Monday, March 9, 2009

Demand increases for fencing along Assam-Bangladesh border


ALTHOUGH the Centre has expressed solidarity with the new Bangladesh government and decided to stand by that country at the time of emergency, the mutiny by Bangladesh Rifles personnel is cause for concern for Indian security experts. Especially considering the fact that the two countries share a long border, most of which is still porous.

The Border Security Force has beefed up vigilance along international border sectors in Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura, but security analysts feel the mutiny could lead to increased infiltration from across the border. A senior officer in the Assam Police’s intelligence wing fears that the negative development in the neighbouring country may dash India’s hopes of working hand in hand with the Awami League government in checking the activities of North-east militant outfits that are said to be operating in that country.

The UPA government initiated steps in improving relations with Dhaka and it also assured New Delhi of taking action against insurgents. The turn of events has come at a time when there is urgent need to complete the fencing work. The delay on the part of Dispur and the Centre has not only changed Assam’s demographic pattern along with that of other states over the last few decades but also poses a security threat to the country as a whole. Fencing was one the main items included in the 1985 Assam Accord that marked the end of the six-year Assam agitation, arguably the longest students’ movement in the world.

The investigating agencies, now probing the 30 October serial blasts in Assam that left 89 dead and 400 injured, not only suspect some “probable links” between the jehadi groups and “home grown” militant outfits, but also blames the porous border in Assam. Security experts who visited Assam and Tripura after the blasts expressed concern over what they called weak vigilance along the border, unlike in Western countries where frontiers are safeguarded by fencing and troops’ deployment. The situation in Assam is perhaps the worst as far as the fencing is concerned.

While Tripura and Meghalaya have made considerable progress on fencing the international borders, Assam continues to lag behind and has missed many a deadline. Of the 4,096 km, Assam shares 267.30 km of international border with Bangladesh — 48 km is riverine, which falls within Dhubri and Karimganj districts in the western and southern fringes of the state. Assam Accord Implementation Minister, Bhumidhar Barman, who is also in charge of revenue, recently told the assembly that most of the fencing, barring 3.5 km, had been completed. Under the Indira-Mujib pact, the status quo must be maintained on disputed land and some areas have been left untouched for that reason.

Barman said that “we had taken up the matter with the Central government and we hope something will be worked out soon”.All Assam Students’ Union leaders say more than 40 per cent of the international border is yet to be fenced. “Besides, the existing fencing, work is far from satisfactory. Some of the newly-built fencing has already been washed away and some destroyed,” said Aasu adviser Samujjal Bhattacharyya.

He alleged that the “Congress governments at the Centre and the state have been delaying work on fencing for political reasons”, adding that “Islamic fundamentalist elements are now operating in the region. All these are based in Bangladesh. We have been shouting for a long time to fence the border. Earlier it (fencing) was a necessity to save the demographic pattern of the state but now it deserves attention, taking into account the recent serial blasts that rocked not only the North-eastern states but also some in the mainland.

“The Centre does not seem to be sincere in completing the fencing. If fencing on the Indo-Pakistani border in the western sector is erected why can’t they fence the borders here, which is more prone to security threats?” Bhattacharyya asked.

The UPA government has promised to complete the fencing by March 2010. Observers, however, are skeptical about the new deadline, particularly considering the slow pace of work. They also feel that New Delhi must refocus its attention on the North-east to prevent another terror attack.

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