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Saturday, 8 November 2008

From Today's Papers - 08 Nov


While off topic, I could not resist posting this cutting :-)

Malegaon: Lt Col’s arrest serious matter, says Antony
More serving officers may be involved
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 7
Defence minister A.K. Antony today expressed “serious concern” over the alleged involvement of a serving Army officer, Lt Col Srikant Purohit, in the Malegaon blasts even as the security agencies were now trying to track down the source of the RDX used in the blasts that occurred on September 29.

(According to PTI, a Colonel posted in Deolali and a Major may face interrogation in connection with the probe into the blasts.

(There are reports that a retired Lt General and a couple of serving Colonels could also be involved. A Lt Col in Madhya Pradesh was reportedly picked up for questioning but there was no official word on it. More arrests are not ruled out.)

The defence ministry, on the basis of the investigations by the Maharashtra Police and the Intelligence Bureau into the case, would take necessary action against the officer, Antony told reporters here soon after an awards giving function for defence PSUs.

“We will take all necessary action on the basis of the report of the police and the IB,” he said.

Replying to a question whether he was satisfied by the investigation of the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Maharashtra Police, the minister said: “I am not here to give any judgement”.

The Army has said it was yet to receive any request from the police for questioning more officers.

Separately, security agencies are trying to trace the links of the explosive substance used in the blasts. Was it smuggled out from Jammu and Kashmir. A team of the ATS today briefed the Army and sought its help in locating a missing laptop of Lt Col Srikant Purohit, who has been arrested, official sources said.

The laptop could unravel the conspiracy behind the Malegaon blasts. The laptop went missing from his place of posting in Panchmari in Madhya Pradesh.

It is suspected that Purohit had established links in Jammu and Kashmir when he was posted in the Rashtriya Rifles. One of the arrested men had even travelled to Jammu and Kashmir.

Officials associated with the investigations said the procurement of explosives was a matter of grave concern. The use of RDX had been confirmed by the forensic laboratory though some doubts were raised by others agencies.

Purohit, who was doing a course in Arabic language from Army Medical Corps Pachmarhi, has been remanded in judicial custody till Nov 15.

Police suspect that Purohit helped accused Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, retired army Major Ramesh Upadhyaya and his associate Sharad Kulkarni in procuring explosives used in the blast. The three are already in police custody.

Indian Army to hold joint exercise with China
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 7
India and China, have finalised the programme for their first ever joint exercise on Indian soil. Sources said the exercise will be conducted in the second week of December and it is likely to be conducted in Belgaum Karnataka.

A final shape is being given to decide the scope of these exercises before a formal announcement is made.

An Indian Army team went to China in December last year for the first war games between the two countries near the city of Kunming. This will be the first time that Chinese Army troops will come to India to conduct military exercises. Military ties between the two countries have seen a thaw in recent times with Chinese Navy chief Admiral Wu Sheng Li coming on his maiden visit to the country this week.

Government, Congress, CPI-M Worry
Over Armyman's Terror Link

New Delhi
A senior army officer's arrest for the Sep 29 terror attack in Malegaon is a "serious matter", Defence Minister A.K. Antony said Friday, even as the Congress and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) underlined the danger of "Hindutva elements" infiltrating the army.

“This incident is a matter of serious concern for all of us," Antony said, referring to Tuesday's arrest of Lt. Col. Shrikanth Purohit by Maharashtra's Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) in connection with the bombing in Malegaon that killed five people.

"We are determined to go to the roots of the whole thing. The Maharashtra Police and IB (Intelligence Bureau) are investigating the case and so far (as the) army is concerned, it is fully assisting in the investigation,” Antony said on the sidelines of a function here.

“Outside agencies are investigating the issue and the defence ministry is awaiting a report. We are also taking whatever steps are required internally. The matter is being considered in full seriousness,” Antony said.

Purohit -- the first Indian Army officer to be charged with masterminding a terror attack -- is said to be a founding member of Abhinav Bharat, a Hindu rightwing group. He has been remanded in judicial custody till Nov 15.

Police suspect that Purohit helped accused Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, retired army Major Ramesh Upadhyaya and his associate Sharad Kulkarni in procuring explosives used in the devastating blast. The three are already in police custody.

