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Monday, 4 May 2009

From Today's Papers - 04 May 09

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Major wheat scam in Army unearthed
Tejinder Singh Sodhi
Tribune News Service

Jammu, May 3
The CBI has unearthed a major wheat purchase scam in the Army in which a case has been registered against a Lieutenant-Colonel and some other officers of Northern Command and the owner of a flour mill.

An FIR has been registered in the connection. The FIR says that the Northern Command processed the tenders for purchase of wheat in 2006-2007. Kash Ind Roller Flour Mill, Jammu, won the tender for Rs 1, 45, 35, 235 to supply 1,025 metric tonnes per month to 15 Corps HQ.

Kissan Flour Mill, Jammu, at Rs 1, 44, 52, 591 was the lowest contender for 16 Corps HQ. Similarly, the Jammu Flour Mill won the contract for HQ 15 corps at Rs 1, 46, 34, 315 and for HQ 16 corps at Rs 1, 45, 68,987.

As per the FIR, the Jammu mill allegedly managed to get the agreement clause abolished through the Army Headquarters after which the contract of Kash Ind and Kissan Flour Mills were cancelled.

Both mills approached the high court which ordered that the contract should not be given to any of the mills and the monthly local purchase under the guidelines be restored. The CBI maintained that Northern command HQ decided to go in for local purchase of wheat from August, 2006, to March, 2008.

A board of officers was constituted for the local purchase. The rates of local purchase up to July, 2007, were Rs 6 to 7 lakh per month per 11.30 metric tonnes but when Lt Col Radha Krishnan was appointed presiding officer of the board, the rates abruptly shot up to Rs 22 lakh per month for 11.30 metric tonnes in July and August, 2007, and this continued till February and March, 2008.

Considering the rate fixed from July, 2007, to February, 2008, the total expenditure should have been Rs 57 lakh but the Army spent Rs 1.76 crore, puttting an extra burden of Rs 1.20 crore on the state exchequer.

Nepal in crisis

Maoists sack army chief

Prez asks him to continue

Bishnu Budhathoki writes from Kathmandu

Ousted army chief General Rookmangud Katawal.

Ousted army chief General Rookmangud Katawal. — AFP photo

A fortnight-long stalemate in Nepal came to an end on Sunday evening with the sacking of Army chief Gen Rookmangud Katawal. However, he refused to receive the letter. It was not clear if Lt Gen Kul Bahadur, appointed in his place by the Maoist-led government, has take over the charge.

In a late evening development, the Nepal President, Dr Ram Baran Yadav, asked the Katawal to continue his service until further decision after receiving request from the 18 political parties, including the CPN-UML and the Nepali Congress, to safeguard the constitutional spirit. The President also wrote a letter to the Prime Minister asking him not to relieve Gen Katawal. But the PM is learned to have refused to receive the letter.

Immediately after the government decision to sack the army chief, the cadres from the sister organisations of both ruling Maoists and the opposition Nepali Congress took to the streets. The cadres of Maoists’ sister organisations took out rallies across the country applauding the government decision whereas the students affiliated to the Nepali Congress demonstrated in Kathmandu and scuffled with the Maoists cadres in some places while protesting against the government decision dubbing it as a premeditated move to establish totalitarianism.

The government has beefed up the security situation to avoid untoward incidents in Kathmandu.

Following the decision, Nepal’s political parties have been sharply divided putting the Maoist-led government in trouble and hampering the constitution drafting process that could invite new political conflict before resolving the decade-long Maoist insurgency.

However, ministers from three coalition partners - the CPN-UML, Sadbhavana Party (SP) and CPN (Unified) - boycotted the emergency cabinet meeting protesting against Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s proposal to sack Katawal despite having political consensus. Similarly, ministers from the third largest party, Madhesi People’s Rights Forum, lodged a note of dissent over the decision.

Government spokesperson and Maoist secretariat member Krishna Bahadur Mahara said after the meeting: “The government sacked Nepal army chief Gen Rookmangud Katawal and appointed second-in-command Kul Bahadur Khadka as acting chief of the army.”

