The decision to deploy the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) to guard the 1643 km long unmanned India-Myanmar border hangs in the balance because the government is yet to decide the fate of the Assam Rifles – the oldest paramilitary force of India.
The ministry of home affairs (MHA) has proposed to split and merge 25 battalions of the Assam Rifles with ITBP and rest of the 21 with the army. The defence ministry is unhappy with the home ministry’s proposal to break-up Assam Rifles and divide manpower between ITBP and the army.
The Assam Rifles recruits its own soldiers but is officered and commanded by officers of the Indian Army.
Currently, the ITBP is under the operational control of the army but administrative control of the home ministry. The dual reporting command and control, however, does lead confusion at times.
Apart from the counter-insurgency role during peace, Assam Rifles has an “operational role” during wars, the army has told the government. The Assam Rifles is tasked to take over the “defensive”, “holding role” of the army during war freeing military formations to be moved into different roles, the defence ministry has argued.
On the contrary, the home ministry argues that the India-Myanmar border needs to guarded “more proactively.” It is an “open border” which allows free movement of local ethnic groups of both the countries within 16km of either side of the border.
The United Liberation Front of Western South Asia, an umbrella group of five rebel organisations in the northeast, ambushed a military convoy in Manipur’s Chandel district on June 2, 2015, killing 18 soldiers. Another 15 soldiers were injured in the ambush.
A committee headed by the then chief of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) RN Ravi had recommended that ITBP should be deployed along the India-Myanmar border to increase vigil.
The army has cited Operation Sunrise during which units of the army and Assam Rifles and Myanmar’s army carried out coordinated operations against insurgent groups on their side of the border.
“The operation was possible because of cooperation between the two militaries and it is unlikely between police forces,” a senior army officer said explaining military’s point of view.
Finally, the army has also told the government that the “Border-Out Post” (BoP) method of guarding borders is not suitable for India-Myanmar border. Rather, it said that the current Company Operating Post (CoP) method is more efficient.
Border guarding forces like ITBP and Border Security Force (BSF) set up BoP that is manned by a small number of men as against Company Operating Bases where 70-80 men led by an officer are responsible for a certain section of the border.
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