May 11: The biggest repositioning exercise of the armed forces in the Northeast since 1999 has begun in Manipur with Assam Rifles units gradually replacing the Border Security Force (BSF) along the Indo-Myanmar border.
The BSF battalions withdrawn from Manipur are being sent to Tripura, Assam and Meghalaya for deployment along the Indo-Bangladesh border. Another change in the offing is the CRPF’s inclusion in the counter-insurgency set-up of Manipur.
The exercise is being carried out on the recommendation of a ministerial committee, which suggested a “one-border-one-force theory” for more effective protection of the international borders in four states of the Northeast.
A source said the change would break the monotony of the forces, “who have been deployed in one place for far too long”.
The process of repositioning will take at least a year to complete, he said.
All BSF personnel are expected to move out of Manipur in a month’s time. Their new positions will be under the direct command of the deputy inspector-general of the BSF headquarters in Tura, Meghalaya.
“Of the five BSF battalions stationed in Manipur, one has already moved out, while the others are ready to leave,” deputy inspector-general (Nagaland and Manipur range) P.K. Misra told newspersons at Chizami in Nagaland’s Phek district.
“However, the two BSF battalions in Nagaland will stay there for the time being,” he said.
The spurt in militant activities in Tripura, Meghalaya and Assam, where rebels carry hit-and-run operations after sneaking in from their bases in Bhutan and Bangladesh, is likely to hasten the repositioning exercise.
The CRPF will be trained and fully equipped by 2005 to face militants in the Northeast and Kashmir.
Assam Rifles has been preparing for its new assignment on the Indo-Myanmar border for four years now. The paramilitary force has raised nearly 40 battalions, eight of them in the past four years. It guards the Indo-China border on the Assam-Arunachal sector at present and has a considerable presence in Agartala and Sikkim.
The Centre adopted the one-border-one-force policy after a team of Union ministers compiled an extensive report, based on their visits to the country’s trouble spots in the aftermath of the Kargil conflict. Under the new security arrangement, the BSF will man the international borders with Bangladesh and Pakistan, except the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir.
Several army battalions had been withdrawn from Manipur at the height of the Kargil conflict. Some of these units were to be redeployed in the state after the elections in Jammu and Kashmir and Gujarat. Chief minister Ibobi Singh claims that the law and order situation in his state took a turn for the worse after all army units were relocated to the western frontier.
“The number of paramilitary battalions at our disposal is inadequate by any standards. We have been concentrating on the four valley districts, though not neglecting the hill areas. If the Centre deploys at least five more battalions, we can take a grip on the situation,” he said recently.
India has handed Bangladesh a list of 155 terrorist training camps operating there, many with the help of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and al Qaida, and asked it to shut them down.