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Tuesday, 10 June 2008

From Today's Papers - 10 Jun

SOS to army to tame timber terror
PULLOCK DUTTA A truckload of timber being seized by officials at the Dhansiri reserve forest. File picture Guwahati, June 9: The army could soon be asked to go to war to save a forest. The Assam forest department has asked the state government to hand over the Dhansiri reserve forest in Karbi Anglong to the army to prevent timber smugglers and militants from destroying it. The divisional forest officer of Karbi Anglong, West division, Sushil Daila, told The Telegraph that armed timber smugglers were felling trees inside the reserve forest and had already laid bare large stretches of it. “Handing over the 70,000-odd hectares to the army is the only solution to save the forest, which is full of valuable timber. We are doing our best, but we are fighting a losing battle,” he added. Daila said the forest department had seized three truckloads of teak today. Over the past eight months, the department has impounded 10,000 cubic feet of timber, 17 trucks, five buffaloes and several bicycles. A few days ago, armed timber smugglers had fired on his vehicle, Daila said. On April 10, two armed youths had threatened a homeguard at his residence, asking him to warn the officer to “mind his own business”. The timber thieves are known to go to any extent to snuff out potential threats. In December last year, a policeman who was assisting forest personnel in conducting raids was shot dead. Daila said Orissa had also sought the help of paramilitary forces to protect Barbara reserve forest in Khurda district when Biju Patnaik was chief minister and the move had proved successful. “The rampant felling of timber in Barbara forest was controlled after the CRPF took over,” he added. The officer said the situation was much worse in Dhansiri. Orissa had to face only timber smugglers but in Dhansiri, militants, too, had to be tackled. “Here the situation is more critical since militants armed with sophisticated weapons are involved. The army is the only solution to save this forest,” he said. “Our personnel have become demoralised as we are totally helpless in the face of armed militants who have started pillaging the forest,” Daila said. A group of forest department personnel had come face to face with over 100 timber smugglers inside the forest a couple of days ago. But the outnumbered forest employees were reduced to mute spectators with the smugglers continuing to fell trees at will. Daila said that of late, the smugglers were using buffaloes to ferry timber to locations from where the contraband was loaded on trucks. “These smugglers have local support who get paid for help,” he added.

Tease shame, CRPF to air force
Harass heat on force staffers

Srinagar, June 9: A CRPF constable has been suspended for following a woman into an airport washroom yesterday even as four air force staffers landed in custody for teasing a girl on a weekend of embarrassment for the forces.

Police sources said constable Sudhakar Rao, of the paramilitary force’s 29 Battalion, chased the woman, an employee of JetLite airline, into the washroom at Srinagar airport.

Airport sources said Rao “opened the door and passed lewd remarks” at the woman. “She raised an alarm that caught the attention of other staffers who rushed to the spot and caught hold of him,” an airport official said.

CRPF spokesperson Prabhakar Triphati said the constable had been placed under suspension and a probe ordered.

The airport sources said the inquiry was ordered after authorities took up the matter with the CRPF top brass.

“We have placed the constable under suspension pending inquiry. He was posted at the airport for guard duty,” Tripathi said.

“We are inquiring into the matter. During questioning, he told us that he opened the door accidentally because he did not know somebody was inside. However, the complaint has been lodged. Therefore, we have decided to take action as per rules.”

DIG, central Kashmir, Mohammad Subhan Lone said police had not lodged any case but an investigation was on. “We are trying to ascertain whether the door was opened intentionally or deliberately,” he added.

The four air force officials had to spend two nights in lock-up on the charge of teasing a girl and later assaulting a police party.

The four, part of the IAF’s ground staff here, were today produced before chief judicial magistrate Mohammad Ibrahim, who handed them over to their parent organisation for preventive custody.

While handing them over to their commanding officer, the magistrate ordered them to be produced in court on Tuesday.

Ibrahim gave the air force the option of trying them by a court martial or trial by a civilian court.

The four — identified as Sundeep Singh Mishra from Uttar Pradesh, Sagir Ahmad and Rohit Singh Dev from Uttarakhand and Nitin Natyal from Bihar — were arrested on Saturday afternoon after the police found them allegedly “teasing a girl” in a city park.

“They later assaulted a police party which had gone to arrest them,” Srinagar (south) police chief Uttam Chand said, adding that a case had been registered against them.

