A border is where external, internal securities meet. A porous border allows parasites such as terrorists inside who infest the country, leading to a collapse of society.
WHAT’S A BORDER?
A border is not simply a line; it’s the most important symbol of sovereignty of a nation. It’s an institution by itself. A border is where external and internal securities meet. In addition, it affects many aspects of national life such as economy, security, and politics. Economy is affected if illegal activities such as smuggling of goods, currency and substances are enabled. Politically altering the demographics and contributing to undesirable consequences. It’s akin to the skin of a human body; distinguishing an individual from the world. Skin is a physical symbol of identity. If the skin is not there the internal organs fall apart. If it’s there but unhealthy it will permit disease. Similarly, a porous border allows parasites such as extremists and terrorists inside who infest the country, leading to a collapse of the society. The question is whether due attention is paid to such an important aspect of our internal security?
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) is one such step much required and long pending to protect our society and at the same time provide refuge to the long suffering minorities in the three Islamic countries surrounding ours. If such a straight forward and simple action invites great ire from certain sections of our population, it only shows how deep is the malaise, which went unchecked for decades. And then the globalists who insist that borders have lost significance in the modern context of globalization of trade and commerce, and the advent of internet etc. How disastrous this attitude proved to be in Europe where refugees were permitted on humanitarian grounds, is there for everyone to see. At least, this helped the rest of the world to realize how important the border is and hasten to fortify their own. The newest argument in their hands is the climate refugees, who deserve to be helped. It’s no wonder that many of the countries are scrambling to secure their borders in the light of such arguments and expected consequences.
It’s clear that the borders should be strong and opened discreetly on the basis of well calculated objectives and policies, and not kept weak and porous for the undesirable elements to exploit. The choice to open the borders should be that of the host nation and not that of illegal elements. The choice can be exercised only if there’s a strong border.
Coming to the practicalities of securing the borders, the first and the foremost requirement is to understand the importance of having clear borders. In the case of India, this problem is complex. We share borders with countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, who have been part of our country and the partition came as an artificial political arrangement. The peoples of these countries have their roots here and still have blood relations on both sides. As the arrangements have become permanent, we need to overcome these sentiments when it comes to securing the borders. People and media play on these sentiments, weakening the resolve of the nation to have a clear and firm strategy in place.
Then comes the approach, which needs to be firmed up. In spite of several instances of cross-border terrorism, in which thousands of people lost their lives and extensive damage done to national wealth, we keep treating the border issue as yet another routine political matter. We keep creating departments, coordinating authorities etc., without bothering to see whether the measures are adequate on ground. Even after ten years of Mumbai 2008 attacks, our borders are still porous and more incidents keep happening. CAA, NPR and NRC are required, but more important is to secure the borders firmly. Otherwise, it would be like pouring water into a vessel with a hole at the bottom. The twin objective should be to treat NRC and border control on equal footing.
Currently, India shares the longest land border with Bangladesh, stretching over 4,096.9 km. This boundary falls in five Indian states—West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tripura—and runs through a diverse topography, including dense forests, hills, river, populous towns and paddy fields. Considering the vastness of India and its border, different border guarding forces are deployed. BSF is responsible for guarding India-Pakistan and India-Bangladesh borders, SSB for guarding the border with Nepal and Bhutan, and the ITBP along with the Indian Army guards India-Tibet border.
As part of efforts to improve the infrastructure at border checkpoints, India is developing Integrated Check-Posts (ICPs). An ICP is intended to be a one-stop solution that houses all regulatory agencies, such as immigration, customs and border security. So far, 20 border checkpoints in India have been designated as ICPs, of which half are located along the India-Bangladesh border. The development of the ICP infrastructure has been planned in two phases: seven have been developed in Phase-1, of which six are now operational; the rest are to be developed in Phase-2. Two of the first seven ICPs are at Agartala and Petrapole on India’s border with Bangladesh. The ICPs have helped in a limited way border-crossing between India and Bangladesh, by bringing in all the concerned agencies under one roof and thus significantly organizing the processes. Where the facilities are operational, cross-border movement has become easier and less time-consuming. At Agartala and Petrapole, passengers reported improved conditions at the checkpoints.
Currently, however, the ICPs lack sufficient screening facilities. There are no technological tools to scan the trucks crossing the border for loading and unloading of goods. The goods are inspected manually, which is not a reliable method. Moreover, the BSF, which is in charge of border security and monitoring the ICPs, are only sanctioned to check the permits for the trucks entering/exiting, not the cargo. Such loopholes allow people to carry out unlawful activities across the border. The ICP immigrations are handled by multiple agencies, e.g. the Bureau of Immigration, the Central body under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), is in charge of the Petrapole and Hilli but not the rest of the ICPs. Thus, there is no common record for the people entering or exiting via land-border checkpoints. This restricts the movement of legitimate passengers to specific ICPs. The government has been pushing for technological solutions through Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System (CIBMS) project, which is another initiative. The purpose of introduction of this system, which is being tested, is to integrate technology with the existing systems to facilitate better detection and to reduce human error occurring due to stress. Ironically, we are yet to develop institutional trust on technology.
