Tuesday, February 28, 2012

No change in Delhi’s stance

New Delhi has stuck to its stance that its Border Security Force would not fire in any situation but in ‘self-defence’ along the Indo-Bangla border although Dhaka called for a complete halt to shooting at Bangladesh nationals.

In the meeting of the home ministers of the two countries in New Delhi, Bangladesh was told that the BSF fired on civilians only in ‘self-defence’ on the frontiers, said officials after the high-level talks that concluded on Saturday.

Bangladesh home minister Sahara Khatun led a 12-member delegation to the two-day bilateral talks with her counterpart P Chidambaram in which the two sides had discussed issues relating to, among others, border management, security cooperation and implementation of the land boundary protocol.
Sahara returned home on Sunday.

Her Indian counterpart defended the BSF shooting as Dhaka lodged a strong protest against the killing and torture of Bangladeshis by the Indian border guards in the meeting, a senior official confirmed.

In the meeting, India distributed a booklet that contains pictures of BSF jawans showing marks of injuries on their bodies to convince the Bangladesh delegation that they open fire just to defend themselves, said the official, adding that Bangladesh presented similar documents testifying to BSF atrocities against its nationals. 

The high-level meeting took place at a time when human rights organisations and the media across the world, even in India, were levelling allegations that incidents of killing of and torture on Bangladeshis by the Indian border guards were increasing in the frontiers. Bangladesh and India share a 4,098-kilometre porous border.

India claimed at the meeting that the incidents of killing by BSF came down to seven in 2011 from 35 in 2009, adding that no such incidents had taken place so far in 2012.

According to rights organisation Odhikar, the Indian border guards have killed 935 Bangladeshis and injured 681 since January 2000.

The Indian guards have reportedly killed 205 and injured 220 Bangladeshis since January 6, 2009 when the ruling Awami League-led alliance assumed office.

Asked about the outcome of the meeting, the home ministry’s additional secretary Kamal Uddin Ahmed, also a delegation member, told New Age on Tuesday that the scope for cooperation had expanded.

Both the sides, he said, had agreed to remove all irritants that stood in the way of security cooperation between the two countries and strengthening border management. 

During the last such meeting in Dhaka in July 29-30, 2011, Indian home minister Chidambaram assured Sahara that the BSF would not shoot at any unarmed civilians under any circumstances in the frontiers.

‘We have issued strict instructions to our Border Security Force that under no circumstances, they should fire on anyone trying to cross either from Bangladesh to India or from India to Bangladesh. The message has gone down to the jawans,’ Chidambaram had said at a joint press conference after the official talks.

Despite such assurances from the Indian side time and again, the killing of innocent Bangladeshis by BSF keep taking place in the border.

Contrary to his government’s apparent stand against the border killings, BSF director general, UK Bansal, said that it was not possible for the Indian guards to stop firing in the Bangladesh-India border, which was protested at by the government as well as a cross-section of people in Bangladesh.

‘Firing in the border can never be stopped totally… So long criminal activities would continue to take place along the India-Bangladesh border, the BSF will have to prevent such offences and it is the duty of the force,’ said the BSF chief in an interview with the BBC Bengali Service on February 7, 2012. 

When his attention was drawn to the BSF chief’s statement, the Indian home minister said it was a telephonic conversation and the BSF chief’s remarks were not presented correctly in the BBC news. 

The Indian home ministry, however, assured Sahara that Bangladeshi businessmen would now be allowed to open bank accounts and operate their branch offices in India as the Indian nationals were already enjoying such facilities in Bangladesh.

A television footage showing the torture of a Bangladeshi young man, Habibur Rahman, of Chapainawabganj, by the BSF recently sparked uproar drawing criticism from civil society and international human rights watchdogs.

Even leading Indian daily newspaper the Hindu on January 24 asked the Indian government to apologise to Bangladesh for such inhuman torture.

In a report headlined ‘Bangladesh-India border: Wall of Death’ posted online on January 4, the GlobalPost said the barbed-wire fence installed by India along the border ‘is the world’s longest – and bloodiest – barbed-wire fence.’

‘Dubbed the “wall of death” by locals, the 4,000km barrier spans the length of the fifth-longest border in the world, and is manned by the BSF, whose guards kill both Bangladeshis and Indians with impunity,’ the report said.

Although the Indian border guards claim that they open fire only to contain border crimes such as smuggling, the killing of young girl Felani sparked widespread criticism.

Fifteen-year-old Felani Khatun was shot dead by the BSF on January 7, 2011 when she climbed up and reached the top of the 2.5 metres high fence.

The home ministers’ meeting also discussed the execution of three deals – Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, Transfer of Sentenced Persons, Agreement on Combating Organised Crime and Illegal Drug Trafficking.

India pressed for the custody ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom) leader Anup Chetia and other members of the organisation kept in Bangladeshi jails. It also asked for expediting the move to sign an extradition treaty for handing over of persons wanted by either country.

Bangladesh said it was examining the draft extradition treaty proposed by India and the ULFA leader could not be handed over at the moment since the case was still pending with the High Court, according to officials.

BY : Mustafizur Rahman.