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Wednesday, 6 May 2009

From Today's Papers - 06 May 09

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India on back-foot after political crisis in Nepal

B K Upmanyu 05 May 2009, Tuesday

IT'S A major setback to New Delhi, because Nepal's Maoist government has sacked its army chief Rukmangad Katuwal. After the latest outcome, India is reportedly getting ready to back an alternative, a coalition of the Girija Prasad Koirala-led Nepali Congress, Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) and the Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum (MJF).

As per reports from Kathmandu, soon after Katuwal's removal, four allies of the Maoists - UML, MJF, Sadbhavana Party and Communist Party of Nepal (United), distanced themselves. With the UML pulling out of the government soon after, Prachanda's government is teetering, leaving the field open for another combination of parties to take centre stage. Prachanda had been stopped from sacking Katuwal last week because India had piled on a lot of pressure. Prachanda was smarting from the Indian pressure and determined to go ahead.

India's pressure was interpreted as interference in Nepal's internal affairs, as it was seen to be propping up the army chief personally, because he is a graduate of NDA and IMA, apart from being an adopted child of the late King Mahendra, Gyanendra's father. Sources in Delhi said the tide turned against India in Nepal decisively after deposed king Gyanendra dropped by to visit Sonia Gandhi here recently.

That cost India dear, especially as Prachanda is determined to distance himself and his nation from New Delhi. Nepalese media also reported that the army had been planning a 'soft coup' if Prachanda went ahead, which stopped the government in its tracks. But that concern does not seem to have had much impact on Sunday. India's big worry in Nepal is that the passage from a democracy to a Maoist dictatorship could well become reality.

India's image and influence has taken a beating in Nepal through the current crisis. Backing a new political formation (NC-UML-MJF) in Kathmandu is no credible solution, said sources. It's unlikely to last, because no government will be able to pass anything through Parliament without the Maoists' support.

Back in New Delhi, there is a growing perception that India has messed up in Nepal. In fact, even before Sunday's act, Prachanda had indicated that the 12-point agreement worked out in Delhi between the Nepal parties should be scrapped. Sources said a new ambassador to Nepal could be a possibility after the new government comes in here.

The continuing struggle over the army chief had even prevented Prachanda, from travelling to Beijing this week. Even there, India is on a different page, because it has objected to Prachanda contemplating signing a treaty of friendship with Beijing.

In any case, the gloves are now ready to come off in India's relationship with the Maoist government and relations are likely to get much worse in the foreseeable future.

Katuwal's removal, after a two-month standoff, also comes just about three months before he was due to retire. "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 the cabinet meeting on Sunday.

Katuwal had been asked to explain why he had continued military recruitment despite the government's halt order and reinstated eight brigadier-generals who had been retired by the defence ministry. He was also rapped over the army pulling out of the National Games when Maoist combatants too decided to take part.

Ex-US Envoy Warns of India-US Ties' Downturn, Sounds CTBT Alert

New Delhi
Warning of a downturn in India-US relations in the short term, former US ambassador Robert D. Blackwill Tuesday said New Delhi may face pressure from the Obama administration over resolving the Kashmir issue and on signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Blackwill also underlined that the Obama administration's current preoccupation with Pakistan and China have led to the "downgrading" of India in Washington's strategic calculations.

"It will take very hard work and skilful diplomacy from both governments to keep the US-India relationship on its current plateau and to avoid a steady decline in our bilateral ties," the former US envoy said.

Blackwill was optimistic about the long-term prospects for US-India relationship, but he underlined that "in the immediate future, bilateral ties are likely to be more problematic than we have seen in recent years."

"Although it is certainly early days, there are preliminary indications that the Obama administration has a different policy orientation towards India. First, it is not clear that the Obama administration has the same preoccupation with the rise of Chinese power and India's balancing role in it," Blackwill said.

"Rather, Washington is now naturally focused on US-China economic relations, the G-2 as some analysts have named it," he said in a speech entitled "The Future of India-US Relations."

"So China today appears, at least to me, to be on a substantially higher plane in US diplomacy than India which seems to have been downgraded in the administration's strategic calculations," he pointed out.

Blackwill, who is currently associated with RAND Corporation, an influential global think tank, also pointed out the lack of communication and close relationships between the policy makers in Washington and in New Delhi.

