September 2001 News

Through Pak fire, BSF jawans erect strategic fence on Jammu border

16 September 2001
The Asian Age
Asit Jolly

Nursery Post (Jammu Frontier): Working under some of the most hostile conditions consequent to the incessant barrage of fire by Pakistan’s Chenab Rangers, Indian Border Security soldiers have managed to construct crucial sections of the proposed 189-km-long electrified security fence along the length of the highly porous Jammu frontier.Following the unprecedented success in effectively sealing off 554 km of the Punjab Border (469 km of actual fencing after subtracting gaps in riverine sections) against infiltration from Pakistan after the border fence was completed in 1992, Delhi decided to extend the fence both southwards into Rajasthan and northwards along the Jammu border. The huge cost of building the fence (in the range of Rs 46 lakhs for every kilometre in Jammu; Rs 22 Lakhs per km in Punjab; and substantially more to account for the shifting sand dunes in Rajasthan), and a permanent annual budget for maintaining the facility was considered to be a small fraction of what the nation would save by stopping infiltration. The price was also considered small in the light of the fact that presence of the fence gave India a clear advantage with respect to the overall management of the international border with Pakistan. “With the fence in place, I and my men have gained effective control of this border,” said BSF commandant Darbara Singh, whose battalion is responsible for a section of the Punjab border. What this means is that while the BSF can ward off most infiltration bids from the Pakistan side, it is virtually free to launch any number of operatives or sources for counter-intelligence work across the border. “This is a fact and they (the Rangers) know it. It infuriates them to no end!” said one BSF officer. But what had been easy enough with earth movers and a huge civilian labour force in Punjab and Rajasthan, soon turned into a major nightmare for the BSF in Jammu. Left with few alternatives in terms of staging areas for launching insurgents and weapons into India, Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence quickly effected a major change in strategy by converting earlier normally peaceful Jammu frontier into an intensely hostile zone. Already, few years back, Pakistan had suddenly stopped recognising the 189-km international border from Madhopur to the north of Akhnur following heightened terrorist activity in Kashmir. The Rangers since then refer to this section as a “working boundary” and say they will not permit any construction along it. But based on India’s position that the Jammu frontier is in fact an international border, which has remained unchanged since 1948, an attempt to raise a fence was made by the central public works department in 1994. This, however, had to be abandoned after the Rangers opened fire. The plan to construct the Jammu fence was once again taken up after former J&K police chief Gurbachan Jagat took command of the BSF last year. Work began as far back as in January and in less than four months and to the complete ignorance of Pakistan’s Chenab Rangers, three separate sections totalling 15 kms had been completed. The new strategy was simpler than one would tend to imagine. Secrecy was the watchword. The initial construction was taken up by sections of BSF troopers themselves, who worked through the nights and the cover of the thick winter morning fogs. After the initial groundwork, when more hands were needed, labour was shipped in to continue work behind the relative safety of earthen flood embankments and indigenously designed sand and metal bullet-proof trolleys. “Before the Pakistanis even knew something was afoot, we had completed our task,” said an understandably proud commandant Dhir Singh Randhawa, whose work along a highly infiltration-prone section of river Basantar floodplain has earned him and his men fame as the BSF’s fence-building experts. On May 6 this year, the Rangers were startled out of their stupor when the BSF switched on its makeshift lighting along the length of the completed fence. And while there will surely be adequate rewards for comandant Randhawa and his men, there has been hell to pay on the other side. A few weeks back, the commanding officer of the Chenab Rangers Number two wing Lt. Col. Mohammed Illiyas Janjua was summarily relieved of his command. Another officer stationed at Pakistan’s Galar Tanda BOP is said to have died of a heart attack after a drubbing by senior commanders. There is, however, real cause for celebration on the Indian side. “Pakistan has since tried everything from medium weapons fire to actual sabotage by teams of commandos in their effort to destroy the fence, but with very little success,” says BSF’s inspector general in charge of the Jammu frontier, Mr Vijay Raman.


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