Saturday, August 8, 2009

Empty words from the Elephant

Despite its size the elephant is not generally acknowledged to be the king of the forest or of the savanna. That title is reserved for the tigers and the lions. The elephant, in most circumstances, does not cause smaller animals to run, hide, or otherwise avoid its presence. The elephant is more a part of the community than the lion or tiger.

Delhi, assuming it wants to enjoy a good relationship with its neighbors in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), might still need to learn this lesson. India is the regional elephant - demographically, economically and politically. This status, and the region's history since independence, can make its neighbors a bit anxious - and that is probably an understatement. Whether or not Delhi has genuine goodwill towards its neighbors will never be known but a recent border spat with Bangladesh, and events over the preceding weeks, call it into question.

Near the Shreepur border (Jaintapur, Sylhet) the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) have alleged that Indian Border Security Forces (BSF) are actively assisting the Khasi community in Meghalaya with resolving land disputes - across the Indo-Bangladesh border. The allegations state that BSF troops, over the last three days, have walked across the border and "captured" disputed land by removing flags that the BDR had placed (New Nation). It is very likely that the Khasi's border dispute is with Khasis in Bangladesh - the tribal community had been split in 1948 during Independence and Partition.

By itself these allegations are serious the BSF is assisting in resolving land disputes, making a mockery of the civil justice system. That these disputes are across an international boundary, makes the BSF's actions a casus belli.

But there's also another dimension. Two weeks ago the BSF and BDR held a flag meeting in which they pledged to maintain a "tension-free" border. At the Tinbigha Corridor point (Patgram sub-district, Lalmonirhat) the BSF Deputy Inspector General of Jalpaiguri Sector agreed "not to open fire or kill innocent Bangladeshis." Besides, the BDR and BSF agreed to address other cross-border issues including human and drug trafficking (New Nation).

Within a week the BSF Director General ML Kumawat held a conference with his BDR counterparts in Dhaka. The discussion featured topics such as the continued murder of Bangladeshi citizens on the border, the repatriation of criminals, and border development and policing (Daily Star). Since the beginning of July the BSF has killed at least 4 people in addition to the land-grabbing (13 July, 16 July, 21 July).

If the recent BSF actions, regarding the "capturing" of land, were undertaken unilaterally, without the consent of Delhi or BSF command than the officers responsible should be held responsible for their brazen disregard for international law. If these actions were taken with the consent of Delhi - then not much can be done.

As the regional hegemon, India will act as it sees fit. However, only through cooperation (and trust) will the region progress in any meaningful way. Trust is not built through holding a conference and simultaneously "capturing" land.

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