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Monday, 23 February 2009

From Today's Papers - 23 Feb 09

Curfew in Sopore
Murder case against troops
n CM promises ‘action against guilty’
n Army claims militants attacked jawans
Kumar Rakesh
Tribune News Service

Sopore, February 22
As public protests in Sopore gained momentum over the killing of two youths in army firing yesterday, the authorities today clamped a curfew in the township. Sopore SP BS Tooti said they had registered a case of murder against army personnel.

Confronted with perhaps his biggest challenge since he took office, CM Omar Abdullah, who had promised a policy of no-tolerance against human rights violations during his campaign, has also ordered a magisterial enquiry and asked the inquiry officer to submit a report in 15 days. “Exemplary punishment will be given to those found guilty,” Abdullah said.

There were clashes in Sopore between protesters and policemen and at least 20 persons were injured in these incidents since yesterday.

The Army, which did not make any statement yesterday, claimed today that the personnel of 22 Rashtriya Rifles were attacked by militants when they were searching a bus and the two died in a crossfire. They had specific information about the presence of militants in Tujar village and were fired upon by them during search, a spokesperson said. One civilian, he added, died in militants’ fire and another was killed in firing from army personnel which also left one person injured.

However, neither any militant nor any army person suffered any bullet injury in the incident.

The accounts of locals and some security officials, who spoke off the record, suggest that a confrontation between a huge crowd, which was collecting to celebrate the birth anniversary of a revered local saint, Hazrat Makhdoom Sahib, and army personnel might have led to the incident. Bashir Ahmad, a local resident, said many youths were shouting separatist slogans and throwing stones at army personnel, besides abusing them.

Army personnel were frisking people and many persons were abusing and throwing stones at them once they were past the security check. A police official said local army personnel claimed that they suspected militants’ presence in one such abusive gathering and opened fire when attacked by them.

The local residents have, though, dismissed any claims of militants' presence and accused army personnel of pressing triggers just to teach locals a lesson. “The Army is simply trying to justify a wanton act. If militants were there and they attacked the Army, where are all militants. Why a militant or army jawan did not sustain any bullet injuries while three innocent persons were shot?” asked Bashir Ahmad.

An army spokesperson said a high-level court of inquiry had been ordered into the incident.

Potboiler
Indian air defence needs will drive market
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 22
India is inducting next generation of sophisticated technology to fill gaps in air surveillance and add to its attack capability. The technology will be foreign acquired and also home built through joint ventures.

The new technology is of equal importance to the much-visible fighter jets or choppers.

It is about new age pilotless aircraft for attack and spying, radars to cover the air-space over and around the country, high-tech sensors to detect impending air-strikes, long-range reconnaissance aircraft, newer surface-to-air missiles, besides a dedicated satellite to aid the Indian Air Force.

These will form the back bone of new-age real-time information system on which fighter jets or armoured choppers will operate and attack. The government has laid out plans to spend some $30 billion (Rs 1.50,000 crore) on defence modernisation till 2012 and chunk of it is for air defence.

At the Aero India, Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major said, “The world was looking at India with different perspective”, conveyed a lot. Leading military aviation company EADS — the maker of Eurofighter — has offered partnership to India. Others like British Bae Systems — a company making pilotless aircraft among other equipment — have already entered into joint venture in India.

The French want partnership for new surface-to-air missile. Italians are consultants for building the first indigenous naval war ship capable of carrying fighters to sea. Israel is already the most strategic ally after Russia — that already has allowed production of Sukhoi fighters in India and is co-developing the fifth generation fighter aircraft with India.

Following the Mumbai attacks the aerostat radar system has been purchased at $600 million from Israel. These will be deployed at strategic points along the coast and the borders to provide advance warning against incoming enemy aircraft and missiles. The “array” radar is sent up in a tethered balloon allowing a warning that is much earlier than the land-based radars.

For the mainland, The Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO) developed radar, the Rohini, is already accepted by the IAF as a high-class one and is being added across airfields to cover the gaps in surveillance especially of low-flying “rouge” aircraft.

The DRDO built pilotless vehicle-launched aircraft, Nishant, is to be handed over to the Indian Army next month.

Israel Aerospace Industries' (IAI's) corporate marketing vice-president Yair Ramati, while speaking in a seminar at the Aero India said, “The world is changing at a rapid pace; wars in the Balkans, in the Caucasus and elsewhere, worldwide terrorism….”

