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Tuesday, 16 September 2008

From Today's Papers - 16 Sep






















Flight Path Of Icarus


Suicidesamong lower-grade staffare on the rise in the Air Force

SAIKAT DATTA

Loud Sirens

Among the three services suicides are the highest in the IAF:

* This year, 18 airmen have taken their lives till August. In the last six years, the total figure is 166.

* Domestic problems, property disputes and marital discord have been cited as the chief reasons

* The air force has posted 57 civilian psychologists at air force stations across the country

* Senior officers and airmen are being put through awareness programmes to sensitise them

* Soft loans, marriage counselling being provided to reverse the trend

***

On January 17 this year, aircraftman P. Panwar, posted at the Belgaum Air Force station, went into his room and hanged himself. The 26-year-old thus became part of a growing statistic that has been worrying the Indian Air Force no end. For nearly a decade, the force has seen suicide rates within its ranks rising. As a senior officer recently pointed out in an internal note, "The IAF has the highest rate of suicides amongst the three services in the past several years."

The note, written by Air Marshal Sumit Mukherjee on June 24, is part of a growing volume of correspondence, studies and internal discussions on a problem that the IAF cannot ignore. To quote Mukherjee's missive to air headquarters, a copy of which is available with Outlook: "The number of suicides in the air force is much higher than the national average.... Calculated at a rate of suicides per lakh, the air force has 16 suicides while the army 11 and the navy 8." An alarming figure, since the national average is 10.5 suicides per lakh.

For a force that has approximately 1.2 lakh personnel within its ranks, this is a worrying figure. As Air Marshal J.A. Burma, heading the administrative wing of the IAF, puts it, "We are losing 22 to 24 men every year." Burma is at the forefront of an IAF effort to stem the suicides and has written letter after letter detailing measures that need to be initiated. "These are time-bound directions with a complete implementation strategy in place. We are sure that we will save lives," he says. According to him, Air Chief Marshal Fali Major this year personally wrote to all the IAF commands to show "the seriousness at which we will deal with the issue."

To begin with, the IAF has conducted several studies to try and get a fix on why the men were ending their lives. For the latest comprehensive study, the IAF brought in officers from the army and the navy to get a fresh perspective. Conducted by the College of Defence Management, Hyderabad, a team of 13 officers of the rank of colonels and brigadiers camped in Delhi during January-March this year, visited air force stations and collated data. Aided by wing commander P.L. Narayana, an expert psychiatrist, they visited 35 air force stations across the country, interviewed officers and airmen as well as their families, studied the findings of 125 courts of inquiry and finally generated a record 26,000 pages of raw data.

The results threw up several surprises. While it was presumed that financial reasons would be the chief cause for suicides, it turned out that most airmen had killed themselves due to "domestic issues". This meant that 27 per cent of the suicides were attributed to a property dispute, tension with parents, siblings or children who had failed to live up to expectations. The second biggest killer was "marital discord"19 per cent suicides were attributed to infidelity or tension with the spouse. Within this category, the chief cause for marital discord was income incompatibility.The study noticed that spouses of airmen earning more than their husbands led to acute depression.

Incidentally, most suicides were committed by those hailing from Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtraan indication that those from states with better social indicators were most vulnerable. Most of those who killed themselves were in the 26-40 age bracket, the majority corporals and sergeants who serve as the backbone of the IAF. Specialising in key trades such as aircraft maintenance, radar operators, radio technicians, these are the men responsible for keeping high serviceability of the IAF's fleet of fighter and transport aircraft.

Says wing commander Narayana: "You must understand that unlike the army or the navy, our airmen are generally highly qualified. Some even have mbas or are double post-graduates. This leads to tremendously high aspirations that does not match their current jobs."

The statistics collated by the IAF over the last decade is worrying. In 2001, as many as 22 men killed themselves. By '03, the figure had climbed to 24, fell inexplicably to 13 cases the next year and then climbed back to 24 by '06. By August this year, 18 airmen have killed themselves. All this adds up to 166 suicides in the last six years. No wonder the IAF is now fighting a rearguard action to stem and reverse this trend.

