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Thursday, 16 July 2009

From Today's Papers - 16 Jul 09

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Superiority complex
by B.K. Karkra

I have been a rolling stone all my life and have, thus, seen life from many angles. Of particular significance is my encounter with both the civil and military ethos.

I have served in the regular Army, paramilitary forces such as the Territorial Army, the C.R.P. Force and the National Security Guard and even in some purely civilian organisations like the Bhakra Nangal Project and the Income-tax department etc. I, therefore, have a fair understanding of what is going on in the minds on either side of the fence.

I think that the worst agony is somebody being denied the bliss and comforts of family life. The soldiers do get occasional peace postings, but most of the time they live a separated life and their tenuous link with normal life is just their leave.

Free rations and special Army pay that they get, barely compensate them for having to maintain two establishments and not for the emotional stress and high occupational hazards. For this, they need a special consideration from the nation in some visible form.

My civilian friends, however, feel that all this happens to them because they, in any case, were unfit to come good in civil careers. So, they chose the next best option, the Army life. Sadly, it is hardly ever appreciated that some sons of this nation must come forward to defend our soil if we are not to again end up as some sort of ‘White Man’s Burden’. Soldiers produce that precious wealth of peace without which our dreams of development and material prosperity can simply end up in smoke.

Once I tried to bring home to a young police officer what it meant to lead a thousand men in battle by a Colonel. He told me rather innocently that he had often handled up to four thousand men placed at his disposal in his police lines to deal with the law and order situations in his district.

I had to tell him plainly that handling was a lot different from commanding. An Army major with twice his service just about commanded a hundred men. But when the occasion came he could move his men over minefields against the enemy machineguns spitting fire.

Again, in a social gathering, an Army major tried to speak to the local Deputy Commissioner on equal terms. The D.C. who did not take very kindly to it reminded the major that he was placed somewhere in between his brigadier and major-general and he should be spoken to accordingly.

It is really here that the shoe pinches. Why should a civil officer with six years of service or so take precedence over an army brigadier with over twenty years of standing, especially when he has picked up his rank after undergoing two selections? Is the Army meant to be a subordinate service? Even the British who ruled us largely through their D.C.s and S.H.O.s had assigned precedence to the D.C.s outside their districts below the Lieut- Colonels.

All this leaves me wondering if it is really this that goes by the name of civil superiority in our democracy.

Golf divides armed forces
by Air Marshal N. Menon (retd)

The armed forces were once known for their prowess in sports and games. Combined Services teams or teams from individual Services stole the honours at national sporting events. In hockey they challenged the might of Punjab, in football they dared teams from West Bengal and Kerala, in cricket they defied the brilliance of Bombay and in the track and field events they overwhelmed the competition. Officers and men bonded together in a fusion of spirit and skill with their strategies and tactics leaving the spectators spellbound and awestruck.

That was then, but what is it now? Services teams struggle to find a place in the higher leagues at city level, the medal tally has plummeted at national events and the officer class refrains from participating in contact games due to the fear that an injury would result in a career setback. Many reasons are attributed to this dismal state of affairs but one factor not talked about is the adoption by the officer class of a game called golf. The game golf has been elevated to a cult status in the armed forces and entry into this cult fraternity is restricted to the officer cadre. The exclusion of the majority has had its own negative dynamics.

Golf is a game in which individuals pursue objectives for their individual gain and profits increase if the others playing the game trip or get stuck. This concept, arguably, may be relevant in some fields of human endeavour but is a complete anathema to the psyche of the armed forces. In the fighting forces mission accomplishment through team effort and coordination is the overarching objective and individual brilliance must harmonise with this objective or else is rejected.

Football, hockey and cricket are excellent examples where the spirit of the game is congruent with the essence of the armed forces. Golf stands in stark contrast with its objectives militating against everything that the forces want to instil in their personnel. And the unfortunate part is that golf has succeeded in driving every other game into the background.

