Amidst the raging debate concerning refugees, illegal immigrants and internally displaced people, Navneet Rajan Wasan takes stock of the internal security situation.
“Border Security Force foils infiltration bid in Kupwara District,”… “Army stops infiltration bid in Kashmir Valley”… So read the headlines these days in daily newspapers. And as I pen this article, there continue large scale violations of the ceasefire agreement and unprovoked firing from Pakistan, in which even the civilian population living in the border areas have not been spared. There is no denying that this is one of the major challenges faced by India on the internal security front from external forces, but we do face several others as well.
India shares long borders with neighbouring countries – 3,323 kilometres with Pakistan, 4,096 kilometres with Bangladesh, 699 kilometres with Bhutan, 1,751 kilometres with Nepal, 1,643 kilometres with Myanmar and 3,488 kilometres with China. We also share maritime boundaries with Sri Lanka, Thailand, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Maldives and Myanmar. A large part of this border, especially the land border, is open and porous, and provides free passage to inhabitants of neighbouring countries such as Nepal. We have fenced a large part of the border on both the western and eastern fronts, but a significant part, especially areas with riverine and mountainous terrain, remains unfenced. This, coupled with a hostile western neighbour Pakistan, where army and intelligence agency ISI rules the roost, makes the task of defending our land borders from infiltration become increasingly tough. Even the introduction of technical surveillance, in addition to the physical patrolling of borders with Border Security Force (BSF) and army posts spread all over, has failed to provide a foolproof system of sealing our borders. Our western neighbour has been a continuous source of regular infiltration attempts. State sponsored terrorists belonging to various terrorist groups such as Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (also known as Harkat-ul-Ansar), Harkat-ul- Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e- Mohammad, some of which have been banned internationally, keep crossing Indian borders, most often with the blessings of security forces of that country.
The recent instances of attack on our Pathankot airbase and Uri army establishment by infiltrators from Pakistan are glaring examples of terrorists being sponsored by our neighbour to cause instability, especially in Jammu and Kashmir. These terrorists, who are well trained, armed to the teeth and prepared for the long haul, have kept the pot of terrorism boiling for a number of years. As mentioned, fencing the border for long stretches on our western border has not been sufficient in stopping these frequent infiltrations, despite round the clock vigilance by the army and BSF. The unfenced border and line of control, especially riverine and mountainous sections, which get snow covered during winters, prove to be major challenges for our border guarding forces. Our neighbour has not even shied away from using the borders of our friendly countries like Nepal to push terrorists to create instability. They take shelter with the local separatist elements who often not only provide support and shelter, but also give the necessary guidance to operate against the Indian security forces. The overtures from India, like initiating talks to address the irritants and opening of mutual trade in spite of repeated violations of the ceasefire and well documented involvement of terrorists hailing from that country in bomb blasts leading to death of innocent civilians, have failed in bringing a lasting solution. The efforts in making Pakistan to reason in bilateral contacts, even at the highest political levels, have not made much headway. There have been brief periods of bonhomie, but thereafter, it has gone back to the old games of supporting separatist forces and pushing terrorists into the Valley.
With the blessings of our neighbour, there has been a large scale unrest in the Valley and protests against the security forces and local elected government. We have seen a collapse of governance in Jammu and Kashmir for more than a hundred days now. The infiltrators from across the border, through whom and their local contacts large amounts of money are channelized to foment trouble, have successfully hoodwinked school and college going teenagers who are on the roads, their faces covered, armed with stones and attacking the security personnel with impunity in the name of azadi. Schools and colleges have closed and the common man has lost his livelihood. The future of these teenagers, who do not even understand the import of the word azadi, is in danger. The security forces, who are acting with their hands tied, face an uphill task and are using utmost restraint. Even the minimum use of force and non-lethal weapons in tackling the unruly mob does lead to unintended injuries which many times result in loss of life or loss of limb and the same is used as a rallying point by the infiltrators and their local supporters to incite the public against the local government and security forces.