Following the study, the IAF initiated a series of measures. For a start, it posted 57 civilian psychologists across the country to ensure that there was some professional counselling and help at hand for distressed and depressed airmen. There was also an effort to sensitise senior officers. Officers were encouraged to attend special week-long courses at the Institute for Aerospace Medicine in Bangalore where they were trained to become mentors to the men. There was also a three-month course to train senior airmen and warrant officers as counsellors. "Our aim is to ensure that our leadership becomes sensitive and are in a position to detect the signs when they surface," says Narayana.

It was felt that forging camaraderie is key to addressing the problem. It was noticed that in as many as 66 per cent of the suicides, some indications of a problem were noticed by those living and working with the airmen. So the IAF has begun to host seminars, workshops and presentations to not just the officers, but also the wives and family members of airmen to sensitise them and help them recognise ominous signs of an impending suicide.

From organising soft loans, to providing marriage counselling, good schooling for children, accommodation for married personnel, the IAF has left no stone unturned to keep up the morale of its men. Working around a seven-point suicide prevention code that bears the stamp of the air chief, the IAF hopes to stop its airmen from taking the extreme step. But in an age of globalisation and rapid economic growth, as aspirations grow in disproportionate terms to incomes and social status, this is a challenge that is here to stay.




Antony blames it on Pak

Tribune News Service

AK AntonyNew Delhi, September 15
Union defence minister AK Antony today pointed an accusing finger at Pakistan for supporting terror groups operating inside India.

“A large number of armed groups have sanctuaries in our neighbouring states who use these bases and resources to carry out acts of terrorism across India,” Antony said, adding that “militants are getting support from across the border and this is a fact.”

Antony was talking to the media on the sidelines of a seminar organised by the Centre for Joint Warfare Studies (CENJOWS) here.

The minister said the recent firing along the LoC was mainly an infiltration attempt by militants.

Earlier at the seminar, Antony said an India-specific waiver from the NSG was a recognition of India’s growing relevance in world affairs.

Pak troop fire turns back US choppers

Islamabad, September 15
Firing by Pakistani troops forced US military helicopters to turn back to Afghanistan after they crossed into Pakistani territory early today, Pakistani security officials said.

The incident took place near Angor Adda, a village in the tribal region of South Waziristan where US commandos in helicopters raided a suspected al Qaeda and Taliban camp earlier this month. ''The US choppers came into Pakistan by just 100 to 150 metres at Angor Adda. Even then our troops did not spare them, opened fire on them and they turned away,'' said one security official. — Reuters


RIMC: Pioneering excellence
anu lotra
15 September 2008, Monday
ENSCONCED IN the sylvan surroundings of Dehradun, is a unique institution called the RIMC (Rashtriya Indian Military College).

This training establishment is an ’elite’ school that has gone about transforming young children from all over the country into achievers of excellence in all fields. What is "elite" about it, is its capability of creating leaders out of rustic and simple boys from all walks of life, not restricted to the so-called conventional ’elite’ of the country.

With an intake of just about 25 children in a classroom, taken in from all over the country, the profile of a multi-cultural classroom is probably one of its kind in India. The alumni of this school have gone on to proudly assume the mantle of eminent leaders in the armed forces of our nation and even beyond. Five chiefs of armed forces, including the likes of Gen KS Thimayya and Gen GG Bewoor, Gen VN Sharma and Gen S Padmanabhan, Air Chief Marshal NC Suri, besides three such chiefs even in Pakistan have been old boys of RIMC.

Governors, Ambassadors, Director Generals of Police Forces, Vice Chancellors of Universities and several other such eminent citizens have had the inimitable stamp of RIMC in them. And this tradition of excellence has been the hallmark of RIMC since the year 1922, when it was raised by the Prince of Wales. This cradle for excellence also boasts of singular acts of gallantry in the Armed Forces by its alumni, securing both the first Indian officer to win the British Victoria Cross and the first Param Vir Chakra of free India, the highest award for gallantry.

Even looking at the recent past alone, 16 President’s gold medals have been won at National Defence Academy (NDA) in the last 16 years by cadet’s who are ex-RIMC. Besides, the coveted Sword of Honour, the President’s gold and the President’s silver medals at IMA were also bagged by ex-RIMC cadets in June 2008.