Golf made its silent entry into the armed forces in the early 1970s, spread its tentacles in the 1980s, lured the younger lot also in the 1990s and in the first decade of the new millennium has become a symbol of ‘having reached it’ for the officer class. All this has happened at the cost of the other traditional games.

Scarce resources have been allocated to golf to the detriment of other games. And these other games are played by personnel below officer rank (PBOR). Cricket grounds have been converted to golf greens, trees have uprooted to create fairways and vast tracts of defence lands have been reserved as golf courses. The oddity in this state of affairs becomes evident when one realises that commissioned officers, for whom all this has been done, constitute less than 4 per cent of the overall strength of the fighting forces.

It is not unusual these days for itineraries of senior officers visiting lower formations being structured around senior officers’ golf preferences. Does the senior officer wish to ‘tee off’ early morning or later in the day? No problems, the rest of the visit or inspection can be fitted into the remaining part of the day! The outcome is that the dignitary does not get an opportunity to interact informally with the men.

The golf culture has also spawned a parallel HR system in which young officers seek postings and placements of choice or redressal of personal problems. Bypassing the laid down channels of communication or redress weakens the entire system and dilutes military authority.

Golf has not been good for the armed forces. It has driven a wedge between officers and PBOR. It will be an uphill task to reverse the trend but a beginning has to made. Traditional games must be encouraged and young officers discouraged from playing golf. Subsidisation of the golf culture should stop and the senior leadership, on whom rests the well-being of the fighting forces, ought to take the lead in bridging the golf divide.

Pak rakes up Kashmir issue at NAM summit

Press Trust of India, Wednesday July 15, 2009, Sharm-el Sheikh, Egypt

Pakistan on Wednesday used the Non-Aligned Movement forum to rake up the Kashmir issue, linking its resolution to "durable peace" in South Asia, even as it cited some "forward movement" in its ties with India.

"We believe durable peace in South Asia is achievable. It will be facilitated by the resolution of all outstanding disputes, including Jammu and Kashmir," Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said in his address at the summit of 118 NAM countries in this Red Sea resort.

Noting that there "has recently been some forward movement" in Indo-Pak relations, he said, "We hope to sustain this momentum and move towards comprehensive engagement."

"The peace dividend for the 1.5 billion people in the region would be enormous," the Pakistani leader said.

"The advancement of Pakistan's economic development goals is possible only in an environment of regional peace and stability. We are, therefore, steadfastly pursuing friendly and cooperative relations with our neighbours on the basis of equality, mutual interest, and mutual benefit," he said.

Gilani also said that peace and stability is Afghanistan is in Pakistan's vital interest.

On the offensive against Taliban, he said Pakistan is "engaged in a resolute national effort to eliminate terrorism" but maintained that "military means alone will not suffice".

He pitched for a multi-dimensional strategy, particularly which addresses the "root causes".

Sustainable success would come from "resolving the long-standing political disputes and promoting socio-economic development," he said.

Let's not forget them

By Nitin Gokhale, Sunday July 12, 2009

It's that time of the year again.

Every July since the year 2000, the Indian media and the Army in that order, celebrates the eviction of Pakistani intruders from the forbidding heights of Drass and Batalik (and not Kargil, as we all in the media keep referring to for some completely unfathomable reason).

The Army, of course, appropriately remembers its martyrs -- the young and not so young officers and several hundred jawans -- who sacrificed their lives in recapturing a piece of real estate that the Pakistanis had encroached upon. It was a heroic battle against heavy odds. After that conflict, Vikram Batra, Anuj Nayyar, Manjo Pandey, to cite just three martyrs, became household names.

This year, on the 10th anniversary, the Army has planned a larger celebration and rightfully so.

We in the media have also gone into an overdrive to commemorate the occasion.

After all, Kargil was this generation's first war. It was also India's first televised war. We made citizens feel that they were part of the war by beaming images right into their bedrooms.

