Forfeiting National Security for Turf

"Inter-organisational cooperation and camaraderie is a fallacy which has been propagated for long."

Forfeiting National Security for Turf

‘Men will always be haunted by the vastness of eternity’ fretting how their actions would echo across the centuries. Will they be known for the greatness they achieved or by the blunders they committed?’

‘The Iliad’ by Homer

The defeat of 1962 is a psychological watershed in the history of our independent nation. Even today the progeny of V.K Menon, the infamous defence minister avoid in public familial linkages with his persona as do those of General Kaul (the Eastern Army Commander) or Gen. Thapar (the Chief of Army Staff) who decided to go on a foreign holiday just prior to the Chinese invasion.

1962 saw the Indian military's darkest hour (File photo)

But rather than blame a few, often calamities are manifested through the cascading effects of numerous blunders that have escaped rectification, courtesy the silence of stakeholders. This article is an attempt to bring into limelight one such blunder at the national level which under the blanket of turf is essentially leading to divergence of security alignment and dissipation of our resources.

A Bedlam of Agencies

India has a myriad of armed entities entrusted with a plethora of tasks which can broadly be classified as policing to maintain law and order, border management & Territorial Defence. It has the Armed Forces (Army, Air Force, Navy) to protect the Nation from External Aggression and Internal Disorders.

Then there are Central Armed Police Forces (CAPFs), who have been given the mandate of maintaining Law and Order and Border Management. We have the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), the Railway Protection Force (RPF) in whose gambit falls the task of Law and Order and safeguarding infrastructure.

CRPF Personnel in J&K (File photo)

The National Security Guard (NSG) whose function is to carry out counter-terrorist operations and VIP security is also a CAPF. Further, we have the Border Management agencies of Border Security Force (BSF), the Indo Tibetian Border Police (ITBP) and the  Shashastra Seema Bal (SSB).

Assam Rifles (whose task also involves policing the borders of North Eastern States) is a Paramilitary Force under the control of the Army, but which is increasingly being mentioned as a CAPF in various literatures emanating out of Delhi.

The Coast Guard whose task is primarily policing of the maritime boundaries has surprisingly been classified as an Armed Force parallel with the Navy. Each of these parallel organisations function adiabatically with their independent Headquarters, Training infrastructure, Intelligence gathering agencies, communication apparatus, pay and pension disbursing agencies, financial departments, procurement agencies etc.

The Problem

Geographical & Task Overlap

The term National Security with its nebulous scope covers an entire range of activities ranging from overt external threats to internal disturbances. In today’s world of unrestricted and across the spectrum warfare, security of the nation is as vulnerable to activities within its borders as it is to those outside. It is therefore not surprising that within India, we find different agencies tasked by the government within the same geographical space to fight common or different threats.

Thus the Army battles Counter-insurgency Operations in Jammu and Kashmir, while also defending the border. Within the same geographical space, the BSF, the ITBP, the CRPF, the state police and a host of intelligence agencies also fight the same battle. Compartmentalised within their organisational structures and reporting channels, the environment can best be described by the term ‘Bugger's-Muddle’.

J&K sees a wide body of troops operating, with coordination being a huge concern (File photo)

It is simply not possible to have a seamless flow of intelligence and execute joint operations in a streamlined manner owing to rigid structures, different operating procedures, non-compatible communications, different training and motivational standards and above all ‘Turf’. Inter-organisational cooperation and camaraderie is a fallacy which has been propagated for long.

This situation is replicated in the North-Eastern states of India. Unsurprisingly, responses to threats to National Security are stymied, incoherent and uncoordinated, lack synergy and above all wasteful in man-effort and economy.

Hierarchical Handicap to Responses

Manifestation of threats onto our National Sovereignty would broadly emanate across the domains of Air, Maritime or Land. The response to an air-threat is most streamlined in India with the Air Force as the mother agency in-charge of our Air-Space.

A response to Maritime Threats would face a time-delay due to the simple fact that two parallel agencies (rather than a single one), the Navy and the Coast Guard are both responsible, enhanced by the impossibility of maintaining clear jurisdictional separation while responding to it.

Responses to land-based threats are appallingly disjointed due to geographic and jurisdictional overlap of a multitude of agencies. It is not coincidental that incidences of Pathankot and Pulwama occurred. The worrisome aspect is that we continue to NOT learn from our mistakes, diverting our attention and efforts towards other aspects rather than address the key problem – Hierarchy of Command.