F-16s for Pakistan:
Are they to Fight Terrorism or India?

By Arun Kumar

Washington
Amid growing fear that Islamabad is using US military aid to prepare for a war against India, US lawmakers are questioning the continued supply of sophisticated F-16 fighter planes to Pakistan to fight terrorism.

Days after Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama among others spoke of Islamabad's diversion of US military aid for a build-up against India, a panel of the House of Representatives has called a hearing on the very rationale of Pakistan's F-16 programme.

The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, headed by Gary Ackerman, a leading critic of Washington's arming of Pakistan, is meeting Tuesday to hear the administration's take on "Defeating Al Qaeda's Air Force: Pakistan's F-16 Programme in the Fight Against Terrorism".

The panel will look at how the F-16 programme fits into the broader US strategy in the fight against terrorism as well as into the overall US relationship with Pakistan, according to its hearing notice. It will seek witness testimony about the complete scope of the F-16 programme with Pakistan including the number of planes, updates made to existing planes, proposed armaments, schedule of delivery and source of payment.

The panel will ask how these planes contribute to Pakistan's efforts in the fight against terrorism and extremism as Congress has previously provided Pakistan with significant amounts of Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for counterterrorism and law enforcement activities against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, it said.

It will also ask "how the use of additional FMF to pay for mid-life updates to Pakistan's existing F-16 fleet enhances those efforts, and whether the subcommittee should expect further requests to use FMF provided to Pakistan for support of the F-16 programme.

The subcommittee is also expected to examine what counterterrorism equipment or programmes were foregone as a result of the Bush administration's July 16 request to shift $226.5 million in US counter-terrorism aid for the F-16 upgrades.

Some lawmakers and analysts have long questioned the need for Washington to arm Pakistan with sophisticated F-16 fighter jets to counter Al Qaeda and Taliban militants, many of whom are said to be roaming in Pakistan's towns and cities rather than flying around in bomber planes.

Witnesses appearing before the panel include Vice Admiral Jeffrey Wieringa, Director of the Pentagon's Defence Security Cooperation Agency and Donald Camp and Frank Ruggiero, deputy assistant secretaries in the State Department's South and Central Asian Affairs and Political-Military Affairs bureaus.

Besides Obama another leading Democrat Sunday slammed the Bush Administration's arms sale policy arguing that military supplies to Pakistan were doing more to stoke tension with India than combat terrorism in the region.

Citing the example of Pakistan, Howard L. Berman, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, told The New York Times that American military sales, while often well intended, were sometimes misguided.

Berman, who sponsored a bill passed in May to overhaul the arms export process, has, along with Nita Lowey, Chairperson of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programmes Representatives, also moved to suspend the release of funds for Pakistan's F-16 upgrades.

They asked the Bush administration not to shift $226.5 million in anti-terrorism aid to the Pakistan military as they feared the plan would in fact impede efforts to stop terrorism and that they needed more time to study it.

Berman was quoted as saying by the Times that he supported many of the individual US weapons sales, like helping Iraq build the capacity to defend itself, but he worried that the sales blitz could have some negative effects too.

"This could turn into a spiralling arms race that in the end could decrease stability," he said.


Pakistan claims India closed water flow in Chenab river
Press Trust Of India / Islamabad September 15, 2008, 11:45 IST

Pakistani authorities have said that India has closed water flow in the Chenab river which it claimed was making a water shortage in the country more severe.

The alleged "water blockade" by India could adversely affect kharif crops, particularly cotton and sugarcane which are in maturity stage and require final watering, and the sowing of rabi crops early next month, sources told the Dawn newspaper.

They said Pakistan's Indus Water Commission had taken up the matter with the federal government. It has also convened a meeting tomorrow to take stock of the situation and to try to reach a diplomatic solution with India.

If the issue is prolonged, the sowing of rabi crops, particularly wheat, would be hit severely, the sources said.

Pakistan had to import over two million tonnes of wheat this year despite a record production of more than 23 million tonnes.