In many ways, Kargil (I actually hate using the word, but Drass or Batalik do not have the same resonance in the people's mind as Kargil has) is also a landmark in the military-media relationship in India.

Till 1999 the Army establishment generally looked upon the media as a nuisance. Post-Kargil, the armed forces have woken up to the media's potential as, what the military fondly calls a force-multiplier. An uneasy relationship till then gave way to greater awareness about one another facilitating meaningful interaction.

This year in fact the Army has made special efforts to invite all those who had reported the conflict from the area that summer. This, the Army says, is its tribute to media's contribution in the Kargil conflict.

I, like many others, was in the sector in 1999, reporting the events for Outlook magazine. Every year since 2000, I too have written or spoken about the experience in the Kargil-Drass-Mushkoh-Batalik sector.

I am also hoping to be at the Drass memorial on 25th and 26th July later this month to meet up with friends who made Kargil (that word again!) such a memorable experience in our life a decade ago.

And yet, ever since I went there last week to report on what has changed and what has not in the decade since the war, a sense of unease has gripped me. At first I thought it was plain tiredness. After all, one is older by a decade and the body doesn't take the rigours of travelling in the high mountains as easily as it did 10 years ago.

But deep down, I knew there was something more to my disquiet than just creaking old bones.

Then suddenly it hit me this morning: Are we in the media guilty of over hyping Kargil and its martyrs at the cost of totally ignoring the others? To be honest, the answer is yes.

By admitting this, I am in no way taking away the sacrifice and heroism of our soldiers during the 1999 conflict. Or trying to belittle the tough conditions under which we in the media operated and reported the conflict.

But I will also be less than honest if I don't admit that collectively we in the media are equally culpable in ignoring or downplaying the unending internal battles fought by the Army as well as other security forces across India.

How many of us for instances, know the names of Col. Vasanth or Subedar Chunni Lal? Or for that matter Constable Tukaram Ombale? How many of us remember the faces of the unnamed police and CRPF constables who die by the dozens in the battlefields of Chhattisgarh and Orissa? Or for that matter army jawans who continue to sacrifice their lives in counter-insurgency skirmishes in India's north-east?

In Kargil, nearly 500 people lost their lives.

Every year since then at least 400 security personnel have died in action across India.

Is their martyrdom less significant? Don't their families deserve similar adulation? They certainly do but I am afraid even we in the media tend to report on these incidents for a day or two and move on to our next story.

In the process, we have ignored the interminable internal security threats that India faces, be it in Kashmir, the north-east or in the heartland from the Maoists. And underplayed the sacrifices made by the gallant soldiers who fight them.

In less than a fortnight, when the nation pays a collective tribute to the Kargil martyrs, all of us can perhaps introspect and review our attitude towards other, lesser known but equally valiant soldiers who fight on without expecting anything in return.

As I look ahead, post the Kargil anniversary, it is perhaps time for me to do away with my Kargil obsession and refocus on the current and future battles.

Israeli soldiers in Gaza war got licence to kill, says report

Press Trust of India, Wednesday July 15, 2009, Jerusalem

Israeli army gave its soldiers in the Gaza war the licence to kill with the commanders issuing instructions to "shoot first and worry later", an activist group, made up of veteran troops, charged in a report on Wednesday.

The testimony of 30 soldiers shows that the army's goal was to minimise its own casualties to ensure Israeli public support for the offensive and that they did not bother much on sorting out civilians from the combatants, Breaking the Silence (BTS), releasing print and video testimonies of soldiers, said in the report.

"Better hit an innocent than hesitate to target an enemy," is the way an unidentified soldier presented his understanding of instructions repeated at pre-invasion briefings and during the 22-day operation in December-January.

"If you're not sure, kill. Firepower was insane. We went in and the booms were just mad," another said adding, "The minute we got to our starting line, we simply began to fire at suspect places. In urban warfare, anyone is your enemy. No innocents."

