America’s Iraq misadventure
Its legacy: Terrorism across Europe and violence across the Islamic world
The US-led military intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 received widespread international support because it was clearly established that the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC were planned and executed by Al Qaida, based in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. The same cannot, however, be said of American military intervention in Iraq. Proclaiming that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein regime possessed “Weapons of Mass Destruction” (WMDs), the US and its allies mounted a land, air and sea invasion of Iraq on March 1, 2003. Not surprisingly, it was soon found that Iraq indeed did not possess a single WMD. With Iraq’s army disintegrating, the country was soon taken over by the US. On May 1, 2003, President Bush landed on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, aboard an aircraft carrying the banner “Mission Accomplished”. Matters did not end there. By the time the US withdrew from Iraq, 4,491 American soldiers and an estimated 1,50,000 Iraqis were killed. The aftershocks of this invasion are still being felt across the Islamic world and in Europe.
With a majority Shia-dominated government taking over in Baghdad following decades of the minority Sunni domination, old sectarian scores were sought to be settled. A bloody sectarian civil war was accompanied by the emergence of Sunni fighters led by Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, a veteran of the CIA-sponsored Afghan jihad, to challenge Baghdad's Shia-dominated regime. Matters worsened when a US-led alliance, backed by Sunni-dominated countries led by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, sought to violently overthrow the minority Shia dominated regime of Bashr Al Assad, in neighbouring Syria. Zarqawi’s followers and successors in Iraq joined this jihad against the Assad regime. Not surprisingly, Assad receives support from an alliance of Shia states and entities, including Iran, Iraq and the Hezbollah in Lebanon, with Russia providing the military muscle.
These developments led to the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which is primarily Iraqi, but also a recipient of volunteers from Sunni Islamic countries and young Sunni Muslim immigrants in Europe and the US, for jihad against Shias, the Assad regime and also the Western world. Thousands of innocent civilians have perished in Syria and Iraq, with an estimated nine million Syrians fleeing to refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon and elsewhere. Animosity between Shias and Sunnis has now engulfed virtually the entire Muslim world. Shias in Sunni-dominated countries like Egypt are targeted by street mobs infuriated by vicious anti-Shia propaganda. They now feel increasingly insecure, even as a no-holds-barred media war gets under way.
This vicious media war is now being waged through print, satellite television and even social media outlets like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Venom is being spewed against Shias and their beliefs and practices. This propaganda is largely financed by Gulf Arab States like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It is reinforced by immigrant-run television networks in cities like London. Some television channels in Egypt have also joined in. Influential Shia clerics are labelled as “Satan’s assistants,” with Syrian Shias being accused of raping Sunni women. This is being answered in ample measure by television networks operating out of Iraq. The political transformation in Iraq in 2006 led to Sunnis facing the wrath of the politically empowered Shia majority. The then Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki and his Cabinet accused Saudi Arabia of backing the “genocide” in Iraq. It is difficult to agree on whether it is the ISIL, or Boko Haram in Nigeria, which today constitutes a greater threat to pluralistic societies
European countries with large Muslim immigrant populations from West Asia, North Africa and Pakistan have faced continuing terrorist challenges after the invasion of Iraq. The recent terrorist shootouts in France over the Charlie Hebdo controversy have received huge media attention and raised pertinent queries on whether the freedom of speech should include the right to publicly denigrate and ridicule the religious faiths of others. In March 2004, just after the first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, 191 people were killed and over 1,800 wounded by synchronised bomb blasts in four trains in Spain, for which Al Qaida claimed responsibility. The UK has faced periodic terrorist threats involving members of its immigrant Muslim population, commencing with the bomb blasts in London underground Metro trains and a foiled plot to explode bombs in transatlantic flights. Chechen terrorist groups in Russia are known to have received support in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Pakistan.
The terrorist threats in Western Europe largely come from second-generation Sunni Muslim immigrants, who feel alienated from the mainstream of national life and confused on how to maintain their separate religious identity. These forebodings get reinforced when they face the prospect of prolonged unemployment, measures like a ban on headscarves, ridicule of skull caps, or aversion to the construction of minarets. In these circumstances, Muslim youth enter the electronic age through the internet and social media. Their minds are poisoned by vicious propaganda about Muslims being discriminated against and invaded by the Western forces in Iraq and Libya. The result has been that some 5,000 Muslim immigrants from the EU and a smaller number from the US have joined the ISIL with every possibility of some of them returning to their homes as hardened terrorists. This scenario is a nightmare for people across the Atlantic.
While Shia-Sunni tensions remain a fact of life in Pakistan, especially after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, they are now likely to get exacerbated. The Nawaz Shari government is known to have long-standing links with indigenous anti-Shia groups like Lashkar e Jhangvi and their mentors in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. India will have to strengthen its engagement with Arab Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE and retain the goodwill of Iran and Iraq if is to avoid getting drawn into the vortex of sectarian rivalries and tensions in the Islamic world. We have to address the challenges we face to our energy security and the safety of over six million Indian nationals in our neighbouring Gulf region with imaginative and pro-active diplomacy.
