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Monday, 16 March 2009

From Today's Papers - 16 Mar 09

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Sharif defies arrest; many officers join the 'long march'

Munizae Jehangir

Sunday, March 15, 2009, (Sharif's convoy)

Pakistan plunged deeper into a political chaos on Sunday as Nawaz Sharif defied house arrest and embarked on the long march to Islamabad.

The Army was put on standby and Rangers roamed the streets and Pakistan tottered on the brink as tens of thousands of supporters joined Nawaz Sharif's convoy.

As what's being described as the biggest civil disobedience movement in Pakistan's recent history took centrestage, President Asif Ali Zardari and the ruling PPP appeared to be increasingly isolated.

"After 1947 this the second time that the country needs you. I don't think there is anyone in Pakistan who will not answer to this call. And God willing this convoy will reach its destination. You all have promised me that you will walk along with me. The time has come for all of you to keep your word," said Nawaz Sharif, Chief, PML-N.

Sharif's motorcade moved slowly gathering protesters by the hundreds.

By the afternoon the administration, which was meant to block the protesters, began backing off, the police guards at the high court left their posts.

The Deputy Attorney general, a political appointee, close to the Sharifs quit and joined the protestors. Then a middle ranking police officer and an Inspector-General of Police quit their posts.

At some places the rangers, a paramilitary force replaced the police. By the evening, the long march appeared to have gathered enough momentum to make it to Islamabad.

To clear any roadblocks, Sharif went armed with cranes. Even changed his route to give government forces the slip.

Amidst all this, the Army chief reportedly met the Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.

There are back-channel negotiations on with the protesters but they say, the concessions made by President Asif Zardari on Saturday have to be implemented.

"Having negotiations but how can we trust them," said Rana Sanaullah, Nawaz Sharif's aide.

Lahore on Sunday and Islamabad on Monday, the long march is set to roll on.

Who will prevail, who will lose is anybody's guess.

Army refuses to be part of govt probe in J&K killing

Press Trust of India

Sunday, March 15, 2009, (New Delhi)

Army has refused to participate in the inquiry being conducted by the Jammu and Kashmir government into the killing of two innocent civilians in Sopore town (north Kashmir) in February, saying such a probe was not valid.

The inquiry, initiated by state Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, had blamed the army personnel present at the site of encounter for not verifying the claims of their informers before shooting down the innocents.

The civilian inquiry had asked the army to present before it the personnel who were involved in the killing but sources said the Brigade Command informed through a letter that such an inquiry was not valid under the Army Act.

Citing the Army Act, the force handed over a statement giving their version of the story, sources said.

The Army's rejection of the government probe is likely to figure in the high-level meeting between Omar, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and the Army authorities scheduled for Wednesday in Jammu, the sources said.

Earlier, Omar had come down heavily on security forces for using excess force and had announced a inquiry into the killing of the two youths on February 22.

Pakistan army on standby as protests refuse to subside

Press Trust of India

Saturday, March 14, 2009, (Islamabad)

Pakistan put its army on standby and placed barricades on the boulevard leading to the Parliament House as the confrontation between country's two main parties PPP and PML-N showed no signs of abating despite frantic mediation efforts.

As the government asked the troops to be deployed in all sensitive areas in the capital, sealed of all highways leading to it, protesting lawyers and opposition parties said they will go ahead with their mass sit-in outside the National assembly.

"The troops will remain on alert and will be deployed only if the situation warrants it," chief military spokesman Major Gen Athar Abbas told Dawn News channel.

Interior ministry chief Rehman Malik warned that the protesters, who are seeking reinstatement of judges sacked in 2007 emergency, will not be allowed to come anywhere near Parliament House, which has been barricaded.

Malik said that extra-ordinary security measures were being taken as intelligence agencies have warned that terrorists could take advantage of the protest to carry out "target killings" and a "series of bombings", including suicide attacks.

Key installations were facing a threat and "enemies of Pakistan" too could strike during the long march to "destabilise the country", he said without giving details.

The deployment of the army came after it received a request from the government to deploy troops at sensitive locations to maintain law and order during the long march launched by lawyers and opposition parties.

