India has landmass almost of subcontinental proportions and occupies strategic position in South Asia. India’s land border with Bangladesh is around 4339 km (4351 km as per Ministry of Defence), Bhutan 605 Km, China 3439 Km, Myanmar 1425 Km Nepal 1690 Km and Pakistan 3325Km (Afghanistan 106 Km, now part of Northern Areas of POK). In addition it also has a coastline running through 13 states and union territories, of approximately 7600 Km long. The territorial and boundary disputes with Pakistan and China, combined with porous eastern borders have made effective border management a great challenge for Indian security forces. There is no doubt that the development, nation building challenges and internal security are linked with border security and border management.
The external threats to India’s internal security are not the only border management issue dealt with by the national security apparatus, but India’s growth rate has outpaced most of its neighbors and this has generated problems like mass migration into India. The other threats have also emerged. The major security concerns of India in this context are:-
- Trans-border terrorism and movement of insurgents particularly in the light of the terrorist attacks on the major cities of India.
- Illegal migration that has changed the demography of the north-east and is one of the main causes for the rise of rebel groups in that area.
- Emergence of non-state actors like terrorist organizations, religious groups and illegal immigrant groups.
- Nexus between arms and narcotics smugglers as Northeast India has close proximity to the ‘Golden Triangle’. Most weapons of the rebel groups of north-east India, including AK-47 and AK-56 assault rifles, mortars, 40 mm rocket launchers, pistols, revolvers and grenades are bought from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh and come through Bhutan, Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia via the land and sea route.
- Separatist movement aided and abetted by Pakistan.
- Establishment of madrasas particularly in the border areas, that has become the recruiting place for the terrorist outfits.
- • China is supplying arms and ammunition to northeast insurgent groups through Myanmar. Some of these weapons are further finding their way to the Naxalites.
- Earlier LTTE had supplied weapons to the Indian Left Wing Extremists (LWE) through the Indian coastal borders. They had even provided arms and handling of explosives training to the LWE. Later when LTTE was under pressure in Sri Lanka some of the LTTE cadre escaped to Indian coast along with their families. It is also a fact that some of them had even joined hands with LWE and are providing expertise training to the Naxalites.
The mobilization of Islamist groups in Bangladesh as well as among Muslim migrants in bordering States had created an opportunity for Pakistan’s external intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), to foment subversion in the Eastern and Northeastern parts of India. ISI’s basic objective in Bangladesh is the strategic encirclement of India. It used the strategy of supporting and fomenting insurgency in India’s northeast and made direct use of Bangladeshi territory to infiltrate its agents and saboteurs across the border. To their advantage is the partially porous India –Bangladesh border and elements at places to facilitate the process.
The development of jihadi culture in Pakistan during the course of Afghan conflict in 1980s led to the subsequent Pakistan’s decision to employ jihad against India as a strategy. Pakistan cleverly managed to infiltrate jihadis through the border areas from where ever they could. They stationed them at different places as sleeping modules to be used whenever required. These modules have been clandestinely spreading their tentacles all over India and cleverly instigating the Muslim youth. On the instructions from their Pakistani handlers these youths carried out blasts at different sensitive places inside India. Most of the time, they surprised the Intelligence Agencies. This led to the mobilization of Hindu fundamentalists which gave rise to communal disturbance/violence at certain limited places. This was exploited by the Muslim fundamentalists and fully supported by Pakistan. This further led to the radicalization of Muslim youth in India and recourse to Terrorism by Indian Islamists and Muslim criminal networks with full support from Pakistan. This is exactly what Pakistan wanted and India played into their trap.
WAY AHEAD 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.
Generally the Central Police Organization (CPO) forces are deployed by ad hoc decisions to emerging threats and challenges, rather than a cohesive long-term approach that optimizes the strength of each organization. Dr. G. P. Bhatnagar has identified the following lacunae:
Lack of any doctrinal concepts; Designed for a ‘firefighting’ approach rather than a ‘fire prevention’ or proactive 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; Lack of co-ordination and synergy between the security management organizations.
The nomination of the CRPF as the national level counter-insurgency force should enable the other CPOs 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. The task force was led by Madhav Godbole, former Home Secretary. 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. BSF under any circumstances should not be withdrawn from border areas.
Effective border management is the backbone of national security. In the absence of secure frontiers the state becomes vulnerable to illegal and undesirable trans-border activities ranging from infiltration to smuggling to espionage, subversion and sabotage. These activities adversely have impact on state sovereignty and give rise to serious problems of internal security. On account of our long soft-border with Bangladesh the problems of illegal migration and illegal trade have assumed unmanageable proportions. For the purpose of designing an effective and comprehensive border management policy an in depth study and analysis of the problems of ongoing infiltration and illegal business transactions and their implications for the economic, political and strategic security of India has become imperative. A study of the Madrassa education and radical Islamic fundamentalist activities in the border districts with Bangladesh also should be given priority focus.
There is a need to evolve a strategy of area management of borders so that “we do not have to wait for them and then fight them on our own territory. We have to do away with this ‘Panipat syndrome’ that we have inherited, which allows the enemy to penetrate hundreds of miles into our territory before we decide to tackle him.”
An erstwhile Inspector General of Police from the Border Security Force , the author has been a scholar on security studies at the Institute for Defence Studies, New Delhi.