Hailing from Ambala, Major gets Shaurya Chakra
Tribune News Service
Ambala, January 28
Major Mukul Sharma, who foiled infiltration bid in Kupwara district of J&K in August, was awarded the Shaurya Chakra, the third highest peacetime gallantry award, on Republic Day.
Major Sharma, who belongs to Ambala, has been deputed in the Kashmir valley since January 2010. On August 7, 2014, Major Sharma got information of an infiltration bid by terrorists in Gagadari Nar. Around 12.30 pm, he noticed movement of three persons, who opened fire at him. Major Sharma stood his ground and shot down one infiltrator.
He redeployed his team to prevent the other two from escaping. The officer showed tactical acumen and presence of mind to engage the infiltrators throughout the night and prevented them from escaping. The next day, the officer identified the position of the second infiltrator. Sensing danger to his troops, Major Sharma crawled towards the infiltrator and killed him. Major Sharma later eliminated the third infiltrator.
India, US Advance Strategic Relations
NEW DELHI — India and the US will initiate co-production of low-end weapons in India as the two countries renewed their 10-year Defense Framework Agreement during a visit here by US President Barack Obama Sunday through Tuesday.
The agreement, which defines steps to be taken in the next 10 years to bolster their bilateral defense partnership, incorporates for the first time a provision to co-produce weapons in India, along with transfer of technology through the Defense Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI).
Analysts and serving military officers, however, said it is too early to expect co-development and co-production of advanced weapons systems, and the two countries will need to begin with low-end projects to become familiar with how the DTTI will work as bureaucratic hurdles can impede execution of such projects.
At first, the two countries will co-produce such low-end weapons as the Raven UAV, and reconnaissance modules for the C-130J Super Hercules aircraft bought in 2008, said an Indian Defence Ministry source. More products under DTTI will be identified during next month's visit by Frank Kendall, US undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.
Obama was the first US president to be the guest at the Jan. 26 Republic Day parade. His visit received substantial attention by the media, with analysts describing it as a watershed event and the beginning of a new era in Indo-US strategic relations under the Narendra Modi government.
Analysts and serving officers, however, are divided about whether stronger Indo-US strategic and defense ties would loosen those bonds between India and Russia.
"Russia is a declining power with little to offer India outside of defense technology," said Ashley Tellis, senior associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Ties with the US will be comprehensive, ties with Russia will be largely uni-dimensional. India actually comes out ahead in that way," Tellis said.
But Bharat Karnad, professor of national security studies at the Centre for Policy Research, said Indo-Russian defense ties are stable.
"Good relations with the US reflects aspiration, ties with Russia are hard reality. No substantive shift in policy is on the anvil, certainly nothing at the expense of India's relations with Moscow, especially because, unlike the US, Russia has partnered, and continues to partner, India in strategically sensitive technology projects ranging from missiles, ship submersibles, ballistic, nuclear submarines to the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft," Karnad said.
The Indian military for decades has been equipped with Russian-made weaponry and equipment and absorption of US-made systems could take time, said a senior Indian Air Force officer.
"There is a challenge in terms of technology-sharing due to US laws and on the part of India technology absorption. This would imply that only a low level of technology-sharing would be practical despite the good intent on both the sides," said Rahul Bhonsle, retired Indian Army brigadier general and defense analyst.
With India-US defense ties restricted only to the purchase of off-the-shelf equipment, the two countries have had no experience in joint weapon development and production, unlike India's experience with Russia and Israel, the MoD source said.
"I think the rise of US-Indian defense production will be slow. America's biggest defense market is domestic, not India. India, in contrast, is one of Russia's two largest defense markets. The contrast explains everything," Tellis said.
Chintamani Mahapatra, professor at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, said, "There is no doubt that entry of US defense industries into the Indian market will slowly reduce the Russian share of the Indian market. But then the US alone is not going to replace Russia in terms of Indian defense acquisitions. India will continue to diversify its sources of arms purchase."
Since the US sanctions against India were lifted in 2001, India has purchased more than $9 billion in weaponry but it has not included technology transfer, which has been an Indian goal. Unless the two countries are able to effectively execute co-production of high-technology weapon systems, Russia will remain India's main supplier, continue to transfer technology and the hype of the Obama visit will be slowly lost, the Air Force officer said.
"There is considerable concern in Moscow on the warmth shown toward President Obama in New Delhi, but behind the theatrics there has been nothing tangible in the defense and security field that should worry Russia for their primacy in combat systems remains on track," Bhonsle said.
But Tellis is optimistic. "I think there is a clear strategic judgment in India that important though Russia still is for India, Moscow represents the past, Washington represents the future."
Pakistan army chief Raheel Sharif holds talks with China's military top brass
Amid Indo-US bonhomie, Pakistan Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif on Sunday met China's military top brass here with the two sides agreeing to enhance long-term bilateral defence collaboration, intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism cooperation.
