ITBP on LAC — accepting the new Chinese normal?

[ITBP patrol on the LAC]

The August 15 issue of a pink paper announced to the consternation of many that the Narendra Modi government is considering handing over the 3,488 km long disputed border with China to the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police to manage. The main reasons adduced for such handover is apparently “to avoid border conflicts” and, even if belatedly, to realize the “one border, once force”-concept approved by the last Bharatiya Janata Party regime in 2004.

The deep ingress into, and occupation of sizeable Indian territory by China — in excess of 1,000 sq kms in the area northeast of the Y-Junction abutting on the Xinjiang Highway, has not only not been acknowledged by New Delhi but is something Defence Minister Rajnath Singh continues studiously to ignore. He spares no occassion, in fact, to promote the fiction, for instance, that not an inch of Indian ground has been annexed by the People’s Liberation Army. The newsreport also disclosed that ITBP has 180 border outposts, with 140 troopers stationed in each of them, for a total of 25,200 deployed on the LAC. And that two years ago, an additional 47 ITBP border outposts were sanctioned — 34 in Arunachal Pradesh, the rest in Ladakh. (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/govt-examining-plan-to-give-lead-role-to-itbp-along-lac/articleshow/93562475.cms)

This little bit of kite-flying by Home Ministry bureaucrats is because they see it as an opportune time to wrench control of the LAC from the Indian army and Defence Ministry, and expand their turf. After all, their minister, Amit Shah, is the second most powerful man in the country and the Prime Minister’s only political confidante. What he can be made officially to desire is pushable as long as a good case can be made for it to Modi who will, however, need some convincing. Modi can be expected to be uneasy. His last two initiatives in the national defence field have not been the successes he was expecting. Resistance from within has all but stalled the process of integrating the military services, and the Agnipath-Agniveer programme has drawn political flak and sparked countrywide protests in the unemployables-rich BIMARU (Bihar-Madhya Pradesh-Rajasthan-Uttar Pradesh) belt that is also electorally consequential. And, 2024 general elections are just two short years away.

The late Jaswant Singh’s son, Manvendra Singh, who left the ruling BJP for Sonia-Rahul Gandhi’s Congress to improve his political prospects — talk of scampering on to a sinking ship! — in a recent article ( https://theprint.in/opinion/dont-give-itbp-lead-role-at-lac-it-will-weaken-local-command-mha-mod-turf-war-is-hurting/1087732/ ) contended correctly that Home Ministry’s taking charge of the live China border will result in duplication of costs and procurement systems, and both weaken the logistics and force management on the LAC and, by implication, needlessly complicate an already fraught problem of sustaining a credible deterrent presence on the Himalayan heights.

But the more worrying aspect of such decision is the intention behind it. Could it be a prelude to Modi cutting a deal with the Chinese President Xi Jinping wherein the precondition — “restoration of the status quo ante”, i.e., the return of all the land the PLA has to-date occupied/absorbed in exchange for normalcy in bilateral relations that external affairs minister S Jaishankar has repeated ad infinitum is junked, China gets to keep what it has annexed and India, well, lumps it? Meaning, Delhi accepts the Chinese terms and the new territorial normal, including the LAC drawn expansively on the Chinese 1959 claimline imposed by Beijing in Ladakh, in the Dok La trijunction area and elsewhere? Such a “compromise” will also require the Indian government, as per the Chinese demand, to reiterate the “One China” principle.

What’s the basis for the above conclusion?

For one thing, the Ministry for External Affairs/Government of India has not to-date ever placed the Tibet and Taiwan issues on the same political plane as Kashmir, the whole of which Beijing has never ackowledged as part of India. Thus, as far as Beijing is concerned, there are two claimants to the erstwhile Princely Kingdom of Jammu & Kashmir, and the portion consisting of Gilgit, Hunza, Baltistan and the other principalities (Chitral, Nagar, etc) falling within the ambit of “Northern Areas” and illegally in the possession of Pakistan, is Pakistan’s, with Pakistan, moreover, having a legitimate claim on Indian J&K as well. The Xi dispensation right up to the 2020 Galwan River clashes kept turning the knife in India’s side by initiating the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), for example, without at anytime referring to the 1963 Ayub Khan-Zhouenlai accord which specifically mentioned the indeterminate status of J&K pending a final settlement between India and Pakistan. This, at a minimum, required Beijing to secure Delhi’s consent for CPEC as it passed through Kashmir territory claimed by India. But no such diplomatic assent was sought from Delhi, and China proceeded to treat the Northern Areas, implicitly, as integral to Pakistan through which it could construct the CPEC highway via the Karakorum Pass to Gwadar and related projects.

