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Friday, 10 October 2008

From Today's Papers - 09 Oct


I write with reference to the article " Chain of command, demand " by Shekhar Gupta (Ind Exp 4th. Oct 2008).

Mr. Gupta has not only castigated the chiefs but also predicted dire consequences for them. Not difficult when your courage can bask in the knowledge that the armed forces cannot respond because of the various Acts. Fortunately I also don't have to worry about these laws. Gupta has forgotten important issues and aspects of the whole affair.

The present chiefs have less than 18 months to go. In 2010 you will have a brand new trio. If the chiefs were to go by what Gupta has implicitly suggested, three scenarios emerge.

Scenario 1: In the Golf Club at the 6th. Hole (recall it is the 6th. Pay Commission). Says one chief to the others - what do we do now? The other says- arre bhai chodo na, ki farak pendha. We are out in 18 months and then we would be looking forward to becoming Governors/Ambassado rs etc. Let's sign on the dotted line. No one will remember this after one year.

Scenario 2: Same place. The chiefs say - Hey, we are a democratic country remember? So why not conduct a poll through Indian Express by email/sms. All officers and men will vote on – should we accept the 6th. PC or not? One lucky officer and one lucky jawan will get a prize – not being posted to Siachen at all. After all, being a democratic government, Raksha Mantriji will congratulate us. See how they keep on saying – people supreme, people supreme. So for us, officers and soldiers supreme, no?

Scenario 3: The chiefs accept the proposals so as to maintain discipline and supremacy of the civilian government, but resign to register their protests. Sounds corny, but do you like it?

What would "General" Gupta choose? Let us know. With reasons. Yes, the whole affair has been mishandled. But by whom?

By the Defence Minister who was probably acting on the advice of his Defence Secretary. So let Antony start by booting his Defence Secretary out. But he can't. As you have rightly stated a more powerful government and a defence minister who knows the difference between a human butt and that of a rifle may pounce on the services. But there also has to be an army then. Will we have an army in 5-10 years? Why is the armed forces pay always in dispute? Because the establishment mafia which includes netas, land owners, owners of assets and media want the country to be defended as cheaply as possible with the lives of other people's children. How many of these categories have their progeny in the forces?

If MPs can decide their emoluments and civil servants theirs, why can't the armed forces do so directly with the political leadership? Why not make the Defence Ministry independent with its own budget like the Railway Ministry. We the people would contribute what it wants and we will pay only the difference to the Consolidated Fund (or is it Fraud) of India.

You have hit below the belt by stating that the present chiefs are not a patch on Thimayya, Maneckshaw, Lal, Sunderji, Tahiliani et al. But time and fate are great balancers – the army got the chiefs needed to deal with stalwarts like Patel, Krishna Menon, Indira Gandhi and Jagjivan Ram. Recall how Lt. Gen Thakur Nathu Singh asked Nehru how much experience he had as PM when the latter wanted Britishers to continue for 15 years after independence because Indian Generals did not have experience.

That's why Indian Express also had a Ramnath Goenka during the emergency. Today, even a Major (sorry for the pun), let alone a General, is more than sufficient. We have a Defence Minister who will not last 10 minutes in a debate with a Powell or a Rumsfeld. The Chinese Defence Minister will eat him raw in less than a minute. Read the recent book by a former Expressman, Arun Shourie – Are We Deceiving Ourselves Again – of how an outstanding soldier – Mao - made Nehru look like a boy scout on his first camp. Even after 45 years the Henderson-Brookes Report has not been released.

In 1963, moving the first no-confidence motion after the Chinese debacle, Acharya Kripalani said " I hope the Defence Minister can defend himself better than he has defended the nation." Today, for the sake of the country I hope we can get one who can defend the nation and understands the blood group OG. Then he will have no necessity of defending himself. Has any babu spent 40% of his career in non-family stations? What happened to the grandiose plans of George Fernandes to send his secretaries to Siachen for a few days? Look at how your own comrades of the Fifth Column have dealt with the subject. For every article in favour of the armed forces, there are ten favouring the netas and babus. Not surprising since the armed forces do not give you licences etc. Look at the insipid and inane polls your paper carries – 'Is Naveen Patnaik ineffective' or 'Is the Tata-Singur affair harmful to West Bengal'? Perhaps the next important questions will be – 'Is the Ranbir-Deepika couple more romantic than the Saif-Kareena one' or 'whether Ganguly should be dropped'? How about one which asks – Shouldn't our soldiers be paid more than our netas, babus and police?

