There is a serious need to prepare the BSF and ITBP for wartime roles
The role of the Border Security Force (BSF) comes from the BSF Act 1968. The war role is holding of ground in less threatened sectors so long as main attack does not develop in a particular sector and situation is within the capability of the BSF to deal with and extension of flanks.
There is limited aggressive action against paramilitary and special tasks connected with intelligence and acting as guides. In addition, secondary wartime role is to maintain law and order in captured enemy territory, provision of escorts and guarding of prisoner of war cages. The BSF also controls influx of refugees and carries out anti-infiltration duties.
Within six years of raising, the BSF through battle-hardened training, determination and grit, carved a niche for itself in the history of 1971 war and emerged as first line of defence. The moot question is how and why its war role was obviated from the radar of ministry of home affairs (MHA) and the BSF headquarters’ operations directorate.
The victory of 1971 war brought laurels to the BSF. Thereafter, a period of recognition, euphoria and felicitations started which continued for quite some time. War training, including exercises and integration with army continued for some time though later a sense of complacency set in. The lessons of 1971 war were slowly forgotten. However, the BSF continued with emphasis on war training, courtesy strong and dynamic leadership provided by K.F. Rustamji and Ashwani Kumar. Their dynamism and strong leadership ensured effective training for defined roles well into the late Seventies. Thereafter, war training was diluted and physical integration with army took the backseat but did not completely disappear.
The leadership which came thereafter lacked dynamism. It had no connect with the BSF and was foreign to force ethos and culture. Barring a few police officers who served in the BSF as DIGs, all others para-dropped at the top. They believed that the BSF was a slightly better-equipped version of the police; its primary roles being border guarding and fighting terrorism.
Since in late Seventies and early Eighties, terrorism had engulfed Punjab, aided and abetted from across the border, the BSF was required to focus on rudimentary guarding of borders and fighting terrorism. Its wartime role slipped off the radar. It is still missing. War training is a non-priority for the BSF hierarchy at all levels of leadership, which is responsible for propounding and implementing operational doctrine. In fact, the BSF has no such doctrine. Hence, the training directive is issued without the doctrine. Consequently, the war time role has been slowly and collectively relegated to the background by the MHA, Indian Police Service and recalcitrant cadre leadership.
Defunct Training Directorate: Organisations need to keep their personnel oriented to their role and task through continuous motivation. This can be done through war history and training. However, both components are not there in the BSF during basic as well as in-service training. There is no practical training and concept of offensive defence is missing even in border management training which, if included, will certainly help during hostilities. The Indian Police Service (IPS) hierarchy, in order to keep its hegemony intact, has relegated war training to the background and in such a manner that the war role is forgotten. It is taught at a very minor level for about a week during junior and senior command courses. That is all that’s done in the name of war training in the BSF. No commanders have the expertise to cite a defended locality/area and prepare defences due to lack of training and rehearsals. In such scenario to integrate the BSF with the army during a war will be a nightmare for cadre leadership because the police leadership will return the moment the war is announced. As far as the training directorate is concerned, it is more of a rehabilitation and parking place. It has been headed by six-seven inspector generals in one year from June 2019 to May 2020 and has literally no connection with training per se.
Defensive Mindset: The peacetime border deployment is linear defensive deployment. This deployment has made troops physically weak and defensive. No rehearsal is done to practice drills to convert from linear to war deployment. In addition, leadership is defensive in mindset and happy with the status quo. Proposal to bring offensiveness in actions through forward deployment has not been accepted since sector and frontier commanders as managers are happy with the status quo. This needs to change through training, rehearsals with the army in which higher leadership must also participate.
Women in Combat: The BSF has women in combat. Women are recruited as constables and they form part of different sections and platoons. There is no thought process on how these women will be employed during war. Also, nobody has thought of how shortage of section and platoons due to their non-availability will be compensated. Has any brainstorming been carried out by the army on the subject? Parameters of physical fitness for women are lower which means that they may not be able to withstand physical rigours of war deployment. Also, another important question that arises is how the forces should cater for their special biological needs. These questions are conveniently ignored.
Carry out peacetime testing of battalions, sectors and frontiers for fitness for war role. Make higher leadership of cadre and IPS at the level of deputy inspector general and inspector general responsible for war and peacetime administrative drills, war training and integration during peace and hold them responsible for failures in actual combat both during peace and war which is not the case as buck stops at commandant. Devise a mechanism for it
Equipment and Arming Policy: The BSF operations directorate knows the role that the BSF plays during conflict situations. So, it’s important to ask whether the BSF is equipped with weaponry and equipment similar to the standard maintained by the army? The fact is that the BSF lacks communication and surveillance equipment that are of the same standard as the army. The BSF continues to use old surveillance equipment and has a vintage inventory of weapons. The communication equipment is used by everyone in the market and does not have the required security features needed for war. It is also not of the same standard as the army communication equipment. The BSF does not have anti-tank weapons in its inventory. The IPS leadership of the BSF, to keep secure their future in the forces, has relegated weapon, equipment inventory management to the backburner. It’s doubtful whether the BSF operations directorate has ever raised these issues with the MHA or carried out brainstorming sessions to improve coordination with the army authorities on these issues.
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