The host of countries India is engaging with, shows a change from the earlier “only-Russian” market. This was evident at the recently-concluded seventh edition of the Aero India show in Bangalore. More than 550 aviation companies, including some of the biggest names in the business, showed up with their aircraft, avionics, missiles and radar systems. Just 10 years ago in 1998 - Pokhran II happened that year - the number of companies was around 60.

The show area has increased from 7,000 sq m to 44, 000 sq m. This year 303 companies from 25 countries were vying for the lucrative Indian defence market that has further heated up following attacks in Mumbai.

About 50 delegations and 11 military chiefs were present for all or part of the five-day air spectacle. A host of Ambassadors led delegations of their respective countries.

Global rating agency Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) in its report released 10 days ago expects that the share of countries like India and China will increase in the aerospace industry as their share of the world GDP increases to between 6 and 8 per cent.

The spending on the defence sector was a result of heightened focus on military expenditure, given the global war on terrorism, the PWC added.

Meltdown: Army officers rethink on exit

New Delhi, February 22
The economic slump has a silver lining for the officer-strapped Indian Army. Officers planning to seek premature retirement are having second thoughts and those who had applied have begun withdrawing their applications.

In comparison to the situation some months ago, when many Army officers were leaving the force for greener pastures in the corporate world, now one official is withdrawing his application for premature retirement every third day, according to Army sources.

“In the past six months, 65 officers have withdrawn their applications for premature retirement,” a senior Army official said on anonymity.

The Army's sanctioned strength is 46,615 officers, but it faces a shortage of 11,238 officers. The problem got aggravated as about 3,000 officers sought premature retirement in the last three years, with most moving to the lucrative corporate sector.

Now, the Indian Army is hoping the financial crisis would help in restoring the balance and bring in many more to the armed forces that is facing a shortage of middle-rung officers.

"In 2004, 430 officers applied for premature retirement. Of these, only 290 were accepted. In 2007, the number increased to a staggering 1,260," the official said.

Nearly 1,200 applications were also received last year. According to army officials, the number would have crossed 1,500 had the officers not been waiting for the Sixth Pay Commission.

"The trend started reversing after September 2008. As the global economy was hit by recession and the private companies started laying off employees, the Army personnel who were planning to join telecom, aviation and management firms started doing a re-think," the official said. "Since then no application seeking premature retirement has been received and every third day one officer is withdrawing his application," the official said.

According to Indian Air Force (IAF) sources, no application has been received for premature retirement since October. Last year more than 280 IAF officials had applied for retirement. The exodus of officers from the Indian Navy has also stopped.

The trend of defence personnel seeking premature retirement was on the rise with the Army receiving 535 applications in 2005, 810 in 2006, and 1,265 in 2007. The defence ministry's approval depends on the need of the armed forces. The Army approved the voluntary retirement of 365 officers in 2005, 464 in 2006 and 608 in 2007.

Speaking ahead of the Army Day (January 16), Army chief General Deepak Kapoor had hoped that the recession might result in more youngsters opting for the armed forces as career.

"With the recession in the civilian side, the demand for a career in the Army in the service of the nation may go up. Besides, we are taking a series of steps so that people do not leave the Army and more numbers join it," Kapoor had said.

The Army chief had said that the Sixth Pay Commission, which raised salaries for all government employees, including those in the armed forces, has also helped in bringing down the number of officers seeking premature retirement. — IANS

India, Pakistan Were Close to Kashmir Accord

Washington
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf were close to signing an accord to end the decades-old conflict over Kashmir after three years of secret talks but failed to achieve the vital breakthrough, media reports here said.

The peace initiative is described in an article by investigative journalist Steve Coll. Writing in the New Yorker magazine, Coll writes that the two sides had "come to semicolons" in their negotiations when the effort lost steam, the Washington Post said Sunday.

"The negotiations, which began in 2004, produced the outlines of an accord that would have allowed a gradual demilitarization of the disputed Himalayan province, a flash point in relations between the rivals since 1947.

"The effort stalled in 2007, and the prospects for a settlement were further undermined by deadly terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November," the Post said, quoting the New Yorker report.

The attempt ultimately failed, not because of substantive differences, according to Coll, but because declining political fortunes left Musharraf without the clout he needed to sell the agreement at home.

Although Musharraf fought for the deal - as did Manmohan Singh - he became so weakened politically that he "couldn't sell himself", let alone a surprise peace deal with Pakistan's longtime rival, Coll notes, quoting senior Pakistani and Indian officials.

