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Why Border Control is Critical for a safer India

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Why Border Control is Critical for a safer India
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On July 23, 1998, as the 8029 Down Kurla Express rolled into Uluberia station in Bengal, it was attacked by a 9,000-strong mob collected by the local MLA of the Forward Bloc, a junior partner in the ruling Left Front. The crowd, armed with sharp weapons, burst open a compartment carrying 34 prisoners, including seven women, all illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.

The 14 policemen from Maharashtra who were accompanying the prisoners fired 11 rounds in self-defence until they were rescued by the Railway Police. According to the Home Ministry in Delhi, the prisoners were “snatched away”. Their guards were handed over to the West Bengal Police.
The next day, it happened again. As the Kurla Express entered Kharagpur station, the West Bengal Police intervened. They asked their counterparts from Maharashtra to quietly hand over the 38 prisoners before another mob decided on “direct action”. The prisoners, who were zari workers, were awaiting deportation to Bangladesh following court orders in Mumbai.
According to the Times of India, “The drama in Uluberia and the pre-emptive strike in Kharagpur were not spontaneous expressions of indignation. They were carefully orchestrated by the Left in West Bengal to score a point over the BJP and its Shiv Sena ally and, at the same time, consolidate its own electoral base.” (1)

While members of the Indian public have expressed their frustration at why nationalist political parties are not delivering on their promise to send back illegal Bangladeshis, the reality is that it has been sabotaged by the left-liberal-secular ecosystem that has blocked these efforts. According to former Home Secretary Madhav Godbole, the Shiv Sena-BJP government’s campaign in Maharashtra to detect and deport illegal immigrants in Mumbai was frustrated due to the opposition of the then Jyoti Basu-led Left Front government in West Bengal.

Godbole said, “The West Bengal government refused to give any assistance to the Maharashtra Police. There were public demonstrations and even stone pelting by the leftist parties. As a result, the Maharashtra police had no alternative but to return to Mumbai with the illegal migrants and to release them in the city to live happily thereafter!” (2)

Bangladesh: Subversion through illegal migration

The Indo-Bangladesh border is highly porous, making the illegal movement of people and goods a perennial problem. The nature of the terrain – open farmland, rivers that change course frequently and dense forests – makes complete fencing an almost impossible task. This is highly conducive for Bangladeshis to sneak into India.

With the Congress, communist parties, especially the CPI(M) and CPI, and lately the Trinamool Congress, allowing Bangladeshis to settle and proliferate, the frontline states such as Bengal, Assam and Tripura are under severe demographic pressure. “Over the years, the magnitude of this illegal migration had reached such an astounding proportion that it had begun to alter the demographic profile and threaten the socio-political fabric of the border states,” says Pushpita Das of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. “The increasing influence of Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh has resulted in the large-scale push into India, of not only economic migrants, but also the foot-soldiers of jihad terrorism and pan-Islamic fundamentalism, all of which have the potential to destabilise the country and threaten national security.” (3)

Pakistan: Terrorists and drugs

Unlike Bangladeshi Muslims who are able to slip into Bengal, Assam and Tripura, and blend into the location population without raising immediate suspicion, Pakistanis do not have it that easy, primarily because of the over 1,700 km long floodlit fence. However, here too there are chinks in the armour. For instance, in Jammu & Kashmir, there is a 200 km stretch of the Line of Control that is hilly, forested and intersected by rivers and numerous drains. Patrolling such treacherous borders is a nightmare and that is why these are the favourite ingress points for Pakistan-based terrorists.

Again, in the Jaisalmer-Barmer segment in Rajasthan, the border markings get covered by shifting sand dunes. Plus, 64 km of the Rann-of-Kutch segment of the Gujarat border has been left unfenced due to marshy conditions. All these serve to highlight the extent of engineering and financial resources that will be needed to completely seal the border.

