'Cross-border smuggling cannot be stopped fully'

Border Security Force (BSF) and Border Guard of Bangladesh (BGB) personnel greet each other on the occasion of Bengali New Year at the Indo-Bangladesh border at Hili near Balurghat in South Dinajpur district (PTI File Photo)

Bangladesh's border force has said that cross-border smuggling cannot be stopped completely at the Indo-Bangla frontier and sought greater cooperation from the BSF to tackle the menace.

Smuggling of cattle, drugs and narcotics, leather, arms and ammunition has been a major challenge for the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), the border guarding forces of the two countries.

On July 11, a BSF soldier lost his hand and suffered serious injuries in a bomb attack by Bangladeshi cattle smugglers along the India-Bangladesh border in West Bengal.

According to an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, cattle smugglers from India are treated as traders once they cross over to Bangladesh.

All they need to do is to furnish taka 500 per animal to the officials after which they are free to sell it to whoever they wish, he said.

“Since there is a huge demand for cattle in Bangladesh, smugglers never lose a single chance to cross over to the neighbouring country where they earn easy money. The demand and supply chain has to be broken,” the official said, adding that these criminals often open fire at the BSF, killing or injuring the officials deployed at the border.

Last month, the 48th bi-annual Director General-level talks between the BSF and the BGB concluded in Dhaka during which it was mutually decided to enhance cooperation to better check crime and smuggling of cattle and narcotics across the 4,096-km frontier shared by the neighbours.

In the meeting, the BSF and the BGB also decided to undertake joint efforts to reduce border killing incidents.

As the BSF maintains that it fires only when a situation turns 'ugly' and lives of its troops are in danger.

Calling for greater cooperation between the BSF and the BGB, Brigadier Jalal Gani, Commander of the North West Region, Bangladesh, said that although there have been many positive outcomes in border management over the years, some ground remains to be covered.

"Smugglers are very poor people. They smuggle to earn a livelihood and not for leading a lavish lifestyle," Gani said.

“Regarding the killing, this is our request that we should follow the law of the land. Killing is not the solution,” the commander told the visiting media delegation from India.

“We always try to catch them, investigate them and then hand them over to the officials concerned and follow procedures. The BSF also does the same thing but in some cases, the killing of smugglers takes place. Instances of torture also come to the fore. This should be stopped,” Gani said, adding that there should be zero tolerance for killing and the BSF and BGB should help each other.

Talking to the media, Ajmal Singh, IG, North Frontier BSF, said, “We have adopted a non-lethal strategy according to which the usage of lethal weapon is minimum."

“Bangladesh is a friendly country, the basic problem we are facing along the border is illegal infiltration, movement of criminals, cattle smuggling, fake currency, narcotics, arms and ammunition.

“Forces open fire only when the situation goes out of hand, otherwise the normal procedure is followed to nab the smugglers who are then handed over to the police to face justice,” he said.

When asked about the killing of the BSF officials by the criminals along the border, the Bangladesh commander said that he is aware of this but he doesn't have any data about the injuries and killing of the BSF officials.

“We should interact with border people and try to address their concerns for peace,” he said.

The BSF and the BGB interact a lot, hold regular conferences and have achieved a lot in terms of enhancing the bilateral ties and border management, the officer claimed.

“The effects of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) have been very positive. The smugglers and criminals know that they cannot create chaos and confusion among the two border guarding forces of India and Bangladesh. I must say that CBMs have been very effective for the forces,” he said.

“I have mentioned that you cannot stop smuggling completely. It is dependent upon the livelihood and illegal interest. Poor people living along the border areas are engaged in these activities so bringing down smuggling to zero is very difficult. No one supports or encourages smuggling but there should be no killing of smugglers,” he said.

"In self-defence, the usage of a lethal weapon takes place but it cannot be the case in each and every incident. There have been instances where this reason is cited in each and every killing," Gani said.

“We should go into the depth of the smuggling and eradicate it from the root,” he said.

“We think that there is a nexus between smugglers from both sides. Only those from Bangladesh alone cannot carry out the smuggling activities,” the officer said.

The incidence of smuggling is going down, which is a very positive sign, he said. 

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