India, in the mean time, continued to respect Chinese sensitivities and unreservedly backed the concept of “One China”. This as Taiwan opened an embassy in Delhi masquerading as a “Trade mission” and sought, even if obtusely, diplomatic recognition. (Indeed, it was rumoured during the brief rule by Chandrashekhar as Prime Minister, Nov 1990- June 1991, when the country’s economy was in dire straits and the country’s holdings of gold had to be flown to the vaults of the Bank of England in London as collateral for loans, that Taipei would gladly take care of India’s then external national debt totaling some US$8-$10 billion for permission to fly the Taiwanese flag on its mission, which offer was rejected!). In any case, in 2003 Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee during his state visit paved a policy path that internalised the Chinese terms, losing India the little leverage it had left, by accepting Tibet as part of China (in return for Beijing accepting Sikkim as a state in the Indian Union)! The offending Joint Communique reflected MEA’s traditional passive-frightened attitude to China and matching negotiating skills! It is a document the Chinese embassy gleefully reminds the Indian media of. Finally riled enough to take offense, the MEA only relatively recently stopped talking of ‘One China’ and then did not come out swinging by equating ‘One China’ with ‘One India” inclusive of all of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir — a policy I advocated in in my 2015 book Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet). Worse, the Indian government has been traipsing around the issue of Taiwan and India’s growing ties with Taipei — economic, trade, technological and military, without tipping over into recognizing Taiwan as a separate and distinct entity whose sovereignty Beijing needed to be mindful of.

So, how does all this tie in with Home Ministry’s ITBP-LAC gambit? Unfortunately, the loosely worded Indo-Tibetan Border Police Act, 1992, enacted in 1996, describes the task of ITBP (like that of the other paramilitary organization — Border Security Force) as “ensuring the security of the borders of India and for matters connected therewith”. In effect, it makes these paramils, theoretically at least, the equals of the army. It may help buttress Home Ministry’s legal arguments for putting the ITBP in harm’s way on the frontlines on the LAC. But because this paramil is nowhere as well equipped or organized for warfighting, and lacks the requisite ethos for combat as the army is, the ITBP units will be an impediment and hindrance to the army, which even though handicapped in other ways, will have to take care of business. So, if the ITBP is manifestly operationally incapable, how does it help to position it in the van to take on the Chinese group armies?

The answer is in the newsreport unveiling this damnfool idea. It suggested that having the ITBP on the LAC would reduce the possibility of military conflict. In most countries, paramilitaries are tasked to police/monitor settled, clearly demarcated, and internationally recognized borders. The border with China is not delineated whence territory on either side of the disputed LAC is up for grabs. Except, whenever opportunity presents itself the Chinese People’s Liberation Army grabs Indian territory; on the other hand, the Indian army doesn’t reciprocate by taking over parcels of real estate on the Chinese side. Beijing’s standing instructions to the PLA, in the event, are apparently to stake claims on Indian territory patrolled by Indian soldiers, occupy any land devoid of an Indian military presence, and to exploit the Indian army’s disposition policy by capturing areas/posts from where Indian units are usually withdrawn during winter because the absence of a network of border roads, communications setups, storage depots and other support infrastructure, makes it impossible to prop up a forward presence in strength.

The Pakistan army elements occupied the posts on the Kargil heights vacated by Indian troops in high winter and precipitated a limited war in 1999. And it led the PLA to annex strategically important territory in the general area of the Y-Junction on the Depsang Plains, and on the Galwan and elsewhere and to confront the surprised Indian army with a fait accompli. It is the sort of territorial aggrandizement the Indian army usually makes no attempt to forcibly try and reverse. Now that the PLA is well settled in these formerly Indian areas, Beijing is looking forward to capturing more territory and not to restoring previous conditions as pleaded by Jaishankar. If in these circumstances the Modi government wants to avoid military hostilities, whom would they rather have on the LAC facing the Chinese — the Indian army, which is apt when pushed to shove back, or the paramilitary ITBP officered by persons from the Indian Police Service and with little real warfighting capability?

