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Burdwan blast underscores the threat unchecked population flow poses for India and Bangladesh

Author: Chandan Nandy & Rudroneel Ghosh
Publication: The Times of India
Date: October 8, 2014
URL: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/toi-editorials/burdwan-blast-underscores-the-threat-unchecked-population-flow-poses-for-india-and-bangladesh/

Five days after an ‘accidental’ blast in a nondescript flat in Khagragarh area of Burdwan town in West Bengal blew up two suspected terrorists, reports have begun emerging that a part of the operational wing of the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JuMB) crossed the porous international border in 2009 to pursue its aim to overthrow the Bangladesh government of Sheikh Hasina.

The Burdwan incident highlights the abject failure of West Bengal police to detect JuMB modules and neutralise them even as Indian and Bangladeshi security agencies have increasingly begun cooperating on counterterrorism.

West Bengal, under both the Left Front and the Trinamool Congress, is the proverbial chink in the armour, with the state intelligence machinery doing practically nothing — even purposely turning a blind eye — to stem the easy flow across the border of millions of Bangladeshis leaving their homeland for a relatively better livelihood in India. Along with these economic migrants have slipped in men who plot diabolical terror plans against their home country.

The lethargy and inertia of Bengal’s Intelligence Branch is partly because of politicisation and partly because the party in power, the Left Front as well as the TMC, would give tacit directives to the police to go easy on illegal immigrants. Besides the social and economic costs, massive illegal immigration poses a security challenge for receiving states.

Yet investigations so far into the Burdwan blast have exposed that all of those involved in bomb and crude weapons-manufacturing were Bangladeshi nationals who had obtained Indian iden-tity and citizenship documents through political patronage once they crossed over. There could be several Burdwan-like JuMB modules in Bengal’s thickly populated border districts.

Large-scale and unchecked illegal immigration has tremendous implications for the host country’s demography, culture, economy and politics. When the Centre’s response to the huge inflow has been guided by the security-stability and national-interest frameworks, which are invariably tied up with sovereignty, border control measures and political concerns, Bengal has been an outlier. Historically, among India’s border states Assam and West Bengal have been major entry points for millions of Bangladeshi illegal immigrants.

While in Assam the influx has reduced considerably over time, especially because the northeastern state has seen regular violent conflicts between natives and ‘foreign’ settlers, in West Bengal the inflow has remained unending as ethnic, linguistic and religious homogeneity has ensured that migrants, both Muslims and Hindus, have been able to ‘lose’ themselves in the teeming multitude.

Instead of addressing questions of assimilation and economic, social and political concerns, the Left Front regime in the past and the ruling TMC now have adopted an immigrant-friendly approach, in which the objective is to continue to increase and widen the voter base.

Curiously, Bangladesh has never fully acknowledged this large-scale illegal immigration. This despite the fact that several security-related issues clearly point to a cross-border nexus that could only be sustained by movement of people across the porous boundary.

Whether it is the smuggling of cattle, phensedyl or arms — as highlighted by the Burdwan bust where some of the accused have allegedly testified to sending across consignments of explosives to Bangladesh — a thriving black economy exists along the border areas. There are interest groups in Kolkata and Dhaka that sustain this illegal network, complicating efforts at a coherent security response. Nonetheless, India and Bangladesh must pool their resources to tackle this menace forthwith.

For New Delhi, a soft India-Bangladesh border leaves it open to the influx of terror modules akin to the one uncovered in Burdwan. Seen in the context of the recent announcement of the formation of al-Qaida’s subcontinental wing and reports detailing ISIS’s efforts to fish for recruits in the region, this is indeed ominous.

Effective border coordination between India’s BSF and Border Guards Bangladesh must be bolstered by quick demarcation of the land boundary via ratification of a Constitution amendment Bill pending in the Indian Parliament. In fact, settlement of the India-Bangladesh enclaves or chhitmahals — which are used as launch pads by smugglers and traffickers — is a prerequisite for a defined and regulated India-Bangladesh border.

From Dhaka’s point of view, curbing the cross-border nexus is crucial to securing political stability. Nefarious elements in Bangladesh have been using the border areas as safe havens, especially since the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League government came to power in 2009. The latter’s crackdown on extremist groups has forced them to rely even more on the cross-border nexus to plot their anti-government agenda. Following this year’s January 5 elections that saw all major Bangladeshi opposition parties boycott the polls, there are fears that the next wave of anti-government agitation will be fuelled by these sinister networks.

This also ties in with recent reports that the Awami dispensation is facing threats from assorted opposition groups that want to overthrow the current regime. Read along with BNP chief Khaleda Zia’s announcement that an anti-government agitation was looming, Dhaka needs to keep its guard up. It must work in tandem with New Delhi to keep a close watch on the border to prevent terror activities.

For far too long authorities on both sides of the border have adopted a duplicitous approach to the illegal immigration issue. This now risks blowing up in both New Delhi and Dhaka’s faces.
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