Musharraf resigned as president in August 2008.

Coll, a former Washington Post managing editor who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for his book "Ghost Wars", writes that the resolution of the Kashmir dispute was the cornerstone of a broad agreement that would have represented a "paradigm shift" in relations between India and Pakistan: a moving away from decades of hostility to acceptance and peaceful trade.

The Post reports that under the plan, the Kashmir conflict would have been resolved through the creation of an autonomous region in which local residents could move freely and conduct trade on both sides of the territorial boundary.

Over time, the border would become irrelevant, and declining violence would allow a gradual withdrawal of troops that now face one another across the mountain passes.

"It was huge - I think it would have changed the basic nature of the problem," the New Yorker article quoted a senior Indian official as saying. "You would have then had the freedom to remake Indo-Pakistani relations."

According to Coll's account, the secret negotiations consisted of about two dozen meetings in hotel rooms in various overseas locations.

The sessions revolved around developing a document known as a 'non-paper', diplomatic term for a negotiated text that bears no names or signatures and can "serve as a deniable but detailed basis for a deal," the New Yorker article says.

The US and British governments were aware of the talks and offered low-key support and advice but otherwise elected to let India and Pakistan settle their disputes unaided, Coll says.

"Ultimately, any peace settlement would have to attract support in both countries' parliaments; if it were seen as a product of American or British meddling, its prospects would be dim," Coll writes.

The article portrays Musharraf as an enthusiastic supporter of the deal who succeeded in winning converts among Pakistan's sceptical military leadership. Yet, just as the two sides were beginning to consider how to sell the plan domestically, Musharraf was compelled to seek a delay.

In March 2007, as New Delhi and Islamabad were discussing plans for a historic summit, Musharraf became embroiled in a controversy with his country's Supreme Court. He eventually sacked the chief justice, triggering weeks of protests by lawyers and activists.

What was thought to be a temporary setback soon proved to be far more serious. "Rather than recovering, the general slipped into a political death spiral," culminating in his resignation, Coll said.

India-Pakistan ties - and hopes for resuming the peace initiative - began a downward slide after Musharraf left office. In Kashmir, anti-India fighters began an aggressive campaign of public demonstrations and terrorist attacks that seemed designed, Coll writes, to send a message: "Musharraf is gone, but the Kashmir war is alive."

The Post notes that in recent weeks, there have been signs of a modest thaw in India-Pakistan relations.

Indian and Pakistani spy agencies have been cooperating secretly in India's investigation of the Nov 26 Mumbai terrorist attacks, sharing highly sensitive intelligence, with the CIA serving as arbiter and mediator, the Post said.

Yet, in the emotionally charged aftermath of the attacks, Pakistan's new civilian-led government may not find it easy to return to negotiations on Kashmir, even if it wishes to, Coll said.

"The military is completely on board at top levels -- with a paradigm shift, to see India as an opportunity, to change domestic attitudes," a senior Pakistani official was quoted as saying. But, he reportedly added, "the public mood is out of sync."

Ashok Chakra is for Bravery, Not for Getting Killed
By Ritu Sharma

New Delhi
Former army officers, including a retired general, feel that most of the Ashok Chakras, the nation's highest peacetime award for gallantry, awarded to policemen this year have been on emotional grounds, as they got the medal for "getting killed" during the Mumbai terror attacks rather than for "bravery".

Maharashtra Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) chief Hemant Karkakre, Additional Commissioner of Police Ashok Kamte, Inspector Vijay Salaskar - all killed during the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks - and Delhi police inspector Mohan Chand Sharma, killed in a gun battle with militants at Batla House in Delhi, were among 11 Ashoka Chakra awardees this year .

"The awards were conceptualised for displaying exceptional bravery in the face of grave risk. Nobody has anything against the policemen who were shot dead. These people were just travelling and it is unfortunate that they came under fire of the militants. But to compare this with the bravery for which the awards are given, I think we may have diluted it," former army chief General (retd) V.P. Malik told IANS.

On the same note, Malik says that the army's recommendation to award Kirti Chakra, the second highest peacetime gallantry award, to Brigadier R.D. Mehta, who was killed in a bomb blast at the Indian embassy in Kabul last year, also did not fit the description of "conspicuous bravery".

"The government had hurriedly announced the award for him. He was also unfortunate to have been killed in the blast but that cannot be considered as an act of bravery," Malik said.