The Congress, which heads India's ruling coalition, implicitly accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of trying to influence the country's secular institutions with its ideology.

"We are proud of our army, but ashamed of individuals who under the influence of some political parties try to infiltrate the secular and democratic institution of our country," Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Congress spokesperson, said at a press conference here.

"The country needs an answer to the question: has the BJP tried to use the secular and democratic institutions of our country to propagate its hateful agenda?"

The CPI-M also slammed the BJP.

"Instead of strongly coming out against such extremist groups resorting to terror, the BJP has dismissed the serious development as a 'sponsored investigation'," the party said in a statement.

Referring to the alleged involvement of serving and retired army officers in the Malegaon blast, the CPI-M urged the government to take the matter seriously.

"The central government must take the reports of Hindutva infiltration in the army seriously," the CPI-M said.

"The investigations into the Malegaon bomb blast have revealed the involvement of certain extreme Hindutva organisations and elements. The role of some retired army officers and the case against a serving army officer have disturbing implications for national security," it said.

Strongly criticising Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Praveen Togadia's argument that Hindus cannot be terrorists, the CPI-M said: "The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and its outfits are making absurd statements that Hindus cannot be terrorists. These are the same people who go on talking about 'Islamic terrorism.'"

The BJP has distanced itself from the Malegaon bombing. However, some Hindu groups have decided to provide legal aid to the accused in the case.

Mirage-2000 Upgrade will Plug India's Combat Jet Gap
By Vishnu Makhijani

Paris
The Indian Air Force (IAF) can address the alarming dip in its operational capabilities by upgrading its fleet of Mirage-2000 fighter jets, even as it evaluates a global tender it has floated for purchasing 126 new combat aircraft, says French electronics major Thales, which is on the verge of inking the upgrade deal.

"The upgrade will significantly enhance the IAF's air potential by extending the operational performance of the Mirage fleet and taking full advantage of the aircraft's world class capabilities," Francois Quentin, Thales senior vice president and head of its aerospace division, told a group of visiting Indian journalists here.

"As a result, the IAF will have a coherent platform-system combination for the next 20 years at a significantly lower cost than the acquisition of new-build aircraft with equivalent performance," Quentin added.

At the same time, another Thales official pointed out that a decision on the upgrade would have to be taken by the end of this year so that the project could begin early 2009, ahead of the parliamentary polls that are due by May but could be advanced to February.

"Our experience, not only with India but with other countries also, has been that if an election comes in the way, a decision on a project like this can be delayed by at least two years," the official told IANS on condition of anonymity.

This statement acquires significance since the IAF is known to have been considering the upgrade for at least two years but floated a request for proposal (RFP) only in April, to which Thales replied in July. Price negotiations are set to begin later this month.

While Thales was reluctant to state figures given a confidentiality clause, the project is believed to be worth $1.5 billion for upgrading the 51 Mirage-2000s in the IAF fleet to Dash-5 levels. This will give the jets multi-role capability with longer-range radars and fire-and-forget missiles, enabling the aircraft to perform a given mission thanks to greater fuel and weapon-delivery capacities.

The upgrade will involve providing the Mirage-2000, which was first inducted in mid-1980 and of which the IAF now operates 51, a state-of-the-art fly-by-wire digital cockpit and an enhanced weapons-carrying capability.

Under the Thales proposal, the company would deliver the first two aircraft from its facilities in France within 40 months of the signing of the contract, and would simultaneously assist Hindustan Aircraft Limited (HAL) in upgrading another two aircraft in India in the same time frame.

Thereafter, HAL would upgrade one of the remaining 47 aircraft every month.

"The IAF will be further enhanced by the integration of new capabilities," Pierre-Yves Chaltiec, CEO of Thales Airborne Systems, said.

"These include longer range detection across the spectrum, improved tactical situation awareness, longer range weapon firing against multiple simultaneous targets, weapon stealth and extended operating envelope with the capability to engage ground targets while countering airborne threats," he added.

"The resulting tactical advantage will allow commanders to commit fewer aircraft while achieving a higher success rate, thanks in particular to greater fuel and weapon-delivery capacities.

"For instance, a typical border protection mission involving two hours on station will require just two upgraded Mirage-2000 aircraft compared with six current aircraft," Chaltiec said.