Lastly don't forget that the Chiefs are only fighting for scales from 2007, while the army has been short-changed from around 1957. So who is going to make up for those 50 years – Indian Express?

There are stated and unstated hints and fears that the armed forces have become too big for their boots. This morbid fear is because hardly any neta has ever served in the forces. Assuming that the country is worth taking over, they already have. They have been forced to wear big boots. They are fighting on the borders, fighting insurgency (police work) within the borders, handling floods, earthquakes, tsunamis (all civil work) and very soon will be asked to help in finishing the stadiums for the Commonwealth Games and even win medals. Where do you think the bands and mass parades/drills are going to come from?

They run some of the best schools, best medical college (AFMC) and the best engineering colleges (one in Pune for their children and also the CME). Each of their institutions, from NDA to IMA to DSSC to AWC to NDC, not to mention HAWS and CIWS, is world class. Their cantonments have always been like Singapore, ie better than Shanghai.

Last but not least, their daughters dominate Bollywood and beauty contests. Unfortunately the law does not allow them to get into media or they will beat you there also. They are effectively in charge without sitting in Rashtrapathi Bhavan or Race Course Road because the other arms of state have proved to be totally inept as epitomised by the Home Secretary who said on TV that he is learning and getting his on-the-job-training from every bomb blast. Perhaps the fees are being paid by the lives of the aam aadmis.

Gupta's article states that it is of national interest. I fully agree. I therefore reserve my right to send my response to the three HQs, the media and such other parties who are interested in national affairs. I am also including Mr. Gupta's id in this email. The present chiefs may not be Thimayyas or Maneckshaws, but let us see whether Gupta is a Ramnath Goenka, even when we don't have an emergency. Let's see whether this article is printed, even in a sanitized form.

Yours faithfully,


On Tuesday evening, the Ministry of Defence formally denied the existence of a sensitive article from South Block that Headlines Today put on air the same afternoon -- an article honestly, violently and articulately full of hate for the bureaucracy, and packed with insider detail of just how the pay commission mess has been allowed to snowball into the crisis it is now. Denial apart (there's no way the Ministry could accept the existence of such an article -- that would be tantamount to admitting just how dangerous things have gotten), we stuck by our story and went on air with it again primetime at 9.30pm Tuesday night, double pep, through the night and the earlier half of today. The note, being called an "article" has been authored by senior serving officer(s). Well since the Ministry of Defence denies the existence of the article (in essence, a retort to Shekhar Gupta's column from October 4), and we stand by it, I thought I'd put it up here for anyone who cares to have a look at it. These are excerpts:
Setting Up of Committee of Secretaries (CoS). CoS was set up to look into and resolve the anomalies in the 6th CPC report, as highlighted by various Central Govt cadres.

Armed Forces Representative Not Included In Any Capacity. Verbal assurances were offered by the officials of the Def Ministry that the issues raised by the Armed Forces were well understood by them and will be pursued most honestly and diligently by the Def Secy (a member in the CoS). Hence, they justified non-inclusion of any Armed Forces Rep in the CoS, even in advisory or observer capacity.

Opaqueness in Deliberations of CoS. In absence of any communication from the CoS, the Chairman COSC formally sought that the findings and recommendation of the CoS be shared with the Armed Forces for them to attach their concurrence or observations, if any, prior to the same being submitted to the Cabinet for "Informed Decision Making". No formal or Informal Response was received to this formal request.

Cabinet Decision : Ill Informed. The Cabinet could not be faulted in giving its approval to the recommendations of the CoS. They were fair in assuming that Armed Forces views would have been objectively presented and analysed as the Def Secy was on the panel of CoS.