Pakistan: Musharraf and Army In Control
By Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

The large band of liberals who have been watching recent events in Pakistan were delighted by the happenings in the country in the past few weeks, with news of President Musharraf likely to board an awaiting aircraft doing the rumor circuit in Islamabad and other regional capitals of South Asia. Skeptics were however unmoved and continued to maintain that the old, die hard commando would not give up so easily. Indeed military generals in Pakistan have not been known to leave their seat of power without a fight, for one at least, Zia ul Haque the hand of fate intervened.

Musharraf is indeed made of sterner stuff. Using his usual ploy of an interview to a select group of journalists in Islamabad at a time when the principal leaders in Pakistan the PPP co chair Asif Zardari and Prime Minister, Gillani as well as his principal antagonist, Nawaz Sharif were out of the country, he firmly stated, “I won’t resign in the current situation ... I will live and die here, there is no other way. I don’t have any house outside Pakistan.”

He went on to dare the Assembly to impeach him, “The Constitution has the modus operandi to impeach someone. Parliament is supreme. Whatever the Parliament decides I will accept it,” knowing fully well that the Senate where his favorite the King’s Party, the PML Q has the majority will scuttle any move to remove him, the President is confident that he will survive another few years in office. So much for the hopes of the liberals.

That in the wake of this move, the lawyers are likely to launch a major movement in the country on 10 June may not be a concern for him, nor the likely turbulence that may be caused in the political circles with some PPP legislators willing to join the lawyers against their own government. Come 10 June, we may see more blood shed on Pakistan’s streets.

And there may be more blood in Kashmir as well. Despite the initial positive signals given by Mr. Zardari, which were negated by the Army Chief himself, no change in Pakistan’s policy on supporting militancy in Kashmir is visible. Violation of the Cease Fire on the Line of Control just before the visit of the Indian External Affairs Minister to Islamabad has been followed with another incident in the sensitive Mendhar sector in the recent past establishing a pattern.

Another credible indication was given by Mirwaiz Farooq, invited by the Pakistan government to visit the country on 21 June. The moderate Hurriyat Conference Chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq in a recent interview to Karan Thapar on the popular program of CNN IBN, Devil’s Advocate is reported to have indicated in no categorical terms that Pakistan’s Kashmir policy is hostage to the wills and wishes of the army.

"It is very difficult for any prime minister in Pakistan to come up with a set of ideas and try to implement it on its own unless and until there is a backing of other institutions in Pakistan," he said in the interview circulated by the Press Trust of India and went on to add when questioned if he was referring to the army, "In particular ... We know it for sure."

The statement by the Mirwaiz who is a moderate separatist leader of the need to win over support of the Pakistan army to resolve the Kashmir issue is significant denoting the heavy stakes that it has in the issue. The political leadership even when elected in Pakistan is thus unable to turn off the tap of militancy in Kashmir.

Now that the Pakistan army has earned for itself a respite with the numerous deals on the Western border with the Taliban, the traditional approach of focus on Kashmir seems to be the way ahead.

Thus the signs are ominous and while a misadventure on the Line of Control from Pakistan is not anticipated in the days ahead, the possibility of a major terrorist strike in Kashmir or within the country cannot be ruled out. Is it a larger game plan of the President and the Army to indicate to New Delhi, that it is the best bet for any negotiations on Kashmir? Sadly time will also fail to unravel this dilemma of over six decades.

‘ISI to double financial aid to militants’
Ashok Tuteja
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 9
Pakistan's ISI plans to substantially enhance the financial support to militant organisations operating in Jammu and Kashmir to increase their activities in the run up to the assembly elections in the state, reports with Indian intelligence agencies indicate.

According to sources, reports with the intelligence agencies say that the ISI has recently briefed the Pakistani political establishment on the activities of the terrorist groups. It was pointed out that the so-called freedom movement in the state was weakening as the jehadi groups were facing financial constraints and the security forces had also tightened noose around them.

In recent months, the security forces had frustrated several attempts of the terrorist groups to kill innocent people in the valley.

Significantly, these reports have been received at a time when the new government in Pakistan has expressed its desire to improve relations with India and the two countries are discussing the dates for the next meeting of the joint anti-terror mechanism set up by them in 2006.

The reports with the Indian agencies say that the ISI proposed to double the financial support to the terrorist groups so that they have the resources to disrupt the polls.

The ISI has also assured the leadership that it would make every effort to see that no pro-Pakistan individual or group participated in the electoral exercise.

