Management of Indian border disputes – complex task?
India shares territorial borders with many countries. These borders, though clearly demarcated on paper through maps, often become a source of tension for Indian administration. India has 15,106.7 km of land border and a coastline of 7,516.6 km including island territories and shares borders – both land and sea – with at least 7 countries. Therefore, it is evident that managing border disputes entails managing all of these 7 countries, at different points in time. The need to defend its borders arises from the need to keep India’s national security and sovereignty intact. Post-independence since 1947, India has faced many border disputes and has time and again both fought fierce battles to protect its borders as well as engaged in talks and discussions for the same.
What is a border dispute?
A territorial dispute or boundary dispute is a disagreement over the possession or control of land between two or more territorial entities. Territorial disputes are often related to the possession of natural resources such as rivers, fertile farmland, mineral or petroleum resources although the disputes can also be driven by culture, religion, and ethnic nationalism. Territorial disputes often result from vague and unclear language in a treaty that set up the original boundary. Territorial disputes are a major cause of wars and terrorism, as states often try to assert their sovereignty over a territory through invasion, and non-state entities try to influence the actions of politicians through terrorism.
Broadly, borders can be of 3 types:
These are also classified according to geographical borders and political borders. Geographical or natural borders are those created natural by rivers, mountains, etc. Political borders on the other hand are manmade and are arrived at through political negotiations. In some cases in which the boundary is not demarcated, the parties involved define a line of control, which serves as the de facto international border. The term border dispute (or border conflict) applies to cases in which a limited territory is disputed by two or more states, each contending state would publish its own maps to include the same region which would invariably lie along or adjacent to the recognised borders of the competing states.
Indian border disputes
India faces territorial issues with many of its neighbours. Over the past 70 years, it has succeeded to resolve its boundary issues only with Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The un demarcated boundaries with Myanmar, Bhutan and lately with China, Pakistan and Nepal have often flared up into tensions. In 1974, India could resolve its maritime boundary dispute with Sri Lanka by abdicating claim on Katchatheevu, an uninhabited island of 235 acres. India also settled its land and maritime boundaries with Bangladesh, by resolving the issue of South Talpatti Island or Bangabandhu Island, a small uninhabited offshore sandbar landform in the Bay of Bengal, off the coast of the Ganga-Brahmaputra Delta region.
But there seems no end to boundary disputes with China and Pakistan, which often turn into major military and diplomatic standoffs. To resolve boundary issues with China, special representatives of both countries have so far held 22 rounds of negotiations since 2003.
·Galwan dispute: The root cause lies in an ill-defined, 3,440km (2,100-mile)-long border that both countries dispute. Rivers, lakes and snowcaps along the frontier mean the line can shift, bringing soldiers face to face at many points, sometimes leading to confrontation. The two nations are also competing to build infrastructure along the border, which is also known as the Line of Actual Control. India's construction of a new road to a high-altitude air base is seen as one of the main triggers for a clash with Chinese troops in June that left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead.
·India and China have fought only one war, in 1962, when India suffered a defeat. Both sides see their contested border areas as strategically important in the event of another conflict.If neither side gives way, the stand-off could have destabilising consequences for the region. If they come to blows again, there is a risk of escalation between the world's most populous countries, both established nuclear powers.
·The military tension at the border is mirrored by growing political tension, which has strained ties between India and China. There is also the potential for economic fallout, as China is one of India's biggest trading partners.
The need for secure borders?
Protecting our borders from the illegal movement of weapons, drugs, contraband, and people, while promoting lawful entry and exit, is essential to homeland security, economic prosperity, and national sovereignty. These borders are vital economic gateways and are also home to some of our nation’s largest — and safest — cities and communities. Unsafe borders can give rise to a risk of terrorism, illegal immigration, smuggling, secessionist movements, human trafficking, etc.
Management of border disputes
India is diverse – both geographically and demographically. It is nothing but inevitable that all of its frontiers are also different in terms of terrains and habitation. This makes the management of border disputes even more complex – a umbrella solution cannot be imposed upon all of them. India’s borders have a multi-faceted dimension, ground reality and it is a fact that each neighbour that it shares the border with is also different.
·At macro level, genesis of our woes lies in the generalist approach and lack of specialisation.
·Hierarchy at apex refuses to differentiate between border management and other policing functions. Consequently, Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs) continue to be headed by DGPs and the top hierarchy is staffed by IPS officers.
·Turf protection and HR interests of IPS, override functional realities. All our neighbours have border guarding forces headed by generals and firmly under their army’s control.
·Unsettled border disputes and differential understanding of LOC between countries is a source of tension
·The border guarding forces in India are ill-equipped and under resourced.
The solution lies in elevating border management as a specialist function in a shared common domain. Induction in officer cadres in army and border management CAPFs could be through a common induction scheme. Even within border management, there is a need to further differentiate between border guarding and border defence:
·Guarding applies to settled boundaries, like International Border and open borders. This would include approximately 2,000km of International Border with Pakistan, open borders with Nepal and Bhutan as also large stretches of Indo-Myanmar borders.
·Border defence, on the other hand is applicable for sensitive and contested borders like Line of Control with Pak and Line of Actual Control with China and 193km of Jammu-Kathua-Samba stretch of international border, described by Pakistan as a working boundary as also sensitive stretches on Myanmar border.
·Smart fencing and surveillance systems are replacing antiquated infrastructure as part of comprehensive integrated border management system and border electronically dominated QRT interception technique.
·Development of integrated check posts for immigration, customs, etc.
“Securing our borders is an essential part of our security” – Indian border management is a complex but necessary task. India shares approximately 15,000km of land borders and 7,500km of maritime boundaries with 11 countries. Only five Indian states do not have any borders. This implies that border security must be our nation’s top priority. The government must ensure that the Border Area Development Programme is implemented and all the loopholes in security are checked.