The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Teeth for forces on Bangla border

New Delhi, July 25: The security set-up along the border with Bangladesh has been rejigged with a record number of battalions of the Border Security Force being deployed.

Besides, battalion commanders have been authorised to open fire in retaliatory action without waiting for clearances from New Delhi, sources said.

The decision to give battalion commanders the authority to take retaliatory action flows from the army’s experience along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir before the ceasefire with Pakistan began in 2003.

Army headquarters had concluded that “localised punitive action” often worked to silence Pakistani guns and Pakistani military support for infiltration.

“It has never been admitted earlier but for 14 years, we have had to man the Bangladesh border with very limited resources because we had pulled out 60 per cent of our personnel from the east and sent them to Jammu and Kashmir,” an officer told The Telegraph.

“For the first time in a decade-and-a-half, we are nearly back to the desired level of BSF battalions along the Bangladesh border,” he added.

This means that the deployment of the BSF along the 4,095-km border with Bangladesh has been doubled from 39 to 79 battalions. Each BSF battalion has roughly 800 soldiers.

Another 15 per cent troops could still be posted to the Bangladesh border but they were also needed in counter-insurgency duties elsewhere, the officer said.

The doubling of BSF troops, combined with the authority of local BSF commanders to take action, can lead to friction with the Bangladesh Rifles. The two forces do not enjoy a good rapport despite their directors-general-level meetings twice a year.

The friction is also a fallout of the “wall of deniability” policy ' as an external affairs ministry official describes it 'Dhaka has adopted.

Heavy deployment will mean more action on the Bangladesh border to curb infiltration but BSF headquarters has been concerned for some time with the complicity of some of its own officials in rackets involving the transfer of Bangladeshis to India.

A major worry ' heightened because investigation into the Mumbai blasts points to a trail headed towards Bangladesh ' is the number of Bangladeshis in India with valid visas who have not returned to their country after the expiry of their permits.

In the last four years from just the Petrapole (Bongaon) border crossing, the number of Bangladeshis who have come into India but have not returned is more than 1.31 lakh.

The reinforcement of BSF positions has taken place because of the “wall of deniability” Dhaka has erected in response to Indian charges that insurgent groups are being sheltered in Bangladesh.

It comes about after Dhaka’s silence on repeated invitations from the Indian Army for a military-to-military engagement that goes beyond training programmes.

The BSF is the only force that is deployed on 4,095 km along the Bangladesh border, which makes it unique to the eastern frontier.

All other borders ' western with Pakistan or northern with China or northeastern with Myanmar have multiple forces such as the BSF, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police, the army and the Assam Rifles.

The fencing of the border by India is only half-done. Even with the fence, the border traverses across 54 rivers and other areas that cannot be sealed and will remain porous.

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