Rashtriya Rifles: Masters of a Hostile Terrain (COIN in Kashmir) by Nitin A. Gokhale – Daily News & Analysis India
For a counter-insurgency force that is the largest of its kind in the world, the Rashtriya Rifles receives very little attention in discussions and writings on India’s endless war in Kashmir.
Staying out of the limelight, however, does not take away in any way the immense contributions made by this force in the past quarter century in India’s fight against Pakistan’s proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir.
The origins of the Rashtriya Rifles go back to the late 1980s when the Indian Army was overstretched, deployed as it was from Sri Lanka to Kashmir and from Punjab to North-east. Under Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka, the Indian Peacekeeping Force (IPKF) had taken away four frontline divisions; insurgency in the North-east was still raging and Punjab was showing all signs of needing the Army’s helping hand in getting the trouble there under control. Towards the end of the 1980s, it became clear that a special force was required to deal with India’s turbulent internal security situation; a credible force which would prevent frequent deployment of the Army’s frontline formations and units on internal security. Regular infantry units were getting less time to rest and recuperate.
The top brass under then Army Chief General SF Rodrigues (who succeeded Sundarji) decided to make the Rashtriya Rifles an all-army force. The government was still reluctant to put its full weight behind the idea. Old timers recall that the dominant thought process in 1990 at the highest levels in government was still to push in two divisions of the Army — the 39th and 6th — into counter-insurgency operations.
The Army top brass resisted fiercely and insisted on a specialised counter-insurgency force. Looking back, that decision not to deploy the 39th and 6th division (the latter Army Headquarters reserve) was perhaps the most crucial advice that the Army gave to the government.
Today, the Rashtriya Rifles has grown into a 65-battalion (nearly seven divisions!) force which has honed its counter-insurgency skills and may now be ready to do dual tasking of guarding the Line of Control.
Moreover, like the Assam Rifles in the North-east, the Rashtriya Rifles in J&K has emerged as a force that now has unmatched knowledge of the terrain, the people, local dynamics and most importantly, intelligence.
It is now the spearhead of the Indian Army’s sub-conventional war doctrine…