India’s borders with China and Pakistan are one of the most dangerous borders because local war with China could be one standoff away and potential of limited war with Pakistan is one terror strike away. The threat India faces ranges from regular to irregular, state to non-state actors and conventional to nuclear war. The loss of territory during ‘no war no peace’ and during conventional conflicts will be permanent in nature along the unsettled borders. The warning period literally does not exist and there is no clear cut demarcation of peacetime and war time activities, as a result border defence forces should be prepared to deal with hostile actions at all times. Given the volatile nature of Line of Actual Control (LAC)/Line of Control (LoC) border guarding forces should be prepared to adopt hot war posture without pre-warning. To undertake such rapid transition it would require robust command and control, high standard of training, efficient drills and procedures, motivation and skillful leadership that is able to condition troops physically and psychologically. The weapons and warlike equipment should be identical so that they can dovetail and operate on the principle of plug and play with the regular army. Border guarding forces should be psychologically conditions to operate in an unpredictable environment, thus should be prepared beforehand for any contingency. According to Dr G P Bhatnagar, “Current border management is designed for a ‘firefighting’ approach rather than a ‘fire prevention’ or pro-active approach; it is based on a strategy of ‘reaction and retaliation’ rather than on a holistic response to the prevailing environment”.
Sun Tzu said, “Whoever is first in the battlefield and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted.” The nature of borders with Pakistan and China are such that some part are designated as international borders and some parts continue to remain unresolved designated as Line of Control (LoC) and Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL referring to Siachen) with Pakistan and Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. LoC is active and cross border firing and infiltration of terrorists from Pakistan has become a routine in spite of the cease fire agreement. Whereas no bullet has been fired across LAC since 1967 but transgression by People’s Liberation Army (PLA) into Indian Territory has become a routine that is leading to frequent standoffs between PLA Border Defence Regiments and the Indian Army. Under such circumstances border defence is a military operation and cannot be confused by defining it as policing or management of borders where loss of territory could take place if not resolutely defended.
Intimidating and Volatile Borders
Ground Realities. The contest for domination of borders especially along the LAC has intensified over a period of time resulting in border standoffs on regular basis. The situations at times has led to physical contact between PLA and Indian Army. The situation along the LoC is live and is a state of an undeclared war with Pakistan. Pakistan has adopted the strategy of disguised aggression against India by way of infiltration of armed terrorists, border actions by regular and irregulars and cease-fire violation to facilitate infiltration and cause collateral damage on Indian Army posts along the LoC. Pakistan is indulging in proxy war and involvement of regulars and irregulars is a routine. The ground realities are as under:-
- Along the LAC both neighbours may not have fired even a single bullet in the last 40 years as mentioned by the Prime Minster Modi but the threat from China is potent and has the potential to escalate to a local war with every standoff. India may have defused border standoffs in the past but the Doklam standoff has displayed that this time diplomacy may not be so successful since China has declined to negotiate and discuss till withdrawal of Indian troops from Doklam.
- India is having neighbours for whom land grabbing is a daily routine. Do we still need policing of such volatile border or we need border defence forces that are prepared to dig their heels if the push comes to shove? Dealing with an adversary who fires at you is easier than the enemy that just squat on your land. How do you evict such an adversary? The danger is what if the standoff becomes permanent in nature? Do you step back or just sit and stay there and jostle physically on daily basis? Author being witness to the frustration of the men on the ground and can only be understood by those who have experienced it. The stress on commanders on the ground is extremely high because even one irrational act by a soldier from either side can have serious repercussions.
- Borders with Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Bhutan are settled but do pose threat to internal security due to illegal immigration, smuggling, drug trafficking, trans-border movement of population and infiltration of terrorists from third country. Settled borders certainly need border management because the activities are political, economic and unlawful, and threat of disguised aggression or loss of territory does not exist and employment of military is an exception and is rarest of rare occasion. But same cannot be said about borders with Pakistan and Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).
- Madhav Godbole Committee focused on border management and policing rather than looking at unsettled borders from the view point of vulnerability of loss of territory even in undeclared war. Godbole committee continue to stress closest surveillance of the people at largeto safeguard borders whereas the reality is that unsettled borders are vulnerable to threat from state and non-state actors. Given the existing tense border environment there is always potential of local war erupting not in years but in months and weeks. Possibility of collusion between China and Pakistan is very high and China would definitely exploit its capabilities of hybrid/ unrestricted war in coordination with state and no-state actors of Pakistan. That will make it tough for India to handle two and half front war.