The IAF had floated a global tender in September 2007 for 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft in a deal valued at $10 billion. Six jets are in the fray: the US Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Lockheed Martin F-16, the French Dassault Rafale, the Swedish Saab Grippen, the Russian MiG-35 and the Eurofighter Typhoon built by a four-nation European consortium.

The technical bids are currently being evaluated after which all the six aircraft will be put through a rigorous testing process in Bangalore, Jaisalmer and Leh.

The first is meant to gauge the aircraft's ability to operate in the humid conditions of southern India, the second their effectiveness in the deserts of Rajasthan and the third to study their suitability in the icy Himalayan heights of Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir.

By the time the evaluation process is complete, the size of the order is likely to rise to around 200 jets, as the IAF, which is down to 32 squadrons from a high of 39 1/2, is expected to see a further depletion of its fleet due to the retirement of some its ageing Soviet-era MiG-21 aircraft. The IAF has a sanctioned strength of 45 squadrons.

SC upholds order on troops fitness
Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, November 7
The Supreme Court today upheld the Delhi High Court order restraining the Army from discharging troops on account of their low medical state without adhering to prescribed norms.

Dismissing a special leave petition (SLP) filed by the Union of India against the operation of the high court order with costs, the apex court has held that personnel placed in the low medical category (LMC) cannot simply be discharged on the basis of their condition without the recommendations of a duly constituted invaliding medical board.

The orders would affect several thousand troops. A large number of them, who had been prematurely discharged, would now be eligible for reinstatement along with consequential benefits.

In April, 2007, the Army had issued orders to discharge about 27,000 LMC troops. The rational given was that with the expected recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission, the number of senior JCOs and NCOs opting for pre-mature had reduced leading to excess manpower.

Later, the Army had revised its manpower cut programme and reduced the number to LMC troops be discharged to over 15,000. Orders issued by the Manpower Planning Directorate at the Army headquarters stated that the manpower of personnel below officer rank was in excess to the authorised strength. A review carried out last year had revealed a significant drop in the annual wastages, primarily due to reduced number of pre-mature retirements.

“About 500 affected personnel had moved the high courts at Delhi and Chandigarh pointing out that the discharge orders were not issued by the competent authorities, thereby, violating provisions of Army Rule 13,” Rajeev Anand, a lawyer representing some petitioners said.

After the Delhi High Court had allowed a petition filed by Naib Subedar Rajpal Singh against his discharge, the Union of India had moved an SLP in the Apex Court against the order that granted a stay on the operation of the judgment.

“Initially a stay was granted against their discharge but was later vacated with direction that the discharge of the troops would be subject to the out come of the SLP,” Maj K. Ramesh, another lawyer, said.

“Since the Apex Court had stayed the operation of the judgment, the Army began discharging LMC troops and they would be eligible to seek consequential benefits of the order and can appeal for reinstatement,” he added.

India plays down Pranab’s statement on China
Ashok Tuteja
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 7
India today sought to put an end to the controversy arising from external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee’s reported statement on China, which provoked Beijing to react sharply.

“We have seen press reports, which convey a misleading impression of what the external affairs minister said about China in his speech to the National Defence College on November 3,” external affairs ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash said in a statement.

“In his speech, he (Mukherjee) recognised that there is enhanced engagement with China and as a result of our engagement, we today have a completely different situation; economic development has given both our countries new capabilities and that it is our belief that there is sufficient space for both India and China to grow together and build a cooperative relationship in the new architecture,” the spokesman added.

The spokesman asserted that at no point in his speech did the minister use the word “threat” to describe China. “There is thus no cause for misinterpretation and the kind of negative gloss that has been put on the speech by certain elements in the media.’’

Reports from Beijing suggested that China had not taken kindly to Mukherjee’s statement with the Chinese leadership asserting that there was no question of China
and India regarding each other as security risk.

Army goes for damage control, ATS extends probe Dharmesh Thakkar, Sudhi Ranjan Sen
Friday, November 07, 2008 (Mumbai)

http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/images/fullimage/ver1/a/akantony3.jpg

As the possibility of more army officers being involved in the Malegaon blasts surface, the army has gone into damage control mode.

Defence Minister A K Antony on Friday termed it a matter of serious concern and said his ministry will extend full cooperation. While the army insists that it has received no more requests for interrogations, the ATS has started building its case against those already arrested in the case.