"We did not get instructions to shoot at anything that moved," says a third soldier, "but we were generally instructed: if you feel threatened, shoot. They kept repeating to us that this is war and in war opening fire is not restricted."

The 112-page scathing report by the activist group includes testimonies of 30 soldiers "who served in all sectors of the operation".

"The majority... are still serving in their regular military units and turned to us in deep distress at the moral deterioration of the IDF (Israel Defence Forces)," it says.

Their testimonies bring into question the credibility of the official IDF versions, the BTS says.

The army in its response said that on initial consideration, a few of the allegations appear to be similar to allegations published several months ago after a lecture by officers to cadets at a pre-military academy.

"Now, too, a considerable portion of the testimony is based on rumours and secondhand accounts. Most of the incidents relate to anonymous testimony lacking in identifying details, and accordingly it is not possible to check the allegations on an individual basis in a way that would enable an investigation, confirmation or refutation," an army spokesman said.

"The BTS report suggests that the organisation might not be interested in a reliable comprehensive examination of the allegations, and to our regret this is not the first time the organisation has taken this course of action. The IDF is obligated to examine every well-founded complaint it receives," he said.

'Boundary Agreement' between China, Pak illegal: India

Press Trust of India / New Delhi July 15, 2009, 16:23 IST

India has been raising with China the issue of Pakistan's "illegal" cession of part of territory occupied in Kashmir under China-Pakistan "Boundary Agreement", Lok Sabha was told today.

"Government's position is that this so-called 'Boundary Agreement' (between China and Pakistan) is illegal and invalid. This has been reiterated to the Chinese side in the on-going discussions on the Boundary Question," Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur said while replying to a question.

She added under "the so-called China-Pakistan 'Boundary Agreement' of 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 kms of Indian territory in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir to China."

The Minister added that Pakistan was in "illegal and forcible occupation of approx. 78,000 sq kms of Indian territory in Jammu and Kashmir since 1948 while 38,000 sq.Kms was under the occupation of China".

Shortage of 14,229 officers in defence services

Press Trust of India / New Delhi July 15, 2009, 15:09 IST

Government today said the three services were facing a shortage of 14,299 officers and 6593 officers had sought premature retirement from their respective forces in the last five years.

"The Army, Air Force and the Navy were facing a shortage of 11,387, 1512 and 1400 officers respectively," Defence Minister A K Antony said in a written reply to a question in Rajya Sabha.

"During the last five years, 4300 officers from the Army, 1177 officers from the Air Force and 1096 officers from the Navy have sought premature retirement," he added.

Premature retirement, the Minister said, was considered on grounds of non-empanelment, suppression, permanent low medical category and compassionate grounds.

Meanwhile, replying to another query, he said that there were 4,372 vacancies for officers and 49,913 vacancies for personnel below officer ranks in the three services and the Coast Guard.

He also said that the Defence Ministry had taken various steps to motivate personnel to continue in service and attract youth to join the armed forces.

Antony said the implementation of the Sixth pay commission will help in making the services more attractive for the youth.

Antony spills the beans, says MiG-29 structurally flawed

Press Trust Of India

New Delhi: The MiG-29, which was thought to be one of India's most potent weapons, is a defective aircraft. The stunning disclosure that the MiG-29 is structurally flawed was made in Parliament by Defence Minister A K Antony.

The Russian-made MiG-29 has a tendency to develop cracks due to corrosion in the tail fin. Russia has shared this finding with India, which emerged after the crash of a Russian Air Force MiG-29 in December 2008.

"There was a MiG 29 accident in Russia in December 2008. RAC MiG has intimated that corrosion on the fin root ribs has been identified as the cause of the crack development," Antony said while replying to a question in Rajya Sabha.

He added that there was no plan to decommission the aircraft from IAF.

"A repair scheme and preventive measures are in place and IAF has not encountered major problems concerning the issue," Antony said.

