India could declare a unilateral “no-firing” along its border with Bangladesh for a year to avoid the deaths of civilians in any cross-fire, Home Secretary G K Pillai said in New Delhi on Friday.
“We are considering unilateral no firing on the border for one year. The modalities of that are being worked out,” Pillai said at the India-Bangladesh security dialogue organised by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) and Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) in New Delhi.
Responding to suggestions of M K Rasgotra, former foreign secretary and president of ORF's centre for international relations, against any firing or transgression on the Indo-Bangladesh border, Pillai said India understood that any killing of civilians in border cross-firing was “a very sensitive” issue in the neighbouring country.
He dismissed reports that the Border Security Force had made any transgression along the Bangladesh border earlier this month. Pillai said some Indian men who had gone fishing had come under fire and there was retaliatory fire from the Indian side.
The home secretary said India and Bangladesh were at the cusp of a relationship change and there was need to move fast to use the window of opportunity.
Terming Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India earlier this year as a milestone, Pillai said the gains will remain on paper unless translated quickly on the ground.
“We need to move very fast. I don't think this window of opportunity will last forever.”
“The next nine months are going to be critical. If we miss the bus in nine months, we may find ourselves climbing a mountain.”
Pillai said the boundary dispute related to only 6.1 km of the 4,095 km border between the two countries, but there had been no progress in the last 10 years to solve the problem.
He suggested creating a joint task force with a mandate to solve the boundary dispute by the end of this year or early next year.
Pillai said a large number of visas were issued by India's mission in Dhaka but there were “pinpricks".
Asking the organisers of the dialogue to look at the issue, the home secretary said there could be "massive" visa relaxation for those having travelled to India earlier.
He said the government was also considering removing Bangladesh from the list of countries where prior clearance from the government was needed to give visas.
The home secretary suggested developing markets on the border to legitimise economic activity and curb smuggling.
He said that the delegates could come up with a solution to the problem of cattle smuggling “which had deep political implications in India".
On security problems, Pillai said the cooperation extended by Bangladesh in the recent months was “gratifying".
“It is working on the ground,” he said.
He said terrorism was not country-specific and it was vital for countries to share intelligence.
Referring to the problem of fake Indian currency, Pillai said Bangladesh had become a transit point country for operators coming from Pakistan and the Middle East.
Coping with terrorism and cooperation in the areas of security are the main themes of the two-day conference whose recommendations will be given to the two governments.
The Bangladesh side is being led by BEI president Farooq Sobhan while the Indian side is being led by Rasgotra.
The first conference of the India-Bangladesh security dialogue was held at Dhaka in December 2009. The dialogues follow a memorandum of understanding between ORF and BEI to organsie conferences on matters of mutual interest.