9. Security challenges and their management in border areas

A brief background into India’s border areas

  • Border management and ensuring security have been two important concerns of various governments across the world.
  • Cross-border insurgency and terrorism has affected a lot of countries therefore stringent measures have been put in place to control as well as regulate human and material movement around terrestrial and maritime borders.
  • Some airspace infiltrations have also highlighted the need to improve the security and management of airspace borders as well. Ex- Balakot Strikes.
  • India is surrounded by land in the north and ocean in the south.
  • India shares border with Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar.
  • Additionally, it shares marine borders with the Island nations of Sri Lanka and Maldives.
  • In Indian case, border issues are quite complex.
  • It has 14,818 kms of land border and a coast line of 7516.6 kms. All states except Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Telangana, Delhi and Haryana have an international border or a coast line.
  • Border area management becomes more vital for India owing to the fact that India is like an island of democracy between seas of anarchical or unstable states.
  • In some of India’s neighbouring countries there exists cultural radicalism which is targeted on India, and terrorists and mafia groups are patronized.
  • There also exists cross border smuggling of drugs, cattle, humans, artifacts, fake currency note etc.
  • Hence, better management of border areas is an imperative for India if it wishes to protect its sovereignty and internal security.

Major Border Security Challenges Faced by India

  • Social Diversity- India’s socially diverse population has been difficult to govern. India is a mix of culture, tradition, ethnicity and religion that have spread all over the country and have varied influence over it.
  • Communal identity over National identity- These are the factors of disunity that lead to disharmony. ‘Unity in Diversity’ a basic tenet of Indian belief, is sometimes curbed under bigotry and religious sentiments. This in turn gives rise to terrorist sympathisers and separatist mentality. Ex- Kashmiri secessionists and Pro-Khalistan separatists.
  • Huge land border- With over 15,000 kilometres of land border spread across all types of terrain- accessible and inaccessible proves to be a huge challenge when it comes to monitoring and controlling.
  • Historical background- In case of China and Pakistan, both the nations have fought wars with India and therefore have an air of mistrust between them.
  • Climatic & Terrain Conditions- Using modern technologies and providing personnel and civilian support in border areas have their own difficulties. This leads to erratic power and ration supply.
  • Technology & Lack of expertise- Adding to the woes are the high operational and maintenance cost of new technology. The lack of expertise among the personnel to use these high tech equipment is another burden.

Border with Pakistan

  • Pakistan has been a troublesome neighbour ever since partition and independence.
  • The boundary runs from the hot Thar Desert in Rajasthan to the cold Himalayas in Jammu and Kashmir and is 3323 km long.
  • The first of them is the international boundary also known as the ‘Radcliff line’, that stretches from Gujarat to parts of Jammu district.
  • The second is the line of control (LoC), or the Cease Fire Line, which came into existence after the 1948 and 1971 wars.
  • The third is the actual ground position line (AGPL) and extends from NJ 9842 to Indira Col in the North (Siachen Glacier). 
  • After the first Indo-Pakistan war, Pakistan occupied a portion of Kashmir which is now known as Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) or Azad Kashmir.
  • Other than J&K, there are three more states that share the boundary with Pakistan namely- Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat.
  • India has deployed the Indian army and the Border Security Forces (BSF) to patrol the border and prevent illegal activities in these regions.
  • Furthermore, Central Reserve Police Forces (CRPF) personnel are constantly deployed in the settlements, villages and cities of Indian side of J&K to look after the civil riots along with the state police forces.
  • The Pakistan side is unofficially supported by the local terrorists, militia and ISI aided jihadists. Jammu and Kashmir is one of the most densely militarised zones of the world because of acute presence of military and paramilitary forces in the region.
  • India faces major threats in the form of the constant ceasefire violations, terrorist infiltration, Kashmiri separatist factions and militants of established terror outfits like JeM, HM, LeT, etc.
  • Adding to the woes is the terrain and connectivity of the region. Siachen glacier- world’s highest battle zone is also one of the toughest terrains where our brave soldiers are defending our nation from potential infiltration.
  • Armed rebels in the form of Pro-Khalistan sentimentalists exist in Punjab who demand an independent state of Khalistan (Land of the Khalsa).
  • Anti-national and Pro-Pakistan factions and syndicates dot the borders shared by Gujarat and Rajasthan.
  • Furthermore, the terrorist organisations have illegal drug and weapon smuggling rackets that the BSF deals with throughout the border.
  • Currently, India has restricted passage in the form of militarised checkpoints between the two nations. The movement is stringently monitored at these check posts. Even border passages like the Kartarpur corridor used for Sikh pilgrimage remain under military censure.
  • The army is undertaking many civil welfare schemes for the population of the border areas and is on an anti-separatist drive, to prevent youth from being brainwashed by separatists and militants.

