Guest Column - Force Magazine
Within Our Periphery
An insider’s view of the non-lethal strategy of border domination
Ravi PonothBy Ravi Ponoth
The much discussed, acclaimed, harshly enforced and severely hated non-lethal strategy of border domination is perhaps the singular challenge before the Border Security Force (BSF) in the Eastern theatre today. The strategy serves a variety of stakeholders in different ways, effects and consequences.

For some it has come as a bonanza, for some as an opportunity, for some as a reprieve and for some as the most vexatious challenge. Since the strategy has macro, mid and micro level dimensions, perceptual response of the government machinery, including the BSF, also differs considerably. While at the government level in India it is a strategic initiative derived from foreign policy and security imperatives, for the government across the border, the strategy is, perhaps, the last straw that may take them safely across the formidable electoral vortex in the forthcoming elections.

Justifiably, the strategy should be first dissected from the BSF’s perspective. As the organisation tasked to guard the 4,096 km long Indo-Bangladesh border which is susceptible to varied forms of trans-border crimes - some benign, some violent and some viciously anti-national - the Force personnel are now continuously re-inventing ground level responses to live up to the near impossible expectation of maintaining the sanctity of the porous borders which, due to geographic, ethnic, economic and religious reasons, has an established history of routine and impudent violations. Until July 2010, when the non-lethal strategy was implemented through the mutually agreed upon instrument called Co-ordinated Border Management Plan (CBMP), all legally correct operational measures adopted by the BSF for ensuring the sanctity of the border were acceptable to the government. Given the fact that providing a sense of security to the border residents and preventing illegal entry and exit across the border were within the mandate of the BSF, the Force personnel genuinely believed that wilful violation of the border was unacceptable and considered it their bounden duty to act against such illegal acts. The transgressors, on many occasions, were hardened and well-armed criminals, narcotics smugglers, fundamentalists and members of Indian Insurgent Groups (IIGs) who had found shelter in Bangladesh. Therefore, vicious encounters between the BSF and Trans-Border Criminals (TBCs) resulting in fatal casualties though frequent yet considered to be in national interest. The bordermen were of the firm and natural belief that acts of good faith to preserve the sanctity of the country’s border were expected of them and that the Force would come to their rescue whenever required. The vigilance and intelligence branches of the Force, all the while, maintained a hawk’s eye on deliberate excesses and violation of the law by the Force personnel and those who took the law into their hands were generally taken to task. Similarly, non-performers and wilful connivers were also identified and suitably dealt with, though many connivers escaped the law for want of evidence.

The inking of CBMP and consequent adoption of the non-lethal strategy for border domination literally threw the life of the borderman out of gear, turned it around and left him perpetually in a state of confusion. The most worrisome part of the plan was zero tolerance to casualty of Bangladeshi nationals which envisaged avoidance of confrontation with TBCs. More than the constabulary, the supervisory staff were found to be at a loss in issuing unambiguous instructions to the under command about the modalities of implementing the ‘strategy’. Some of the directional level officers gathered enough courage to articulate that they would not expect operational achievements from the field while others who maintained pressure on the units and sub-units ended up burning their fingers or found easy scapegoats from among those under command whenever the situation slipped out of control. Lack of in-depth knowledge about the culture and ethos of the Force by freshly inducted deputationists at the policymaking level of Frontier IG further vitiated the situation. On the whole, the atmosphere was and continues to be supercharged with utter confusion.

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