but without any positive result. With India, we have yet another unsettled maritime issue, namely, the one in respect of the Talpatti island (also known as Purbasha or New Moore island).

At one point of time during the negotiations, the two countries agreed to a joint survey to determine the mid-channel of the Hariabhanga river to finally settle as to which country the sand bar should belong. This has never taken place, reportedly due to the dilly-dally tactics of our big neighbour. While we have not been able to put our claim to the vast maritime area on our south, now we seem to be within the jaws of a vice. Let us explain. India has settled its maritime boundary with each one of its neighbouring countries sharing the sea, not only surrounding the Bay of Bengal but beyond, with Indonesia in 1974 and 1977, with Myanmar in 1987 the tri-junction of India, Thailand and Indonesia in 1978 and Sri Lanka, with some concession in 1974 and 1976.

The situation has now come to a point where some of our diplomats earlier involved in negotiations on the issue with other countries feel that not only may we be denied our right to the sea to the south but we may even be reduced to a sea-locked state. Moreover, experts on oil exploration of the deep sea are of the opinion that the claims by both India and Myanmar of the sea fall within the limits of our boundary. Meanwhile we came to know, much to our horror, at a very sensitive time in our national life just days before the last parliamentary elections, of military manoeuvres in our Bay by both India and Myanmar. Do all these mean pre-figuration of more similar things to come?

What course is open to us now? It was rightly envisaged by those who drafted the UNCLOS documents that there would be disputes between states in regard to the interpretation and application of the law. More so, in our case. Because the Bangladesh coastline is an indented one and that both the Indian and Myanmar coastlines are perpendicular to ours.

Naturally, delimitation by applying the normal principle of equidistance is out of the question. In any case, settlement of disputes constitutes an important part of UNCLOS. While we have wasted too much time in realising the importance of the issue we may not procrastinate any further. At the same time, however, one should understand that the matter is a complex one, albeit, the part on settlement of disputes in UNCLOS is quite comprehensive and an elaborate one leaving no room for misinterpretation. More so, because, the panel of arbitrators from where a state party will choose its arbitrators consists of people selected by various organs of the UN like the FAO, UNEP, IOC and the IMO.

The arbitrators to be nominated by parties to the dispute must be known for their experience in maritime matters, enjoying at the same time highest reputation for fairness, competence and integrity. The flipside of the whole thing is that the decision of the tribunal shall be final (art. 11, Annex II: Arbitration) unless the parties to the dispute earlier agreed otherwise. This enjoins on us extreme caution to prepare our case flawlessly. We can’t really have the luxury of making any faux pas. People who have some interest in the problem know that we need to undertake surveys to put forward our claim of the continental shelf beyond the 200 we mark, measure the thickness of the sediment all over the EEZ up to the 200 we and clearly formulate our claim to the extended shelf.

The point we are trying to make is that the matter cannot be handled by a charlatan, but really needs someone with impeccable record of experience and expertise in dealing with it. The ministry of foreign affairs will do well to appoint a real expert known to have a thorough knowledge of the UNCLOS and its application, an expert who can work out the different phases of the task to be undertaken and advise the government as to what should be done to begin with and what would be the sequence of tasks to be undertaken.

With whatever little knowledge we have of the problem, we are at a loss to understand as to why we have asked for ‘arbitration’. Have we exhausted the very preliminary option of settling disputes by ‘peaceful means’? Do we have all the data and information in hand to argue our case skilfully and exhaustively?

Let us hope the foreign ministry is well prepared to face the situation competently.

The writer is a former vice-chancellor of Dhaka University. He can be reached at

Dhaka gets down to Bay seismic from Oct

Dhaka gets down to Bay seismic from Oct

The government is set to begin a seismic survey of the Bay of Bengal from this month (October) with a view to submitting a country report to the United Nations for arbitration to identify the country’s maritime boundary in the Bay in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS) 1982.

Sources at the foreign ministry said that the seismic survey would be conducted by a company from the Netherlands at a cost of Tk 80 crore.

The finance ministry already allocated the money (Tk 80 crore) on September 27 last for conducting the survey, sources added.

