Challenges to Securing India's Borders

13 Aug, 2018    ·   5505

Tim Walpot asks whether new technologies hold an answer to India’s border security problems

The pace of border security projects in India has accelerated over the past two years. A prime example of this has been the implementation of a Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System (CIBMS) pilot project along two 5.5 km and 5.3 km stretches of the International Boundary (IB) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Theoretically, CIBMS a robust system that works by integrating human resources, weapons, and high-tech surveillance equipment. This commentary summarises India’s border threats and shortfalls in the current border system that could have resulted in the decision to implement CIBMS.

Securing and managing its 15,106 km long land border and 7,516 km long coastal boundary is one of India’s national priorities yet remains a major challenge for the country. The Department of Border Management, managed by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), is tasked with securing most of India’s borders, with some of their key objectives being to prevent infiltrations and drug smuggling as well as as facilitating trade and the safe movement of people.

The border security scenario in India is marked by many threats, with different sectors of the border posing different challenges and complexities. The threats to India are arguably increasing, with principal threats coming from Pakistan, Bangladesh and China, and noteworthy threats from Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan. The Pakistan border sees cross-border terrorism and movement of armed militants and smuggling of goods and narcotics, while along the Bangladesh border, illegal immigration and smuggling have been the main concern. The China border sees fairly regular armed intrusions, and has recently been in the news due to the Doklam crisis that raised suspicions that China may have some concealed their goals in the border region.

In the 1980s, the Border Security Forces (BSF) obtained hi-tech systems such as Hand Held Thermal Imagery (HHTI) systems, Long Range Reconnaissance Observation Systems (LORROS), and Battle Field Surveillance Radars (BFSR) that greatly enhanced the detection ability of BSF personnel. Despite this modernisation process, however, there are still problems in the current system. Some shortcomings include significant gaps in the system at rivers, high-tech equipment not providing all-round security, and border systems not always working in unfavourable climatic conditions. Largely, the current system is not integrated and communication between different paramilitary forces is reportedly scarce, consequently failing to provide a common operating picture at all levels.For example, the Assam Rifles who are guarding the Myanmar border under the management of the Ministry of Defence seldom coordinate with other border paramilitary forces. The recent decision by the army (which polices the Myanmar border) to abolish the Battlefield Management System (BMS) aimed at transforming the military by significantly improving coordination between services and reduce response time has brought about considerable criticism. This decision may also impact BSF as the basic integration framework would have extended across all services.

In the last couple of years there have been several significant militant attacks which have once again exposed the vulnerability of India’s borders. Prominent among these was the Pathankot attack in 2016 where militants were able to successfully infiltrate the India-Pakistan border and assault the Pathankot Air Force station killing seven Indian soldiers and injuring another 22. Such incidents raise concerns about India’s intelligence-security ecosystem, and have made the government re-evaluate existing border security focusing on new and robust technologies for the job.

In 2012, the MHA released an expression of interest (Eol) in CIBMS as a potential high-tech solution for border security. Nevertheless, it was only in January 2016 when the decision was made to implement the system. Arguably, the Pathankot attack was the straw that broke the camel’s back and prompted the MHA to come to the conclusion to implement CIBMS. According to DG BSF KK Sharma, the plan is to implement the system within the next three-five years. He said that CIBMS would be able to address the problems with the present system of border security and ease India’s security concerns. However, this assessment could be seen as optimistic. There are a number of potential issues which could hinder the effectiveness of the system. Prominent among these is the fact that at present there is an absence of technical capability among BSF personnel and to operate CIBMS effectively, and optimally, these systems require a higher level of training.

To achieve stable and secure borders in India, robust technologies for border control and surveillance are required in order to combat real and alleged dangers to the country. CIBMS may be a solution that could augur well for India’s internal security, principally in its fight against infiltrations and drug smuggling. However, issues still remain on whether it can truly enhance and solve India’s border security problems.