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|April 20, 2001||
The Rediff Interview/ J N Dixit
JN Dixit was India's first high commissioner to Bangladesh soon after its liberation from Pakistan in 1971, by Indian forces.
As the first high commissioner and later India's foreign secretary, Dixit, played a key role in shaping India's relations with Bangladesh. One of India's best-known authorities on foreign affairs, he advocates a lenient view towards Bangladesh and appreciates the way India has tackled the present crisis along the border.
In an interview to Special Correspondent Josy Joseph, Dixit spoke about the stand off between Border Security Forces and Bangladesh Rifles in which 16 Indian soldiers and two Bangladeshi soldiers were killed.
According to you, what are the probable reasons behind the present fighting?
There are several speculative reasons behind the attacks. I feel probably there are two reasons that may have led to the incidents. One, the chief of the Bangladesh Rifles may have wanted to improve his image to establish some linkages with one or the other political party. He is known to have pro-Pakistani leanings.
He may have thought that he must do something major to impress the Opposition parties. This was not a small skirmish. Reports point out that there were five or six battalions involved.
The other is -- probably the Opposition parties instigated him to do this in the hope that India will be very angry and that would embarrass Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
But there is an underlying reality. Is it because we have disputed borders that the attacks were possible? Isn't it time that we solved these issues?
There are umpteen places along the border between India and Bangladesh that are disputed between the two countries. This is a very small area. Normally, such small skirmishes happen and nobody even notices. But this was big.
Some defence experts said it is possible that the BSF troops were captured, stripped of their weapons and killed in cold-blood. Do you buy that theory?
I do not frankly know. How can I say that sitting here, defence experts would be better placed to talk about that. But at least one story in the media said they had captured an area and when the BSF people went there to investigate, they were killed. They probably may not have expected such a large force to be present there.
The government does not seem to show an urgency in solving the border dispute with Bangladesh. Isn't that alarming?
When I was the foreign secretary we solved the biggest problem at the border, of Berubadi. We gave a corridor to Bangladesh for access. Actually negotiations after the Narasimha Rao government have not progressed well, and we are allowing these issues to hang fire.
How do you view India's reaction to the developments?
I think India's reaction till now has been very practical, well measured. After all, it was a major incident. India has been very careful not to embarrass Sheikh Hasina or any political party. But what I think forced the troops to withdraw in just 48 hours, is that on the ground we seemed to have given a strong warning, probably a warning that very strong action would be taken if they don't withdraw.
Is Pakistan's influence in Bangladesh a matter of concern?
If Pakistan intelligence operates in Bangladesh to create problems for India, yes it certainly is a matter of concern. And they have been operating there.
What practical steps have we taken in the past to fight this problem?
We have been telling them for a very long time not to allow Pakistani intelligence to operate from their land. In 1992, they assured us that they would not allow anyone to exploit their land against India. But Pakistan continues to operate there.
There are some who say that India should not be unnecessarily venturing into its neighbourhood. We liberated Bangladesh, and now we are being attacked. We went to Sri Lanka, we were chased away.
It is all very easy to sit in judgment 20 years after. We were involved in Bangladesh, not expecting the eternal friendship of Bangladesh. There was a situation that warranted our interference and we did that in the best of our judgment then. After all, there were 10 million Muslim refugees who had come to Assam and Bengal. An independent Bangladesh is much less of a danger than an East Pakistan.
Sri Lanka was a different case. We went there because our intervention was requested and we decided it was in the best interest of the region and country. We did not succeed there not because we were not capable, but because the great V P Singh government withdrew the Indian troops. Had our forces been allowed to stay on there, they would have solved the problem.
Is there a need to urgently step up the vigil along the Indo-Bangladesh border? Or is the present patrolling good enough?
Of course, the vigil needs to be stepped up.
Do you have any suggestions to solve such trouble along the India-Bangladesh border?
I personally feel that with Bangladesh, these disputed areas are so small that unless they are of some importance to our territorial integrity, we should let them have it.
As the Indo-Bangladesh border turns volatile, is there a need to replace the BSF with the Army along the border?
No need. Certainly not required. We are overusing our Army and reducing their fighting capacity. We send them wherever we feel like, without considering the long-term impact.
Design: Dominic Xavier
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