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Tuesday, 5 May 2009

From Today's Papers - 05 May 09

Asian Age

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Death in custody
Assam Rifles has to clear its name

The alleged custodial death of a senior leader of the Autonomous State Demand Committee (ASDC) in the North Cachar Hills district of strife-torn Assam at the hands of the Assam Rifles is deplorable and a matter of serious concern. The incident, in which a magisterial inquiry has been ordered, has sparked off a public protest. According to reports, an Assam Rifles battalion had picked up Laden Jidung last Thursday for his alleged links with the outlawed Dima Halam Daoga. But quite inexplicably, however, he was 'brought dead' to the civil hospital the following day. While taking Laden Jidung into custody may have been necessary, his death in custody is most certainly not. As a disciplined and responsible paramilitary force, it was the duty of the Assam Rifles to protect him.

The incident revives memories of the alleged rape and custodial death of a 32-year-old Manipuri woman five years ago in July 2004 by some Assam Rifles men that had led to over a dozen women disrobe themselves and stage a protest against the paramilitary force in Imphal. The protest which was an embarrassment to the Manipur government at that time led to a fierce agitation and ultimately made the government to withdraw the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from the municipal limits of Imphal. Last Thursday's custodial death, once again, paints the Assam Rifles in bad light.

Of late, India's paramilitary forces have registered a comparatively better record of human rights – 138 complaints of human rights violations against over 35,000 against state police forces in 2008 alone, according to the National Human Rights Commission. But in view of the sensitivity of a region comprising secessionist movements, such incidents do not help the country. It breeds alienation and anger against the Assam Rifles as well as the state. The death in custody of Laden Jidung must be probed and the guilty punished at the earliest.

Taliban Could Get Control
of Pakistan's Nuclear Arsenal
By Arun Kumar

Pakistan must move to the top of US strategic agenda to prevent Islamabad's nuclear arsenal from falling into the hands of Taliban, or worse, an extremist group that seized control of the government, a scholar has warned.

The "second scenario (would give) international terrorists even greater access to Pakistan's nuclear capabilities, the risk of nuclear confrontation with India would also increase dramatically," writes John R. Bolton in an article in the Wall Street Journal Monday.

President Barack Obama's endorsement of Pakistan's official position that it has secure control over its nuclear weapons arsenal is "not reassuring in light of the Taliban's military and political gains throughout Pakistan", he said.

"Unless there is swift, decisive action against the Islamic radicals there, Pakistan faces two very worrisome scenarios," wrote the former US ambassador to the UN, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

"One scenario is that instability continues to grow, and that the radicals disrupt both Pakistan's weak democratic institutions and the military," Bolton said, with "a tangible risk that several weapons could slip out of military control".

"Such weapons could then find their way to Al Qaeda or other terrorists, with obvious global implications," he said. But "the second scenario is even more dangerous".

"Instability could cause the constitutional government to collapse entirely and the military to fragment" and "allow a well-organized, tightly disciplined group to seize control of the entire Pakistani government.

"Not only could this second scenario give international terrorists even greater access to Pakistan's nuclear capabilities, the risk of nuclear confrontation with India would also increase dramatically," Bolton said.

"To prevent either scenario, Pakistan must move to the top of our strategic agenda, albeit closely related to Afghanistan," he said, suggesting a strengthening of pro-American elements in Pakistan's military "so they can purge dangerous Islamists from their ranks and roll back Taliban advances".

Obama's talks next week in Washington with presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan provide a clear opportunity to take the hard steps necessary to secure Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and defeat the Taliban, Bolton said.

"Failure to act decisively could well lead to strategic defeat in Pakistan."

6,645 voters in forces sent ballot papers
Tribune News Service

Ropar, May 4
As many as 6,645 voters in military, police and paramilitary forces of the Anandpur Sahib Lok Sabha constituency have been sent ballot papers through which they will caste their votes.

All the ballot papers were dispatched today using registered posts and an expense of Rs 27 was incurred per ballot. About 8,000 ballot papers were printed and 6,645 have already been dispatched.

