Of Critical Importance

Border security is the bedrock of national security

R.C. SharmaR.C. Sharma

Border security is the most basic and necessary responsibility of a sovereign state” says Kirstjen Michele Nielsen, former secretary, US homeland security. Her statement implies that border security is a bedrock of national security. Secure borders enhance national pride and signify sovereignty and territorial integrity. On the contrary, weak border security creates unstable and unpredictable borders, plagued with transgressions and incursions by adversaries, which affects national security.

India has 15,106.70 kilometres of land borders and 7,516.6 kilometres of coastline. It shares land borders with Afghanistan, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar. Indian borders are well defined; however, terrain, the lay of the ground and unpredictable hostile adversaries make border guarding taxing and a complex web. Thus, border guarding is difficult, nightmarish and challenging. A professional approach is essential to strengthen border security. The nation needs to address border management concerns proactively to ensure effective border guarding.

Effective border guarding leads to effective border management and ensures peace and tranquillity at the borders. It also helps in winning the trust of the local population and better coordination with local administration, leading to inclusive border management. The border guarding force is the most vital organ of border management, with others being the local population and administration. All three need to be on one grid in the interest of national security. Border management with split stakeholders enfeebles border security, thereby debilitating national security. Therefore, unerring border management is necessary for effective national security.

There are unique challenges when it comes to guarding borders, which are compounded by climate, geographical configuration of border areas, national perspective towards the needs of border guarding forces, approach of adversaries, economics of border area, attitude of the local population and administration. Before the Kargil skirmishes, one border was guarded by more than one force. This led to issues of accountability and command and control. The group of ministers appointed in accordance with the Kargil review committee report recognised the shortcomings in border guarding apparatus and recommended the principle of ‘one border one force’. Accordingly, the responsibility for peacetime border guarding is with the Assam Rifles (AR), Border Security Force (BSF), Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and Shastra Seema Bal (SSB). The one border one force concept does not imply that one force is limited to only one border, as some analysists interpret. One force can be on more than one border; however, there cannot be two different forces on the same border for uniformity, homogeneity, accountability and command and control reasons.

BSF soldierson the border
BSF soldiers on the border

Presently, AR is guarding the Indo-Myanmar border and BSF the Indo-Pakistan and Indo-Bangladesh borders. BSF is also deployed on the Line of Control (LC) under the army. ITBP is on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with the army. Duality of command exists on the LAC despite the fact that it needs a border defence mechanism and not a border policing and guarding mechanism. SSB is guarding the Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan borders. Border security is a professional domain, which affects both internal and external security. Compulsions of internal security have often led to unintended dilution in border security. With heavy population concentration on both sides of the border along Indo-Pak, Indo-Bangladesh, Indo-Nepal, Indo-Bhutan and Indo-Myanmar borders, there is a need for enough boots on the ground for effective physical security supported by modern border infrastructure, to thwart omnipresent threats.

Peacetime threats are illegal migration, scattered cross border back and forth movement, infiltration, the smuggling of drugs, arms and ammunition through land and aerial routes. Hence, there is a need for a coordinated, professional approach to address these threats. It also calls for unwavering national support for border guarding forces. Border guarding and border management need strengthening for effective national security. Strengthening of border guarding apparatus will help in reducing the excessive workload of border forces, ensure better man management in terms of reducing stress, indiscipline, suicides and fratricides and strengthen regimentation.

Nations which place high importance on border security needs ensure effective national security. However, national security requires border guarding forces to be prepared to take on dynamic border security challenges effectively and professionally. There are operational and administrative challenges which if not addressed, dilute the effectiveness of border guarding. Border guarding forces are a huge resource available to the ministry of home affairs (MHA). There are administrative aberrations which have led to consistent attrition in the border guarding forces, which need to be addressed on priority.

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