Homeland Security

Unending Threats to India’s Borders
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Issue Vol 23.1 Jan-Mar2008 | Date : 22 Sep , 2012

The Western and Other Borders

In the west, the entire border with Pakistan is manned by the BSF except the Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). The LoC is the responsibility of the army with some BSF battalions placed under its operational control. Since the LoC has been mostly active on a daily basis, particularly since the early 1990s, this is a good arrangement. On the LoC, the primary operational responsibility is to ensure its physical integrity against encroachment by the Pakistan Army. The army’s secondary responsibility is to minimise trans-LoC infiltration by armed mercenary terrorists usually aided and abetted by the Pakistan Army and the ISI.

…poor border management inevitably leads to a volatile internal security situation in the border states of the country.

For over 50 years since the Kashmir conflict began in 1947-48, soon after independence, the two armies were engaged in a so-called ‘eyeball-to-eyeball’ confrontation with daily loss of life and property that could justifiably be called a ‘low intensity limited war’. An informal cease-fire has been in place all along the LoC, including at the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) along the Saltoro Range west of the Siachen Glacier, since November 25, 2003. Though the LoC is no longer ‘live’ as small arms fire, machine gun and mortar fire have almost completely stopped, infiltration from POK continues at reduced rates.

The border with Nepal was virtually un-attended till very recently as Nepalese citizens have free access to live and work in India under a 1950 treaty between the two countries. Since the eruption of a Maoist insurgency in Nepal efforts have been made to gradually step up vigilance along this border as India fears the southward spread of Maoist ideology.  The responsibility for this has been entrusted to the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), erstwhile Special Security Bureau.

The Cabinet Secretariat had exercised direct operational control over the SSB till 2003, but the force is now a Ministry of Home Affairs force. Along the Bangladesh border that has seen active action in recent years, the BSF is in charge. This border remains in the news as there are frequent clashes between the BSF and the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) over encroachments, enclaves and adverse possessions. For the Bhutan border, the BSF shares the responsibility with the SSB. Since the Royal Bhutanese Army drove out the Bodo and ULFA insurgents from its territory some years ago, the border has been relatively quiet, but there is a need to ensure that such groups do not again create sanctuaries for themselves in Bhutan.

The border with Myanmar also remains operationally active. Several insurgent groups have secured sanctuaries for themselves in Myanmar despite the co-operation extended by the Myanmarese army. The cross border movement of Nagas and Mizos for training, purchase of arms and shelter when pursued by Indian security forces, combined with the difficult terrain obtaining in the area, makes this border extremely challenging to manage. This border is manned jointly by the army and some units of the AR.

While the BSF should be responsible for all settled borders, the responsibility for unsettled and disputed borders, such as the Line of Control (LoC) in J&K and the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the Indo-Tibetan border, should be that of the Indian Army.

India’s border with Bangladesh has a peculiar problem of ‘Enclaves and Adverse Possessions’. “There are 111 Indian enclaves (17,158 acres) within Bangladesh and 51 Bangladeshi enclaves (7,110.02 acres) in India.”6 Thirty-four tracts of Indian land are under the adverse possession of Bangladesh and 40 pieces of Bangladeshi land are in India’s adverse possession. Though the Land Border Agreement of 1974 has provisions for the settlement of the issue of adverse possession, it has not been implemented so far as the problem is politically sensitive. The border guarding forces are left to deal with the day-to-day problems that are bound to be thrown up by such territorial complexities. Unless the political leadership invests time and effort to resolve this sensitive issue, unseemly clashes that do no credit to either side will continue to occur and spoil relations between the two countries.

Issues for better Border Management

Ideally, border management should be the responsibility of the Ministry of Home Affairs during peacetime. However, the active nature of the LoC and the need to maintain troops close to the LAC in a state of readiness for operations in high altitude areas, have compelled the army to permanently deploy large forces for this task. While the BSF should be responsible for all settled borders, the responsibility for unsettled and disputed borders, such as the Line of Control (LoC) in J&K and the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on the Indo-Tibetan border, should be that of the Indian Army. The principle of ‘single point control’ must be followed if the borders are to be effectively managed. Divided responsibilities never result in effective control. Despite sharing the responsibility with several para-military and police forces, the army’s commitment for border management amounts to six divisions along the LAC, the LoC and the AGPL (Actual Ground Position Line along the Saltoro Ridgeline west of Siachen Glacier) in J&K and five divisions along the LAC and the Myanmar border in the eastern sector.