Questionable Manner of Dissemination of Govt Notification of the CPC. The Govt Notification was made available to the Services HQ late on Friday (after 5.30 PM the office closing time in South Block). Further, only that portion of the notification was made available which pertained to the Armed Forces. This prevented the concerned Armed Forces officials to study the Govt Notfn at least until offices opened on Monday; and even then, unable to do any comparative analysis vis-à-vis provisions made for other Govt Services, they would not be in position to analyse the implications on parity/disparity issues for quite some time thereafter.

Major Discrepancies Noticed by Armed Forces in Govt Notfn. While being exposed to continued "informal pressure from the bureaucracy" to commence the implementation process, the Armed Forces, with 'patient haste' conducted a detailed study and analysis to find "four major discrepancies" in the Govt notfn. While, one of the core anomalies was the legacy of the original CPC report, the Armed Forces were surprised that the other three had been introduced surreptitiously by the CoS itself (please remember, the CoS was constituted to resolve anomalies and NOT create them).

Chairman COSC and Services Chiefs Meet RM. The RM, when presented the facts pertaining to the 4 Core Anomalies, was convinced of their logic and legitimacy and promised the Service Chiefs to take up the issue with the PM. He directed the officials in the MoD to communicate the same to the PMO, with his recommendations for early resolution.

The Bureaucratic Subversion. In absence of the RM, the MoD did not send any communication to the PMO as directed by the Minister. Instead, it sent a note for consideration of the officials of the Fin Ministry. The note thus sent, diluted the Armed Forces' case as was presented to the RM and with which the RM had already concurred. The officials of the Fin Ministry diluted the Armed Forces case even further and presented the same to the Fin Minister. The Note, thus rejecting most of the Armed Forces' observations and proposals was to be dispatched to the PMO.

Service Chiefs Meet Finance Minister: Bureaucratic Subversion Partially Exposed. The Service Chiefs (at least the two of them) met the Fin Minister before the Note rejecting the Armed Forces' case could be dispatched to the PMO. After detailed presentation of their case, the Fin Minister acknowledged that "officials in his Ministry had misled him and had also misrepresented facts".

Bureaucratic Fiat Issued Separately to Three Services to Notify Govt Notfn on Pay Commission so as to Ensure Its Implementation wef 01 Oct 08. Three separate notes were issued separately directly to the three Services HQ (please remember, all communication on the subject between the MoD and the Services were with the Central Pay Commission Cell in the COSC and not directly with the Services HQ). Moreover, the notes were issued by the MoD in absence of the RM who still was away on foreign visit.

Service Chiefs Meet PM. The PM responded favorably to the Service Chiefs' presentation of the core anomalies. He also stated that he had received favorable comments on the issues, from the Fin Minister but, the PMO could not proceed to take a view as it had not yet received any communication on the issue from the MoD. (Please remember again that the RM, before proceeding on visit abroad, had instructed his Ministry to send a formal communication to the PMO).

Service Chiefs Meet RM : Fears of Further Exposure of Bureaucratic Subversion. Service Chiefs apprised the RM of their meetings with the Fin Minister and the PM. They also apprised him of the fact that no communication had been sent by the MoD, as personally directed by him) to the PMO. The RM directed a letter drafted immediately, recommending all Armed Forces' proposals. The same was dispatched, addressed to the PM and personally signed by the RM.

Services Chiefs Issue Communication to All Ranks. The nature of sudden and intense media campaign which had potential of subverting the morale and maybe discipline of personnel, issue communications to all ranks in respective services.

The following basic principles must be considered and informed view taken in the context of the issue being discussed:

Is Govt Authority synonymous with the Bureaucratic Authority? Is Subservience of the Military to the Civil Authority in a Democracy synonymous with Subservience of the Military to Bureaucratic Authority?

Each one in the Armed Forces have grown, since their initial induction, learning that in a Democracy, in the context of the Military's Subservience to the Civil Authority, the Civil Authority signifies the "Elected Govt" and at the larger levels, the "Parliament" and the "Constitution of India". On day-to-day functioning, the bureaucracy may represent the elected Govt but it surely does NOT replace elected Govt.