The water shortage could force Pakistan to import more wheat next year, adding to foreign exchange pressure and worsening its balance of payments crisis.

The Indus River System Authority has convened a meeting of its technical committee on September 20 to ascertain the overall water availability for the rabi season that begins on October 1.


Pakistan supporting terror modules in India: Antony

New Delhi (PTI): Charging Pakistan with supporting terror modules operating in India, Defence Minister A K Antony on Monday said it was a "serious" matter and the country will defeat the designs of the destablising forces.

"Militants are getting support from across the border and it is a fact. Already the Home Minister (Shivraj Patil)and others in the government have expressed their opinion on this.

It is a matter of serious concern," Antony told reporters here on the sidelines of a seminar by a defence thinktank.

The minister was responding to a query on Pakistan's support to terrorism in India in the wake of the serial blasts in Delhi and other parts of the country.

"Pakistan is in transition to democracy again and we wish that there must be peace and stability (in that country).

That is India's wish," Antony said.

On the recent bomb blasts in Delhi, Antony said India has taken the attack seriously and the government was committed to track the forces behind "the heinous crime."

On the increased infiltration attempts by militants along the Line of Control (LOC) in Jammu and Kashmir, the minister said the recent Pakistan Army firing along the LOC was mainly to assist infiltration by militants.

"Indian armed forces are vigilant. By and large, we have been able to defeat the attempts of militants. The coming few months are crucial and we have to be more alert. The armed forces have asked to be more vigilant," he said at the event organised by thinktank CENJOWS.

Army chief General Deepak Kapoor, endoring the views of the Defence Minister, said infiltration was on the rise.

"Infiltration has increased in the past one-and-half months. As of now normalcy is returning to Jammu and Kashmir, and the militants are trying to destabilise it," he said.

Kapoor said army had foiled an infiltration attempt by militants at Tangdhar sector of J&K on Sunday, killing two ultras.

"We are ready to face any challenge. All attempts to infiltrate will be beaten. We will not allow J&K situation to be disturbed and the degree of normalcy is maintained," he added.


Nothing can stop army from defending Pakistan: COAS

RAWALPINDI: Nothing can stop the army from defending Pakistan, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Kayani said on Monday.

He was making an informal address to soldiers during a visit to forward posts on the Line of Control and the Line of Actual Contact with India in the Northern Areas.

“No odds [can] deter [the army] from pursuing its obligations towards national defence,” Kayani said.

He said the Pakistani nation honoured its army and “this national support is crucial in synergising a national effort”. Gen Kayani met troops on duty at Siachen, the world’s highest battlefield.

He said there was a national consensus on the Kashmir issue in Pakistan. staff report


Raise FDI cap in defence sector to 49 pc: Assocham
15 Sep, 2008, 2014 hrs IST, PTI


NEW DELHI: Industry body Assocham has asked the government to raise the foreign direct investment cap in the defence sector to 49 per cent for enabling indigenisation and transfer of the latest technology.

At present, 26 per cent FDI is permitted in the sector. "This needs to be further accelerated to 49 per cent as it would help in the procurement of the latest technologies," Assocham said in a paper on Indian Defence Industry.

"India's arms imports since the 1999 Kargil conflict have risen to USD 25 billion and would further rise to USD 30 billion by 2012. It is, therefore, necessary to move towards acquiring self reliance in defence production," Assocham President Sajjan Jindal said.

India is the world's largest importer of defence equipment as its forces buy over USD 6 billion worth of military hardware, it said.

As India has a large industrial base, offsets (as introduced in the 2006 and 2008 defence procurement procedure of the government) will further develop its technical and manufacturing potential and they will also help increase investments in domestic research and development, it added.

"Defence Offsets Policy (DOP) is expected to bring in USD 10 billion during the 11th Five-Year Plan period, as every foreign company is required to spend 30 per cent of the value on offsets goods or services purchased from Indian defence companies," Jindal said.

The offset policy is expected to generate market-entry opportunities for private companies, to invest in research and development and manufacturing of defence goods, it said.

Under the DOP, a single-window clearance agency called the Defence Offset Facilitation Agency assists potential vendors in interacting with the Indian defence industry for identifying potential offset products and projects.


