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Enhancing CAPFs capabilities The Excelsior 24 Apr 2021
The recent encounter in Bastar which led to 23 CAPF soldiers losing their lives has raised questions on the planning and conduct of operations in the Naxal belt. The DG CRPF, Kuldeep Singh stated that there was no flaw in the intelligence inputs which led to the launching of large forces. Recent incidents have proved that the tactics of employing large forces by the CAPFs have failed. In Mar 2020, 17 security force personnel were killed in Sukma district of Chhattisgarh. In Apr 2017, 26 CRPF personnel lost their lives in an encounter in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, a month after 12 were killed in Sukma. How can the nation forget the 75 security personnel who were killed in an ambush in Chintalsar in Apr 2010.
Yet nothing has changed in the functioning of the CAPFs. Way back in 1999, after the Kargil war, the Kargil committee headed by Subrahmanyam had stated in their report, ‘Over the years, the quality of these forces (CAPFs) has not been appropriately upgraded effectively to deal with the challenge of the times and this has led to the increased dependence on the Army to fight insurgency. The net result has been to reduce the role of the Indian Army to the level of a paramilitary force and the paramilitary forces, in turn, to the level of an ordinary police force.’
The same report concluded with recommendations stating, ‘There is general agreement that in the light of the new situation of proxy war and large-scale terrorism that the country faces, the role and tasks of the paramilitary forces have to be restructured particularly with reference to command and control and leadership functions. They need to be trained to much higher standards of performance and better equipped to deal with terrorist threats.’ These were wise words, but like everything which the bureaucracy wanted to dump, this was also dumped in the dustbin and the forces functioned as hither to fore, losing soldiers at regular intervals.
At the national level, despite knowing that Naxalism is a major threat, there has been no effort at developing a strategy. The situation in the Naxal belt is vastly different from other regions where insurgency prevails. There are no demands to break away from the nation but a just resolution to their problems. Unless these issues are addressed, fence sitters would not be drawn away and wining hearts and minds of the local populace would remain a pipe dream. Talks are essential for a resolution.
This can only happen if the political leadership takes the first step. With most hardcore Naxal leaders either eliminated, retired or arrested, reaching out to the current stock is the need of the hour. Till that is done, area domination should be the strategy, limiting their region of influence and control. Application of large forces is never the answer in such cases.
The CAPF troops are good, come from the same stock as the armed forces, however, lack three basic requisites to enable them to become effective fighting forces, leadership, training and regimentation. The leadership which is thrust upon the CAPFs has no knowledge of the terrain and nature of operations. The policing concept, which was applied in most failed operations including in Bastar, was akin to employing large police forces to subdue protests, which remains the forte of the IPS. Thus approximately 2000 troops were moved from multiple camps. This can never work in regions where hearts and minds have not been won over, intelligence is the strength of rebels and their knowledge of terrain far better. The army learnt these lessons the hard way in the jungles of Sri Lanka, while the CAPFs have yet to comprehend them.
In Kashmir and the NE, forces won hearts and minds of locals through a slow dedicated campaign despite hiccups and adverse incidents, notwithstanding pressure and threats of insurgent groups. It has been decades, but in the Naxal belt we have failed to win over the population. The question remains is whether we ever included this in our strategy for the region.
Operations continue to falter because those responsible for planning and conduct have never served or operated at the grassroot level with forces they command. They wear IPS ranks, when in a CAPF, seeking to differentiate themselves from the organization they serve in. It only adds to distrust. In Assam Rifles (AR), all army officers wear the AR uniform and are a part of the force. Unless the leader and the led merge as one, success will elude. Like in the army, unless an IPS has served with the CAPFs at the grassroot level, they should never be permitted to command at levels which include planning of operations.
The Kargil committee also recommended lateral movement from the army to the CAPFs to enhance its capability to handle terrorism. The report envisaged bureaucratic objections and hence stated, ‘The para-military and police forces have their own ethos and traditions and might well be chary of such lateral induction as has been proposed.’ The report concluded with a warning, ‘Nevertheless, national security dictates certain imperatives which the country may ignore only at its peril.’ However, fearing induction of army culture into the CAPFs, this was never considered, and the situation is what we witness currently.
Training, which is a prerequisite for success necessitates an overhaul. Emphasis should be on lessons learnt from earlier operations, failures and successes, terrain, culture, basic operational concepts, teamwork and confidence building. This should be done in coordination with the army. This would dictate whether operations should be based on small-teams or large force levels.
Operations in such an environment involve exemplary leadership qualities at unit and subunit levels. These can only be built by training and regimentation. Regimentation, which enhances camaraderie, and builds team spirit must be considered for all CAPFs.
With an increased Chinese threat on our Northern and Eastern borders, the luxury of employing the army to handle internal threats may soon be of the past. This is already being implemented in the Eastern sector. The training and leadership of the CAPFs to meet these threats must be revamped as their involvement will only enhance.
In conclusion, the words of Subrahmanyam, written in 1999 bear merit, ‘The heavy involvement of the Army in counterinsurgency operations cannot but affect its preparedness for its primary role, which is to defend the country against external aggression… it is necessary to evolve a long-term strategy to reduce the involvement of the Army in counterinsurgency and devise more cost-effective means of dealing with the problem.’ Will the government act now or will it continue sleeping till another incident shakes it from its slumber.