NEW DELHI: China has placed its borderguard along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India under its military command as tensions simmer in pockets of the frontier while Indian forces are caught in a turf war over such a move.
The Chinese announced through their Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) ‘WeChat’ public account “a complete withdrawal of frontier defence troops of the Peoples Armed Police (PAP) to enhance CPC’s (Communist Party of China) management of armed forces”, the state-run Global Times has reported.
PAP is the Chinese counterpart of the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) raised specifically for the northern frontier. The Indian Army, which wants ITBP under its operational command on the LAC, has pointed this out to the government repeatedly, but its efforts have been thwarted by the Ministry of Home Affairs, to which the paramilitary outfit reports.
The turf war is often a consequence of the different cadre of officers that head the forces. ITBP is led by IPS officers, while the Army has its own cadre. The Army has said the “duality of command” on the LAC may lead to confusion during operational exigencies, such as at Doklam and near Tuting, where soldiers from both forces are often co-located.
The Army said that while the 2.5 lakh-strong Border Security Force (BSF) is under its operational command on the Line of Control (LoC) with Pakistan, the 90,000-strong ITBP in the undemarcated LAC does not report to it. There has been no shooting across the LAC since the early 1970s. Over the last three years, the number of face-offs and transgressions have increased because, the Army chief has pointed out, the Army is patrolling areas they had hitherto not gone to.
China’s recent military reform—taking civilian elements of PAP out of the chain of military command—coincides with confirmation of Xi Jinping’s tenures, probably for life. Xi also heads the Central Military Commission, the top military command, of the CPC.
An assessment by the Indian Army since the announcement that also brings the Chinese Coast Guard under the military commission, is that China is experimenting with military reforms in a “year of training”. So far, PAP was under a dual command of the state council and the CMC. Now the command vests solely with the military.
The South China Morning Post quoting the Chinese PLA daily said the move would resolve “outstanding contradictions and problems within the paramilitary forces”.
Writing for the journal of the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, Indian Army-backed think tank, Major General Dhruv Katoch insisted: “The Army has the troops and the wherewithal to man the border and single point responsibility and accountability will lead to more effective and efficient border management. Army and ITBP posts are often co-located but operate independently. This is a wasteful duplication of effort. Till such time as the border is demarcated, the responsibility for border management must remain with the Army only.”
In January, the Centre announced plans to raise nine battalions for ITBP and six for the BSF.