More than 1,200 protesters have so far been rounded up in connection with the long March. Police on Saturday halted more than 1500 activists near Multan as they headed for Islamabad.

This was the third procession of lawyers and protesters to be blocked. Earlier, police had stopped
motorcades of opposition groups heading from Quetta in Balochistan and Karachi in Sindh towards Islamabad.

The lawyers and opposition parties, including former premier Nawaz Sharif's PML-N party, launched the long march on Thursday to pressure the ruling Pakistan People's Party to reinstate judges sacked by former President Pervez Musharraf during the 2007 emergency.

The PML-N backed the protest after accusing President Asif Ali Zardari of influencing a Supreme Court verdict that barred party leaders Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif from contesting polls and holding elected office. Zardari imposed Governor's Rule in Punjab province, which was ruled by the PML-N, after the court gave its judgement last month.

A small group of lawyers assembled initially near the office of the Multan Bar Association and the number of the protestors swelled when they were joined by political workers.

Eighty people, most of them lawyers, were rounded up in Multan in overnight raids.

Guffaw of a merry 'mutineer'

- Back to an officer who dared bosses and missed a star


Binod Bihari Lal

New Delhi, March 15: That guffaw and hearty laughter on the telephone is at odds with the personality of Binod Bihari Lal, the man usually seen on duty in his khaki uniform with the single star on his epaulettes, equivalent to the rank of a brigadier in the Indian Army.

Lal may sound like a merry mutineer — this is the season of mutineering from Bangladesh to Madagascar — and there are faint echoes not to be missed here in India.

Lal laughs really loud in a telephone conversation. He is dialled two years after he hit the headlines for "mutineering". He was in Nagpur then as he is in Nagpur today, when he should have been in New Delhi here, at the headquarters of the organisation he serves in the Seema Sadak Bhavan, as the additional director-general sporting two stars, equivalent to a major general.

The more cynical he gets, the louder the decibel level of his laughter.

He had dared the bosses, sticking to the letter of a government order issued in 2007, in the 150th year of the Sepoy Mutiny, and had asked his colleagues of the General Reserve Emergency Force (GREF) to follow suit. The GREF and the army make up the two cadres of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), the military's frontier road construction and maintenance force.

The upshot of Lal's defiance of the army: the then director-general of the BRO, Lt Gen K.S. Rao, now retired, charged him with mutiny, and threatened to sack him. So Lal is still in Nagpur, heading Project Hirak as its chief engineer, serving in an office that is two notches below his station, supervising roads through Naxalite-influenced territory.

"I had come to build roads in Naxalite land and help in the battle against the rebels," he laughs in the telephone from his office in Nagpur and the cynical laughter splits the ears in Delhi. "It is a bit of a miracle that with my frustrations I haven't given up my job."

A Bangladesh Rifles trooper inside the force's Dhaka headquarters during the mutiny in February. (Reuters)

Lal will not say a word beyond that because a job in the armed forces does not permit freedom of expression and he is not about to break the rules. The former judge advocate-general of the Indian Army, Maj Gen Neelendra Kumar, explains that according to the Army Act -- which applies to the BRO, the Assam Rifles and such other outfits officered by the army – "collective insubordination amounts to mutiny".

The mutiny charge against Lal was withdrawn after the intervention of the minister of state for defence, Pallam Raju, but Lal's career was tainted and he is yet to be given his promotion and new posting despite being consistently graded as "outstanding" and "very good" in performance reports. He was also posted to Afghanistan where the BRO last month completed a major road despite the Taliban threat but he was returned to India before time on medical grounds (he is diabetic).

Unlike the Bangladesh Rifles and the Bangladesh Army in the neighbouring country, India, where writer V.S. Naipaul found a million mutinies, the armed forces are seen as disciplined outfits with public exhibitions of protests and anger rare.

Yet, this month, for the second time, ex-servicemen are set to return gallantry awards to the President to protest against what they say are unfair pension benefits.

In the Assam Rifles, the paramilitary counter-insurgency outfit in the Northeast officered by the army and headed by a major general, the non-army soldiers frequently complain of inadequate rations and second-class treatment in comparison to colleagues in the army.

