From: G B Reddy < >
Oh Blind men of Hindustan – Wake Up at least Now
Oh, “Blind men of Hindustan” wake up at least now after the ongoing fracas with the Chinese PLA and carryout a de novo review Border Security Management System (BSMS) to redress the shortcomings, weaknesses or anomalies and redress them with utmost expediency.
Do appreciate and admit that persisting with the existing “multiple security agencies – the Indo Tibetan Birder Police (ITBP), the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB, the Assam rifles (AR) and the Border Security Force (BSF)” – working in water tight compartments cannot ensure effective security at optimum costs to the treasury to cover Line of Actual Control (LAC), Line of Control (LoC) and the international borders.
Ipso facto, they are woefully incapable of deterring Chinese PLA “Creeping incrementalism and Extended Coercion” strategy to bite away large tracts of disputed areas of the Indo-Tibetan border.
Politico-bureaucratic combine must stop nurturing apprehensions of military coup by the Indian Armed Forces. For they realize that management of India’s pluralist societal divide is best left to political and bureaucratic leadership.
No need to order yet another Experts Committee to suggest a refined BSMS. Since the primary task of all agencies is to maintain “Vigil or Guard (eyes and ears)” over assigned areas of operational responsibility in peace and operate under the Indian Army, it is high time that they are merged with the Indian Army and under the Ministry of Defense.
Bashing the current government machinery for intelligence failure is yet another ploy not only by political rivals but also by quite a few masquerading as security strategy and military affairs experts. Gone are the days of excessive dependence on HUMANINT. Today, military satellites are hovering overhead providing “Hawk Eye” 24×365 coverage of all activities particularly over barren snow covered high altitude mountains along the Indo-Tibet border. So, those calling it as intelligence failure at the strategic, operational and tactical levels are woefully ignorant of the capabilities of intelligence system of today. Furthermore, there are many private organizations available to provide intelligence inputs at very low costs even for individuals.
Intelligence about the deployment of PLA Combined Arms Brigades (CABs) of Tibet Military District and the CABs of 76 and 77 Army Groups of Western Theater Command was available even for independent observers like me well before May 2020. Thus, apportioning the blame on intelligence failure reflects ignorance on critic’s part that appears to be the visual media obsession nowadays.
In reality, the blame squarely lies on the “Blind men of Hindustan” – political and bureaucratic decision makers – for conceptually creating BSMS dating back to the aftermath of the 1962 war.
Let me review broadly the basics of the BSMS for “Aam Admi” understanding focused on the Indo-Tibet border. By original conception, the Indo Tibetan Birder Police (ITBP), the Border Security Force (BSF) and the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) were created for employment on the Indo-Tibet border stretching from Ladakh to the eastern boundary of Arunachal Pradesh. Subsequently over the past 60 years, the BSMS has undergone many changes due to multiplication of secondary roles at cross purposes with primary roles.
Let me highlight that they were raised consequent to unilateral PLA conditional withdrawal from captured territories mandating that neither country deploy regular army troops within 20 kms of the disputed areas. In particular, the ITBP was to man border posts at altitudes as high as 21,000 feet in the western, middle & eastern sector of the border. Today, the ITBP claims to be a mountain trained force and most of the officers & men are trained mountaineers and skiers. But, where are they either in Daulat Beg Oldie or Depsang or Galwan Valley or Pangong Tso?
The ITBP present roles include: 1) Vigil on the northern borders, detection and prevention of border violations, and promotion of the sense of security among the local populace; 2) Check illegal immigration and trans-border smuggling; 3) Provide security to sensitive installations and threatened VIPs; 4) Restore and preserve order in any area in the event of a disturbance; and 5) To maintain peace.
Most laughable it is to assign the role for specialized force to operate in high altitudes to “Provide security to sensitive installations and threatened VIPs” besides other law and order roles. What more with passage of time, the roles of ITBP diversified into many other areas to cover: disaster management; Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School (CIJW) and training; Dogs Basic Training center; Commando units to provide security to the Embassy and consulates of India in Afghanistan; United Nation Mission in Congo; security to the pilgrims during Annual Kailash Mansarovar Yatra from 1981; and now Quarantine camp at Chhawala in New Delhi during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Next, the Special Service Bureau (also abbreviated SSB) was set up on 20 December 1963 following the Sino-Indian War of 1962 that has later transformed into present SSB. To start with, the SSB primary role was to provide armed support to the foreign intelligence division of Intelligence Bureau, which later became Research and Analysis Wing (after its creation in 1968). Also, to merge with the local population and to inculcate feelings of national belonging in the border population and assist them in developing their capabilities for resistance through a continuous process of motivation and training for guerilla warfare.
Pursuant to the recommendations of a group of ministers on reforming the national security system, the SSB was declared as a Border Guarding Force and Lead Intelligence Agency (LIA) for Indo-Nepal border (June, 2001) and assigned the task of guarding the 1751 km long Indo-Nepal border along the states of Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Sikkim. In March 2004, SSB was assigned the task of guarding the Indo-Bhutan border along the states of Sikkim, West Bengal, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. Now it is all over – Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya, Sikkim, the border areas of Rajasthan and Gujarat, South Bengal, Jammu, the Nubra Valley, Rajouri and the Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir.
The multiple roles assigned to the SSB today include: safeguard the security of assigned borders of India and promote sense of security among the people living in border areas; Prevent trans-border crimes, smuggling and any other illegal activities; Prevent unauthorized entry into or exit from the territory of India; Carry out civic action program; and perform any other duty assigned by the Central Government (SSB is being deployed for Law & Order, Counter Insurgency Operations and Election duty).