Implications of India joining the nuclear club
16 Sep, 2008, 0000 hrs IST,

The implications of the nuclear deal for India’s energy security are quite different from those for its national security. On the energy front it will obviously be beneficial. The only argument can be over the extent of benefit.

Certainly it will provide badly needed imports of uranium for fuelling the existing reactors and the new ones being planned. The deal also permits building up of a fuel reserve. By allowing the US, France and Russia to construct reactors here, it will significantly speed up growth of our nuclear power capacity. Sharing technology and expertise with these nations will also help our breeder-based thorium programme.

But the deal is unlikely to yield nuclear power amounting to even 10% of our energy requirements by 2030, expected to be about 500 GW (gigawatts). Our current nuclear capacity, developed over 50 years, is a meagre 4 GW with about 3 GW more under construction. To reach 10% of 500 GW by 2030, another 43 GW would have to be added within 22 years, at a cost of Rs 5,000-10,000 crore per GW. This will be difficult because of numerous practical constraints, especially the cost. Nevertheless, whatever increased nuclear capacity is achieved would be substantial in absolute, if not fractional, terms.

The deal will also enable technology transfer in other potentially dual-use areas, like supercomputers, robotics, advanced materials, fancy electronic sensors etc and benefit sectors like meteorology, space and defence hardware. Companies like L&T and Bhel will get more reactor-related projects, both from within and outside India. We can also consider selling CANDU reactors to other countries, perhaps in partnership with Canada.

On national security the deal will not help much in building a bigger or better nuclear arsenal. But it will not hinder our strategic capability either. It permits a military sector for India’s nuclear facilities, all outside safeguards, including the Dhruva and CIRUS reactors which have already generated more than 500 kg of plutonium, enough to make 100 warheads. In addition, eight other CANDU reactors and the fast breeder will also be inside the military fence.

The breeder alone can produce over 20 warheads worth of plutonium every year. On top of this, the existing stock of 12 tonnes of reactor-grade plutonium, contained in the used fuel of our reactors, is outside safeguards as per the deal. This is more than enough material to fulfil minimal nuclear deterrence requirements.
Contrary to misguided rumours, the deal does not take away our sovereign right to conduct a nuclear test. In this deal, the only document India will sign is the 123 agreement where there is no ban on testing. Neither the Hyde Act nor pieces of internal correspondence within the US government are binding on us.

True, in the unlikely event of our performing another nuclear test (and especially if we are the first to do so) there is a good chance that the deal may be in jeopardy. This has been known all along.
But any decision to test will be ours alone, involving far more serious considerations than just the possible loss of nuclear commerce. The fury of the world will be upon us.

Nuclear energy projects are long term by nature and investment is front heavy. Governments must make nuclear power decisions only after careful deliberation with all coalition partners. But once a decision is made projects should proceed without vacillation or cancellations because of political considerations. Our democracy is a precious asset, but its exercise should be tempered with responsibility, so that we may optimally benefit from deals like this.

The implications of India joining the nuclear club in a de facto manner are considerable and wide-spectrum. The single biggest gain is the removal by the 45-member NSG of ban on the nuclear commerce and the high technology denial regime that has been in place for almost 33 years.

The immediate tangible gain is that India will be able to access the global market for importing uranium to fuel its civilian power reactors, which have been operating at sub-optimal levels due to fuel shortages. Access to uninterrupted fuel supplies will, in turn, give a fillip to the three-stage nuclear programme that envisages the use of thorium (of which India has abundant stocks) in the final stage — thereby ensuring India’s energy autonomy.

It is imperative that India sustain this programme. The strategic implications of arriving at a techno-commercial breakthrough in the use of thorium as an energy source are enormous and will transform India into the Saudi Arabia of nuclear energy. The benefits to the country’s economic growth and related improvement of the development indicators follow axiomatically.