As the net widens in the Malegaon blasts to include more army officials, the defence minister acknowledges the extent of the crisis.

"It's a matter of serious concern. We are taking this very seriously. The IB and the Intelligence Bureau are investigating it. We are waiting for a report. The army will extend full and all cooperation," said Antony.

As NDTV had first reported, ATS sent request to army to question more serving officers. Among those who could be questioned, there were two colonels and an army major. The questioning based on interrogation of retired major Ramesh Upadhyay, who is already in custody. Army has said that there is no official request.

The likely involvement of more army officials is only raising the worry of the extent of men in uniform being influenced by extremist right wing propaganda.

The retired Major Upadhyaya had led the ATS to Lieutenant Colonel Purohit and now, there are concerns of whether Lt Col Purohit came in contact with or influenced any more officers in his time with military intelligence in Maharashtra.

The Mumbai ATS is currently checking records of Military Intelligence in Pune, Aurangabad, Ahemadnagar, Parbhani and Nashik. Their aim is to see who all have worked there since 2004 and might have been in contact with those accused in Malegaon blast. They are trying to find information that can be used to build a case against the accused.

The army has promised full cooperation to the ATS in its investigations, but the bigger challenge is how it will attempt to conduct an interval scan to identify any other officers who have been influenced by Hindutva groups.

Tainted officer
Army’s fair name has been muddied

Lieut-Colonel Prasad Shrikanth Purohit has earned the opprobrium of being the first serving officer of the Indian Army to be arrested in connection with a terror bomb attack. Sordid details are tumbling out that he not only took part in the Malegaon bomb blast but masterminded it. The September 29 “revenge” attack killed six people. Even if it was his individual crime, the Army has been greatly embarrassed by this misdeed. Deputy chief Lieut-Gen SPS Dhillon has been constrained to admit that the Army’s “prestige has been hurt”. It is a matter of satisfaction that after initial hesitation, which was probably borne out of sheer disbelief at this unheard of development, the Army has not stood in the way of his arrest and interrogation by the Anti-Terrorism Squad. What is all the more galling for everyone is that he forged document during his stint in Jammu and Kashmir for obtaining arms licences for others. It is he who is said to have provided weapons, ammunition and explosives that were used by members of Abhinav Bharat, a radical Hindu outfit, for training.

His connections with a retired Major stand exposed. The anti-terrorism squad is also exploring the possibility of another serving Army officer being involved in the conspiracy. Not only that, Purohit might also have been in touch with a Bangladeshi Hindu militant outfit. He is believed to have had held a meeting in this connection at Kolkata. If such a network is indeed in existence, it must be smashed post-haste lest it leads to more mischief.

This expose takes the bottom out of the allegations of the saffron outfits that only minority community members are involved in terrorism activities. As we have been saying all along, terror has neither religion, nor borders these days. Such men are merely killers whatever their denomination might be. Motivations may be different, but they are all the same. The authorities — central or state — must hound them out unmindful of to which religion or community they belong. Crime is a crime. That it was committed by way of revenge is not justification at all. “Tit for tat” psychology can lead to greater violence in the country.

Malegaon blast: ATS wants to question more Armymen

Press Trust of India Posted: Nov 07, 2008 at 2042 hrs

Mumbai, November 7: A Colonel posted in Deolali and a Major may face interrogation in connection with the probe into the Malegaon blasts as concerns over more officers coming under the scanner on Friday rattled the Armed forces.

As Mumbai's Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) sought permission from the Defence Ministry to question more Army personnel, there were reports that a retired Lt General and a couple of serving Colonels could also be involved.

A Lt Colonel in Madhya Pradesh was reportedly picked up for questioning but there was no official word on it. More arrests are not ruled out.

Government's worries were voiced by Defence Minister A K Antony who said the alleged involvement of serving Lieutenant Colonel S P Purohit in the Malegaon blasts was a matter of serious concern.

Necessary action will be taken against him by the Defence Ministry on the basis of the Maharashtra police's investigation report in the case.

Evading a direct reply on the involvement of more serving officers, including one holding a senior rank, Antony said the Army was fully assisting the investigation ‘without any hesitation’ and so was the Defence Ministry.