Blackwill, who also served as Deputy National Security Adviser in the George Bush administration, singled out differing perceptions on Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, Iran, civil nuclear cooperation, CTBT, climate change, India's nuclear weapons and protectionism as some of key problematical issues which could cause "a variety of problems in the US-India relationship in the next months and years."

Blackwill, who served as the US ambassador to India 2001-03, pointed out that the US' preoccupation with Pakistan seems "in practical terms to (be) re-hyphenating the US-India relationship, leading the administration to see India largely through the lens of deeply disturbing developments in Pakistan, at the expense of a focus on strategic cooperation writ large between Washington and New Delhi.

"This will produce an understandable and growing US interest in trying to reduce tensions in the India-Pakistan relationship, not least because Islamabad will speciously argue that tensions with India and the Kashmir dispute are preventing it from moving robustly against the Islamic terrorists within their midst."

"So India may well encounter eventual US pressure on the subject of Kashmir," Blackwill said.

India-US relations had been de-hyphenated during the previous George Bush administration.

Blackwill also alerted India about a hawkish posture by the Obama administration over signing the CTBT and Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty.

"Neither of these appears to be acceptable to the Indian government today," he said. "The US should treat India as a nuclear weapons state. Any American backsliding in this regard would produce a very strong reaction from New Delhi," he warned.

Blackwill also advised the next Indian government should launch "an intensive diplomatic offensive" to build stronger ties with Washington.

"I would hope that the next government would launch a very intense diplomatic offensive to build stronger ties. American behaviour will affect you more than your behaviour will affect us," he said when asked about the perceived cooling off of ties during the first 100 days of the Obama administration.

Militants in truce demand peace talks
Bijay Sankar Bora
Tribune News Service

Guwahati, May 5
Four militant groups in Assam, now in ceasefire with the forces, have made an appeal to the government to start peace negotiation with the pro-talks faction of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) sans further delay.

The ULFA (pro-talks), Dima Halam Daogah ( Dilip Nunisa faction), Birsa Commando Force and the Adivasi Cobra Militant while demanding early talks with the ULFA faction, have mooted a common platform of all indigenous organisations in the state to demand full regional autonomy as well as federalism for safeguarding socio-economic and political rights of people from all communities.

The militant groups have raised alarm of the demographic invasion from Bangladesh and growing intolerance among ethnic groups in the state. They also denounced continuing fratricidal killings among different ethnic groups in the state.

"In the last 30 years, the demographic pattern of Assam has changed completely due to presence of large number of foreign nationals, threatening the identity and existence of indigenous people. It is unfortunate that when suspected illegal migrants have acquired a position to call shots in democratic elections in the state, the indigenous groups are engaged in fratricidal violence apparently oblivious of they are being reduced to minority in their own state," the outfits have stated in a joint communiqué.

US to pressurise Pak to shift troops to Western border

Press Trust of India, Tuesday May 5, 2009, Islamabad

The US is expected to mount "intense pressure" on Pakistan to "shift its strategic focus" from its eastern border with India by redeploying "much of over 2,50,000 troops" to the frontier with Afghanistan to carry out counterinsurgency operations against Taliban and Al-Qaida.

At the trilateral meeting between Presidents of the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan in Washington, Barack Obama is also expected to ask Islamabad to grant "major concessions to India", including a trade corridor to Afghanistan through the Wagah land border, according to a media report on Tuesday.

"The US, which is eying a dominant role for India in the region, wants Pakistan to provide an overland trade route for Indian exports to Afghanistan," a diplomatic source told the Dawn newspaper on the eve of trilateral summit involving Obama, and his Afghan and Pakistan counterpart Hamid Karzai and Asif Ali Zardari respectively.

The Obama administration will also reiterate its demand that Pakistani institutions end their "alleged hobnobbing" with jehadis, who have long been seen by Islamabad as "strategic assets", the report said.

However, the Pakistani leadership has been opposing any concession for India, saying it would not be possible without a quid pro quo, particularly on the Kashmir issue.

"It is very significant for Pakistan. Traditionally it was our bargaining chip for the Indians to move on Kashmir.

Now they want us to do something without any movement, and are browbeating us," an official was quoted as saying.