While Kashmir is the route for terrorists, the large-scale influx of drugs into Punjab indicates that Pakistan is penetrating other borders as well. The BSF has unearthed a number of tunnels that ran right under the electrified fence.

Then, there is the long coast which is the preferred route for pushing in fake currency, weapons, explosives and drugs. The November 26, 2008 attack which killed 170 people, including 18 security personnel and five sailors, caught India completely by surprise because it was the first time that heavily armed terrorists entered India through sea route, bringing Mumbai to a halt for nearly three full days. (4)
Like the cunning Shakuni of Mahabharata, Pakistan is undoubtedly a shameless and proud practitioner of the art of deviousness. It is not just the fountainhead of terror, but also excels in innovation when it comes to launching terror strikes. While Bangladesh’s plan is demographic conquest, Pakistan has adopted an all-angles attack that includes terror strikes and economic destabilisation via fake currency.

China: Himalayan problem

While the China border is largely quiet, one occasionally sees armed intrusions by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers, with the most recent case being the 2017 Doklam standoff when the PLA tried to build a road through the land that is claimed by both Bhutan and China. (5)
Other than Pakistan, China is perhaps the only country that is obsessed with territorial expansion by nibbling away at its neighbours. While things have quietened down across the Himalayan border, it must not be forgotten that Beijing funded the Maoist guerrillas and India’s leading communist party, the CPI(M). For decades after the 1962 War, China funded full-fledged guerrilla movements in several states, causing massive loss of life in those regions.
However, the festering boundary issue continues to bedevil relations between the Asian giants. China lays claim to both Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh while simultaneously occupying around 90,000 sq km of Indian land in Aksai Chin.

The 2017 Doklam standoff showed that China as the expansionist power can calibrate its strategy to unsettle India. That India strongly pushed back and forced the PLA to offer a truce is a credit to the Narendra Modi government’s new approach to dealing with adversaries. However, a different government may not have given the Indian Army a free hand. With the opposition parties and the largely leftist media echoing the Chinese point of view and bizarrely portraying China as the winner, the dragon has plenty of allies in the Indian camp.

Disaster in the making

India is having to implement the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the backdrop of violent opposition from Islamists and Christians and their secular provocateurs. But how did we land in this ugly situation? Primarily because of terrible border management and control of the previous decades.

Porous borders have traditionally been India’s Achilles Heel, but with terrorism and illegal immigration now an existential threat, the country needs to implement border management systems that will offer security to all Indians.

Securing and managing India’s borders is a critical priority, but due to the nature of the country’s geography, it will always be a challenging task. India’s land border of more than 15,000 km is spread over 16 states and two union territories, and all states except Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Delhi and Haryana are frontline states. The 7,516 km long coastline touches 13 states and union territories, plus there are 1,197 islands accounting for 2,094 km of additional coastline.

Different international borders pose different challenges and complexities. The Pakistan border sees cross-border terrorism and movement of armed militants and smuggling of goods and narcotics, while along the Bangladesh border, illegal immigration and smuggling are the main concern.

Despite facing multifarious threats, India has a fragmented approach towards border security. This can be gauged from the fact the Department of Border Management (which comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs) deals with border management issues but the security of borders is not its prime focus. Instead, our borders are guarded by security forces like the Border Security Force (BSF), Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Sashastra Seema Bal which report to the Ministry of Home Affairs.
In contrast, the US, which has one of the world’s most peaceful borders (with Canada and Mexico), created the entire new Department of Homeland Security within days of the 9/11 terror attacks in order to have a focussed approach towards border security.

How not to pursue Security

Deterrence only works if your adversary is made to understand that you would not hesitate to order fire if needed. Just as criminals fear police with guns, the enemy must fear you; or else you might as well withdraw your soldiers and let in the hordes. And yet the political leadership has defanged the BSF at the Bangladesh border, exposing them to danger.