These include 542 voters from Garhshankar, 101 from Banga, 181 from Balachaur, 1,528 from Anandpur Sahib, 1,192 from Ropar, 958 from Chamkaur Sahib, 586 from Kharar and 392 from SAS Nagar. Two police districts include Ropar with 392 police personnel voters and Nawanshahr with 156 police personnel voters.

Those ballot papers that return by 8 pm on May 16 will be included in counting.

China wants Prachanda to stay in Nepal

B Raman | May 04, 2009 | 20:33 IST

In a televised address to the nation on May 4, the Maoist Prime Minister of Nepal, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, popularly known as Prachanda, dramatically announced his resignation.

The move comes in the wake of opposition to his decision the previous day to sack the 61-year-old Army Chief Gen Rukmangad Katawal following the General's opposition to the demand of Prachanda for the integration of members of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) raised by the Maoists during their days in the insurgency into the Army.

Gen. Kul Bahadur Khadka, the No.2 in the Army, was asked by Prachanda to act as the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) until further orders.

Before announcing his decision, Prachanda met with Katawal and Khadka separately first, then jointly, before seeking the approval of the Cabinet for sacking the COAS. His decision was opposed by the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) with 108 members in the Constituent Assembly, which decided to quit the ruling coalition Government.

"We decided to withdraw our support to protest the Prime Minister's unilateral decision," CPN-UML General Secretary Ishwar Pokhrel said.

While the Nepali Congress and the Madhesi Peoples Party joined 17 other parties in opposing the sacking of the General , the Madhesi People's Rights Forum (MPRF) with 51 members in the Assembly and some other smaller parties maintained an ambivalent attitude. The MPRF reportedly submitted a note of dissent disagreeing with Prachanda's decision, but did not leave the coalition. The CPN-Maoist with 229 seats in the Constituent Assembly needed the crucial support from MPRF and other small parties to continue to enjoy a majority in the 601-member Assembly tasked to frame a new constitution for the country after it abolished its unpopular 240-year-old monarchy last year.

Prachanda's action in unilaterally sacking the Army Chief despite strong opposition in the coalition Cabinet was nullified by the President Ram Baran Yadav, who faxed a special instruction to the Chief of the Army Staff "asking him to continue in his office in the capacity of COAS as per the Interim Constitution, 2007, and the existing law".

The spokesman of the Maoists, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who is the Minister for Information and Communication, told the media that the President's order to the COAS to continue in office was tantamount to a "constitutional coup" and said that the Maoists would fight back with street protests.

He said: "The President is violating constitutional norms. The President's move has put the peace process in peril. Our party has taken the President's step as a constitutional coup and we will fight against it. The executive power to sack and appoint an acting army chief lies with the government and not the President. We will stick to our decision. We don't have any plans to quit the Government."

Prachanda called the Attorney General Raghav Lal Baidya and senior Cabinet colleagues early on May 4 to discuss the constitutionality and consequences of the President's intervention. There was speculation that the Maoists might move for the impeachment of the President. After finding that they would not have the required support for such a move in the Constituent Assembly, he decided to resign.

It remains to be seen whether his resignation is a purely tactical move to confront the other members of the ruling coalition with the danger of serious political instability if they did not support his sacking of the Army chief or was forced by his realizing that there was no way he could have his way against the Army chief. Both the Army chief and Prajwal, the Commander of the seventh division of the PLA, were reported to have ordered the two forces under their respective command to remain in a state of alert to prevent any disturbance of law and order.

The peace accord reached by various political parties before last year's election to the Constituent Assembly had provided for the rehabilitation and integration of the members of the PLA and other Maoist cadres, including members of the people's courts set up by the Maoists during their days in the insurgency.

After Prachanda assumed office in August last year as the Prime Minister, differences surfaced over the interpretation of this principle. The Maoists treated rehabilitation and integration as synonymous and insisted that the only of rehabilitating the 19,000 members of the PLA was by integrating them into the Army, barring those physically unfit or unwilling to serve in the Army.