The biggest mutiny post-1947 was in 1984 after the killing of Indira Gandhi and Operation Bluestar when about 1,000 soldiers at the Sikh Regimental Centre at Ramgarh in Bihar rose in revolt and the unrest spread to Pune in the Southern Command, to Faridkot in the Western Command and to places in the Central Command. All the cases were disposed of.

Another protest shaped up after the fifth pay commission when technical officers of the Indian Air Force were angry with the recommendations but that was not called a mutiny. In the military's Canteen Stores Department, too, the civilian employees went on strike demanding better pay and perks, but that, too, was not called a mutiny.

"There may not be an exact parallel (to the Bangladesh Rifles mutiny) but there have been instances when the units, formations or establishments commanded by army officers saw resentment by the subordinates though such incidents are very very few," says former JAG Maj Gen Nilendra Kumar.

Unlike Bangladesh, where the border guard massacred the officers, India's security establishment and its army has been able to manage dissent to a level where it does not lead to bloodshed and massacre. But individual incidents of fraggings -- soldiers killing superiors -- rose dramatically. There were 11 incidents of fragging in 2006 in which 23 soldiers, including officers, were killed.

Frustration, depression, prolonged deployment on counter-insurgency duty were among the reasons cited by the Defence Instances of Psychological Research as the causes.

In the rare case of Binod Bihari Lal, who is no longer the mutineer he was alleged to be, the merriment is the outcome of a debilitating cynicism with the establishment.

Bin Laden hiding in Pakistan's Hindu Kush mountains: Report

March 15, 2009 19:23 IST

The United States is said to have tracked down the world's most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden [Images], in the impenetrable Hindu Kush mountains in Pakistan's scenic Chitral region, according to a media report.

America won't say it officially, but the world's biggest manhunt for bin Laden who murdered nearly 3,000 people on 9/11 has zeroed in on Chitral's stunning peaks and valleys, the New York Daily News reported.

The region has been sealed off to outsiders and is now regularly buzzed by American spy drones, it said. Six US and foreign officials have also confirmed that the Hindu Kush mountains in the Chitral region have been eyed as bin Laden's hideout since 2006 by Osama hunters aiming for the big kill.

A lengthy review of evidence, including recent Predator fly-bys, bin Laden's tapes since 9/11 and interviews with three dozen experts on al Qaeda, Pakistan and special operations, point to these vast mountains as Osama's likely haven, the report said.

Two senior foreign officials said the nearby town of Kalam also is suspect. In fact, drones were first spotted spying on Chitral last summer and were seen again as recently as February 2. It is so far from US-run airfields that drone sorties are limited to just a few hours due to fuelling issues, the report said. Moreover, Islamic militancy is taking root in several Chitrali valleys leading to Afghan border, prompting Pakistan to decree them off-limits to foreigners, local sources said, reinforcing the suspicion Osama is nearby.

Gilani assures all efforts for country's defence, development

ISLAMABAD, Mar 14 (APP): Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani Saturday assured that the government would not spare any effort to make the country's defence impregnable and raise living standard of the people. sun15.3.jpgHe was speaking at a dinner hosted at Prime Minister House here to bid farewell to outgoing chief of air staff Tanvir Ahmed. He said Pakistan wants to live in peace and has no aggressive designs against anybody. Pakistan has itself been a victim of terrorism and it will continue its efforts in the war against terrorism, the premier said.

Chairman Senate Farooq H Naek, Speaker National Assembly Fehmida Mirza, Defence Minister Ahmed Mukhtar, Chief of Army Staff Ashfaq Pervaiz Kayani, Chief of Naval Staff Noman Bashir and Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman were present on the ocassion.

He said air force is remembered for its glorious traditions and is pride of the nation.

He acknowledged services of outgoing air chief spanning over four decades and said the air chief came up to the trust reposed by the nation.

He lauded air force for providing the country with an efficient and costeffective aerial defence.

Gilani said armed forces are defending the geographical and ideological borders of the country.

Pakistan air force will be modernized so that it can meet the challenges of future, he added.

The Prime Minister wished the outgoing air force chief well in his future endeavours.

He also appreciated the work done by Zarin Tanvir, wife of the outgoing air chief for Pakistan Air Force Women Association (PAFWA).

