Thursday, 18 August, 2022
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BSF is a boon for border populations. It can do much more than just protect them

Since 1965, the BSF has not only protected India's border areas with Pakistan and Bangladesh but also helped with internal security and development.

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The Border Security Force, the largest border guarding force in the world, completes 56 years of service to India on 1 December 2021.

The Kutch invasion by Pakistan brought in a realisation amongst the security establishment in India that the state armed forces deployed until 1965 to guard the borders were neither equipped nor trained to effectively face up to even minor aggressive action by the enemy. Moreover, those forces belonging to different states did not have a standardised procedure of dealing with their counterpart. The government, therefore, decided to raise the force to be centrally controlled to guard the borders of India with Pakistan. Keeping in view the experience of the Kutch invasion and India–Pakistan war of 1965, a conscious decision was taken to model this force on the lines of an Infantry unit of the Indian Army.

Raised by incorporating 25 State Armed Forces Battalions i.e., the strength of less than 25,000 personnel from different bordering states, the Border Security Force (BSF) now has a strength of 200 Battalions comprising about 2.5 lakh personnel besides having its own Air wing consisting of both fixed and rotary-wing aircrafts, and a water wing to dominate the large riverine borders both in the east and west.

The force, mandated to guard the 3,323 km border with Pakistan and 4,096.70 km with Bangladesh, also has several units deployed under the operational control of the Army on Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan. The tasks of BSF are — promoting a sense of security amongst the people living in the border areas, preventing trans-border crimes and unauthorised entry into or exit from the territory of India, and preventing smuggling and any other illegal activities. The force also has a wartime role to assist the Indian Army in its efforts.

Also Read: BSF vs Army turf war won’t make India safer. Pakistan exploits security fault lines

BSF’s service

The BSF has played a very important role in the security matrix of the country, both in assisting the Army in tackling external aggression as well as the Civil administration in controlling various insurgencies that have ravaged the country. However, the yeomen service that the force has been performing generally receives very little attention.

The versatile force had its baptism by fire when it assisted the Indian Army in their war effort in 1971, both on the eastern and western borders with Pakistan. The valour and resourcefulness of the force received recognition in the shape of one Mahavir Chakra, 11 Vir Chakras and several other gallantry awards. BSF personnel were also decorated with two Padma Bhushans, two Padma Shrees, and an Ati Vishisht Seva Medal.

The contribution of BSF was lauded by then-President V. V. Giri and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The PM wrote to then Director-General of the BSF, Khusro Faramurz Rustamji: “As the first line of defence, the Border Security force had to bear the immediate brunt of enemy Assault. The manner in which they faced enemy fire and the support they gave to the Army has played a crucial role in our ultimate success…” About 125 BSF soldiers lost their lives, 133 went missing and 392 were wounded during the war.

The BSF had a major role in training, organising and equipping the Bangladesh freedom fighters — the “Mukti Bahini”. The BSF, along with them, organised several raids and ambushes against the enemy, leading to the latter’s demoralisation and heavy casualties.

During the Kargil conflict of 1999, the BSF Battalion deployed was the only one to stay put in their posts, preventing occupation of a much larger area by enemy infiltrators. The intelligence wing of the BSF had sent several inputs about the unusual movements observed in the area prior to the conflict.

Also Read: 54 years since formation, BSF’s role has gone far beyond protecting India’s borders

Role in internal security

Since its inception, the BSF has also been involved with internal security duties right from early days after its raising. It is a little-known fact that BSF had an important part in the surrender of Naga insurgents in the late sixties. These surrendered insurgents were incorporated into the BSF in three new Battalions. Several personnel laid down their lives in containing insurgency in other northeastern states like Mizoram, Manipur and Tripura as well as controlling the Gorkhaland movement.

The BSF was the frontline force to be inducted in Punjab to control militancy in the eighties and early nineties. The unique initiative of constructing a fence barrier along the border with Pakistan was instrumental in cutting off logistics and financial support to the militants thus facilitating the restoration of normalcy in Punjab. The success of the fence in Punjab has been replicated in controlling trans-border crimes along the remaining borders with Pakistan in the west and with Bangladesh in the east.

Similarly, the force acquitted itself extremely well in fighting militancy in Kashmir. Of the BSF’s several success stories in Kashmir is the meticulous operation involving the killing of a dreaded militant known by the pseudonym “Gazi Baba”. Many personnel received gallantry awards, including Shaurya and Kirti Chakra, while operating in Kashmir before its de-induction in 2004, in pursuance of the policy of “one task one force”, mandating that BSF exclusively perform the task of border guarding.

The BSF continues to be committed to fighting Maoist insurgents in central India, where its training to empower junior leaders is manifesting in aggressive domination by the security forces. It has successfully thwarted the movement of insurgents and facilitated developmental work by the civil administration.

Also Read: The worrying rise of militarisation in India’s Central Armed Police Forces

Sole authority in remote border areas

Besides the anti-insurgency operations, the force has often been called upon to assist the civil administration in controlling several law-and-order situations. These include the railway strike in 1974 and several communal riots. The BSF also plays an important role in disaster management. It has four nominated Battalions located in different places for quick response. Troops of the BSF also carry out several disaster management functions to obviate the problems of the local population in remote border areas.

BSF as the sole visible authority of the government in remote border areas has an important function in assisting the population by identifying their problems and projecting them to the administration. They are also involved in imparting skills to the border population to make them employable.

The versatility and reach of the BSF can be gainfully utilised by the administration to identify the problems of border populations, and improve the infrastructure and their standard of living. This will go a long way in ensuring the integration of the border population with the rest of the country.

Sanjiv Krishnan Sood @sood_2 is a retired additional director general of Border Security Force. Views are personal.

(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)

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