Mahara claimed that all ruling political parties, except the UML, supported the government decision.

Katawal, who was invited at the PM’s official residence in Baluwatar during the cabinet meeting, refused to accept the retirement letter saying that he would accept it if it comes through proper channel. Later, he went to the army headquarters and consulted with the senior army officials.

Meanwhile, an emergency meeting of the second largest coalition partner, the UML, and the Sadbhavana Party decided to pull out of the five-party coalition and withdraw its support to the Maoist-led government with effect from today, party general-secretary Ishwar Pokharel said. The decision follows UML’s disagreement with Maoists over the latter’s unilateral decision to sack army chief Katawal.

The UML has also urged the Maoists to pave the way to form an all-party national government in order to take the ongoing peace process to a logical end by drafting the new constitution within stipulated timeframe.

However, the third largest ruling constituent, Madhesi People’s Rights Forum that has 51 members in Parliament, is yet to take a decision on whether to withdraw its support to the Maoists-led coalition or not.

Meanwhile, President Dr Ram Baran Yadav, who is the supreme commander-in-chief of army and patron of the interim constitution, has urged the Prime Minister not to enforce the decision without reaching a political consensus.

Earlier, an all-party meeting called by the main opposition party, the Nepali Congress, where at least 17 political parties were present, urged the President to take immediate and necessary initiative to safeguard the interim constitution.

On April 19, the government had asked the army chief to furnish clarification on three issues within 24 hours.

Nepal Government Teeters as Maoists Sack Army Chief
By Sudeshna Sarkar

The violence and uncertainty that had gripped Nepal three years ago during deposed king Gyanendra's military-backed rule returned Sunday to haunt the republic once again as the ruling Maoist party fired its old foe, army chief General Rookmangud Katawal, causing its allies to consider quitting the coalition government.

After a nearly two-month stand-off, Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal 'Prachanda' finally replaced army chief Gen Rookmangud Katawal - just three months before he was due to retire - with senior army officer Lt. Gen. Kul Bahadur Khadka, despite objections by his coalition members and the international community, especially India.

"The cabinet has decided to remove the army chief since he could not provide a satisfactory explanation to the three charges levied by the government," Maoist Information and Communications Minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who is also the spokesman of the government, said after a cabinet meeting Sunday.

Katawal was asked to explain why did he continue military recruitment despite the government's halt order and reinstated eight brigadier-generals who were retired by the defence ministry.

He was also rapped over the army pulling out of the National Games when the Maoist combatants too decided to take part.

The four allies of the government - the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML), Madhesi Janadhikar Forum (MJF), Sadbhavana Party and Communist Party of Nepal (United) - however distanced themselves from the sacking, saying they had asked the Maoists not to take a hasty decision.

While the Maoists began wooing the fringe parties fearing the desertion of allies, the UML, the second-largest party in the alliance, said it has decided to walk out of the alliance.

Now the main parliamentary parties are rallied under the main opposition party, the Nepali Congress of former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala, to oppose the dismissal and urge President Ram Baran Yadav, who is the constitutional head of the government, to reject the cabinet order.

Yadav, who had in the past asked the Maoists to act consensually with the other parties, was reported to have termed the cabinet decision "unconstitutional, illegal and against consensus".

"The constitution says that all decisions regarding the army have to be made on the basis of consensus," said legal journalist and author Ananta Luitel. "Since there was no consensus, the president can either ask the Supreme Court for advice or send the cabinet order to the interim parliament for its decision."

If the president sends the dismissal order to parliament, it would be put to vote and the Maoists are likely to be defeated.

Though the Maoists have been threatening to remove the president if he opposes the army chief's dismissal, Luitel said that would be impossible legally.

"The president can be removed only if he is impeached by two-thirds of parliament members," he said. "The Maoists can't sack him on their own."

Meanwhile, former army generals said Katawal was likely to challenge his removal in court.

While the leaders planned strategies, violence erupted on Kathmandu's main thoroughfares as thousands of Maoist cadres, celebrating Katawal's dismissal, clashed with NC supporters, who began condemning the "Maoist authoritarianism".

India could once again play a critical role in the new crisis.