The MiG-29 is the most advanced aircraft of the MiG series so far.

Antony's statement is the first official acknowledgment by India that the MiG-29 has serious limitations.

Despite this scare, India recently signed a billion-dollar deal with Russia for the upgrade of its MiG-29 fleet.

Try tainted armymen in criminal court: HC

Press Trust Of India

Madurai: The Madras High Court Bench has held that the armed forces personnel accused of committing murder, rape and other such crimes could be tried in a criminal court and not necessarily through court martial.

The court's observation came while dismissing a revision petition filed by a Lance Havildar accused of killing his wife while on leave, challenging the order of a Magistrate who refused to transfer the case to an Army court.

Justice A Selvam in his order said both the criminal court as well as the Army courts enjoyed concurrent jurisdiction to try criminal offences.

The petitioner was accused of killing his wife on Aug 25 last year during his visit to Usilampatti near here on leave.

The judge said that as per Section 70 of the Army Act, a person accused of murder, culpable homicide or rape should not be tried through court martial unless the offence had been committed while he was in active service or at any place outside the country or at a frontier post.

The petitioner had claimed that he should be tried only through a court martial because casual leave comes within the purview of "active service" as held by the Supreme Court in 1995.

Justice Selvam agreed that a soldier on casual leave could be considered to be in active service. However, he said that neither Army act nor the code of criminal procedure prevented a criminal court from conducting trial against servicemen.

France eyes multibillion-dollar deals with India
High-level defence team arriving today for talks
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 15
A day after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and French President Nicolas Sarkozy sent out a strong signal for forging close ties on nuclear energy and defence between the two nations, a high-level French military delegation is arriving here tomorrow for talks on finalizing various defence purchases by India valued at billions of dollars.

These include a complete refit of the 54 Mirage 2000 fighters of the IAF, the contract for which is worth Rs 10,000 crore. The aircraft will be equipped with the latest in avionics and even new cockpits to bring them in line with a changed battle scenario in the future. The fighters will also have the capacity to carry newer weapons and assembly of equipment that is compatible with the new range
of radars.

India is also keen on acquiring surface to air missiles to cover gaps in its air defence. These will replace the obsolete missiles supplied by the erstwhile Soviet Union, which presently dominate the arsenal. The French have the technology and India wants co-development stakes on the pattern of the Brahmos cruise missile with Russia. This will also figure in the talks tomorrow.

France, which at one point of time was the second largest supplier of military equipment to India, also desires to reenforce its strategic ties with the South Asian power.

However, of late it has been upstaged by Israel which in turn has outmatched even Russia as the biggest supplier of defence equipment over the past couple of years.

India had decided to upgrade its fleet of Mirages that were inducted into the air force in the 1980s. Subsequently, the defence ministry had issued a request for making a proposal to French companies.

Now negotiations are on with Dassault Aviation, the aircraft manufacturer, as well as avionics maker Thales. The latter has a joint venture with the Indian firm Samtel for producing avionics systems in the country in addition to helmet-mounted displays for pilots.

Sources said some of the Mirage planes would be upgraded in France with the rest being refitted in India under a technology transfer pact. In the past several European companies have offered defence deals to India.

This will be first major deal between France and India since the Rs 18,800 crore Scorpene submarine deal project. French company DCNS and the Indian shipyard at Mazagon are in partnership to build six submarines. France has also sought an additional order of four to six submarines.

HDW of Germany is also in the race for the contract. India is desperately in need of new subs to bring its undersea capability in line with the growing might of China.

Apart from the Mirage refit, French firms are also in the running for 126 medium multirole combat aircraft, which would be the country’s biggest arms deal ever. Dassault Aviation’s Raffelle is among the six competitors and field
trials for the aircraft are expected to begin in August.

India is also considering purchase of 197 light utility helicopters, for which the defence ministry had issued a RFP.

