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Wednesday, 27 August 2008

From Today's Papers - 27 Aug

India, US natural partners, says J.J. Singh

New Delhi (PTI): Touching on the raw nerve in the Indo-US relations, Arunachal Pradesh Governor General (Rtd) J J Singh on Tuesday said India had got it right when it sought a United Nations mandate to send troops to Iraq in 2002 to participate in the US-led war in the Middle East.

However, Singh, also former Army Chief, lauded the growing Indo-US defence cooperation and called the two countries "natural partners." "We (India and US) are natural partners," Singh said, releasing a book on Indo-US relations penned by an army colonel here. "The strategic partnership we are talking about is a comprehensive, all-encompassing strategy...and, therefore, it will do us all good," the General said.

Stating that both New Delhi and Washington had "so much in common and very little which is conflicting," Singh said the defence co-operation between India and the US was growing in leaps and bounds. "We had our hiccups I think all in the past. The differences are bound to be there in any democracy, where a system of discussion and debate takes place before arriving at any conclusion," Singh said.

Without mentioning the US' war in Iraq, Singh said India was respected across the world as it refused to undertake any international mission without a United Nation mandate.

"We have always said that the Indian Armed Forces will participate in trouble-shooting, peace-making and peace- keeping, whenever the UN asks us to do...whereever we have the Blue Berret as a rallying point," he said.

Maintain truce, Antony tells Pak

New Delhi, August 26
With Pakistan again indulging in cross-border firing and militants making yet another infiltration attempt in Jammu and Kashmir on Tuesday, defence minister A.K. Antony termed the developments as a matter of concern and said the ceasefire should be maintained.

“The border firing and attempts of infiltration are a matter of concern,” Antony told reporters on the sidelines of a function here.

“Our forces are doing their best to prevent these incidents. By and large, they are able to control the situation. Our forces are ready to meet any challenges in the border. So there is no cause of worry,” he said.

Tuesday’s firing by Pakistani troops at a BSF post in Poonch, where four jawans have been injured, is the 30th ceasefire violation since January this year.

The number of infiltration attempts by militants into Jammu and Kashmir from across the borders too had witnessed a substantial increase, touching over 130 incidents between March and July this year.

Antony said though in the last two months there had been over 20 violations of ceasefire by Pakistani forces and infiltration attempts were on the rise, the Indian security forces were foiling these attempts successfully.

“Every summer, these kinds of things (Pakistani firing and militants infiltration) do happen. This year, the cross-border firing incidents are more. But it does not mean the entire border is troublesome. Even now I feel we have to hold on to ceasefire,” he said, to a question on the relevance of the November 2003 ceasefire agreement with Pakistan continuously violating it. — PTI

Five BSF jawans hurt in Poonch
Tribune News Service

Jammu, August 26
In yet another ceasefire violation from across the Line of Control (LoC), Pakistani troops resorted to unprovoked firing on a patrol party of the BSF in Poonch district, injuring five personnel.

Official sources said the incident took place on late Monday night when a BSF party, on routine patrol duty along the LoC in the Suhhan sector in Sabzian area of Poonch district, came under heavy fire from across the border.

“Five BSF personnel were injured in the incident”, a top BSF official told The Tribune.

He said: “The party came under heavy fire from across the LoC. They attacked us with mortars and rockets. However, we returned the fire”. The injured jawans were shifted to the hospital where the condition of one of them was stated to be critical.

This is the 31st cross-border ceasefire violation from the Pakistani side since January and the eleventh in the past one month.

When contacted Jammu-based PRO of the ministry of defence Lt-Col. S. D. Goswami said: “The firing lasted for 10 minutes in which they fired mortars and rockets”.

Red alert sounded in Jammu
Infiltrators sneak into Indian territory
Tejinder Singh Sodhi
Tribune News Service

Jammu, August 26
A red alert has been sounded in the entire Jammu region after a group of heavily armed infiltrators managed to sneak into India from across the border in the Kanachak area in the Akhnoor sector of Jammu district.

A group of around 25 to 30 heavily armed militants late last night attacked a forward post of the BSF near the Kanachak international border. The firing lasted more than two hours in which a few infiltrators managed to cut the border fence and infiltrate into Indian side.