Echoing the same feeling, Major General (retd.) Afsar Karim said: "Awards are given for act of gallantry in peace time and not for getting killed.

"The awards (to the policemen) are a little misplaced. The government has made them (the awards) an emotive issue. But if you look at them dispassionately, no other person except the sub inspector (Tukaram Ombale) who helped capture Kasab (the lone surviving terrorist of the Mumbai attacks) did any act of bravery."

Apart from the five, Meghalaya cop R.P. Diengdoh was awarded Ashok Chakra for an operation to neutralise 10 armed militants in the state's jungles; Orissa Special Operations Group's Assistant Commandant P.R. Satapathy got the medal for taking on 500 Maoists with a team of just 20 policemen.

National Security Guard commandos Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan and Havildar Gajender Singh were named for actions in flushing out terrorists holed up at Mumbai's Taj hotel. Col. Jojan Thomas of Jat regiment and Havildar Bahadur Singh Bohra of 10 Para Commandos received the nation's highest gallantry honour for counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir. All awards were given posthumously.

(Ritu Sharma can be contacted at ritu.s@ians.in)

Recession's Flip Side: Army Retaining its Officers
By Ritu Sharma

New Delhi
The economic slump has a silver lining for the officer-strapped Indian Army. Officers planning to seek premature retirement are having second thoughts and those who had applied have begun withdrawing their applications.

In comparison to the situation some months ago, when many army officers were leaving the force for greener pastures in the corporate world, now one official is withdrawing his application for premature retirement every third day, according to army sources.

"In the past six months 65 officers have withdrawn their applications for premature retirement," a senior army official told IANS, requesting anonymity.

The army's sanctioned strength is 46,615 officers, but it faces a shortage of 11,238 officers. The problem got aggravated as about 3,000 officers sought premature retirement in the last three years, with most moving to the lucrative corporate sector.

Now, the Indian Army is hoping the financial crisis will help in restoring the balance and bring in many more to the armed forces that is facing a shortage of middle-rung officers.

"In 2004, 430 officers applied for premature retirement. Of these, only 290 were accepted. In 2007, the number increased to a staggering 1,260," the official said.

Nearly 1,200 applications were also received last year. According to army officials, the number would have crossed 1,500 had the officers not been waiting for the Sixth Pay Commission.

"The trend started reversing after September 2008. As the global economy was hit by recession and the private companies started laying off employees, the army personnel who were planning to join telecom, aviation and management firms started doing a re-think," the official added.

"Since then no application seeking premature retirement has been received and every third day one officer is withdrawing his application," the official added.

According to Indian Air Force (IAF) sources, no application has been received for premature retirement since October. Last year more than 280 IAF officials had applied for retirement. The exodus of officers from the Indian Navy has also stopped.

The trend of defence personnel seeking premature retirement was on the rise with the army receiving 535 applications in 2005, 810 in 2006, and 1,265 in 2007. The defence ministry's approval depends on the need of the armed forces. The army approved the voluntary retirement of 365 officers in 2005, 464 in 2006 and 608 in 2007.

Speaking ahead of the Army Day Jan 16, army chief General Deepak Kapoor had hoped that the recession might result in more youngsters opting for the armed forces as career.

"With the recession in the civilian side, the demand for a career in the army in the service of the nation may go up. Besides, we are taking a series of steps so that people do not leave the army and more numbers join it," Kapoor had said.

The army chief had said that the Sixth Pay Commission, which raised salaries for all government employees including those in the armed forces, has also helped in bringing down the number of officers seeking premature retirement.

"A little bit of hope. Post the Sixth Pay Commission announcement, there is somewhat of a declining trend in the number of people leaving the army. I see it as a happy augury," Kapoor had said.

Pak getting ungovernable
The world must act before it is too late

Pakistan is finding it difficult to ensure that the writ of the state runs throughout the territories under its control. People are being killed with frightening frequency on one pretext or the other. Even such solemn occasions as burial processions are not safe as Friday’s suicide bomb attack in Dera Ismail Khan, leading to the death of 28 mourners, shows. The victims were part of a funeral procession taken out for a prominent Shia cleric, killed by unidentified gunmen a day before. Only two weeks have elapsed since 35 people lost their lives in sectarian violence in this NWFP town. Such incidents, occurring in different parts of Pakistan quiet routinely, are clear symptoms of the country becoming ungovernable.