The ultimate objective of border management forces guarding the unsettled borders should be to assume passive control over the contested areas. It requires a plan for mobilization, preparation for rapid reaction, acclimatized troops in a readiness profile to occupy pre-designated positions. In the absence of capabilities of border management forces to assume full passive control and adopt proactive approach, perforce Indian Army is compelled to undertake following measures along the LoC and LAC:-
- Anti-Infiltration Posture along the LoC. The regular army units are deployed in anti-infiltration role in small posts ahead of the fence and along the fence with the objective to prevent infiltration by terrorists and border action teams (BAT). These locations are not tactically suitable for that required in a hot war where preventing loss of territory and tactcally important pieces of ground is paramount. Thus some of these posts become vulnerable to BAT actions, artillery and direct firing weapons. This has resulted in dispersion of troops on ground and during war either these posts are required to be withdrawn or additional troops would be required to occupy key tactical features to fight successful defensive battles. Ideally these locations should be occupied by border management forces so that regular army troops are made available for defensive and offensive operations, but due to lack of experience, capability development and unity of command, CAPF may not be in a position to get deployed in show window. This has resulted in dispersion of defensive formations in penny packets and it would certainly impact execution of primary task during war.
- Border Management Posture along LAC. Along the LAC border management forces are deployed however, there are certain critical posts that are always occupied by regular army troops. In addition there are acclimatized troops nominated to rush as part of border management posture (BMP). These troops are placed in readiness profile to rush and occupy key areas to prevent occupation and transgression by PLA’s Border Defence Regiments. In addition there are subunits/units nominated as part of enhanced / augmented border management posture (EBMP). As a precaution holding formations also keep rapid reaction forces (RRF) ready to move at short notice. These measures are taken because the border management forces under CAPF have not given the confidence to manage peace time intrusion and aggressive design of PLA’s Border Defence Regiments. Such a posture has certain advantages and disadvantages operationally, because it certainly impact training for defensive and offensive operations. Though one may argue that it keeps troops in readiness profile but it causes operational fatigue and that is not a good idea. It also forces Army to commit troops on the ground even before the balloon goes up. In addition rushing army as first respondent during the standoffs has inherent disadvantages. Once army is deployed it is politically, diplomatically and militarily difficult to pull back troops for strategic reasons. But if the deployment of CAPF is done in response to border standoffs the same predicament does not exist. Therefore, there are certain pitfalls in deployment of army as first respondent.
Fault Lines in Border Defence Structure
Napoleon had said, “The transition from defensive to the offensive is one of the most difficult operations in war.” If the transition for professional armies is so difficult when they are trained to fight defensive and offensive operations, imagine how difficult it will be for a police force to adapt to the transition of going into war without being trained for it. Transition from border policing to fighting a conventional war require tremendous operational skills, exceptional leadership and readiness profile of a very high order. There is an old maxim that why do the men and officers lay down their lives on a single word of command, the answer is because, “they train together to fight together” and they “sweat together to bleed together”. Ethos is not built by simple order on a plain paper that the CAPF men deployed on border will be placed under command army with effect from midnight today for the duration of war. It is irrational to send men to war without adequate training and matching equipment to fight against technologically enabled adversaries.
In spite of border management forces, army is always on standby to rush to the LoC/LAC. Is there a need to have multiple agencies doings same task? The current system is most uneconomic and duplication of efforts. In addition the weapons and equipment is also not homogeneous and as a result there would be a requirement of having two sets of weapons and equipment for peace and war time. No nation can afford such a luxury to equip its forces with two sets of equipment.
Due to dual command and control there is no structured communication between border management force and the formation responsible to defend the borders during war. Sharing of information is based on the personal liaison of the units deployed on ground whereas the activities should be coordinated in a seamless manner.
Loss of key areas in the mountains is irretrievable due to degree of difficulty, thus the border management force has to be trained and equipped on the lines of regular military to prevent loss of critical passes and key terrain features. Ideally the border management forces should be trained and built into a formidable border guarding force to maintain sanctity of LoC/LAC/ International Borders.
