Indo-Pak Border, Indian Deployment and Fortification
NEW DELHI: Cowbells, 'cobras', and claymore mines. Those were the "gadgets" the Border Security Force (BSF) used when it first put up the barbed wire fence along the 553 km of the International Border between India and Pakistan in 1988.
There were no laser beams, motion sensors or thermal imagers then. But there was ingenuity in the force, led by former UP and Assam DGP Prakash Singh. So, cowbells were hung at intervals to detect vibrations during attempts to cut or climb the fence. `Cobra' was BSF jargon for a live electric wire camouflaged by overgrowth to electrocute trespassers.
Today , the BSF has started using the latest technologies to make the fence as impregnable as possible -laser walls, infrared devices, hand-held thermal imagers and battlefield surveillance radars. It is also planning to get vibration sensors to detect attempts at digging tunnels. In March, the force had detected a 30-metre long hole from the Pakistani side in J&K.
So, now that this fence has as many technological eyes as human ones, can the BSF ensure that there will never be another Pathankot? Top BSF officers, both present and retired, say no fence in the world is 100% airtight. Terrorists who make infiltration bids are extremely motivated and highly trained.
Senior officials add that many of the devices now in place provide enhanced visibility, but need qualified hands to operate them. The Punjab border is a very active place. Even at night people and animals keep moving.There is also a suspicion that Pakistani forces send men and animals into the area just to confuse their Indian counterparts.Better surveillance devices are needed to help tell the difference between a moving man and an animal.
Smarter devices don't mean that a BSF jawan can relax. His life has become tougher. A couple of jawans and officers whom TOI spoke to in the border areas, say they considered themselves lucky if they could sleep six straight hours since the Pathankot attack. After a six-hour duty at the fence, a jawan returns to the border outpost where he has to look after himself and the outpost before resting.
This growing responsibility has to be borne by fewer men. From 22 battalions during the peak of militancy , the border has 14 BSF battalions today . Acting IG of the Punjab frontier BSF Ashok Kumar Yadav says they have requested for more manpower but refuses to share details.
Malhi, however, is critical of singletier deployment. " Anyone breaching one sentry standing on the fence has a free run to go anywhere. This fixing of responsibility on one person who has the lowest rank is too much," he says. BSF officials point out that you can't continue to increase manpower. They will have to get better technology which enhances the capabilities of the present force.
The Punjab border also has some of the worst weather conditions. Monsoons often wash away the fence. Summers sizzle and the jawans have to either stand out in the open or in tin-shed watchtowers. And the fog is really thick in winter.But IG Ashok Kumar Yadav counters: "Whatever is our constraint is also the constraint of the enemy ."
Some devices have already been installed in places like the riverine gap in the fence at Bamiyal, the spot from where the four terrorists who attacked the Pathankot air force station, are believed to have entered.
For the record, the BSF suspects that they came from Kathua district in bordering J&K, but all the same they now have heavy deployment of both man and machine in this 70-metre wide hole through which the Ujh river flows. If it weren't on the border, Bamiyal would have looked like a picnic ground crisscrossed by thin streams of the Ujh. But the tense faces of the BSF men on watch tell you that two kilometres downstream is the enemy .