The more intangible but nonetheless significant gain of being admitted into the nuclear club is the removal of the tag of ostracism that has been grafted onto India since the 1974 PNE. Till now India was seen as an outsider/pariah and this had shrunk the country’s politico-diplomatic profile. The strategic architecture of the 21st century can now be perceived to be akin to a hexagon — the principal nodes being the US, the EU, Japan — all three having a strategic correspondence; followed by Russia and China; and India now forming the sixth node. The deeper strategic implication of this grid is that India is more compatible to all the other five members than they are to each other. Thus the existential credibility of an India that is “in the club” — as opposed to being an outsider — enhances India’s status as a swing-state in this hexagon.

Access to global high technology inventory and the R&D involved in this domain will enhance India’s overall technological capabilities. Many of the strategic technologies that form the core of credible trans-border military capability that had been denied to India till now will gradually begin to come into the domestic market. To the extent that the 21st century is predicated upon a knowledge economy, this access will have long-term economic, technological and military benefits; advanced computing, nano-technology and space knowhow are case in point.

Investments that till now were prohibited will begin to flow into India, if the domestic HR is appropriately equipped in these sectors. In addition, areas like agriculture, food processing and bio-technology stand to benefit from global co-operation.

The potential risks of the ‘deal’ not yielding the desired results may stem from a divergence in the interpretations that Washington DC and New Delhi attach to July 2005 in the long term. India has entered into this agreement with a clear understanding that its autonomy and sovereignty will not be shrunk or adversely impacted in any manner — even while reiterating its commitment to the restraint that has characterised its nuclear weapon posture. It is pertinent that for the first time India has agreed to support the global non-proliferation effort — even though it remains a non-signatory to the NPT.

The US and the next incumbent in the White House may seek to over-emphasise the non-proliferation aspects of the agreement for domestic reasons — and this may introduce an undesirable element of brittleness and bitterness into the spirit of July 2005. It merits recall that till recently India and the US were ‘estranged’ democracies and India had managed this relationship reasonably well. Engaging with the US is a very different ball-game and a whole set of new diplomatic skills will be required by India to ensure that the bilateral relationship remains a win-win arrangement.

Huge, positive implications; there are no negative ones. First, the fact of being in the “nuclear room” of the world, not outside the door. This is the only exception made and it is for India. That’s reason enough for satisfaction, national well-being.

Second, the potential and capability to address India’s energy needs using clean, nuclear energy in a far more significant manner. This is because, in addition to indigenous capacity and capability, international partnership is essential and now becomes feasible post-NSG approval. A key issue to be addressed will be safety and disposal of nuclear waste.

Third, the whole regime of “technology denial” to India in many areas will undergo change. Over a period of time, technology denial will be a nightmare of the past, history no longer relevant or applicable. Access to technology will be freed.

Fourth, access to technology will enable India to take quantum jumps in research and development (R&D) and work on improving on available technologies. This will be both an opportunity and a challenge.

Fifth, the nuclear power development programme opens up new opportunities for participation and growth of both public and private sector companies — an avenue which was closed with a “No entry” sign.

And, there are more. The significance of NSG/IAEA approvals therefore goes beyond just the “nuclear” arena. It is a milestone as significant as the 1991 economic policy paradigm change which brought competition, consumer first and private sector entrepreneurship to centre stage. The year 1991 was the inflexion point in history which helped India take growth, eventually, to 9% plus. The nuclear milestone will help take India to sustainable growth at 10% plus. This is the key significance. Which, then, enables poverty to be meaningfully addressed and this would benefit everyone, going far beyond business.

The direct benefits, therefore, to business of new growth opportunities, more investment, orders, diversification, technology, are only one part of the story. The much bigger picture is beyond business. Clean energy, higher growth, additional power supply, employment, self-employment, new skills development, backward area development, national economic and energy security.

These are some of the larger, wider repercussions of the nuclear agreement. Just as the 1991 economic paradigm benefits have been truly felt thirteen years after 1991, so, also, the 2008 nuclear development will take time to flow. Perhaps, the real benefits will be felt by India in 2018-2022. It has huge long-term positive implications for India.

There are no risks except the risks attached to nuclear power development — that of rigid safety standards, without compromise and that of nuclear waste disposal to mention only two. Private sector participation would need to be based on their proven capability to handle such issues efficiently and effectively. The public sector is already doing so.

