Keep IPS Away from BSF For Smoother Functioning on Ground

The BSF’s ground commanders are hamstrung by bureaucracy, which is leading to more casualties and a lowered morale.

4 min read
File photo of soldiers rushing to take position after suicide attackers stormed a BSF camp near Srinagar International Airport on 3 October, 2017. Image used for representational purposes.

Border outpost (BOP) Chamliyal in Ramgarh Sector of Samba in Jammu is known for its mausoleum of Baba Chamliyal, a local seer widely respected by residents including Pakistanis in the vicinity. An annual fair is held at the BOP to honour the seer during May/June, when the borders are opened for a day to welcome Pakistani residents and representatives of Pakistan rangers (their border guarding force), to pay homage to Baba Chamliyal.


Operational Level Commanders Are Hamstrung by Bureaucracy

However, the BOP has been in the news recently for a different reason – the martyrdom of four BSF jawans who died in the unprovoked firing by Pakistan. Intelligence sources claim that these jawans, led by an officer (also martyred) were operating close to the border to repair fences, when they came under heavy fire from the Pakistan Army and died after a mortar bomb fell on their vehicle.

Sources claim that the BSF did not retaliate, and there is no information either to suggest that they retaliated.

The travesty is that the operational level commanders in the BSF are hamstrung by a lack of clarity of orders from the top, and are virtually operating with their hands tied, even in the face of such unprovoked firing. The commanders, unsure of what fate they will meet, are discouraged from taking initiative.

Even though unprovoked firing by Pakistan is a routine affair, unfortunately, the BSF’s chiefs have imposed severe restrictions on retaliation. Two examples – one in Jammu Sector and another in the Eastern Theatre – are symptomatic of the dilemma the commanders and troops face.

IPS Officers Not Competent to Work In Conflict Zones

About a fortnight ago, in a similar unprovoked sniping incident in the vicinity, Pakistan had killed two BSF jawans. When the Commandant of the concerned unit reacted by sniping at a Pakistani ranger, he is said to have been summarily removed from the Command without formal orders.

Similarly, a young officer was suspended in West Bengal in 2016 when he fired with a pump action gun in self defence, when the life of his subordinate was threatened by smugglers. Unfortunately for him, the Bangladeshi smuggler was killed, leading to his immediate suspension and subsequent disciplinary action. The fate of the officer continues to look bleak.

Secondly, there is a lot of interference in the command function by supervisory and policy level leadership who, even though totally ignorant of the dynamics of borders, have been entrusted command of this “quasi-military” organisation.

A police officer’s instinct is to analyse any incident and assess how his political masters will react. Moreover the aim of IPS deputation is to spend time close to their home or to avoid an unfavourable atmosphere in the state. They will brook no interruption in the leisure they want to enjoy while on deputation to the BSF and other paramilitary forces. They therefore try to impose the same police culture on the Central Armed Forces.


Importance of BSF

The IPS leaders fail to appreciate the basic difference between the environment in which a force like the BSF operates vis-à-vis the environment in which the police function. The police operate among civilians where “minimum use of force” is the guiding principle.

BSF, on the contrary, operates in an environment where they are often compelled to use lethal force against an armed infiltrator/militant/smuggler, ever ready to fatally shoot at the BSF jawans. They thus fail to comprehend the requirement of leaving the initiative (to retaliate) to the Commander on ground.

This state of affairs leads to lowered morale among the BSF, that is otherwise a fine force known for carrying out its assigned responsibilities with professional finesse.

No wonder that the BSF is usually the first choice of states in aid to civil authority or elections. The BSF also is the first force that the Government of India thinks of for deployment in anti-insurgency and anti-militant operations.

It continues to retain its prominent place in the security matrix of the country because of the professionalism of cutting-edge leadership, as has been seen through several successful operations carried out by the force in areas where other forces have received setbacks.

However, the professionalism and initiative displayed by the force will soon become a thing of the past, if the initiative of operational-level functionaries is curbed in the manner discussed above.

The local troops are the best judge of emerging situations, and they have been equipped to deal with these within the overall policy framework through professional training. Restrictions imposed on them will cause avoidable casualties, and a resultant lowered morale.

The best tribute to the martyred soldiers will be to restore the authority of troops on ground to operate in accordance with the operating procedure applicable to a particular situation.

(The writer retired from the BSF as an additional director-general. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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