In the wake of the 1962 war, the ITBP was orginally raised as Special Forces, trained by US Rangers for enemy rear area operations and bulk-manned by Tibetan youth from the exile community who would be motivated to do maximum harm to PLA lording it over their homeland. Over time, the Tibetan strength in this paramil dwindled and ITBP became just another Home Ministry-controlled police unit recruiting from all over and deployed in roles it had no business playing. Such as “aid to civil”, fighting Naxals in the Red Corridor, or doing more quotidian jobs, like security duty at airports, etc. But then this is what the IPS leadership of the ITBP is most comfortable doing, and fits in with why some in the Modi government, who are not keen on having armed confrontations with China, would would want an inoffensive police-type oufit out there on the LAC!

In any case, just how unconnected to field reality the IPS officers leading ITBP are may be judged by the statements made by its sometime Director-General, Sanjay Arora, a policeman from Tamil Nadu cadre. He is reported by Press as saying “Our preparation on LAC is fantastic” and that the ITBP “is ready for any eventuality” and by way of a nugget of wisdom adds that “China is a country like us”!! (See https://www.aninews.in/news/national/general-news/our-preparation-on-lac-is-fantastic-ready-for-any-eventuality-itbp-dg20211115202607/ ). It is hard to know what to make of Mr. Arora other than that he is given to hyperbole and is completely ignorant of the adversary his force may face. Lucky for him, he was recently shifted from ITBP and made Police Commissioner, Delhi, and will not be helming the paramil when PLA initiates live action!

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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21 Responses to ITBP on LAC — accepting the new Chinese normal?

  1. Kunal Singh says:

    1.Put SFF in mission mode __(still pending).
    2.Where is the genius of Mr.Doval in crucial time with China__(can’t find).
    3. If Indian intl agencies gets a green singal from PM every Chinese asset, real estate, cpec etc in Pakistan can become a liability that china won’t be able to protect.
    4.Treatment of seven sisters as secondary states of India by every govt.__(still doing)
    5.ITBP is not militaristic and will never be, they r sitting ducks , looks like security advisors r doing some 𝘴𝘢𝘴𝘵𝘢 𝘯𝘢𝘴𝘩𝘢
    _ by Kunal
    Engg. student (layman)

  2. M.J.Paul says:

    The politicians and IAS who are goung out of their way to degradevthe role if the armed forces at the cost of India’s security are an inexperienced and clueless lot with respect to war and in handling aggression and land grabbing by the Chinese army. We have lost plenty of land bordering China thanks to the stupidity and unrealistic scared approach to land grabbing aggression by the Chinese .For political gains they behave like a cat lapping up milk with its eyes closed and pretend that there are no enemies waiting to take advantage.This unrealistic approach has resulted in giving back our strategic points recaptured by Indian army after loosing vakuable lives of our army men , like the Galwan heights etc .This has adversely affected the morale of the army and the security of our nation. It is high time that the politicians consult the army before taking stupid decisions which ultimately result in loosing Indian territory. They should develop a more aggressive Policy and not act in a scared and cowardly manner when dealing with Chinese aggression. The Para Military forces are a secondary line of defense and are not anywhere as trained and fit as the army for border warfare . So it is foolish of the politicians to belittle that army and hand over the army’s role to such inexperienced border security forces which are only capable of local policing .

  3. cosmic dust says:

    hope IA brass and rank r greatly relieved as there will be no nightmare of pla and they can always fall upon kashmir and pak to show their bravery and war fighting for ignorant masses to rejoice
    cowardice in our blood but it also helped survival of our great civilisation
    don’t ever mention Ukraine

  4. By Email:

    Mon, 22 Aug at 9:10 am

    From Gopalaswami Parthasarathy, former High Commissioner to Pakistan

    Bharat has made some excellent points, especially on the ITBP’s obvious limitations. I would, hopefully, presume that the iTBP has a strong army backup.

    Partha

  5. By Email
    From Major General Mandip Singh (Retd)

    Mon, 22 Aug at 3:12 pm

    Mr Sanjay Arora has already been relieved as DG ITBP even as he was trying to
    understand the difference between PAPF and PLA ! He has become Delhi Police Chief.

    My interpretation of the move to handover LAC to ITBP is an acceptance of the present positioning of forces along LAC as de-facto border although NOT de-jure, for which the legal battles will be fought in international courts by ‘generations to follow’. I draw this conclusion from the role of the ITBP which says “ensuring the security of the borders of India and for matters connected therewith” as mentioned in Mr Karnad’s piece. Further, since all other areas where paramil forces are deployed are ‘settled’ borders, this move also suggests that this too is ‘settled’ or at least that is the messaging.

