Ferozepur, Punjab: A thick blanket of fog, so low-lying that it seemed to be rising from the soil’s moisture, enveloped the fields neighbouring the Ferozepur sector of the international border in Punjab. The grey cover reduced visibility in the area both at night and during the day, and seemed to have helped increase the frequency of alleged drone incursions from Pakistan that purportedly drop narcotics and arms into India.
Pankaj Singh, director-general, Border Security Force (BSF), had said in November that drone forays have nearly doubled in the Punjab sector of the border in 2022, with the BSF reporting over 266 such drone flights until November this year.
“Compared to last year, there has been a substantial increase in drone transgressions from the Pakistan side. These drones can carry narcotics, usually, they bring heroin. Some also carry arms,” Pawan Bajaj, deputy inspector general (DIG) of the BSF at the Ferozepur sector, told ThePrint Wednesday.
On 21 November, the BSF recovered around 30 kg of heroin after shooting down a drone near the Fazilka sector of the international border. The BSF has initiated plans of installing anti-drone technology at the Punjab border to offset these incursions. According to the BSF, it shot down six drones trying to enter Punjab in November alone.
However, the attempted drone incursions continue, claimed the BSF.
These drones usually operate at night, using the darkness to their advantage. But given the thick blanket of fog over Punjab and North India in the past few days, spotting them has become an even greater challenge, a source explained. According to the source, the drones were being operated without lights, adding to the difficulty in spotting them, especially amid the fog.
But the BSF has far from given up the chase, adapting and using technology to counter the issue, DIG Bajaj explained.
“Our jawans are spending nearly 14-16 hours a day patrolling and actively guarding the international border. We mainly use three forms of patrol to guard the areas — foot patrol, boat patrol, and vehicle patrol. All take place through the day and night,” added the DIG.
The BSF explained that it also uses methods like cobra barbed wires, night interception teams, night vision technology, sniffer dogs, and among other measures, to counter the incursions.
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Multiple incursions & drones made in Pakistan
Sources told ThePrint that there have been over 35 drone incidents this year in the Ferozepur sector. This represents a substantial increase from last year’s 10-13 drone incidents, they claimed.
According to the sources, the drones bring in consignments of heroin, with a significant quantity of the drugs coming in for local use in Punjab. Currently, explosives are being sent less often via drones. In terms of arms, usually, rifles or pistols are sent across, added sources.
“The drones that have been captured are mainly made in Karachi or Lahore, some are from China. The payload that each carries varies,” claimed DIG Bajaj.
Smugglers with money operate the drones
“Smugglers with money operate these drones from Pakistan. They must have capital to access these technologies and use them,” a second source said.
Those who call for the drugs into India vary from drug peddlers to narco-terror networks, and even individuals who want to consume. Poorer smugglers use porous land and river routes to get in since they can’t access drone technology, added the second source.
The quantity of contraband or arms each drone holds depends on the payload it can carry. Many smugglers from Pakistan use the hanging method — attaching object to the drone — which makes it easy for them to drop the payload across the border. Essentially, all they have to do is then release the consignment on the Indian side, the source quoted above explained.
Adding, “Another unique way of sending contraband across is via land pipes. The smugglers use gaps in the fences to send a pipe with contraband into India.”
Patrolling intensity, HIT, cobra barbed wire
Given their increased intensity this year, the BSF has amped up its ways and means to counter drone incursions into the country.
“The three forms of patrolling are now taking place with greater intensity; they have also been tweaked and adapted to deal with the fog conditions. Further, patrolling is done through day and night to ensure we do not miss anything,” a third source said.
The BSF also uses Hot Interception Teams (HIT) at night. They have operational power and can undertake reactionary measures to prevent drones, individuals, or groups from trying to transgress. This includes the discretion to shoot down incoming drones.
Apart from the various patrols, and interception units, the BSF is also deploying cobra barbed wire on the border gates. These are essentially electrically powered to deter any transgressors at night, the third source explained.
(Edited by Poulomi Bannerjee)
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