BSF DIG J.B Sangwan did not rule out the involvement of Pakistani troops in the firing from across the border to help the militants sneak into India. Meanwhile defence sources informed that the militants had managed to cut three feet of the barbered fence to sneak into the Indian side.

It is the second infiltration attempt in the Jammu region since May this year. Earlier, a group of infiltrators managed to sneak into Indian side from the Samba sector. Eight persons were killed in an encounter with these infiltrators.

The security forces apprehend that the infiltrators would try to take advantage of the ongoing unrest in Jammu and target innocent people.

"We have reports that three or four heavily armed terrorists have managed to infiltrate into our side from Kanachak. These militants can take advantage of the ongoing unrest in the region and attack protesters in Jammu to inflict maximum causalities," Jammu range IG K. Rajendra told The Tribune. However, sources say the number of infiltrators could be higher than that claimed by the security forces.

"We are on a high alert as the aim of the terrorists would be to inflict maximum damage and they can resort to mass killings. They can even target tomorrow's Jammu rally."

Rajendra said a massive manhunt had been launched by the police, Army and the BSF to nab these militants.

Maoists kill CRPF jawan

Gaya, August 26
A CRPF jawan was killed and three others injured in an encounter with Maoists in Gaya district even as a sub-inspector and a jawan of the Bihar police special task force (STF), who had gone missing since the incident, were rescued from forests today.

IGP (operations) S.K Bharadwaj, who is supervising the combing operations, said over phone that CRPF jawan D.P. Singh was kidnapped by CPM rebels yesterday. He was later shot. His body was recovered from the forest in Bankebazar area adjoining Jharkhand.

Bhardwaj said the police rescued CRPF sub-inspector B.K Choubey and STF jawan Uttam Kumar, who had gone missing after the encounter at Pathar-Lutwa village. The Naxalites fled with the Insas rifle of the STF jawan, he said. — PTI

The increase in salaries
How the government gives less to its staff
by Arun Kumar

THE Central Government announced a revised pay structure for its employees on the eve of Independence Day. It has been called a “jackpot” for the roughly five million employees of the government. It has also opened the way for an increase in the salaries of the employees of the state governments and university and college teachers. So, in due course, roughly 17 million public sector employees will have their emoluments raised.

When the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations were announced, no one was happy. The armed forces, police officers, bureaucrats, et al, protested against the meager proposed increase in the salaries which was below their expectations, given the prevailing situation in the economy and their requirements. For instance, the armed forces have been pointing to the difficulties in retaining and recruiting the requisite number of officers and specialists like doctors and engineers at the prevailing salaries.

The government has announced an increase over the Pay Commission recommendations. But if the total increase is of the order of 21 per cent on an average (as some reports suggest), then this would hardly mollify the disgruntled groups. They were not seeking about a 10 per cent or 20 per cent hike but demanding a 200 or 300 per cent increase in their emoluments. The government seems to be in a no-win situation.

Those who have characterised the announcement as a “jackpot” or a “bonanza” obviously feel that the government servants do not even deserve what was announced by the pay commission so that the additional amount is even more unfair. This is in contrast to the applause from the same circles when the corporate sector announces annual (not over 10 years) salary increases of 40 or 50 per cent and huge bonuses for its managers. What is involved in the announcement of a pay commission award?

Pay commissions have been set up at 10-year intervals because the salaries of the government servants lag behind the ongoing inflation. The government servants get an annual increment and every six months a dearness allowance (DA) to compensate for the price rise. However, since the compensation is never commensurate with the price rise, real incomes keep falling and the pay commissions are supposed to correct for this decline.

Thus, in-between the setting up of the pay commissions, the government gets a benefit by paying its employees less than what it should have been paying. Further, the pay commissions typically compensate the employees for inflation only at the bottom of their pay scales so that the emoluments of those at senior levels come down to roughly the starting point of their scales and they lose the benefit of the increments earned due to seniority. This is a permanent advantage to the government.

Further, over a period of time, the official rate of inflation has gone out of line with the real inflation. The services sector is now over 60 per cent of GDP but its weight in the consumer price index is only 16 per cent. Thus, rapid increases in school fees, travel, entertainment, etc, are not factored in. As such, the compensation for inflation is only partial. Consequently, the government servants feel that they are not able to maintain their standard of living. But there is something else even more critical.

