Para Military Forces –– India’s Security Frankenstein?

An IDC Analysis



New Delhi, 20 September 2003

India’s Paramilitary Forces (PMF) have become a huge and unwieldy force, and for the sake of India’s security, deserve immediate attention of the Nation’s top leadership.

The Army is woefully short of 12,000 officers and men and the PMF is getting more and more involved in border states with little or no professional leadership of the variety available with the Army, which itself is over stretched. From all reports the morale of the PMF men is in question, but the officer class in the PMF seem well looked after. A visit to the border outposts and to airports and installations where their duties now extend, will prove this. The apparently stray incidents of a jawan shooting down an officer for refusing leave at an airport security setup or the policeman shooting a truck driver are symptoms of a deeper malaise –– that of officers not looking after their men.

This state of affairs can be counter productive as aspirations of the men under PMF command are rising and challenges increasing. At the Bangladesh border the BSF got involved in nefarious activities as big money changes hands. Suicides in the PMF and internecine competition with the Army, especially to grab credit and run down the other, seem to be on the rise.

9/11 in 2001 changed the world –– but in India, which had been battling terrorism since 1989 with great vigour, the effect was less. There has not been a single Indian Muslim or operative traced in the al Queda and that speaks volumes of the Indian polity and diversity, yet in J & K and North East the Army supported by the BSF and now CRPF has its hands full with unabated terrorism.

IB Chief K P Singh and interlocutor former Home secretary Padmanabiah are on their way to Amsterdam to solve the Naga problems of separatism. So it was relevant that on 18 September former PM I K Gujral spoke of “Peacemaking” under the aegeis of the Dalai Lama Foundation” at the IHC in New Delhi and commented on similar issues. He restated that his GUJRAL DOCTRINE was possibly the answer and not the present mode in South Asia and India where the dangerous communal hand is rising. Incidentally former Chief Justice Ahmadi who is now in demand world over including UN, for checking and assisting in judicial reforms and peacekeeping was in the chair and related his experiences in Timor and Liberia and hinted at the Gujrat riots without naming Gujrat. This sparked our analysis.

When the BSF a paramilitary force was raised in India the Indian Army helped it but refused to take control of it. In Spain, which has seen terrorism from Basque separatists, the Guardia Civil is placed under the Defence Minister, as is the case in many other countries. Paramilitary forces were raised in India in the 19th Century, essentially to consolidate and extend the control of the British rule in the North East (where Nagas and Ultra Left are still fighting the Indian Army) and North Western region of Baluchistan bordering Afghanistan (where Pakistan Army has little control). The British inducted volunteers from the Army and other agencies including intelligence volunteers and journalists (George Steer is famous and died in the Northeast) to help raise local forces such as the Assam Rifles (1835) and the Punjab Irregular Frontier Forces and levied local taxes from the inhabitants including the Pathans to sustain them.

After partition in 1947, Assam Rifles stayed in India. North West frontier forces like the Tochi Scouts were transferred to Pakistan. The need for the Central Government to control border and other areas where the local police could not be trusted, led to a large and uncontrollable variety of forces loosely termed para-military forces, now numbering over 600,000 and set to increase. Multiple forces have been raised ‘ad hoc’ even in the states. With the induction of sophisticated equipment and extraordinary powers they are likely to become Indian Army’s Frankenstein, as they are not under the Army but have a ‘Hook on’ policy in war. Due to cross border terrorism their roles have become manifold and inter connected in peace. Perhaps there existed a fear of army takeovers and the political masters felt more comfortable raising such PMF under civilian control as a counter to the Army?

There is scope to get better returns from these agencies on the borders, but as the Army has little control over them, coordination is lacking. Consider the following scenario:

  • The Deputy Prime Minister’s Home Ministry controls all PMFs.