The Army and other political parties were strongly opposed to this. They held that rehabilitation and integration were two different processes. According to them, rehabilitation meant enabling the Maoist cadres to be gainfully employed, but not necessarily in the Army. While they were prepared to consider the integration of small numbers of the PLA into the Army if they were found to be professionally suitable, they were not prepared to agree to the wholesale merger of the PLA into the Army. Such an action would have resulted in about one-fourth of the Army consisting of indoctrinated Maoists, with their number steadily increasing with fresh recruitment.

Prachanda also wanted that the Maoists, who held officer-equivalent ranks in the PLA, should be given appropriate ranks in the Army. Thus, he reportedly wanted PLA commander Nanda Kishor Pun "Pasang" to be made a Major General and many others to get the rank of Brigadiers. He also reportedly wanted that there should be no new recruitment to the Army for some years.

Neil Horning, an American expert on the Maoist movement of Nepal, who is himself believed to be sympathetic to the Maoists, wrote: "The mainstream parties, as well as the elite in the army, view army integration in an apocalyptic light. While integrating the PLA into the NA was agreed upon time and again in the course of peace negotiations, the Non-Maoist parties made their agreements under the assumption that the Maoists could not possibly win electoral victory, and would not be in charge of implementing the integration. They counted on returning to the long standing Nepali political habit of agreeing to a demand in negotiation and then reneging on it later when the opponent is not in a position to make a challenge. They are trying to do the same now by continually insisting that Maoists combatants be "rehabilitated" rather than integrated, but it is they who have lost their bargaining position. Yet, why can't they let it happen in the first place? The Maoists don't have more than 20,000 troops to integrate into the more than 90,000 currently in the Army. This would hardly make the army into a force at the Maoists' beck and call. It's not that the army would become the private force of the Maoists, but that it would cease to be a check on them. With at least 25 per cent of troops and officers being former Maoist partisans, the possibility of a reactionary coup becomes impossible. The troops needed to suppress the public would simply turn their weapons on the command. Therefore, the army would cease to be a check and social change would continue unabated."

According to Kanak Mani Dixit, the Nepali political analyst, "At their large National Council conclave in the Kharipati outskirts of Kathmandu in late November 2008, the Maoists came to the conclusion that they were in government but did not control the state, for which the Nepal Army and the independent judiciary were found to be prime obstacles. It decided that the (Maoist) cantonments should not be disbanded until the new constitution is written."

When the Maoists found that whenever they had a dispute with the Army over issues such as the ban on new recruitment which was disregarded by the COAS the judiciary was taking up a position, which was unfavourable to the Maoists, they also started talking of integrating the members of the former Maoists' people's courts into the judiciary.

The COAS went ahead with the new recruitment recruiting nearly 2800 persons to fill up existing vacancies in the Army and the PLA retaliated by making fresh recruitment to the PLA in violation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Thus, Nepal under Prachanda as the Prime Minister saw the spectre of two parallel armies---- the state Army and the non-State PLA--- strengthening and preparing themselves for a future confrontation should the Maoists' demand for total integration be turned down.

While the Chinese closely monitored the situation by interacting intensely with various political formations, India and the US reportedly cautioned Prachanda against a confrontation on this issue. Prachanda increasingly became unresponsive to the advice for moderation from India and the US and insisted on having his way.

It is not clear why Prachanda decided to force a confrontation with the COAS at this stage instead of waiting till September, when Gen.Katawal is due to superannuate. One possible reason for his hasty action is that Gen.Khadka, who is believed to be not opposed to the integration of the PLA into the Army, is due to superannuate in June. It is suspected that Prachanda wanted to make him the chief before his superannuation and give him a two-year tenure so that the integration of the PLA into the Army could be brought about without any further opposition from the Army. His plans were thwarted by the President.

What could happen now? The following are the possible scenarios:

A serious political crisis with violent demonstrations by the Maoists which results in one more compromise. The Chinese will try their best to see that the Maoist-led Government, which has effectively put down Tibetan activity in Nepali territory, remains in power.