Salaries in the private organised sector and the emoluments of professionals and businessmen have seen a huge increase. These have become benchmarks for everyone to aspire for. Economic theory tells us that when income differentials widen, there is social discontent. Up to 1991, corporate salaries were capped at Rs 3,12,000 per annum. This cap was lifted and now salaries in the private sector can go into crores with top salaries up to Rs 25 crore. In other words, there has been an increase of around 800 times at the top. The starting managerial salaries are even higher than the salary of top government officials at retirement.

Such huge salary differentials have led to discontent all around. Senior bureaucrats, doctors, pilots, engineers, etc, aspire for leave for the private sector where they can draw 10 times (or more) their current salaries.

It is argued that the government’s budget would be upset by the announcement of the salary increases. Hence these should be moderated. But it is forgotten that the government has all along been getting the benefit of not paying its employees what it should have been paying.

However, the real issue is not the financial burden but corruption, weak governance and poor delivery of public services. The public faces harassment in the courts, public sector hospitals, government offices, etc. Given the low prestige of government employees, the public resents any additional payment to them since they do not even justify the present payment they receive.

While in a limited framework, these are the relevant questions, at a higher plane, one may ask: how legitimate is it for anyone to earn salaries 3.5 times to 35 times the per capita incomes when in 2004-05, 77 per cent of Indians spent Rs 20 or less per capita per day? In other words, less than Rs 3,000 per month for a family of five? It is true that people usually look at those above them and not those below them, but why should the government not take a broader perspective? Why, in terms of reference, is there no point about the relationship of salaries in the country with the per capita incomes which represents the nation’s true paying capacity? If some get a disproportionately high income, it is at the expense of the others.

Not only should we ask how much a poor nation can afford but also who should get what. Does a school teacher or a researcher not deserve more than what we pay someone to sell cigarettes or toiletries or for moving funds around the globe? Should salaries depend on how much power one has in the market or how much the managers are willing to do the bidding of the businessmen or how much political clout one can exercise or on the long run, the value of one’s work to society?

In an economy where black economy is rampant (50 per cent of GDP) and businesses earn large sums of money in illegitimate ways and share a part of that with politicians, consumerism has become rampant. Not only does one see it in five-star hotels or at flashy weddings but also in parliament. The people’s representatives are flaunting their wealth for all to see. The Prime Minister and the President drive around in flashy cars and live a lifestyle worthy of kings of olden days. This has led to a severe demonstration effect with everyone aspiring for consuming more so that none is happy with less or willing to sacrifice for the sake of a common good. The Prime Minister did talk of ostentation in the corporate sector, but he was laughed out of court and fingers were pointed at the politicians, so he never raised the matter again. That is the clout of the elite.

In brief, since the debate on the emoluments of government servants has remained in the narrow confines of the budget or its inflationary consequences, it has missed the main point that it should relate to the country’s worldview (or a lack of it) about equity and social justice. In the 61st year of our Independence, the ongoing debate shows that for the elite, whether in the public or private sectors, the nation is hardly the reference point for action.

Army ensures smooth flow of traffic on J-K Highway

DESPITE CLAIMS by hardliners and separatists in Kashmir that an economic blockade has been imposed on the Jammu-Srinagar Highway, around 308 load carriers with essential commodities and fuel arrived in the Valley on Tuesday (August 26).

The Indian Army, which is overseeing the traffic on this crucial national highway has ensured that it remains open to vehicular traffic.

An Army statement said that even on Monday (August 25), when the call for a bandh and ’Chakka Jam’ was issued in Jammu and a call for defying curfew orders were given by the separatists in Kashmir, over 1,000 civilian vehicles moved unhindered and unharmed between Srinagar and Jammu.

On that day a total of 694 vehicles moved into Srinagar while 391 vehicles plied from Srinagar to Jammu. The vehicular traffic comprised mostly (over 75 per cent) of trucks and oil tankers and the rest were light vehicles and passenger buses.