    Interestingly, the Border Defence Regiments of the PLA were under the dual control of the local government as well as the People’s Armed Police Force (PAPF) till 2015, after which the PAPF has been entirely placed under the CMC, and by default the PLA channel of command.
    In sum, under the Army.

    We continue to think otherwise.

    I will be happy to hear views of some of our distinguished members of the group

    Mandip Singh

    • Brigadier V Mahalingam says:

      So it implies that areas occupied by the PLA in Ladakh has been accepted as being in Chinese territory for the present, though court battles may go on.

      Is there any tacit agreement at the political level that this will be the arrangements? If it is so, is there any understanding that there will be no more border incursions by PLA in any of the sectors or are they open to Chinese expansion as and when deemed for by the Chinese?

  6. I should begin paying more attention to domestic developments! Thanks for the updation on Arora. Text corrected.

    Bharat Karnad

  7. Ayush says:

    “Tri services integration has been all but stalled….”.Integrating the tri services is easier said than done.You need joint, failsafe communications for that purpose,given the kind of EW capabilities PLA has.ISRO is currently working on state of the art military satellites(GISAT-2,GSAT-7B/C) along with other companies on Software defined radios.
    Besides, the IAF is anyway going to remain a pure spectator in any conflict with China or even Pak, thanks to strong integrated SAM network present on both of our borders.And I am not even including the enemy’s awesome fighter fleet.That is until we think out of the box.https://www.wsj.com/amp/articles/war-game-finds-u-s-taiwan-can-defend-against-a-chinese-invasion-11660047804
    We need lots and lots of missiles,along with dozens of IMGINT/SIGINT satellites to perfect the “kill chain”.In my opinion,1000 LRLACM,1000 pralay missiles along with very robust C2 and nuclear capabilities can force china to sign off the border dispute….and deliver the final deathblow to so called “Pakistan”.

  8. Email from Lt Gen Vinod Bhatia (Retd), forfmer Director-General, Military Operations

    Tue, 23 Aug at 11:41 am

    Thank you. As always well written. The powers need to decide wether they want to MANAGE, SECURE OR DEFEND the most sensitive and challenging India-China border. We first need an operational philosophy. With China we can’t be even seen experimenting specially in view of the ongoing stand off, with advantage China.

  9. Amit says:

    Professor,

    If one looks at India’s strategic interests, the oil straits of West Asia, the East China Sea and Taiwan (for semi conductors), the malacca straights (for trade flows) and the entire Himalayan border are the key geographic features India’s security forces must defend. Therefore the Indian military must be strong enough to do this.

    Now all of these are of strategic importance to China as well. With the US, we have overlapping interests in west Asia and East China Sea/ Taiwan. The malacca straits and the Himalayan border are of secondary interest to the US, due to their strategic competition with China on who is #1.

    If you look at it objectively, India is far from capable of defending its strategic interests today. It will take at least 15 years for Indian capacity to be high enough to defend its strategic interests, irrespective of its competition with China. Maybe some in the Indian military and security establishment are thinking like this, but the general media certainly does not, and I don’t see much discussion around these strategic interests even in our think tanks. Given this fact, I see no option for India but to have closer military relations with the US, as there is a good overlap of strategic interests. At least for the next 15 years.

    Most of the discussion around Indian military capabilities is around how to counter China and Pakistan. But IMHO, India must build its military capabilities irrespective of rivalry with China. Rivalry with China is an important factor, but greater than that are India’s strategic interests.

  10. Deepak says:

    Gandhian philosophy has killed kshatriyata of Indian leaders from Nehru to Modi almost without exception.
    Indian leaders are not worried about losing territory to salami slicing by China.They are happy that under their rule, China is not able to launch full scale invasion of Ladakh and Arunachal pradesh and they think they have handled China.
    This is a defeatist mindset which has entered even our security forces and bureaucrats.

    • Gaurav Tyagi says:

      @Deepak well said however ‘ kshatriyata’ is just an over hyped word.

      Majority of these so called ‘Kshatriyas’ compromised with the invaders by even offering their women to save their kingdoms.

      • Deepak says:

        @Gavrav, I agree defeated kings made humiliating compromises in the past just to hold on to power at any cost but this is their own fault.Gandhian philosophy made modern democratically elected kings brainwashed to behave in a certain way which is against Kshatriya dharma and a big loss to the country ruled by such weak leaders.

