27 September 2016

India's security forces desperately need an overhaul

It is well-known that peace can be sustained with certainty only if the ability to conduct war is well-appreciated by the enemy.

The defence of our lands is in the hands of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. We have a million-strong Army, and a sizeable Air Force and Navy. The Army is a professional force, with rigorous selection and training procedures. It is not very modern in its weapon systems and the reasons are too well known to bear repetition. For years, committee after committee has lamented the lack of modern equipment, and for years we have been trying to get an unimpeachable procurement system, but it never gets implemented.

The command and control structures have been well documented and peace time Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) well laid down. During war time actions, there are well-known limitations on its strike capability, primarily as a consequence of its armament supply chains.

Army soldiers carry the coffin of martyr Sanjeevan Singh Rana, who was killed in terrorist attack in Pathankot, during his funeral at his native village Siyunh near Shahpur in Himachal Pradesh. Photo credit: PTI 

Perhaps, 30 years ago, this force composition would have been adequate in numbers. Today, we have to be operationally ready on a real-time basis. Given our geo-political compulsions, we have to be in a state of "armed peace", because our western borders are perpetually hostile and the eastern borders are not yet friendly.

Therefore, to reinforce our vigils, we have the Border Security Force (BSF), the Indo-Tibet Border Police (ITBP) and a few more paramilitary forces. These suffer in the face of poor equipment, poor weapons and poor training. Guarding the borders is an expensive affair of critical importance, hence technology has to be the multiplier for efficient control of movements in the border region.

The numbers of people in the uniform serve no purpose if they are not backed by the intelligence gathering networks and supplying information for action to the right point. We have several such agencies and, many times, have overlapping areas of operation, leading to conflict of analysis to jurisdictional issues, and even some hilarious situations of arresting one another.

In every situation, particularly in retrospect, we always ask: who was in charge? Who is the one man who must raise the alarm and who is the one man in whose ears this alarm should ring? We are in a state of confusion, where the state police authorities do not even have the current telephone numbers of the central authorities. If the chief of the Army wants to call the Director General of Police of a state, it will take him time to get the right mobile numbers. For the district chief, it could be a longer search. When we need to act in real time, this kind of a communication system can best be described as abysmal.

We need a total re-look of the security ecosystem in our country, starting with the forces responsible for the security of our borders. The first line of defence is the BSF - it is always headed by a member of the Indian Police Service (IPS) and assisted by members of the service. It has its own cadre as well, but the majority is drawn from the IPS.

It is often likely that an officer would have performed only police duties in his career, and then comes to be the head of this force in the last two to three years of his service. How does he acquire the credentials of leading this sizeable force with competence, looking at the vulnerabilities of border policing and its day-to-day needs.

Surely, in leadership roles, we have to have officers who have opted to make their careers in the force, hence if an IPS officer so opts, she/he should be part of this force till the end of the service tenure. The same is true of the NSG, which is generally headed by a police officer with no combat experience. Besides, this force too has a operational role. Therefore, the training and disciplinary ethos of these forces must be akin to the military standards.

It is well-known that peace can be sustained with certainty only if the ability to conduct a war is well-known and well-appreciated by the enemy. Conversely, a dynamic real-time appreciation of the capability of the enemy is of vital importance.

We have a vast intelligence network, but often find ourselves conflicted in jurisdictions, political complexities and generalised competencies. The institutional capacities need a concentrated reevaluation. The specialists' desks need to be marked and interconnected to designated operational commanders.

In today's climate, there is no division between internal and external security, because many times the internal happenings have their linkages to external influences.

Every vulnerability must be comprehensively assessed through inputs from internal and external sources and the conclusions must flow to all field commands.

Our internal security apparatus is founded on a police system that is managed and controlled by the political executive of the state governments of India.

And herein also lies the bane of its functioning, or rather its inadequate functioning. The constant use of the police force for political manipulation has rendered it bereft of all professionalism as a law enforcer.

In every state it functions at the behest of the chief minister and has become a helpless and, consequently, a very flawed instrument in the governance system.

Widespread corruption, lack of discipline and a ready willingness to be the handmaiden of the power players and their henchmen, this force compromises the country's security frequently, a la the Pathankot episode. The country will be hurt grievously if this situation is not remedied and law and order not restored through lawful enforcement by a credible police force.

It is time that political scores and political intelligence are taken out of the domain of any legitimate police duty. The political executive has to exercise restraint, otherwise the prime guardians of the law will blot the integrity of India.

The services will always spearhead India's fighting capability and, by definition, its ability to enforce peace in our region. Let us begin by ensuring that their uniform commands respect and reverence from the entire spectrum of our society.

They have an onerous task in challenging terrains that demanding high standards of physical fitness and a moral fibre that disregards personal dangers for the call of duty.

True, it is a volunteer force, but the fact that young men and women still do join, is deserving of the gratitude of the nation. The civil versus the military debate must never be allowed to denigrate the services.

Since we expect the earth from the three services, we have to ensure the best training and competent equipment for their roles. The vexed question of leadership needs to be settled.

Are we going to have a CDS or continue with the rotational chairmanship of the committee of the chiefs. This issue has been in the works for years. We need a Commander-in-Chief who can act as the one-point leader of our military operations and ensure the readiness of the three services.

In any case, we need to divide the entire geography of the country into operational responsibilities. There should never be any doubt as to who will move into operational command and control as and when there is a call in a specific area.

The crisis management groups of each territory must be designated and coordinate every month their action plans so that every role of each participant is defined and well-versed.

Our history has always taught us that we are a fortunate geography, with the mountains guarding us on one side and the seas on the three other sides. It is time to unlearn this history, because the 21st century has brought in such advancements in technology that invaders need not come trekking or sailing into our country.

Causing havoc can be arranged in different ways without an enemy soldier entering our borders. We have to create the capability that deters the enemy's thinking and ability to even want to damage us. The foundation stone of this capability rests on economics.

That our security architecture will be as strong as our economy, is the ultimate truth. But underlying this truth is the imperative to detail every action of the collective mass of the security apparatus. Even then accidents will happen, but then no system is foolproof.

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