It has been reported that the Government has recently started the process of shifting the North East Frontier Headquarters of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) from Shillong to Itanagar.
The basic decision to shift was taken some time ago and the implementation process has been in progress for quite some time. What appears to be happening now is an acceleration in the pace of execution. The decision is thus not new and it is not exactly related to any recent change in the ground disposition of the Chinese and Indian border forces or alteration in the threat perception along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The North-East Frontier HQs of ITBP has been in Shillong (like those of other para-military forces) for historical reasons, but the force did not have adequate self-owned accommodation in that city – the erstwhile capital of the undivided State of Assam. There is no doubt that ITBP would be able to better manage its assets and deployments from Itanagar as compared to Shillong.
Notwithstanding the above, the move to Itanagar implies improved command and control of forces and related assets along the Arunachal segment of the LAC because of the lesser distance involved and the relatively easier connectivity. It is also understood that the shifting of the Frontier HQs would facilitate the deployment of seven to eight more ITBP battalions along the LAC as well as the opening up of a number of additional border posts and camps.
It is, however, essential that the Frontier Force Commander (who is of the rank of Inspector General) at Itanagar, and his/her Sector Commanders (Deputy Inspectors General) at Tezpur and Gangtok, are suitably empowered in administrative and logistical matters in order to enable them to marshal the necessary assets and forces for adequately-equipped operational deployments that basically involve guarding the border and holding on to static positions under the Army’s overall operational control.
So far as liaison in operational and deployment matters are concerned, a more appropriate location for the ITBP`s north-east Frontier HQs would have been Tezpur, considering that the headquarters of the Army’s 4 Corps is located there with concomitant strategic and tactical responsibility for defending the Sino-Indian border in the Arunachal segment of the LAC.
However, now that land and other permanent assets have been acquired near Itanagar for the ITBP’s new Frontier HQs with the assistance of the Arunachal Pradesh government, it may be appropriate to continue to build up in the new location, and use the Sector HQs at Tezpur (under its north-east Frontier HQs) for deployment control and logistical support under the ambit of the Army, as effectively as possible.
There is also a need for providing the ITBP with locational facilities for stationing forces at a lower operational threshold in places at a distance from the LAC, where its troops do not face the rigours of advance deployment in difficult terrain, can train, and also reach LAC locations within two to three days at the latest. Such an arrangement is in the interest of the morale and physiological needs of the ITBP troops.
It is essential that the Government of India consider this aspect and plan suitable locations in the north-eastern States in concert with the State Governments for second-tier support. Unlike the Army and Assam Rifles (a para-military force exclusively of north-east orientation and manned primarily by hill tribes), the ITBP`s needs in the above-mentioned respect do not seem to have received adequate attention from Union Ministry of Home Affairs in the north-east context. The re-located and revamped Frontier HQs at Itanagar may be suitably geared to take care of the afore-mentioned aspect.
Last year, the Union Home Minister had referred to the need for a security audit of deployments of the Central para-military forces in the north-east. Whether such an audit has been undertaken and, if carried out, what was the outcome thereof, is not clear. Such an appraisal is needed to ensure that the deployment of Central forces is carried out with a clear objective, and there is complementarity and requisite synergy between the dispositions and deployments of different Central forces such as the Border Security Force, Assam Rifles, ITBP, etc., on the one hand, and the Army, and the State Governments’ forces, on the other.
Such an audit or appraisal would reveal whether para-military resources have been available in an optimal manner when required vis-à-vis border guarding needs and internal security support. The feasibility of common training infrastructure and facilities, which would be economical, suit their common needs and some basic region-oriented capabilities, could also be explored. Subject to decisions at the appropriate level in the Centre, the new Frontier HQs of ITBP at Itanagar could play a significant role in this regard.
There is no need to play up the development pertaining to the relocation of the ITBP’s north-east Frontier HQs from Shillong to Itanagar and construe this as being indicative of a new or stiffened Indian posture towards China. The primary role maintaining the status quo on the LAC will remain with the Army and the capability it can marshal with its operational and infrastructural assets including that of the upcoming new Mountain Corps based at Panagarh in West Bengal.
The capability of the Army, in the ultimate, is expected to be factored in by China in its own posture on the LAC. However, with improved manageability of support forces like ITBP on the LAC in the Arunachal segment, the Army gains some flexibility and cushion time for intervention should the need arise. To that extent, the northern movement of the ITBP HQs from Shillong to Itanagar is welcome.