The Rediff Special/ Wing Commander Ravindra Parasnis (retired)
I remember the war that created Bangladesh. As we drove in, either in hot pursuit of the Pakistani army or bypassing their strongholds, we were welcomed by the people of erstwhile East Pakistan with enthusiasm. They stood by their farms and huts, shouting pro-India and pro-Mujibur Rahman slogans. They even insisted on presenting us with whatever food they could -- fresh vegetables, eggs, chicken, fish, etc -- and hugged us with respect and affection. We were welcomed as the liberating heroes.
After the fall of Dhaka, we were concerned about how the fully-armed Mukti Bahini, who were roaming about freely, would be disarmed. They were hunting down the Bihari Muslims, most of whom had sided with Pakistan. We had to establish special camps to protect these Muslims from the Bahini. What aggravated our problem was the fact that, since we were the frontline troops of the Indian army, we did not have a ready record of the number and the location of the Bahini.
Even as we grappled with these conditions, the politicians of the newly-born nation were only concerned with taking over the control of the country from us at the earliest. It never occurred to them that Bangladesh was in turmoil, that there was the danger of the Mukti Bahini taking over; that suddenly taking over the rule of a country under these conditions of complete chaos was no joke.
True to our word, we sorted out the mess as best as we could and handed over to them the rule of their country in record time.
But, even as the Indian army was assisting the Bangladeshis in administering their country, they were asking us when we would return to India. I was reminded of an American journalist's words. In an article written soon after our victory and the surrender of Pakistan's army at Dhaka, he cautioned us against being too joyous. He wrote: "For the first three days, the Indians will be welcomed as the liberators, for the next 10 days tolerated as partners in putting their country in order and then hated as the occupation army."
Within a few years after the war, the Bangladeshis were fighting us tooth and nail for the waters of Ganga and against the Farakka Barrage. They even fired at our border posts, and I wondered how ungrateful these people could be! We had paid a heavy price in blood and war expenses for putting an end to an oppressive rule that condoned the systematic mass murders and mass rapes perpetrated by the Pakistani army. We had even succeeded in creating an independent country called Bangladesh in an age when redrawing maps with blood was no longer acceptable. We helped this war-ravaged country to stand on her own feet. Under the circumstances, they could have certainly attempted to solve mutual problems such as water-sharing in an amicable manner.
No doubt, separating East and West Pakistan was India's political goal, but it was not our compulsive obsession. We had lived with the two Pakistans for 25 years. We could have continued to do so. While we achieved our political aim, we also did a lot good for the people of Bangladesh
The Bangladeshis must remember the assistance we gave them when they were tortured and killed like animals; when their women were raped in their thousands every day and the students in practically every girls' hostel were held hostage as 'comfort women'. Instead of questioning our motives, they must remember we saved them from absolute hell without asking for anything in return. When they did not have a single friend in the world, we helped them and made them into a nation.
We had no wish to hold on to their country. With an open heart and noble feelings, we put their country in order and handed it over to them. Yet, we continue to face the exodus of refugees from Bangladesh -- at present, the figure is around 15 million illegal immigrants -- and their government is doing nothing about it.
For heaven's sake, we are not expecting eternal gratitude. All we expect is friendly relations and they can't give us even that. They would rather blame us for technical points such as our failure to demarcate the border. May I ask, though, what Bangladesh -- which shares equal responsibility on this issue -- has done about it?
We have been too decent and, therefore, have seemed too weak. It is a universal truth that 'weaklings are never respected.'
As a matter of fact, post-war, I felt we should have entered into a detailed agreement with Bangladesh that would have allowed us to retain a few pockets under dual control, at convenient locations around the border. These areas, as specified in the agreement, would be used to house the refugees. We should have also made arrangements to seal the border at short notice, whenever we found the necessity to do so. Above all, everytime they engaged in unprovoked firing on our posts at the border, we should have given a stern reply. This would have acted as a deterrent against future mischief. Power and force do not earn automatic respect, willingness to use them does.
The demarcation of the border
Demarcating borders is an extremely difficult task. Maps are never accurate. Disagreements can be multi-dimensional. And rivers change course, throwing all arrangements into disarray. Both sides have to, of necessity, be flexible, lest the people suffer. No agreement can be perfect or take all factors into account at the time of negotiations. For practical day-to-day working, the principle of 'as is where is' is often applied by both the parties for the sake of convenience, though the arrangements may not match the maps and/or agreed understandings on paper between the two nations.
Guarding the border
This involves manning guard posts, patrolling, intelligence collection and generally keeping vigil to prevent smuggling, gun running, cross-border movement of militants, cross-border criminal activities like thefts (mainly animal lifting), kidnapping (mainly women), drug trafficking, illegal immigration/ border-crossing by fugitives and, of course, border incursions.