In his speech, outgoing air chief Tanvir Ahmed said he was leaving his office with a sense of satisfaction and achievement. He said Pakistan Air Force will continue to remain pride of the nation.

He said during his tenure, air force remained focused on its job with rising challenges at the turn of the century.

He said in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, Indian leadership was fuming and talking about surgical strikes.

During that period, the air force remained vigilant and at operational high alert, remaining in the air at all hours, he recalled.

This alertness sent a strong message across the border that any misadventure will be responded with strength, he added.

He said successive governments invested the hard earned money of the people to upgrade the capabilities of the air force.

Due to adequate spending, Pakistan's air force will emerge as a high tech and modern force by 2012, he added.

China naval confrontation tests Obama

By Richard Halloran

A touch of irony surfaced a week ago when an American destroyer patrolling in the South China Sea sailed to the aid of the U.S. ocean surveillance ship Impeccable, which was being harassed by three Chinese government vessels and two trawlers.



The American warship was the USS Chung-Hoon, named for a Chinese-American naval officer awarded the Navy Cross, the nation's second-highest combat decoration, for heroic action against Japanese kamikaze planes in World War II. The late Gordon P. Chung-Hoon, of Hawai'i, retired as a two-star admiral in 1959, and his namesake ship's home port is Pearl Harbor.

That warship could outrun, outmaneuver, and outgun the Chinese ships on the scene but arrived after the incident to warn the Chinese not to return. The Impeccable resumed its mission of mapping the floor of the treacherous sea filled with islands, atolls, rocks, banks and reefs, and gathering intelligence on Chinese submarines based on the island of Hainan, 75 miles away.

This confrontation, however, was far more than a skirmish at sea. It has turned into an early test for President Obama, who is scheduled to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the G20 economic summit meeting in London in April. Sino-U.S. military relations are certain to be on the agenda.

A question being addressed in the Pacific Command's headquarters above Pearl Harbor was whether the Chinese assault had been ordered by the political authorities in Beijing or had been mounted by the People's Liberation Army that comprises all of China's armed forces.

"It's hard to tell," an American analyst said. "But the PLA sometimes goes off on its own without telling anyone."

The educated consensus held that the confrontation was authorized by Beijing because it was conducted so deliberately and was timed to test the new American president.

In addition, spokesmen for China's leaders were immediately prepared to assert that the U.S. had intruded into China's territorial waters. In contrast, when Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi was in Washington to meet with President Obama, all the White House would say was that the national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, had "raised the recent incident in the South China Sea."

The concern among U.S. military officers in the Pacific was that the Chinese would miscalculate in the future and overtly threaten to attack an American warship. Since the ship's captain would have the inherent duty to defend his ship, he could order his crew to fire on the Chinese. The consequences would be incalculable.

A White House press release said President Obama "stressed the importance of raising the level and frequency of the U.S.-China military-to-military dialogue in order to avoid future incidents." The Chinese broke off those meetings after the Bush administration announced in October that the U.S. would sell $6.5 billion worth of weapons to Taiwan.

The Pacific Command, led by Adm. Timothy Keating, has been trying to revive that dialogue, with staff officers saying the South China Sea incident makes such contacts imperative. The admiral met quietly with senior Chinese officers in Hong Kong last month, but to no avail. A Pentagon official, David Sedney, was in Beijing on a similar mission, but went home empty-handed.

At issue, moreover, is freedom of the seas, which is critically important to the U.S. China claims most of the South China Sea as territorial waters under Beijing's control. The U.S. and most Asian nations disagree; much of their economic lifelines pass through that sea. That passage is also vital to U.S. warships sailing between the Pacific and Indian oceans.

China and the U.S. agreed in 1998 to set up a consultative mechanism so that warships that encountered each other would have procedures to communicate, interpret the rules of the nautical road and avoid accidents. It was signed by Secretary of Defense William Cohen and Minister of National Defense Chi Haotian.

With this incident and others, such as a Chinese fighter plane buzzing a U.S. intelligence aircraft in the same area in 2001 only to collide with it and drop out of the sky, that agreement appears to have been thrown overboard.

India to strengthen para-military forces with 100 new batallions

NEW DELHI, March 15 (Xinhua) -- India will strengthen its para-military forces by at least 100 new batallions in two years' time, in light of new security concerns following the Mumbai terror attacks last November, said a senior government official Sunday.

