Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Watchdog denies border killings 'worried' it

The parliamentary standing committee on foreign affairs did not express its concern over border killings but termed it 'tragic incidents', its chief said on Tuesday.

"We did not express our concern over the issue and did not put forward any recommendation to the foreign ministry," an annoyed Abul Hasan Mahmud Ali, chairman of the watchdog, said at a press briefing after a committee meeting.

"We found the government action appropriate."

When asked about the remarks of LGRD minister Syed Ashraful Islam about border killings, he said, "I don't think his comment and the foreign ministry's position on the issue are conflicting."

Ashraf had said "The state is not worried about incidents at the border. These are everyday incidents, they've happened in the past, are happening now and will happen in future."

However, the foreign ministry issued two separate press statements in a week protesting against the incidents along the border with India.

But, the standing committee member form BNP, AM Mahbub Uddin Khokon, in a separate press briefing said he and the foreign minister expressed concern over the border killings.

"It is on record that I and the foreign minister both expressed concern."

Khokon said BNP would support the government if it acts boldly and protested the Indian "aggression" in the border areas.

"The government gave its reaction after BSF suspended its personnel. Why not earlier? What are they afraid of?" he questioned.

"The statements from the ministers and the position of the government have frustrated people," he claimed, "The government is pursuing a weak foreign policy."

When asked about it, standing committee chairman Mahmud said, "They (opposition) can say whatever they want but the government is not pursuing a weak foreign policy."

Mahmud claimed that more people had been killed during the period of BNP-led government.

"In the last three years, 141 people were killed in border areas while from 2001-2006, about 350 people were killed," he added.

"The border killings have dropped during the period of this government."

Brutality on the border

New Delhi needs to make an unreserved apology to Bangladesh for the brutal conduct of its Border Security Force personnel who were seen in a recent video torturing a Bangladeshi man. Not surprisingly, the telltale video has caused widespread outrage in Bangladesh. A remark by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee that the incident must not be hyped, echoed by a Bangladeshi Minister, seems only to have provoked more anger and fuelled opposition allegations against the Sheikh Hasina government for being “pro-India”. With the Bangladesh Army claiming the other day that it averted a coup against the government by an “anti-India” 
section of officers, New Delhi needs to guard against becoming an unwitting cause for political instability in its eastern neighbour. Anti-India sentiment has been high in Bangladesh since the killing of three of its nationals by the BSF in two separate incidents on the border last month. A March 2011 agreement between the two countries not to use firearms in dealing with illegal activities on the border has brought down the number of such incidents, but the video is evidence that the guards feel free to use other forms of violence. It underlines the fact that such bilateral agreements on the management of their complex boundary are worth nothing unless accompanied by a change in the mindset of those responsible for it on the ground. 

The distressing 11.56 minute footage, circulated through YouTube, is quite evidently a trophy video, the guards happy to pose as they strip their victim, tie his hands and feet, and beat him mercilessly while discussing among themselves other severe options of dealing with him. The man was a suspected rustler — the border is notorious for cattle smuggling — and it has been alleged by rights activists in Bangladesh that the guards were punishing him for not paying them a bribe. The guards appear to have such an entrenched sense of impunity that the thought of being found out and punished does not seem to cross their minds as they participate in the abuse. The BSF has suspended the eight guards involved in the distressing episode and ordered an investigation. While it may be convenient for the paramilitary to treat this as an isolated incident of “rogue” personnel, the enquiry needs to focus on the overall climate of impunity that makes such incidents possible. The BSF must also reflect if there is something missing in the training of its recruits that some of them are capable of such brutality. This is important because their conduct not only brings disrepute to the organisation but also risks jeopardising India's relations with an important neighbour.