The bureaucracy misled the Cabinet into believing that their recommendations were based on fair consideration of the views and logic of the Armed Forces (if it was not so, the RM, FM and PM would not have been surprised and found merit in the issues raised by the Armed Forces subsequently).

The bureaucracy, knowing the schedule of foreign visits by the RM and PM, deliberately worked in a manner that would prevent exhaustive deliberations
with the deadline of 01 Oct and thus pressurise (the pressure was brought through a section of the media, led by Indian Express and a print news agency) the Armed Forces to implement the Pay Commission in its current form and deferring the resolution of the core anomalies indefinitely. This is exactly what they achieved in the case of previous Pay Commission.

What is most disconcerting in the bureaucratic design that they resorted to "disobeying instructions of the RM"; and "Misleading the FM and Misrepresenting Facts Before Him". The charge of "Defiance of Govt Authority" that is being labeled upon the Service Chiefs actually should be labeled upon the Bureaucracy.

As for the Service Chiefs withholding Notifying the Govt Order, it is a simple case of they being morally bound to apprise the Govt of their perception of anomalies and ill-effects of implementing its order, prior to blindly executing it. Once the Govt (represented by the RM and PM) found merit in reconsidering the aspects brought before it by the Armed Forces and assured the Service Chiefs of having a re-look, until it got back to the Services with fresh instructions, the Services cannot be blamed for 'defiance' or 'disobedience'. Once the Govt did come back during the previous weekend with interim orders, the Services have accepted the same and are implementing.

As far as the communications issued by the three Services Chiefs to all ranks is concerned, one ought to read the complete documents and understand the context. There is nothing in them which can be distantly construed as 'defiance of govt authority'. In fact, in all manuals on military leadership and of late, also included in teachings on HR by the corporates, one of the abiding principles is that of "keep men informed". This is expressly meant for men not following prey to rumours, propaganda and misinformation as they can seriously subvert the morale, discipline and ultimately operational effectiveness of any organized group and especially, the Armed Forces.

Mr Shekhar Gupta's contention of the Service Chiefs behaving as "Union Leaders" egged by cheering ex-Servicemen, is gross misrepresentation. The Armed Forces are denied right to form unions, firmly in the belief that the concerns of each individual are addressed by a strict chain of command. This chain leads to the Service Chiefs. The Service Chiefs are thus doing what they ought to do in a democratic setup and purely as per democratic norms which govern the interface between the Civil Govt leadership and its subordinate military leadership. Mr Shekhar Gupta has also attributed the Services Chiefs with "Open Defiance of Civil Authority". Is he in know of or can he recollect any instance of any act or articulation by services Chiefs which any sensible person can construe as defiance of civil authority? He surely cannot. Further, the ex-Servicemen should, if at all, be complimented for expressing their concerns and grievances, not only in democratic fashion but in a "dignified democratic fashion". He, through his column, could have actually asked other interest groups and individuals to emulate them.

The whole episode so far, has been a classic case of the bureaucracy "subverting the democratic functioning of the state"; "undermining 'informed – thus wise' decision making by the Elected Govt"; and "Subverting the Public Opinion by Using/Misusing the Media".

The facts and their sequence as brought out may be verified by those willing and an objective opinion may only be made thereafter. The provisions of the RTI Act would surely help uncover the criminal collusion and lengths to which the officials in the concerned Ministries have gone to, to ensure misrepresentation of issues, misleading their own Ministers (and thus the Govt) with the ill-intent of depriving legitimate dues to the Armed Forces personnel and undermining their status.

The bureaucracy, especially those associated with the Defence Ministry, during the past six decades, have found themselves not only increasingly incompetent but even unwilling to develop related competencies, to fulfill their assigned roles. As this episode clearly shows, the bureaucracy have instead, attempted to usurp the role of the Ministers (& thus the Govt) by assigning most of the "decision making" to themselves in the growing belief that in all cases of Ministerial interventions, they can effectively misrepresent facts and mislead the busy Ministers and further, that their acts of commission and omission will never be open to scrutiny of the Armed Forces. In the instant case, the concerned bureaucrats had not bargained for the Service Chiefs walking up the political masters which led to exposing of their nefarious designs and professional gross misconduct.

