The fence has added pressure on the army at the LoC (November 2005)
There are reasons why not a single army officer at the Line of Control or the higher field headquarters in Srinagar is comfortable talking about the year-old fence that separates the two parts of Kashmir. Most fear that they may give away the worst kept secret of the Indian Army: the fence has not proved to be effective, neither in terms of the cost nor stopping infiltration across the LoC, One young officer, deeply involved in the earthquake relief work in Kashmir says, “If somebody is determined to get across, you cannot stoop him. He will always find a way to overcome hurdles like the fence.” On the contrary, the fence has added problems for the troops. Hard-pressed to restore their defences after the devastating October 8 earthquake, the troops have the added task of rebuilding the fence that has been ravaged at many places. A senior officer whose area suffered serious damage in terms of defence on the LoC says, “Next season will be a nightmare for us. While we will need engineer troops to build our permanent defences, they will be hard-pressed for time as they will also be busy restoring and maintaining the fence.” By next season, the fence would have had suffered the twin ravages of earthquake and snow.
Called Operation Deewar, the fence which runs along the entire 745km LoC was erected at a breakneck pace in 10 orders of the then army chief, General N.C Vij. Comprising four layers of iron pillars of decreasing height of 12-nine-seven-five feet, the fence has a total of seven concertina wires thrown between them. A DC Pulse current provided by 2.5kv generator sets placed every 500m along the entire fence partially electrifies the enemy side. An added sensor, a wire, on the fence connects to the nearest rear headquarters and is meant to indicate trespassing. An engineer officer told FORCE that the electrification system and the touch-sensor are primitive being high on maintenance and low on detection. “The fence is no way near the best in the world, like the fence on the United States-Mexico border which has computer consoles all along to provide physical details of trespassers,” he laments. While a conservative cost of the entire fence at the Army Headquarters has been put at Rs 800 crores (about one crore per km length), the important thing is its recurring annual maintenance cost. While senior officers on the ground say that the annual maintenance would hover between 20 to 30 per cent of the total cost, the chief of staff, 15 corps headquarters in Srinagar Maj. Gen. V.K. Singh says, “The maintenance will not be uniform since the damage to the fence cannot be uniform all along. This year the maintenance costs were high because of unprecedented snowfall but we have learnt form that.” The army is not the only one to learn, the infiltrators too have been quick with their homework. “The infiltrators come with insulated rubber gloves, ladders, insulated pliers and even poles to jump over the fence,” says Gen. Singh. “There are instances where infiltrators have successfully burrowed under the fence to get through,” says an officer in the Uri brigade. All this keeps engineer troops responsible for maintenance on tenterhooks. “It is a cat and mouse game with infiltrator. Once they jumped the fence by pole-vault, we placed sharp wooden objects (called punjis) on our side to ensure that they land on them,” says an officer. Since infiltration requires a little more planning and effort now, the militants come in larger numbers at selected spots as against the trickle that used to cross over earlier. “The infiltration is not so widespread as earlier, hence It is easier for us to neutralize larger infiltrating groups,” says Gen. Singh. However, the general glosses over the fact that Indian military options into POK will now be under a close scanner of the Pakistan Army. The Pakistan soldiers now only need to watch the limited gates on the fence to monitor Indian aggressive designs, should they ever be attempted.
Moreover, “Fencing has not diminished patrolling by troops, which is necessary for area domination,” says Gen. Singh. According to sources, over one hundred patrols are sent every night in the 15 corps zone alone. Beside, the fence is not static and requires regular tactical adjustments. Fore example, during the snow Tsunami (very heavy snowfall for nearly two weeks in February 2005) in Kashmir, a large portion of the fence (estimates put it at 100km) was washed away due to avalanches. The fence was re-built with tactical adjustments taking the snow factor into account. Similarly, part of the fence was damaged due to landslides caused by the recent earthquake. According to officers, the extent will only be known next season in 2006 as this is not an operational priority right now.
Apparently, the idea of the fence has been in circulation for many years. Border policing forces like the Border Security Force erected one on India-Pakistan border from Gujarat to Rajasthan. They are currently building another one one India-Bangladesh border. But the army was never receptive to the idea of erecting a fence as it is found to be effective only against the civilian migrants and is a policing tactic. And this is what the former army chief Gen. S. Padmanabhan who was Gen Vij’s predecessor had told him. Speaking with FORCE, Padmnabhan said that, “Vij had asked me my opinion on the fence and I told him that this idea has been there since 1993. The reason why it has not been implemented so far is that it is unsuited for the terrain along the LoC, Moreover, a fence will instill a defensive mind-set in our troops.”