A violent confrontation between the PLA and the Army leading to an army coup.

A new coalition without the Maoists, which will be unstable.

In one of my articles then, I wrote: "Taking advantage of the popular uprising of 2006 against the widely detested King, the Maoists entered the coalition Government, which replaced a Government of royalist stooges, and started dictating terms as to how the integration should take place. They themselves became one of the policy-makers to decide on the process of integration. The integration is taking place not on the basis of negotiations between the Government and the insurgents, but in response to diktats issued from time to time by the Maoists in return for their continued participation in the Government. They are all the time giving out discreet threats that if their diktats are rejected, they might quit the Government and revert to insurgency.

The holding of the elections to the Constituent Assembly before the ground rules for integration were agreed upon and the victory of the Maoists in the elections----significant, but not spectacular as projected by sections of the media--- have led to a situation where the Maoists will be at the head of a Government which will take crucial decisions on the post-facto legitimisation of the terrorist infrastructure raised by the Maoists and on the ground rules for the integration of their ideologically motivated and well-trained cadres. The moment the Maoists assume leadership in the seats of power and decision-making, will it be possible to resist their demands? If the integration of over 3000 ideologically indoctrinated cadres of the insurgent army into the Nepal Army comes about, we will have to the west of us an army ideologically motivated by jihadi doctrines and to the east of us an army ideologically motivated by Marxism, Leninism and Mao's Thoughts. There are two possible scenarios--- these fears turn out to be baseless and Prachanda turns out to be a genuine democrat and a genuine friend of India or Prachanda after the elections turns out to be different from Prachanda before the elections and takes Nepal on a road, which would be detrimental to our national interests. While hoping for the first scenario, we must be prepared for the second. "

In a subsequent article, I wrote: "Addressing the Nepal Council of World Affairs at Kathmandu on August 5, 2008, the Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Zheng Xianglin said: "Nepal is situated in a favorable geographical position in South Asia, and is a passage linking China and South Asia." That is the reason for the Chinese interest in Nepal----as a passage to South Asia and as an instrument for strengthening the Chinese presence in South Asia. China has a Look South policy to counter our Look East policy.

As we try to move Eastwards to cultivate the countries of South-East Asia, it is trying to move southwards to outflank us. China is not a South Asian power, but it already has a growing South Asian strategicpresence --in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. It is hoping to acquire a similar presence in Nepal with the co-operation of a Maoist-dominated Government."

China would try its best to see that the Maoists stay in power. Their continuance in power in Kathmandu is important for stability in Tibet. In the past, we supported Maoists thinking that Prachanda would take a neutral line between India and China. These hopes are elusive. Should we facilitate the Chinese designs in Nepal by bringing about a political compromise which would enable the Maoists to continue in power or has the time come to work for a non-Maoist alternative? This requires serious examination in our policy-making circles.

Pakistan pursuing two tracks in Swat

* WSJ report says while military fights Taliban in Buner, NWFP govt resumes talks with TNSM

Daily Times Monitor

LAHORE: While the military reported gains in a fourth day of heavy fighting against Taliban in Buner in the North West Frontier Province, the provincial government resumed its talks with the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM).

The two tracks, wrote the Wall Street Journal, underscore the deep ambivalence of many who would like to see the peace succeed even as Islamabad said the just-signed peace deal was broken.

Approach: The approach also raised questions, the paper pointed out, about Pakistan's willingness to heed US pressure for an all-out offensive against the Taliban.

Officials who met the TNSM chief, Sufi Muhammed, on Friday described the 30-minute meeting as "positive" despite the government's refusal to halt the fighting in Buner and Lower Dir.

"The operation will be halted when the armed people lay down their weapons because the government has to establish its writ at any cost," the provincial information minister, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, said.

The situation is likely to figure prominently in meetings next week between US President Barack Obama and his Pakistani and Afghan counterparts in Washington. Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have praised Pakistan for efforts to dislodge the Taliban.