This is a massive commitment that is costly in terms of manpower as well as funds, as the deployment areas are mostly in high altitude terrain, and needs to be reduced gradually. The real pay off of a rapprochement with the Chinese would be the possibility of reducing the army’s deployment on the LAC. To some extent, the advances in surveillance technology, particularly satellite and aerial imagery, can help to maintain a constant vigil along the LAC and make it possible to reduce physical deployment as and when modern surveillance assets can be provided on a regular basis to the formations deployed forward. Similarly, the availability of a larger number of helicopter units will enhance the quality of aerial surveillance and the ability to move troops to quickly occupy defensive positions when it becomes necessary. However, these are both costly ventures and need to be viewed in the overall context of the availability of funds for modernisation.

The infiltration of armed mercenary terrorists from Pakistan, mass migrations from Bangladesh into lower Assam, the smuggling of consumer goods and fake Indian currency from Nepal, the operations of ULFA militants from safe hideouts in Bhutan and the sanctuaries available to the insurgent groups of the north-eastern states in Myanmar and Bangladesh, have all added to India’s border security problems.

The deployment patterns of CPOs are marked by ad hoc decisions and knee jerk reactions to emerging threats and challenges, rather than a cohesive long-term approach that maximises the strength of each organisation. Dr. G. P. Bhatnagar has identified the following lacunae:7

  • Deployment of multiple forces in the same area of operations.
  • Lack of any doctrinal concepts.
  • Designed for a ‘fire fighting’ approach rather than a ‘fire prevention’ or pro-active approach.
  • Based on a strategy of ‘reaction and retaliation’ rather than on holistic response to a situation, resulting in stress and decision making problems at the functional level.
  • Wastage of energy and efforts.
  • Lack of co-ordination and synergy between the security management organisations.

The recent nomination of the CRPF as the national level counter-insurgency force should enable the other CPMFs like BSF and ITBP to return to their primary role of better border management, as had been recommended by the Task Force on Border Management that was constituted by the Group of Ministers (GoM) formed to review major issues pertaining to the management of national security after the Kargil conflict.8 The task force was led by Madhav Godbole, former Home Secretary and had made several far-reaching recommendations. It had recommended that all para-military forces managing unsettled borders should operate directly under the control of the army, there should be lateral induction from the army to the para-military forces so as to enhance their operational effectiveness and had suggested several perceptive measures for better intelligence coordination.9 The task force studied steps needed to improve border management and suggested measures for appropriate force structures and procedures to deal with the entry of narcotics, illegal migrants, terrorists and arms. It also examined measures to establish closer linkages with the border population to protect them from subversive propaganda to prevent unauthorised settlements and to initiate special developmental programmes.10

The recommendations of the task force were accepted by the GoM and are being implemented in phases. While some action has been taken, clearly much more needs to be done to make border management more effective. The infiltration of armed mercenary terrorists from Pakistan, mass migrations from Bangladesh into lower Assam, the smuggling of consumer goods and fake Indian currency from Nepal, the operations of ULFA militants from safe hideouts in Bhutan and the sanctuaries available to the insurgent groups of the north-eastern states in Myanmar and Bangladesh, have all added to India’s border security problems. If Pakistan implodes due to its internal weaknesses and the impact of ultra radical extremism, thousands of refugees may be expected to rush across to India for shelter and succor, much like the influx from Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in 1971. Effective border management is now, and should always be, a primary national security priority.

Notes

  1. Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi (Retd.), “Changing Battlefields”, Force, August 2004, p. 50.
  2. “National Security Environment: An Overview”, Ministry of Defence website, www.mod.nic.in.
  3. Dr. G. P. Bhatnagar, “Border Security”,  SP’s Land Forces, Vol. 2, Issue 6, 2005.
  4. “Seal of Trouble”, Force, Vol. 1, No. 12, August 2004.
  5. “An IB (Intelligence Bureau) report (No. DIBUO No-12) which corroborates the Chinese consolidation and LAC violation has been sent to the PMO and the home ministry… The IB report says that until last October, there were 195 successful attempts by the Chinese to violate the LAC.” Ajay Upreti, “Watch that Line: China Violates LAC and Intensifies Activities on the Border”, The Week, May 1, 2005.
  6. n. 3.
  7. n. 3.
  8. Report of the Group of Ministers on National Security, mod.nic.in/newadditions/chapter-i.pdf.
  9. P. K. Vasudeva, “Reorganising the Defence Set-up”, Tribune, November 27, 2000.
  10. “Internal Security and Border Management”, PIB Press Release, pib.nic.in/archieve/lreleng/lyr2000/ rjun2000/r13062000.html.
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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Brig. Gurmeet Kanwal

Distinguished Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and former Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi.

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