The Dynamics of Western Indian Border Security

The Dirty Face of Defending Borders - Indian Defence Review

by Manoj Kumar    19 October 2020

The borders of South Asia have a unique evolutionary history, as they are based upon the administrative and strategic conveniences of colonial powers who wish to carve the world according to their own wishes. The  South Asian borders were mainly carved out without due consideration to geographical frontiers nor ethnic centres this created peculiar problems in managing borders due to ethnic similarities on both sides of borders. Unlike Europe, the border was drawn due to the geopolitical conveniences of colonial masters.  India Pakistan Border was formed by British cartographers who took the help of revenue maps rather than following the natural frontiers which led to various complications alter on in context claims and counterclaims over territories due to ethnic and strategic considerations. These cartographic miscalculations have consequences of perpetual diplomatic and military tensions between the two countries. India and Pakistan have fought war a number of times and each time in some portion boundaries have been re-drawn and this is why is called the most dangerous place in the world.

1965 war was a watershed moment for border security as the war was followed by the creation of a dedicated force meant for border security as the Border Security Force (BSF). Punjab Militancy in the 1980s made the statesmen and security policy framers realize to associate border security with national security.  Accordingly, border fencing was started in the late eighties and BSF was moved as close to the International Boundary line as possible. It was in 1988 the Government of India (GoI) thought of erecting a fence so that cross border support to Punjab militants and infiltration has to be stopped to check militancy. Initially, fencing was planned for two border districts of Gurdaspur and Amritsar since they were the districts that were severely affected by militancy. With the introduction of border fencing the working and operational methodology of Border Security Force also changed, pickets were organized behind the fence in linear fashion Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) were formulated. Border fencing proved very effective in limiting cross-border infiltration of militants, arms, and even narcotics.

One more important international development of withdrawal of the USSR from Afghanistan led to a direct adverse impact on national security. Militancy in the state of J&K started with support from Pakistan which was funded from the drug which has the origin in Afghanistan. The raw material was poppy seeds that were mainly cultivated inside Afghanistan and further smuggled into Pakistan where it used to be processed for consumption. This drug used to find its way into Indian territories through the Punjab border due to its good domestic demand and base for further marketing to international destinations.

Punjab right from militancy days has been notorious for having good logistic support of drug peddlers, who were in the trap of easy money and well-established syndicate of influential people. Over a period of time, there were pieces of evidence and inputs from intelligence agencies that there are some elements across the border that are attempting to link Punjab separatists with Kashmiri terrorists, for which drug money will be used to finance the separatist movements.

BSF has continuously has been successful to a large extent to foil these types of attempts but anti-national elements always used to innovate new methods to smuggle drugs and arms into Indian territory. One incident major incident of Pathankot in 2016 was a case study incident that made the government rethink and revise its border security strategy. In spite of the notion of high effectiveness of border fencing, this very incident proves that the line of interception needed to be expanded from IB to depth areas also. After militant attacks in Gurdaspur (July 2015) and Pathankot (January 2016), during investigations, it was revealed that these attacks were carried out by militants who crossed over from the International Boundary of Punjab State which is effectively guarded by Border Security Force and having fencing on the Indian side to check infiltration. But subsequent investigations revealed some gaps in border guarding, like the riverine gaps which are being caused by seasonal rivers and river ‘Beas’ flowing from the Indian side to Pakistan. The government of India immediately decided to improve its border infrastructure and decided to follow the Israel model of border protection, launched a program like Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System (CIBMS).  Even some years back Task Force on Border Management under the Chairmanship of Madhav Godbole was formed following the Kargil Conflict, the report recommended for accelerated development of infrastructure along the border, especially to wean away from the border population from illegal activities.  For the Punjab Police with BSF launched a pilot project of border security where the state police used to organize small security pickets in-depth areas sited in such a manner that if possibly some infiltrators may beat the BSF security it may be intercepted by police party which used to deploy on most probable routes to be adopted by infiltrators.

CIBMS model was based on a combination of different models from different countries also due to a variety of border geographical and operational requirements this model of ‘one solution fits all’ may not prove very effective. Moreover, this type of model is very costly and its repair and maintenance may prove even more difficult and costly. There is also a big question of training and adaptation of manpower for such a high technology-based system, where even after installation and procurement of high technology gadgets how far they will prove effective is yet to be established.

In the last two years, smugglers have experimented with using drones to smuggle narcotics into the Indian Territory this is a new challenge due to their small size and simple in operation anybody with having a basic knowledge of terrain and direction can operate drones. Although such kind of movement of drones across borders has been detected either visually or by Air Force radars this new object has created a new challenge for border security and government pondering over some effective plan for this new menace to security.

With rapid changes in challenges in border security and its direct relation with border security needs comprehensive planning and vision, which includes the adoption of technology according to terrain and threat, training of manpower, having a dedicated ministry for Internal Security, and strengthening of intelligence.

Coordination with other security agencies that augments in border security and maybe a part of the contingency reaction system; maybe state police, intelligence agencies, and defence forces need to be addressed very comprehensively. Information sharing is a very important issue, ‘Pathankot’ may be a case study where so many rather all the security stakeholders were operating but some kind of operational appreciation must have been carried out how operational information was passed to required agencies and what was the reaction therewith on that information.


International border security especially in the context of Indian borders now largely depends upon the international factors. The geopolitical situation of India for the ‘Golden triangle and crescent’ will always remain viable to drug smugglers not only for sub-continental consumption but even for European markets. The imminent withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan and the rise of radicalism in South Asian countries has expanded the geographical paradigm of border security. The concept of border security is now not only restricted to border guarding forces but a holistic effort that includes policymakers, statesmen, technicians, and internal security experts too.

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