Army opposes home ministry’s move, doesn’t want Assam Rifles-ITBP merger
The Indian Army has opposed the home ministry’s proposal to create a 29 battalion Indo-Myanmar Border force by merging four battalions of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) with 25 battalions of Assam Rifles (AR), saying that it is instead ready to consider merging 46 battalions of AR with the regular army for deployment in the eastern Ladakh sector.
It has recommended that the 58 battalion ITBP should be deployed on India’s north-east borders instead of its current deployment on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
Senior home ministry and Army officials told HT that it has now boiled down to whether AR should operate under the ministry of home affairs and be regarded as a paramilitary force or under the ministry of defence as part of the regular army.
As things stand, AR is under the home ministry but its battalions are commanded by Army officers on deputation. The force is headed by a Lieutenant General. The Assam Rifles was deployed with the Army in the 1962 India-China border war and in Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka. The force was raised in 1835 and has been involved in counter-insurgency duties and border management in the north-east since then.
Countering the merger proposal of home ministry, the Army brass has made it clear that it would rather have all AR battalions deployed with the army in the Eastern Ladakh sector to man the LAC with China than have army officers serve under paramilitary commanders. “The decision that needs to be taken is whether AR continues to function with the home ministry or is transferred to the defence ministry,” said a senior North Block official.
The army brass has conveyed to the home ministry that while it is ready to deploy AR in Ladakh, ITBP should be removed from this sector and be redeployed on the India-Myanmar border.
This will remove inter-force friction on the China border as ITBP does not come under operational control of the Army. Given the sensitivity of the China border, any miscommunication of rivalry between the local army commander and the ITBP commander could create a situation with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
While there is a consensus within the government that AR battalions need to be rotated from north-east to nip vested interests developed over decades, the Cabinet will have to take a call on its future role — as a paramilitary force or an army regiment.
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