Pentagon is not entirely dismissive of Pak army

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | May 05, 2009 | 10:25 IST

In the past few days, while giving the impression that they have lost faith in the civilian government of Pakistani President Asif Zardari, who meets with President Barack Obama on Wednesday at the White House, senior Pentagon officials have gone to bat for the Pakistani military defending even its slow counter-insurgency mobilization efforts against the Taliban and its entrenched threat perception vis--vis India.

These officials have also made clear that the Pentagon has complete confidence that the nuclear arsenal of Pakistan is secure thanks to the Pakistani Army and seemingly revealed that the US has been working with it in making sure that these weapons don't fall into the hands of the terrorists whether it be the Taliban extremists or the Al Qaeda.

Over the weekend, Defense Secretary Robert Gates appearing on CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS program said, he believed the Pakistani Army had begun to regain the initiative from the Taliban following the Army onslaught against the extremists in the Buner region.

'I think the movement of the Taliban into Buner really got their attention,' he said, but when confronted with the contention that the Pakistani Army has been in denial about the existential threat from within and has continued to perceive India as its moral enemy argued, 'What you have to do is look at it in some historical context.'

Gates said, 'For 60 years, Pakistan has regarded India as its existential threat -- as the main enemy. And, its forces are trained to deal with that threat. That's where it has the bulk of its Army and the bulk of its military capability.'

While acknowledging that the movement of the Taliban and its take-over of the Swat Valley and being so close to Islamabad 'was a real wake-up call for them', Gates, however, argued that 'let me remind you that the first Al Qaeda attacks on the United States was in 1993, and we really didn't change much of anything we didn't change much of anything until after we were hit on September 11, 2001.'

'So Al Qaeda was at war with us for at least eight years before we acknowledged that we were at war with them as well,' and while conceding that 'a little bit of denial has been going on in Pakistan,' asserted, 'I think the recent developments have certainly got their attention.'

Gates also refused to criticize the Pakistani Army's lack of a counter-insurgency capacity, once again saying the US army when it first went into Iraq and Afghanistan also had similar deficiencies.

'They are at the beginning of the process of developing that capacity,' he said, 'but again, to provide some perspective, in 2003, when we went into Iraq, or even in 2001 and 2002, when we went into Afghanistan, our army didn't have that capacity either.'

Gates said, 'We had forgotten everything we learnt about counter-insurgency in Vietnam and it took us several years to change our tactics to get ourselves into a position where we could effectively fight counter-insurgency.'

'So institutions are slow to change even in the face of a real threat and I think the Pakistanis are beginning to open up to others to get additional help. I certainly hope that's the case, but it's not something what I would sort of blame the Pakistani army because we went through the same process ourselves as we confronted an insurgency in Iraq.'

Gates said, 'We had to learn all over again how to do this and we had to acquire the equipment to do it effectively completely outside the normal Pentagon bureaucracy for the most part.'

'So, perhaps, I have a little more understanding of the challenges that our Pakistani counterparts face than perhaps others,' he added.

Meanwhile, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who only a couple of months ago had expressed grave concern over the security of Pakistani's nuclear strategic assets, said at a press conference Monday that 'the Pakistani leadership and in particular the military, is very focused on nuclear weapons and I remain comfortable that the nuclear weapons in Pakistan are secure.'

He dismissed the likelihood of these weapons falling into the hands of terrorists, saying, 'I don't think that's going to happen. I don't see that in any way imminent whatsoever at this particular point in time. But it's a strategic concern that we all share.'

When pressed as to what made him feel so 'comfortable' now when he was among those a few months ago leading the charge of US concern over the safety and security of these weapons, Mullen declined to elaborate, but would only say, 'I'm also comfortable that the Pakistani military understands the threat and specifically the downside of these weapons being taken by the Taliban and terrorists, not only for their security, but what could happen from a proliferation standpoint.'

He reiterated that "looking at this very hard, again, I'm comfortable with where we are right now -- with where the Pakistani military is and where security is, and I wouldn't want to parse the word anymore specifically than that."

Some intelligence analysts said that hitherto even though the US had provided Pakistan in excess of $100 million to secure these weapons, Washington had not been given any inkling as to where these weapons were stored or in what state they were being kept --assembled or unassembled -- and that the Pakistani military zealously guarded this information.

But they speculated that during his just concluded trip and following burgeoning concern in the US about the safety and security of these weapons, it was possible that Mullen may have been provided access to the inner sanctum of the Pakistani security measures put in place for the safety of these weapons and hence his comfort level about the command and control and his confident declarations that he felt "comfortable" on this score.

