India’s nation building challenges and internal security are linked with border security and border management. India’s land border with Bangladesh is around 4339 km (4351 km as per Ministry of Defence). The notoriously porous India-Bangladesh border is referred to as the ‘problem area’. The major security concerns of India in the context of the Bangladesh border are: -
• Trans-border terrorism and movement of insurgents particularly in the light of the 2008 terrorist attacks on the major cities of India involving one common point of having its base in Bangladesh.
• Illegal migration that has changed the demography of the north-east and is one of the main causes for the rise of rebel groups in that area.
• Emergence of non-state actors like terrorist organisations, religious groups and illegal immigrant groups.
• Nexus between arms and narcotics smugglers as Bangladesh has close proximity to the ‘Golden Triangle’. Most weapons of the rebel groups of north-east India, including AK-47 and AK-56 assault rifles, mortars, 40 mm rocket launchers, pistols, revolvers and grenades are bought from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh and come through Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia via the land and sea route.
• Separatist movement aided and abetted by Bangladeshis.
• Establishment of madrasas particularly in the border areas, that has become the recruiting place for the terrorist outfits.
The main cause of security concern for India arising from Bangladesh, which is also a contentious quandary between the two countries, is due to the unresolved issues concerning undemarcated border, problem of enclaves and adverse possession, and the difficult terrain, that keeps the border porous, making the task of infiltrators, smugglers and illegal immigrants that much easy. The dispute regarding the undemarcated land springs from the original land documents. While Bangladesh is citing a document of 1937, India is relying on land records of 1914 to sustain its claim. Additionally, the concern remains unresolved due to political sensitivity towards their potential voters.
There are reportedly 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves in India. Two Joint Boundary Working Groups were set up in 2001 to resolve these pending Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) issues, signed between India and Bangladesh in 1974. Article 3 of the LBA provides for the people in these enclaves to be given the right to stay on as nationals of the state to which the enclaves are to be transferred. Therefore, it has been suggested that there should be a joint survey of the enclaves. According to Bangladesh, any joint surveys are extraneous to the LBA and should not be a pre-condition to the exchange of the enclaves.
To overcome the security challenges along the eastern border, the Union Home Ministry in 1986, undertook a project for the construction of a jeepable road and erection of barbed wire fencing over 4000 km long stretch on the Indo-Bangladesh international border that covers the state of Assam [262 km], Meghalaya [443 km], West Bengal [2216.7 km], Mizoram [318 km] and Tripura [856 km]. The Indian side emphasises the requirement for border fencing within and up to 150 yards of the international border even as Bangladesh stresses the need to conform to the 1975 border guidelines and to avoid any action that may adversely impact peace and stability in the border areas. However, the difficult topography makes fencing intricate and border management poor. Furthermore the rivulets change course with each monsoon making the fencing tricky. In addition there are many villages on the zero line, discouraging the constructing of the fence as the fence may pass through the houses and villages, thus infringing international regulations.
Operationally the Border Security Force (BSF) is responsible for the border security and border management on Indian side. However, there are frequent clashes between BSF and the erstwhile Bangladesh Rifles (BDR is being reconstituted after the recent revolt) over encroachment, enclaves and adverse possessions.
The BSF has to deal with the tension arising out of the unresolved border issues on a day-to-day basis due to the political and diplomatic failure to resolve the dispute. Further, the security personnel have to deal with massive inflow of migrants on ad hoc basis due to bureaucratic complexity.
While expressing his concern towards illegal migration, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram had recently admitted that illegal migration is a major security challenge. However, the dual immigration laws (Illegal Migrants [Determined by Tribunal] (IMDT) Act 1983) followed in Assam has aided illegal immigrants’ settling in the north-east easy. The illegal Bangladeshi immigrants have not only changed the demography and disturbed the ecology of the north-east but have also encouraged them to exercise their rights in India as citizens. This has been one of the key reasons for the rise of insurgent groups in the north-east as most of the insurgent groups started, and got support of the masses, because of the issue of illegal immigration from Bangladesh.
Several measures have been taken to tackle these issues.
To overcome the security threats arising from international border, the Group of Ministers (GoM) constituted a Task Force in 2001, which was to examine National Security issues. The recommendations made by the Task Force were accepted by GoM and are being implemented in phases.
Some of the recommendations to check illegal migration, cross-border terrorism and smuggling of contraband includes: - issuing temporary permits to the migrants on humanitarian grounds; complete fencing of the border along with construction of jeepable roads close to the fence; serious dialogue to demarcate the undemarcated border, both land and sea; clear directions to be given to the BSF to stop further infiltration; and enforce Foreign Act 1946 to check the settlement of illegal migrants in parts of India, particularly in the north-east. Further BSF and Bangladesh border security personnel needs to work out strategies to deal with organised criminal activities in the border areas.
Security measures call for appropriate force structures and procedures to deal with the entry of illegal immigrants, terrorists and contraband goods. In addition, there is a need to establish closer relation with the border population to protect them from subversive propaganda. It is also important to prevent unauthorised settlements along the borders and initiate special development programmes. Promoting the concept of Village Voluntary Forces (VVF) in the border districts and facilitating legitimate trade between the two countries will aid sound border security and border management. Additionally, information networking, coordination and joint patrolling, and strict criminal investigations against the offender will secure the borders of unlawful activities. Finally endorsing regional cooperation which will include economic collaboration, diplomatic alliances and military-to-military confidence building measures; friendly relations with the neighbouring countries and information sharing can provide a sound border security and border management.
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the views either of the Editorial Committee or the Centre for Land Warfare Studies).