Similar traffic movement was observed even on Tuesday (August 26) since the morning. The Army is committed to ensuring that no disruptions are caused to vehicular movement between Jammu and Kashmir regions.

Meanwhile, a spokesman of the state government said that out of 308 trucks reaching Kashmir on Tuesday, 78 carried rice, 19 had flour, 18 had sugar, two carried sheep, four had fresh fruits, 161 contained other commodities. And eight tankers with diesel, two with kerosene oil, six with petrol, six with LPG and four empty trucks also entered into the Valley in the same period.

Likewise, 121 trucks and tankers left the Valley towards various destinations outside the state during the same period. Of these, 21 trucks were laden with fruits and vegetables, 13 with other commodities and 87 empty tankers also returned after off loading fuel in the region.

Five BSF Men Injured in Firing from Across LoC
At least five Border Security Force (BSF) troopers were injured when a patrol party came under fire from across the Line of Control (LoC) in Saujian sector in Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir, BSF officials said Tuesday.
The firing from Pakistan Monday night violated the ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan once again, officials pointed out. The BSF troopers returned fire.
The area falls under army control, but BSF personnel assist the army in patrolling along the LoC - the de-facto border between India and Pakistan in Kashmir.
On Tuesday, Pakistani troops opened fire once again to divert the attention of Indian security forces in Kana Chak sector of the border, allowing a group of infiltrators to cross into Jammu and Kashmir.
BSF officials said a manhunt had been launched to nab the infiltrators who were headed towards Jammu.

Why Pakistan is reactivating the Kashmir front

Sushant Sareen | August 26, 2008 | 17:18 IST

The repeated violation by Pakistan of the ceasefire along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir has left many analysts in India scratching their heads over Pakistan's strategic game plan.

At a time when Pakistan appears to be engaged in a life and death struggle on its western frontier, logic and rationality demands that Pakistan avoid any flare-up on the eastern front with India. After all, being caught in a pincer from east and west has long been Pakistan's ultimate strategic nightmare.

But then logic and rationality are highly subjective concepts and what is rational for an Indian need not necessarily be rational for a Pakistani. Had this not been the case, the Kargil intrusion would have never taken place. At that time, India thought that in a nuclearised strategic environment military adventurism by Pakistan had become a thing of the past; Pakistan on the other hand felt that the possession of nuclear weapons gave it an opportunity for undertaking military adventurism without having to worry about India widening the theatre of war. The ceasefire violations must therefore be seen as a considered move on the part of Pakistan, one that makes a lot of strategic, diplomatic, political and military sense from the Pakistani standpoint.

In his columns in the Pakistani press, the former chief secretary of North West Frontier Province, Khalid Aziz, has revealed that "cooperation between the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban and Kashmiri Mujahideen has become visible in various fights in Waziristan, Kohat and Swat." But according to Aziz in recent times the presence of 'considerable' number of Kashmiri combatants in the troubled North-West has reduced and the reason for this is that "it is very likely that they are shifting towards the Kashmir LoC"

There have appeared other reports in the Pakistani press that talk about Punjabi jihadist groups joining up with the Pashtun Taliban in their fight against the Pakistani security forces and the American and NATO troops.

Although the Punjabi and Kashmiri jihadists and the Pashtun Taliban share a common ideology and worldview, for the former Kashmir is the primary battlefield, while for the latter the primary battlefield are the Pashtun lands in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But with Pakistan pulling back on its sponsorship of jihad in Kashmir, the Punjabi and Kashmiri jihadists gravitated towards the Taliban.

By reactivating the Kashmir front and diverting the jihadists to Kashmir, the Pakistan security agencies believe that they can break the growing compact between the jihadists and the Taliban. This will not only deplete the ranks of the Taliban but also prevent the Taliban from making use of jihadist networks in Punjab, which they could have used to devastating effect in both Punjab and Sindh.