There are apprehensions that the CIBMS may not take off. Let us first analyse the financial aspect. The United States has allocated an equivalent of Rs 95,000 crore for its customs and border protection in the year 2017. Compare this with the Rs 15,000 crore allocated to Border Security Force: It must be highlighted that the length of the US-Mexico border roughly corresponds to that of India-Pakistan border. The amount of Rs 15,000 crore meant for both Indo-Pak and Indo-Bangladesh borders is thus for almost double the length of US-Mexico borders. One can imagine as to what results can be achieved by a border guarding agency which is seven times the size of its US counterpart but whose budget allocation is just one-sixth and area of responsibility is more than double. Besides, a large portion of the funds allocated will have to be utilised for upkeep of the existing infrastructure. It may be seen that only a very small portion will be available for acquisition of new systems or R&D.
Another initiative is the Land Port Authority of India (LPAI)—a statutory body established under the LPAI Act, 2010, which is responsible for the efficient management of the ICPs. It falls under the purview of the Border Management Department of the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and is tasked with developing, sanitising and managing the facilities for cross-border movement, at the designated points along the international borders.
As in many areas of our country’s operations, in border management also we face problems relating to multiple agencies and lack of cooperation thereof, lack of financial resources and inadequacies, lack of technological mindset, lack of will to implement, bureaucratic hurdles and scores of other problems. A closer look will reveal that the problems are psychological rather than anything else, clearly reflecting our mindset as a nation. The most favourite excuse is that technology should suit Indian conditions! Another one: a “proper” mix of technology and manpower is the answer to those “Indian conditions” and “ground realities”. The fact is we have not inculcated institutional inclination to technology. We also have a great reluctance to take help; “what foreigners can do, we can do better”! And something impossible for us is to cooperate.
WHAT ARE OTHERS DOING?
Ever since European Union was formed the borders in Europe have become soft and more so due to their misadventure in freely admitting refugees. Israel is another country which is serious about its borders due to historical reasons and doing a good job of it. But the area is small compared to India. The US is one big country, which has taken the border issue seriously and has put considerable at stake for this purpose. The US has one authority called Custom and Border Protection (CBP). This is the one-point authority for border control.
WHAT DOES US’ CBP DO?
CBP is constantly innovating border control through R&D and testing. In Arizona, CBP law enforcement personnel test the latest technology—such as unmanned aerial vehicles and new radio and surveillance systems—aimed at shoring up the US southern border by augmenting the skills already employed by Border Patrol agents on the ground in conjunction with the wall. The three elements—the wall, the technology and the Border Patrol agents—used in different proportions depending on the location provide for an effective deterrence. CBP continues to test and evaluate emerging technologies that will most effectively assist agents on the frontline. The new tools, part of what CBP calls the whole border infrastructure system, are being tested in the desert of Arizona. Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, known to CBP as sUASes, are expected to play a role in securing the border in the near future. The fixed-wing aircraft, and small four-bladed helicopters, are portable (fitting inside an SUV), highly manoeuvrable and rapidly deployable. “Many law enforcement agencies across the world are deploying [sUASes] for both enforcement, as well as search-and-rescue operations.” CBP is testing other innovative technologies in Tucson, such as new land mobile radio repeater systems and linear ground detection systems.
Following the construction of eight border wall prototypes CBP tested assessed and evaluated the features and attributes of each prototype to identify which of them most effectively impede and deny illegal crossings. The assessment and evaluation included testing the prototypes, input from Border Patrol agents and an engineering analysis. The most effective features and attributes have been incorporated into Border Patrol’s wall toolkit and may be applied to future designs.
CBP is flexible and responsive to international events, such as conflicts, political changes, or shifts in global economics. These events affect the trade, travel, and economic factors in CBP’s strategic environment and can have major implications for its operations. Additionally, such global events can drive worldwide migration patterns, which affect all aspects of CBP operations. International partnerships will enable CBP to respond to geopolitical changes more effectively and proactively.
CBP’s mission success demands strong international partnerships to counter threats to the homeland. As the world continues to change, CBP will maximize its global engagement activities to adapt proactively, efficiently, and effectively to improve global safety, security, and prosperity.
In addition to CBP, the Department Of Homeland Security (DHS)works to secure borders through the deployment of personnel, technology, and infrastructure; as well as working closely with neighbours in Canada and Mexico, and many federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial partners.
Several government and academic institutions in the US sponsor long-running migrant surveys that include questions about migrants’ experiences trying to cross the border, including how often they crossed illegally and how often they were apprehended when attempting to cross.
So, what should we do?
1. Have one agency in charge of border security. That agency should coordinate with existing multitudes of agencies, state governments, Ministry of Home Affairs, External Affairs, international organisations, and neighboring countries and keep itself updated with global trends in migration.
2. Make a one-time big investment to have two layers of wall and fencing with lighting and approach roads for effective patrolling.
3. Combine technology with the existing arrangements to effectively manage the borders. Considerable investments are needed to boost R&D on border protection, in addition to what Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPR&D) might be doing.
4. Aerial surveillance by unmanned aircraft and drones should be introduced if not being done already or augmented if done.
5. For intelligence collection along the border, the local population living near and along the borders need to be cultivated. Institutional intelligence collection may not be enough.
6. And most importantly, create records and database at borders, do data mining to identify points on the fence which need more attention. Use of machine-learning technologies will go a long way in identifying weak spots and augmenting enforcement.
If the objective is clear, and strategy firm, then tactical measures will automatically fall in place. Problems arise when we ignore the first two and plunge headlong into the third.
Sampath Ramanujan, a former IPS, has dealt with airport security and industrial security, and worked in policing, law & order and intelligence, apart from handling corporate security in top corporates.