At the country level, there are really no risks or hidden disadvantages of the nuclear agreement. National interest comes first — and, last. The nuclear agreement reinforces national security. And, in addition, gives the country numerous other benefits and advantages. It’s really a win-win for India.

It also is a win-win for countries able to partner India through investment into India, supply and transfer of technology, availability of equipment, components and spare parts, provision of consulting and technical services, deputation of personnel and, of course, in their own countries more employment to support India’s power development programme. Therefore, clearly, a win-win for everyone.



Nepal Maoists seek new order with India
By Sunil Raman
BBC News, Delhi

Nepalese Prime Minister Prachanda visits India apparently determined to change the terms of engagement with his country's giant neighbour.

The visit is being watched with great interest as India prepares to work with a Nepal that looks like being governed very differently from the past.

For years Nepalese leaders have expressed a desire to review a peace treaty which has defined relations between the two countries since 1950.

Prachanda, under pressure from Maoist comrades not to be pro-India, has gone further.

He is being urged to stand up to India and has said he will bring the draft of a new agreement to Delhi.

'Hype'

It was an abortive attempt by the Communist Party of Nepal to seize power with China's backing in 1952, that led India to step up military and intelligence co-operation.

One has to understand that 2008 is not 1950. People's aspirations cannot be brushed aside
Indian official

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru stressed Nepal's importance for a newly independent India in 1959 when he said "we cannot allow anything to go wrong in Nepal or permit that barrier to be crossed or weakened because that would be a risk to our [India's] security".

Prachanda is conscious that his visit to India is unlike trips made by his predecessors. His remarks and body language clearly show that he wants to engage with India as the leader of a sovereign nation and not of a "vassal state".

He has been under pressure from his party comrades and others to scrap the treaty with India. His India trip has dominated Nepalese newspapers, television channels and radio stations for days.

Nepal and India have an open border more than 2,400km (1,500 miles) long.

Over five million Nepalese people work and own property in India. They do not need visas or work permits and instead have all the rights of an Indian citizen.

Continuing with the British tradition, India recruits Nepalese Gurkhas into its army. There are 40,000 Nepalese Gurkhas in the 1.13m-strong Indian army and thousands of them receive monthly pensions in Nepal from India.

Former Nepalese ambassador to India, Prof Lokraj Baral, says demands to review the treaty are nothing new. The hype, he says, is more to "satisfy" public opinion.

Some recent media reports in Nepal have said Indian soldiers protecting river projects in the country should go home.

Massive floods in India's Bihar state after a river burst its banks upstream in Nepal are another source of argument.

Buffer

As a landlocked country Nepal is acutely dependent on India. India sells Nepal all its oil and the Himalayan nation's imports and exports transit through Indian ports.

A difference of opinion about the language of a trade agreement saw India bring Nepal to its knees in the early 1990s, with an economic blockade that lasted several months.

India believes that Nepal, as a buffer with China, is integral to its security concerns.

It is for this reason that a controversial clause in the India-Nepal treaty does not allow Nepal to buy arms and weapons from a third country without consulting India. This clause is seen by many Nepalese as subverting the country's sovereign rights.

In the early 1990s King Birendra bought weapons from China which saw India froth with anger. While Nepal's dependence on India is something that cannot be ignored by Prachanda and his team, experts feel some of the wording of the 1950 treaty should be changed.

One Indian official admitted that the clause dealing with defence matters will need to be revised. "One has to understand that 2008 is not 1950. People's aspirations cannot be brushed aside," he said.

But Indian commentator Inder Malhotra says it will not be easy for India to agree to change the clause dealing with defence. He says Nepal is too important for India to allow it to embrace China.

Given the high Himalayan ranges to its north, Nepal needs India for access to sea ports. Mr Malhotra blames "traditional anti-India sentiment" of the Nepalese elite for the renewed demands to end the peace treaty.

"Just like the elite in India who for a long time remained anti-America in their outlook, so is the elite in Nepal anti-India," he says.

Even so, India is now dealing with a new order in Nepal which demands to be treated more as a partner than a subordinate nation.



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