The Jehadi groups like Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, have been asked to use “weak surveillance points” for infiltration into India in view of the difficulties they are encountering in crossing the LoC. They have also been advised by the ISI to opt for infiltrating via Bangladesh or Nepal.

The political uncertainty in Pakistan when a fragile government is presiding over the country's affairs has also helped the military establishment, particularly the ISI, to pursue its policy of pushing the jehadi elements into the Indian territory.

The reports also indicate that some terrorist organisations have recently set up new offices in Karachi and Islamabad with the full knowledge of the authorities.

IMA Passing-out Parade
Army sees red over throwing regimental caps in air
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 9
The top brass of the Army has expressed its displeasure at the manner some of the cadets passing out of the Indian Military Academy, Dehra Dun, threw their regimental caps in the air. As per the laid down tradition, the cadets should have only thrown their IMA caps in the air to mark their joy at passing-out parade and not the regimental caps. The IMA has been told about the faux pax that occurred, sources in the Army said.

Throwing of caps in the air is an age-old ritual that the cadets do after they cross the ‘Antim pagh’ (final step) to the Chetwode building at the IMA. From there on they are deemed to be officers.

The caps are thrown to mark their end at the IMA. On Saturday, some of the cadets threw their regimental caps in the air, which ultimately fell on the ground.

The cadets who threw wrong caps in the air to express their joy should have been properly briefed in advance. The respect and significance the regimental caps carry in the Army is high, said sources. One of the senior Army officers, who attended the parade on Saturday, is said to have pointed out the error to the IMA bosses.

The matter was brought to the notice of authorities in New Delhi, who have conveyed their sentiments to the IMA. It is being seen as a note of caution for the conduct of future parades and not some kind of warning, said a source while adding that error was on the part of only “a few cadets”.

There is proper protocol attached to the cap, when it has to be worn and which cap has to be worn when. The regiment is the life long identification for an officer as it conveys what work he is doing.

A lot of pride is associated with key infantry, armoured corps and artillery regiments. It is normally the first point of reference for an officer for his life, even after retiring from the forces.

India, China battle for energy in Indian Ocean

Hambantota (Sri Lanka):
This battered harbour town on Sri Lanka’s southern tip seems an unlikely focus for an emerging international competition over energy supply routes that fuel much of the global economy.
An impoverished place still recovering from the devastation of the 2004 tsunami, Hambantota has a desolate air, but just over the horizon runs one of the world’s great trade arteries, the shipping lanes where thousands of vessels carry oil from the Middle East and raw materials to Asia.
These tankers provide about 80%of China’s oil and 65% of India’s — fuel desperately needed for the two countries’ rapidly growing economies. Japan, too, is almost totally dependent on energy supplies shipped through the Indian Ocean.

Any disruption — from terrorism, piracy, natural disaster or war — could have devastating effects on these countries and send ripples across the globe.
For decades the world relied on the powerful US navy to protect this vital sea lane.
But as India and China gain economic heft, they are moving to expand their control of the waterway, sparking a new — and potentially dangerous — rivalry between Asia’s emerging giants.
China has given massive aid to Indian Ocean nations, signing friendship pacts, building ports in Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as Sri Lanka, and reportedly setting up a listening post on one of Myanmar’s islands near the strategic Strait of Malacca.

Now, India is trying to parry China’s moves. It beat out China for a port project in Myanmar. And, flush with cash from its expanding economy, India is beefing up its military, with the expansion seemingly aimed at China.
The Chinese insist the Hambantota port is a purely commercial move, and by all appearances, it is. But some in India see ominous designs behind the project, while others in countries surrounding India like the idea. AP

A Snub To India?


Hardly. It would be incorrect to interpret that when Wen flew back to Sichuan to preside over an emergency meeting at the time of Pranab Mukherjee's visit, and cancelled the scheduled meeting, it was a response to the latter's remarks on Arunachal Pradesh


The after-shocks after the earth quake, which struck the Wenchuan area of the Sichuan province of China on May 12, 2008, and killed an estimated 70,000 people, have decreased in frequency, but the area still faces another major disaster in the form of massive floods if some of the so-called quake lakes formed as a result of the quake burst under the pressure of the accumulated water. The biggest of these quake lakes is the one at Tangjiashan, which has been causing concern to the Chinese authorities.

If it bursts, it could put in jeopardy the lives and livelihood of nearly a million Chinese living in the direction in which floods will flow and further damage the economy of a strategically important province of China. Sichuan is not only the granary of China, but is also rich in minerals. Many of China's nuclear and space establishments and defence industries are located in the province.

