There is disquiet in the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) force as the Union defence ministry has sent a fresh proposal to the home ministry seeking “operational control” of the force. The army had moved a similar proposal in 2004-05, but it had been rejected. While the home ministry is quiet on the issue, sources say it is of the view that such a move would be detrimental not only to the morale of the jawans of the ITBP but will also lead to confusion among the ranks of the paramilitary forces in general.
“I don’t think the army requires to have operational control,” says former Union home secretary G.K. Pillai, who retired at the end of last month. “The army has control over the BSF in small parts of Kashmir. Similarly, it has a say along some sections of the Indo-Pak border. So whenever there is a need, it will certainly be looked into. But the entire force need not to be operationally controlled by the army.” In fact, Pillai goes on to say, “It is good to keep the army away as far as possible. If it is a peaceful border, all the more reason for this. I do not see the need for any deployment to be operationally controlled by the army as of now.”
The ITBP mans over 4,000 kilometres of the country’s border with China. And the experts think that the force should be allowed to act independently. Sreemati Chakrabarti, professor of East Asian Studies at Delhi University and director of Chinese Studies, points out, “Our border with China is somewhat sensitive. The Geneva Convention too says that international borders should not be manned by the army. Any army intervention therefore would be in violation of the Geneva Convention.”
It is believed that troops as well as senior officials within the ITBP are unhappy with the army’s efforts to seek control over the force. The move, apparently, comes in the wake of reported differences between the army and ITBP jawans at the LoC. The proposal for operational control of the paramilitary force is meant to enable “synergy” among the forces manning the border with China, army sources said.
Coming in the wake of differences with ITBP, the army says their move would help create synergy between forces.
“There were differences in the past,” says former ITBP DIG K.B.L. Dubey. “The army never shared information. In the case of ITBP, information bulletins are shared with the army thrice a day. This is an unfair proposal that is disappointing and should not be encouraged. This is not the first time. For the past three years, constant feelers have surfaced that the army should have a greater role and control in ITBP operations. We are always for greater cooperation. Information should be shared and better coordination should be there and changes will then be visible.”
The army attempt to secure operational control of the ITBP comes in the backdrop of aggressive patrolling by Chinese troops. The ITBP has four battalions comprising nearly 4,000 personnel posted in Leh. The paramilitary force conducts long- and short-range patrols to keep an effective vigil. Requesting anonymity, a senior home ministry official said, “This is a larger issue; it is not just about the ITBP. The debate about army controlling paramilitary forces has been on for quite some time.”
However, V.S. Sirohi, a former IG of the BSF who also served in the army, supports the army move and says it will help in better border management. “This is a proposal that is in the best interests of the country. There will be no chaos. Involving the army at the operational level will also mean the better training required for manning the borders will be there. I completely support the proposal and believe it should be viewed in a progressive manner.”
Tactics, rather than emotion, is what the issue has to be decided on.