The state of paralysis has been more visible after the clerics controlling the Lal Masjid-Jamia Hafsa complex in Islamabad openly challenged the government, asking for the implementation of the Sharia laws in Pakistan. The then Musharraf regime committed a number of blunders which amounted to allowing those violating the law to gather arms and ammunition and convert the students of the two madarsahs attached to the mosque into jihadis. It was too late by the time the government decided to take them on militarily in July 2007. All this only contributed to the spreading lawlessness in Pakistan.

Even the virtual surrender to the diktats of the Taliban in both parts of Waziristan could not help restore any semblance of order or authority. The Taliban and other militant elements used the deals they had entered into with Islamabad to strengthen their position to cause death and destruction at will. The result was that Islamabad lost most parts of the NWFP, including the Swat valley, to the Taliban. Now in the Malakand-Swat region, Pakistan has swallowed the same bitter pill in the mistaken belief that it may help cure the paralysis it is suffering from. There are indications that the fate of the latest peace deal, too, will be no different from the earlier ones. The international community cannot afford to remain silent spectators. After all, Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons, which must not be allowed to fall into the hands of militants.

Pakistan after Mumbai
Trapped in its own coils of deceit
by B.G. Verghese

Pakistan has done well to have taken what looks like a step forward on the Mumbai incident though it indulged in much kicking and screaming before making the admission that the crime was partially planned on its soil. The evidence was compelling and international pressure too strong for it to remain in bland denial. This is good as far as it goes, and though Islamabad managed to get entangled in the coils of its own deceits, it did take an effort of will to break out. Having done that, it should go the whole way and be encouraged by India to do so by calibrated responses that bring it corresponding comfort.

As of now, the reply to the Indian dossier is grudging. The argument is that the conspiracy was only partly hatched in Pakistan and that, according to a Foreign Office spokesman, “India must come clean on the multiple facets of the Mumbai tragedy and expose the names of persons in India who were also responsible for acts of omission and commission”.

The reference here is possibly to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s irresponsible statement that the conspiracy could not have been executed without local help and to an earlier report that Col Purohit, being investigated for the Malegaon blast, and who was alleged to have purloined some RDX from military stores in Jammu that was conceivably used in the Samjhauta Express blast, could be linked to Mumbai.

Mr Modi was only trying to score electoral points against the Congress while the ATS later denied any Purohit connection. Those are red herrings, as also the so-called Deccan Mujahideen . The ATS is following all trails and if any Indian hand is detected it will and must be pursued and exposed. Reference to “acts of omission” is irrelevant. If anyone or agency failed in his or its duty in Mumbai, punishment is in order. But that cannot extenuate, let alone condone, the actual conspirators.

The Maharashtra Home Minister has also stated that investigations do not so far reveal the involvement of any HUJI hand from Bangladesh as earlier hinted by Islamabad.

The Indian government was cautious in its initial comments, but if media and political responses were sharper these were provoked by stonewalling from Islamabad and the combination of denial and belligerence in which it has indulged. It is reasonable for Pakistan now to request that any additional information available with India be shared in order to nail the eight Pakistanis who have been detained. Hopefully, the kingpins like Lakhvi, Zarar Shah and others named in earlier terror crimes committed in India will be booked.

Scepticism prevails because many of these men have walked through revolving doors, been kept under “house arrest” or banned and yet been seen on Pakistan TV leading demonstrations and spewing hatred. The recent release of the notorious A Q Khan through a secret agreement approved by the court inspires little confidence in what is going on. The trial remitting the eight arraigned Pakistani accused to judicial custody and the interrogation of Lakhvi are reported to have also been conducted in secrecy with even the lawyer representing the right accused being barred from the proceedings.

This is irregular and understandably fetched an official Indian statement that it expected the actions taken by Pakistan to be speedy, verifiable and transparent. It would add greatly to the credibility of the hearings if an Indian legal representative were present as an observer. One does not wish to be churlish but there is a moral in the fact that President Zardari felt unable to entrust inquiries into the assassination of his own wife, Benazir, to the Pakistan judiciary, fearing a cover-up or other mala fides. The UN has been called in to assist in this case.

President Zardari has in an interview stated that large parts of Pakistan have been overrun by the Taliban and that the country, long in denial of this fact, is in peril. Others too have constantly taken the plea that Pakistan also is a victim of terror. This is true but what is not conceded or is too easily forgotten is that the Taliban and jihadi terror generally have been deliberately nurtured by Pakistan as an instrument of policy which has yet to be clearly abandoned. Else there is no reason why its territory should be handed over to these elements to operate with impunity.