It is anybody's guess that the current media campaign is the handiwork of the same very bureaucrats in a last ditch effort to scuttle the "Informed Decision Making Process by the Appointed GoM" and to "Cover Bureaucratic Misdeeds & Follies" by raising the bogey of "Armed Forces' Defiance of the Govt Authority

Brass tackle


Antony browbeats service chiefs into submission
By R. Prasannan

If Admiral Sureesh Mehta, chairman of the chiefs of staff committee, had his way, it would have been a dark Diwali for 15 lakh armed forces personnel. He and his Army and Air Force counterparts had decided that they would not issue the draft notification on revised pay scales till the government met their demands. Saner counsel prevailed after Defence Minister A.K. Antony had an uncharacteristic tough talk with the service brass.
The chiefs agreed to issue the notification, thus implementing the pay commission proposals. But the chiefs, too, proved a point: that they would bow before civil authority, not civil service authority. In turn, Antony promised to get a group of ministers, headed by trouble-shooter Pranab Mukherjee, to examine the grievances of the services. The very next day, the President sanctioned the government decision to make ad hoc payment of arrears for the current year.
The pay commission had placed all officers up to the rank of brigadier in the pay band of Rs 15,600-Rs 39,100. The services were upset about this, and so the government put colonels and brigadiers in a different pay band. Now the services wanted lieutenant colonels, too, to be put in the pay band of colonels and brigadiers. The problem is that lieutenant colonels were earlier paid Rs 800 more than their civilian counterparts, but now they would get Rs 11,000 less. The ministry, too, sympathised with the demand and wrote to the finance ministry. When the finance ministry turned down the request, the defence ministry wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
By then the deadline for implementing the pay revision approached, and there was no word from the Prime Minister who was abroad. All other departments went ahead with their draft notifications, and the services realised they would be presented with a fait accompli. It was then that the chiefs decided to sit on the notification. Antony is said to have told them that if they held back the notification, the ministry would issue it. It was then that the chiefs agreed to issue the notification.
All the same, the armed forces who demand parity with the civil servants, have not been practising what they preach, allege the military nursing service (MNS) officers. Military nurses have the same rank structure as other officers, but their pay scales were slightly lower. So the pay commission was of the view that "no differential in salary of officers belonging to the services or MNS is justified and that the pay band and grade pay of similarly designated posts in service officers cadre and MNS cadre should be the same."
However, very quietly, the services prevailed upon the government which, while accepting the demand of the services, also decided that "MNS officers who were hitherto drawing lesser pay scale than officers have been brought at par with service officers in terms of pay while their grade pay is one step lower than the regular officers at equivalent ranks."
In other words, while a colonel nurse would draw the same salary as a regular colonel, she would get only the grade pay of a lieutenant colonel. "The service officers are demanding parity with civilian officers, but why don't they implement parity among their own officer ranks?" asked a nursing service officer.
The services argue that their demand for a higher pay band for lieutenant colonels would cost the government only about Rs 400 crore. Nursing service officers, who number about 3,000, point out that their demand for parity in grade pay would cost the government only a few lakhs. But then, as nurses point out, parity and charity are not practised at home

India’s Defence Secretary calls on Defence Minister Teo Chee Hean

Channel NewsAsia - Friday, October 10

SINGAPORE: India’s Defence Secretary Vijay Singh called on Singapore’s Defence Minister, Teo Chee Hean, on Wednesday. Mr Singh is in Singapore on a two—day visit.

He co—chaired the fifth India—Singapore Defence Policy Dialogue with Singapore’s Permanent Secretary for Defence, Chiang Chie Foo, on Tuesday.

The annual dialogue serves as a forum for Singapore and India to oversee and advance bilateral defence relationship.

Both sides exchanged views on security issues and defence co—operation.

Singapore’s Defence Ministry said defence interactions between Singapore and India have grown in recent years.

The two countries signed the bilateral agreement for the conduct of joint army training and exercises in India in August 2008, as well as the bilateral agreement for the conduct of joint military training and exercises in India between the Republic of Singapore Air Force and Indian Air Force in October 2007.

