The imperilled eastern frontier

The imperilled eastern frontier
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First Published: Thu, Dec 04 2008. 10 53 PM IST

Updated: Thu, Dec 04 2008. 10 53 PM IST
What could possibly link terrorist attacks in India, the ongoing climate change conference in Poznan, Poland, and the security of our eastern marches? Bangladesh is that link.
Bangladesh makes headlines only when suspected militants of the Harkat ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI) indulge in terrorism. The more serious threat, due to illegal migration from that country to states such as Assam, has been relegated to the category of stale news. Once in a while it does erupt on the front pages, as in early October when clashes between illegal migrants and the original residents of Udalgiri and Darrang districts left at least 47 people dead.
This threat is likely to accentuate in the future, as a combination of ecological, political and economic factors will accelerate migration from that country. By some accounts, Bangladesh could lose as much as 20% of its land to the sea by 2050. For a country with one of the highest population densities anywhere in the world, that’s bad news. At the moment the country, with 144,000 sq. km, accommodates nearly 153.5 million people. In other words, for every square kilometre, there are 1,065 persons who live there. This may be slightly understated as 10,090 sq. km of its land mass is accounted for by water. Bangladesh’s population density is higher than that of any Indian state.
As a result, there is inexorable pressure to move out. Unsurprisingly, there have been protests from Bangladesh in the past when India has tried to fence its border with it. In fact, there are cries now of accommodating climate refugees by opening borders of other countries. This can only spell trouble for India and its neighbours. Yet, little thought has been spared on the issue.
In solving this existential problem, Bangladesh is not helping its cause. Its politics is mired in a clash of personalities. In fact, the last 17 years have witnessed little else there. When Khaleda Zia comes to power, the opposition led by Sheikh Hasina goes into overdrive. There is symmetry in this: Zia adopts the same tactics with her rival. The rest is taken care of by outdated ideologies. Pressing problems such as diversification of the economy away from agriculture, reducing poverty (50% of the population lives on less than $1, or around Rs50, a day) and factoring in climate changes into planning are held hostage to politics.
The result is terrorism, illegal migration and a host of other problems. Ideally, Bangladesh’s problems should be its own business, but when that bloc of population is pushing against India, it’s our problem as well,
How can India limit problems emerging from Bangladesh? Tell us at views@livemint.com
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First Published: Thu, Dec 04 2008. 10 53 PM IST