From independence in 1947 to 1965, the protection of India's international boundaries was the responsibility of local police belonging to each border state, with little inter-state coordination. After the 1965 War with Pakistan, the necessity of some central border guarding agency was felt. Thus, on 1st December 1965 Border Security Force was born. The responsibility of guarding India’s International Border with Pakistan and Bangladesh is with BSF, the world’s largest border guarding force. The BSF comprises a sizable 192 battalions (about 270,000 personnel) and is one of the finest security forces in the world. The Force has its own Air Wing, Water Wing, Artillery, Intelligence set up, camel / horse-mounted troops; besides normal troops.
The BSF was just about five years old when KF Rustamji (the first Director General of BSF) was called by then Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi and tasked with an onerous responsibility and the force rose to the challenge. The PM authorised the Border Security Force (BSF) to take on Pakistani troops in erstwhile East Pakistan, several months before the India-Pakistan war erupted on December 3, 1971. She said, “Do what you like, but don’t get caught.” A little later, on March 29, 1971, then, the Indian Army Chief, General Manekshaw (later Field Marshal) issued the orders that BSF was to provide limited assistance to the Bengali guerrillas who were pitted against the Pakistani troops. Thus, the BSF entered the scene during a surcharged atmosphere and rising expectations. Initially, a secret party which consisted of some handpicked energetic officers and about 100 men well versed in commando raids, demolition, etc. was prepared. This Party was organised to carry out tasks in support of the freedom struggle by the people of East Pakistan. The aim was to provide aid to the freedom fighters to carry out their assignment successfully.
On March 30,1971, when Major Ziaur Rahman (Maj Zia and his troops had defected from Pakistan Army and had become Mukti Bahinis) could not continue to broadcast the message for his countrymen on behalf of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from a radio station near Chittagong, a one kilowatt radio transmitter was established inside BSF Battalion HQ in Bagafa in South Tripura, in the officers’ mess.
Major Ziaur Rehman (who later became Army Chief and President of Bangladesh) along with Superintendent of Police Rangamati District (East Pakistan) and his two daughters crossed over to India through Belonia in Tripura, were received by BSF Commandant Bagafa and were brought to Bagafa.On April 3, 1971, they restarted the broadcast from Bagafa Transmission Station. Initially, both the daughters of Superintendent Police Rangamati sang the devotional songs, and this was followed by the motivational speech by Major Ziaur Rehman to his countrymen. This transmission station used to broadcast every day at the given time. Later, Major Ziaur Rahman was escorted to BSF HQs at Agartala and introduced to other senior BSF officers. After some time, a proper transmission station was constructed near BSF Frontier HQs Salbagan Agartala and the further broadcast was carried on from this station with effect from May 25, 1971.
One of the key contributions by the BSF was to impart training to the Mukti Bahini, valiantly known as "Freedom Fighters", who represented the armed organisations fighting against the Pakistan Army during the Bangladesh Liberation War. They comprised primarily Bengalis of erstwhile East Pakistan. Side by side, the BSF Officers and men started assisting the Mukti Fauj (later Bahini) in causing subversion and sabotage deep inside East Pakistan and even in district headquarter towns. The civilian population of Bangladesh was full of enthusiasm, working towards the liberation of the country. Volunteers were joining the ranks of the Mukti Fauj by the thousands. In this dynamic environment, BSF's guidance and organisational skills provided the requisite support.
It was not long before when BSF Officers contacted the most senior leaders of the Awami League party - Tajuddin Ahmad and Amirul Islam, who had survived the massacres of the Pakistani forces. They had walked across from Dacca (Dhaka). They were immediately taken to Mr Golok Majumdar, Inspector General BSF, Bengal Frontier at Kolkata. The BSF played a key role in the formation of the Bangladesh Provisional Government, in framing its Constitution and in selecting a National Flag. The BSF also contributed to the defection of Pakistan’s Deputy High Commissioner in Kolkata - the first instance of its kind.
The Revolutionary Government of Bangladesh initially started functioning from the BSF Frontier HQs Kolkata. Later they were shifted to a nearby building on Theater Road near British Council Building. This was called as Mujibnagar. The BSF acted as the link between civil and military authorities and kept them 'clued-in' regarding the overall situation. Even while fighting fiercely against the Pakistani troops, the force also had to manage the thousands of refugees pouring into India from all corners of Bangladesh. The helpless were evacuated and provided shelter. BSF doctors worked around the clock to render assistance, particularly against prevalent epidemics. The BSF was also active on the western borders also during the 1971 war with Pakistan.
Finally, on December 16, 1971, Lt. Gen A. A. K. Niazi, Commanding the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan signed the Instrument of Surrender and the war finally ended. Whatever BSF is today is all because of a strong foundation laid by its Officers and men, the ‘Unsung Heroes’. These are some of the facts little known to the world. Besides this BSF had been active in anti-insurgency operations in Punjab and anti-militant operations in Jammu Kashmir. Now it is deployed in anti-Naxal operations besides its own main task of guarding the borders of India.
(The writer retired as Inspector General from the BSF)