|By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd)
Former Director General of Information Systems, Indian Army
According to the Department of Border Management, Ministry of Home Affairs, India has total of 15106.7 km of land border with neighbouring countries: 3,323 km with Pakistan; 106 km with Afghanistan; 3,488 km with China; 1,751 km with Nepal; 699 km with Bhutan; 1,643 km with Myanmar, and; 4,096 km with Bangladesh. Barring Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Delhi and Haryana, all other States in the country have one or more international borders or a coastline and can be regarded as frontline States from the point of view of border management. According to a survey of India report of 2013, the survey estimated the Indo-Nepal border was closer to 1,868 km, 117 km more than the official length of 1751 km. According to an MHA official the boundary alignment has been identified on ground in about 95 per cent of the border length but there are still patches stretching to about 100 km where the survey has not been completed, most of them coinciding with areas where the boundary between the two countries is in dispute. According to him, “The border pillars (that demarcate international boundaries) are where they are. But the difference in length came about due to use of modern technology.”The official emphasized it was technology - and not a change in the location of border pillars used to demarcate international boundaries - that stretched the Indo-Nepal borders.
The concept of ‘open borders’ is followed with respect to our borders with Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and even with Bangladesh to begin with till fencing had to be resorted to in the latter case which is yet to completed. Illegal immigration has been in constant news over the years with respect to Bangladesh. In a written reply to a question in Rajya Sabha on November 17, 2016, Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju had stated, “As per available inputs, there are around 20 million (2 crore) illegal Bangladeshi migrants staying in India. Over and above this figure of 20 million, how much illegal immigration has been legalized is anyone’s guess. Two senior police officers attending a course at Delhi in year 2000 disclosed unofficially that bribes were being paid for a posting at the Indo-Bangla border. For illegal immigrants coming across, the money was fixed per adult and per minor. A temporary camping was indicated to them where the State Government ‘legalized’ them by providing Indian identity - ration card etc for some 1500. This contributed considerably to the vote-bank of the party in power. This continued with the change in the West Bengal government. How much the screws have been tightened on this system presently is not known but cattle smuggling from India to Bangladesh continues. Bangladeshi cattle markets, known as ‘khattals’, are brimming with cows and oxen from India, traders at these markets admitting that demand for Indian beef is high and the scaling down of smuggling activity has only served to push the prices up. But despite the official clampdown, on an average 3,000 cattle are smuggled into Bangladesh, with a cow fetching up to 3,000 to 45,000 takas in Bangladesh, as per a report titled ‘Up to 3,000 cows A DAY smuggled from India to Bangladesh as Border Guard claims that $5 billion industry has been cut by 99 per cent prove false’ published in Daily Mail of UK on September 27, 2016.
As to illegal immigration from Myanmar, there were estimates decades back that an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 Chin immigrants were residing in India. However in recent years, thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar have illegally entered India. In year 2012, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had drawn the attention of the Prime Minister to some 3000 plus Rohingyas having entered India. Presently, some 4000 are reportedly colonized in Jammu region alone. J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti admitted to the State Assembly in June 2016 that about 13,400 Myanmarese and Bangladeshi migrants are living in camps in Jammu. Why this has been permitted despite Article 370 sends ominous signals, especially with Pakistani national Asim Umar, Al Qaeda chief of South Asia calling to Rohingya Muslims to pick up arms because of persecution in Myanmar. More Rohingya Muslims are flooding India from Myanmar. What is kept under wraps is the narcotics trade along the Indo-Myanmar border. The amount of narcotics from the ‘golden triangle’ via Myanmar perhaps equals narcotics from the ‘golden crescent’ entering India through Pakistan. The narcotics trade along the Indio-Myanmar border is two-way affair in thousands of crores. From India ‘cold pills’ are smuggled into Myanmar and refined in secret laboratories to meet Southeast Asia’s requirements of methamphetamine. Incidentally, India consumes some 11 tons of heroin annually as per the World Drug Report. It is for such reasons that while most of the Indo-Bangla border has better deployment, there are no such plans for the Indo-Myanmar border. No move has been made to deploy the Assam Rifles closer to the border - they sit way behind in their comfort zones. And, plans are afoot to raise 46 more BSF battalions to man the Indo-Myanmar border under operational control of the MHA.