A high official at the foreign ministry yesterday told The Independent that a proposal to conduct the seismic survey was prepared by the ministry and it would be sent to the cabinet division for placing it at the meeting of the cabinet committee on economic affairs for approval.

“Work order would be given to the foreign company after getting nod of the cabinet committee and the survey would commence from this month to be completed by March, 2010,” he said.

“We have to submit necessary documents to the UN by July 26, 2011. So that we need to prepare a final country report on the issue by June, 2011, after completion of the survey by March next year at any cost.”

The official also said that the country might lose its territory in the Bay if it does not submit the country report on sea boundary. “Already our neighbouring countries India and Myanmar have submitted their country reports on the issue before the UN after completion of seismic survey,” he added.

The official also said that the survey company of the Netherlands would also process the data of survey and would help in placing the country report before the UN.

According to the proposal, the survey would be conducted in around 4,000 kilometre areas in the Bay of Bengal.

Three categories of desk-top study have already been completed on the basis of data from the public domain and foreign research organisations. The foreign ministry has prepared a draft report on sea boundary by engaging a local technical team coordinated by the experts from New Hampshire University in the US, the proposal says.

Sources said, Bangladesh has failed in delimiting its maritime boundary in accordance with the provisions of UNCLOS since 1982. The neighbouring countries India and Myanmar completed demarcation of their maritime boundaries, they added.

On several occasions, these two countries have kept on carrying out aggressive exploration of gas and oil in the disputed areas adjacent to or even within Bangladesh territorial waters.

They also did not bother to inform Bangladesh while engaging international oil companies (IOCs) to explore in the disputed areas, sources added.

The disputed areas in the Bay are believed to hold huge reserves of natural gas, lying some 50 nautical miles off Saint Martin’s Island.

UN Convention on the Law of Sea, entered into force on 27 July 2001, establishes a comprehensive legal framework to regulate all ocean space, its uses and resources.

In 1974, Bangladesh enacted the Territorial Water and Maritime Zones Act through parliament. Bangladesh declared straight baselines selecting eight imaginary base points following the 10-fathom line or over-60 feet deep water except west of Elephant Point / St. Martin’s Island.

Bangladesh also claimed 12 nautical miles (nm) of territorial water, 18nm Contiguous Zone (24nm allowed under UNCLOS 1982) 200 nm Economic Zone amounting to about 40,000 sq miles of sea area and Continental shelf, (350nm allowed under UNCLOS 1982).

79 border killings by BSF since Jan

Another Bangladeshi killed
79 border killings by BSF since Jan

One more Bangladeshi citizen was gunned down by BSF early Sunday taking the total number of such killings since January 1, 2009 to October 18 to 79 and January, 2000 to October 18, 2009 to 806.(TBT Report)

According to UNB News Agency, a cattle trader was shot dead by BSF along Chapasar border in Haripur upazila along Thakurgaon border early Sunday. The dead was identified as Badiruddin, 40, of Kaligaon village in Ranishangkail upazila of the district. BDR sources said the BSF troops of Koyladangi camp sprayed three rounds bullet on Badiruddin when he went to border pillar no 349(6) for buying cattle at about 4am, leaving him dead on the spot. Later, the BSF men dragged the body into the Indian territory. Meanwhile, the BDR sent a protest letter to the BSF and demanded immediate handover of the body.

Earlier, two persons were killed by BSF along Meherpur and Chapainawabganj border on 15 October 2009. 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.

Shahjahan sees danger in China project on Brahmaputra

Shahjahan sees danger in China project on Brahmaputra
Staff Correspondent

Bangladesh would face severe adverse impacts both economically and ecologically if China interrupts the flow of the Brahmaputra river, shipping minister Shajahan Khan said in parliament Monday.

‘Bangladesh economy, specially the agriculture sector, will have severe adversities if China takes up the embankment project,’ he said replying to a fellow lawmaker.

M Israfil Alam, a ruling Awami League MP, wanted to know about the government’s position on China’s planned intervention on the international river Brahmaputra that flows down through India and Bangladesh before emptying into the Bay of Bengal.