  • The largest –– Border Security Force with some 190 battalions looks after the Pakistan and Bangladesh border. It also has helicopters and a mini inshore Navy with floating border posts on flat bottomed boats, despite there being in existence a 55,000 strong paramilitary Coast Guard, which again does not come under the Navy but has a ‘Hook On policy’ for war.

  • The Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) looks after the Tibet border with China.

  • The Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) is employed in the Border States, including Kashmir and is called out to assist local police. It has been sanctioned 64 additional battalions and $130 million.

  • The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF 1969) is also expanding as it looks after the security of nuclear installations and other vital government establishments including some airports, and is nominated for nuclear, biological and other disaster relief. They have raised the Black Cat Commandoes and many have been trained in USA, which offered to transfer equipment to assist.

  • The Defence Security Corps (1958) manned by Ex-Army personnel looks after security of Defence establishments.

  • The Rapid Action Force (RAF), National Security Guard (NSG) and elite Special Protection Group look after emergencies and VVIP Security, with Army officers on deputation. Many Z category VIPs have protection, which costs the exchequer heavily and recently Admiral L Ramdas former CNS was taken off the list, but hundreds remain.

  • A 35,000 strong Special Security Branch SSB, an elite semi intelligence corps carries out border patrols on the Nepal and Chinese border along with India’s Intelligence Bureau and trains Tibetans amongst others in Commando operations at a special center No 22 near Chakrata in the Himalayan foothills. Humphrey Huxley had made this famous with a fiction novel where Indian trained Tibetans go in to Lhasha and create a nuclear war between India and China.

  • And to top it all our ill informed media dubs everyone as ‘Army personnel’.

As is becoming evident, these paramilitary forces are now in direct competition with the Army, Navy and Air Force for better funding, more equipment and additional functions, and unless a Homeland Security type of coordination system (recently put in place in USA), is invoked the PMFs could become India’s security Frankenstein according to analysts.

It would be relevant here to add what followed the Sarp Vinash and Kathua operations in J and K. The VCOAS Lt Gen Shantanu Sen indicated that the Army had applied to the Government to raise a battalion in J and K by recruiting militants WHO HAD SURRENDERED. We wonder why the Army had to ask for permission when the recruiting powers rest totally with the Army. That is the bane of our large Army with half of its teeth now in Kashmir and North East. The Generals have perforce become bureaucrats in uniform and the Army after Parakrama is tired and mired in battles now with command and control problems with the BSF, CRPF and the State police in J and K, with an overbearing Lt Gen S K Sinha as the Governor who knows it all.

If the Army had done its homework and was confident that surrendered militants would help tame terrorism, which is a mini insurgency in Kashmir, they should gone ahead and just informed the Government. Such is the general practice followed by the Navy, to see that the Government is not over burdened with decisions, which are beyond their comprehension. After all it will be a Joint Secretary in the Home Ministry who will have to give such a proposal the go ahead and the file will take months with endless notes as it will have to find its ways through the labyrinthine MOD first. And our Bureaucrats, after Chief Ministers like Mayawati and their ilk have thrown them around, seem to have lost their guts too.

The Army claimed that it had killed over 60 militants, five of them definitely Pakistanis and gang leaders in separate incidents in J&K, where security forces also claimed they smashed three ultra hideouts. Three Border Security Force personnel were wounded and two killed when militants hurled a grenade at them in Kupwara district and elsewhere. The tale goes on daily and we post the above arguments to debate whether the paramilitary forces have become Indian Army’s Frankenstein, which needs careful analysis and we invite comments.

The Home Ministry with its massive PMF and generous budgets sanctioned in house by the powerful Dy PM are supposed to be the guardians of India’s internal security, while it is actually the Army which is battling the internal security in insurgency ridden J & K and the North East. Therein lies the dilemma and the BSF is getting 6 MI 17s, one Embraer 135 Legacy, flat bottomed boats and will soon be in competition with the Armed Forces, as the PMF Heads now have carte blanche with the scourge of terrorism unlikely to go away in a hurry.

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