The BSF and Indian Army have to work together in the interest of national defence
The Border Security Force (BSF) was raised based upon recommendations of expert groups instituted by government after examination of recommendations by the then Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen. J.N. Chaudhary and home secretary L.P. Singh. Acceptance of the recommendation by government paved the way for raising of professional force for border guarding and augmenting army’s war effort.
The BSF was raised to overcome the shortcomings noticed in operational performance of state police forces during the 1965 war and have a professional force for border guarding and augmenting national defence. The excellent coordination between the BSF and the army was witnessed within six years of birth when the force played a stellar role in 1971 victory and was justifiably called by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ‘First line of defence’. She said, “As the first line of our defence, the BSF had to bear the immediate brunt of enemy onslaught. The manner in which they faced the fire and the support they gave to the army, had played a crucial role in our ultimate success”. The BSF played an important role in training and aiding covert operations of Mukti Bahini, which actually acted as preparatory for the actual war effort.
Parliamentary debates brought out that the BSF should have organisational structure similar to infantry battalion and have specific peacetime and wartime role to plug gaps in national security. In consonance with parliamentary sense and national need to have a force, which fulfils peacetime border guarding role and augment armies’ war effort, raising was a collective effort of Emergency Commissioned Officers (ECOs), regular officers and well-meaning Indian Police service officers. These officers structured the BSF on infantry pattern in terms of training, equipment and organisational structure with minor variations in strength considering vast length of borders. The BSF came out as an outstanding force and stood with the army shoulder to shoulder in defence of country during the 1971 war. The BSF Act 1968 was enacted for effective command and control of the force. Preamble of the act defines the BSF as ‘Armed force of the union for ensuring the security of the borders of India and for matters connected therewith’. In consonance with the mandate, the BSF has been assigned peace and wartime role.
Peacetime role dictate deployment pattern of the BSF on international border as per administrative needs and threat perception. The army plans wartime deployment of the BSF. The wartime role mandates development and nurturing of special relation with the army in peace for joint training, exercises, working out operational logistics to fight as one entity during war. Dilution in this relation affects national security. In the present, there is total dilution of joint training and exercises, a must for synergy and integration. Two hundred third report of the department related standing committee of home affairs, titled ‘Border Security-Capacity Building and Institutions’ submitted to Rajya Sabha on 11 April 2017, does not talk of war time role of the BSF even once, thus is an indicator of total dilution of wartime role of the BSF by ministry of home affairs (MHA). Considering the role and task and its mandate to augment army war effort, there is a need to study the BSF deployment with the army, challenges to synergy, coordination and measures to improve the BSF army integration.
BSF Deployment and Synergy With Army
The BSF guards Indo-Pakistan, Indo-Bangladesh border and Line of Control (LC) under army operational control. The BSF hardly has independent area on the LC and faces insurmountable challenges in ensuring peace and tranquillity on international border. Challenges of border guarding for the BSF battalion commander multiply during no war no peace (NWNP) since the BSF battalion in addition to border guarding has to follow orders of the army for war preparation.
The BSF battalion commander has dual command to obey, own headquarter and army formation. The BSF battalion commander is required to follow orders, which are sometimes conflicting and encroach upon each other’s domain. Similar is the situation on the LC, where battalion has no dedicated battalion defended area and companies are scattered in complete brigade sector. The BSF battalion commander has no operational control over his company but is accountable for lapses largely from the BSF’s perspective. It is the personal equation of commanders, which builds synergy and contributes to operational effectiveness. However, there are challenges of operating jointly in terms of operational and administrative functioning.
No War No Peace
No war no peace (NWNP) is the period in which there is no actual war but threat of war appears imminent. During this period the army is deployed and preparing to meet imminent enemy threat. The LC situation is the deployment to contain infiltration and foil enemy attempts of occupation of own territory and is NWNP situation round the clock. Operation Vijay of 1999 and Operation Parakaram of 2002 were NWNP scenarios where both armies were deployed face-to-face preparing for war. NWNP situation have major effects on border management on international border as follows:
- Dual headquarters and Command: In NWNP the BSF battalion functions under dual headquarters and dual command. During NWNP, the battalion commander is responsible for both border guarding and war preparations. He reports to the BSF headquarter concerning border guarding and to brigade headquarter for war preparations. It becomes practically very difficult to satisfy two bosses leading to strain on command and troops. It adversely affects morale.