Supplementing the primary role by superimposing secondary roles cumulatively has resulted in role overload due to diversion and dilution of primary role. Consequently, instead of creating command and control structures along the Indo-Tibet border, they have been allowed to crop up all over India with focus on managing secondary roles.
In sum, the “Blind men of Hindustan” conceptually muddled through presiding over creating “vast empires” with command and control hierarchy and training centers in plains (few exceptions) and employed them on secondary roles which resulted today in gaping voids on the Indo-Tibet borders.
Next, the growth of size of both the ITBP and SSB and their employment needs review. The ITBP started with 4 battalions. Followed the restructuring since 1978, the force has expanded to 60 Battalions; with a sanctioned strength of 89,432 as of 2018. Its top hierarchy comprises 1 DGP, 15 IGPs and 40 DIG level officers. The DG, ITBP is located at Delhi with 2 Command HQs headed by Additional DGPs each (Chandigarh and Guwahati), 5 Frontiers HQs (Leh, Dehra Dun, Bhopal, Lucknow and Itanagar) and 15 Sector HQs besides 17 Training Centers and 07 logistics establishments.
So also, the structure developed over the decades of the SSB. As of 2019, it has 94,261 active personnel in 73 battalions. The SSB organization includes: DG Force HQs at Delhi; 06 Frontier HQs – 1) Ranikhet in 2014 for Uttarkhand; 2) Lucknow in 2001 for Terrai region of UP; 3) Patna in 2006 for riverine areas of Bihar; 4) Siliguri in 2011 for Bihar and West Bengal; 5) Tezpur in 2015 for Assam and Arunachal; and, 6) Guwahati in 2004; and 18 Sector HQs; and, 73 battalions including 02 Battalions converted into NDRF. The location of some of the Sector HQs include: Delhi, Srinagar, Shimla, Lucknow, Bengaluru, Patna, Bhubaneswar and Tezpur.
For example, the number of Headquarters at various levels and training centers include: 2 DGP HQ at New Delhi, 2 Command HQs, 6+5 Frontier HQs, 15+18 Sector HQa and 17+10 training centers. Such a top heavy HQs hierarchy to manage 60+73 battalions! What a phenomenal waste of scarce financial resources! Instead, one could have raised another 60 battalions providing the ‘Teeth’ to BSMS system. High time to stop the proliferation of top heavy “Tail”!
Intellectual fraud it is to locate 17 ITBP training centers, mostly in plains, to recruit, train and provide manpower support for a force level of 60 battalions meant for high altitude operational tasks. How can effective training be imparted for High Altitudes and Terrestrial Areas in plains instead of mountains? Also, manpower recruitment must be restricted to the local hill people for their biological suitability and natural mountaineering skills as opposed to plainsmen. Never too late to relocate the training centers of both ITBP and the SSB places like Bomdilla, Gangtok in Sikkim, and other suitable locations in Arunachal Pradesh or merged with those already existing in mountains.
A simple comparison with infantry regiments of the army is enough to prove beyond any doubt about the avoidable extravaganza under the Ministry of Home – one infantry regimental center for over 24 battalions. One center in Ahmednagar caters to the manpower requirement of over 60 armor units.
Finally, there is also need for a relook into the employment of the Assam Rifles. Prior to 1962 War, Assam Rifles was employed not only in Nagaland and Manipur but also in North East Frontier Agency (Now Arunachal Pradesh). Now, the roles of the Assam Rifles include: Guard the Indo-Myanmar border; Conduct CI/CT operations in the North East; Aid to Civil authorities; Undertake defensive operations and Rear Area Security during War; and act as penultimate interventionist force in internal security situation, under the control of army; when the situation goes beyond the control of CAPF.
There are currently 46 battalions of Assam Rifles with a sanctioned strength of 63,747 personnel with hierarchical structure of DG (Shillong), 3 IG Headquarters, 12 Sector Headquarters, one Training Centre and the administrative elements. Since their inception in 1947, Assam Rifles units commanded and controlled by Army officers, and its troops are recruited from the NE region, are ideally suited for employment on Arunachal Pradesh-Tibet Border as opposed to the ITBP or SSB units.
Viewed in the overall availability of 179 battalions (60 ITBF + 73 SSB + 46 AR) for BSMS, that is, almost the component of infantry for 20 infantry divisions (@9 battalions per division), their designated employment on primary role of BSMS can act as a deterrent to adversaries both during peace and war.
In retrospect, the decision making authorities – Blind men of Hindustan – are squarely to be blamed for assigning multiple secondary roles – plethora of them – and designing classical linear hierarchical structures (empire building obsession), locating training centers in plains, faulty recruiting processes and insulated water tight functioning.
Now that there is emergency situation on the Indo-Tibet borders, all the battalions of the ITBF, the SSB and the AR must be redeployed in their primary role in “Hot war” locations – not in company driblets. Also, strategic absurdity it is employ forces meant for employment in high altitudes are redirected to conduct anti-Naxal operations in Chhattisgarh or Jharkhand sans detailed knowledge of tribal customs, dialects and so on. Amit Shah must order redeployment of 8 Battalions of ITBP employed in Chhattisgarh and 12 Battalions of SSB in J&K, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and Assam to Ladakh.
My earnest appeal to the “Blind men of Hindustan” is to recognize that modernization through downsizing by integration – based on suitability and appropriateness for each theatre based on ‘span of control’ principles is an imperative. Meanwhile, merger of ITBP and SSB into one organization will reduce the “Top and Tail Structures” by half as the first initiative. Since the ITBP, the SSB and the AR units are placed under operational command of army formations during war, the intervening “Frontier and Sector HQs” are redundant. Naturally, they must function under the Ministry of Defense.