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Wednesday, 27 January 2010

From Today's Papers - 27 Jan 10

R-Day parade fogged out
Press Trust of India / New Delhi January 26, 2010, 14:14 IST

New Delhi, Jan 26 (PTI) The Republic Day celebrations in the capital were fogged out today reducing the visibility to near zero level and depriving spectators of a clear view of the spectacular parade. 

The fog suddenly started to descend at around 8 am on the Rajpath, where President Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other dignitaries gathered at the saluting dais. 

The dense fog deprived the spectators of a clear view of the magnificent parade, which showcased the country's cultural diversity and military might. 

Four Mi-17 helicopters, which were scheduled to shower flower petals on the spectators, failed to do so due to the weather conditions. 

Strong winds added to the chill and the minimum temperature was recorded at 9.4 degree Celsius as against yesterday's 10.3 degrees. 

The Weatherman has yesterday predicted that Republic Day morning may be foggy.

Military might, cultural heritage on display at R-Day parade
Press Trust of India / New Delhi January 26, 2010, 14:11 IST

The country's vibrant cultural heritage, its impressive achievements and military might were on a majestic display today as the country celebrated the 60th Republic Day.  

Marching down from the Raisina Hills, the Republic Day parade showcased the country's 'unity in diversity' as well as the armed forces in full battle regalia.  

Despite the heavy fog, well turned out and synchronised military contingents marched proudly through the Rajpath where President and Supreme Commander of armed forces Pratibha Patil took the salute.  

The march-past was watched by the Republic Day chief guest South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defence Minister A K Antony and the country's top political and military brass, including UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.  

Patil and her South Korean counterpart arrived at the Rajpath escorted by the President's 46 bodyguards riding well-trained, impeccably-bedecked horses.  

Minutes before the parade began, Singh, Antony and chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Force laid wreaths at 'Amar Jawan Jyoti', the British-era World War-I memorial at India Gate, where an eternal flame burns in memory of those who laid down their lives while defending the nation's frontiers.  

A heavy security blanket was thrown around the capital for the Republic Day celebrations in the backdrop of intelligence inputs about militant outfit LeT acquiring over 50 para-gliding equipment which could be used to launch an air-borne suicide attack.

Three Ashok Chakra awardees receive medals during R-Day parade
Press Trust of India / New Delhi January 26, 2010, 14:05 IST

Major D Sreeram Kumar, late Major Mohit Sharma and Havildar Rajesh Kumar were honoured with the country's highest peace time gallantry medal-- the Ashok Chakra-- today. 

President Pratibha Patil presented the medals to the two officers and the jawan during the Republic Day parade in which South Korean President Lee Myung-bak was the chief guest. 

The medals of Maj Mohit Sharma of the 1 Para (Special Forces), and Hav Rajesh Kumar of 11 Rajputana Rifles were awarded posthomously and received by their wives.  Maj Mohit Sharma, born in Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh and commissioned in 90 Medium Regiment (Artillery) in March 2004, was killed in a battle with terrorists in the Hafruda forest in Jammu and Kashmir in March last. 

Maj D Sreeram Kumar, serving with 30 Assam Rifles since March 2007, had eliminated 12 terrorists in counter insurgency operations in the northeast.  The two officers were named for Ashok Chakra on the eve of Independence Day on August 15 last. 

Havildar Rajesh Kumar returned fire by terrorists in dense forests of Kupwara and killed them.

Pak protests against 'firing' by Indian troops
January 27, 2010 00:08 IST

Pakistan's foreign ministry called the Indian Deputy Commissioner to register a protest over what it described as unprovoked firing by Indian troops across the Line of Control [ Images ], diplomatic sources said on Tuesday.

Deputy High Commissioner Rahul Kulshreshth was called in by Afrasiab Mehdi Hashmi, director general (South Asia) in the foreign office on Monday and handed a protest note over the reported incident of firing across the LoC, the sources told PTI.

The note also asked the Indian government to take steps to prevent the recurrence of such incidents, they said.

The protest related to a reported incident of firing in the Rawlakot sector of the LoC in which the Pakistan army [ Images ] said one of its soldiers was killed and another injured.
Both countries have exchanged allegations of each other's troops resorting to unprovoked firing across the LoC in recent weeks.

Success in Afghanistan hindered by Pakistan’s dangerous balancing act | January 26th, 2010 at 12:00 pm

More than eight years on from the US-led invasion of Afghanistan which forced the Taliban from power and sent its al Qaeda allies into hiding, the somewhat naïve objective of a democratic and stable Afghanistan free of fundamentalists and terrorists seems as far away as ever.