"On the part of the Army, without any hesitation, they are fully assisting and cooperating with the investigating agencies. We are waiting for a report from the Maharashtra police and I can tell you, we are taking it seriously," he added.

"We are awaiting the (Maharashtra police) report (in the case). We will take all necessary action on the basis of the report," Antony said, when asked to react on the involvement of a serving Military Intelligence officer in the blast.

Pointing out that the Maharashtra police and the Intelligence Bureau were investigating the whole issue, he said the inquiry by the agencies outside the MOD was going on.

Police and central security agencies are also trying to trace the links of two of the persons arrested in connection with the Malegaon blasts to Jammu and Kashmir amidst suspicion that the RDX used in the Maharashtra town could have been smuggled from the militancy-hit state.

A senior official of ATS apprised the Army on Friday afternoon over the missing laptop of Purohit and sought their cooperation in locating it, official sources said.

They said Purohit's laptop, which could throw light on blast, has gone missing after he was shifted to Mumbai to assist the ATS in investigations from his place of posting Panchmari in Madhya Pradesh.

They suspect Purohit, after being posted in Military Intelligence, used his contacts built during his tenure in Jammu and Kashmir where he was stationed with the 41 Rashtriya Rifles.

Sameer Kulkarni, another of the nine arrested persons, is also alleged to have travelled to J and K earlier in 2008 and the security agencies now want to find out his links in that state.

US ropes in Pak security experts, India jittery
8 Nov 2008, 0404 hrs IST, Indrani Bagchi,TNN


NEW DELHI: As new US Centcom commander General David Petraeus begins a strategy security review in Tampa, Florida, the presence of two security analysts from Pakistan as consultants have raised eyebrows here.

Ahmed Rashid, an acknowledged authority on the Taliban and Afghanistan, and Shuja Nawaz, author of a book on the Pakistan army, have been named "consultants" at the classified review starting in Florida this weekend. The aim is to review the war plans in Afghanistan and Iraq as the Barack Obama administration considers the wisdom of a troop surge in Afghanistan.

About 100 military specialists, known as the Joint Strategic Assessment Team, will help with the wide-ranging assessment and are expected to report in February. They will be helped by policy officials from the participating countries.

India's concern stems from the possibility that Rashid's latest recommendation of the "grand bargain" to solve Afghanistan's mammoth problems of security and terrorism may have found fertile ground in the Obama set. Certainly, the central argument in the article draws the same connections between "solving" terrorism in Afghanistan and "solving" Kashmir that Obama has been advocating for a while, including in the same journal some time ago.

In a much quoted article in the esteemed 'Foreign Affairs' journal, Rashid and America's best known Afghanistan expert Barnett Rubin wrote that Pakistan would be persuaded to stop supporting terrorism if India can be persuaded to solve Kashmir, which they argue to be a bigger strategic threat to Pakistan than terrorists on their soil, which "can be controlled". This is a "grand bargain" that India will not support.

However, sources said, it's premature to be hyperventilating about such a diplomatic initiative. Indian policymakers believe that once the new US administration takes shape, the realities of the situation will become much clearer to the new Washington. At its worst, India expects to have to do some diplomacy to counter any such perceptions.

The Rashid-Rubin article goes on to make the following suggestions:

• Pakistan should not be "pressured", because its security establishment believes that it is threatened by a US-India-Afghan alliance to dismember Pakistan.

• Pakistan's military command continues to believe the two-nation theory and wants Kashmir to be incorporated into the South Asian homeland for Muslims. To this extent, Afganistan, they say, is "within Pakistan's security perimeter".


Pakistan continues to believe that the Indian threat is superior to stabilizing Afghanistan. The article goes on to recommend a "contact group on the region authorized by the UN Security Council. This contact group, including the five permanent members and perhaps others (NATO, Saudi Arabia), could promote dialogue between India and Pakistan about their respective interests in Afghanistan and about finding a solution to the Kashmir dispute."

According to the article, the rest of the world should be involved in a single exercise — to "reassure Pakistan" that it is under no threat. And the best way to do that would be to "resolve Kashmir". Only then will Pakistan lift its umbrella of support of terrorists and terrorism. In short, Pakistan should be rewarded for its support to terrorism.

