Since the last week of January, 2003, tension has been building up on the Indo-Bangladesh border over the question of continued illegal immigration of Bangladeshi nationals into India.  The attempt of India’s Border Security Force (BSF) to push back into Bangladesh a recent group of 213 illegal migrants has been resisted by the Bangladeshi security forces resulting in a confrontational situation.  Instead of appreciating the need for effective action against illegal immigrants, the so-called secular parties, with the Marxists in the lead, have criticised the action of the BSF.  As in the past, the action of the Central Government has been projected as anti-Muslim.

2. Where immigration controls are lax, terrorism grows and internal security is weakened.  This has been the experience of not only India, but also of many other countries such as Pakistan, the Philippines, the West European countries and the USA.

3. Over the years, Karachi in Sindh and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan of Pakistan have become practically ungovernable because of  large-scale illegal migration from Bangladesh and Afghanistan.  The change in the demographic composition of Balochistan in general and of Quetta, its capital, in particular has been dramatic due to the large-scale migration of Pakhtuns from Afghanistan into the province.  In many districts, the Balochis, the sons of the soil, have been reduced to a minority and Quetta, the capital itself, stands in danger of becoming a Pakhtun city one day. Fears over this prospect led to Balochi-Pakhtun clashes in the 1990s.

4. The frequent outbreak of violence in Karachi and its becoming the epicentre of sectarian and pan-Islamic jihadi terrorism have been due to the unchecked influx of Afghans, Bangladeshis, Arabs, particularly Yemenis, and Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar into the city during the last two decades.  After Bangladesh became independent in 1971, the total Bengali-speaking population of Karachi came down to an estimated 10,000. By 1995, it went up to 1,626,324, that is nearly one-tenth of its population, according to “The News” of November 3,1995.  In addition, Karachi had 6,54,693 Pakhtuns from Afghanistan, 2,04,448 Rohingya Muslims, 2, 320 Iranians, 70 Sri Lankan Tamil Muslims and an unestimated number of Arabs, mainly Yemenis.  The Bangladeshi population of Karachi has grown further, but no fresh estimates are available.

5. This large-scale influx was partly due to the encouragement of it by the regime of the late Zia-ul-Haq in order to weaken the Sindhi and Balochi nationalists, who started clamouring for independence after the birth of Bangladesh. Moreover, the Islamic religious parties, which were patronised by Zia, opposed any action against Muslim migrants from other countries. They projected Pakistan as the natural sanctuary and protector of  persecuted Muslims from all over the world, whether  Islamic or non-Islamic countries.

6. In a secret report submitted to Mrs. Benazir Bhutto, the then Prime Minister, in 1995, the then Inspector-General of Police of Karachi pointed out that the activities of different terrorist groups could not be controlled unless action was taken to stop further illegal immigration of Muslims into Karachi from other countries and those already living illegally there were expelled. He expressed his concern over the alarming increase in the influx of Bangladeshis through India and cautioned her that if this continued, in another 20 years, Bengali-speaking people would overtake the Urdu-speaking Mohajirs as the largest ethnic group in Karachi and that this could lead to a demand for a second Bangladesh.

7. Alarmed by his report, she ordered the arrest and deportation of all  Bangladeshi migrants in Karachi. The Begum Khalida Zia Government, which was then in power in Dhaka, refused to accept them and sent two planeloads  back to Pakistan. Her action created tension in Pakistan-Bangladesh relations and was criticised by the religious fundamentalist parties as anti-Islam.  She was ultimately forced to abandon it.

8. If today Karachi has emerged as the safe sanctuary of Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda and other pan-Islamic jihadi organisations, which are members of his International Islamic Front (IIF), this has been partly due to the total failure of different Governments, whether led by the political parties or by the Army, to act against the illegal migrants, due to fears of provoking the religious fundamentalist parties.

9. India is soon likely to face a similar situation if it does not act against the influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh as well as Pakistan. While no accurate estimate of the influx is available, many reports put the influx from Bangladesh alone at over 20 million. The influx from Bangladesh has been due to economic reasons and from Pakistan due to the persecution of Mohajirs in Sindh. This uncontrolled influx has changed the demographic composition of many districts along India’s borders with Bangladesh as well as Pakistan (in the Rajasthan and Gujarat sectors). Thousands, if not millions, of Bangladeshis, have spread to other areas of India too and settled down there, including in New Delhi.

10. At almost every annual conference of the Directors-General of Police from different States, they have projected the failure of different Governments to act against this influx as posing a major threat to our internal security, particularly in West Bengal, Assam and Tripura.  Unfortunately, no Government has been able to act against it because the so-called secular parties and organisations and large sections of the so-called liberal media have projected any action as anti-Muslim. The secular parties, particularly the Marxists, also look upon these illegal migrants as useful additions to their vote banks.

11. The Philippines is another example of what could happen if immigration controls are lax. The failure of the Governments of the 1980s to act effectively against large-scale movement of jihadi Muslims from Pakistan into southern Philippines contributed to its emergence as the hub of pan-Islamic jihadi terrorism in South-East Asia.

12. One of the important lessons learnt by the USA and West Europe  post-9/11 is the need for effective immigration control, particularly over the migrants from the Islamic world. Unfortunately, the Islamic countries have been, in a large measure, the sources of illegal migration to the rest of the world. While the majority of them have nothing to do with the spread of terrorism, this influx is exploited by pan-Islamic jihadi organisations and trans-national crime groups to spread terror and crime. It is the realisation that there cannot be effective internal security without effective action against illegal migrants, which has been responsible for the strong action taken by the John Howard Government in Australia and by the Bush administration in the USA. The procedures for the compulsory registration in the USA of migrants from “countries of concern”, all of them Muslim, including Pakistan and Bangladesh, have been justified on grounds of national security.  Despite the Bush Administration’s strong backing for the Pervez Musharraf regime in Islamabad, it has rejected its request for exempting the Pakistanis from this requirement. Its Attorney-General has rightly taken the stand that where national security is concerned no relaxation can be allowed for any reason, political or otherwise. Large sections of the political and public opinion in the USA have backed the stand of the Government.

13. The problem posed by the large-scale illegal immigration of Muslims from other countries into India, and particularly from Bangladesh, is much more serious than in any other country of the world. Our Government has at long last woken up to the need to stop this. All right-thinking persons, who are concerned over the deterioration in our internal security over the years, should strongly back this action by the BSF.  Our national security is more important than good relations with Bangladesh.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Convenor, Advisory Committee, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter. E-Mail: )


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