Impending Disaster in War

The hamstrung responses to threats during peace-time will magnify disastrously in war. It will be surprising to learn that the stated mandates of every paramilitary body or CAPF with the exception of Assam Rifles and the Rashtriya Rifles (both of which are under operational control of the Army) have no enunciation in War.

The BSF which until the last war had functioned under the operational control with the Army and had aligned and intimately trained with it, is today a parallel organisation with no cross-pollination of men or officers. Surprisingly today, the task of defending the border by occupying defensive positions in concert with the Army finds no mention in its mandate.

This alarming omission in task is resonated by the other border management agencies of ITBP and the SSB. This has resulted in these agencies relegating their capabilities to merely policing and deprived them of the capability to augment the Army in defending the border during war and freeing it to undertake offensive actions.

The CAPF's being officered by IPS officers is a major point of contention

Being officered purely by the Indian Police Service (IPS) who do not have the domain knowledge of warfare or the nuances of fighting against a uniformed adversary, the ITBP or the SSB have simply not optimised their potential. The present ongoing debate of re-organising the Assam Rifles on the same lines of the ITBP will be another major blunder with ruinous consequences.

What Must be Done

The German Example

The effects of turf and parallel organisations can best be summarised by invoking the example of Germany during the Second World War. Despite the fact that Germany had finally overcome its combat regeneration capabilities in 1944, its resources were divided amongst numerous organisations such as the Volkssturm, SS Waffen, the LuftWaffe (which also maintained a Ground Army), the Sturmabteilung, Hitler Youth, etc which frittered away its advantage.

Parallel organisations with independent command hierarchies when entrusted similar tasks only create dissonance. Hemmed in by a belligerent Pakistan and an aggressive China we in India are emulating the follies of Germany.

Where Did We Err?

Our unique problem with two belligerent neighbours demands a large standing force. On the West we face the sixth largest military force and on the East the world’s largest. Manpower requirements for a force commensurate to the task in hand are economically prohibitive. However, manpower intensive force cannot be wished away as territorial sanctity has to be ensured.

Therefore, we should have economised and optimised our security forces in such a manner that CAPFs are able to complement the tasks of the Armed Forces and manpower can be sidestepped from one organisation to the other when necessity demands.

CAPF's should be augmented into war-fighting roles when required

Instead of creating security organisations with integrated structures, we created parallel organisations. Every organisation must have a primary and a secondary role. While the secondary role of the Army is in the realms of policing, the secondary role of CAPFs should have been to assist the Armed Forces in War.

The omission of enunciating war-time roles has curtailed the scope of individual training in Police Organisations and denied the employment of this vital resource in War.

What Can We Do?

One method to rectify this miscalculation is to revise our concept of employment of manpower of CAPFs and enhancing their manpower potential enabling them to undertake a variety of tasks within the security domain. Even at the individual level, the ability to swap manpower in between the CAPFs and the Armed Forces would enable a major upgrade in our capability of fighting a two front war.

In times of war, the CAPFs could become immediate feeder agencies supplying trained manpower to the Armed Forces (plugging the gestation gap between recruitment and training of fresh soldiers), and also retain the capacity to relieve the Army from low intensity areas. The idea is to view every man in uniform bearing arms as an asset empowered and capable of effectively participating in all security related tasks?


At the lowest level, the capability of an individual is incumbent primarily on his aptitude, the training he receives and leadership he follows. Therefore, given the training and leadership, every constable in a CAPF can become a soldier and every soldier can also carry out policing.

Though it may not be practical or economical to train every individual within the CAPFs as a soldier, we seem to have closed a very important avenue to enhance his potency i.e. cross-pollination with the Army. In order to optimise our manpower and streamline our effort at combating threats to National Security we must carry out the following reforms:-

(a) Mandatory Tenures: If every officer and individual in every security agency is mandated to serve for one or two tenures with the Army, he will not only develop deep linkages with it, but also by virtue of his posting become trained and more empowered in prosecuting war related tasks in addition to that of his domain. Similarly, formalising compulsory cross-pollination of all Officers and men of the Army into these sister agencies will broaden their horizons in analysing and performing tasks related to civil administration and policing.

Subsequently, soldiers of the Army after completion of their terms of service can sidestep automatically into the CAPFs, retaining their currency to act as reservists and populating vacancies within these organisations. If religiously ensured, then within the span of a decade, all individuals in uniform (Army and CAPF) would have valuable exposure, capable of performing all security related tasks in both peace & war.