At present there are five contenders for the deal including Eurocopter, an EADS company in which the French also have a stake.

India: ‘Boundary Agreement’ between China, Pak illegal

New Delhi, July 15
India has been raising with China the issue of Pakistan’s “illegal” cession of part of territory occupied in Kashmir under the China-Pakistan “Boundary Agreement”, the Lok Sabha was told today.

“The government’s position is that this so-called ‘Boundary Agreement’ (between China and Pakistan) is illegal and invalid. This has been reiterated to the Chinese side in the on-going discussions on the boundary question,” Minister of State for External Affairs Preneet Kaur said while replying to a question.

She said under “the so-called China-Pakistan ‘Boundary Agreement’ of 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 km of Indian territory in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir to China.”

The minister added that Pakistan was in “illegal and forcible occupation of approx. 78,000 sq km of Indian territory in Jammu and Kashmir since 1948 while 38,000 sq km was under the occupation of China”. — PTI

Army recruitment scam detected; 5 held
Tribune News Service

Ajmer, July 15
With the arrest of five persons, the Ajmer police has busted a state-level gang, which was reportedly involved in “arranging” recruitment of youths in the Army.

The lid was blown off the scam after a youth approached the police, complaining that he hadn’t got a job with the Army even after paying Rs 1 lakh to an agent. The police, which was already working on clues in this regard, swung into action and arrested five members of the gang. The accused would charge anywhere between Rs 75,000 to Rs 1.5 lakh for recruitment as a sepoy in the Army. They would promise the aspirants to help them clear the physical fitness test. Interestingly, they used an undergarment company’s name as a code to identify their candidates from the rest. The police also suspect involvement of some Army doctors and officials in the case.

The gang’s kingpin, Dinesh Vishnoi, is an advocate in Jodhpur while another member, Taru Ram, runs a coaching centre with job assurance to the students. The other accused have been identified as Raja Ram Meghwal, Sachin Singh and Haneef Khan.

Apart from them the police also detained Abhilash Singh, an ex-serviceman, for interrogation. Police sources said he was arrested on similar charges in Nagaur district last year. According to them, the gang had been active in the area for the last five years. The gang would reach wherever Army recruitment took place and arranged selection of their candidates.

Interestingly, the interrogation of the accused revealed that the gang would also send its agents to villages, posing as Army officials, to encourage youth to join the armed forces. They also appointed their agents at the district level to help them get candidates.

Meanwhile, sources said senior Army officials held a meeting with the district police officials to discuss the gang’s modus operandi and the revelations made by its members.

PM to launch INS Chakra on July 26
Suresh Dharur
Tribune News Service

Hyderabad, July 15
India’s first indigenously built nuclear-powered submarine is set to be launched by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the port city of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh on July 26.

The Prime Minister will visit the naval base and launch the sea trials of the prestigious submarine INS Chakra, built at a cost of $2.9 billion under Advanced Technology Vessel Programme.

INS Chakra is expected to go into full service in two year’s time.

Deployment of the submarine will allow India to develop a nuclear weapon strike capability from the sea, and maintain its authority over the shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean, official sources said.

At present, only a handful of countries have the technological capability to produce such a vessel. Based on the Russian Akula-1 class submarine, it is powered by a single pressurised water reactor. The nuclear reactor has been developed at the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam.

With this, India has joined the elite club of nations such as Britain, China, France, Russia and USA which have similar technology. The submarine has under-water ballistic missile launch capability that will give India a distinct advantage over Pakistan. The ballistic missile was tested last year.

Army plans to buy armoured vehicles for vulnerable areas

In a bid to protect its troops in insurgency-affected areas, the army is planning to procure over 800 light weight armoured vehicles to be used in vulnerable places.

"We are planning to induct over 800 light armoured vehicles for protecting our troops from being attacked by terrorists during ambushes in areas such as Jammu and Kashmir [ Images ] and north-eastern states. These vehicles would be provided to units deployed in these areas," an army source told PTI.

