Merging Assam Rifles with ITBP

Context

Recently, Union Home Ministry proposed to merge Assam Rifles with the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).

About

  • Home ministry proposed to merge Assam Rifles with Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).  This would mean that ITBP that is currently responsible for guarding the Indo-China frontier will be deployed at the Myanmar border.
  • The Myanmmar border is guarded by Army along with Assam Rifles.
  • The Assam Rifles is a paramilitary force under the operational control of the Army and administrative control lies with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).
  • In 2017, the home ministry sent a proposal to Army on dividing the Assam Rifles between the army and ITBP. But the army replied that the status quo should be maintained and giving away operational control of the force is not an option.
  • The Assam Rifles undertakes counter-insurgency operations in conjunction with the army in the northeast and guards the 1,643 km long India-Myanmar border. It draws 80% of its officers from the army. Its director general is an army officer. If it is merged with the ITBP, then the latter will be deployed at the Myanmar border.
  • The Indian Army and Assam Rifles have shown resentment reasoning that it will adversely affect the operations against the insurgency in North East. It is maintained that it would be a setback for “Operation Sunrise” against the Myanmar based North Eastern insurgent groups. The Army and Assam Rifles have carried out two phases of Operation Sunrise so far in close coordination with the Indian Army target camps of insurgent groups in Myanmar.
  • The Assam Rifles has a training structure similar to that of the army. The army also proposed that the ITBP deployments along the Line of Actual Control with China should come under its operational control.

Concerns and Implications

  • It would drastically affect the counter-insurgency grid and security of the Myanmar border.
  • Indian Army has developed a working pattern and chemistry with Myanmar Army in controlling insurgency emanating from Myanmar. Giving the task of guarding Myanmar border to ITBP may unnecessary hamper the developments going on in the area towards peace.
  • Indian Army and Assam Rifles have successfully implemented Operation Sunrise and there is no need to bring a novel phenomenon when the existing system is working well.
  • After facing heavy losses following coordinated operations by the Myanmar and Indian armies forcing the Naga rebel group NSCN(K) to shut camps in Taga, Myanmar, the faction is again regrouping to take control of the lost ground, and this merger may provide them an opportunity to revive in the area.
  • Assam Rifles is the only true paramilitary force in the country and is a second line of defence. The Rashtriya Rifles (involved in counter-terrorist operations in J&K) releases forces for conventional operations across the western border. Similarly, the Assam Rifles also provides the army with such options along the eastern front with China, which will not remain if it becomes part of the ITBP

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