The Information Office of the State Council stated on June 8,2008, that China's industrial and mining sectors have lost an estimated $29.5 billion because of the quake. If there are floods now, the loss will increase further. According to figures released by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, 4,003 big companies have resumed production since the quake, but 1,482 enterprises are yet to do so. In case of floods, industrial production may receive a further set-back.

If the Tangjiashan quake lake bursts, two of Western China's strategically important railway line and oil pipeline may be washed away. The People's Daily reported on June 9,2008:

"The lake is also posing a threat to the Fujiang river bridge on the Baoji-Chengdu Railway, a critical part of the railway network in west China. The swollen quake lake has put China's longest oil pipeline at risk. The pipeline, winding from Lanzhou via Chengdu to Chongqing, was 60 kilometers downstream from the lake. With a capacity of transferring six million tons of oil each year, the pipeline provides 70 per cent of product oil to Sichuan and neighboring Chongqing Municipality. If the line was cut, refined oil in storage could only supply Sichuan for three days, whereas repair work would take 30 days."

A large number of civilian and military engineers, under the personal supervision of Mr Wen Jiabao, the Prime Minister, have been camping in the area and trying to drain off water from the Tangjiashan lake through a sluice canal created by the engineers. Water in controlled measure has already started flowing out through the canal, but it has started raining in the area. As a result, it is reported that the inflow of water into the lake is more than the outflow.

Under the heading "Quake lake still poses big threat", the China Daily News carried the following warning on the morning of June 9, 2008:

"Water in the Tangjiashan quake lake in Sichuan province was rising Monday despite the increased outflow through a channel.Increasing the outflow of water is critical for the dam's safety. If the water flows too slowly, the inflow will increase the pressure on the dam. But again, too voluminous an outflow can erode the diversion channel and cause the dam to collapse. A moderate rainfall around 6:50 pm was followed by a 4.8 magnitude aftershock a minute later yesterday (June 8). The tremors that lasted 20 seconds caused massive landslides on the surrounding mountains."

Since the quake occurred, Prime Minister Wen, who has won high praise not only from the Chinese but also from international disaster relief experts for the way he has organised the disaster relief, has spent more time in the quake-hit areas than in Bejing--occasionally returning to Beijing for a few hours now and then to attend to other work.His decision to fly back to Sichuan to preside over an emergency meeting at the time of the visit (June 4 to 7) of Shri Pranab Mukherjee, the Indian Foreign Minister, to Beijing, is, therefore, totally understandable. It will be incorrect to interpret his cancellation of the proposed courtesy call by Shri Mukherjee on him as meant to be a snub to him for his strong statements before leaving for China reiterating that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India.

India has been sending relief material to Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan province, by aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF). One of the aircraft reached Chengdu when Shri Mukherjee was in Beijing. He decided to fly to Chengdu, receive the material and personally hand it over to the Chinese authorities. This was a gesture not only to the Chinese people, but also to the Tibetans who live in large numbers in the quake-hit areas and have been affected by the quake. It is not known how many of the 70,000 people affected by the quake are Tibetans. The Tibetan-inhabited areas of Sichuan are claimed by the Dalai Lama as part of his so-called Greater Tibet, a claim strongly rejected by the Chinese. Before the quake, there were violent anti-Beijing incidents in the Tibetan-inhabited areas of Sichuan, but these have since stopped.

Sichuan has the largest concentration of Indian students---most of them studying medicine in the Sichuan University. They live mostly in Chengdu, which has not been affected by the quake.

B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies.

Govt to freeze Defence budget, says Gilani

* Prime minister says Defence budget will be cut in new fiscal year
* Budget for different defence heads will be approved separately

By Irfan Ghauri

ISLAMABAD: The government has decided to freeze allocation of Defence funds in the 2008-09 budget as a measure of Pakistan’s tangible display to seek peace with its neighbours, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani said on Monday.

Giving a policy statement in the National Assembly, he said that considering the context of inflation and the rupee-dollar parity, the Defence budget of the country would be reduced in the new fiscal year. Arguably referring to India but without directly naming it, he added: “We hope to see a reciprocal gesture from our neighbour for the sake of peace and prosperity in the region.”