But President Asif Zardari and Gen Ashfaq Kayani must contend with widespread ambivalence about fighting the Taliban among the public and the military who still largely sees India as enemy No 1 and the Taliban as a mere distraction.

At the root of the issue is the peace deal worked out in February. The deal's main plank – allowing sharia law in the region – was meant to appease locals drawn to the Taliban by the their promise to do away with courts seen as inefficient and corrupt.

The Taliban said the pact allowed them to control these territories to ensure that sharia was enforced, a claim the government disputes. When they set about taking control the military moved. But aides to Zardari and Kayani say popular support to scrap the Swat deal is lacking.

"You can only fight when you have popular political support and public sympathy," an official close to Zardari said.

Pakistani officials say once the on-going military operations push the Taliban back into Swat, the deal can go back into force.\05\03\story_3-5-2009_pg7_18

The DRDO's most unusual lab

Ajai Shukla / Tezpur (assam) May 05, 2009, 0:55 IST

During the Second World War, Field Marshall William Slim, commander of the 14th Army in Burma, discovered that the anopheles mosquito was causing more casualties to his men than the Japanese. Ruthlessly practical, he decreed that catching malaria was a disciplinary offence, punishable by imprisonment in a military prison. Today's Indian Army, still serving in the mosquito-ridden jungles of the northeast, continues Slim's dictat: sleeves must be rolled down after sunset; mosquito nets are compulsory at night.

Now, however, the jawans have a formidable ally: the Defence Research Laboratory (DRL), Tezpur. While other Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) laboratories focus on weapons and sensors, DRL tackles problems that concern every citizen of the northeast — malaria; the pestilent dim-dam fly; water-purification in remote areas; and power generation from bio-resources.

Such projects are far removed from the glamorous end of defence R&D. But Business Standard learned during a visit to DRL Tezpur that, measured in terms of intellectual property, this is the DRDO's most successful laboratory. Four months ago, DRL's Molecular Biology Facility became the first Indian institution to file, with the World Gene Bank, the detailed structure of the gene that provides mosquitoes with resistance to insecticides. This gene sequence is now available internationally for research against the mosquito.

And in just the last two years, DRL has filed for eight Indian patents and an international patent for a herbal anti-malarial.

DRL's success rests on a simple method: tapping into local tribal knowledge of herbs and plants that repel mosquitoes, leeches and other pests and provide relief from their attacks. DRL scientists in Tezpur then use modern laboratory techniques to identify the active ingredient in these local herbs. These ingredients are then packaged into convenient dispensers for soldiers, as well as civilians.

DRL's director, Dr RB Srivastava, shows us a sheaf of letters from private companies requesting Transfer of Technology (ToT) for his products. During May 2009, DRL will hand over technology for the commercial production of five anti-mosquito products, including a herbal anti-malarial that replaces Good Knight; and a bio-larvicide that feeds on mosquito larvae.

DRDO keeps the ToT fee nominal, to encourage as much manufacture as possible. Malaria, points out the DRL Director, can only be tackled at a broad societal level. Only half in jest, he says, "Mosquitoes have developed the technology for flying across cantonment walls. We can't confine ourselves to the military in dealing with issues like malaria."

But why, I ask, is a defence laboratory researching malaria, an area better left to hospitals, academic research institutions and the Ministry of Health? Dr Srivastava explains that DRL scientists collaborate with the National Institute of Malaria Research (NIMR) for technical training and analytical assistance. But there is a marked reluctance within central institutions for working and researching in the difficult border areas of the northeast.

The northeastern state governments turn to DRL as frequently as the military does. DRL is Arunachal Pradesh's referral institute for water quality studies. After DRL's malarial applications won first prize in a Tripura government science exhibition, shutting out competitors like the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), the Tripura government has turned to DRL for an anti-malaria programme.

DRL's bold charter criss-crosses the dividing line between civil and military. A great success is its one-week mushroom farming training programme, run for batches of 25-30 local youths. DRL estimates that each graduate who opens a mushroom farming unit employs about 30 locals, bringing them into the national mainstream and narrowing the extremists' recruitment base.

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