NEW DELHI: Over a year ago, Home Minister Rajnath Singh visited Israel and went to a border outpost in Gaza with Israel’s NSA to look at how that country, through some top-notch technology, ensures near-zero infiltration from across its hot border with Palestine.
It is not known how much the Modi Government gained from that exercise in terms of emulating the Israel model on its border with Pakistan. A close look at the 130-meter wide river-bed in Bamiyal, which terrorists seem to have crossed from Pakistan to attack Pathankot air base, shows perhaps nothing was learnt. The flap was down on the BSF-improvised recording device attached to a camera that was supposed to keep a watch over the river bed – so the camera was rolling but not recording.
Another BSF-improvised technique to raise an alarm on such unfenced river stretches in case of an intrusion – a laser wall – was not installed here since the focus was first on the terror-prone Jammu border. There are no answers on why India has not bought top-of-the-line surveillance equipment off the shelf from abroad rather than depending on local improvisations to stop terror intrusions, at a time when the stakes are as high as the fate of Modi’s peace outreach effort with Pakistan. Basically, the country was depending on just two BSF men stationed on posts on either bank to stop the armed terrorists from coming in to attack Pathankot. Unfortunately, our men missed spotting them.
This lapse is even more ironic since it was BSF which had first issued an alert on December 25 – the day Prime Minister Narendra Modi made his surprise pit-stop in Lahore – BSF had information that terrorists were doing a recee across the Punjab border for a possible intrusion.
To be fair, BSF did foil 69 such infiltration attempts in the Jammu sector last year. Senior officials cite the proverbial line that BSF has to be successful all the time while terrorists have to be succeed only once. It is also being argued that while BSF guards 553 kilometres of the Punjab border and may have failed to secure one small unfenced riverine stretch, the Indian Air Force had to secure only a 25-kilometre perimeter of its Pathankot air-base but failed to do the same despite subsequent specific information that the base will be the target.
The PM, by all accounts, is not impressed by both lapses and did read the riot act out to IAF on his trip last week to Pathankot, asking why the base was so porous and why modern electronic perimeter intrusion systems could not be installed. BSF, unlike earlier, is no more in the denial mode. It’s possible that we slipped in spotting this intrusion, BSF Chief D.K. Pathak told the PM last week.
BSF is now insisting on more manpower to guard the Punjab border – it cites the deployment level in Jammu vis-a-vis Punjab is to the tune of 2.5:1. But Israel, hailed to have the best border protection system in the world, depends more on technology than humans to protect its border — like high-quality long-range day cameras along with night observation systems, third generation thermal imagers, long-range detection radars, electronic touch and motion sensors on the fence as well as underground sensors to detect any tunnelling attempts.
An Israel firm, Elbit Systems, designed the Israel border fence and was also roped in by US to build a modern fence on the US-Mexico border. The Home Ministry, which has a Secretary level officer in-charge of its border management division, needs to dust up the files from the Israel visit and make a quick move to get such technology. A porous Indo-Pak border is the biggest challenge to an Indo-Pak peace process.