The armed forces of both countries conduct bilateral land, sea and air exercises regularly. Besides policy dialogues and military interactions, the two defence establishments also engage in defence technology cooperation.

While in Singapore, Mr Singh also visited the Tengah Air Base, Singapore Artillery and Changi Naval Base. — CNA/vm

India, Singapore review defence cooperation

Nirmala GeorgeThu, Oct 9 01:30 PM

Singapore, Oct 9 (IANS) India and Singapore have concluded a two-day defence dialogue to take stock of their growing military ties, assess threats to stability in the region and share security concerns.

Indian defence secretary Vijay Singh and his Singaporean counterpart, permanent secretary-defence Chiang Chie Foo, led the two sides at the fifth round of the India-Singapore Defence Policy Dialogue, which ended here Wednesday.

Singh also had a meeting Wednesday with Singapore's Minister for Defence Teo Chee Hean where they exchanged views on security issues of common concern and ways to strengthen defence cooperation.

The policy dialogue was set up under a 2003 India-Singapore defence cooperation agreement with the meetings to be held alternately in the two countries.

'The annual dialogue serves as a forum for Singapore and India to oversee and advance the bilateral defence relationship,' the Singapore ministry of defence said.

Defence ties between India and Singapore have been growing steadily over the past few years, expanding in scope and intensity with numerous rounds of joint exercises involving their land, sea and air forces.

In August, India and Singapore signed a bilateral agreement under which India would provide facilities for Singapore Armed Forces to conduct joint military training and exercises involving both armour and artillery in Babina in Uttar Pradesh and Deolali in Maharashtra, where the Indian army's artillery school is located.

Singapore armed forces will once again be in India in November for separate army and air force exercises. A second round of army exercises has been scheduled for February 2009, an Indian official said Thursday.

The annual defence policy dialogue provides Indian and Singaporean officials an opportunity to review the status of their defence relationship, identify future areas of cooperation and share mutual security concerns, the official said.

In 2007, India had signed an agreement with Singapore allowing the air force of the land-scarce city state to train its personnel at the Indian Air Force base in Kalaikunda in West Bengal.

The two navies have conducted joint anti-piracy exercises around the Straits of Malacca and the Bay of Bengal aimed at protecting commercial sea lanes and enhancing maritime security.

Apart from the joint exercises and manoeuvres, more importantly, the defence establishments of the two sides have kept up a regular dialogue sharing strategies on counter-terrorism and maritime security.

Also, the two military research and development organisations - India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Singapore's Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) - have been involved in defence technology cooperation.

During his visit, Singh was shown the new uniform that has recently been approved for induction by the Singapore armed forces. The uniform's unique pixelated design gives improved camouflage cover making it more difficult for soldiers to be detected in combat situations and in hostile environments.

Singh also visited the Tengah air base, Changi naval base and Singapore Artillery facility. At Changi base, he went aboard Singapore's state-of-the-art Formidable class frigate. The multi-role stealth frigate, one of six that Singapore is developing under a technology transfer agreement with France, has been described as the 'most advanced surface combatant ship in Southeast Asia'.

Over 4,000 martyrs but no war memorial

Rakesh RanjanFri, Oct 10 02:10 AM

Uttarakhand is home to nearly 26 lakh serving and retired Army personnel. More than 4,000 of its natives have laid down their lives on the battlefield. Yet, this state with a glorious martial history has no war memorial. Why? Purportedly due to lack of funds. A war memorial is a monument dedicated to the memory of Army personnel who died fighting in battlefields across the world. It mentions the names of martyrs and the role they played in their last operation. Though the Garhwal Regimental Centre, Lansdowne, Kumaon Regimental Centre, Ranikhet and Indian Military Academy, Dehradun have their individual war memorials, the demand for a combined war memorial is gaining ground in Uttarakhand. The piece of land where the memorial will be built has been already identified at Cheerbagh in the cantonment area. But the construction work cannot be initiated due to lack of funds. Talking to Hindustan Times, Major General R.S. Tarzai, who has prepared the structural design of the memorial, said, "The land has been already identified in Cheerbagh in the cantonment area but construction work is yet to start due to lack of funds. It is very unfortunate that a state with such a long list of martyrs does not have a war memorial." The demand for building a memorial was also raised before the Chief Minister, Major General B.C. Khanduri, in a State Army Welfare Council meeting held on July 20. "I had appealed to the chief minister to sanction the budget for construction of a war memorial but we are still waiting for a favourable response from the state government. However, we have hopes from the Chief Minister, who too has been part of the defence establishment," said Lt Gen H.B. Kala. Speaking to HT, Devendra Bhasin, Chairman, State Media Advisory Committee, said, "The matter is under the chief minister's consideration and the government is keen for the construction of a war memorial in the state."