Border with China

  • India and China share a 3,488 km long boundary and its border is shared by five Indian states- J&K, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.
  • The line, which delineates the boundary between the two countries, is popularly called the McMahon line.
  • Since 1954, China started claiming large tracts of territory along the entire border such as Aksai Chin in Jammu and Kashmir, some areas in Uttrakhand and the entire Arunachal Pradesh.
  • In 1957, China occupied Aksai Chin and built a road through it.
  • This was followed by intermittent clashes along the border, which finally culminated in the border war of 1962.
  • The boundary, which came into existence after the war, came to be known as Line of Actual Control (LAC) and is a military held line.
  • In 1993, the Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) was signed and the India-China Expert Group of Diplomatic and Military Officers was set up to assist the Joint Working Group.
  • A lot of confidence building measures have also been developed but the demarcation issues persist between both the sides.
  • China’s People Liberation Army has time and again intruded Indian borders. Ex- Recent standoff at Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso.
  • Presently, there are only three designated areas along the India-China border through which border trade takes place; these are- Lipu Lekh, Shipki La and Nathu La. 
  • Large scale smuggling of Chinese electronic and other consumer goods take place through these border points.
  • The major Indian military and paramilitary forces guarding and managing this border include the Indian Army, BSF, Shasastra Seema Bal (SSB), Assam Rifles, Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and CRPF.
  • China still has its reservation regarding territorial limits of both the nations. Therefore India faces a challenge of Chinese aggression at any point of time and therefore maintains combat readiness.
  • Furthermore left wing extremists in the northeast and the Naga insurgents enjoy support from the communist dominated nation of China.
  • The border is largely restricted and cross-border movement is prohibited.
  • Additionally, the mountainous and rough terrain coupled with an unfavourable climate makes the boundary largely impervious.

Borders with Nepal

  • India and Nepal have shared an open border since 1950. The conception of such a border can be found in the Treaty of Peace and Friendship that the two countries signed the very same year.
  • Provisions in the treaty, wherein citizens of both countries are given equal rights in matters of residence, acquisition of property, employment and movement in each other’s territory, provide for an open border between the two countries.
  • Open border has been a great facilitator of strong and unique bilateral relations. At the same time, it has given rise to many irritants and problems that raise serious concerns.
  • Allegations of excesses such as intimidation, and forcible grabbing of land by either side along the disputed border also surface from time to time.
  • All terrorist organizations, be it from Punjab, Kashmir, northeast or those of Maoists have fully exploited these borders.
  • Many terrorists have sneaked into India through the porous and poorly guarded Indo-Nepal border.
  • These anti-national elements indulge in illegal activities, such as smuggling of essential items and fake Indian currency, gun-running, and drugs and human trafficking.
  • WikiLeaks documents have revealed that the ISI has created a number of terrorist fronts in Nepal and has also pushed in men and explosives through the border to carry out terror attacks in India.
  • Nepal is a landlocked country and its closest access to the sea is through India. As a result most of its imports pass through India. Keeping this in consideration, India has granted Nepal 15 transit and 22 trading points along the border.
  • India has shared a warm relation with Nepal.
  • Nepal and India are the world’s largest Hindi speaking countries and have a lot of cultural similarities.
  • Due to the friendly ties, there are lesser border disputes, but at the same time the borders are very porous and the official entry-points are demilitarised.
  • Nevertheless, the BSF and ITBP patrol the borders.
  • Of recent, Nepal, being under the Communist regime, has shown anti-India signs and has provided the Maoists of India support through providing weapons and funds.

Borders with Bhutan

  • India and Bhutan share a 669 km long boundary.
  • The boundary is demarcated except along the tri-junction with China.
  • The process of demarcation of the India-Bhutan border started in 1961 and was completed in 2006.
  • Like with Nepal, India’s boundary with Bhutan is also an open boundary.
  • The border was peaceful till Indian insurgent groups established camps in the southern districts of Bhutan.
  • This problem has been effectively dealt with during the Bhutanese government’s ‘Operation All Clear’, which saw the destruction and uprooting of all insurgent camps in Bhutanese territory.
  • Chinese made goods, Bhutanese cannabis, liquor and forest products are major items smuggled into India.
  • Livestock, grocery items and fruits are smuggled out of India to Bhutan.

Borders with Bangladesh

  • India shares 4096.7 Km of its land border with Bangladesh.
  • West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram are the States which share this border.
  • The entire border stretch consists of plain, riverine terrain, hilly/jungle with hardly any natural obstacles. This area is heavily populated.
  • India has its BSF guarding this border.
  • Undemarcated stretches, the existence of enclaves (chat-mohels), and adverse possessions had been causing constant friction between the border guarding forces of both nations.
  • This was a result of the 1971 war and the subsequent formation of Bangladesh as a nation.
  • It was only in 1974, barely 3 years after the liberation of Bangladesh that the Indira-Mujibur Agreement laid down the methods for demarcating its various disputed stretches. This came to be known as the ‘Land Boundary Agreement.
  • There were 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh and 51 enclaves in Bangladesh in India. It was only in 2014 that a bill ratifying Indira-Mujibur or ‘land boundary agreement was passed in the Indian Parliament.
  • There have been both push and pull factors working on this border. Under development, religious persecution, environmental concerns etc. pushed the population of Bangladesh into India. Ex- the Rohingya Crisis.
  • On the other hand, India’s huge economy and a society willing to accommodate pulled its immigrants. 
  • Cattle Smuggling is a unique problem between the two nations. It is said that if India restricts this supply then it can starve Bangladeshis of food. Moreover, the number of cattle confiscated on the border alone are around one lakh annually which leads to an annual revenue loss of around 10000 crores.
  • Along with cattle, smuggling of arms, and other essential items such as sugar, salt and diesel, human and narcotics trafficking, counterfeit Indian currency, kidnapping, and thefts are quite rampant along this border.
  • There are 32 land custom stations spread over the states of West Bengal, Meghalaya, Assam, Tripura and Mizoram. Petrapole in West Bengal is one of the most important land customs stations in Bangladesh.
  • As a response to the situation of inadequate infrastructure for cross border movement of persons, vehicles and goods, it was decided to set up Integrated Check Posts (ICPs) at major entry points.
  • These ICPs would house all regulatory agencies like Immigration, Customs, Border Security, Quarantine etc., along with support facilities in a single complex equipped with all modern amenities.
  • These existing problems are kept at bay through Border Coordination Conferences between BSF and Bangladesh Rifles.

