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Back to the garrison

The Army’s decision to speed up its training programme for state police and CPOs to help them tackle the Naxal menace deserves a cheer.

india Updated: Jan 20, 2008 18:39 IST

The Army’s decision to speed up its training programme for state police and Central Police Forces (CPOs) to help them tackle the Naxal menace deserves a cheer. army chief General Deepak Kapoor announced this last weekend, while ruling out any increased paramilitary role for the armed forces. The army has trained over 8,500 policemen in anti-insurgency operations — a figure that is set to double, come summer. It has been a perennial complaint that the paramilitary and CPOs are not trained, raised or equipped to deal with mercenaries armed with sophisticated equipment. Unfortunately, over the years, the quality of these forces has not been upgraded to deal with the challenge, which has meant an increased dependence on the army to fight insurgency. As a result, the role of the army was effectively reduced to that of a paramilitary force, just as the paramilitary forces, in turn, were reduced to the level of an ordinary police force.

With the Ministry of Home Affairs and state governments taking the army for granted and calling it in at the slightest sign of civil unrest, it is not surprising that the army is stretched to the limit with the added burden of internal security duties. Such heavy involvement in counter-insurgency operations could affect any army’s preparedness for its primary role: to defend the country against external aggression. For prolonged deployment in these irregular roles adversely affects training programmes, leads to fatigue, and brings down morale.

As against its commitment in conventional wars, the army has fought insurgency almost continuously since independence. Ever since it was called out in Nagaland to quell insurgency in 1956, it has been involved in similar operations in most of the north-east, Punjab, Sri Lanka, Kashmir and elsewhere. In fact, the casualties suffered by the army fighting these insurgencies probably exceed the total number exacted by all the conventional wars since independence. So the army’s latest move to reduce its role in internal security duties comes not a moment too soon.