The armed forces have projected including select Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), mainly BSF and ITBP, deployed along the LOC and LAC, within the gambit of theatre commands thereby seeking the unity of command and responsibility for securing un-demarcated borders. A similar demand exists from the navy on the inclusion of the coastguard. Since the CAPFs come under the ministry of Home, a committee comprising of Vice Chiefs and senior bureaucrats has been formed to iron out the differences. Their first meeting was chaired by the CDS.
The inclusion of CAPFs deployed along the LOC and LAC has been regularly raised by the army. In China, border defence regiments, responsible for the security of the LAC, operate under the PLA. In Pakistan, the Rangers, deployed along the IB and part of the LAC, are commanded by the Pak army and function under respective army HQs responsible for operations in the area. This ensures a unified approach to border management.
India is possibly the only country, despite having two major adversaries and a perpetual discussion on the possibility of a two-front war, the responsibility of securing the nation’s borders is vaguely defined. As per government directions, it is the defence secretary, heading the department of defence, responsible for ‘defence of India and every part thereof including defence policy.’ However, in his list of responsibilities he only controls inter-service organizations, amongst other responsibilities.
The armed forces operate under the DMA and respond directly to the defence minister. The multitude of CAPFs, deployed along active borders, function under the home ministry and not army units and formations responsible for the security of the region. Nothing could be more absurd and confusing. Making the defence secretary responsible for national security is unrealistic. Ideally, it should have been the defence minister or the CDS.
The MHA website also states that it has a border management department that is responsible for, ‘dealing with the management of borders, including coastal borders, strengthening of border guarding and creation of related infrastructure, border areas development.’ Along demarcated borders with Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh, the BSF/SSB are deployed and respond to the MHA. Hence, is the MHA responsible only for defined borders or all borders is unclear? Why is there a dual responsibility between the MHA and MOD? If the MHA is responsible only for defined borders, then why do forces deployed along un-demarcated borders, possibly the responsibility of the MOD, remain under their command and control?
If the MHA is responsible for coastal borders, as per their charter, then why is the coast guard and navy, responsible for securing India’s coastline, operating under the MoD. This inter-ministry confusion has yet to be settled even after 70 years. This only reflects the seriousness of governments on coordinating matters concerning national security.
Addressing a webinar on the Indo-China crisis, the former northern army commander, Lt Gen Hooda stated, ‘We are looking at responding to a regular military (on Chinese side). There are limitations in the way ITBP can respond, not because the soldiers or officers are lacking, but because they don’t have the organisational structure and capability to react to it.’ No other country has a multitude of forces handling border security, responding to different ministries, while the responsibility rests with a third force. It is the bane of the Indian democratic system, where fear of a powerful armed force has precluded successive governments from assessing vital national security issues without blinkers.
The ideal concept for a nation like India should be one border, one force, one commander responsible. Translated into the Indian context, this implies that un-demarcated borders, LOC and LAC, should remain the responsibility of the army and accepted international borders as the responsibility of the BSF/SSB, whichever is deployed. In the broader context, the defence ministry, with the CDS or defence minister responsible, should be tasked for active borders, while the Home Ministry for passive borders. The battle of turfs between ministries must be shelved and forces deployed along these borders placed under the force responsible for its security.
The proposed arrangement would also ensure optimum employment of CAPFs responsible for securing borders. Almost one-third of force levels of most ITBP and BSF battalions, deployed in sensitive regions, are located away from their theatre for meeting other commitments under the home ministry, including the security of individuals, denuding force levels actually deployed for carrying out their tasks. It is possibly the thought of losing the manpower which results in the home ministry refusing to accept that national border management is primary and must receive due to importance.
The second aspect is the induction of IPS in senior ranks of the CAPFs, who are averse to serving under army control, as they lack tactical, strategic and operational understanding, having spent their lives in policing tasks. To protect their turfs, it appears that they are willing to forgo essential national security responsibilities.
Similarly, the navy is responsible for securing India’s coastal security, but without the command of the Coast Guard. This is absurd, as unless the two forces work for hand in glove and operate under a single commander, coordinated security can never be ensured. It is with this background that for establishing the maritime command, the navy has sought to bring the coast guard under it.
In the eyes of the national public, it is the armed forces responsible for border security, whereas the reality is different. The army has in place plans for defending borders but with the forces operating under different ministries, officered at the apex level by IPS, there will never be cohesion. The end result would be firefighting, an act the army is forced to adopt. Ultimately, it is left to the ingenuity of force commanders on the ground to evolve a working environment, which is not conducive for national security. The most ideal solution should be one border, one force, one commander responsible. All elements deployed must be under this command. It is time to drop inter-ministerial ego’s and give national security its due weightage.