The official said that the Indian Home Ministry has approved the raising of some 100 new batallions including those for the Central Reserve Police Force, Central Industrial Security Force and Border Security Force, to meet the shortfall in the country's Army, Navy and Air Force.

"The new battalions, with 1,100 personnel, will allow the government to properly utilize the para-military forces inside the country in cases of any terror attacks. India had to call its Army and Navy commandos during the Mumbai massacre. The country now wants only the six para-military forces to pitch in as the armed forces are there to counter any attack from outside," he said, on anonymity.

At present, there are seven paramilitary forces under the Indian Home Ministry, and one under Indian Defense Ministry, with a total of 717,909 officers and men.

The shortage of officers in the armed forces has reached 23.8 percent for the Army, 16.7 percent for the Navy and 12 percent for the Air Force respectively.

"There is a shortage of 11,119 officers in army, 1,359 officers in navy and 1,352 officers in air force. Armed forces have 53,849 officers against a sanctioned strength of 67,679," Indian Defense Minister A.K. Antony said a few months ago.

Paramilitary forces to be one of the largest recruiters

New Delhi, March 15
At a time when there is almost a total freeze in recruitment everywhere owing to global economic recession, the paramilitary forces have emerged as one of the largest recruiters in the country if one goes by the government's plan to strengthen the six organisations.

Home Ministry officials here said the CRPF, BSF, CISF, ITBP, SSB and the NSG have been authorised to raise 123 new battalions which would be coming up in the next two to three years.

Each battalion of the forces will have about 1,100 personnel and hence the total number of persons, including women, to be recruited by them would be over 1.35 lakh.

In the coming financial year (2009-10), about 25 new battalions would be raised totalling to approximately 28,000 personnel from across the country.

"After Mumbai terror attacks, there has been a push to modernise the paramilitary forces in terms of both equipment and personnel. Additional battalions have been sanctioned keeping the future and present requirements in mind," an official said.

At present, seven paramilitary forces, namely the CISF, CRPF, BSF, NSG, ITBP, SSB and the Assam Rifles (under Defence Ministry) have 7,17,909 personnel, with the CRPF being the largest with 201 battalions.

Sources said the CISF, which at present has about 1,12,000 personnel, has been given the go-ahead to raise it strength to 1,45,000. In all, the force would see its strength going up by 37 new battalions after the completion of the expansion plan in the next three years.

Similarly, the CRPF which has been sanctioned 10 new battalions to be raised as Combat Battalion for Resolute Action (COBRA).

The NSG, which draws its men on deputation from the Army and the paramilitary forces, has also been allotted four new battalions but it seems to have hit hurdles following the Army's reluctance to immediately contribute its share of personnel to the elite force.

The Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), which guards the India-Bhutan and India-Nepal borders, has been sanctioned 37 new battalions and the BSF has been granted 29 new battalions of which about five would be raised in the next fiscal.

Sources said the Home Ministry has also drawn a futuristic plan for the paramilitary forces keeping in mind the requirements for the next 10 years. They said a proposal to increase more battalions of the paramilitary forces is already with the Ministry and a decision would be taken once the present sanctioned strength is raised. — PTI

J&K killings: Army refuses to be part of govt probe

New Delhi, March 15
The Army has refused to participate in the inquiry being conducted by the Jammu and Kashmir government into the killing of two innocent civilians in Sopore town (North Kashmir) last month, saying such a probe was not valid.

The inquiry, initiated by state Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, had blamed the Army personnel present at the site of encounter for not verifying the claims of their informers before shooting down the innocents.

The civilian inquiry had asked the Army to present before it the personnel who were involved in the killing but sources said the Brigade Command stated, through a letter, that such an inquiry was not valid under the Army Act.

Citing the Army Act, the force handed over a statement giving their version of the story, sources said.

The Army's rejection of the government probe is likely to figure in the high-level meeting between Omar, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram and the Army authorities scheduled for Wednesday in Jammu, the sources said.

Earlier, Omar had come down heavily on security forces for using excess force and had announced an inquiry into the killing of the two youths on February 22. — PTI

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