The shipping minister said fisheries, environment and waterway transportation will be severely affected as any intervention on Brahmaputra would reduce water flows to Jamuna and Old Brahmaputra rivers in Bangladesh.

The two rivers are already suffering from navigability crisis, the minister pointed out.

Meanwhile, India started implementing a plan to interlink the regional rivers, including the Brahmaputra, to transfer water to areas facing water crisis.

Not just a question of economic gains but also national pride

Not just a question of economic gains but also national pride

INDIA might exercise unwarranted control over Bangladesh’s transport system, if Dhaka allows New Delhi to invest in development of infrastructure – road, railway and river port – for transhipment of its goods through the country, so fear a number of foreign policy experts. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Thursday, the government should mobilise domestic resources to upgrade the transport infrastructure and thus keep complete control over the movement of vehicles through the country. Both their apprehension and advice appear firmly grounded in logic and geopolitical reality.

It is common knowledge that New Delhi has long been pressing Dhaka for transit/transhipment facilities and has also offered to invest in development of Bangladesh’s infrastructure. The underlying reason for its persistence is not difficult to ascertain. A transit corridor through Bangladesh would make transportation of goods from one part of India to another, especially in the northeast, easier and cost-effective. Thus, it is quite understandable why Delhi has stepped up its diplomatic oeuvres to secure a transit/transhipment agreement with Dhaka.

As one foreign policy expert has pointed out, Dhaka should, therefore, try to ‘cash in on India’s compulsion’ and ‘think about long-term funding to establish regional connectivity, not merely India connectivity.’ However, the Awami League-led government has appeared increasingly preoccupied with the Bangladesh-India connectivity more than anything else. Its single-track preoccupation has been apparent in its choice of the route that will link Bangladesh with the Asian Highway. Of three routes proposed by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the government has articulated its preference for the two routes, both of which begin from and exits into India after going through Bangladesh. Its preference runs counter to the very rationale why Bangladesh should be connected with the Asian Highway, i.e. greater interconnectivity. Needless to say, the third route, which starts from India, goes through Bangladesh and enters Myanmar before linking with Southeast Asia, appears a better choice in terms of connectivity.

Worryingly still, the government has appeared somewhat secretive about its decisions and actions with regard to offering transit facilities to India. In fact, Dhaka agreed to allow India to use the Bangladesh territory to carry goods to Tripura during a meeting the foreign minister, Dipu Moni, and her Indian counterpart, SM Krisna, in New Delhi on September 8. One expects the government to table such a crucial issue for deliberation in the parliament before making any decision in this regard. Now, the government appears inclined to allow Delhi to invest in developing of infrastructure for transportation of goods from one part of India to another, so suggests the comment of a ruling party member of the parliamentary standing committee on the foreign ministry.

The government needs to realise that development of infrastructure, be it for regional connectivity or state-to-state connectivity, is not only about economic gains but also about national interest and pride. Hence, it should not make any decision that might eventually undermine the national interest and pride.

Tension mounts as BSF kills 2

Tension mounts as BSF kills 2
Our Correspondent, Dinajpur

Tension prevails at Tetulia border under Panchagarh district as Indian Border Security Force (BSF) fired shells indiscriminately into Bangladesh territory on Thursday evening killing one Indian national.

According to BDR sources the deceased was identified as Md Jayedul Islam, 43, a resident of Darjeeling district.

Jayedul was hit by bullet when he entered into Bangladesh territory and he was rushed by BDR men to Tetulia health complex where he died the same night.

BDR sources at Panchagarh 25 Battalion quoting villagers said the BSF fired at least 120 bullets towards Bangladesh territory on Thursday evening without any provocation.

Md Ashraful Islam, a villager of Mominpara at Tetulia border area, said the BSF fired bullets at Tetulia-Puratan-Bazaar, Zianagar, Mominpara and Siddique Nagar villages forcing the local inhabitants to move to safer places.

When contacted Md Abdul Zabbar, company commander of Tetulia BDR Camp, said the BDR has lodged strong protest with the BSF against firing of bullets without any provocation.

The panicked villagers have started returning to their homes, he added.