At a time when disbandment of the Special Service Bureau (SSB) was being examined, it was decided in 2011 to convert it into the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) to man the Indo-Nepal and Indo-Bhutan borders. Overall strength of SSB was planned at 25 battalions plus, some of which are deployed along the Indo-Nepal border, though their manning amounts to widely dispersed ‘nakas’. Our concept of ‘open borders’ along with some of our neighbours has serious shortcomings as in its present shape it facilitates free flow of terrorist, insurgents, weapons, narcotics, fake currency and of course smuggling. What implications this has for national security was indicated recently by Prime Minister Narendra Modi wherein he stated that the train sabotage at Kanpur was the handiwork of Pakistan, NIA already having been reported that sabotage of trains in recent past was being orchestrated by Pakistanis coming across the Indo-Nepal border. Not only is Nepal hotbed of ISI, China has opened a string of Maoist centres in Nepal close to the Indo-Nepal border, motives of which are not difficult to guess. While ‘open borders’ under the Free Movement Regime (FMR) implies movement without visa, it must be incumbent on both countries involved to evolve a mechanism wherein the movement is channelized and free-flow of terrorist, insurgents, weapons, narcotics, fake currency etc is blocked. The requirement is a series of integrated check posts and effective joint patrolling to cover the gaps.
The logic that ‘peacetime’ responsibility for international borders with Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh should be with MHA defies logic. Surely we are not visualizing war with these neighbours. In fact, the only across these borders would be the war on terrorism fought jointly with concurrence with the concerned nation, and this would be under the domain of the MoD. It needs no IQ to discern that placing international borders under MHA instead of MoD is conceptually wrong. We could at least learn from China whose Border Guard Divisions assigned the entire border from Myanmar to Afghanistan are under command the People’s liberation Army. At home we have the Indian Coast Guard looking after the entire 7,517 km coastline placed directly under MoD (not MHA) from its establishment in August 1978. Isn’t it absurd that while DGMO hotlines are on agenda with neighbouring countries, the border is with MHA. The mismatch and lack of coordination between the MoD and MHA at ground level is evident from the poor state of border infrastructure. Army Chief General Bipin Rawat stated on Army Day this year (15 January) that of the 72 strategic roads only 22 have been completed after so many years, and all of the 14 strategic rail-lines approved remain on paper only.
The concept of ‘One Border, One Force’ has been horribly misinterpreted by not acknowledging that ‘One Border’ implies all international borders of the country, which should have unity of command under the MoD. So we have a host of forces deployed on our borders, ranging from Army, BSF, ITBP, SSB etc. The interpretation of ‘One Border, One Force’ post its mention in the Kargil Review Committee (KRC) Report was taken by the powers that be to be applicable to one neighbouring country, which has been convenient for empire building. But that is not all. The worst chink in India’s border management is that within the so-called misinterpreted ‘one border’ there are central armed police forces (CAPF). Take the ITBP deployment in Depsang Plains and Chumar in Eastern Ladakh, which report directly under MHA, not under the local Army formation. Chinese know this and make periodic intrusions in the area, and when flag meetings are to be held. The unwritten inside stubbornness at the cost of national security is that ITBP officers can’t be placed under command the Army. Now BSF deployed in J&K is going by the same logic. The irony is that the KRC Report had made categorical recommendations that while CAPF can be employed on the borders to augment the Army, they will be placed under command the Army. The latter has been conveniently glossed over while expanding individual CAPF turfs. What can be more damaging to national security? Why this problem of ego when Army personnel in the National Security Guard function under a Director General of police cadre and Army personnel in some of the sub-units as part of expansion of NSG are serving under police officers? No doubt, the anti-military constituency is bent upon doing down the military, 7th Central Pay Commission recommendations placing the Military below the CAPF being one example, but is this in national interest? The government of the day definitely requires some serious introspection.