"These vehicles would be used in counter-insurgency operations for patrolling, reconnaissance and convoy protection, logistics and search and rescue missions. Tenders for procuring these vehicles were released early this year," the source said.

Four companies have responded to the tender for armoured vehicles requirement of the army and have sent their products for trials.

The participants in the race for over Rs 250 crore tender include Mahindra Defence Systems, Tata Motors [ Get Quote ], Force Motors [ Get Quote ] and MKU Systems.

The trials of these vehicles, the source said, are being conducted simultaneously at two locations.

"We are carrying out the trials at Doda in Jammu and Kashmir and at our Armoured School in Ahmednagar in Maharashtra," the source said.

"At Ahmednagar, we would be testing the performance of armour protection of the vehicles and in Doda, the vehicles would be tested for their mobility in mountainous terrain," the source said.

The army would test the vehicles on basis of their performance after driving for 5,000 km each at both the locations.

In 2005, the army had procured over 200 light armoured protection vehicles, which were found to be lacking in pulling power and later on, it was found that the engines were not as per the forces' specifications.

After last year's Mumbai [ Images ] attacks, the demand for armoured vehicles has increased in state police and paramilitary forces also.

"We have offered our C-8 LAV for the army's requirement and we would soon be offering it to other forces in the country," MKU Defence System Director Anurag Gupta said.

Army's Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers had also produced an in-house armoured protected vehicle called 'Takshak', which was displayed during this year's Republic Day parade.

© Copyright 2009 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.

US thrusts, Antony sidesteps

- Hillary to mount pressure on defence verification pact


Washington, July 15: US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton hopes to use her charm, guile and persuasion in New Delhi on Monday to ram down the throat of a deeply divided UPA government an end-use verification agreement for defence supplies from America.

Defence minister A.K. Antony is opposed to the agreement. So are sizeable sections of India’s men in uniform in the top tiers of all the three defence services who feel the agreement will compromise the independence and flexibility of the country’s armed forces.

At the time of writing, therefore, Antony has discreetly decided to stay away from the capital and not meet Clinton or sign the agreement. But this may yet change, according to Indian sources.

Robert Blake, the new assistant secretary of state for South Asia, who is travelling with Clinton to India, told reporters here today he was hopeful that the agreement would be signed on Monday between Clinton and the new external affairs minister, S.M. Krishna.

“I am not saying it will definitely happen,” Blake told this reporter in answer to a question. But it is on the table, he asserted.

Last month, Antony resisted severe pressure from General James Jones to clear the agreement when the US national security adviser called on the defence minister in New Delhi.

The pact will allow US officials to inspect any defence equipment that New Delhi buys from Washington, long after it has been bought, to satisfy the Pentagon that it is being used for the purpose for which it was presumably acquired by the Indian army, navy or air force.

Antony did not reject outright the idea that India could one day sign the agreement, which has been under negotiation for several years, but typically told Jones that political compulsions mandated that talks on the pact should continue.

But the Americans, in a hurry to sell military equipment to India, working through their lobbies in New Delhi and Mumbai, have now decided to cut the defence ministry out of the process and get the prime minister's office to use the ministry of external affairs to short-cut the Indian signature on the agreement.

Two other defence agreements under negotiation between India and the US are equally controversial: a logistics support agreement, which permits US ships and aircraft to refuel in India and vice versa and a communications interoperability and security memorandum of agreement, which commits India to absolute confidentiality about military equipment and processes bought from America.

Blake said these two pacts were still under negotiation and that only the end-use verification agreement was “on the table” for the Clinton visit.

As a sop for signing the end-use verification agreement on Monday, Clinton will tell the Indian side that Washington is ready to begin talks with New Delhi on reprocessing American spent nuclear fuel in India. Blake said the talks were most likely to begin at the end of this month.