- Defunct Higher headquarter: The BSF higher headquarters practically have no role and accountability for war worthiness of battalions. They are detached from war preparations during peacetime and remain defunct during NWNP and actual war situation. Higher headquarters instead of supporting battalions becomes strain on battalions since they fail to appreciate battalion commander’s difficulties during NWNP.
- BSF Battalion saddled with Dual Responsibility: The BSF battalion has to perform border guarding duties and wartime tasks during NWNP. The battalion commander is operationally responsible for peacetime border guarding and has to prepare for wartime role as per army plan. Problems are faced in effective border guarding leading to mental strain and physical exhaustion to troops. The army has little understanding of peace time border management requirements of the BSF, till the situation really becomes serious, the BSF battalion is expected to perform border management duties as directed by the BSF higher headquarters, whereas the army simultaneously expects contributing to war time requirement. Such situation is very difficult for battalion and company commanders of the BSF.
- Command and Control Affected: NWNP scenario affects command and control at battalion and company level since battalion and company commander have dual command and directions which are sometimes conflicting and not in harmony with each other. Control of supervisory staff too is affected. Priority of the BSF headquarter is effective border guarding and army authorities’ preparation for likely conflict. In this tug of war, command is diluted and affected.
- Thinned Manpower: Guarding vast and widespread area of responsibility require adequate strength. Battalion area of responsibility may vary from 25-40 kms. The battalion commander in addition to border guarding has to provide manpower for war-related tasks, thus division of manpower takes place, affecting border guarding and normal border vigil.
- Stress and strain on troops: Border guarding entails 14-18 hours of duty. Troops have also to prepare defences and accomplish other miscellaneous tasks like reconnaissance, forward area domination, mine-laying leaving little room for rest and relief and puts stress on troops.
- Role of women combatants: Each battalion has about 50 women constables as part of overall GD strength. Women constables are an integral part of section and platoons. Women constables are neither fit nor trained to perform strenuous war duties. How they will be utilised during NWNP and war scenario and how will their deficiency be made up during war has neither been planned by the BSF nor the army. Add to that the low medical category, manpower deficiency and attachments. This remains important manpower management issue though always on the backburner.
- Overage supervisory staff and constabulary: Unplanned growth and poor HR polices have resulted in overage junior commanders. In the BSF, all section commanders are above 50 years old and it is the same state with platoon commanders. Head constables are in the age group of 45-50 years. At least 20 per cent of battalion strength is in higher age group who may not fit into war planning. Each battalion has deficiency of about 150 personnel and low medical category may account for 70-80 personnel. This brings total strength not available for war to about 450-500 personnel. The leave strength is not included in this calculation. Each battalion may face a shortage of about 450-500 troops and may have to shoulder operational responsibility with 60 per cent strength.
- Mine Laying: The BSF battalion is mandated to provide one mine laying party but it has no mine laying capability. The border men are untrained to lay mines. This important aspect is kept in the background by the BSF and need immediate attention. The military believes the BSF is capable of mine laying but ground situation is the opposite. This factor needs immediate addressing.
Challenges on the LC
The BSF operates under the army operational control on the LC. Workable coordination exists between the BSF and army at operational level wherein companies are scattered under two-three infantry battalions. Synergy and coordination exists at operational level but higher BSF leadership need to understand professional working dynamics of LC and army leadership need to trust professional capabilities of BSF battalions. The BSF leadership’s lack of understanding of working dynamics of LC and distrust of the BSF capabilities by the army puts BSF battalions in conflict with leadership and impacts morale. There are some issues which need addressing such as:
- Need for compact independent operational area: The BSF is operating successfully on the LC since its inception. Battalion is scattered all over formation front diluting the sanctity of battalion command and homogeneity of battalion. The army need to trust the BSF battalions’ operational capabilities and entrust the BSF with independent compact defended operational areas.
- Dual command: The BSF company commanders are operationally under infantry battalion and battalions under local army formation. Dual command creates confusion and conflict, which effects operational performance and sometimes affects harmony.
- No role for battalion commander in operational matters: The BSF battalion commander has no role in operational matters because companies are operationally not under him. This affects battalion homogeneity and morale. The BSF needs to be given independent battalion defended areas to utilise the full operational potential of the BSF battalion.