The efforts of the outlawed terrorist groups from Pakistan is not limited to our western borders but reaches deeper inside. The investigation into blasts which took place at Hyderabad, Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai and elsewhere has clearly established Pakistan’s involvement. Most of these incidents have the imprint of the Pakistan’s ISI and terrorist groups propped by it. The arrested perpetrators of these blasts and attacks on security forces in the Valley, often in conspiracy with local misguided youth, prove false the Pakistani claims that it had no hand in these incidents. There are instances when the Nepal border was used for inducting hostile elements with material and support to cause blasts within India. ISI has able to establish sleeper cells in various parts of the country to be used at an appropriate time in the future.
A sophisticated network of support system to provide money, supply material and know-how for manufacturing improvised explosive devices has been put in place with handlers in Pakistan. They operate and pass instructions through encrypted internet channels masquerading their location through complicated anonymous TOR networks. It is difficult to unearth these cells in spite of efforts of intelligence agencies, and this gives them the advantage of surprise to act at an opportune time to inflict maximum damage.
Any amount of denial by that country will not be able to conceal the role of its army and intelligence apparatus in creating trouble for its neighbour. Reasons of the same are multifarious. I do not intend to examine these, except to state that a continuous state of hospitality keeps Pakistan in the driving saddle and allows it to retain a pre-eminent position in the body politic. The Pakistani Army has an upper hand in defining the relationship between the two countries. Even accusations by its long-time ally USA does not seem to be making any difference. Further, the hospitality alternated with discordance with India helps the government of Pakistan divert public attention from the abject poverty, backwardness, lack of employment opportunities and regular loss of life prevalent in the nation. In the prevailing political situation and week civilian government, it is a no-brainer to conclude that Pakistan sponsored terrorism would continue to be a major threat to our internal security.
On the other hand, a number of insurgent groups have been operating in the northeast from their bases located in Myanmar and Bangladesh in spite of friendly relations with those countries. A number of these armed groups are able to import sophisticated weaponry from other countries in Southeast Asia, use these against the security forces and almost run parallel governments by way of collecting taxes, holding the local government to ransom. They have succeeded in bringing economic activities to a complete halt in these areas and the public is forced to migrate to other parts of the country for basic necessities like education, employment and health care. However, in the recent past, we have seen greater cooperation from our neighbours in checking their activities. It is hoped that these, along with continuous dialogue on a political level, are able to usher in a new era. The efforts of the government in giving more attention to these areas would help bringing the population back into the mainstream, and make them the beneficiary of the nation’s development.
In the past, we have faced serious problems from migrants and terrorists coming from Sri Lanka to Tamil Nadu through the sea route, but fortunately, with the resolution of ethnic dispute there, things have cooled down and we do not face any major threat. However, we continue to face constant threats from terrorists arriving on our borders through the sea route. The memories of 26/11 are still fresh in our minds. We have a 7516.6-kilometre-long coastline, which includes 5422 kilometres of coastline in the mainland and 2094 kilometres of coastline bordering islands. We have creeks, bays, lagoons, swamps, beaches and inhabited as well as uninhabited islands of various sizes. Many of the coastal approaches to the mainland often remain unguarded, thereby providing ideal spots for the clandestine landings of arms, explosives and infiltration by terrorists. We have major ports, oil refineries and high sea oil drilling rigs which are of strategic importance for the security, development and economic prosperity of the country. These could be high value targets for the terrorists because an attack on any one would result in enormous loss of life and property. Unfortunately, the coastal states have hardly any policing in the territorial waters apart from nominal patrolling in a few boats supplied by the Central government, out of which some remain grounded for want of repair or lack of trained manpower. The states are yet to raise coastal and marine police consisting of well trained personnel duly equipped to perform sea patrolling duties.
The efforts of the Central Government in this regard, to set up a training school for marine police of the states and to support the states to raise their own marine police, still remain on the drawing board. On the other hand, the capacity of Coast Guard needs to be augmented in a big way to patrol areas beyond territorial waters, and especially to safeguard our natural resources in exclusive economic zones and to prevent our enemy nations from exploiting these or sabotaging our installations. The protection of our maritime borders remains a big challenge and the government needs to accord the necessary priority and adopt a proactive approach to address the gaps.