"A central purpose of the contact group would be to assure Pakistan that the international community is committed to its territorial integrity — and to help resolve the Afghan and Kashmir border issues so as to better define Pakistan's territory," the article says. For good measure, the US should consider a nuclear deal for Pakistan and India should "become more transparent" about its activities in Afghanistan, it adds.

India, China to hold joint army exercise

* First-ever exercise to be conducted in December in Karnataka’s Belgaum district

NEW DELHI: India and China, which had fought a brief but bloody war in 1962, will hold their first joint military exercise on Indian soil in mid-December.

“The India-China exercise will be conducted in the second week of December in Belgaum (Karnataka),” Indian Defence Minister AK Antony told Indo-Asian News Service.

Forging new military ties amid soaring trade and business links, an Indian Army team went to China in December last year for the first war games between the two countries near the city of Kunming. This will be the first time that Chinese Army troops will come to India to conduct military exercises.

“It will really be a delightful exercise in the 62 years of independence,” Antony said.

During his visit to the border post of Longewala in February this year, Antony stated that the next India-China joint army exercises would be held in India.

Military ties between the two countries have seen a thaw in recent times with Chinese Navy chief Admiral Wu Sheng Li coming on his maiden visit to the country this week and Indian Air Force (IAF) chief Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major going to Beijing.

Indian and Chinese warships have already been making calls at each other’s ports as part of growing confidence-building measures between the two sides. The Indian Navy has long expressed apprehensions about the Chinese Navy’s incursions into the Indian Ocean and hopes to ‘blunt’ its thrust into this area through engagement.

The two navies, which have held elementary drills in the past, are now seeking to engage with each other for the first time next year.

A memorandum of understanding was signed between India and China in May 2006 during a visit by the then defence minister Pranab Mukherjee that stipulated that the two countries would hold joint military exercises, join forces in counter-terrorism and anti-piracy efforts and also co-operate in search and rescue operations.

Purohit is a matter of concern: Antony
8 Nov 2008, 0215 hrs IST, ET Bureau

NEW DELHI: NEW DELHI: Defence minister A K Antony said the alleged involvement of a serving Army officer in the Malegaon blast was a matter of


serious concern. He said the ministry would take action against the official after the completion of the probe.

“This incident is a matter of serious concern for all of us. We are very determined to go to the root of the whole thing,” Mr Antony told reporters. Evading a direct reply on the involvement of more serving officers, including one holding a senior rank, Mr Antony said the Army was fully assisting the investigation and so was the defence ministry. “The Army is assisting and cooperating with investigating agencies.

We are waiting for a report from the Maharashtra police and I can tell you, we are taking the issue seriously,” he said. The minister said both ATS and IB were part of the investigation process. The Maharashtra ATS had on November 4 arrested Lt Col Shrikant Prasad Purohit for allegedly masterminding the Malegaon blasts after the Army gave its nod to detain him.

There are reports that more serving Army officers, including a senior-ranked officer, had prior knowledge of Purohit’s plans. Purohit, in the course of his interrogation by ATS, provided details of his involvement in the conspiracy behind the blasts, source of explosives used and training given by him to the other accused.

But it has not been established if he had sourced RDX from the Army for the Malegaon blasts. Forensic reports, too, are not clear on whether RDX was used at all. Purohit was first detained by ATS on October 29 and formally arrested only on Wednesday.

The trail led to the unveiling of the role of Hindu extremist outfit Abhinav Bharat founded in June 2006. Purohit was the key man behind Abhinav Bharat, building its cadre by drawing ‘extremist elements’ belonging to the Hindu community.

Meanwhile, the Congress on Friday said that several important questions were staring the BJP in the face in the wake of Purohit’s arrest. The party also asked the BJP to clarify whether retired Major Ramesh Upadhyay, another accused in the Malegaon blast case was part of the BJP’s ex-servicemen cell. “That persons like Purohit or Upadhyay represent a rare aberration is not because of the BJP, but in spite of the BJP,” Mr Singhvi said.

“This incident is a matter of serious concern for all of us. We are very determined to go to the root of the whole thing,” Mr Antony told reporters. Evading a direct reply on the involvement of more serving officers, including one holding a senior rank, Mr Antony said the Army was fully assisting the investigation and so was the defence ministry. “The Army is assisting and cooperating with investigating agencies.

