New Delhi: The Border Security Force (BSF), often called India’s ‘first wall of defence’, completed 54 years in service Sunday.
Until the 1965 war, India’s borders with West and East Pakistan were manned by the state armed police battalions. But a need was felt for a specialised centrally-controlled force, armed and trained to man the international border.
“It was after Pakistan attacked Sardar Post, Chhar Bet and Beria Bet in Kutch on 9 April 1965 that a need was felt for a specialised force to man the India-Pakistan border and that is how the force came into existence,” a senior BSF officer said.
“The BSF is tasked with defending the Line of Control along with the Army in Jammu & Kashmir, and keep infiltration under check. BSF has been defending Sir Creek in the Arabian Sea and the Sundarban delta in the Bay of Bengal with its state-of-the-art fleet of water crafts.”
ThePrint takes a look at the composition of the BSF, and the role it has played over the last half a century.
A massive force
Currently, the BSF has a strength of 2.72 lakh personnel, including 5,217 women, who guard 6,386 km of international borders. Of this, the India-Pakistan border accounts for 2,289 km, the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir accounts for 237.20 km, while the India-Bangladesh border accounts for 4,096 km.
Another 192 km of the international border in Jammu, known as the “hot border” considering the high infiltration attempts from Pakistan, is single-handedly manned by BSF personnel.
Law and order duties, anti-infiltration operations
Even though BSF is a specialised force, it has also been tasked with the helping state administrations in maintaining law and order and conducting peaceful elections.
The force is also deployed for counter-insurgency operations in Naxal-hit areas, including Chhattisgarh and Odisha, where 16 battalions (eight in each state) have been deployed.
In Jammu and Kashmir too, the force plays an important role in checking infiltration attempts.
In many instances, the BSF has been attacked by militants. A July 2017 suicide attack on a BSF camp near the Srinagar International Airport, for example, killed an assistant sub-inspector and injured four security personnel. Two militants were also killed in the gun battle.
Another attack was reported in July 2018, when militants attacked a BSF convoy on the Jammu-Srinagar national highway in Udhampur, killing two personnel and injuring 11.
“Anti-infiltration duties in specified areas are an important role of the force. There are times when the force is on the receiving end. But the personnel fight back bravely. We have been guarding the LoC shoulder-to-shoulder with the Army,” the officer quoted above said.
He added: “During the earthquake in Gujarat on 26 January 2001, the BSF was the first to help distressed people. Even during communal disturbances in Gujarat, BSF personnel went all out to restore amity among the people.”
War and peace
Another BSF officer explained that the BSF’s role is divided into war-time and peace-time duties.
During peace time, the BSF’s role is to promote a sense of security among people living in the border areas, apart from preventing trans-border crimes, unauthorised entry into or exit from the territory of India, and smuggling and other illegal activities.
“The BSF is responsible for holding ground in less-threatened sectors, as long as the situation is within the capability of the BSF,” the second officer said.
“Protection of vital installations, particularly air-fields, against enemy commandoes, para troopers or raids is also part of the BSF’s role.”
Among war-time responsibilities, the BSF is entrusted with performing special tasks connected with intelligence, including raids.
“These are tasks which might be entrusted to BSF units by the Army in a war situation according to local necessity. It would, however, be expected that the state of training and equipment of the particular BSF units would be kept in view in assessing their adequacy for the tasks,” the officer said.
“Guarding of prisoners of war cages is another responsibility,” he added.