Why LAC with China can’t be allowed to be theatre of turf war between army and ITBP First Post 08 Oct 2022 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar

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Why LAC with China can’t be allowed to be theatre of turf war between army and ITBP First Post 08 Oct 2022

          A press report recently stated that the government is contemplating on whether the ITBP should be given a larger role along the LAC with China, especially when it comes to patrolling. Currently most patrols are joint and largely led by the army. The patrolling program for the region is also made by the army and post approval, shared with all concerned. The final intent is to deploy the army in the second tier with the ITBP in the forward tier. This idea was first rooted two years ago, died a natural death, arose again a month ago, then quietened down under national pressure and has raised its ugly head again.

          The army, on the other hand, has been fighting tooth and nail, for the ITBP to be placed under it for operational control for better coordination. This is based on the concept of ‘one border, one force responsibility.’ Every committee from the Subramanyam committee post Kargil to the Shekatkar committee has endorsed this stand and insisted that un-demarcated borders must remain the responsibility of the army. The excuse for the MHA refusing to place the ITBP under the army, apart from turf protection and power, is that the ITBP has additional roles including that of internal security and maintenance of law and order, which would cease in case they are placed under army control.

As usual a lame reason as there are no shortage of forces under the MHA and they can never withdraw the ITBP from the LAC. Further, as per the MOD website, ‘The responsibility of defence rests with the Cabinet. This is discharged through the Ministry of Defence.’ Where does the MHA figure is a question. Interestingly, when the ITBP was raised in 1962, its charter stated, ‘ensuring the security of the borders of India and for matters connected therewith.’ If security was one of the responsibilities of the ITBP and the MOD is responsible, then logically it should have been under the MOD. Can the government of India finally issue directions on which ministry is responsible for securing un-demarcated borders or is it left vague intentionally.

MHA bureaucrats also argue that since buffer zones have been created between the two forces in Ladakh, the responsibility should shift to the ITBP. They believe that with the ITBP responsible, the chances of clashes reduce. They base their premise on the logic that police forces are generally deployed along borders, forgetting the reality that this happens along recognized borders, crossing of which by an adversary is an act of war. Along the LAC (Line of Actual Control) and the LOC (Line of Control), the terminologies itself indicate undefined borders, which can change once land is grabbed.

They also quote the case of the Chinese Border Defence Regiments being responsible for securing the LAC, ignoring the fact that these are part of the PLA, trained and officered by them, whereas the ITBP is not even under operational control of the army, making coordination difficult. Secondly, the Chinese have not constructed defensive positions as India has, aware that India is not an offensive nation, though India can retaliate to their misadventures as it did in its occupation of the Kailash Ridge. Finally, the Chinese accepted disengagement and creation of buffer zones only on fear of another Kailash or Galwan.

The Chinese respond to force and that flows from the army, not the ITBP. The Chinese are well aware of the capabilities of the ITBP. The Pangong Tso region is an ITBP sector, however when the Chinese intruded, it was the army which led the blocking. In case the army is pulled back, the situation may become tempting for the Chinese. The basic fact, apart from military capabilities and training, is the age profile of both the forces, with the army fitter and younger and hence able to display ferocity needed to stall the Chinese.

Currently none of the CAPFs are capable of fulfilling their own tasks including that of ensuring internal security in J and K and the Northeast. The army leads operations in both sectors. Once the situation is brought under control by the army in a region, it is handed over to the CAPFs. In case the MHA desires additional responsibility, it should first fulfil its primary role of internal security, prior to seeking more.

With both India and China being nuclear powers, an all-out war appears unlikely. The future will remain of salami slicing wherever the Chinese get an opportunity. The army in depth will take time to respond and with an ill-equipped ITBP, it is the nation which will lose. If the intent is to send a message to Beijing of peace by placing the ITBP along the LAC, then the message would be more of requesting for peace, rather than discussion on equal terms.

For China, the army in the rear, would be icing on the cake. The threat to Aksai Chin and the CPEC through the Karakoram Pass will cease, as any force moving from depth areas would provide enough warning. The ITBP neither possesses an offensive capability nor will it be provided with one. China could then move back additional troops deployed in Ladakh to counter a possible Indian limited offensive, while the Indian army would have to remain in situ to back the ITBP in case China exploits the situation. Thus for India it will be lose-lose and for China, win-win. 

If the ITBP is not well trained, it is not because of its cadre but because of its poor quality IPS leadership, all of whom have spent their lives in police control rooms and never faced an adversity. They rarely leave the comfort of their HQs and have never been part of a patrol in high altitude to understand what complexities of life along the LAC are. They, alongside the IAS staff at the MHA, push fanciful ideas only because the Home Minister is number 2 in the government.

If the government is serious on enhancing the role of the ITBP, then it should first ensure that the LAC is demarcated, and the terminology changed to International Border. Once this is implemented, then it matters little who guards the border, ITBP, BSF or even the SSB. Until that happens and the Chinese threat remains active, the government should not jump. Nor should ministries play turf games. It is time we adopt a nation first approach and give up inter-ministerial turf wars.