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Report Prepared by Mr. Varun Bhagat  :

Assam Rifles (AR) in collaboration with The United Service Institution (USI) of India organised a webinar on 20th November 2020 on the topic ‘Assam Rifles Role in Act East Policy in the Backdrop of North East Security Calculus’. The objective of the discussion was to examine the role of Assam Rifles in the strategically important region of North East. Gen Bikram Singh, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, SM, VSM, (Retd), former Chairman COSC and Chief of the Army Staff delivered the talk on the subject. The other panelists were Lt Gen Sukhdeep Sangwan, AVSM, SM**, DGAR, and Maj Gen BK Sharma, AVSM, SM** (Retd) Director, USI of India. The session was moderated by Dr. Roshan Khanijo, Assistant Director Research (CS3).

Highlights of the talk are given in the succeeding paras.

Legacy of Assam Rifles

Assam Rifles has fought in every major war till 1971, and the esteemed Force has received a total of 2735 gallantry awards since its inception. Interestingly, it must be noted that the Assam Rifles is the oldest Para Military Force and was raised in 1835. However, it was only in 1917 that the Force was given its present name of Assam Rifles. Beginning with just 75 men, Assam Rifles now has almost 65000 men constituting 46 Battalions, one NDRF Battalion and numerous Headquarters. They have also contributed significantly in the UN peacekeeping missions. However, large part of the Force remains deployed for operations in the North East.

Role Played By Assam Rifles

Living up to its title of India’s oldest Paramilitary Force, Assam Rifles has effectively performed its duty of not just guarding the borders but also carrying out effective border defense and management and rendering impetus to infrastructure development in the North East. The Force’s competence in providing secure environment to the inhabitants can be appreciated by noticing the sharp decline in the number of civilian deaths; from 839 in 1971 to 12 in 2019. They also play a significant role in the implementation of Act East Policy. Furthermore, the responsibility of undertaking numerous infrastructural projects has been carried quite smoothly by the Force, leading to ushering in of peace and tranquility that has enabled the region to reap the benefits of economic integration with rest of India as well as neighboring countries. The Force has raised its ‘Disaster Management Battalion’ under the aegis of NDRF which would provide stability to the nation in the face of a natural calamity.

In short, Assam Rifles has created conducive environment for growth and development, which is a crucial parameter for the government’s agenda to have collaborative outlook with countries under its Act East Policy.


Pivotal Role of AR in India’s Act East Policy

The ‘Act East Policy’ is an updated version of the earlier ‘Look East Policy’ which was introduced in the late 2014, with an objective of enhancing cooperation and mutual understanding with partners in the East as well as Far East. For ensuring the desired result, it is imperative to fully integrate North-East Region with the rest of the country. Assam Rifles continues to facilitate furthering this policy, spanning across the spheres of culture, connectivity, communications and capacity building. Assam Rifles has also taken the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ across borders by spreading its ideas and cause in the neighboring country of Myanmar.

Opening of Avenues

Under the ‘One Border, One Force’ guideline of the Government, the  Indo-Myanmar Border is managed by Assam Rifles. In the recent past, Assam Rifles has been able to establish good relationship with her counterparts in Myanmar. This is significant considering the geostrategic importance that Myanmar commands in Bay of Bengal. Myanmar’s relevance for India and its ‘Act East Policy’ is paramount.

Challenges Ahead

One of the major challenges for the Force is to safeguard the North East from possible cyber warfare, by adversaries. This could further fuel any secessionist tendency that might be present on the ground. Therefore, regional security and stability are unarguably, the two indispensable roles for Assam Rifles. Moreover, sharing open borders with neighbors mean that the Force has to be on a regular watch out for illegal smuggling of arms, narcotics, etc.

During the Q&A session following issues were discussed: –

Measures to Provide Impetus to the Act East Policy

All avenues, be it strategic or diplomatic, mainly boil down to the core factor of securing a stable environment. It’s only in a secure environment that various projects get initiated at the ground level. Secondly, to accelerate this policy in the desired direction, it is necessary for the government to deal with nations on the basis of parity and not with the commonly perceived notion of big brother attitude. This approach, if adopted, would to a large extent negate the presence of China in the region. Early initiatives along with timely completion of the projects will make India a reliable partner. Trilateral Highway if completed on time would provide a major boost and would yield economic prosperity for the entire region.

Enhanced Cooperation with Myanmar

The Myanmar Army has shown a positive intent in recent times. There is a suitable mechanism in place which allows Forces in both the countries to act promptly and decisively against insurgent hideouts. Joint training operations have been conducted in 2017 and 2019. In addition, frequent coordinated patrols are also conducted with Myanmar Army.

AR’s Possible Future Role in Forging Close ‘People-to-People’ Ties

Assam Rifles can greatly optimise the Free Movement Regime (FMR) which allows access to populous up to 16 kilometers on either side of Indo Myanmar Border. Having about 40 percent of locals present in this area, Assam Rifles could try to establish a cultural and social connect across the border and thereby, have a positive impact on the lives of inhabitants either through enhancing their education or promoting tourism. This could also be used for furthering trade, since currently only three trading points exist between the two countries along this border. Furthermore, by creating safe and secure conditions Assam Rifles would also encourage our own entrepreneurs and vendors to venture in this region and to further economically and culturally integrate it with the rest of the country.

Report Prepared by Mr. Varun Bhagat, Research Assistant, USI of India
Report Uploaded on : 30-12-2020

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