The effort to evoke sympathy on this score is akin to the plea taken by a person who murders his parents and then seeks clemency on grounds of being an orphan.

President Obama’s Iran strategy
by Doyle McManus

President Obama is working against time to untangle 30 years of enmity and prevent Iran from building a nuclear bomb, but even his own advisors know the chance of success is slim. So they also have been working on Plan B: What do we do if Iran gets the bomb?

Today, the Obama administration is debating its Iran policy behind closed doors. Last year, however, four of its key appointees wrote about the issue as private citizens, and their writings suggest they are already planning for how to handle a nuclear Iran.

Dennis Ross, the former Middle East peace negotiator who is expected to be named as Obama's top Iran adviser, argued for giving diplomacy a chance to work but suggested that containment might have to be the future course of US policy.

"Maybe, even if we engage the Iranians, we will find that however we do so and whatever we try, the engagement simply does not work," Ross wrote in a September report published by the Center for a New American Security, a think tank that has supplied several appointees to the new administration. "We will need to hedge bets and set the stage for alternative policies either designed to prevent Iran from going nuclear or to blunt the impact if they do."

If diplomacy fails, another Obama advisor wrote in the same report, the alternative "is a strategy of containment and punishment." That was the conclusion of Ashton B. Carter, Obama's reported choice as an Undersecretary of Defence, who also warned: "The challenge of containing Iranian ambitions and hubris would be as large as containing its nuclear arsenal."

Most (and maybe all) of Obama's advisers see the costs of attacking Iran as outweighing the benefits. If Iran gets closer to acquiring nuclear weapons, they've warned, military action won't look any more appetising than it did under George W. Bush.

But that doesn't mean the United States would do nothing. Instead, Obama aides suggested in their writings, the US should pursue a Persian Gulf version of the containment strategy used against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

What would that mean? For starters, a nuclear-capable Iran would face continued, serious pressure from the United States and its allies to dismantle whatever it had built. Obama might declare that a nuclear attack on Israel would be treated as an attack on the US homeland. And the US military would act to bolster Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states against conventional-warfare threats from an emboldened Iranian regime.

And there is some optimism among administration officials that a nuclear Iran would practice restraint. Gary Samore, Obama's top adviser on nuclear proliferation, and Bruce Riedel, who is running Obama's review of policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, wrote last year that a nuclear-capable Iran, while undesirable, would not be the end of the world. For example, they argued, it seems unlikely that Tehran would give nuclear weapons to terrorists.

"If Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it is likely to behave like other nuclear weapons states, trying to intimidate its foes, but not recklessly using its weapons," Samore and Riedel wrote in a report for the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations. "As such, Iran will be subject to the same deterrence system that other nuclear weapons states have accommodated themselves to since 1945."

None of this thinking means Obama has abandoned hope in negotiations to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons. At this point, one official said, the administration is focusing on Plan A, not Plan B. But it's welcome evidence that behind the slogan of hope lies a realistic appraisal of the possible outcomes.

During his presidential campaign, Obama called the idea of a nuclear Iran "unacceptable," and offered to meet with the Tehran regime without precondition to persuade it to change course. And his advisers agree that there's still a window for diplomacy.

Samore and Riedel forecast that Iran is "at least two or three years away" from being capable of building a nuclear weapon, and note that there are several stages between capability and deploying a bomb -- stages at which the United States could still work to freeze the programme and contain Iran's behaviour.

The first step, Ross wrote, would be to gather support from Europe, China and Russia. (Undersecretary of State Bill Burns is working on that already.) Next, Obama would seek direct, comprehensive talks with Tehran –– with a tangible threat of tougher economic sanctions if the Iranians don't cooperate, and the promise of rich rewards if they do.

So what should we expect? The contacts with Iran might start with secret talks in Europe between special envoys on both sides, but they're unlikely to begin before Iran's presidential election in June. To pave the way, Obama and his aides have toned down their rhetoric on Iran and talk mostly of outstretched hands and mutual respect. (They are learning to live without the phrase "carrots and sticks," which Iranians say should be used only when talking about donkeys.)

Negotiations won't be easy, and they won't be fast. It's not even clear whether the faction-ridden Tehran government will be able to agree on a coherent negotiating position.

Still, Obama has two advantages his predecessor didn't. First, he has sent unambiguous signals that he's ready to talk with Iran and recognise its legitimacy. That gives Tehran no clear reason to walk away, and Russia and China no easy excuse for opposing tougher sanctions.