In 2006, it was India that helped the Maoists return to mainstream politics after a 10-year armed insurgency. However, the hardliners in the Maoist party have been growing increasingly hostile towards India and accusing the neighbour of intervention.

Though New Delhi had sent its ambassador to Nepal, Rakesh Sood, to meet Prachanda several times, asking him not to take any unilateral step about the beleaguered army chief, the advice was rejected by the Maoist hawks.

Now with the Maoist government in danger of collapsing, India could once again have a major role in making or breaking the coalition.

TN ADGP warns against attacks on military
N Ravikumar
Tribune News Service

Sivaganga, May 3
Tamil Nadu police today warned of stern action against those indulging in false campaign against the Indian military, following incidents of stone-pelting on military trucks at Coimbatore yesterday.

Additional DGP (Law and order) Rajendran, in his warning, said military vehicles carrying about 200 military personnel, who were returning to Coimbatore, after training at Hyderabad, were blocked by a mob, which pelted stones and attacked the drivers, following rumours that the trucks were carrying weapons to be supplied to the Sri Lankan military.

This attack was due to the false campaign carried out by Periyar Dravidar Kazhagam, which had spread rumours that weapons in the trucks would reach Cochi, from where it would be transported to Colombo, the police official said. Some of the articles including clothes and materials used for tents were burnt and the vehicles were damaged by the people, who blocked the road, he said.

Four persons had been arrested and others involved in the incident would be arrested soon, he said. He warned that such actions against the Indian military would be seriously dealt with and said action would be taken on those resorting to false campaign against the nation's military.

The atmosphere in western districts of Tamil Nadu, where key Congress candidates including TNCC president K V Thangabalu and Union Minister EVKS Elangovan are in the fray, is very volatile, due to the allegations of opposition parties that the Centre was providing support to Sri Lankan military which is massacring Tamil civilians.

Naga chilli, army's revolutionary new weapon

Ajai Shukla in Tezpur, Assam | BS | May 04, 2009 | 10:56 IST

The Defence Research and Development Organisation offers intellectual challenges, but not an adventurous image. A DRDO director is perceived as a man in a white coat working in a laboratory or gazing at computer monitors. But the Defence Research Laboratory in Tezpur, tucked away in the northeast, is far removed from these stereotypes.

DRL's Director, Dr RB Srivastava, will spend time next month sitting in the jungle on a machaan, observing how rampaging elephants react to his revolutionary new weapon: the Naga chilli, or bhoot jolokia, which DRL had proclaimed in 2001 as the hottest chilli in the world.

Chilli power is measured in Scofield Heat Units (SHUs); a spicy Indian green chilli logs in at about 100,000 SHUs. Most people, even Indians, would be reduced to tears by eating anything above 200,000 SHUs.

The Naga chilli, DRL discovered, measured 855,000 SHUs, far higher than the reigning champion, the 577,000 SHU Californian Red Savina chilli. When the sceptical Chilli Pepper Institute in the USA examined this claim in 2005, they found the DRL had underestimated. The Naga chilli actually measured over a million SHU.

DRL, Tezpur is harnessing all this spice into military applications, such as high-effectiveness tear gas. Meanwhile, the World Wildlife Fund asked DRL to explore the possibility of using Naga chilli to keep wild elephants away from villages and fields.

The DRL's solution -- a nylon rope coated with Naga chilli placed across paths leading towards human habitation -- will be tested in May and June.

Dr Srivastava laughed as he told Business Standard: "The WWF says I will have to be on the machaan when we test the chilli garland. I told them, God knows how the elephants will behave!"

DRL is also experimenting whether Naga chilli, as a food supplement, might help soldiers cope with high altitude environments? The laboratory is also working out ideal cultivation practices -- how much water, how much shade, etc -- that will add more zing to this chilli.

What makes DRL Tezpur different from every other DRDO laboratory is its sharp focus on the specific problems of northeast India. And for jawans deployed here, few issues are as important as the provision of clean drinking water in remote posts separated from each other by days of marching across mountains and jungles.