Border with Myanmar

  • Frontiers of British India and Myanmar came together first time in 1826. This marked British victory post 1st Anglo Burmese war.
  • After Independence, the boundary was demarcated in 1967 under an agreement signed by both countries.
  •  Myanmar shares its borders with Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram.
  • The terrain consists of forests and hills with some plain areas. This rugged terrain makes movement and the overall development of the area difficult.
  • The location of the Indo-Myanmar boundary also throws up many challenges for its effective management.
  • The internal dynamics of the region in terms of the clan loyalties of the tribal people, inter-tribal clashes, insurgency, and trans border ethnic ties also adversely affect the security.
  • Close ethnic ties among the tribes such as Nagas, Kukis, Chin, etc. who live astride the border help these insurgents in finding safe haven in Myanmar. 
  • Insurgents make use of the poorly guarded border and flee across when pursued by Indian security forces.
  • Furthermore, insurgency in the northeast is supported by non-state factors in Myanmar which has been a huge problem in India.
  • The location of the boundary at the edge of the “Drugs golden triangle” facilitates the unrestricted illegal flows of drugs into Indian territory through the town of Moreh in Manipur.
  • Additionally, smuggling, infiltration, fake currency are few of the issues that BSF, SSB and Assam Rifles have to keep an eye on during patrolling.

Maritime Borders with Sri Lanka and Maldives

  • Unlike the above countries, Sri Lanka and Maldives are maritime neighbours of India and are not connected by land.
  • Both the Island nations are located in the Indian Ocean. They exist in close proximity to the Indian mainland as well as the Lakshadweep Islands.
  • Sri Lanka, the bigger nation is located much closer while Maldives is spread a bit below Sri Lanka.
  • India has shared both good and stale relations with these nations depending on the government in power.
  • The Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard are the patrollers of the coastal as well as maritime borders.
  • Their main aim is to catch illegal immigrants, smuggling and illicit trade and terrorism.
  • At the same time, they also help lost fishermen. They also help save lives when there are dangers posed by the sea.

Improving Border Security and Management

India and its neighbours can improve border management in the following ways-

  • Effective border management plans require proper research and knowledge of the dispute and the states involved. A sum total of about 15,000 kilometres of land border is shared between India and its terrestrial neighbours.
  • Employing smart border management by using technology like CCTVs, electric fencing, microwave communication, infiltration alarms, etc.
  • Implementation of Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System. This includes round the clock surveillance via the Border Electronically Dominated Quick response team Interception Technique (BOLD-QIT).
  • Use of modern gadgets and equipment for real-time monitoring of cross-border crimes.
  • Use of space technology– satellite surveillance and monitoring for wider coverage and effective border management.
  • Border Area Development Programme (BADP) under the Ministry of Home Affairs of Government of India.
  • This enables civil cooperation in border areas and empowers by improving connectivity to mainland alongwith building infrastructure.


The diverse terrain under which India carries out border security, it is quite a daunting task to provide holistic security.

Nevertheless, due to specialised forces guarding specific border terrains and trained to counter criminal activities, most anti-national ploys are foiled.

To further improve the current conditions, it is important for India to modernise its military and paramilitary forces. It must also utilise newer technologies that improve surveillance efficiency. Furthermore, at diplomatic levels, Indian administration and government should try and maintain good ties with its neighbouring nations. It must improve border cooperation and decrease cross-border tensions.

Border security in J&K and the northeast is of major concern to India and remains a big issue to date. Resolving these issues will not only bring economic relief, but also help in improving the lives of the people.

Practice Questions

  1. The North-Eastern region of India has been infested with insurgency for a very long time. Analyze the major reasons for the survival of armed insurgency in this region. (2017)
  2. Border management is a complex task due to difficult terrain and hostile relations with some countries. Elucidate the challenges and strategies for effective border management. (2016)
  3. Cross-border movement of insurgents is only one of the several security challenges facing the policing of the border in North-East India. Examine the various challenges currently emanating across the India-Myanmar border. Also, discuss the steps to counter the challenges. (250 words)
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