India and Bangladesh begin a five-day border conflict, but are unable to resolve the disputes about their border

India and Bangladesh begin a five-day border conflict, but are unable to resolve the disputes about their border

16 April 2001 AC

The 2001 Indian–Bangladeshi border conflict was a brief armed conflict in April 2001 between India and Bangladesh over the poorly marked international border between the countries.

 

Cause

The Partition of Bengal in 1947 left a poorly demarcated international border between India and Bangladesh (then-East Pakistan). Ownership of several villages on both sides of the de facto border were disputed and claimed by both countries. The dispute over the demarcation of the Indo-Bangladeshi border worsened due to the existence of over 190 enclaves.

 

One of the disputed areas was a small sliver of land near the village of Pyrdiwah which the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) had occupied since the 1971 liberation of Bangladesh. The village was one of the Indian exclaves near the border of Bangladesh with the Indian state of Meghalaya. Bangladesh claimed that the village was within its territory.

 

Conflict

The April 16–19 fighting was the worst since the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. It took place around the village of Padua (known as Pyrdiwah in India), which adjoins the Indian state of Meghalaya and the Timbil area of the Bangladesh border in the Sylhet district. In that area, 6.5 kilometres of the border have remained in dispute for the past 30 years.

 

The trigger for the clash appears to have been an attempt by Indian forces to construct a footpath from an army outpost in Padua across a disputed territory some 300 metres wide to Indian Meghalaya. When the Indian Border Security Force refused to withdraw, the Bangladeshi border force attacked and retook Pyrdiwah village. As per the Bangladesh Rifles chief, the village had been illegally occupied by India since Bangladesh's war of independence in 1971.

 

A few days later, Indian border guards retaliated and tried to enter Boroibari, more than 100 km to the west of Padua/Pyrdiwah. Boroibari is another disputed area between India and Bangladesh. In a violent confrontation 16 Indian border guards died and 2 were injured. The attack also left 3 Bangladeshi border guards dead and 5 injured. About 10.000 civilians fled the area after some 24 were wounded in the shooting.

 

Result

Top Indian border security sources claimed that the BDR personnel had retreated in the Meghalaya sector, while in the Assam sector, the Indian BSF had vacated positions seized from Bangladesh. Fresh clashes erupted along the India–Bangladesh border just hours after both sides voiced regret for the recent killings, but by midnight of 20 April firing had again stopped. An article reported that 6,000 Indian civilians had fled the region, and Indian government officials were attempting to convince villagers to return to their homes. Bangladesh later agreed to return 16 dead Indian soldiers the next day. Upon examining the bodies of the dead personnel, India alleged that the BSF men were tortured before being shot dead. Three Bangladeshi soldiers were also killed: two during combat and another who died of wounds sustained during operations.

 

Aftermath

 April 2001, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina spoke to then-Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and agreed to order a high-level investigation over the incident, especially the torture of BSF men. The two leaders spoke again a month later, and Hasina "expressed regrets" over the border skirmish. Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Raminder Jassal reported that both India and Bangladesh would improve diplomatic channels and promised to exercise restraint in the future. India and Bangladesh started talks in March 2002 to resolve their border disputes. By July 2001, the two sides established joint working groups to establish the un-demarcated sections of the border.

 

Officially, Bangladesh denied it had initiated hostilities. This was the first armed conflict between India and Bangladesh, two nations that had maintained friendly relations since Bangladeshi independence in 1971. The end of the brief conflict saw an upsurge of nationalism in Bangladesh. In parliamentary elections, the four-party right-wing alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh won a majority of 196 seats out of 300.

 

Bangladesh ordered no courts martial, suspensions, or transfers of any local commanders. Both sides desisted from any further hostilities and began border talks to discuss disputes along their 4,000-kilometre (2,500 mi) border. Relations were cooled down shortly afterwards. India later began constructing a fence along the entire length of the international border with Bangladesh. India is still in the process of constructing the Indo-Bangladeshi barrier. Bangladesh protested that construction of the fence within 150 yards of the border was a gross violation of the Indo-Bangladeshi Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Peace. The Bangladesh government also protested frequent BSF incursions into Bangladesh, and shootings which resulted in the deaths of Bangladeshi citizens inside Bangladeshi territory. In a news conference in August 2008, it was stated that 97 people had been killed (69 Bangladeshis, 28 Indians, rest unidentified) trying to cross the border illegally during the prior six months.