The Taliban is resurgent, al Qaeda has returned and the Western-backed Afghan government has even less credibility after the chaos of last year’s fraudulent presidential elections continues to reverberate. Western military planners appear to be at a loss as to how to end an increasingly difficult war which looked to have been won in the early months of 2002.

Representatives of those nations involved with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) meet with officials from the Afghan government this week in London in an attempt to find a way out of this seemingly intractable conflict. One of the most important aspects of any discussion will be Pakistan’s role in ending the counter-insurgency and its potential involvement in the stabilization of a post-war Afghanistan.

Pakistan has long been seen as the key to success against the Taliban insurgency. While the Taliban has returned in significant numbers to its heartlands in the southern provinces of Afghanistan, the tribal areas along the Afghan border inside Pakistan are accepted as being the main center of operations from which the insurgency is planned and executed.

Mixed messages from Pakistan’s tribal region offensive

In what appears to be a concerted effort to eliminate the Taliban in the restive tribal regions of North and South Waziristan, Pakistan launched an on-going military offensive last October. Pakistan has since claimed victories in South Waziristan where its army has dismantled Taliban bases and infrastructure while expelling thousands of their fighters from the region over which they once had complete control.

On the surface, it appears that Pakistan is making good on the promises it made to the Bush administration in the first years of the war when then President Pervez Musharraf agreed to help in the ‘war on terror’ in exchange for financial and military aid from the United States.

Pro-government Taliban in north remain free

However, while the operation in South Waziristan has seen some positive results, this is offset by Pakistan’s apparent reluctance to target insurgents who infiltrate into Afghanistan from North Waziristan to attack the foreign forces across the border.

So far, the Pakistani Army has only hit militants which it holds responsible for attacks within Pakistan, leaving thousands of pro-government Taliban fighters in North Waziristan to freely cross the border to strike NATO troops on the other side.

The complicated involvement of Pakistan both in fighting and facilitating the insurgency is based on its long-term internal and external strategic policies as well as its concern over its economic interests.

History of cultivating militant groups for own ends

Pakistan, a country which has been ruled by military dictatorships for most of its 62 years of existence, has long fostered a policy of using Islamic militant groups for its own ends, specifically in its proxy war with India over Kashmir. These militant groups, both trained and funded by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) – Pakistan’s secret service, have in turn found their own battles to fight, namely the jihad against Western forces in Afghanistan.

“It’s an open secret that the military and intelligence services still have a hand in supporting what they call their strategic assets,” Dr. Farzana Shaikh, the director of the Pakistan Study Group at the Royal Institute of International Affairs Chatham House in London, told Deutsche Welle. “These are mainly groups attached to the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban and are groups which Pakistan could use in the event of a Western withdrawal from Afghanistan to ensure their interests there are not compromised.

The fear is that India will expand the influence its been gaining since 9/11 in Afghanistan, and Pakistan sees these Taliban-affiliated groups in North Waziristan as a handy bunch to have around and so they are very reluctant to take on these groups who could be assets in the future.”

Anti-terror partner and Taliban supporter

When Pakistan joined the US ‘war on terror,’ it found that it was under pressure to fight the very groups that its intelligence service had cultivated. It was then faced with the dangerous balancing act of doing enough in the fight against militants to secure US support, while allowing the militants to continue their operations as part of Pakistan’s external strategic policies.

In recent years, Pakistan’s support for the US has led to some militants turning on their master; one of the factors behind the increased levels of terrorism within Pakistan which have made the Pakistani government’s balancing act even more difficult.

“These military operations in the tribal areas are very controversial in Pakistan and there is great resentment amongst the public,” Dr. Shaikh said. “Many see the Pakistani Army fighting a battle at the behest of the US and fighting a war that the US would rather not get involved with. The military and government is very concerned about the opposition and are wary of inflaming the situation further.”

Pakistan hedging its bets over Afghanistan’s post-war direction

Now, more than ever, Pakistan sees covert support for the Taliban as way of hedging its bets in any post-conflict Afghanistan. Experts within Pakistan have serious doubts over the prospects of the US winning the war and see the Taliban as a useful future ally to protect its interests in Afghanistan against its arch-rival India.