Gen Sharif's visit comes as US President Barack Obama warms up to India with an unprecedented second visit. Pakistan is under pressure from both India and the US over the issue of terrorism with calls to impose a complete ban on Jamaat-ud- Dawah and its chief, Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed. The Pakistan army chief, who is here on a two-day visit, reviewed a guard of honour along with his Chinese counterpart Gen Qi Jianguo, at the People's Liberation Army Headquarters and then held talks with him.
"COAS held extensive meeting with his counterpart. Full range of regional security, defence related issues discussed," Pakistan military spokesperson Major Gen Asim Bajwa tweeted. "Enhanced long-term defence collaboration, security and counter-terrorism cooperation, intelligence sharing, training exchanges decided," he said. Gen Sharif also called on General Fan Changlong, vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission, this morning and briefed him about the crackdown against terrorists in Pakistan.
Gen Fan conveyed China's support to Pakistan in its offensive against the militants. They discussed operations against militants in the border areas. Gen Fan praised Pakistan's military offensive codenamed 'Zarb-i-Azb, terming it as a "decisive, indiscriminate, bold and hard blow for terrorists," Bajwa said. The two countries have stepped up security to prevent infiltration of Uygur militants from China's volatile Xinjiang region.
Pakistan's military has targeted militant bases in the tribal areas which also included militants from East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), the group which has carried out a number of violent attacks in China's restive Xinjiang region. The Pakistan army chief arrived here on Saturday to meet China's political and military leadership and discuss issues pertaining to security and defence cooperation. "China will, as always, give firm support to Pakistan's efforts to combat terrorism," Gen Fan was quoted as saying by China's state-run Xinhua news agency.
BEL displays state-of-the-art night vision defence devices
The Defence Ministry’s Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), Machilipatnam unit, is showcasing its state-of-the-art night vision devices including those used in Kargil war. This is the first public exhibition by the BEL in Machilipatnam.
Of the nine units of the BEL across the country, the Machilipatnam unit is engaged in development and production of opto-electronic devices that are meant for Indian defence forces. The devices being displayed for public on the Hindu College grounds here during the ongoing Masula Yuva Mahotsav are Passive Night Goggles, Passive Night Monocular, Passive Night Binocular and others.
“Passive Night Sight for INSAS/LMG guns is a device that can be fixed to the guns to have clear vision of the target location. We are allowing the visitors to operate the devices to understanding the functioning of the six varieties of devices in the exhibition”, BEL, Machilipatnam Assistant Engineer M.D. Khaja told The Hindu. Majority of the Night Vision Devices would function with the help of ‘Image Intensifier Tube that receives power from the ‘Stars’ and amplifies it thousands times more.
Hand Held Thermal Imager (HHTI) of the Machilipatnam BEL was used by the Indian Army during the Kargil war. “The HHTI device supplied to Indian Army has helped a lot in finding precise location and accurate distance of targets during the Kargil war. It can locate accurately an aircraft within 10 km of distance while heavy vehicles can be tracked within four km of distance”, said Mr. Khaja.
The Indian Army installs the HHTI on the watch towers at the strategic locations. Public can see and learn the use of the devices during the Masula Yuva Mahotsav, which will conclude on Thursday evening.
During his recent rally at Burdwan, BJP president Amit Shah accused the West Bengal Government of neglecting national security in the interest of ‘vote bank politics’. The Narendra Modi government obviously has no such interests and it is expected to give topmost priority to national security. All the more so because the security environment around India is turning more and more hostile, with Pakistan rapidly adding to its nuclear arsenal and China in no mood to relent either over its claim on Arunachal Pradesh or on the South China Sea. These are potential conflict zones and will remain so in the foreseeable future.
In such circumstances what is the State of India’s defence preparedness? In its latest report submitted late last month, Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence has pointed out that the fighter strength of the Indian Air Force has come down from the sanctioned 45 squadrons to mere 25. And if immediate induction of new planes are not made then by 2024, the number will fall to an alarming low of just 14 squadrons. But as things stand now, there is no immediate possibility of the fleet strength going up. The much talked about purchase of 126 Rafale Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) from France is still hanging fire following France’s dilly-dallying over delivery of warships to Russia as per contract under pressure from the US. The Ministry of Defence considers France to be an unreliable supplier.
Add to this the fact that the Union Finance Ministry has slashed the allocation for army modernization by Rs 5000 crore to reduce the fiscal deficit, adding to the worries of the defence forces because this means that the Defence Ministry will be left with that much less money for spending on defence purchases. As is well known, the modernization of the army is a continuous process based on a 15-year Long-Term Integrated Perspective Plan. This takes into account the security scenario fifteen years from now and makes preparations accordingly. Reduction of allocation in this critical sector will have far-reaching consequences.
It is a paradox that over the years, as our security environment has turned more and more hostile, defence spending has been steadily reduced. In 1997-98, defence expenditure was 2.24 per cent of the GDP. In 2014-15 it has come down to a mere 1.79 per cent of the GDP. This hardly shows an awareness on the part of the country’s central leadership of the nature and dimensions of the external threat. It is time now to stop neglecting defence and reverse the trend.