In March 2011, India and Bangladesh signed an agreement that bans the BSF from using firearms while warning potential illegal migrants or smugglers. The BSF has to give two warnings to these intruders before firing at them. (6)

The result has been large-scale fence-jumping by Bangladeshis who now jump over to the Indian side and disappear into the forests or paddy fields while the BSF is issuing blank threats. Worse, it has led to a number of murderous attacks on BSF soldiers including one incident in which a soldier’s arm was ripped off by a mob of illegal immigrants.

CIBMS – going High Tech

In 2012, the Ministry of Home Affairs decided to implement high-tech solutions in border management when it released an Expression of Interest for a Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System (CIBMS) on the borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh. The project is aimed at improving the capability of the BSF in detecting and stopping illegal infiltration, smuggling of contraband goods, human trafficking and cross-border terrorism among other issues. (7)

CIBMS involves deployment of a range of state-of-the-art surveillance technologies – thermal imagers, infrared and laser-based intruder alarms, aerostats for aerial surveillance, unattended ground sensors that can help detect intrusion bids, radars, sonar systems to secure riverine borders, fibre-optic sensors and a command and control system that shall receive data from all surveillance devices in real time.

However, as is usual in India, things proceeded at a snail’s pace. It was only after the Pathankot terrorist attack of January 2, 2016 – and a subsequent warning by the Punjab and Haryana High Court – that on January 29, 2016, the Home Secretary okayed CIBMS.

As of March 2019, two pilot projects covering about 71 km on the Pakistan border and 61 km on the Bangladesh border have been completed. Up next are Stage-II and Stage-III covering about 1,955 km of the border which cannot be physically fenced. These will target primarily the following areas:

Riverine, delta and estuary areas
Waterlogged and swampy areas
Creek areas
Plains vulnerable to heavy fog
Thickly populated locations on the border
Hilly regions
Tropical jungle
Deserts

According to the BSF’s Additional Director General A.K. Sharma, some of the world’s best technologies are being used to keep a watch on the country’s borders. “The CIBMS project can take six to seven years to complete. Under this project, a very strong technical mechanism is being put in place. This system will spot intruders if they try to enter our borders.”

Quick reaction is Critical

A key component of CIBMS is BOLD-QIT or Border Electronically Dominated QRT Interception Technique. BOLD-QIT is a project to install technical systems under the CIBMS which enables the BSF to equip the India-Bangladesh border with different kinds of sensors in the unfenced riverine area of the Brahmaputra and its tributaries.

In January 2018, the information and technology wing of BSF undertook BOLD-QIT and completed it in time with the technical support of various manufacturers and suppliers. Following the completion of the project, the entire Brahmaputra area has been covered with data networks generated by microwave communication, optical fibre cable, digital mobile radio communication, day-and-night surveillance cameras and also an intrusion detecting system.

These modern gadgets provide feeds to BSF control rooms on the border and enable the armed forces to quickly react to illegal cross bordering or crimes in the vicinity. The implementation of this project will also provide relief to the troops as they would not have to conduct round-the-clock physical surveillance.

Roads – the key to quick reaction

On the China border, the chief issue is Beijing’s salami slicing – grabbing land in small increments. For this to stop, India needs good quality asphalt roads that can be accessed by the army year-round. Unfortunately, despite the shock of the 1962 War, the political leadership continued to neglect the construction of roads in the Himalayas.

The convoluted reasoning was that not building roads in the Himalayas was advantageous to India because it would prevent the PLA from rolling into India. Clearly, such defeatist thinking did not prevent the Chinese from building roads right up to India’s borders in Tibet.

The good news is that the Narendra Modi government has been on a road-building spree in the entire Himalayan region which will allow the army to rush large numbers of troops to the sectors where they are needed. The bonus is that these roads will also promote domestic tourism.

Holistic approach needed

Before India splurges tons of cash on high-tech solutions, there needs to be a reality check on the limits of technology. For instance, the US has experienced that despite using fancy technology, the flow of illegal immigrants continues. To be sure, the success of the Department of Homeland Security in preventing major terror attacks on American soil after 9/11 cannot be discounted. However, while the big fish are being caught, the smaller ones – the average immigrant seeking jobs and a better life – continue to enter the US and stay there.