The Pakistani agencies have also tried using the predominantly Punjabi jihadists like the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, which for all the bluff and bluster of its chief, Hafiz Saeed, is a most obedient jihadist group and does not deviate from the line given to it by its handlers, to drive a wedge in Taliban ranks. This ploy however backfired and Lashkar cadres led by a local commander Shah Khalid were worsted by the Taliban who saw through the game. Quite expectedly, the Pakistani intelligence, with the support of jJihadists like the Harkatul Mujahideen chief Fazlur Rehman Khalil and jihadist ideologues like Dr Sher Ali Shah, pulled out all stops to rescue the Lashkar cadres, who were being held hostage by the Taliban in Mohmand agency. And, probably as a sort of quid pro quo, groups like the Lashkar and Harkatul Mujahedin have been allowed to once again infiltrate and spread terror in Jammu and Kashmir with the support of the Pakistan army.

By reactivating Kashmir, the Pakistani national security establishment is also trying to send a signal to its proxies in the state that it hasn't abandoned the Kashmir cause. Many Pakistani proxies were disillusioned by what they saw as Pakistan's u-turn on Kashmir and were now exploring ways of making their peace with the Indian state, more so with elections in the state around the corner.

Many of these people will now pull back on their overtures towards India. What is more, if violence erupts in the state it will help to sabotage the elections there. The political disturbances in Jammu and Kashmir over the Amarnath shrine land issue will only give further impetus to the agent provocateurs from Pakistan to stir up trouble in the state.

For the moment however, the ceasefire violations have been very carefully calibrated to try and ensure that things don't deteriorate beyond a point. Perhaps the Pakistanis are only sending a signal to India that unless India shows flexibility on Kashmir, Pakistan can quite easily ratchet up the violence in the state. But even if hostilities commence along the LoC and the peace process breaks down, the Pakistanis will not be too worried. Their calculation will be that they will be able to use the situation on the diplomatic stage against India.

The Pakistanis will argue that India did not show any flexibility to resolve the issue despite General Pervez Musharraf's very bold proposals and 'Indian intransigence' will be waved before the international community. What is more, there is little danger of Americans acting against Pakistan on India's behalf especially since they are depend so heavily on Pakistan to carry out their war effort in Afghanistan. Another benefit will be that if hostilities commence with India it might make many of the Pakistani Taliban go slow on Afghanistan (something which will certainly please the Americans) and shift their attention to India.

For the political establishment in Pakistan, the ceasefire violations along the LoC are a credibility test. Perhaps their domestic political compulsions will force the Pakistani political establishment to take a somewhat hard line on Kashmir. But taking a hard line on Kashmir, which can be explained as a sovereign and political right of any government, is very different from either sponsoring religious terrorist organisations or using military force against a neighbouring country in pursuit of irredentist claims.

The inability or unwillingness of the civilian government to stop ceasefire violations and the rising intrusions by terrorists in Kashmir means that either it is powerless before the army or else it subscribes to the manufactured and coerced national security consensus that has been fostered on Pakistan by the country's national security establishment.

Quite clearly, the reactivation of the Kashmir front is a clear signal to the politicians that they should not even think of making any deal with India without taking the views of the Pakistan Army into account. In other words, the army is in a position to sabotage any political initiative, secure in the knowledge that no politician can afford to take on the army on an issue like Kashmir.

By reigniting the flames of jihadist terror in Kashmir, the ISI (President Musharraf calls it Pakistan's first line of defense) and the Pakistan Army are probably doing what they are doing as a part of a national security strategy that they think best serves Pakistan's national interest. It is of course an entirely different matter that the Pakistani security establishment's view of national interest might actually be jeopardising the country's national security. Fires lighted in the house of a neighbour have a nasty habit of blowing back and consuming the house of the arsonist. For evidence look no further than the Islamist insurgency that is wrecking havoc in Pakistan today.

No agreement to be signed during US visit: Antony

Press Trust Of India / New Delhi August 26, 2008, 14:36 IST

With the Indo-US nuclear deal "on the right track", Defence Minister A K Antony will visit the US this September to "continue the defence cooperation dialogue" between the two countries but no agreement will be signed during the trip.

"Actually, it is part of my return visit....I am going to the US not to sign any agreement. It is part of the continuing defence dialogue between the US and India," Antony told reporters after inaugurating a defence seminar at Vigyan Bhavan here.

Antony said it was on the invitation of US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who was in New Delhi a few months ago, that he would be travelling to the US.

"India has a cordial defence partnership with the US. During his (Gates') visit and after that, he invited me to the US. I accepted that invitation and I am going there," he said to a query.