Second, with oil revenues tanking, Iran's mullahs are likely to be feeling more vulnerable -- perhaps the only silver lining in the global financial crisis. Russia, Iran's biggest arms supplier, and China, Iran's biggest non-military trading partner, will have less to lose from joining in sanctions if Iran is cutting back on foreign purchases.

Ross, Carter, Samore and Riedel all declined to talk last week when asked if they wanted to expand on what they wrote last year. But their work on Iran before they joined the government adds up to this forecast: Negotiations with Iran are worth trying, but they're not likely to succeed.

If talks fail and Iran moves closer to acquiring nuclear weapons, the United States and its allies will have three options: more sanctions, even though they haven't worked; containment, including a stronger security commitment to Israel; or war.

And of those three unpalatable choices, containment –– with all its uncertainties –– will look like the middle way.

Mumbai relieved, 'mysterious' boats belong to Army

22 Feb 2009, 2223 hrs IST, IANS

MUMBAI: Fishermen reported mysterious spotting and disappearance of two speedboats near the Mumbai coast, raising alarms here on Sunday, but the

Coast Guard later said the vessels belonged to the Indian Army.

A Coast Guard spokesman said the army speedboats were on a sailing expedition from Mumbai to Porbandar in Gujarat when they were spotted around the Satpati coast near Palghar sub-district, around 110 km north of Mumbai.

"However, since there were no visible markings on the boats, the illiterate but alert fishermen in the area mistook them for something else," the spokesman said.

He added that there was no cause for worry, but admitted that the Coast Guard was not aware of the expedition trip.

The spokesman said that when the fishermen first informed the police and then the Coast Guard, the entire security drill was put in practice in view of the security issues involved in the wake of the Nov 26 Mumbai terror attacks.

The spokesman also commended the alertness of the fishing community and the police in this matter.

On receiving information from fishermen, Mumbai Police, Coast Guard and Indian Navy had gone in a tizzy for a few hours.

While the Vasai division police swung into action and put up road blocks and checked all small ports, jetties and landing points on the entire north Konkan coastal region, the authorities in Mumbai also implemented an operation to search out the missing boats.

"The boats were sighted by some fishermen around 10 nautical miles of the Satpati coast. They immediately informed us and we in turn alerted the concerned authorities in Mumbai," Shashikant Mahavarkar, deputy superintendent of police of Vasai division in Thane, said.

The matter had assumed serious overtones owing to the strategic location of Satpati, which is among the largest fishing villages in the Palghar sub-district of Thane.

In close proximity is Tarapur where four nuclear power plants are located and BSES's power generation plant is located in the nearby Dahanu area, falling around 110 km north of Mumbai.

The 10 terrorists who attacked this city in November had used the Arabian Sea route from Pakistan and landed in south Mumbai.

Last month, the government deployed a fleet of high-speed patrol boats to guard the coastal regions of the state in an effort to prevent similar attacks.

The Kurious Kase of Pervez Ashraf Kiyani

23 Feb 2009, 0044 hrs IST, Chidanand Rajghatta, TNN

WASHINGTON: When Washington's long-time Pakisani punter Pervez Musharraf was eased out by the Bush administration in November 2007 and replaced by a little-known general who shared his first name, American spooks and spokesmen alike gushed about how the new-comer would be even more pro-US because of his hobbies (golf), habits (chain-smoker) and a military background that was partly minted in America.

They reeled off a resume that detailed repeated military education in the US He had received training in Fort Benning, Georgia, and graduated from the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He had attended a 13-week executive studies course at the Asia Pacific Center of Security Studies in Hawaii in the late 1990s. Heck, he was even the president of the Pakistan Golf Association, a post he retained for a second term last week.

"As he has risen through the military, General Kayani has impressed American military and intelligence officials as a professional, pro-Western moderate with few political ambitions," rhapsodized one report, with one small caveat. "But the elevation to army chief has been known to change Pakistani officers." Still, the fact that he spent Id al-Fitr with soldiers prompted American military officials to praise him as a "soldier's soldier," it said.

In recent weeks, US officials have been revisiting their notes and assumptions. Ahead of a week-long visit by Kayani to the US starting Monday, they are wondering if the Id attendance, combined with the freshly noticed fact of him being the first non-elite Pakistani military chief (his father was a mere naib havildar in the army) actually make him more hard-liner and ultra-nationalistic, rather than pro-American.