India could learn a lesson from the US and implement solutions that are likely to work rather than reinvent the wheel. While proceeding with CIBMS, the Ministry of Home Affairs must take a holistic approach to border management:
1. Create a nodal agency such as the American Department of Homeland Security to implement border control. This agency should be tasked with coordinating with the multiple central and state agencies dealing with the borders. In fact, the Task Force on Border Management has underlined the importance of institutionalising the arrangements for exchange of intelligence at various levels.
2. Laws pertaining to illegal migration should be strengthened. Illegal immigrants from Pakistan should be treated as terrorists and awarded the death penalty. These intruders must be tried in special ‘Border Courts’ and not given the opportunity to be freed by liberal judges with the anti-Indian NGOs offering the bail money.
3. Bangladeshi citizens should be offered visas to work in India for limited periods, say 3 or 5 years, and then return to their country. Their stay can be extended depending on their behaviour; but they have to leave permanently after 10 years. Several Western countries offer work visas to seasonal immigrants who return after the harvest season.
4. Village Volunteer Forces (VVF) should be created to assist the security forces in guarding the borders. This was one of the proposals of the Group of Ministers in their Report on Border Management of 2001. The VVF will act as the eyes and ears of the CBIM.
5. Educate the people of the country about the dangers of illegal immigration. The 2017 attack on a housewife in a Noida housing colony by a large mob of Bangladeshis is a pointer to how illegal immigrants are proving to be a major law and order issue in cities across the country. When people stop employing illegal Bangladeshis, the message will be heard back in Dhaka. (8)
6. Enact legislation that offering employment to illegal immigrants would be punishable by an automatic five-year sentence in prison.

Let the human rights groups and NGOs complain. Such measures – and more draconian ones – are already in place in the West. In 2019, US immigration authorities separated more than 5,400 children from their parents at the Mexico border. This move was bitterly criticised by the liberal media but it stopped a second wave of immigrants from flooding into the country. (9) When Western governments and their liberal sepoys in India say whatever they want, they have no ground to stand on. Securing the frontiers is a moral duty because once the frontline falls, it does not take long for the centre to fold.

References:

1. The Times of India, https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/nation/story/19980810-shiv-sena-bjp-govt-launches-operation-in-mumbai-to-push-illegal-bangladeshi-immigrants-back-826862-1998-06-10
2. MP-IDSA, https://idsa.in/keyspeeches/LecturebyDrMadhavGodbole
3. MP-IDSA, https://idsa.in/idsastrategiccomments/TheIndiaBangladeshBorder%20AProblemAreaforTomorrow_PDas_081206
https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/indias-geopolitical-status-goes-up-after-doklam-standoff-ends/articleshow/60282585.cms
4. The Economic Times, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/revisiting-the-night-of-mumbai-terror-attack-when-10-pak-terrorists-attacked-indias-financial-capital/articleshow/72235424.cms
5. Swarajya Magazine, https://swarajyamag.com/defence/can-india-embarrass-china-in-a-limited-military-conflict
6. Beauty Without Cruelty, http://www.bwcindia.org/Web/Awareness/LearnAbout/CattleSmuggling.html
7. Press Information Bureau, https://pib.gov.in/Pressreleaseshare.aspx?PRID=1567516
8. The Times of India, https://www.indiatvnews.com/news/india-noida-nervous-mahagun-residents-ban-bangladeshi-workers-other-societies-to-follow-suit-390969
9. NBC News, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/more-5-400-children-split-border-according-new-count-n1071791

Featured Image: The Indian Express

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.

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Rakesh Krishnan Simha

Rakesh is a globally cited defence analyst. His articles have been quoted extensively by national and international defence journals and in books on diplomacy, counter-terrorism, warfare, and development of the global south.