Taliban wake-up call for India

By M K Bhadrakumar

For the bulk of the Indian strategic community, the unthinkable is happening - the prospect of an Afghan settlement involving the Taliban is increasing.

A sensational expose by an investigative journalist, based on highly sensitive cable traffic last month between the French Embassy in Kabul and Quai d'Orsay in Paris, has thrown light on the Afghan war. For India, it is especially helpful in spotting the war, otherwise hidden behind the global banking meltdown and the India-United States civilian nuclear deal.

Claude Angeli, veteran journalist of Le Canard Enchaine, got hold of a copy of a coded cable by the French deputy chief of mission in Kabul, Francois Fitou, based on a briefing by the heavyweightBritish diplomat, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, who serves as ambassador to Afghanistan. What Sir Sherard told Fitou in confidence is worth recalling:

"The current situation [in Afghanistan] is bad; the security situation is getting worse; so is corruption and the government [of President Hamid Karzai] has lost all trust."

# "The foreign forces are ensuring the survival of a regime which would collapse without them ... They are slowing down and complicating an eventual exit from the crisis, which will probably be dramatic."

# "We [NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies] should tell them [United States] that we want to be part of a winning strategy, not a losing one. In the short term, we should dissuade the American presidential candidates from getting more bogged down in Afghanistan ... The American strategy is doomed to fail."

# Britain aimed to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan by 2010.

# The only realistic outlook for Afghanistan would be the installation of "an acceptable dictator" and the public opinion should be primed for this. For the bulk of the Indian strategic community, the unthinkable is happening - the prospect of an Afghan settlement involving the Taliban. From all accounts, the Taliban appear edging closer to the Afghan capital and tightening their control in the provinces ringing Kabul. Unsurprisingly, Karzai has appealed to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to mediate with the Taliban. To request the Saudi king to stake his prestige is serious business. Karzai couldn't have acted alone. Alongside there are reports that the British intelligence has been talking to Taliban envoys in London. The influential Asharq al-Awsat newspaper reported that senior Taliban functionaries who travelled to Saudi Arabia in the recent days have put forward 11 conditions, which include the withdrawal of foreign forces, political accommodation of the Taliban in key ministries and the drawing up of a new constitution that affirms Afghanistan as an Islamic state.

Indian policymakers, who have been bogged down in the labyrinthine passage of the Indo-US nuclear deal, need to take note that the ground is dramatically shifting. Regional security is set to transform. Several factors call for reckoning. First, there is cause to worry about Washington's attention span in the period ahead to press ahead with the Afghan war.

The big issue in America is the bailout of the economy. As well-known columnist Alexander Cockburn summed up, the Americans are indifferent to whether vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin is capable of waging a nuclear war or frying "Afghan terrorists". Their sole concern today is that in the political tier in Washington, they have someone "who sounds somewhat like a human being with the same concerns as them, starting with the fear that their local bank will lock its doors in the morning".

That is truly an extraordinary recalibration of national priorities for a world power. Senators Barack Obama and John McCain, during their debate on September 26, paid lip service to Afghanistan but were preoccupied with the new priorities. Both took the easy way out, agreeing that they would take troops out of Iraq and put them in the Hindu Kush. But is it that simple? Surely, there is a vague sense of bipartisan enthusiasm in the US for an Afghan "surge". The new US commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, says he could do with three additional brigades to the one promised by the Pentagon, which will add at least 15,000 troops to the current 35,000.