Antony will be leading a high-level delegation to the US and his entourage will comprise Defence Secretary Vijay Singh, Eastern Army Commander Lt-Gen V K Singh, Air Officer (Personnel) Air Marshal S Mukherjee, and Director General Acquisitions S K Sharma.

With India's military hardware purchases expected to touch $50 billion in the next five years, the two countries are looking at joint collaborations and research in advanced weapon and platform systems.

Towards this end, the two countries, are looking at concluding key agreements to open doors for transfer of advanced American technology to India.

Serving defence personnel should have freedom to write: Analyst

New Delhi, Aug 26: Serving defence personnel and government officials should have freedom to write without any hindrance, asserted Defence analyst K Subrahmanyam on Tuesday.
Any serving officer both civil and military, "if he says I am going to express my own personal views and not the views of the Government or any organisation, then he can say whatever he wants to say. That is democracy", Subrahmanyam noted while recalling his persistent struggle to get his work published overcoming obstacles 40 years back while serving as an IAS officer.
Addressing a book release function here today, authored by a serving officer in the Maratha Light Infantry, he expressed happiness that his assertion on allowing serving officials to write seems to have finally proved vindicated.
The release of the book shows the maturity of Indian bureaucracy and hopefully it will encourage other officers to write as well, he said.
Titled "Indo-US relations, divergence to convergence", the book has been written by Col Vivek Chadha, currently posted in Jammu and Kashmir.
Subrahmanayam also harped on military men doning a dual role in this nuclear age. Stating that the role of military is not only to fight wars but to ensure that wars do not break up, he called upon officers to be well versed in international affairs as well as the role of the officers today has become "party military and party diplomatic."
In this respect, he advised senior officers to pursue PhD in international relations, much like what most in the US armed forces do.

Retaining officers, IAF style

from Pragmatic Euphony by Pragmatic

The number of officers seeking premature retirement also adds to the shortage of officers in the IAF. According to the highly placed sources in the IAF, more than 160 officers are annually permitted to opt for early retirement.

“The number of officers leaving the IAF prematurely has reached the levels it was around six years ago. We are not holding people back just for the sake of it,” a senior IAF officer said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“A large batch of amateurish people cannot compensate a group of trained people as it takes time to train a person to the level required operationally,” the officer added.

So ends a news report in the Hindustan Times. The facts are, obviously, not as the ones being floated about in the report. 1269 officers applied for premature release and resignation from the IAF in the period 2003- 07. Out of these, 793 were allowed to leave the service, mostly under the modern, liberal policy of the former Air Chief Krishnaswamy [Read his piece in the Indian Express, explaining the rationale for his policy]. The breakdown of IAF officers seeking to leave their jobs prematurely was 287 in 2007, while it was 224 in 2003. The number was 246 in 2004, 292 in 2005 and 220 in 2006. Out of these, 238, 171 and 80 officers were allowed to leave in 2004, 2005 and 2006 respectively. The figures for 2007 and 2008 [till now] are also in double figures only.

A few more extracts from the same newsreport make for a very interesting reading.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) faces a shortage of 400 pilots and it will take five years to plug the gap, says its chief, Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major. It takes 6-8 years of operational training before an IAF pilot can be fully utilized in his intended role. “They have to be trained over a period of time and there are not shortcuts. We are short of about 400 pilots but with the measures we are taking, we will make good the shortage in the next five years,” the chief of the air staff told IANS in an interview. Overall, the IAF is short of about 800 officers.

IAF is short of 400 pilots vis-a-vis what? The overall authorisation of pilots. This overall requirement of pilots is based on the total number of squadrons [39.5 squadrons] authorised to the IAF. This is what the IAF told the Parliamentary Defence Committee earlier this year–

As of last year our force level was down to 32 squadrons. If no action was to have been taken by us as a government, this would continue to go down to a sliding scale of 20.5 squadrons by the end of 2022.

As of April 1, 2008, from 32 squadrons we [the IAF] have gone up to 34 squadrons.

A report of May 2007 in the Hindustan Times quoting certain classified documents of the IAF had revealed some startling facts.

