Managing India’s Borders: Tough Challenges

Due to the proclivity of India’s neighbours to exploit the country’s nation-building difficulties, India’s internal security challenges are inextricably linked with border management because Indian insurgent groups have for long been provided shelter across the nation’s borders by inimical neighbours. The challenge of coping with long-standing territorial and boundary disputes with China and Pakistan, combined with porous borders along some of the most difficult terrain in the world, has made effective and efficient border management a national priority. India’s borders are manned by a large number of military, para-military and police forces, each of which has its own ethos and each of which reports to a different central ministry at New Delhi.

The national security decision makers need to deal with complex border management issues. India’s rate of growth has far outpaced that of most of its neighbours and this has generated unusual problems like mass migrations into India. The demographic map of Lower Assam, a north-eastern state, has been completely re-drawn by illegal migration from Bangladesh over several decades. The border security scenario is marked by increased cross-border terrorism; infiltration and ex-filtration of armed militants; emergence of non-state actors; nexus between narcotics traffickers and arms smugglers; left-wing extremism; separatist movements aided and abetted by external powers; and, the establishment of Islamist madrasas, some of which are potential security hazards.

The operationally active nature of the Line of Control (LoC) and the need to maintain troops close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in a state of readiness for operations in high altitude areas, have compelled the army to permanently deploy large forces along the northern borders. While the BSF should be responsible for all settled borders, the responsibility for unsettled and disputed borders, such as the LoC in J&K and the LAC on the Indo-Tibetan border, should be that of the Indian Army. The principle of ‘single point control’ must be followed if the borders are to be effectively managed. Divided responsibilities never result in effective control. Despite sharing the responsibility with several para-military and police forces, the army’s commitment for border management amounts to six divisions along the LAC, the LoC and the Actual ground Position Line (AGPL) in J&K and five divisions along the LAC and the Myanmar border in the eastern sector.

The deployment patterns of Central Police and Para-military Organisations (CPMFs) are marked by ad hoc decisions and knee jerk reactions to emerging threats and challenges, rather than a cohesive long-term approach that maximises the strength of each organisation. The major lacunae that exist in the border management process include the deployment of multiple forces in the same area of operations and the lack of well articulated doctrinal concepts. Also, border management is designed for a ‘fire fighting’ approach rather than a ‘fire prevention’ or pro-active approach.

A task force on Border Management led by Madhav Godbole, a former Home Secretary, was constituted by the Group of Ministers (GoM) in 2000 after the Kargil conflict. It had recommended that the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) should be designated as the primary national level counter-insurgency force. This would enable the other CPMFs like BSF and ITBP to return to their primary role of better border management. It had also recommended that all para-military forces managing unsettled borders should operate directly under the control of the army and that there should be lateral induction from the army to the para-military forces so as to enhance their operational effectiveness. These recommendations were accepted by the GoM and are being implemented in phases. Clearly much more needs to be done to make border management more effective.