But the total allied force level in Afghanistan stands at just above 70,000, including the US troops. The NATO allies are reluctant to commit more troops. After much US persuasion, French President Nicolas Sarkozy chose to be helpful, adding a measly 100 troops to the French contingent, while opinion polls show that two out of every three French citizens disapprove of the war. The outgoing NATO commander estimated that 400,000 troops were needed to defeat the Taliban. An optimal troop level is impossible to be met. The US and its NATO allies simply do not have the capacity to deploy the troops necessary to force a military settlement or to pacify and occupy Afghanistan.

Even with additional troops, to quote the new head of the US Central Command, David Petraeus, "wresting control of certain areas from the Taliban will be very difficult".

Petraeus' approach is to repeat his tactic in Iraq, to bribe the Pashtun tribesmen and to turn them against the pro-Taliban groups - in other words, hire Pashtun mercenaries to fight the war. Given the Pashtun character and tribal ethos, the strong likelihood is that the tribal belt will become anarchic and the war will spread to Pakistan. Its effect on Pakistan will be catastrophic, but the expansion of the war is unlikely to stem the tide within Afghanistan, which has gone badly wrong for Western forces.

The Taliban today operate in virtually every Afghan province. They have the capacity to mount sustained offensives. It has created a parallel government structure. Pamela Constable, correspondent of The Washington Post and old hand on the South Asia beat, wrote recently: "In many districts a short drive from the capital, some of them considered safe even six months ago, residents and officials said the Taliban now control roads and villages, patrolling in trucks and recruiting new fighters."

Meanwhile, a new dimension has appeared. The incoming US administration in January may not consider doubling down in Afghanistan as an option at a time when its attention is riveted on putting together a rescue package for the American economy. How would this scenario play out in the tangled Afghan mountains - precisely, how would the protagonists of the Afghan resistance view Washington's difficulty in financially sustaining the open-ended war effort?

'Deep, rich chuckle'

Irrepressible British columnist Neil Lyndon obviously made a point when he wrote last week: "Whenever the wind stops howling over the mountains of Tora Bora, a deep, rich chuckle can presumably be heard echoing down the valleys. If he is still alive, nobody will be enjoying the plight of America more than Osama bin Laden. The anarchic carnage in the American financial and political system brings in sight a humiliating withdrawal and defeat in Afghanistan and Iraq. It even raises the possibility of the final collapse of the evil empire which Osama forecast."

Gloomy, but entirely plausible. A perception is growing that with the US government taking responsibility for $5 trillion in liabilities in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and under compulsion to pledge billions to support the financial system, there is bound to be difficulty in bearing the combined cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which the US Congressional Budget Office estimated could total $2.4 trillion over the coming decade. No wonder, a feeling is gaining ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan that it is a matter of time before Washington makes a deal with the Taliban for a coalition government.

The interplay of these various factors will accelerate as Afghanistan gears up for the presidential election in 2009. The election year will be highly divisive. There is a challenge to Karzai from other Afghan groups. His political base in the Pashtun areas remains fragile. The US and its allies are yet to decide whether Karzai is their best choice to hold the reins of power for another five years. Britain, in particular, has had public spats with Karzai. The failure of the war is blamed on him.

But the failure of the war is not personal. A US-style presidential system does not suit Afghanistan. The country needs a decentralized system of power-sharing and a constant search for intra-Afghan compromise. Most certainly, it means bringing the Taliban into the political process. The cardinal mistake has been that the Taliban movement is entirely conflated with al-Qaeda, whereas, to quote Tariq Ali, "If NATO and the US were to leave Afghanistan, their [the Taliban's] political evolution would most likely parallel that of Pakistan's domesticated Islamists."

Tariq Ali didn't mention Maulana Fazlur Rahman, but New Delhi knows how farcical it would be to remain in the grip of paroxysms of nervousness about the redoubtable Islamist leader. India's apprehensions withered away once the Maulana, variously described as the "Father of the Taliban", began visiting India. Equally, India needs to do some "out-of-the-box" thinking about the Taliban.

Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

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