India-Pakistan border issue: A good start, but govt should rethink safety measures

The Home Minister on Friday stated that the government has decided to seal the entire stretch of the 3,323-km-long Indo-Pak border (1,225 km in Jammu and Kashmir, 553 km in Punjab, 1,037 km in Rajasthan and 508 km in Gujarat) by December 2018. Rajnath Singh also said that the development of the procedure will be done in a planned way, with a monitoring framework set up to review the progress, monthly, quarterly, bi-annually and annually.

On the question of securing the riverine belts and areas where it is geographically unfeasible to put the physical barrier along the border, Singh said that the government will look into technological solutions to ensure every inch of our land is guarded. It may be recalled that similar indications had also been given by the government after the recent terrorist attacks in Gurdaspur and the IAF base at Pathankot.

File image of Union minister Rajnath Singh. PTI

File image of Union minister Rajnath Singh. PTI

The decision is warranted with heightened proxy war by Pakistan that is likely to escalate further. Incidents of infiltration have gone up and 100 terrorists are reportedly ready to infiltrate from launch pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Infiltration has also been attempted through the international border in Punjab and J&K in addition to trans-border smuggling of goods, narcotics and fake Indian currency in Punjab, Rajasthan, and Gujarat.

India fenced and floodlit 461 km of Punjab’s border with Pakistan from 1988 to 1993. The 1,048 km Rajasthan-Pakistan border was fenced and floodlit by 1999. Of the construction of 340 km of border roads and 137 km of link roads along Pakistan border in Gujarat sector sanctioned, 294 km of border roads and 136 Km of link roads had been completed till a few years back. The challenges remained along the LoC in J&K and the unfenced 93 km of Rann of Kutch in Gujarat. BSF had also proposed shifting of 23.380 km of fencing closer to the border in certain stretches of Ferozepur sector in Punjab due to the problems being faced by farmers in cultivating their lands. A dozen laser walls are already installed in the India-Pakistan border in Punjab in areas prone to infiltration.

India has erected 407 km border fencing in J&K in areas where there is high threat but the gaps between posts can only be covered through patrolling or ambushes which spread the security forces thin on the ground and is not 100 percent foolproof despite best efforts especially in hours of darkness, fog and adverse weather. Pakistan has been employing heavy cross-border firing to assist the infiltration and terrorists have also been using explosives to make gaps in the fencing or dig holes under the fence. In addition, heavy snows buried the fence especially in north Kashmir and large portions are also destroyed annually because of avalanches.

The new fence tried out – in consultation with the Snow and Avalanche Study Establishment (SASE) – uses stronger material and will have night-vision cameras, alarms and visual map displays integrated with the fence, all linked to a monitoring room, giving the local military commanders real-time data enabling quick reaction against any attempt to tamper with the fence. The fence is also proposed to be lit up using LED lighting where feasible. Existing fence in Jammu Sector is already lighted.

There is no denying that we need ‘smart’ borders. As per news reports, Israel has evinced interest in helping out in this venture. We need to optimize the best technology. Abroad, solar panels, rechargeable batteries, and diesel generators support extensive floodlighting with enough power. Operators pan and tilt the cameras remotely whenever any suspicious activity is observed. However, such arrangements are not feasible along active borders where Pakistan resorts to unprovoked firingy. Modern electronic surveillance involves detection of movement, and is largely based on seismic, acoustic, inductive sensors, and infrared sensors. Seismic sensors can distinguish between people and vehicles. Inductive sensors detect metal in an object that is moving, while an IR sensors can detect human body heat from a distance of up to 100 metres. The Unattended Ground Sensors (UGS) in use by the Army are mostly imported and primarily meant for guarding houses or premises. These are ineffective with snowfall and the DRDO has not been able to come up with one suitable for snow conditions.

However, despite smart fence fitted with cameras and consoles with commanders, limitations of adverse weather and visibility conditions will continue. This needs to be beefed up with Night Vision Devices (NVDs), Night Vision Goggles (NVGs) and Hand Held Thermal Imagers (HHTIs) which are in very limited numbers. The army post at Uri, which recently suffered a ghastly terrorist attack, did not have a single thermal imager despite being under enemy observation from three directions. The use of radars, as done abroad to detect smugglers as along the US-Mexico border, has the danger of giving away the electronic signatures of the equipment to the enemy. Besides, radars also have a dead zone. A mix of electronic surveillance and dogs would be very successful.

We use the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAVs) for surveillance but in limited numbers, because of the paucity of resources and restrictions on flying of multiple UAVs simultaneously in the same area or zone. There is a need to speed up the induction of the Battlefield Surveillance System (BSS), Battlefield Management System (BMS) in the army, and equipping infantry with hand-held Mini Aerial Vehicles (MAVs). Modern MAVs with forward-looking IR can identify objects at extremely long distances. America’s MQ-9 Reaper UAV used for homeland security has cameras capable of identifying an object the size of a milk carton from altitudes of 60,000 feet, forward-looking IR detecting humans at distance of 60 km. MAVs are also being weaponised. The US military is developing swarms of tiny unarmed drones that can hover, crawl and even kill targets. These micro UAVs will work in swarms to provide complex surveillance of borders and battlefields. Aside from a laser weapon they can also be armed with incapacitating chemicals, combustible payloads or even explosives for precision targeting.

Despite excellent achievements of Isro, we still have not gone for 24x7 satellite surveillance along our borders with both China and Pakistan. China already has 24x7 satellite surveillance along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India. A recent media report of a 45km-deep Chinese incursion in Arunachal points to this critical void. Iran is building a 700km-long, 10-feet-high and a three-feet-thick wall along its border with Pakistan, which is still not complete. If we are going for a similar 3,323-km-long Indo-Pak border wall with Israeli assistance, it is unlikely to be completed by December 2018. Nevertheless, it would be a good beginning and we must ‘not’ neglect other borders especially border infrastructure in the northeast, which remains pathetic because of gross neglect over a decade by the previous government.

The government must also seriously consider three issues. Firstly, the Army’s Technical Support Division (TSD) that the UPA government disbanded to the great advantage of Pakistan’s ISI, must be re-established if the NDA government is serious about countering Pakistan’s proxy war on India. Secondly, the government needs to examine the villages located close to the border. When Farooq Abdullah, then the chief minister of J&K, was asked why the few border villages very close to the LoC could not be relocated in hinterland J&K by a foreign student at the National Defence College Course in 2000, he said he had thought about it and had already asked the Centre for Rs 120 crores to shift the first village. Creating a vacant belt would deter infiltration since any movement can be engaged by fire. Also, we may not mine the LoC but certainly patrols can keep adding IEDs.

Third, the principle of ‘One Border, One Force’ that we have muddled up completely because of turf wars. China has put her entire border along Myanmar, India and Afghanistan under the newly-created Western Theatre Command, which includes militias and border forces. The least we can do is putting our entire land and sea borders under the MoD. This would pay off immensely when it comes to defending India.

The author is veteran Lt. General

Updated Date: Oct 08, 2016 14:57 PM

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