Preparing for war is a full time task and it can’t be done in an adhoc manner especially with the neighbours that advocate reunification of claimed territory and water frontiers under a façade of deterrence and “bullying” by foreign powers.The existing system is that when there is relative peace the border management is udder Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) but the moment the conflict escalates the command of border management forces is handed over to Army. Another dichotomy is that the weapons and equipment are procured keeping peacetime requirement in mind without taking operational clearance from the army under whom ultimately the war will be fought. The big questions that arise with such a bizarre command and control system are:-
a. Is it wise to shift command and control at critical juncture? Is there an operational wisdom to have two sets of command of border defence forces? Ideally the command should remain with the commanders that are ultimately going to lead these men during war or hostilities.
b. Can a soldier fight a war under a commander with whom he has never interacted or trained under?
c. Can a commander trust the soldiers placed under his command who have neither trained under him nor has he ever judged/exercised their capabilities?
d. Command relationship is built on moral contract between men and their leaders. How soldiers can sacrifice themselves on a single word of command when they have not seen their leader standing for his men during peacetime?
e. The border management leadership that is responsible to maintain morale and training of the men suddenly abandon their command in the face of war. It is is against the ethos of soldiering.
f. Soldiers and leaders face death and victory together. It is demotivating for men to see their leaders from parent organisations retreating to rear when men march to face the enemy.
Fundamental questions of border defence
a. Does India need to defend borders or manage borders? It is a vital conceptual issue that needs answer. Management of borders is more pertinent where the borders are settled and routine activities such as political, economic, administrative and trans-border movement of citizens of either country take place. Military activities are used only in clearly defined exceptional situations to support border management.But where the borders are tense and military activities are routine those borders should have robust border defence mechanism and not policing/management.
b. Trust deficit and suspect capability of border management forces has warranted army deployment more often.
c. Every time there is a standoff with China instead of ITBP it is the Army that is mobilized whereas on other side it is the troops from border defence regiments instead of regular PLA. If the BSF (also a CAPF) is placed under command the Army when deployed along the LoC, by that logic the ITBP deployed along the LAC too should operate under the command of the Army!!
d. Expecting a police force to act like military force without adequate preparation, orientation and training during war is a fallacy and practically not possible. Because building military force require a common warrior ethos, homogenous group with an equal capabilities, organic leadership and ability to operate in an unpredictable environment. It is not in any way denigrating the capability of the men of the CAPF’s who are equally capable to anyone, but the idea of keep them insulated from the army needs to be reviewed.
To respond to such an aggressive posturing by adversaries the command and control of forces should be robust and cannot be in a state of transition at the most critical period when border defence forces change from peace to war time scenario. Border defence in Indian context should be a very clever combat manoeuvre with superior tactics and strategy vis a vis adversaries so that they can manoeuvre to a position of strength and does not handover an advantage to the adversary right in the beginning of the conflict. The endeavor should be to dominate borders by swift mobilisation without conceding the advantage to the enemy. Such a complex task can be executed by ensuring the following:-
- Superior military training.
- Exercised battle procedure to avoid turbulence.
- Understanding of the complexities of war fighting in the mountains.
- Readiness profile for rapid mobilisation.
- Develop capabilities to maximize the potential of the troops by skillful leadership.
- Smooth transition from peace time to war time activities.
Before recommending how best India can manage volatile borders, it is imperative to evaluate what is expected from the border defence forces before the army takes over the border during hot war situation:-
a. Create opportunities by positioning border defence forces to ensure launch pad for progress of offensive operations are secured and at the same time deny same to adversaries.
b. Occupy critical geographical features for conduct of successful defensive and offensive operations before mobilization of army is completed.
c. Build up intelligence picture to avoid operational vacuum.
d. Defeat local reactions to a tactical maneuver for race to occupy key passes.
e. Keep lines of communication secured for mobilization of army and logistics.
f. Prevent loss of territory till arrival of army in position.
g. Dovetail itself for seamless integration with army after the mobilization is complete.