(b) Command Hierarchy: During peace-time, a unified HQ, staffed by Army and CAPF personnel and officers, under an appointed commander (based on seniority of operational service) should have operational jurisdiction. Supported by a unified intelligence apparatus, such a HQ will better be able to respond to internal threats.

During War, the Army HQs will take precedence and have under its command the resources of other services to augment its effort. Mandates for War should therefore be clearly enunciated for CAPFs and PMFs.

(c) Intelligence Infrastructure: The present diversion of intelligence effort by having multiple service specific intelligence agencies should be abandoned and a Unified Intelligence Branch capable of feeding both internal and external intelligence in war and peace, should be established. This intelligence amalgam should in-fact be christened into a separate Arm.

What Will We Achieve?

The above minor changes will enable us to optimise our resources in terms of security. It will enable us to majorly upgrade our capabilities and streamline security responses by affording the following spin-offs:-

(a) Manpower: During war, the Army is always short on manpower. Cross-pollination with and by the Army will provide CAPFs with a strong skeletal structure upgrading their capabilities during war. The availability of 186 Battalions of BSF, 56 of ITBP, 41 of SSB & 246 of CRPF (529 Battalions in total), will majorly free up the Army from tasks such as Defence of low-priority areas, Rear Area Security etc, thus substantially increasing manpower available for offensive tasks.

(b) Leadership Base: Exposure gained through cross-pollination by officers of Army, BSF and IPS will hugely optimise mid-level leadership of all security agencies empowering and enabling them to handle varied portfolios across the spectrum in both peace and war. During peace-time, this can also iron out issues related to cadre management and lateral absorption.

(c) Lateral Absorption: Formalisation of this idea will also open doors for lateral absorption not only for army personnel (after completion of their terms with the Army), but also allow for sidestepping of officers and men of other services who discover greater aptitude for Army related tasks. This will enable retention of best talent pools for respective portfolios.

(d) Opportunities & Allowances: Officers and personnel posted to an organisation will have the same opportunities and receive the same salaries and allowances as their counterparts in that organisation by virtue of location and commonality of threats they face. This will not only remove grounds for inter-service animosity but also promote camaraderie through greater interactions and alignment to cause.

(e) Orientation Training: Orientation and pre-induction training prior to cross-pollination can be carried out for a few weeks in training establishment of respective services designed in such a manner that knowledge/training-voids specific to the service are covered (on similar lines as Rashtriya Rifles).

Stumbling Blocks

NSA Ajit Doval during an inspection amidst the Delhi riots (File photo)

However logical synergising multitude of agencies towards National Security may appear, such ideas in our Nation often get buried under perceived notions of impracticality, difficulty in implementation, and issues of turf.

Undoubtedly, there will be a great deal of rehashing and restructuring clubbed with the methodology of implementation of the idea; but some turmoil is always associated with the dynamism of reform.

The largest and most potent threat to any transformation, is without debate, the officer community, who restricted by traditional, compartmentalised thought-process are characterised behaviourally by a substantial resistance to exit comfort zones, also possess an amazing propensity to disrupt and kill even the most progressive and logical reform despite it being in the National Interest.

The next issue is definitely turf which is a bastion that can only be breached by strong directives from the highest levels of policy making.


1Vietnam Border Defence Guards are a branch of the Vietnamese People’s Army. The Tahan Phran which is the border patrolling force of Thailand is an auxiliary of the Royal Thai Army. The Border Defence Regiment of China works under operational control of the Central Military Commission.

Nearly every nation in the world has a strong integration at the execution level between its Regular Armed Forces and other security agencies.

In 1986 America passed the Goldwater-Nichols act that laid the path for the Defence Reorganisation. We in India have yet to have that moment despite debacles such as 1962.

Contrary to all logic and global precedence we continue to move towards parallel adiabatic structures ruled by turf sentiments, frittering away our National Resources and endangering National Security.In the 18th Century prior to Nadir Shah’s invasion, the Dutch representative to the Mughal Court noted that- ‘The Mughal army was so large and finances so abundant that they could have conquered the whole known world; if only they had been trained in European Standards’.

It was never a question of availability of resources. It was always the resistance to change and adapt which has been our perpetual malady.

(This article was written for the Army War College (AWC) Journal. The author during his service in the Indian Army had served in Counter Insurgency Operations both in Jammu & Kashmir & North East India. Highlights of his service include participation in Operation Vijay in 1999, rendering service as an aviator for eight years, as a Staff Officer in UNIFIL during the Israeli Hezbollah Conflict of 2006, commanding a battalion in Kargil, a tenure in Information Warfare (IW) & as an instructor in Army War College. Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')


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