Another major challenge faced in internal security is the large scale migration of people from the neighbouring countries. This not only poses significant threats to the economic fabric of border areas, but the resulting demographic changes also give rise to many more challenges. Unfortunately, we have seen large scale migration from Bangladesh into the north-eastern states, especially Assam. It adversely affected the economy of the local population, who were forced to share the limited economic sources. Later, some of these migrants have travelled and settled in different parts of the country in search of livelihood. They provided an easy target to terrorists from across the border to act as conduits for them. The investigation of the Burdhwan bomb blasts brought to light an unholy nexus between the terrorist acting in league with their handlers across the border and migrants, thereby posing a serious challenge to the internal security and friendly relations with the neighbouring country. These illegal migrants may also prove to be easy targets of our enemy nation on the western border to foment trouble deep inside the country. To stop migration would remain a difficult task as long as there are gaps in the border fencing and waterways are available to travel without being detected.
The challenge to internal security also gets compounded by the fact that our hostile neighbour has often made use of the porous borders of other friendly countries not only as a route of infiltration and but also for inducting fake Indian currency notes. The high quality fake Indian currency, allegedly printed by resources owned by their government, has been pushed from western borders along with drugs, through Bangladesh, Nepal and middle east based operators controlled by handlers based in Pakistan. Over the years these operators have successfully set up a well organised network, often using gullible migrant workers to circulate high value and high quality fake currency notes to jolt the economic fabric.
Our law enforcement agencies have failed to rise up to the occasion in handling this challenge. As a result, many of the real offenders are able to escape the legal consequences and only the poor individual who is used as a conduit for circulating a few fake notes is apprehended. Experts in consensus mention that there is need to increase our vigil on the Bangladesh border which is used for infiltrating fake currency in a big way. Interesting is the fact that passengers travelling to Kerala from the Middle East region have also been used as carriers of fake currency by agents of Pakistani handlers located in these countries. A continuous vigil has to be maintained on suspected carriers to stop the flow of fake currency.
In the recent past, as evident from the arrests and detentions made by the law enforcement agencies, we have had a number of educated youth, hailing from various parts of the country, getting radicalised through the Internet by individuals sitting across borders, and joining terrorist organisations like the IS. Some of them have travelled to areas considered citadels of this organisation, and participated in the ongoing conflict.
The questioning of some of those, who have returned from the conflict zone, has revealed that they have been radicalised to the core and could be easy picking for our neighbouring country to use them as possible anchor points for their future activities. Therefore, what is plainly termed as infiltration of young minds, could be extremely detrimental to the internal security in the long run. While one line of thought promotes immediate initiation of de-radicalisation programmes in our schools and colleges in a big way, what might actually work is for the government to take necessary steps to ensure that no section of the population feels left out of the benefits of social and economic development and ergo become easy target for our enemies.
Therefore, an urgent need to increase vigilance on the border by way of introducing high-end technology in border management cannot be overemphasised. Apart of this, the BSF has to be given latest weapons, equipment and facility necessary to operate in hostile environments. The capability of our border guarding forces needs to be upgraded so that the borders can be wellprotected from infiltration, even during inclement weather and in inhospitable terrain. Any delay in processing these requirements can prove detrimental in the long run. Recently, a committee headed by former Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta submitted a report containing recommendations for improving border security, especially covering the gaps and vulnerabilities in border fencing. It is hoped that the Ministry of Home Affairs will take an early decision on the recommendations and ensure their implementation.
We have got to improve our intelligence collection capabilities both in terms of human intelligence and technical intelligence. As the terrorists and their associates are using cyber networks to have the advantage of speed, anonymity and hiding their location in communication, it is important that capabilities of intelligence agencies are augmented in a significant manner. There is an urgent need to improve the mechanism of sharing information between the intelligence apparatus of the States and Centre and to usher in seamless channels of communication, which are important not only for preventive action but also for subsequent investigation in the event of an incident.