Army, not ITBP must guard un-demarcated borders The Statesman 23 Aug 2022 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar

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Army, not ITBP must guard un-demarcated borders The Statesman 23 Aug 2022

          There are times when the government drums up ideas without an indepth assessment. A news report last week stated that the government is considering a proposal to provide a greater role to the ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police) along the LAC (Line of Actual Control) with China, initially along the Eastern and Central Sectors and subsequently throughout the LAC. The report quoted a senior official who stated, ‘Once the disengagement is completed the arrangements may be proposed to Beijing.’ It added that the Chinese would be advised to establish a hot line between their HQs and of the ITBP.

          The idea is based on the premise that the MHA is responsible for border management. It ignores the basic logic that neither the LAC nor the LOC are defined borders. The view is being pushed by bureaucrats and IPS advisors, possessing no clue of realities on ground. Their belief appears to be that the Chinese seek peace and tranquillity along the LAC as also replacing the army with the ITBP will avoid future clashes.

Nothing can be as illogical as this. The government had for years assumed that diplomacy, leaders’ summits and interdependence of economy with balance of payments in favour of the Chinese would ensure that they would be friends. Hence defence budgets were low and there were gaps in essential capabilities.  Ladakh tore that assumption to shreds.  

It was also the reason that India did not deploy additional troops to counter Chinese annual exercises from where it digressed forces to occupy dormant sectors in Ladakh, a repeat of Kargil. The government continues to fail to comprehend that the Chinese can never be trusted. Another lesson ignored is that adversaries would never let an opportunity go to push their claim lines.

Adversaries respect strength not peace overtures, as Doklam, Kargil and Ladakh proved. Additional deployment of troops along the LAC, repositioning a strike corps from the plains, as also speeding up the raising of the mountain strike corps sent the message that India means business. While additional forces are a deterrent, the availability of nuclear weapons, alliances and ability to respond in kind would prevent the Chinese from launching an all-out war. However, it would not stop them from continuing to grab chunks to expand their claim lines. This is the future in Indo-China relations.

The Chinese are known to discard agreements, whether written or verbal as was evident by intrusions in Ladakh and subsequent air violations. Hence, forces deployed must be capable of responding in equal measure to stall misadventures. Doklam is an example where the Indian troops stalled Chinese movements by resorting to a shoving match.

Hot lines exist to stem violence which could result from standoffs or close encounters. Expecting the Chinese to change their beliefs post de-escalation and adhere to peace, especially when they are ramping up construction of billets and improving lines of communication is living in Utopia. Their philosophy of salami slicing is here to stay.

          If absurdity had a limit, it would be replacing the army by the ITBP along the LAC. The ramifications of even considering such a proposal are immense. Firstly the army is tasked to ensure national security, especially along un-demarcated borders. This is because it is trained to counter violence with violence. The replacement concept would imply that the MHA would be responsible for securing an un-demarcated LAC while the army remains in the background.

In the case of the Chinese, their border guards (Peoples Armed Police along the LAC) are under the PLA, while in our case, the ITBP remains under the MHA. Thus the ITBP would be challenging the PLA, not their Chinese counterparts. The ITBP neither has the strength nor are equipped, trained and motivated to fulfil this task. If additional ITBP battalions are raised, then it is even more absurd. This would happen at the cost of the army facing manpower cuts and absurd schemes like Agnipath to cut down expenditure.  

Secondly, even in the current no-war, no-peace environment, all patrols, including in ITBP regions, are joint and led by the army. This is because training of the ITBP, officered by the IPS, who have only handled policing duties, remains suspect for conflict and retaliatory violence. It is also a fact that the Chinese only respond to force and threat of violence. It was Galwan and occupation of the Kailash Ridge which resulted in the Chinese talking peace.

Thirdly, the government’s intention must be to implement the concept of one border, one force under one commander, responsible for ensuring sanctity of Indian territory, implying placing the ITBP under the army. What is under consideration is the opposite. Confusion already exists along un-demarcated borders where forces under the MHA act on orders from their own HQs, responding to army instructions only where it suits them or depending on personalities involved. Any change resulting by moving the army into depth areas and the ITBP forward would add to problems rather than reduce them.

Fourthly, the CAPFs, which includes the ITBP, should be trained to handle their own basic task of internal security, prior to looking outwards. The deployment of the army in J and K as also the Northeast should end, and this become the responsibility of the CAPFs. To deploy a force trained for internal threats to handle external and that trained for external to continue with internal is stupid, to state the least.

Finally, If the intention is to cut the strength of the army by enhancing ITBP strength on the pretext of reducing the pension and salaries budget then the government is securing the nation not by military power but by ideas intended at financial savings. In such a case threats will increase, rather than reduce.  

Ideally, the PMO must assess national security from a realistic angle rather than from an idealistic one. Battles between ministries for power and control of forces and borders must stop. The MOD must be responsible for security of un-demarcated and the MHA along of demarcated borders. Troops deployed along un-demarcated borders must be under the commander responsible for the region.  It is time for us be logical and realistic.