The barbaric killing of BSF jawans raises disturbing
questions about the incident and puts India-Bangladesh relations under
It is an image that
will haunt relations between India and Bangladesh for years to come. The
body of a slain Border Security Force (BSF) jawan tied to a pole and carried
like an animal carcass. Accompanying it were the grisly visuals of trussed
up, mutilated and brutalised bodies of 15 other BSF personnel killed in
the Boraibari incident on April 18. Understandably, there was a national
OUTRAGE: Boraibari villagers with the body of a BSF jawan
Even as tensions continued to mount last week,
with both sides fortifying their borders with additional troops, Prime
Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee came under fire from his own partymen for
not taking tough retaliatory action against Bangladesh. Yet almost 10
days after the fracas, instead of clarity there is still enormous confusion
over what really caused the worst flare-up on the Indo-Bangladesh border
since the 1971 war. There were other searching questions: how did the
16 BSF men die and why were the bodies returned mutilated? Why did the
Indian Government do everything to de-escalate the situation, even risking
flak for soft-pedalling the issue?
The truth may take awhile in coming but there
are indications that the earlier reports about what really happened were
misleading. That while Bangladesh did make the first aggressive move,
a bungled counter-attack by India well inside Bangladesh's territory may
have resulted in the death of the BSF personnel. This could also explain
why the Indian Government's response was restrained, both verbally and
in military terms.
The 4,096-km border between the two countries
has always been tense. In the past six months alone, regular skirmishes
between the BSF and its counterpart, the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), have
left 32 dead, mostly civilians. Reports of abductions and assaults on
women in the villages have been common and local resentment against the
troops is high. There is also a dispute since the 1971 war over who has
territorial rights to certain pockets of land or enclaves along the irregular
border. There are 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 50 Bangladeshi
ones in India.
BRUTAL END: The bodies of the 16 BSF personnel were badly mutilated
The current hostilities broke out over two such
enclaves-one bordering Meghalaya and the other Assam. Trouble began on
April 15 at a village called Pyrdiwah in Meghalaya. It is now clear that
the BDR, in a surprising show of aggression, moved in to capture it. An
entire battalion strength (1,000 men) of the BDR had walked in through
the arecanut groves and encircled the 31 BSF personnel guarding the post.
The BSF held their ground and waited for reinforcements to be sent. It
took a day for three additional companies (each company comprises 100
men) to reach the area. The BSF asked for a flag meeting-the usual practice
to settle such adventurism which has happened several times along the
border. But the BDR stuck to its stand that Pyrdiwah was part of Bangladesh
and asked the BSF for proof that the village was on Indian territory.
When the BSF showed them papers, the BDR said they wanted to see original
documents, not photocopies.
All along the BDR insisted that the BSF vacate
the village and that they would not budge because they had orders from
Dhaka. The next day, on April 17, BDR Director-General Fazlur Rahman gave
details of the Pyrdiwah thrust and told the media proudly: "We have
just completed a mission to restore our territory and sovereignty."
It may have also been a ploy by Bangladesh Prime
Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed to shake off her pro-India image, which could
prove to be a liability in an election year. The Indian response, however,
spun things out of control.