The suspicions have heightened over the 16 months since Kiyani (the alternative spelling used by some) took charge. Instead of being an ally, let alone a frontline ally, in the war on terror, Pakistan has come to be seen as a treacherous, two-faced country that has been milking US tax-payer dollars and American arms with false promises of fighting al-Qaida, while sharing the booty with its ally, the Taliban, and protecting it.

The Pakistani double-dealing has been detailed in several new books, none more graphically and extensively than in David Sanger's The Inheritance, which examines the world that confronts Barack Obama. In a particularly devastating expose, Sanger describes how the Bush administration, which held such high hopes on Kiyani, heard him in an intelligence intercept describing the Taliban warlord Jalalludin Haqqani, as Pakistan's "strategic asset." Sometime later, Haqqani's men, at the instance of ISI (which Kiyani headed before he became army chief), carried out the monstrous bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul that killed 60 people including an Indian diplomat and a defense attache.

If the account is true, that would make Kiyani a terrorist accomplice, of not a mastermind. Yes, the same Kiyani now visiting Washington DC as a US guest.

The Pakistani army's terrorist ties may have come as a surprise a few credulous American interlocutors, but old time US and Indian officials have a good recollection of the intelligence intercepts during the Kargil war that nailed Kiyani's mentor Pervez Musharraf as he discussed the use of terrorist mujaheddin with his deputy Mohammed Aziz.

In fact, in his book, Sanger suggests that the Bush administration was aware of Pakistan's terrorist connections, but preferred to wink at it or even humour the Pakistanis because no purpose would have been served in confronting them since they served the larger US purpose.

In fact, writes Sanger, one such charade took place during the most recent high-level Pakistani visit. Shortly before Pakistan's Prime Minister Iftikhar Gilani visited Washington last year, Islamabad organized a phony raid on a Haqqani compound to give the claim of being a “front-line ally” some credibility. Islamabad went to the extent of telling the Haqqani crowd to leave a few weapons around so that the raid seemed genuine and warned them would be lot of smoke bombs. Although Bush was alerted to this duplicity before he met Gilani, who came across as slightly dim to Washington's power elite, he did not directly call the bluff in order not to embarrass his guest, according to Sanger's account. Sanger did not respond to messages seeking elaboration.

The Obama administration may be less inclined to give Pakistan's military a free pass, now that it is putting 17,000 more troops in harm's way. In fact, Kiyani, according to some sources, is virtually being summoned to US even as the White House is conducting a high-level review of its Af-Pak policy with the foreign ministers of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, whose blustering protests about US predator attacks have been shut up by the expose that it was being conducted from Pakistan with Islamabad's complicity, arrived in Washington separately from Kiyani on Sunday. In fact, Kiyani's visit to the US is attracting more attention in the strategic community than President Zardari's visit to China.

It also turns out that the Bush administration did not reimburse Pakistan to the tune of $1.35billion for services rendered in the war on terror, preferring to leave the clearance to the Obama government after allegations of fraud in the billing by Islamabad. Part of Kiyani's agenda, while seeking a fresh arms package for the war on terror, will be to collect the dues.

But more important than these relatively minor items, is the strategic review that many experts suggest is aimed at correcting the Bush administration's indulgence towards Pakistan. In the eyes of the Obama foreign policy team, Pakistan – and not Iraq or North Korea or any other loose cannon – is the most dangerous country on earth, and needs to be contained. "Pakistan is the country about which I have nightmares," Brent Scowcroft, one of the administration's strategic gurus, said last week. “It has never been able to grapple successfully with democracy. It has a very weak government now. It's very fragile, with a lot of radicalism."

The unspoken element in the dangerous mix is Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Sanger's book details the Bush administration's edgy mission to get a fix on the Islamabad's strategic assets over the last several years since 9/11, an effort that he reports has met with little success. The Obama administration seems a little more focused on the task.

That ties in with the an unscheduled and unpublicized visit to Washington of another important visitor – Khalid Kidwai, head of Pakistan's Strategic Command and Control and custodian of its crown jewels — ahead of the Kiyani trip. While there was speculation that Kidwai had come to assure Washington about the relaxation of curbs on A Q Khan, there is growing clamour here for a greater oversight on the troubled nation's nuclear weapons given how fast it is spiraling out of control. Suddenly, Iraq is just a minor footnote in the Obama administration's foreign policy priorities.

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