We are waiting for a report from the Maharashtra police and I can tell you, we are taking the issue seriously,” he said. The minister said both ATS and IB were part of the investigation process. The Maharashtra ATS had on November 4 arrested Lt Col Shrikant Prasad Purohit for allegedly masterminding the Malegaon blasts after the Army gave its nod to detain him.

There are reports that more serving Army officers, including a senior-ranked officer, had prior knowledge of Purohit’s plans. Purohit, in the course of his interrogation by ATS, provided details of his involvement in the conspiracy behind the blasts, source of explosives used and training given by him to the other accused.

But it has not been established if he had sourced RDX from the Army for the Malegaon blasts. Forensic reports, too, are not clear on whether RDX was used at all. Purohit was first detained by ATS on October 29 and formally arrested only on Wednesday.

The trail led to the unveiling of the role of Hindu extremist outfit Abhinav Bharat founded in June 2006. Purohit was the key man behind Abhinav Bharat, building its cadre by drawing ‘extremist elements’ belonging to the Hindu community.

Meanwhile, the Congress on Friday said that several important questions were staring the BJP in the face in the wake of Purohit’s arrest. The party also asked the BJP to clarify whether retired Major Ramesh Upadhyay, another accused in the Malegaon blast case was part of the BJP’s ex-servicemen cell. “That persons like Purohit or Upadhyay represent a rare aberration is not because of the BJP, but in spite of the BJP,” Mr Singhvi said.

Arjun Main Battle Tank

India, which is the second largest importer of defence hardware in the world, has made little headway in the indigenous design and development of military systems required by the three wings of the Services. This is mainly due to lack of synergy between the user, on the one hand, and the developer on the other. Indeed, analysts keeping a close watch on the defence scenario have expressed surprise as to why India, which has already made spectacular advances in space exploration as exemplified by the recent launch of Chandrayaan-1, has failed to repeat this success story in defence research, development and production.

The unsavoury spat between the Army and the state-owned Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) on the performance of the Arjun Main Battle Tank (MBT), designed by the Combat Vehicle Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE) and produced by the Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) at Avadi, near Chennai could have serious repercussions. It could well mean that the Army would continue to depend on the import of Russian built T-90 tank, whose technology is by no means contemporary and whose performance is no way better than that of Arjun.

Citing delays in delivery and deficiencies in performance during field trials, the Army has refused to buy more than 124 Arjun MBTs. "Army is now looking 20 years ahead and wants a futuristic MBT. Arjun, at this stage would only mean India lagging behind in the technological race in the armoured fighting vehicle. Arjun is a contemporary tank and may be used in the next decade or so but not for technologically advanced next generation warfare, some two decades hence", the Army's Director General (Mechanized Infantry), Lt Gen Dalip Bharadwaj has observed. However, he was unclear as to what kind of futuristic tank the Army was looking for and how it would go about acquiring it.

In fact, Yossi Ben-Hanan credited with designing Israel's highly-successful Merkava tank pointed out during his visit to India that tank design is evolutionary, in that each design builds upon the previous ones. "A decision taken today to build an Indian MBT is only 15 years hence," he explained. Clearly, the Indian army has not followed this well proven path if its fascination for the Russian built T-90 tank is any indication.

Like many other Indo-Russian defence deals, the 2001 contract for the supply of 310 T-90 tanks had its fair share of controversy. To begin with, Moscow has flagrantly violated the agreement by not transferring the technology and components to build 1000 T-90 tanks at HVP. Even seven years after the deal, not a single T-90 had rolled out of HVF. Evidently, Russia had failed to provide India with critical technologies and vital components for the production of the tank on home ground.

On top of this, the fire control system of T-90 had failed to perform as per specifications during field trials in the sandy stretches of Western India. What was the most galling part of the whole exercise was that the air conditioning system supplied by Russia could not prevent the fainting of the tank driver! India has now floated a global tender for a suitable air conditioner for T-90.

Far from taking Russia to task for failing to honour the commitment, the Army has ordered an additional 330 T-90s. Interestingly, Indian defence analysts see this as the Indian deal saving Russia's largest tank manufacturer Ural Vagan Zavod from bankruptcy. For, there are hardly any takers for the T-90s. The Army hopes to field a force of over 21 regiments of T-90 tanks and 40 regiments of modified T-72s.

