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All quiet along Punjab border

The western border with Pakistan has been unusually quiet after General Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of emergency on November 3, reports Aloke Tikku.

world Updated: Nov 16, 2007 23:16 IST
Aloke Tikku

Two sub-inspectors from either side of the India-Pakistan border march to the zero line to shake hands for a split second before their jawans march up to the iron gate to lower their national flags, fold them, and bring them back.

The crowds that had been cheering the jawans through the 25-minute retreat ceremony, that makes the Attari-Wagah border post a tourist destination, begin to disperse.

A few kilometres away, Border Security Force jawans along the 12 feet high-electrified fence that spans the border with Pakistan prepare for the long night ahead.

The western border with Pakistan has been unusually after General Pervez Musharraf imposed a state of emergency on November 3. “Many of the Rangers on the other side have been withdrawn and deployed in Pakistan’s Northern areas. There is not much of an activity on their side. It is quiet there,” a BSF officer pointed out.

But it is an uneasy calm. “Our surveillance has been at saturation level,” BSF commandant BS Tolia said. This means teams of two men take turns at observation posts to watch for movement along the border and those on patrol duties in the dead of night walk up and down the 553-km floodlight stretch of Punjab’s border with Pakistan.

“It will be worse in a few weeks from now when fog will reduce visibility… you are then as good as blind,” a BSF jawan said. The government did give them hand-held thermal imagers that lets them see when no one else can. But they are far and few.

“We have deployed the imagers, capable of detecting humans more than two km away at sensitive posts,” said BSF’s Deputy Inspector General S.A. Khader. The imagers helped them detect two men near the border a few days ago; the firing that followed killed one and injured the other.

The BSF found 14 kg of heroin on them; it had already seized over 80 kg of heroin this year. But infiltrators —usually narco smugglers — have an advantage. They have mobile phones and can switch between Indian and Pakistani Sim cards.

Heads of BSF border outposts were given a mobile phone around two years ago to ensure that Pakistani Rangers do not eavesdrop on confidential information over the wireless sets. But the home ministry also banned mobile service within 500 metres of the border.

The government-run Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited’s mobile service scrupulously follow this rule. The BSF had to subscribe to BSNL and could not use the phones, the smugglers obviously face no such restriction.