First the facts
– Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) has five battalions deployed in Eastern Ladakh including those on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
ITBP does not have its own integral intelligence setup so essential in an operational situation.
– The DIG Headquarter controlling these forces is located at Srinagar, 258 air km and 418 road km from Leh. Zoji La, on the Himalayan Range, and located on the main highway from Srinagar to Leh, is closed to road traffic from November to end May.
– Considering the separation of the Headquarter from the units, an adhoc Headquarter is functional under the Deputy at Leh – a compromise solution at best, considering the division of resources.
– ITBP communications are based, primarily, on High Frequency radio, which is most vulnerable to interception and being jammed when required particularly in an operational situation.
– The role of ITBP amplifies the tasks of the Force as – to guard the Northern borders and prevent violations and encroachments, prevent smuggling, unauthorized movement of goods, weapons, personnel and such like non-traditional threats in the border areas.
– ITBP does not have its own integral intelligence setup so essential in an operational situation.
– Thus the orientation of the force is essentially towards “policing” tasks.
The Ground Realties.
– The Army has Infantry and Mechanized forces suitably located with robust combat support and controlling headquarters well forward and within easy reach of the LAC.
The Chinese Border Defence Units deployed and garrisoned along the entire LAC are directly under the PLA, which is surely not mere “policing” duties.
– India’s perception of the LAC is undemarcated on ground but has been identified along suitable geographical and relief features.
– India and China have unilaterally delineated the LAC on their respective maps but have not shared the same with each other. As a result, each assumes the others perception from the activities that both carry out to dominate upto their respective perceptions.
– Consequently, common areas claimed by both arise, and are contested for by the militaries. Often termed,inappropriately, as “no-mans land”. India generally terms it as “no-mans land” which is not paid heed to by China, thus putting India at a disadvantage. India should modify term to “Both-mans Land”, so that India does not restrain its troops from operating in that area.
– Very evidently, the LAC is a “LIVE” boundary, and should be manned accordingly. The PLA platoon strength that camped in Depsang was no group of local herdsmen or Yak smugglers or in any way could be construed as non-traditional threat. Therefore if required more than a “Police “ force response.
– The Chinese Border Defence Units deployed and garrisoned along the entire LAC are directly under the PLA, which is surely not mere “policing” duties.
– The Army has a comprehensive (in as much there is) intelligence setup and has wherewithal for intelligence gathering and substantial surveillance resources.
Domination of LAC by patrolling by both Army and ITBP, is a wasteful duplication of effort.
– The Army has a secure radio and static line communication network with adequate redundancies built-in for exercising optimal operational command and control.
– The Army has a well structured tiered establishment for force buildup and undertakes an emergent or graduated operational response at the place of its own choosing right across the entire LAC. Provided the field commanders are not constrained at the tactical level, due to a politically cautious stance.
– Army and ITBP posts are often co-located but operating independently. Command and control is exercised along two parallel verticals with informal personality based lateral inter-action.
– Domination of LAC by patrolling by both Army and ITBP, is a wasteful duplication of effort.
– Inter-communication between Army and ITBP is adhoc and is mainly provided from Army resources. ITBP’s integral radio equipment is incompatible with equipment currently in use by the Army. Consequently the ITBP personnel are required to be trained on it. Given the nature of the high altitude of the region there is frequent movement of such personnel making the whole exercise temporary and fragmented.
The Army is the Nations “punch”. It should be asserting its strength through fire power and guts not “military diplomacy”. The Nation has to speak from a position of strength. The Army gives it this strength. It needs to be recognized.
– New raisings in ITBP units a unilateral undertaking by MHA and ITBP without heed to the overall security fallout along the LAC by this augmentation.
– With a Police force deployed on the LAC, the Chinese will interpret it as a tacit acceptance of the Indian Government that the LAC is not a “LIVE” border that needs to be guarded by military forces. A benign approach to the whole India-China Boundary question.
– To accept ITBP as the first responder to a conventional tactical situation without requisite integral support with heavier weapons and combat support in the form of dedicated artillery or air support is willfully making them “cannon fodder” by powers that be.
– Constraining the tactical initiative of tactical field commanders by a policy of restraint and reticence will always allow the PLA to wrest the initiative in battle.
– Any form of pre-emption or “cold start” by the Army is not feasible in these circumstances. Indian Army will only be fire fighting to save its glorious image.
– The Army is the Nations “punch”. It should be asserting its strength through fire power and guts not “military diplomacy”. The Nation has to speak from a position of strength. The Army gives it this strength. It needs to be recognized.
The Revamping Necessary.
– Place all ITBP forces deployed along the LAC under the Army for operational control.
– Induction of new equipment into the Force, should as a policy, be cleared by the Army from the technical and logistic compatibility point of view.
– MHA’s reluctance to place the ITBP under the Army is indicative of the underlying resistance of the IPS lobby to serve under any commander from the Army. IPS as seen from the factual ground realities considers itself as an “administrative cadre” akin to IAS. They loathe the notion of leading from the front as field commanders. The direct entry ITBP young officers endorse the requirement of operating under the Army.
– What is of paramount importance is National Security Interests. This cannot be hijacked by some blatant parochial group interest. The matter is too serious to be left to the whims or fancy of the bureaucracy. If the MHA cannot decide then let the people decide whose security is the Government of India’s responsibility.