Approval: Presently, the Defence budget is presented for approval before the National Assembly as a one-line allocation for all ordnance factories, other defence organisations and the three armed services — the army, navy and air force. “It is not approved separately but in consolidated from. After approval of the budget, the Ministry of Defence apportions allocations of three services and other defence organisations,” he added..

Gilani said that the present government has now decided to present the Defence budget estimates in a format reflecting expenditure estimates under major heads in parliament. “The Ministry of Defence and chief of Army Staff have fully endorsed the revised format of the defence budget estimates,” he informed the House.

Both treasury and opposition benches hailed the premier’s announcement, terming it a step towards strengthening democracy and the supremacy of parliament.

The prime minister said that Pakistan was located in a turbulent and volatile region and therefore could not “afford to remain oblivious to our defence needs. As a matter of policy, I declare that our defence is based on the strategy of minimum credible deterrence and that we shall not enter into any arms race.”

Pakistan would continue to strive for peace without compromising its national interest, he added.

US think tank: Pakistan helped Taliban insurgents

By JASON STRAZIUSO – 5 hours ago

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Pakistani intelligence agents and paramilitary forces have helped train Taliban insurgents and have given them information about American troop movements in Afghanistan, said a report published Monday by a U.S. think tank.

The study by the RAND Corp. also warned that the U.S. will face "crippling, long-term consequences" in Afghanistan if Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan are not eliminated.

It echoes recent statements by American generals, who have increased their warnings that militant safe havens in Pakistan are threatening efforts in Afghanistan. The study was funded by the U.S. Defense Department.

"Every successful insurgency in Afghanistan since 1979 enjoyed safe haven in neighboring countries, and the current insurgency is no different," said the report's author, Seth Jones. "Right now, the Taliban and other groups are getting help from individuals within Pakistan's government, and until that ends, the region's long-term security is in jeopardy."

Pakistan's top military spokesman rejected the findings.

The study, "Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan," found some active and former officials in Pakistan's intelligence service and the Frontier Corps — a Pakistani paramilitary force deployed along the Afghan border — provided direct assistance to Taliban militants and helped secure medical care for wounded fighters.

It said NATO officials have uncovered several instances of Pakistani intelligence agents providing information to Taliban fighters, even "tipping off Taliban forces about the location and movement of Afghan and coalition forces, which undermined several U.S. and NATO anti-Taliban military operations." No timeframes were given.

The report said Pakistan's intelligence service and other government agencies provided Taliban and other insurgents with training at camps in Pakistan, as well as intelligence, financial assistance and help crossing the border.

When asked in an Associated Press interview last month what the state of the insurgency might be in 2013, the outgoing NATO commander in Afghanistan, U.S. Gen. Dan McNeill, said: "If there are going to be sanctuaries where these terrorists, these extremists, these insurgents can train, can recruit, can regenerate, there's still going to be a challenge there."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pleaded with the world community to address the issue of militant sanctuaries in Pakistan. Afghan intelligence officials say young, uneducated males are recruited in the border tribal areas to become suicide bombers and fighters. After battles or attacks in Afghanistan, militants flow back into Pakistan to rest and rearm, officials say.

Pakistan — which supported the Taliban regime in Afghanistan before the Sept. 11 attacks — denied it is supporting the insurgents, but acknowledged the problem of militant infiltration.

"Whenever these kinds of places are identified or pointed out, action is taken against these places and there are umpteen examples in the past where the actions have been taken against these insurgents, or, for that matter, foreigners," said Pakistan military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas. "Therefore, we reject this claim of sanctuaries being aided by Pakistan's army or intelligence agencies."

Pakistan Interior Ministry chief Rehman Malik said Monday that he met with Karzai in the Afghan capital over the weekend, and the two sides agreed to set up biometric screening at key border checkpoints.

Malik said tens of thousands of people cross each day without any documentation.

"They go without any checking — no passport, no documentation. It's a free for all," he told reporters. He said the new computerized system would begin operating within two weeks.

Nevertheless, he defended Pakistan's efforts to police the border, saying the government had deployed 120,000 troops and had set up five times more border posts than there are on the Afghan side.

Malik expressed willingness to share intelligence on extremists and conduct joint operations with Afghan security forces. He denied that Pakistan would strike peace deals with terrorists in order to calm Islamic militancy on its own soil.

Pakistan has insisted it is only pursuing negotiations with militant groups willing to lay down their arms, and it has relied partly on tribal elders to mediate. A handful of deals have already been struck.

U.S. officials say attacks where American troops operate in eastern Afghanistan have gone up significantly since those deals were reached earlier this year.