Moreover, thanks to India's poor expertise in designing armoured vehicles, it took over three decades to develop Arjun, which on expected lines was deficient in technology and had slippages in performance. But after each field trial, the shortcomings were rectified. CVRDE researchers say that Arjun is the most advanced tank in its class and asserts that it "can handle all present and future threats."

Last year, CVRDE had supplied 14 Arjun tanks to the Indian army for trials but all were returned with a list of defects. DRDO sources claimed that each individual defect and deficiency pointed out to by the army was set right. The refusal, according to a former member of the Indian Ordnance Factories Board R Sundaram basically means that the Army was not impressed with Arjun even at this stage although on all parameters, such as horse power, speed, suspension, mobility, rifled barrel and communications set was way ahead of Russian built tanks.

The Army has also rejected DRDO's proposal for a futuristic main battle tank Arjun-2 with advanced technology features, including upgraded engines, digital fire control system and a battle field management system. The Parliament's Standing Committee attached to the Defence Ministry in its 14th report had stated that Arjun-2 production will be taken up after the completion of the order for 124 Arjun MBT. The report had also observed, "MBT Arjun is a 60-tonne class battle tank with a state-of-the-art product specifically configured to meet the requirements of the Indian army".

CVRDE claims that the firing accuracy of Arjun is far superior to the Russian-made tanks. It has second generation thermal imager and can engage targets at a distance of 2,500-metres. Its 1,400 hp engine makes for smooth mobility and has the capacity to fire Laser Homing Anti Tank Missile. Further, the tank features a gas-based suspension, unique "Kanchan" composite armour capable of withstanding hits from tanks and kinetic energy penetrators, which can shatter enemy tanks. However, for the CVRDE to break even, a minimum order of 500 is a vital requirement. This is so as it has made a massive investment on the infrastructure meant for designing the Arjun.

The DRDO is of the firm opinion that the Army's complaint of Arjun failing crucial trials does not reflect the ground reality. According to it, the failure occurred during extended trials. "Normally, a tank is supposed to operate for 3,000-kms before it goes for overhaul. The Army forced Arjun to do another 2,000-km and the reported failure happened after the tank went on for over 4000-kms trial. Nothing will progress if the Army keeps shifting its goal posts. Why don't they do a comparative trial between Arjun-T-90 against a laid down set of parameters", is the DRDO's argument.

All said and done, Arjun is not a 100 per cent Indian product. Over half of the components in the first batch of 124 tanks are imported. However, DRDO points out that imported content in the tank will eventually be reduced in a phased manner. The goal is to reduce the imported component to less than 30 per cent after 500 tanks are produced.

In this context, defence analysts say "the time, effort and money spent on developing indigenous fighting equipment, including Arjun should not be squandered away in pursuit of pipe dreams on technology or mindless fascination for foreign equipment." But then, the defence establishment is yet to involve the Army in the entire process -- of designing, developing, producing and testing the hardware for meeting its "stringent specifications" and get a commitment for the procurement of the product.

Radhakrishna Rao, -INFA

Nepal's Army Chief flag off Indian Army's Gliding Expedition

Kathmandu (PTI): Nepal Army's Chief of Staff Gen Rukmangad Katawal today flagged off the Indian Army's glider expedition, which flew back to India after landing at the Tribhuvan Airport here as the first foreign destination.

The Indian Army expedition's Glider Expedition was piloted by commander Om Prakash and cadet R Sekhar landed at Kathmandu's Tribhuwan International airport today morning from National Defence Academy, Pune via Bhupal and Lucknow.

The 500 kg weight, Austria made four stroke engine Super Diamona Powered glider can fly up to 16,000 ft at a speed of 250 km per hour.

The expedition arrived in Kathmandu to commemorate Diamond Jubilee of National Defence Academy of India. The expedition which put its first leg in Kathmandu will fly to Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood was also present during the flag off ceremony. On the occasion Ambassador Sood and Army Chief Katuwal were presented mementos by officials of the NDA.

Speaking on the occasion Katuwal praised Indian Army's role in upholding democratic institutions in India saying that the Indian Army is one of the most professional army force found in the planet.

Army Chief Katuwal had received his four year regular training from NDA in 1966.
Source:PTI

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