The air force currently has 3,068 pilots. Against that it has 790 aircraft — 340 fighters, 450 transports and helicopters. Only half the fleet is available at any given time, with the remaining being serviced. The air force plans to reduce its transport fleet further by about 40 per cent by 2010, according to another IAF document.

Moreover, surplus pilots who are fit to fly are thus employed for roles in ground duties. Where are the real shortages then?

At least 1,000 fit and trained pilots of the Indian Air Force (IAF) are stuck in ground and desk jobs mainly because the force does not have enough aircraft, according to classified air force documents.

Now, take a look at what the current Air Chief proposes as the two-pronged strategy to meet the “shortages”… of pilots, not aircrafts!

“The IAF has addressed the issue with emphasis on two aspects - ‘retain’ and ‘attract’. We are carrying out a focused publicity campaign to attract the best to our fold. “Whilst we cannot match the salaries of the private sector, we compensate by offering a challenging and fulfilling profession with an unequalled quality of life,” Major said.

The IAF chief said plans are afoot to increase the intake of men and women into the Short Service cadre as it would be an attractive option for youth while meeting the organisation’s needs. Short Service cadre officers are appointed for 10 years, which can be extended by another four years depending on one’s performance. “We are seeking to improve promotion avenues by the implementation of the Ajay Vikram Singh Committee (AVSC) recommendations,” the IAF chief told IANS.

In the end, it all boils down to “give us more” syndrome at the senior ranks. As with the demands from the SCPC, this is also about more avenues in the senior ranks via the AVSC-2. No one cares that the actual problem of retention in the IAF is at much junior levels.

As far as attracting newer talent is concerned, the IAF has improved its targets for officer recruitment over the last few years. The figures have improved from barely over 65% in 2004 to over 90% in 2006.

Notwithstanding the actual surplus holding of pilots in the IAF, the Air Chief has rightly shifted his focus for the future on a greater number of short service officers. However, while a trained pilot recruited as a short service officer can quit after 10 years, the regular officers are denied that opportunity by the IAF even after 20 years.

Moreover, if the professed thinking of the Air Chief is taken to its logical conclusion, it should have resulted in a transparent, liberal and equitable exit policy for the officers - for pilots as well as the ground duty officers. This lack of a modern exit policy is in total contravention to the Vision 2020 document of the IAF.

So, how much does the air force spend on training its pilots? “The cost of training a single fighter pilot is Rs 8 crore, that of a transport pilot is Rs 3 crore, and it involves a cost of Rs 2.5 crore to train a helicopter pilot,” says an IAF document.

The IAF’s argument on not relieving pilots contradicts its own classified policy document — Vision 2020, which states that a pilot who has served the force for 15 years should be allowed to leave.

“The cost of training an officer is recovered after eight years of service. In the proposed career progression versus age profile, an officer would have a reasonable idea of where he stands after 15 years of service. At this juncture the officers be permitted an outlet, with a golden handshake,” the 2020 document says.

The Air Chief has made this statement a couple of days back which has been covered by a section of the media. It amazes this blogger that no one has tried to nail him on the lies being spread by him about the purported shortage of pilots. This is a myth, much like the shortage of officers in the Indian Army, that has been accepted gleefully by a gullible media.

There has not been a single question asked about the coercive methods used to retain officers in the IAF. The large number of court cases filed for release by officers and an article by one of their own former Chiefs, berating the current policy, has also drawn no further attention from the mainstream media. In a liberal, modern, democratic society, it is the duty of the media to educate the politicians, the bureaucrats, the judiciary and the public at large. A critical failure by one of the pillars of the civil society has a cascading effect on other institutions.

The half-baked coverage of the services, shielding them from difficult inquisitions - in the garb of national security and preserving the morale of soldiers - is doing a huge damage to the military in this country. The long-term consequences of this misguided sympathy [which some others label as apathy] for the defence services will be terrible for the nation to bear in the long run. The media would better remember the words of the nineteenth century Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke –

The military is the most outstanding institution in every country, for it alone makes possible the existence of all civic institutions.

Tailpiece - As far as the average defence journalist in India is concerned, many might find this exchange from the TV series West Wing strikingly apt:

“I can’t make up my mind. Are you ignorant or are you just apathetic?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care.”

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