An unfriendly border between friendly neighbors

On February 26, the Hindustan Times reported that BSF personnel were attacked by Bangladeshi villagers and miscreants at the border in Rajshahi and that even two weapons were snatched away. The report said that BSF had established a forward outpost to help Indian farmers who felt unsafe from attacks by Bangladeshi villagers, who were reportedly involved in damaging their crops by illegal grazing of their cattle in Indian territory.

As stated in this report, BSF has raised this issue with BGB asking them to return the weapons lost by them.

The very next day, a Bangladeshi newspaper reported on the same incident, but it tells an entirely different tale. It says two BSF members along with three Indians intruded into Bangladesh territory and got entangled in clashes with local villagers while they were grazing buffaloes within Bangladesh territory.

Two Bangladeshis were beaten and injured, drawing a large crowd of agitated villagers, and forcing BSF personnel to retreat leaving behind two weapons, which have since been recovered and given back to BSF, but not without protest regarding their illegal encroachment.

A logical analysis of the incident will make it clear that in the case of regular encroachment by Bangladeshis, hindering local Indian farmers, BSF could easily inform their counterpart and ask them to take measures — as BSF claims to have established a forward outpost. We don’t have any information that such steps were taken.

Our newspapers are rife with cases where several Bangladeshis are being killed by BSF at the borders, at random, with no sign of restraint on their part. They are being branded as criminals or miscreants without any proof as such. There are even stories that BSF fired in self defense after being attacked, while in reality, the victims of such situations tend to be mostly unarmed civilians. In view of the trigger-happy image of BSF it is unlikely that they would give away their weapons so simply, that too from within Indian territory and return only to lodge a complaint.

In Bangladesh many of our roads and waterways have been dedicated to provide enhanced communication facilities to our friendly neighbours in particular for their land-locked north-eastern states. We are prepared to provide connectivity through rail, road, inland water and also sea routes. Many of which have already been identified and we have done our bit to provide the required connectivity.

Dhaka-Chittagong is the lifeline of Bangladesh rail connectivity. In addition, this particular railway is also dedicated to provide transportation of Indian goods from the Chittagong Port to parts of India through Akhaura and Agartola — an important link to connect the Indian state of Tripura.

There are reports that as Bangladesh Railway was trying to work on improving some existing railway stations close to the border, they were interrupted and stopped by BSF under the suggestion that no such work can be done within 150 yards of the border.

Isn’t it strange that after having provided so many concessions and facilitating their transportation, Indian border forces should oppose such vital work for our railway communication? It points to our failure of convincing our counterpart on the Indian side that these are not hostile developments, but rather benign and designed to enhance their logistics and lifeline, as well as our own.

Earlier, in July 2022, during the visit of Director General of BSF, Mr Pankaj Kumar Singh, to Dhaka our Home Minister conveyed his request seeking their support to facilitate enhancement of our vital railway link.

We have always received assurance from the other side in favour of maintaining a “tranquil, cooperative, crime and incident-free border.”

Our Home Minister was very rightly quoted saying that: “We do not want any killing along the border. We have already stopped cattle smuggling through the border.”

The construction work of our dual-gauge double line rail between Akhaura and Laksam and construction of the two bordering rail stations remained suspended following objections from the Indian side of the border.

The construction company responsible for the work, Toma Constructions Limited, also told the media that the constructions of both bordering stations at Kashba in Brahanmanbaria and at Salda in Comilla and its connecting rail track remained suspended for months following objections from India.

This important work faced suspensions several times in April 2021 and the second time in December 2021. The project was originally scheduled to be completed by 2020, but later its duration was extended to June 2023. It is still unlikely to meet this expected deadline.

The kind of fanfare and ceremonies that happen in certain border posts between India and Pakistan, in spite of the two nations having hostilities for decades, highlights the failure of cooperation in our borders.

The Attari-Wagah border for instance remains an interesting tourist attraction mainly because of the spectacular ceremonies jointly organized by both India and Pakistan. It is discouraging that even without such extravaganza, we have failed to keep the borders safe for our inhabitants.

The Indian Luxury Cruise ship Gonga Bilash had a pleasant trip through Bangladeshi waters last month which came all the way from Dhubri in Assam and went back to Kolkata having sailed through a lot of historic sites in Bangladesh. This was given a lot of attention in the form of having an inter-ministerial meeting to ensure required protocol and security throughout its journey.

It is a manifestation of our eagerness to go above and beyond in keeping our neighbours happy. Unfortunately, it seems that India feels no obligation to reciprocate such intentions.

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