Water in the northeast suffers from chronically high iron content. In most places it is 10-20 parts per million (ppm), going up to 30-40 ppm in many areas. DRL took on the challenge of bringing this down to the World Health Organisation (WHO) permissible limit of 0.3 ppm.

DRL's first developed a portable water testing kit, with which soldiers could test water wherever they moved. The kit monitored 11 parameters, including pH level, hardness, and iron content. Initially it lacked an arsenic detector; that was developed and patented last year. The technology for the water testing kit was transferred to three private companies. It proved highly effective during the floods around Nasik last year.

Next, DRL's Water Chemistry Division developed the simplest of technologies -- using sand, marbles etc -- to bring down the iron level to 0.3 ppm. The Iron Removal Units (IRUs), which cost just Rs 30,000 each, purify 300 litres per hour without using electricity. The commercial alternative was ceramic-based filters, costing Rs 3-4 lakh each, which could only reduce iron to 5 ppm.

Even as the army orders IRUs by the hundred, DRL has just put out an improved Mark II version. Using fibre-reinforced plastic (FRP) technology from the Light Combat Aircraft programme, this weighs just half of the earlier steel IRU. The army has accorded its ultimate accolade, fitting three of these filters in the Tezpur Inspection Bungalow for visiting VIPs. A hundred more are on order.

By 2012, DRL plans to develop a portable filter that jawans can carry in their haversacks. This will bring down iron content to safe levels, as well as arsenic, fluoride and manganese contents, all chronic problems in the northeast.

The Sukhoi crash
Thorough check-up has become essential

LAST Thursday, the Indian Air Force lost its first Russian-made Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter leading to a temporary grounding of the entire fleet of this long-range multi-role aircraft following initial suspicions that the cause of the crash may have been structural defects. Along with this sophisticated aircraft, the IAF also lost an experienced pilot, a Wing Commander, when his parachute apparently failed to open properly. While a court of inquiry has been ordered to investigate the causes leading to the crash of this twin-engine aircraft and the death of one of its pilots, the incident has revived memories of the Russian Air Force grounding a substantial number of its MiG-29 aircraft only last March following the detection of structural defects. But this is not the first time that the IAF has had problems with the Su-30. In 2003, an entire Su-30 squadron had to be grounded following the detection of what was described as “nicks” in the engine blades.

In addition to the Sukhoi-30 MKI being India’s most advanced fighter, it is also the IAF’s most potent one. The IAF currently flies about 60 Su-30s or three squadrons of this aircraft, which was first inducted 12 years ago in June 1997. This aircraft has flown as far as the UK and the US, participated in a number of bilateral air exercises, including the coveted multilateral Red Flag Exercise in the US in 2008, and has the distinction of actually “defeating” the US Air Force fighter aircraft in one such bilateral exercise held in 2005. Even more significant is the fact that the IAF’s Sukhoi-30 MKI is of strategic importance. The fighter’s manoeuvrability, its sophisticated avionics package, a high payload capacity, a deep penetration range of over 5,000 km and a “loitering” capability of up to 10 hours make the Sukhoi-30 MKI a possible choice as a delivery platform for India’s nuclear weapons.

Although Russian in origin, the customised Sukhoi-30 MKI is also equipped with advanced avionic and electronic warfare packages specially bought from Israel and France. Pegged at over $8 billion, India’s decision to buy as many as 190 Sukhoi-30 MKI’s is among the country’s most expensive defence contracts. It is thus imperative for the IAF to conduct a detailed check-up before declaring this expensive aircraft, currently under induction, as air-worthy. The IAF cannot afford any more crashes of this aircraft, so vital for India’s defence.

Editor’s Column
Obama’s AfPak
Pakistan situation should underpin US policy
by H. K. Dua

AFTER spending 100 days in the White House and getting his priorities in order, President Barack Obama seems to be coming to the conclusion that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan needs tackling with firmness and urgency.

This is evident from two statements that have emanated from Washington during the last one week. One is the statement the US President made to the White House press corps; the other is what General David Petraeus, Commander of the US Central Command, told the US lawmakers in Washington.

