How will the Indian security establishment deal with the threat of corruption at India’s borders?
Fears that corruption at the Indian borders facilitates terrorism in the country have once again been confirmed. There is a strong suspicion of locals having provided logistical support to Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terrorists who attacked the Pathankot airbase earlier this month, and a few weeks before, an ISI-sponsored spy ring involving personnel from different agencies was also busted.
The two incidents have corroborated the concern that the fence may be eating the crop by conniving with terrorists, drug traffickers and smugglers from Pakistan and illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
The apprehension that a nexus of corrupt policemen and unscrupulous jewellers and drug traffickers may have helped the JeM terrorists cart huge cache of arms and explosives into Pathankot airbase looks much more credible considering that the terrorists were armed to teeth with guns, magazines, explosives and yet carried backpacks stuffed with food packets and medicines.
The natural question thus would be that how could the terrorists jump over a ten-feet-high perimetre wall with an extra two-feet-high concertina wire, stretch the encounter to two days and yet have magazines and enough explosives to trigger blasts after the gun-battle?
But the connivance allegation should come as a surprise to nobody. After all, corruption at borders is not a new phenomenon. It has been reported at least for over a decade. Right from Mumbai to Punjab to Jammu & Kashmir, the names of personnel from Border Security Force (BSF), Indian Air Force (IAF), Indian Army, Customs, Coast Guard, Rashtriya Rifles and police have figured in numerous cases of collusion with terrorists and smugglers.
The courts have sentenced 10 officials of Maharashtra Police and Customs Department for the 1993 Mumbai blasts which left a trail of blood and gore in the megalopolis.
There is a recorded conversation between Tiger Memon, the mastermind of the ‘93 Mumbai blasts and blasts accused Taufique Jaliawala where it transpires that there was an exchange of Rs. 2.2 million bribe between arms smugglers and the customs officials before the huge cache of arms and explosives including 1.5 tonnes of RDX, hundreds of assault rifles, pistols and grenades landed on the Konkan coast on February 3 and 7. Over a month later 13 serial blasts claimed 257 lives and maimed around a thousand people.
In March 2007, what was seen as a rehearsal before 26/11 Mumbai attack, Coast Guard allowed eight Lashkar terrorists to sneak into Mumbai from Karachi through the sea route for a ‘consideration’. The terrorists, trained in guerrilla warfare, were intercepted while travelling in a boat but were let off after alleged payment of the bribe.
The terrorists reached Jammu & Kashmir by train from Mumbai and were subsequently arrested by the security forces in Rajouri (Jammu & Kashmir). Two of the terrorists – Abdul Majid Araiyan and Jamil Ahmad Awan – are currently lodged in Jammu jail while not much is known about their colleagues.
In Punjab, no less than Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal has accused the BSF, manning the over 550 km long International Border, of not doing enough to check trafficking of narcotics into his state.
Though nobody can calculate the quantum of drugs being smuggled into Punjab from Afghanistan via Pakistan, the staggered increase in annual seizures of the banned substances by the BSF indicate the growing menace. The seizure of heroin, for instance, jumped from 69.970 kg in 2011 to 322 kg in 2013. Similarly, the quantum of seized poppy husk rose from 3.100 kg in 2011 to 246.623 kg two years later.
To counter smuggling of narcotics, fake currency and terrorists on international border, the Centre is considering to switch more BSF battalions from eastern to western sector. But this may not give the desired results unless the Centre allows the BSF to intercept mobile phone networks buzzing on and around the international border. The paramilitary has asked Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for permission to intercept the phones.
A third aspect of corruption at borders is illegal immigration from Bangladesh. An estimated 15 million Bangladeshis have settled into India since early 1970s taking advantage of porous borders, corruption in India’s food supply department, and cultural and language affinity with the population living in West Bengal, Tripura, Meghalaya and Assam.
The then Minister of State for Home Affairs, M Ramachandran, told the Parliament in 2012 that around 1.4 million Bangladeshis intruded into India in the last one decade alone.
There are estimates that illegal immigration from Bangladesh into India costs only on an average Rs. 2,000 per person. Add to it a few hundred rupees more which one may have to shell out to procure false identity papers and yet it remains the cheapest mode of illegal movement between any two countries in the world.
The need of the hour is that the forces deployed on border should develop a robust internal vigilance mechanism to ensure that black sheep among its personnel are identified and made to face the law of the land.
In the BSF, for example, internal vigilance is under the jurisdiction of its personnel branch. But unlike the ‘G’ wing (intelligence division) which did the job in the past, it neither has the wherewithal nor resources to segregate the venal.
Moreover, on the entire India-Pakistan border in Punjab, there is only a single line of BSF deployment to check smuggling of contraband, counterfeit, arms and terrorists. It might help if manpower in the force is increased and a second tier of monitoring is added to the current arrangement.
It has been observed for long that intelligence, paramilitary, police and other wings of the state administration work in silos and hardly share information with each other. Despite the creation of Multi Agency Centre (MAC) in New Delhi and Subsidiary Multi Agency Centres (SMACs) in the states in the wake of 26/11 Mumbai attack, the different organs of the central and state governments prefer to keep information to themselves.
The biggest proof of this was that despite Superintendent of Police (headquarters), Gurdaspur, Salwinder Singh having red-flagged his seniors about Jaish terrorists two days before the attack on Pathankot airbase, no attempt was made to preempt the strike.
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