Increased infiltration of illegal economic migrants, terrorists, lack of adequate response from Bangladesh, and suspected official complicity has changed India’s attitude ordering the infusion of another 40 battalions on the border and authority to deliver retaliatory fire. Currently, only 39 battalions of the
Border Security Force (each battalion has about 800 men) are stationed on the border with Bangladesh as 60% of its troops are stationed in Jammu & Kashmir for counter-terrorism activities. With the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) taking over most of the regular operations, the BSF is now planning to deploy them on the Bangla border.
Unlike borders with Pakistan or China, BSF is the only unit that mans this long porous border of 4,095 kilometers and punctured by 54 rivers making impossible to stop infiltration despite extensive fencing (which is only ½ done). Since it requires an approval from New Delhi every time the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) fires at the BSF, officials say that firing across the border is usually done to give cover for infiltration that Foreign Ministry officials call a “wall of deniability.” With the new order, the battalion commander will now have the authority to order “localized punitive action” to silence the guns. Apparently, this was the learning of the Army in dealing with the Pakistanis before the ceasefire in 2003. Many fear that this change could worsen tension between the BSF and the BDR that is already considered bad despite half-yearly meeting of respective Director-Generals.
The illegal migrant population from Bangladesh has grown to alarming levels where those with valid visas do not return and become untraceable. Sources say that in the last four years, there have been over 131000 missing Bangladeshis from just the Petrapole (Bongaon) border crossing. It is not clear why India cannot stop these border crossings and stop the movement of people.
The present Government in Dhaka has also adopted an adversarial attitude and continues to spurn attempts by New Delhi for closer relations. For example, the Indian Army has been inviting its counterpart for military-to-military engagement that goes beyond training programs but has been repeatedly ignored.
As a first step, India needs to stop border crossing from Bangladesh and tighten the visa regime from that country. Secondly, it needs to amend laws that make overstaying of citizens of Bangladesh and Pakistan criminal and punishable without undue process rights. Thirdly, it should institute a stronger registration mechanism for those who rent property, employ, or provide accommodation for citizens of these nations and make the failure to register a criminal offense. Fourthly, it should provide an amnesty system for those already in the country so they can be peacefully repatriated. Fifthly, it should make concerted appeal to Indians to disclose the presence of nationals from these nations so the police can verify that they are registered.