Indian Army conducts exercise 'Hind Shakti'

Chandigarh (PTI) The Indian Army's 'Hind Shakti' exercise aimed at conducting an offensive task in developed terrain by its premier strike corps concluded here on Tuesday.

Chief of Army Staff Gen Deepak Kapoor and GOC-in-C Western Command Lt Gen T.K. Sapru on Monday attended the three-day-long manoeuver, which was performed by the Kharga Corps near Barnala and Jagraon in the Punjab plains, a defence spokesman said.

The Army chief expressed satisfaction over the operation preparedness and commended the event as another step in the Army's continued endeavour to fine tune its proactive strategy.

He also complimented the Kharga Corps for its operational readiness, saying it was of an exceptionally high order.

The exercise entailed participation by mechanised and re-organised Plains Infantry Division in a blitzkrieg type armoured incursion, emphasising rapid penetration into enemy's territory.

The exercise included effective offensive support by air power and artillery.

Units of Kharga Corps were also tested for their ability to undertake and sustain operational maneuvers against intensive electronic and information warfare.

The Army successfully validated the capability of the Kharga Corps in the network centric warfare, as also in a nuclear-biological-chemical warfare environment.

India's L&T to invest $400 mln on defence business

Tue May 5, 2009 2:39am EDT

MUMBAI, May 5 (Reuters) - Indian engineering conglomerate Larsen & Toubro (LART.BO: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) will invest 15-20 billion rupees ($300-$400 million) over the next three years on defence-related business, Chairman A.M. Naik said on Tuesday.

"Of this, 15 billion rupees is what we are spending for the defence shipyard at Ennore," Naik told reporters, referring to the venture in south India. He said the remainder would be spend on expansion of existing facilities.

The company earlier said Larsen and the defence and security division of Europe's EADS (EAD.PA: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) would form a joint venture to make defence electronics in India, eyeing orders from a modernising Indian army. [ID:nBOM341216] ($1 = 49.6 rupees) (Reporting by Prashant Mehra; Editing by Ranjit Gangadharan)

Jobs in balance in £1bn Eurofighter order

By Sylvia Pfeifer and Alex Barker in London and Gerrit Wiesmann in Frankfurt

Published: May 3 2009 23:37 | Last updated: May 3 2009 23:39

Ministers are grappling with the potential costs to jobs and the UK defence industrial base if the government abandons a planned £1bn order of Eurofighter Typhoon jets, as a decision on whether to pull out of the contract nears.

Doubts over the order going ahead dominated a cross-departmental meeting last week between the Treasury, the Ministry of Defence and department for business.

The MoD and business department have warned that cancelling the third production run of the aircraft would deliver a blow to the defence industry, at a time of rising unemployment. The programme is estimated to employ and sustain more than 40,000 jobs in the UK, including workers at BAE Systems and hundreds of smaller suppliers.

Agreement on a third production run of 236 aircraft between the four partner nations on the programme – the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain – has been held up as the MoD and the Treasury have tried to agree a deal over funding.

There is widespread scepticism – both in and out of the MoD – over whether the programme is cost-effective or serving the future interests of the armed forces.

Many senior defence figures would prefer the money spent on other defence priorities, more aligned with the demands of fighting in Afghanistan. But penalty clauses mean the UK will still suffer financially if it scales back its commitment to Eurofighter.

Even taking into account orders from Oman and Saudi Arabia, the government still faces a bill of about €1.6bn for the 16 aircraft it would have to buy

Officials in Germany said the UK would have to compensate all partners on the programme; they estimate that it could owe Germany alone about €1bn (£890m).

Under the terms of the contract the UK is obliged to buy 88 aircraft from the third run. Production plans have already been scaled back, after a German proposal to split the run into two separate tranches to avoid having to pay everything in one go.

In a further concession to the UK it is being allowed to count export orders to Saudi Arabia and possibly Oman towards its total. However, even taking into account those orders, the government still faces a bill of about €1.6bn for the 16 aircraft it would have to buy.

The MoD declined to comment, saying negotiations were ongoing and that “further discussion is required before nations are able to make an announcement on the way ahead”.

Ministers are expected to meet to finalise the issue in the next two weeks.

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