“If the US and its allies withdraw from Afghanistan after failing to defeat the Taliban, then there is a chance that Afghanistan will return to the regional rivalries and divisions which were prevalent during the 1990s,” Jeremy Binnie, senior analyst for terrorism and insurgence at Jane’s Defense, told Deutsche Welle. “This could leave the region open to Central Asian powers who may take advantage of this situation to wage proxy wars against each other. Having the Taliban onside could help Pakistan confront India should it try and exert greater influence there in any potential power vacuum.”

India has been working to retain its significant influence over Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his allies from the former anti-Taliban Northern Alliance ever since the Taliban was ousted in 2002. Pakistan’s support for the Taliban is seen as a way of countering India’s push for dominance in Central Asia, much in the same way as the ISI-sponsored militants fought to stop India claiming Kashmir.

Officially, of course, Pakistan has not acknowledged any of these factors, claiming instead that its domestic terror problem and financial dire straits mean that it cannot do any more than it is to push on against the Taliban and totally eradicate the militants from its border regions. Despite pressure from the US the Pakistani military has ruled out expanding its current operation into North Waziristan for at least a year.

Fears over Taliban’s Pakistani sanctuary

Some analysts fear that the Taliban may take the opportunities offered by the relative freedom afforded them in North Waziristan to retreat from US troop surges in Afghanistan and bide their time until Western forces begin their troop reductions in 2011. Experts are concerned that the Taliban will then choose this moment to return when troop levels are at their lowest to fight their way into a deal which could see them return to power in some capacity in the Afghan government.

Only a huge change in fortunes for Western forces in Afghanistan could change Pakistan’s decision, forcing it to choose its tentative allegiance with the West over its covert support for the militants.

If the West wants Pakistan to make a choice now to influence its own chances of success in Afghanistan, it is faced with very few options as Dr. Shaikh explained.

“The West has its hands tied to a certain extent and Pakistan knows this,” she said. “Any successful solution in Afghanistan needs Pakistan on side. The US has tried the ‘carrot and stick’ approach with threats to cut aid coupled with promises of huge economic assistance if Pakistan severs ties with the Taliban but this hasn’t and will not work. This is down to the fear of India and when the US calls India a force for stability in the region, this only strengthens Pakistan’s resolve not to cut its assets loose.”

Gates' trip highlights challenges to U.S.-Pakistan partnership
by Matthew Rusling

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25 (Xinhua) -- After U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' visit to Pakistan aimed to strengthen relations with a key regional ally in the fight against militancy, a number of challenges still remain. Not least of all is the lack of trust between the two nations.

There are "deep problems plaguing the bilateral relationship such as the ongoing trust deficit," said Malou Innocent, foreign policy analyst at the CATO Institute.

While leaders of the two countries have stated their desire for a long-term partnership, Pakistan views the United States as a fair-weather friend interested solely in short-term strategic gains.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was quoted on Thursday by Pakistan's Daily Times newspaper as criticizing the "discriminatory U.S. attitude" toward Pakistan.

For their part, U.S. officials have questioned Islamabad's commitment to fighting terror groups and accused its military of taking on only those terrorists who target Pakistan, not those plotting against India and the United States.

Pakistan counters that it cannot fight all militants simultaneously.

Analysts said the move was a snub to the United States, as Washington wants Pakistan to extend its military efforts to cross-border attacks in Afghanistan.

Al-Qaida leaders are believed to be hiding out in ungoverned tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

"The Pakistanis haven't provided a warm reception to Gates in that they made clear that Pakistan wasn't anxious to start an offensive in North Waziristan anytime this year," said Lisa Curtis, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation. "So this visit doesn't seem particularly successful in closing gaps."

Gilani reiterated his government's disappointment with the ongoing U.S. drone strikes along the border with Afghanistan, saying the attacks hampered efforts to separate militants from the local population.

"One stumbling block with continued airstrikes is that they fuel Pakistan's indigenous Taliban insurgency," Innocent explained.

While unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks target terrorists, hundreds of bystanders have died in the crossfire, which has stirred anti-U.S. sentiment among many Pakistanis.

"This is our war, and drone attacks are having serious implications (for the war against extremism). They should be avoided," the Daily Times quoted Gilani as saying.

Still, some analysts said there is an unwritten agreement that a certain amount of UAV strikes are tolerable.

"There are innocents killed, but the people in the area don't get up in arms," said Kamran Bokhari, regional director of Middle East and South Asia Analysis at Stratfor, a global intelligence company.

He added that many in the area want to be rid of the Taliban. "They don't applaud (drone attacks) but will tolerate them."

