Concerns over border killings understandable, but Dhaka misses mark by turning face from menace of cattle smuggling

While Dhaka's distress at the reports of cattle smugglers being lynched or killed in shootouts with the BSF is understandable, it does itself no favours by ignoring the magnitude of the challenge the force is up against or the menace of cattle smuggling launched from its borders.

FP Staff August 20, 2020 11:55:19 IST
Concerns over border killings understandable, but Dhaka misses mark by turning face from menace of cattle smuggling

On Wednesday, Bangladesh's foreign ministry expressed deep concern over killings at the India-Bangladesh border by 'BSF, Indian nationals' and called for the Border Security Force to exercise maximum restraint.

While Dhaka's distress at the reports of cattle smugglers being lynched or killed in shootouts with the BSF is understandable, it does itself no favours by ignoring the magnitude of the challenge the force is up against or the menace of cattle smuggling launched from its borders.

The cattle smuggling industry, estimated by some at a billion dollars, sees tens of thousands of animals illegally transported to Bangladesh through the border, a demand that is always high and which usually peaks ahead of Eid festivities.

In 2019, 16,350 cattle were seized and 50 Bangladeshi and 70 Indian smugglers have been arrested, as per the BSF. In 2018, 38,950 cattle were seized from the South Bengal border in 2018.

And while the BSF has been using 'non-lethal' weapons to reduce deadly incidents with smugglers since 2011 — the toll from 2009 to 2017 was only 294 compared to 1,000 between 2001 and 2009 — the attacks on BSF personnel have not stopped with more than 800 personnel being injured by smugglers (16 in 2020 alone), as per this Observer Research Foundation piece.

The BSF maintains that it fires only when a situation turns "ugly" and the lives of its troops are in danger. A top BSF officer said: "Forces open fire only when the situation gets out of hand, otherwise normal procedure is followed to nab the smugglers who are then handed over to the police".

As per The Times of India, 2017, 2018 and 2019 saw 937, 1,274 and 2,014 personnel being injured with 445, 414, and 746 fence breaches, as per statistics put out by the BSF.

Just last month, three BSF personnel were brutally beaten with bamboo sticks and a sharp-edged cleaver like weapons near the India-Bangladesh border in West Bengal. as per PTI.

'Treated like traders'

According to an official, speaking on condition of anonymity to PTI, cattle smugglers from India are treated as traders once they cross over to Bangladesh. "All these smugglers need to do is to furnish taka 500 [Rs 438] per animal to the officials in Bangladesh afterwards 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.

Floating banana stems are hugely popular for illegally sending cows, oxen and buffaloes across the border into Bangladesh using the flow of river. Vast rivers with strong water currents are favourable for the smugglers who prefer sending the cattle after sunset to avoid detection.

The smugglers place the heads of the bovines between two strong banana stems and tie them together before they are pushed in the deep water, allowing the currents to take the animals to the other side of the border where their accomplices wait for the livestock.

How Bangladesh benefits

As per the official, Bangladesh generates income at three stages from this vicious cycle of cattle smuggling.

First, they get revenue at the entry of the animal in Bangladesh, second in meat export and third is the industries related to it like textiles.

The factors contributing to cattle smuggling include the supply and demand chain, unabated movement of cattle from the hinterland to border areas. Porous border and unfenced gaps are favourable conditions for the smugglers.

Since it is a source of income for the government of Bangladesh, the BSF does not get any support from its counterpart Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) to stop cattle smuggling, the official said.

BSF-BGP at odds

In July, the BSF, in a first, put out a statement citing religious and medical reasons outlining why smuggled cattle is not fit for consumption and even accused the BGP of supporting the "inhuman, merciless and seditious" activity of cattle smuggling.

As per Indian Express, the press statement dated 6 July signed by  DIG SS Guleria of South Bengal Frontier, read: "When they [cattle] arrive in Bangladesh, there are hundreds of Bangladeshi cattle smugglers who capture these animals, using their speedboats. This task is sometimes done with the agreement of the Border Guard Bangladesh personnel."

The BGB quickly hit back at the BSF in a press statement, saying the lack of action on part of the BSF "undoubtedly raises questions when the Indian smugglers gather cattle heads on their soil and smuggle those through waterways along the borders".

For making more profit, the Indian smugglers become very enthusiastic about smuggling cows to Bangladesh which also affects local farmers, the BGB added. The BGB further alleged that the news was published only to "cover up" the BSF's failure to curb cattle smuggling.

The relationship between the two countries over cattle smuggling wasn't always so acrimonious.

In 2019, 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 shared 4,0960-km frontier.

Brigadier Jalal Gani, Commander of the North West Region, Bangladesh, had said that smugglers are poor people who indulge in the illegal activity just to sustain themselves and not to lead a lavish lifestyle.

"Regarding the killing of smugglers by the BSF, this is our request that we should follow the law of the land. Killing is not the solution," the commander said.

That may be true, but Bangladesh would be better served trying to clean up things on its own side before pointing fingers at India.

With inputs from PTI

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