The study said that besides the Taliban, other major militant groups find sanctuary in Pakistan. These include al-Qaida, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's radical Hezb-i-Islami group and the Haqqani network, led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and his son, Siraj.

"These insurgent groups find refuge in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, North West Frontier Province, and Baluchistan Province," RAND said in a news release. "They regularly ship weapons, ammunition and supplies into Afghanistan from Pakistan, and a number of suicide bombers have come from Afghan refugee camps based in Pakistan."

The report also called on the U.S. and its allies to help build the Afghan security forces, particularly the police, and to improve the quality of local governments, especially in rural regions.

It also claimed that Afghanistan's police are incompetent and "almost uniformly corrupt," echoing frequent criticism of the police by international officials here.

The U.S. is spending billions of dollars to train and equip the Afghan police, but the efforts are still years away from being completed.

Magazine| Jun 16, 2008

EXCLUSIVE: pakistan army - hindus & sikhs

The First-Timers

The Pak army is a no-go zone. Outlook peeks into what it means to be outside the faith here.

In the picturesque region of Kakul, Abbotabad, in the North West Frontier Province, stands the quaint colonial building of the PMA, the prestigious Pakistan Military Academy. This is the land that shares, with the rest of Pakistan, the phenomenon of the Taliban striving to squash the remaining semblances of religious tolerance. So I'm consequently surprised to hear about a scene the PMA witnessed two years ago—as the sound of azaan echoed in the PMA, a cadet in his room rolled out the prayer mat facing west. His mate, however, turned to his own sacred corner, where there were gathered symbols of the Sikh religion. Their prayers over, they returned to their chores, oblivious to the history they had created. It wasn't that the PMA proscribed other forms of worship; there simply hadn't been a Sikh cadet till then.

Narrating this story is Hercharn Singh, Pakistan's first Sikh officer and a symbol of the changing face of its army. Now 23, dressed in a smart khaki uniform and sporting a solitary star on his shoulder, Lieutenant Singh and I are sitting in the posh Officers' Mess of Malir cantonment, Karachi. Providing us company are Capt Danish in his Rangers uniform and Capt Aneel Kumar, both Hindu and doctors at the Combined Military Hospital. Capt Danish (who says he's just Danish) is considered the first Hindu officer of the army.

MASH patrol: Capt Aneel Kumar (left) and Capt Danish

As we talk, they display some sense of occasion, listening in rapt attention to the experiences of each other in the army. Says Singh about his PMA days, "At times, I used to wonder where I had landed myself. I stood out like a sore thumb, many of the cadets had never seen a Sikh in the flesh. I had a tough time because of my appearance. The others—Hindu and Christian—at least look like 'ordinary' cadets."

For nearly two years now, Outlook has been seeking access to Singh and the two Hindu officers. It took months of persistent lobbying by the Inter Services Public Relations director-general, Gen Athar Abbas, before the army agreed to allow an Indian publication to interview the three officers. As Col Atif coordinated to fly me to Karachi last week, new obstacles kept surfacing. Lt Col Idrees Malik had to implore his superiors to grant permission for Singh to miss a day's class of the course he's taking, and bring Capt Danish from interior Sindh.

At the officers' mess, amidst smiles and a display of palpable pride, Singh begins his story from the day his romance sparked with the Pakistan army. Like all such stories, it was ignited with a chance glimpse and an irrepressible tug at the heartstrings. It was nearly three years ago, and he and his friends had decided to apply to the prestigious National College of Arts (NCA) in Lahore. On the way, they passed an army recruitment centre. Something about it spoke to him, perhaps. "But no one had any idea of a Sikh being allowed entry into Pakistan's military institutions," Singh recalls.

Singh got admission to the NCA but he decided to visit the recruitment centre to make inquiries. When told the law didn't proscribe Sikhs from the army, he promptly submitted an application, apparently arousing curiosity at the centre even then about the "Sikh who wants to join the army". He was selected, in the process grabbing headlines countrywide. But his family was opposed to him joining the army, the elders wanting him to head the business of his deceased father. And then there was Singh's mother who believed a career in the army would shame the family. Shame? "All our lives our community had been ridiculed. Especially in the electronic media where Sikhs were portrayed as drunks, womanisers and villains.My mother said that I wouldn't be respected and this would bring shame to the family."

