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MENDING FENCES

It is difficult to question a country's right to defend its borders. It is another matter, though, if the borders are both a contentious legacy of the past and a source of trouble in the present. That seems to be at the root of the tension between India and Bangladesh over the construction of barbed-wire fencing on the borders. The latest hostility between the Border Security Force and the Bangladesh Rifles over the construction of such fencing in Tripura has followed a familiar pattern. Only marginally is the dispute related to the border management agreement of 1975 between the countries. True, the agreement bars any country from erecting any defensive structure within 150 yards of the no-man's land. But Dhaka's complaint about India violating this part of the agreement is also a diversionary tactic. It is no secret that Bangladesh is opposed to the idea of fencing, even if it is well within Indian territory. For Dhaka, the idea itself smacks of hostility, irrespective of whether the fencing conforms to the 1975 pact. Curiously, the mandarins in Bangladesh's foreign ministry tend to think that it can stall the Indian constructions by force. The result is always an exchange of firing on the borders that not only scares innocent people on both sides but also strains bilateral relations further.

The problem is that Dhaka refuses to face the reality behind the Indian move to fence the borders. For New Delhi, the fencing is needed to check illegal migration into India from across the borders. It is also linked to India's security concerns. The activities of some terrorist groups within Bangladesh have added a sense of urgency to the Indian response. Even the international community is worried about the rise of these groups. But Dhaka seems to be paranoid about the Indian perception of the twin threat from terrorism and illegal migration. It cannot help matters if Bangladesh continues to maintain its absurd position that there are no illegal migrants from that country into India. The fencing may not look a friendly act, but India has little option but to go ahead with it. It may go some way towards checking the illegal influx as well as the smuggling of goods across the borders. At another level, the spat over the fencing is also a measure of the tension in the relations between the two countries. Things are unlikely to improve if Dhaka continues to ignore India's security concerns.

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