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Saturday, 14 June 2008

From Today's Papers - 14 Jun


For a nation that has, since independence, fought five border wars, has to contend with live borders extending across the western, northern and eastern frontiers, has been combating insurgency in some north-eastern states for many years and a proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir for well over a decade, April 27 of this year marked a watershed. On this day, army veterans assembled at the India Gate in New Delhi and at war memorials in other cities and towns to pay tribute to their fallen colleagues and to convey their anguish at the neglect they have suffered under successive governments of India.

It is unfortunate that Indian leaders are always busy politicking and stumbling from one election to the other. They neither have the time to govern nor to spend worrying about the health of institutions that make for a vibrant nation. Playing favourites, debunking merit and resorting to the ‘divide and rule’ game have been the hallmarks of successive governments. They have never cared to nurture institutions such as the armed forces. It is significant that, unlike in other democracies, the army headquarters in this country are kept out of the government. This exclusion is symptomatic of the schism that is being promoted.

The once inspiring slogan of ‘jai jawan, jai kisan’ sounds hollow today and is on the verge of being forgotten. Regular suicide by farmers has, in any case, put paid to jai kisan.The nation is now set to witness the nadir of its its moral decline, as jai jawan loses its meaning too.

Even critics of the armed forces will acknowledge that ever since independence, it is the army that has, through its hardship and sacrifice, ensured that the integrity of the nation is not compromised. The armymen have countered insurgencies in the North-east and, more recently, in Jammu and Kashmir and have faced external aggression on five occasions. The costly blunders of the Indian Peace Keeping Force resulted in over 1,200 men being killed and many thousands being maimed. That we still do not have a national memorial for our dead heroes speaks a lot about the indifference of the nation to the sacrifices made.

There have been ample warnings in the last few years about vacancies in the defence services remaining unfilled, about officers leaving in large numbers and more recently, vacancies in top defence institutions like the National Defence Academy and in the Indian Military Academy have remained undersubscribed. But the government chose to ignore these signs. The government’s indifference was best reflected in its attitude towards the sixth pay commission. Those in the army had hoped that the government would set up a separate commission to look after the service conditions and salaries of armymen and that this commission would be composed of important personalities and military specialists who would objectively judge the problems faced by the defence forces.

Alas, this was not to be. The government did not even heed the request of the army to appoint a serviceman as member of the commission. Now that we know that not just the armed forces, but even the police and para-military forces feel humiliated and let down by the treatment meted out to them by the sixth pay commission, one wonders what the committee of secretaries appointed recently by the prime minister hopes to achieve. Little wonder that veterans are already terming it an eyewash. Meanwhile, reports have started coming in that the number of army officers wanting to leave the service has increased after the sixth pay commission’s recommendations became known.

The nation today is faced with stark choices. The national security environment is at its most demanding since independence. The spectrum of warfare now has nuclear wars at one end and internal conflicts at the other. Decades of insurgency in the east and the proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir are taking their toll on a professional army. We are losing hundreds of lives on active duty even during peace. Our borders with both Pakistan and China are live. The conditions here are as cruel, if not more than hostile action by the adversary. Revolutions in military affairs demand higher technological and training skills than what is available now. On the other hand, the opportunities of civil life, with fat salaries and a stable lifestyle, are alluring. The nation needs to decide whether it requires armed forces that are combatworthy to the core or it is content with forces that will be runners-up. If it is the former that the nation needs, then its actions belie its aims. The reasons for this gap between intention and action might be ignorance, or worse, willful neglect.

It is heartening to know that some army chiefs have expressed their disappointment about the pay commission to the defence minister. They have thus done their duty in the best traditions of service. The chiefs now have the Herculean task of boosting their morale and encouraging the men and women they command to continue in their service. The task is not made easy by an insensitive leadership. It is up to the prime minister to take the symbolism of this disappointment seriously. Responsive governance requires a far more sensitive reaction than the routine one of referring the matter to a committee of secretaries. No amount of fiddling with the sixth pay commission report will help. Its very approach to the uniformed fraternity has been thrown open to question. Bold leadership requires that a separate commission for the armed forces be set up to take a fair and balanced view.

A nation that compels its army veterans to express public anguish at the treatment meted out to them needs to introspect deeply. We have progressively robbed our servicemen and women of their izzat and iqbal. We have failed to see the writing on the wall even as the admission into the armed services has declined. We have failed to understand the sentiment behind requests for a separate pay commission or at least to have a service member in it. The result was inevitable and we have only ourselves to blame.

To all those who have spent their entire working lives defending the territorial integrity of our country, April 27 was a sad day. It was a day when the slogan jai jawan resounded loudly in the psyche of the nation, all the more because it is fast becoming memory. Much like the grand loan waiver scheme to take care of the distressed kisan, the government may choose to please the disillusioned jawan with a few generous rupees. But if it does not give serious thought to those who guard its borders, ‘Jai Hind’ may just become the next casualty.