A flag meeting was also held at the border yesterday to diffuse the tension.

Meanwhile, the BSF men at 57 Bhimpur camp in Dinajpur district returned the body of a Bangladeshi national after holding a flag meeting on Thursday night. He was gunned down on Thursday morning according to BDR sources.

The deceased was identified as Azizar Rahman, 35, son of late Nilbor Rahman of Bhaigarh village under Birampur upazila.

With this killing, the BSF gunned down at least five people at different border points since September 12.

One more Bangladeshi gunned down on border

One more Bangladeshi gunned down on border
BSF kills 5 in a week

Indian Border Security Force (BSF) gunned down yet another Bangladeshi national on Thursday taking the total of such killings to 5 in last one week. According to UNB news agency, BSF gunned down a Bangladeshi national near Bhaigarh border in Birampur upazila in Dinajpur early Thursday.(TBT Report)

The deceased was identified as Azizar Rahman, 35, son of Nilbor Ali of Bhaigarh village.

BDR sources said BSF members of 57 Bhimpur camp fired on Bangladesh border, leaving Azizar dead on the spot. Aziz was working in his field at the time.

“The BSF members then intruded into Bangladesh territory and dragged the body into their camp,” says a report from the area. In an immediate reaction, BDR sent a letter to BSF protesting the incident and also asked for return of the body of the deceased.

Earlier on Saturday, they shot dead Ashraful Islam and Aminul Islam on Sundara border in Dinajpur. Two days after the incident, on Monday, they killed another two Bangladeshis-Mohsin and Ruhul Amin-on Jalpaitoli frontier.

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. With the latest killing on September 17 the total number of Bangladeshis killed since 1 January 2009 stands at 77, and that from 1 January 2000 to September 17, 2009 stands at 804. Odhikar 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.

Indian BSF had pledged very recently once again to stop killings of Bangladeshi citizens on the border. The assurance was given by BSF Chief Mahendra Lal Kumawat at a joint press briefing on conclusion of the three-day high level BDR-BSF conference in Dhaka on July 14. But it appears that BSF does not mean what it says and hence it continues killing Bangladeshis.

Damming a river

Damming a river

Dams harm rivers. Photo: R S C Anjan/ Drik News

Dams harm rivers. Photo: R S C Anjan/ Drik News

Zulfiquer Ahmed Amin

THE Farakka Barrage, when commissioned in 1970, seemed to be a venture by India for saving the Kolkata port from silting up. In next few decades, the outcome in the lower riparian Bangladesh was disastrous due to the dearth of water in the entire south-western region. The country also experienced continuous losses in the agricultural, fisheries, forestry, industry, navigation and other sectors. It also caused fatal damages over the years through floods, droughts, excessive salinity and depletion of groundwater.

The project also resulted in massive devastation in Malda on its upstream, Murshidabad in West Bengal and south-west of Bangladesh on its downstream. Excessive sedimentation, increasing flood intensity, and river erosion are some of its effects.

Bangladesh is facing desertification along the normal course of the Padma river, with no water in the water-body, and the mighty river has become the reason for continuous floods and bank erosion.

Farakka, thus, was a major breach of trust by India against Bangladesh as India had repeatedly claimed before it started the project that the dam would not cause any damage to Bangladesh. The same assurances are being given about the Tipaimukh dam.

Land and water are ecologically linked in a natural system called a watershed. Any river is the product of the land it inhabits — the type of rock and soil, the shape of the land, and the amount of vegetation are some of the factors that determine the river’s shape, size and flow. When these ties between the land and the river are breached by a large dam, the consequences are felt throughout the watershed, as well as by the web of life it supports.

The main hydraulic effect of a dam is the discharge of the collection basin to a stationary reservoir instead of a stream-bed. Therefore, an instant change will start downstream, which dries partially or totally whenever the reservoir begins to accumulate water. During this temporary or periodically repeating time interval, the hydrological balance can collapse, and structural damages are observed in the water dependent ecosystem.