At the PMA, the callow, sensitive Sardarji was baffled by some insensitive souls asking him to convert to Islam. "I wondered what kind of people are these who are not happy with the way I am, who offered to convert me. I didn't mind jokes about Sikhs because these are so common," he says wryly. But at Kakul, with young cadets and their irritating inquisitiveness, it took some chutzpah to ensure his religion or culture was not compromised. But he had his sergeant on his side. As Singh puts it, "My sergeant told me I was free to follow my religion and that everything would be done to make me comfortable."

Singh now did two things—he told his room-mate if they had to share a room they must show tolerance for each other's religious codes of living; his second act was daring and sagacious. He approached the commandant to make a presentation about his faith. "With the help of a documentary from the Golden Temple and my own literature I gave a presentation about the Sikh religion and culture. I explained why I looked the way I did, the symbols of faith a Sikh is never found without. Then I asked for questions," says Singh, bubbling with confidence. "In the next two years at the PMA, no questions were asked."

But Singh's glory days didn't end at the PMA. His excellent drill at Kakul prompted the army to choose him for guard duty at the Quaid-e-Azam Mazar, or the mausoleum of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. "I couldn't believe it, no Sikh here could even imagine such a thing." In these days of jehadi intolerance, a new chapter had opened. Of course, it was also a huge PR win-win situation, his duty at the mausoleum invited international media attention, and his family was flooded with calls from Sikhs the world over.

The induction of Singh, Danish and Aneel marks a revolutionary change for the Pakistan army, but then it poses new challenges too. The sheer enormity of this change can be gleaned from a reading of Dr Aneela Zeb Babar's Texts of War: The Religio-Military Nexus in Pakistan and India. She writes, "In Pakistan, the military officer is not just a professional. Placed on a pedestal, he is glorified as a hero. The public feels he is performing his religious duty.... All advertisements for recruitment in the Pakistan military and all publicity material start with Quranic verses." Dr Babar quotes junior Muslim officers describing their motivational lectures, "We are taught that in the Quran one Muslim is equal to 10 kafirs and after every lecture, slogans praising God and caliph Ali are raised." Will the trio's induction prompt a change now in the army's ethos, perhaps a dilution of its Islamic orientation or at least some understanding of those officers who belong to minority communities.

Perhaps this is already happening—the three non-Muslim officers, like most others here, wear their religion on their sleeves with a confidence quite remarkable for their age and ambience. Both Danish and Aneel testify to this. "We are very comfortable with our Hindu faith. We too had been assured by the sergeant (during their training) that we were free to worship as we wanted and if there was any way he could help, we shouldn't hesitate to come to him." Danish, incidentally, hails from the remote poverty-stricken Tharparkar, and graduated as a doctor before he saw an advertisement for a post in the army. He applied without taking his family into confidence and was selected. "Initially, there were constraints...about how a Hindu could fit in the army but today they are proud of me and I have even been sent to Wana (a tribal area) to deal with patients there.It was a very different experience. The place and people were so different from the desert of Sindh," he says.

Aneel, who belongs to Hyderabad, says the army's ignorance about religions other than Islam is matched by the Hindu community's sketchy knowledge about cantonment life. "People from my community had earlier interacted only with the police...we had no idea what the army was like," admits Aneel, even as he expresses hope that youth from his community would see Danish and him as role models and strive to join the officer cadre. Singh, however, doubts whether many Sikhs would join the army, largely because his community is engaged in business with their counterparts in India. Army officers who have relatives doing business with Indians would be a major problem, Singh declares.

For Sikhs at least, an army career marks a snapping of the umbilical cord tying them to religious places in India. Singh, for instance, has given up on his dream of visiting the Golden Temple in Amritsar. "I am a Pakistani army officer now and I can't even think of performing my religious duties in India. Even my mother will not be allowed to go, with a son in the army," he laments.

So what do these three officers think of Pakistan going to war in the future? They reply in unison, "We are now a nuclear power. Besides, there are so many internal threats." I ask them the question which most insular Pakistanis harbour in their hearts: would they be willing to kill others of their faith in a war? Danish replies, "Of course, we will or else we will be killed. Even our mothers will not ask us why we fired, they will just be glad that we survived."

Both Danish and Anil don't nurture lofty ambitions, hoping to negotiate one step at a time in the army. What about Singh? "Well, I have set my sight on wearing red pips, that is become a brigadier," he says. When I tell him that army rules don't debar him from the rank of Chief of Army Staff, his eyes glitter and a smile lights up his face.

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