With a Hawk’s Eye

Among SSB’s many roles, intelligence gathering has become very important

Dilip Kumar Mekala

Arun ChoudharyIn the last 50 years, Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) has come a long way, - from an unconventional intelligence driven force post-1962 deployed on the Indo-China border to a Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) with multiple roles in both border and mainland. “We are a CAPF with a difference,” says Arun Choudhary, director general, referring to the obvious difference of the border guarding role at the ‘open borders’ with both Nepal and Bhutan. What is not so obvious is the fact that the Force still retains its intelligence gathering capabilities. SSB is the lead intelligence agency along Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan borders. “We mix and match our old and new roles,” adds DG Chaudhary.

For the SSB intelligence gathering is their strongest point. Earlier in 2013, when five new battalions of SSB were deployed in Kashmir, the Force requested the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to allow their intelligence teams into the valley. It is still not known whether MHA gave the desired permission. Even on the Nepal and Bhutan borders, the SSB does not have permission to check each and every individual crossing the border. That authority is retained by the customs department. SSB only acts if there is an intelligence information about rogue elements crossing the border.

The year 2013 put the focus back on the Indo-Nepal border after the arrest of India’s most wanted terrorist and the co-founder of Indian Mujahideen, Yasin Bhaktal. While there are differences in opinion about where exactly Bhaktal was arrested, there is no doubt that he made Nepal as the base for his terrorist activities and used the open border to his advantage. Furthermore, it is already expected that in 2014, after the US troops withdraw from Afghanistan, militant activity in Kashmir will increase. It is also understood that these militants will take Nepal’s route to enter India, which is a serious matter of concern for SSB.

Under Central government’s recent surrender and rehabilitation policy, India has allowed former Kashmiri terrorists to return to the country via Nepal. This can also be misused by the trained militants disguised as surrendered militants to enter the country. Against this backdrop, the onus is on SSB to ensure that terror elements do not enter through these open borders.

So far, the official checkposts of the SSB have facilitated almost 200 people, including ex-militants and their families, to return to Jammu and Kashmir. More than 250 ex-militants are willing to return to India after the new procedures are put in place. While the DG remains tight-lipped about the procedure that facilitates the ex-militants to India, he claimed that the constant coordination with the Jammu and Kashmir (J &K) police eased the process. “The J&K government has a list of people willing to return via the Nepal route. We maintain a dossier of every person using the route,” says Chaudhary.

In order to handle all these tasks effectively, SSB is planning to increase the number of border outposts (BOP) in the Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan borders. There are currently 466 BOPs on Indo-Nepal border with the Force planning to increase the number to 539 by the end of 2016. On the Indo-Bhutan border, there are 150 BOPs currently and the number is expected to go up by 195 by the end of 2016. Also, the Force is in an expansion mode. By 2016, SSB is planning to induct close to 96,000 men in various ranks to undertake all the different tasks.

The official documents of SSB claim that they have arrested around 1,000 smugglers and 37 human traffickers. Almost 209 victims of human trafficking were rescued. They have also seized contrabands and narcotics worth hundreds of crores. Beside seizures and arrests of smugglers, SSB also claims to have detained 55 Kashmiri militants.

In order to step up the vigilance throughout the border, SSB is planning to form its own water wing. The proposal is still in the early stage. “Even if the land border is dominated through patrolling, water bodies leave a big gap on the border which can be easily exploited by anti-national/anti-social elements,” a senior SSB official said while talking about the forces’ water wing. Both India and Nepal have large water bodies along the borders such as river Mahakali, Shardam Ghagra, Gandaki, Koshi and Mechi. “In order to plug these gaps, SSB is planning to create ‘water wing’ which will be equipped with fast moving boats, water scooters, inflatable boats, etc,” he added.

Giving the details on the water wing, the senior official earlier said, “SSB will be categorising the rivers. Rivers which have perennial water supply throughout the year will get preference as far as patrolling is concerned. Then the next priority will go to dry nullahs and other water resources which do not have sufficient water during the year”. Last year, SSB ensured that places like east and west Champaran (Bihar) and other places where there was a broad river length, were covered for patrolling.

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