The normal border guards are from police organisations and are armed with only light weapons, which are rarely brought to use. The army is called in only under conditions of tension and, in case of a skirmish, uses its heavy and destructive weaponry. Under normal conditions, and between friendly countries, the two armies never face each other. Firing between the two border police is rare and, even then, mostly accidental. Fatalities are even more rare. In such case, an apology is immediately given and compensation, promptly rendered. The dead are treated with utmost respect and full co-operation is given to the opposite side as far returning the body is concerned.
Normal relations between border guards are friendly and they exchange sweets and other speciality eatables on national occasions and festivals.
Disagreements/disputes can arise between the opposing border guards on account of a hundred different causes -- setting up new posts, construction of fencing, roads, bridges or any defensive or other structures contrary to mutual understandings, etc. The use of short cuts in remote and inaccessible areas, the result of an understanding between local commanders at a junior level, can become suddenly invalid due to a change in higher level policies or a change in command or regiments, etc.
Construction of defensive structures is, often, a very innocuous activity. It could be a small, temporary bridge or an elevated footpath to avoid walking through slush or knee-deep water which the jawans have to cross repeatedly during the day. Usually, friendly border guards ignore such construction, though it may be technically against an agreement between the two countries. Besides, such friendly gestures are mutual and reciprocal. So, both sides gain in matters of day-to-day convenience. Easy accessibility is all that the border guards, and the people inhabiting the border areas, desire.
Therefore, similar convenience-oriented construction may be undertaken, in all innocence, by civilian inhabitants at the border provinces. Between friendly countries, they rarely become a bone of contention. If and when they do, they are sorted out peacefully, without resorting to arms or forcible occupation or any other provocative action.
When disagreements arise or objections are raised, they are always resolved through flag meetings between local commanders of both sides. Where necessary, progressively higher level meetings -- this can go up to the highest political level -- can be arranged to sort out the disputes. This is how cultured and friendly neighbouring countries should behave. Hostile acts are never resorted to without proper warnings of increasing severity at various levels. Forcibly occupying a neighbouring country's border posts tantamounts to intrusion and/or aggression under any circumstances and is considered an act of serious provocation.
Genesis of the present problem
In the absence of a official version of what happened, one can infer the following picture from the various bits of information that have emerged through various sources:
The Bangladeshi village Pyrdiwah (called Padua in Bangladesh) has been is in our possession since 1947. Bangladesh has full knowledge of this matter. Likewise, our village Boraibari is in Bangladesh's possession. The present crisis began when the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) objected to some defensive construction being carried out near Pyrdiwah. Without resorting to peaceful methods to settle the dispute, the BDR built up a superior force of three to four regiments; this is a very large force and cannot escape notice. They also brought in the army for heavy weapons support. This should have sent warning bells ringing through the BSF and the intelligence community.
It was absolutely incorrect of Bangladesh to build up such a large force to surround Pyrdiwah. That, by itself, was a hostile act. The BSF should have lodged an official protest and, at the same time, committed itself to appropriate counter-measures to discourage Bangladesh from resorting to any kind of adventurism. The fact that they did not do so meant the BSF failed in their fundamental duty.
Eventually, the BDR launched a pre-planned, well-prepared attack on our post at Pyrdiwah, surrounding and capturing it with the help of a vastly superior force. According to the villagers, the BSF had sufficient warning that this might happen, but they remained careless.
We have actually committed any, or a combination, of the following errors:
Be that as it may, Bangladesh had now committed an extremely hostile and provocative act. The BDR has habitually been pinpricking India and getting away with it on account of our basically defensive attitude and slow -- often no -- reactions.
- There was an intelligence failure.
- Both the BSF and the intelligence community were negligent and careless.
- The available intelligence was not correctly analysed. Hence, we could not pinpoint the intentions of the enemy.
- The BSF did not appreciate the military situation correctly.
- As a result of inaction, or slow reaction, there was no counter build-up.
- Complete failure to foresee the severity of the Bangladeshi reaction to our incursion.
Something like this had also preceded the Kargil war. Readers may be interested to learn I had heard of Pakistani Rangers occupying one of our rarely-frequented, high altitude border positions in Kargil when the snows melted. This happened years before the last battle. When our border police discovered this transgression and demanded our post back, Pakistan claimed it as her own. Since it was a very minor post, I believe we did nothing more about it. It may not even have even been reported to the higher levels. Pakistan could have developed the idea to intrude into Kargil after this incident. They may have thought they could get away with it.
Returning to the Pyrdiwah incident, the BSF, which had tolerated many small pinpricks before, may have considered a proper retaliation was in order on this occasion. They decided to go occupy Boraibari (called Roumari in Bangladesh), which is more than 200 km to the north in Kurigram, a different district altogether. It was, in all probability, a cumulative effect of all the previous irritation they had suffered.
Part II: 'We have to smash the anti-Indian mischief-makers'
Design: Lynette Menezes
Check out our Full Coverage of the Bangladeshi intrusion.
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