Indian Army to raise two new divisions
NEW DELHI, June 13: In a move that could raise the hackles of neighbours Pakistan and China, India will soon raise two new divisions to give more teeth to its mountain warfare machinery.
The defence ministry's proposal for raising of two mountain divisions was approved recently by the Cabinet Committee on Security, ministry sources said today. The proposed units will further enhance the tactical strength of the Indian Army in its strategically important areas along the borders facing its traditional rivals.
The two new formations - with a strength of 10,000 to 13,000 troops each - will be raised in a two-phased plan in about five years. n PTI

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Brig Mitra takes over as DDG for Army Recruiting
13 Jun, 2008, 1737 hrs IST, PTI

BANGALORE: Brigadier Subroto Mitra took over as Deputy Director General (Recruiting), Karnataka, Kerala, Union Territory of Lakshadweep and Mahe, from Brigadier J M Devadoss here on Friday.

Brigadier Mitra was commissioned into the Madras Regiment in December, 1975, after passing out from the Indian Military Academy, according to a defence release.

A graduate of the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington and of the prestigious Higher Command Course at the Army War College, Mhow, he has vast experience in counter-insurgency operations, having been decorated with "Sena Medal" for gallantry in North East and has come to his new assignment after a tenure in Jammu and Kashmir.

Militants ambush GREF vehicles in J&K
Lt-Col, 4 others killed
Dinesh Manhotra
Tribune News Service

Udhampur, June 13
At least five officers of the General Reserve Engineering Force (GREF), including one Lt-Colonel and his deputy, were killed when militants ambushed their vehicle near Singhtantop on the Kishtwar-Anatnag road today.

Reports reaching here said the officers were on their way to monitor work on the Kishtwar-Singhtantop road. As the vehicle reached Vatsar village, militants hiding by the roadside opened fire.

They also lobbed grenades on the vehicle. After firing indiscriminately for more than 20 minutes, the militants ran away. As the GREF officials were not carrying weapons, militants targeted them from virtually point-blank range.

The villagers took the injured officers to a nearby primary health centre. The police took one hour to reach the spot. Five officials were declared brought dead.

The dead Colonel has been identified as Ajay Kumar Verma of the 118 Road Construction Company, Border Roads Organisation of project BEACON, his deputy S.K. Singh, an assistant executive officer, Jatinder Kumar and Punjab Singh, jawans of the 155 Territorial Army Battalion.

Hemant Kumar Lohia, DIG, Doda-Ramban range, said police teams from Chatroo and Kishtwar had been dispatched to the site of the incident.

The bodies of two senior officers were shifted to the Chatroo hospital for a post-mortem. The other three bodies are still lying in Vatsar village.

Police parties from Anantnag have started a combing operation to track down the militants. The area has been sealed off.

Army to have 2 new mountain divisions
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 13
Realising the growing needs of fighting a war in the Himalayas, India will add about 25,000 more troops as part of its process to have two more mountain divisions. Each division will have about 10,000 to 13,000 men.

Not only China and Pakistan abut the Indian Himalayas, but also border areas like Kashmir valley, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim require specialised fighting units. The move is aimed at providing more teeth to India’s existing mountain warfare machinery.

The defence ministry’s proposal for raising the two mountain divisions was recently approved by the Cabinet committee on security, sources said. The proposed divisions will further enhance tactical strength of the Army in strategically important areas.

The mountain divisions are usually trained for specialised warfare and the troops carry specialised weaponry for operations. Most troops for the two new divisions would be pooled from existing Army units. However, new battalions and brigades could be raised to augment the strength of the new divisions, sources added.

The Army already has 10 divisions dedicated to mountain warfare and another infantry division earmarked for high-altitude operations.

The raising of the mountain divisions will be done in two phases. Under the first phase that will be implemented in two years, two new division headquarters along with a brigade would come up. It would also include the headquarters’ support system like signals and intelligence units.

Implementation of the second phase would take another two to three years. During that period, the division would be ready for operation. At the end of five years, the two divisions would also have air elements functional.

The air assets would include helicopter gun ships and attack helicopters to provide the two divisions capabilities to carry out manoeuvres for countering high mountain terrain.

The gun ships and attack choppers will be necessary for providing the two formations fire power in mountain terrain, as the Army cannot deploy tanks and armoured vehicles there, sources said.

India-China border
When minister shoots his mouth off
by Gen V.P. Malik (retd)

Every time an Indian dignitary visits China, the government agencies, particularly the mandarins of South Block, are under pressure to show that the visit was a great success. I recall, when Rajiv Gandhi was to visit China in 1988, the Research and Analysis Wing informed the Army that several Chinese PLA divisions, which had arrived in Tibet after Wangdung incident (August 1986) and consequent to our occupation of Hathongla Ridge (South of Thagla Ridge) in Kameng District, had suddenly vanished and were back in their permanent locations. There was pressure on the Army to slow down Operation Falcon for construction/improvement of logistics infrastructure: even withdraw from Hathongla Ridge, which late General Sundarji refused to oblige.

Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to China last week, much less significant than Rajiv Gandhi’s, was no different. As usual, there was more emphasis on the form and symbolism. Beyond the MoU for provision of flood season hydrological data of the Brahmaputra, there was nothing of substance. There was much speculation about the cancellation of Mukherjee’s meeting with Premier Wen Jiabao. Embarrassment or not, it showed Chinese priorities. How many Indian political leaders will take such a step?

But was it necessary for Mukherjee to state in China that there is no tension on the India-China border: a tactical, military-level statement, which tends to hide the strategic reality. Such an assertion requires a bit of stock-taking of the ground realities.

Ever since 1988, India and China have signed several agreements to improve bilateral political, economic, strategic and military relations. These include agreements and protocols signed in 1993, 1996, 2003 and 2005 on “Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Boundary Question”, “Agreement on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) in the Military Field Along the Line of Actual Control (LAC)”, and “Modalities for the Implementation of CBMs in the Military Field Along the LAC”.

From time to time, both sides have “reaffirmed that neither side shall use or threaten to use force against the other by any means or seek unilateral military superiority” and committed to work on the CBMs contained in these agreements. But till now, there is no accepted “delineation” or even an agreed perception of each other’s LAC on the maps. Consequently, there is often military tension in areas when troops from either side carry out road building, bunker construction/repairs or patrolling.

More importantly, many other CBMs like deployment of troops and heavy weapons, as given in Article 3 of the 1996 Agreement, are related to distances from the LAC. These are not actionable until the LAC is delineated.

Ever since China adopted “better border management” policy, there has been an increase in the PLA patrolling along the LAC, along with improvement of its infrastructure in the border region. During Kargil war, there were attempts to construct a road in the Trig Heights area, increased patrolling activities at Demchok, Pangong Tso (all in Ladakh), and a provocative deployment in Chantze (West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh) to assert Chinese claim over disputed areas. At the military level, these moves indicated a demonstrative support to Pakistan, or an attempt to take advantage of our Army’s involvement on the western borders, and thus caused considerable tension.

China recognises Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) and has no problem with its military personnel visiting that area. But it does not give similar recognition to the Indian part of Jammu and Kashmir. In late 1990s, after agreeing with Indian officials on the visits of senior Army officers to opposite sectors in Ladakh as a CBM, the PLA refused to send its Military District Commander to Leh for talks. This may also be the reason for China not agreeing to Indian pilgrims using the Leh-Demchok-Kailash Mansrover route. After Kargil war, when most Defence Attaches (DAs) in New Delhi were keen to and were taken to Kargil sector, the Chinese DA declined to go.

In 2003, China agreed to give up its oft-reiterated claims on Sikkim and to restore trans-border trade across Nathu La. The Indian Government made much of this development. But this is yet to receive the Chinese official stamp in the last five years. The ground reality is that this 206-km-long Sikkim-Tibet border, part of the India-China boundary that is clearly “demarcated” on the maps and ground, creates frequent tension as we have seen in the border incidents at Doka La (near Bhutan-Sikkim-China tri junction) and now in the “Finger Area” of North Sikkim. Is Sikkim back into contestation? One wonders!

Recently, the Chinese Ambassador to India publicly laid claim to the whole of Arunachal Pradesh. China refused to give travel visa to an Arunachali officer, part of an official delegation, on that account.

Meanwhile, China has constructed all weather highways to and within Tibet, an oil pipeline and a railway line to Lhasa, and upgraded all airfields in Tibet. The now operational Qinghai-Tibet railway is slated for further expansion — linking Lhasa with Shigatse and Yadong near Sikkim border. Chinese land communications with Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar too have also been improved. These developments have upgraded Chinese defence infrastructure and military capability in Tibet substantially and enabled almost complete integration of Tibet with the rest of Han China. And yet when India re-activated the airfield at Daulat Beg Oldy recently, there was a written protest from China!

We know that China claims substantial parts of Indian territory as its “historical territory”. The problem is what is Chinese territory? Which era is its benchmark? China recognises McMahon Line as its boundary with Myanmar but not with India. Some Sinologists say that China does not nurse extraterritorial ambitions. There are many who feel that China never gives up its border claims. In its 2004 White Paper, China had affirmed that “re-unification” of China is a “sacred duty” of the PLA. China’s territorial integrity in terms of its grand strategy can certainly be interpreted to include parts of Indian territory.

So, when the troops deployed on the border cannot be reduced, have to maintain 24/7 vigilance, and have to go through frequent bouts of military tension as narrated, are we justified in telling the Chinese that there is no tension along the border?

In recent years, several developments have increased the comfort level in the Sino Indian bilateral relations. Bilateral trade has increased to $ 30 billion and is growing at about 30 per cent a year. There is progressive increase in the investment and business possibilities. Multi-dimensional individual, governmental and non-governmental contacts are growing fast. While these developments are being rightly highlighted, the proverbial Chinese firmness in sticking to their strategic and national interest, as seen from the negligible progress in the border dispute, Sino-Pakistan relations and elsewhere is quite evident. So long as Beijing and New Delhi continue to drag their feet on the delineation of the LAC and the border dispute, disputed areas along the India China border will remain potential flashpoints for military tension and border skirmishes.n

The writer is former Chief of Army Staff currently associated with the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

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