      • Aman Bhullar says:

        Sir,
        Kshatriya Dharma is not overhyped in the comment or elsewhere in real life and the deeds of some kings or individuals do not reflect upon the core idea of being a Dharma abiding Kshatriya such as the Very Lord Ram, Lord Krishna, Bhishma, Arjuna and in relatively newer times Chatrapati Shivaji and Bhagat Singh etc, just as today’s Brahmins not following their Dharma (which is majority) does not reflect and does not take away anything from the Vedic stalwarts which have given us the highest and deepest philosophies such as Vedanta etc.. It is just the unfortunate gradual decay of Brahmins and Kshatriyas with the passage of time. Today, majority is Vaishya by nature (money preoccupying the mind) and Sudra by deeds.

  11. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    India for the first time on Wednesday voted against Russia during a “procedural vote” at the United Nations Security Council on Ukraine, as the 15-member powerful UN body invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to address a meeting through a video tele-conference.

    This is for the first time that India has voted against Russia on the issue of Ukraine, after the Russian military action began in February. So far, New Delhi has abstained at the UN Security Council on Ukraine, much to the annoyance of the Western powers led by the United States.

    India has not criticised Russia for its aggression against Ukraine.

    A few excerpts from the following;

    https://indianexpress.com/article/world/for-first-time-india-votes-against-russia-in-unsc-during-procedural-vote-on-ukraine-8110809/

    • Ayush says:

      @Gaurav.
      Do you think it really matters?Several such “resolutions” take place every week.Besides India isn’t even a permanent member of the UNSC, we will be on our way out this year.What is more likely is that South block has finally woken up to so called “dear friend” Russia’s “no limits” partnership with its “big papa” China.Doval apparently rubbed this point to patrushev.
      https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/india-exercises-strategic-autonomy-worried-at-russia-s-china-tilt-101660874108079-amp.html.
      And this could also be a result of Boeing and the rest of the US MIC heavyweights offering AIM-120D, LRASM,AGM-88E etc. for Indian navy’s F-18F.Ironically speaking, the Navy’s Fighter fleet might actually end up being superior to IAF!!.
      To be dead honest and as far as I am aware, there is broad consensus especially among the IAF that all kinds of Russian technology is hopelessly outdated compared to western ones.We were using our stance on the RUS-UKR war to just simply drive a hard bargain with the Americans and manufacture leverage out of basically nothing.

      • Gaurav Tyagi says:

        @Ayush- It doesn’t matter at all. UN is a toothless body. Nobody takes it seriously.

        Russia has no other option except to strengthen its ties with China because due to Western sanctions, Russia’s largest market (oil/gas) is China.

        ‘NSA Doval also conveyed that India was concerned about Russia leaning toward China, which had a long-standing boundary dispute with India and had recently flared up by PLA’s unilateral actions in the East Ladakh sector in May 2020. He said to date the boundary issue has been hanging fire with China still to restore April 2020 status quo ante in the East Ladakh sector.’

        The aforementioned is from the news link of HT, which you sent.

        I find this cry baby stand utterly defeatist. It’s been more than two years and 16 rounds of talks have taken place regarding this dispute.

        It should be crystal clear to the Indian establishment that China isn’t going to restore April 2020 status quo ante.

        Use the Army otherwise what’s the point of maintaining such a big military or do they exist just to get fat on commission money from civil contractors? (Ambala Cantonment case)

  12. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    The FIR filed in the case mentions that the arrested Army officers allegedly demanded bribes as high as 45 to 55 per cent of the total value of contracts from the contractors.

    An excerpt from the following;

    https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/chandigarh/bribery-case-army-officers-contractors-sent-judicial-custody-14-days-8111217/

    Investigate/question every contractor involved in dealing with army supplies at all cantonments from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, the story would be the same like the aforementioned.

  13. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    @Deepak- Congress party was founded by British liberals of that era to fool Indians and to prevent the natives from rising against the Imperial British rule.

    Gandhi was a British agent bought in to accomplish the aforementioned. His philosophies are nothing but just random passages picked up from the Bible.

    He did an exceptional job of serving his British masters by making millions of Indians docile cowards. It’s a pity that he is still revered in today’s India.

    In modern times Gandhi would have been bars aka Asaram, Ram Raheem Singh (refer to his so called absurd nocturnal experiments with truth)

  14. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    @Aman Bhullar- Ramayana & Mahabharata are mythological tales not historically proven facts.

    Bhagat Singh is someone for whom I have the highest regards.

    The guy had tremendous guts and and very deep intellect at such a young age.

    He shunned all religions and became an atheist during his brief but highly eventful life.

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