Dams have a significant impact on the disruption of natural sediment movement processes in rivers, which is blocked by the dam. Sediment builds up in the reservoir behind the dam, while creating sediment starved conditions below the dam, which lead to channel bed degradation, channel narrowing and bank erosion. It is natural that the river, which is accustomed to carrying sediment and now has none, will pick up the sediment from the streambed below the dam.

Dams are engineered to withstand the force of a certain number of tons of water –however large the reservoir is planned to be. When the pressure builds up the dam bursts, killing people and destroying settlements downstream. This disruption of sediment movement often disconnects a river from its natural floodplain downstream or submerges riverine floodplains upstream of a dam. In some cases this leads to river systems that are no longer naturally sustainable.

Dams hinder growth, development and maturation of fishes. They hold back not only sediment but also debris, which includes leaves, twigs, branches, and whole trees, as well as the remains of dead animals. The lives of organisms, including fish in downstream, depend on the constant feeding of the river with debris.

Many fish must move upstream and downstream to complete their lifecycles. Dams act as a barrier in this migration. The cold, clear water of downstream will be starved of nutrients and provide little or no habitat for animals. A river with a dam eventually becomes little more than a dead channel of water.

About 7 to 8 percent of the water in Bangladesh is obtained through the river Barak to Surma-Kushiara river basins. Agriculture, irrigation, navigation, drinking water supply, fisheries, wildlife in numerous haors (wetlands) and low lying areas in entire Sylhet division, some areas of Comilla and Mymensingh districts, and some peripheral areas of Dhaka division depend on this water.

The river system also supports local industries like fertilizer, electricity, gas etc. Around five crore people of Sylhet and Dhaka division will face problems as Surma and Kushiara will lose five feetof water in the rainy season. Massive environmental degradation will take place, severely affecting weather and climate, turning a wet, cool environment into a hot, uncomfortable cauldron.

Haors around Surma-Kushiara river located in Sunamganj, Habiganj and Moulvibazar districts and Sylhet Sadar Upazila, as well as Kishoreganj and Netrokona districts, receive surface runoff water from rivers and channels in the rainy season and serve as the granaries and fisheries of the northeast. During dry season the water drains out, leaving an alluvial-rich soil suitable for cultivation of boro. The rice farmers plant when the water recedes in the winter, and harvest before the monsoon waters come.

The water carries not only fish larvae but also much-needed nutrients into the haor, which turns into a vast nursery for fish. When the water recedes in the winter, the nourished fish move out into the rivers and are caught by the fishermen. The total area of this wetland covers nearly 25,000 square kilometres and supports approximately 20 million people.

They literally live by the ebb and flow of the waters. Any artificial alteration of this haor could affect food security and bring disaster to the region.

The north-east region of India is one of the six major seismically active zones of the world, which includes California, Japan, Mexico, Taiwan and Turkey. The Tipaimukh site is located in Zone-V of the Seismic Zoning Map of India. As per available records, about 16 earthquakes of magnitude greater than 7.0 have occurred in this region, of which 2 had a magnitude more than 8.5. An earthquake of significant scale will destroy the dam, with unimaginable damage to life and property.

While Bangladesh is concerned over the dam on the Barak river, India, too, is busy raising concerns about China’s plan to build a dam on the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) in Tibet to generate 40,000 Megawatt power, and to divert 200 billion cubic meters of waters to the Yellow River for easing water shortages in Shaanxi, Beijing and Tianjin in northern China.

India’s proposed Tipaimukh dam and China’s proposed dam over Yarlung Tsangpo bear much similarity in terms of scale of destruction, threats and challenges both in the upstream and the downstream portion of the rivers. India is playing a double game. While objecting against China’s plan to dam Yarlung Tsangpo, India is aggressively pursuing mega-dams construction spree in India’s north-east, notwithstanding concerns in the north-east and Bangladesh.

Against the backdrop of its nonviable cost-effectiveness, immense economic and environmental damage coupled with utter human sufferings, when worldwide decommissioning of dams has over-taken commissioning, India’s insistence may cause deterioration of Indo-Bangla relations.

Dr. Zulfiquer Ahmed Amin is a physician and specialist in Public health Administration and Health Economics, and is presently working in Kuwait.