President Obama seemed somewhat clearer than before on what has come to be branded by Washington as AfPak policy. Possibly, he is beginning to agree with India – although to some extent – that the key to the US success in Afghanistan and its fight against the Taliban lies in Pakistan. The President’s remarks suggest that he is not happy with the level of cooperation Islamabad is extending to the US in tackling the Taliban in the tribal areas, which is crucial for its operations in Afghanistan.

President Obama, perhaps, was making an auto-suggestion to Pakistan when he said that the US was encouraging Pakistan to recognise that its “obsession with India as the mortal threat to Pakistan has been misguided, and that their biggest threat right now comes internally.”

This is precisely what the Indian government has been telling Mr Richard Holbrooke, President Obama’s special envoy who has been assigned the task of sorting out the Afghanistan-Pakistan mess.

That the US is becoming impatient with Pakistan’s being half-hearted in cracking down on the Taliban is also evident from General Petraeus’ remarks to American lawmakers that the US was looking for concrete action by Pakistan to destroy the Taliban operating out of its territory in the next two weeks, “before determining the next course of action.”

General Petraeus, who is known for being a no-nonsense man, was quoted as saying that “The Pakistanis have run out of excuses,” and are “finally getting serious” about combating the threat from the Taliban and the Al-Qaida extremists. The general did not spell out his options if Pakistan did not go beyond putting up a token fight against the Taliban and other militant outfits functioning under various labels.

Pakistan’s establishment has always tried to evade its responsibility in tackling the Taliban operating from its territory on the ground that it is facing security threat from India and this restricts its scope for pulling out its troops from the eastern border for deployment in the North-West against the Taliban and the Al-Qaida operatives, who have made the hilly terrain their sanctuary.

Actually, India has not created a military situation along its borders that should worry Pakistan’s rulers. About three years ago, Pakistan merrily withdrew as many as 80, 000 troops from its borders with India and felt free to rush them to Balochistan to quell a major rebellion in the province where Islamabad has always felt uncomfortable.

The grisly events of 26/11 in Mumbai were a serious provocation for India to mobilise its forces against Pakistan, but it desisted from doing so. This was mainly because of its keenness to deny Pakistan the excuse that it was facing threats from India and as such it could not spare troops for the North-West.

Apparently, President Obama had this in mind when he tried to pull out Pakistan from its “obsession” with India, and also what General Petraeus described as the “excuses” Pakistan was making for not fighting the Taliban hard.

It remains to be seen how far the Obama administration’s pressure works on Pakistan’s rulers, particularly the Army led by General Ashfaq Kiyani. So far Pakistan has either been not willing to act against the Taliban, or has not been able to do so. Either way, the impact of the Taliban on Afghanistan as well Pakistan has not been conducive to the health of either of the two countries.

What the Americans are acknowledging now about the nature of the threat the Taliban is posing to the region, India has been telling them over the years. Washington’s realisation about the danger from the Taliban to Afghanistan and Pakistan is belated, but still welcome if it succeeds in making Pakistan crackdown on the Taliban with sincerity and force.

For Pakistan’s generals it has been always a difficult decision to cut off the Taliban’s umbilical cord.

The Taliban was created with American blessings, Saudi Arabia’s petrodollars and Pakistan’s complicity to fight the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan. It was rewarded by allowing it to come to power in Afghanistan in the late 1990s.

It suited Pakistan most. Islamabad chose to evolve a strange and untenable concept that being a strip of a territory on India’s North-West, it needed what it called “strategic depth” in Afghanistan. While Pakistan pursued its goal to acquire “strategic depth” through the Taliban, India lost all influence in Afghanistan during the time the Taliban was in power until 2001.

As it often happens in dealings with unattended monsters, the Taliban has by now grown tremendously to threaten not only the NATO troops in Afghanistan, but also Pakistan from within as well as the region.

The Taliban’s tentacles have spread to different parts of Pakistan and also into the Pakistan Army which should worry General Kiyani and the other generals who form the collegiate that really runs Pakistan.

What has happened is simple: Instead of Pakistan acquiring a “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, it is the Taliban that has acquired a “strategic depth” in Pakistan. And this should be of utmost concern to both the civilian government as well as the men in uniform in Pakistan and propel them into action against the Taliban and the other armed outfits parading through the streets of Pakistan.

