India and Bangladesh have generally been on friendly terms with each other. The friendship further gets a fillip whenever Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government comes to power in Bangladesh.
The four-day visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister has been a success if we consider the 22 MoUs signed in various sectors, including defence, civil nuclear energy, cyber security, upgrading intelligence and anti-terror cooperation, and upgrading the level of road and rail links etc.
These agreements will certainly go a long way in further improving relations, besides keeping a check on increasing Chinese influence in Bangladesh, and foiling our neighbour’s attempt to encircle India. The Defence Pact is, however, being seen as a sellout by Bangladeshi intellectuals. Bangladesh also wants India to do more in trying to curb the HUJI and JMB activities.
Fallout of Illegal Immigration
The very important issue of sharing Teesta river waters continues to hang fire. The alternative, as suggested by Mamata, of sharing waters of some other rivers flowing through North Bengal like Torsha, Sankosh etc. besides Teesta, apparently has not been accepted by Bangladesh.
Illegal immigration is an issue which has been raising hackles of political parties and some Hindu outfits. It is estimated that there are over 20 million illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in India. Demography of some bordering districts in West Bengal and Assam has drastically changed with the sudden influx of Muslims.
Illegal immigration was a major issue, both during the general elections in 2014 and Assembly elections in Assam in 2016. An election promise was made that all the Bangladeshi illegal immigrants will be deported immediately, and the border will be sealed to prevent further immigration.
The rate of illegal migration seems to have decreased over the last couple of decades due to the twin factors of increased vigil and fence, as well as comparatively better performance of Bangladeshi economy, but it continues to be a regular feature.
There are no indications that this important issue was discussed during the summit which raises doubts about the sincerity of efforts to tackle it. Bangladesh informally encourages migration due to underdevelopment and high population density.
The unfettered influx of illegal immigrants into India from Bangladesh has serious implications on security, national resources, economy, and also on the job market, especially in the unskilled unorganised sector.
The other important issue affecting the relations between the two countries is related to the 4,096 km-long border. The land boundary agreement of 1974 could not be implemented due to non-ratification by the Indian Parliament. A protocol to the agreement was signed in 2011, and was finally implemented in 2015.
Implementation of the agreement was a major step towards improving relations with Bangladesh, as it settled the long-standing problems of un-demarcated borders and enclaves. Exchange of enclaves has eased border management and has also addressed the humanitarian issues involving residents of these enclaves.
Deaths and injuries to border criminals, especially cattle smugglers, however, is a cause of serious heartburn for Bangladesh. Bangladesh has a high demand for cattle by their meat and leather industries, which is a source of foreign exchange for the country. Cattle within Bangladesh is totally inadequate to meet this demand, which is thus, fulfilled by smuggling of the Indian cattle through riverine gaps in border fence.
Bangladeshi government agencies actively encourage cattle smuggling, which they refer to as cattle trade. Reports related to the cattle going across are shared with the posts of Bangladesh Border Guards and Customs that charges a certain amount of tax and allows animals to be taken to the interior.
Keeping Bangladesh in Good Spirits
On the other hand, in India, cattle moves unhindered to border areas from hinterland, and in spite of the best efforts of BSF, herds of animals manage to go across to Bangladesh through the connivance of Indian and Bangladeshi criminals.
BSF sometimes is compelled to resort to firing to prevent this, resulting in casualties among criminals (considered cattle traders by Bangladesh). Any causality of a Bangladeshi criminal becomes a major issue in Bangladesh, and the government there is seen to be succumbing to India’s pressure.
“Coordinated Border Management Program”(CBMP) signed by the DG BSF and DG BGB (Border Guard Bangladesh) imposes restrictions on firing by BSF due to which such causalities have reduced, but cases of injuries to the troops have increased proportionately.
It has to be acknowledged that as long as there is demand for cattle in Bangladesh and India has surplus cattle, its smuggling cannot be stopped. BSF being tasked with the responsibility to prevent smuggling will be compelled to use force, thus causing casualties and thereby resulting in bad blood. The government should, therefore, seriously consider whether exporting cattle is a viable option.
Bangladesh is the only country in our neighbourhood which is friendly towards India, besides Bhutan. It is imperative that we continue to maintain optimal level of cooperation and goodwill with our neighbour. However, resolution of above issues is important to safeguarding our national interest, with the government of the day being expected to initiate steps to ensure that.
(The writer retired from the BSF as an additional director-general. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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