Infiltration into Bengal from Bangladesh has acquired scary dimensions as IS sympathizers could be among them. With little collaboration between the BSF and police, could it become another playground for terrorists?
By Sujit Bhar in Kolkata
WEST Bengal’s 2,216.7km porous border with Bangladesh is seeing massive infiltration into India and there are ominous signs that terror outfits, even dreaded Islamic State (IS) sympathizers, may have come in. By unofficial estimates, there are on an average, around 600 illegal entrants into India every day. This, however, is denied by the Border Security Force (BSF). What was mainly an economic issue and a struggle for life has now turned ugly. In the midst, the police, which is responsible for keeping citizens safe by drawing out sensitive information to pre-empt attacks, is restive and short on confidence, laid low by constant political interference.
There are around 600 illegal entrants into India every day. But what was mainly an economic issue and a struggle for life has now turned ugly.
According to a highly placed source, the police force in border districts has been virtually rendered useless and the BSF, manning the actual border, gets little or no backup information to act upon. The infiltration continues unabated. This is despite the fact that the BSF here has killed no fewer than 15-20 people every year. Still, terror walked in, when in October 2014, the Bardhaman blast took place.
Looking back, it was found that the fault lay with Indian security nets and poorly hared intelligence. Some time before the blast,Indian Mujahideen (IM) co-founder Yasin Bhatkal had been arrested in Kolkata. But a pathetic lack of coordination between central and local intelligence agencies allowed Bhatkal, travelling on a false identity, to walk away despite being found with a cache of fake Indian currency notes. The result showed up in Pune’s German Bakery blast in 2010, which killed 17 and injuring 60. It was suspected that the raw material for the blast was given to Bhatkal in Kolkata by an IM operative in Nadia, a district bordering Bangladesh. It is believed that fake currency was used liberally to source and purchase raw materials for the blast and also to fund terrorist sleeper cells within Bengal.
Kolkata is fast becoming the center of arms caches and transfers from the border with Bangladesh. This has been proven over and over again in recent years. Yet intelligence, the very plinth on which any security environment rests, has been hacked from inside by political freewheeling.
Ask any officer in-charge of a police station in the border districts and one can find little evidence of pre-emptive arrests. Even if an arrest is made, political dadas land up immediately and virtually order the suspect’s release. Added to that are the fastchanging demographics of these districts, which indicate that influx of people is taking place rather than organic growth. Though the vote bank swells for the ruling Trinamool party—it was little different in the latter stages of the Left Front rule—it has grown to fearsome proportions now and adds to the overall threat perception.
According to a senior IPS officer who didn’t want to be named: “Thanedars have been rendered useless, their capabilities never allowed to be put to use against threats and all men at their disposal rendered puppets of the ruling party.” The result is an absolute vacuum of information and a situation in which any number of terrorist threats can emanate.
A thanedar India Legal spoke to in South 24 Parganas district, which is extremely susceptible to infiltration, said: “The situation is such that we dare not take any serious action against wrongdoers and people found with suspected movements. Under law, they can be easily apprehended and may yield important and useful information,leading to further arrests. However, they represent a large section of the vote bank, and with the 2016 assembly elections coming up, the ruling party is in no mood to put public safety over votes.”
The IPS officer points to the demographic change. “Not many years ago, this area had a 40-45 percent Muslim population.I have myself seen it grow to around 50 percent in a few years and now I have information that it has become around 60 percent,” he said. “The rate at which the demographics have changed cannot emanate from organic growth. It can only happen through massive, unchecked infiltration.”
So what is the BSF’s job? Would the new fencing being constructed help? “The fencing could help, but the problem remains on two fronts. First, a fourth of the India-Bangladesh border is riverine, making it very difficult to man and patrol. Also, huge cattle smuggling has resulted in gaping holes in the fencing,” said the bureaucrat.
This theory has been supported by a BSF official who has said that with lack of enough manpower at the border “two BSF jawans with batons would naturally step aside from herds of marauding cattle being driven at full gallop towards the border by smugglers in the dead of night”.
Another sticky issue is that while the BSF has advanced night vision equipment (such as LORROS, HHTI, BFSR, night vision goggles),with Bangladesh being a friendly neighbor, firearms are not issued as a regular practice at the border. So, even when they can see infiltrators, they actually have no viable way of stopping them.
Police can immediately spot new people or families. But political interference has ensured that infiltrators get their documents at a quick pace. Some even buy land and settle down even when none is officially available.
Police can immediately spot new people or families. But political interference has ensured that infiltrators get their documents at a quick pace. Some even buy land and settle down even when none is officially.
The BSF has taken steps in this regard though. BSF director-general DK Pathak reportedly said that his forces had taken an aggressive strategy, with a special joint task force being set up with Border Guards Bangladesh. Mapping of Border on Posts (BOPs) is on too at a fast pace.
Pathak also said: “The earlier stand of not retaliating to the attacks of infiltrators has led to casualties of our troops. Nonlethal strategy can’t be used at the cost of casualties of our men. We try to follow nonlethal means as far as possible, but not beyond a limit and this strategy has reduced injury and casualty rates of our troops.”
The fence is a deterrent, but when cattle smugglers cut the fence, it is used by infiltrators even before it can be repaired. “That is where local law-keeping agencies—the police force—come into play. They can keep a watch on the local population and immediately spot new people or families and check their credentials,” said the senior official. “Even that is problematic. Political interference means that the infiltrators get their ration cards and Aadhaar cards, voter IDs and other documentation done at a quick pace. Some are able to ‘buy’ land and settle down, even though there is actually no land available to ‘buy’. The forgery will stay hidden in official records for years, maybe decades, before coming to light. Meanwhile, the infiltrators would have become naturalized citizens, adding to the vote bank.”
ISLAMIC STATE ATTACK
What has now has lent an ominous color to this situation is the IS. On November 26, the IS owned up to an attack on a Shi’ite mosque in Bangladesh that killed a cleric and wounded three. This was the second attack within a month on Bangladesh’s tiny Shia population. It was a completely pre-planned attack, with three young men hiding in the mosque in northwestern Bogra district and shooting men indiscriminately during prayers. Not long ago, two foreigners, four secular bloggers and a publisher were killed in that country.
According to the IPS officer: “It’s just a matter of time before IS sympathizers—believed to be the most brutal of all jihadists—slip into Indian territory. Their immediate work would be to establish themselves within the community in Bengal—as others have—and then source funds from within India and from outside and even use fake currency notes. Having done that, they would not only be in a position to carry out terror attacks within Bengal, but use their bases to infiltrate other parts of the country, quite like a virus. Two major rail stations in Kolkata which are easily accessible from these border districts are Sealdah and Howrah. They connect to the rest of the country,” he said.
But is the state prepared to tackle this? “Not at all,” he said. “If the BSF is facing several handicaps with a very porous border, the state police has been rendered virtually helpless through political interference. In order to fetch short-term political gains, the state government has allowed long-term destruction to creep in unchecked.”
The policeman corroborated this. “Smalltime felonies these days—like the stealing a chicken—are often leading to riot-like situations.This is new to these areas. We are sitting on a ticking time bomb. The policeman on foot can only travel so much and oversee that much. And when we find suspects, one phone call from him brings the political dadas to the thana. We are people with families and we need our jobs,” said one of them.
What is scary is that the information bank has touched a nadir. The BSF has little to fall back on, and even when this force and the state police collaborate, they come up against fake documentation of suspects, created deliberately to add them to the vote bank. “Petty politicking has struck a death blow to the security atmosphere of this very sensitive area,” says the officer. And that’s a dangerous game to play..