India had notified the US on February 3 that it would like these talks, a part of the Indo-US nuclear deal, to begin soon.

The Obama administration, which has six months to respond to the Indian initiative, has been dragging its feet on the issue since then, but is now clearly offering it as a quid pro quo for the military agreement that it wants signed during the Clinton trip.

Colombo cancels arms import from China, Pakistan

B. Muralidhar Reddy

India to send 500 personnel to clear land mines

COLOMBO: The newly-appointed Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Sarath Fonseka, said on Wednesday that the island nation had cancelled the import of ammunition valued at $200 million from China and Pakistan following the end Eelam War IV. He also announced that India was sending 500 personnel to clear mines in the north.

General Fonseka, who in his earlier position as Army chief was one of the architects of the war against the Tigers, further said 800 cadres of the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulika (TMVP), a breakaway faction of the LTTE, had been formally absorbed into the army.

Talking with reporters after taking office as the CDS, General Fonseka said the Chinese order was cancelled because there was no need to stock ammunition for heavy guns after the victory over the LTTE.

The cancellation assumes importance as Sri Lanka is awaiting clearance of a $1.9-billion International Monetary Fund loan to resolve balance-of-payments problem triggered by heavy spending on defence.

Defence spending in 2009 was estimated at Sri Lanka Rs. 200 billion ($1.74 billion), accounting for 17 per cent of the country’s total expenditure.

Sri Lanka’s military and police, with a combined strength of 3,50,000, won one of the Asia’s longest modern wars and declared victory over the Tigers on May 19.

Separately, Sri Lanka’s new Army chief Jagath Jayasuriya on assumption of office said he would “re-motivate” his 2,00,000-strong force and build a peacetime military.

Lieutenant-General Jayasuriya said his first priority would be the military’s new role in supporting the massive reconstruction effort in areas once held by the LTTE. “We have to transform them from fighting to other things. We have to re-motivate them,” he told reporters in an informal talk.

“Running a peacetime army is quite different. Discipline has to be emphasised. I am very concerned about it,” he said. The new chief said the Army recruited 80,000 soldiers in the past two years.

A statement by the Defence Ministry said Gen. Fonseka paid a courtesy call on the Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa after taking charge as CDS.

General Fonseka is the first person to hold the post of Chief of Defence Staff, after the Chief of Defence Staff Act was passed in the Parliament.

Meanwhile, Minister for Human Rights and Disaster Management Mahinda Samarasinghe said out of the $155 million required for providing relief and resettlement of the nearly three lakh war displaced, nearly 60 per cent has been received.

“It is about $100 million that has been received so far and in addition another $40 million over and above the CHAP has also been mobilised. This money is coming to the U.N. through their projects that will be implemented by selected INGOs and NGOs identified jointly with the government and of course facilitated by the government,” he said.

“But in an addition there are number of other countries which have given direct aid to the government of Sri Lanka. This is also the money that has been spent on behalf of the people,” he added.

On the Indian offer for assistance, the Minister said subject would be discussed with the external resources department as well as national planning department of the Ministry of Finance.

“Then subsequently it is discussed with the task force who is put in charge. Actually we are looking to connect with rehabilitation, resettlement as well as relief services because these are things that have to be discussed bilaterally and this discussion will take place now that the allocation has been provided for,” he said.

In a related development, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka announced a scheme for contributions from various quarters for relief and resettlement of the war displaced. All contributions to the scheme are exempted from income tax.

It said the Central Bank will receive foreign currency and rupee donations through the fund account number 4237 maintained at the Central Bank of Sri Lanka through SWIFT, telegraphic transfers, bank drafts, cheques and money orders and credit cards.

In another development, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) charged the Sri Lanka government with continuing its offensive against the independent news media, blocking domestic access to a news website and smearing lawyers who were representing a leading newspaper.

It said domestic access to the independent website Lanka News Web was shut down over the weekend.

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