Paramilitary Forces-I

Can central police unit take on new operational challenges?

The Statesman | Feb 25, 2004

The army, the navy, the air force and the coast guard are armed forces of the union. The Border Security Force was raised as a paramilitary force and was initially led by regular army officers.

It is almost three years since the task forces on internal security and border management, appointed to study the recommendations made in the Kargil Review Committee Report, submitted their reports to the group of ministers headed by the home minister. Perhaps a single task force would have been more appropriate as the two issues are inextricably interlinked due to a distinctive external dimension to India’s ongoing internal security challenges and Pakistan’s proclivity to infiltrate mercenary terrorists into India through thousands of kilometres of open borders. However, this issue is now history and the recommendations of these task forces are being gradually implemented. What bears analysis is whether the central police and paramilitary forces are appropriately organised, properly equipped and suitably trained to meet the new challenges and discharge the new responsibilities being entrusted to them.

Turf Battles

There is a misconception about police and paramilitary forces in India. The army, the navy, the air force and the coast guard are armed forces of the union. The only paramilitary forces at present are the Assam Rifles, the Rashtriya Rifles and the National Security Guard. The RR was raised as a paramilitary force as the bulk of its cadre was expected to be recruited from among eligible civilians. However, it did not quite work out that way and the RR is staffed completely by army personnel. As such, it is a paramilitary force only in name.

The Border Security Force was raised as a paramilitary force and was initially led by regular army officers. JCOs and NCOs on deputation. As it is not officered by army officers any more, it no longer qualifies to be called a paramilitary force. By definition a paramilitary force is one that is organised and equipped in a manner similar to regular military forces and officered by regular officers. All the other central government forces are also police forces.

The employment of a plethora of forces can only lead to the lack of cohesiveness and dissonance in the execution of policy and is bound to lead to avoidable turf battles. The government has done well to nominate the CRPF as the primary instrument of the central government for counter-insurgency and internal security operations. Units of the CRPF are now replacing BF battalions in Kashmir Valley and are being deployed in Manipur. The CRPF will soon be deployed in Naxalite-affected areas in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal. About 22 battalions are likely to be deployed in these states after area-specific and pre-induction training. With the planned raising of 25 battalions in 2004, the total number of CRPF battalions will cross the 200 mark. 200 not out is a score that brings with a heavy responsibility.

To enable CRPE battalions to perform effectively under the prevailing circumstances, the force must develop an army-like ethos and must raise its standards to match the army’s levels of leadership, motivation and training. Its leadership should be drawn through lateral induction of volunteers from the army like In Assam Rifles. The equipment held by CRPF units should be suitably upgraded.

Proxy War

They need to be given modern close quarter battle and company and battalion-level support weapons. Another crucial aspect of reorientation necessary is to ensure that CRPF units operate as cohesive battalions under the direct command of the commanding officer and not as companies in penny packets with the CO being given only administrative responsibility. While employing them in company-sized sub-units may work reasonably well during election duty and for the maintenance of routine law and order, battalion-level unit cohesion is an inescapable criterion for employment during internal security duties.

It is not generally well known that the responsibility for counter-insurgency and counter-proxy war operations in J&K is divided between the army and the CPMFs. The army is responsible for operations in the rural areas and the CPMFs are responsible for operations in the towns. While there can be no quarrel with this broad sub-division of responsibility, what is exceptionable is that both report to their own higher commanders and there is no overall commander. In fact, among the CPMFs there is further dilution of operational coherence because there are so many of them operating virtually independently. This lack of unity in command has led to the lack of synergy in operations.

The process of replacing BSF battalions in Kashmir Valley with CRPF battalions began in November 2003 and is expected to be completed by 2005. As additional CRPF battalions are coming in, equivalent numbers of BSF battalions are moving out. The BSF battalions being relieved from Kashmir are being re-deployed along Bangladesh’s northern border with India and elsewhere. The CRPF battalions being now inducted into Kashmir Valley will take time to settle down. The intelligence grid is the most difficult to hand-over as the best sources are usually cultivated by individual intelligence personnel and it is not practicable to institutionalise dealings with sources. This would be a body blow to the intelligence grid in the valley and is bound to lead to a perceptible drop in performance. Ideally, the process of handing and taking over between each BSF and CRPF battalion should have been carefully stage-managed over a period of three to four months.

The nomination of the CRPF as the national level counter-insurgency force has enabled the other CPMFs like BSF and ITBP to return to their primary role of border management. The infiltration of armed mercenary terrorists from Pakistan, mass migration from Bangladesh into lower Assam, the smuggling of consumer goods and fake Indian currency from Nepal, the operations of ULFA militants from safe hideouts in Bangladesh and the sanctuaries available to the insurgent groups of the northeastern states in Myanmar and Bangladesh, have all added to India’s border security problems. Effective border management is a primary national security priority. However, it continues to be a divided responsibility between the army and CPMFs, with the latter reporting to the home ministry. This aspect needs fine tuning as the principle of “single point control” must be followed if the borders are to be effectively managed.

Line of Control

While the BSF should be responsible for all settled international borders, the responsibility for unsettled and disputed borders, such as the Line of Control in J&K and the Line of Actual Control on the Indo-Tibetan border, should be that of the army. Though the army has undivided responsibility for border management on the LoC with Pakistan, it is not the case on the LAC with China, on the LAC, the ITBP (which under the home ministry) is responsible for the Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and the Uttar Pradesh segments of the LAC while the army and Assam Rifles (under the army’s Operational control) are deployed in Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh and on the border with Myanmar. On the other hand, on the Tibetan side, the entire LAC is managed by the Border Guards divisions of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and report to commander of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

In this age of infiltration, mass migration, smuggling of small arms and narcotics and trade in contraband goods, border management is a specialised role. The BSF, with over 160 battalions, must carefully analyse its tasks and responsibilities and formulate the requisite tactics, techniques and procedures necessary to meet the growing challenges. Over the last decade or so BSF units have gone through a fairly extensive modernisation drive. While much still remains to be done, the BSF battalions need to consolidate and gain operational experience In optimally exploiting the newly-introduced equipment for better surveillance of the country’s long borders.