Unsettled borders where adversary is employing rolling strategy to chip the borders require resolute defence of the frontiers to maintain sanctity of the LAC & LoC. There is no role of policing, it is all about showing military muscles to defend the territorial integrity of the country. It requires border guarding force that is in a position to handle standoffs without involving army. Invariably army at time is first respondent because the border management force restrict itself to policing of the borders. There is certainly a case to take a relook at border management of settled and unsettled borders differently. MHA should be responsible for all settled borders, the responsibility for unsettled and disputed borders, such as the LoC in J&K and the LAC, should be that of the Indian Army.Following recommendations may be considered to build resolute response to any transgression and deliberate attempt to grab Indian Territory:-
- Primary goal in war is to build speed and mobility into the very structure of the army without losing momentum and operational edge. This means a seamless and resilient command and control structure with single authority responsible for operations and logistics. Change of command and control during the most critical period is unsound policy and can create irreversible loss especially in the early stages of operations. Most army functions effectively when the command and control is stable and seamless to maintain control over response of the units to a common tactical situation. There are no good or bad soldiers, it is leadership that makes great and not so great armies. If the peacetime leadership is going to forsake their men in the face of the danger do not expect such forces to deliver in war. It is high time that the command and control of the border guarding forces especially with unsettled borders should be with the MOD or else nation will pay heavy price.
- The current system that was put in place post Kargil Review Committee has not made substantial improvements, the border standoff still require intervention of the army. The system of borer management has proved to be inefficient and has led to duplication of efforts. Increase in number of CAPF units for border management has not given any qualitative edge to India in improving defence posture or handling of standoff/ disguised aggression along LAC/LoC. Therefore, it requires re look and expanding CAPF without creation of matching operational ability is leading to duplication of efforts without significant tradeoff. Effective resource management is essential and India cannot afford duplication of resources and efforts to deal with the borders.
- Indo Tibetan Border Police Force (ITBPF) and Border Security Force (BSF) should have common weapons and equipment with that of the Army since these forces will ultimately operate under army during war. No nation can afford two sets of weapons and equipment for peacetime and war. Operational and logistics consideration warrant that equipment profile of border guarding forces should be determined by DGMO and not by the CAPF/ MHA.
- The fundamental difference between police and military is that militaries are adapted to ambiguous and changing battlefield scenarios and this adaptability comes from the way the military units are structured and rigorous training regime that they undergo. But same is not true in the case of police organisations because they operate in fixed scenarios and their actions are guided by SOPs and rules and not by the audacious leadership. Whereas there are no rules in war and only rule is to remain unpredictable. Therefore, it needs to be understood that training for war is not a part time apprenticeship. It requires dedicated training schedule and regular exercises to develop excellence in individual and collective skills in various war maneuvers. In view of the above it is of utmost importance that border management forces are placed under command army for training and operations.
- Leadership for peace and war cannot be different. It is suicidal because men would never develop trust with either of the command set up. They know that those who command them in peacetime will not be there with them when the men will be thrown to the wolf and those in war times will not be there to acknowledge their contribution and laud their efforts post war. Therefore, divided leadership can never bring best out of the men during war.
With the inexorable proxy war in vogue in J&K the LoC and AGPL is already being maintained by the army, however, LAC is assuming greater challenge since China is becoming more assertive by each passing year. LAC need more teeth and resolute response, therefore the other option is deployment of Assam Rifles along the LAC. Though it would require amendment of Assam Rifles Act and similarly amendment in the role of ITBPF as well.
Defending a nation and preparation for war is collective responsibility. Unity of command and collective spirit of all agencies is of utmost importance. When enemy is unpredictable and irrational it requires integrated front with seamless synergy between border guarding forces and army. Border responsibility in a scenario of no war no peace cannot be divided, and fragmented approach could prove suicidal. It is firm belief of the author that amidst crisis do not lose control over your resources and key territory. Critical element during war is how fast an army can position itself in an advantageous position and deny the same to the adversaries without being imbalanced.
GurmeetKanwal (Former Director Centre for Land Warfare Studies), Border management: Need for reform, Rediff.com, April 28, 2011.
Lecture by Dr Madhav Godbole on “Securing India’s Borders—The Way Ahead” at IDSA, December 03, 2014.
 Build strong border defences, Xi Jinping tells Chinese military, PTI, Jun 28, 2014
 National Border Management Strategy and its Implementation Plan. Decree of the Government of
the Republic of Tajikistan No. 202 dated 29 April 2010.
 Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War, Viva Books 2006 edition, p 53.