Integration with the Army
The government has well laid out parameters for the army BSF integration. However, scenario on ground is different. There is no/very little peacetime homework and interaction for smooth integration during NWNP and likely war scenario.
- Accountability and role of BSF higher headquarters: Frontier and sector headquarter of the BSF has no role during war. Frontier, sector and Force headquarters are detached from all aspects of war preparation of training operational logistics and joint exercises. The government need to fix role and accountability of headquarters for war preparations instead of leaving all accountability on the BSF battalion commander with no support from higher headquarters.
- Joint Training: Wartime role requires joint training and exercises with the army to augment its war effort. This involves reconnaissance, identification, selection of localities and familiarity with deployment. All these tasks require physical training and rehearsals. Physical ground training on these aspects is a thing of past. The BSF headquarters and army authorities need work out joint training schedule for successful integration during war.
- Operational logistics: No peacetime brainstorming is done to work out operational logistics in consultation with army. There is urgent need for working out operational logistics for war consultation with the army. Logistic exercises for the BSF officers in coordination with local army formation is urgent need of hour. Each battalion need to have a blueprint of stores required for effective fulfilment of wartime role, which is not the case at present. The army also need regularly involve local the BSF headquarters in these exercises.
- Role of battalion, sector and frontier commander during actual war: The battalion commander will be co-located with local formation headquarter since his companies will be deployed in all battalions of the formation. His role is more of motivation and looking after logistic needs. Similarly, local sector and frontier commander also need to have a role during war and be not kept detached from actual war like conditions.
Need for Urgent Attention
The BSF assists army during NWNP in war preparation and carries out difficult border guarding duties. War preparations require joint training and exercises for real integration. Lack of integration affects command and control which need addressing on priority such as:
- The BSF battalion is tasked with dual duties in a NWNP scenario. It faces manpower shortage. Workload of praharis multiply manifold affecting rest and relief. The BSF need to have reserve battalions, which can be utilised for border guarding without compromising on war preparations.
- Decide upon the role of battalion commander, sector commander, frontier commander, additional DG, Operations directorate and DG.
- Peace-time training for war in terms of joint training and exercises with the army, operational logistic preparations and brain storming sessions on operational matters involving battalion commander and higher headquarters are missing during peace time. Need is to address this very critical issue.
- Peace-time interface and communication on regular basis between the BSF headquarter and army authorities is negligible/ missing and need institutionalising. It can be through formal and informal interactions, sand model exercises and war games involving senior BSF officers and battalion level leadership culminating into ground exercises.
- Need for giving compact independent battalion defended areas or sectors at the LC to utilise full operational potential of the BSF.
- The BSF be included in the inventory when weapons for infantry are purchased.
- In-depth analysis need to be carried out on the BSF’s efficacy to perform war role in the absence of training. Professional capabilities of leadership also need testing.
- Dormant operational issues like operational logistics, BSF’s logistic capabilities in the face of enemy hostilities and immediate operational issues like mine laying, capability to prepare defences need to be assessed to overcome training deficit.
- Establish an institutional system for interaction on operational matters with army authorities at different levels of command starting from force headquarters down to battalion level.
- Expedite raising of reserve battalions to spare troops from border duties for physical ground training on regular basis to polish professional skills in border guarding and for effective BSF army integration.
- Training directorate and operations directorate be made accountable to ensure training for war and peacetime role and responsibility for failure to ensure training and operational effectiveness be fixed.
The BSF forms an inextricable part of national security apparatus and has defined war and peacetime role. Workable coordination exists between the BSF and army at tactical level on the LC. However, there are issues of distrust and conflict, which crop up during NWNP scenario. There is little interaction at higher level of leadership during peacetime to prepare the BSF for wartime role through structured interactions, joint training and exercises. In fact, a serious lack of understanding exists as to what the BSF is capable of even at higher levels of army echelons. The BSF higher headquarter and senior leadership is detached from war preparations and need to be made accountable. There is a need to brainstorm various operational and administrative instructions issued by army and review them in accordance with changing scenario for better operational and administrative integration with the army simultaneously maintaining its unique identity as the nation’s first line of defence and world’s largest border guarding force.