Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Border of discord

With the success of the recently-concluded Indo-Bangla talks on trade, one hoped that the parleys on the boundary issue would make some headway, if not be a runaway success. But the two-day deliberations (July 16 - 17, 2006) by the Joint Boundary Working Group (JBWG) came to a close without any breakthrough on the longstanding issues of border demarcation, exchange of enclaves and construction of boundary pillars. The Indian side had placed a package formula for demarcating 6.5 km of undemarcated border mostly in their favour prior to resolving other issues. But according to highly placed sources, Dhaka asked for a comprehensive solution to all the issues and didn't quite accept New Delhi's offer.

The border dispute points to the unstable political relationship between the two neighbours and accentuates problems of illegal immigration, smuggling, arms trafficking and frequent skirmishes between the paramilitary forces of the two countries. "The issue of border management, we feel, has been greatly hindered by the fact that the Land Boundary Agreement of 1974 has not yet been ratified by the Indian government..." the Daily Stars says in an editorial. To thrash out the issues, Prime Ministers Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Indira Gandhi signed a Land Boundary Agreement in 1974. Bangladesh officials say that non-implementation of the 1974 agreement is the cause of the occasional outbreak of fierce skirmishes along the border.

While Bangladesh ratified the agreement through the Third Amendment to the Constitution on November 28, 1974, India still has to do the needful to ensure that the border talks forge ahead. "We must address some ground realities that continue to hamper the just and equitable application of all the articles of the Boundary Agreement of 1974," says Daily Star. While diplomats from the Dhaka side have been pressing India for ratification, New Delhi maintains that before that is done, the 6.5-km area remaining should be demarcated. "The incomplete border demarcation due to non-ratification remains an irritant not only to the two countries' border guards but also creates unnecessary tension in the bilateral relations through mutual suspicion," the paper says in a report.
The two sides have agreed to hold the next JBWG meeting in New Delhi at a mutually convenient date to be decided through diplomatic channels.

And as a matter of suggestion, the Daily Star says, "We must approach the Indo-Bangladesh border issue in a holistic rather than piecemeal manner. Very few will contest the assertion that the Bangladesh-India border is less than peaceful". "The need," it says, "is to move expeditiously to resolve the hindrances to fulfilling the border agreement provisions". With latest round of talks going kaput, what is done to break the deadlock remains to be seen.

(Written for HT on July 20, 2006)

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