The roots of President Obama’s policy in effect lie in his desire to create conditions which permit the US to pull out from Afghanistan. And signals emanating from Washington suggest that he would like to get out of Afghanistan a year or so before his present term comes to an end in January 2013. The recession in the US, and the high cost of keeping troops in Afghanistan also indicate a keenness to pull out from Afghanistan.

Here there is a gap between the Indian position on Afghanistan and that of the US policy under President Obama. New Delhi thinks that the real problem essentially lies in Pakistan. The solution also lies in Pakistan, and not in Afghanistan.

The Obama administration will be on the wrong policy track if it continues to believe that it can get out of Afghanistan without clearing the dangerous situation in Pakistan. A policy pursued with the single aim of pulling out of Afghanistan during the next two to three years will not succeed if Pakistan explodes – with splinters flying all around the subcontinent.

Last week’s statements by President Obama indicates the US is becoming aware of how grave the situation is in Pakistan, but it is Afghanistan that provides the underpinning of his AfPak policy. To be realistic, it is the Pakistan situation that should under-pin the US policy.

Army launches exercise to test offensive capability
Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, May 3
The Indian Army today launched a major training exercise aimed at validating and enhancing the operational doctrine of its premier strike corps. Christened ‘Exercise Hind Shakti’, the exercise is being conducted as a two-sided war game aimed at preparing the elite Kharga Corps in its operation task of executing a proactive strategy.

Strike corps generally move out on large-scale field exercises once in three years, though sand-model exercises are carried out regularly. Over the past few years, the Army has been engaged in fine-tuning its “network-centric warfare” concepts, involving swift surgical strikes backed by real time flow of information.

The exercise commenced with massed mechanised manoeuvres undertaken as part of offensive operations in the plains of Punjab. A large number of tanks, infantry combat vehicles, artillery guns and specialist vehicles commenced their manoeuvres by day and night under near war-like conditions.

Various formations of Kharga Corps are being exercised and have been labelled as ‘Blue Land’ forces (friendly) with some representative depiction as ‘Red Land’ forces (adversary). The exercise is based on ‘Blue Land’ forces launching an offensive deep within enemy territory.

A parachute drop by airborne troops and other heliborne operations were also undertaken to compliment mechanised forces. The operations were aimed at conducting penetrative operations into the enemy heartland.

As part of the Army’s modernisation programme, a wide variety of state-of-the-art equipment have been fielded in the exercise. The Kharga Corps is an exponent in the concept of Networked Operations, which exploits real time surveillance means using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), satellite imagery, ground-based surveillance resources and mission reports from the air force and attack helicopters. This allows for rapid decision-making and the furtherance of what the army calls effect- based operations.

The Army has made special efforts to minimise inconvenience to the public during this exercise in close cooperation with the civil administration. Army tanks, paratroopers and the heli-borne operations were a big draw for the public in the area of the exercises.

India re-opens road in Kashmir formerly closed for snow

SRINAGAR, India-controlled Kashmir, May 3 (Xinhua) -- India has re-opened the strategic high altitude Srinagar-Leh road link to vehicular traffic on Saturday after five months of closing due to heavy snow, Defense Ministry officials in Srinagar said on Sunday.

The 434-kilometer road was closed following the heavy snowfall in winters.

The Border Roads Organization which has been maintaining the road opened it after clearing the snow from Zojila Pass which is 3,630 meters above sea level.

Srinagar-Leh road is the only road link connecting Ladakh region with the rest of India-controlled Kashmir and beyond.

Another road link connecting Ladakh to Indian state Himichal Pardesh remains closed.

"Today Indian Army convoy was flagged from Sonmarg on to Leh and in the couple of days we expect that civilian vehicles will start plying on the road," said an official.

The Indian Railways is planning to connect Ladakh region with India through a railway line via Himachal Pradesh.

The feasibility report of this strategically crucial project to link mountainous terrain of Ladakh region with India has been finalized by Indian Railways, according to Indian officials.

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