Border guard forces around the world are led by military officers or by those trained under the army — the only exception being India where IPS officers often take charge of the Border Security Force, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the Sashastra Seema Bal.
The reason is clear; border forces bear the brunt of sudden military assaults by the enemy and are the first line of defence. The present chief of India’s BSF is an IPS officer who served long years in the Research and Analysis Wing before being sent to head the BSF. His competence perhaps lies in policing or external intelligence because of his tenure in the R&AW. But in India, it is assumed that the IPS is good enough to take charge of anything — from policing (for which it is primarily trained) to internal and external intelligence, to guarding the borders.
I had strongly argued for a stand-alone Indian secret service to constitute the top echelons of R&AW and IB in a previous article (https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/a-case-for-intelligence-reforms/cid/1740566).
But I would now argue that it would be a disastrous idea to put specialist counter-insurgency forces like the Assam Rifles under the home ministry which would pave the way for it to be commanded by IPS officers. In fact, the ITBP should also be rechristened ‘Sino Indian Border Force’ and placed, along with the Assam Rifles, under the charge of the defence ministry so that its recruits are trained to meet rigorous military standards. They should form part of the ORBAT (order of battle) of the integrated Indian military architecture.
The SSB, now guarding the border with Nepal and Bhutan, should also be integrated with the ITBP to provide a seamless border defence structure in the Himalayas. Only then would the concept of jointness, emphasized through the appointment of the chief of defence staff, be achieved.
The country’s oldest counter-insurgency force, Assam Rifles, is staring at an uncertain future. The cabinet committee on security has to take a call on the issue of dual control of the force.