A plan is now underway for the United States to give unarmed drones to Pakistan. That could make the government of Pakistan appear stronger in the face of militants, Innocent said.

It will also allow Pakistan to have more say over who drones targets, she added.

Despite his criticism, Gilani said he wants a long-term relationship between the two countries and that the "trust deficit" could be lessened by improving perceptions and promoting more contacts between Pakistani and American citizens.

He added that the fight against militancy was a long-term struggle that required ongoing improvements to security forces.

In an op-ed published Thursday in The News International, Pakistan's largest English-language newspaper, Gates pressed Pakistan to target Afghanistan's Taliban leaders, the Quetta Shura, who are holed up in Pakistan's Baluchistan Province, located outside of tribal areas.

"Maintaining a distinction between some violent extremist groups and others is counterproductive," he wrote. "Only by pressuring all of these groups on both sides of the border will Afghanistan and Pakistan be able to rid themselves of this scourge for good."

Still, he applauded the Pakistani Army for its anti-terror operations in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan, noting that Pakistan's army saw nearly 2,000 casualties over the last three years.

Gates said his key message for the visit was that the United States is committed to a long-term relationship with Pakistan. Washington has learned from past mistakes and will not abandon Pakistan in the future, he said.

"The main focus of my visit is to provide reassurances that we are in this for the long haul and intend to continue to be a partner of theirs for far into the future," he said.

Washington seeks to bridge the gap with Pakistani military leaders and end the lack of trust that has put a damper on cooperation against extremism, Gates said in a speech Friday to army officers at Islamabad's National Defense University, Pakistan's most prestigious military academy.

Analysts said that despite the hurdles, more than a dozen in-person meetings between Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Pakistani Gen. Ashfaq Kayani have undoubtedly helped promote the relations between the two nations.

Heavy firing at India-Pakistan border in J&K, Army on alert

The Indian Army was put on alert following heavy exchange of fire at the India-Pakistan border in Jammu and Kashmir early on Tuesday following a major infiltration bid, defence sources said on Tuesday as the country celebrated its 61st Republic Day.

The firing, at the Kanachak sector near Akhnoor, 30 km northwest from Jammu, started at 2 am and went on four hours. Officials said Pakistani Rangers provided covering fire to a group of infiltrators. The BSF men retaliated and the guns fell silent around 6 am.

The Indian Army has been put on alert along the border, where the first line of defence is provided by the BSF.

Army sources said troops were put on alert after the fire started from Pakistani side. They described the firing as heavy and said it was a clear attempt by Pakistan to push terrorists into India on Republic Day.

The exchange of fire was heavy for about two hours initially. "Thereafter, it was intermittent firing that lasted till 6 am," Director General of Police Kuldeep Khoda told reporters.

It was the 15th ceasefire violation incident and infiltration attempt from across the border this month.

"Pakistan is desperate to push terrorists to the Indian side," a senior army official said, adding that they wanted to strike on India's national day and were unhappy with the peace in Jammu and Kashmir.

Army, MoD Lock Horns Over Ban on Singapore Technologies
Army News — By Indian Business Standard on January 26, 2010 at 7:53 am
NEW DELHI: The Ministry of Defence (MoD) faces accusations of serious contradictions in the apparently ill-considered ban it had imposed last June on arms vendor Singapore Technologies Kinetic (STK). The ban was slapped on seven companies after the May 19, 2009 arrest of former Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) chairman, Sudipta Ghosh, on charges of corruption.

The ban on STK is all but collapsing. Next month, STK’s 155-mm towed gun will take part in firing trials — cleared by the MoD - for selecting a new-generation artillery piece for the Indian Army. STK’s Lightweight Assault Rifle will also begin army trials in February. Inexplicably, though, the ban remains on STK’s 155-mm Pegasus ultralight howitzer, which the army wants urgently for India’s mountain divisions.

The Pegasus trials remain blocked despite efforts of the army chief, General Deepak Kapoor — himself an artilleryman — who requested the MoD for trials to continue alongside the Central Bureau of Investigation’s investigations, to save time (reported in Business Standard on July 18, 2009). Rejecting that request, the MoD approached Washington to allow India to buy the American BAE Systems’ M777 ultralight howitzer.

The army, however, wants the option open on both, not a single-vendor situation in which the US-based company can dictate its price. Despite the MoD ban, the army chief has publicly declared that the STK howitzer remains an option.

On January 14, 2009, General Kapoor told the press, “We have one gun (the Pegasus) waiting for trials and, at the same time, we have approached a foreign country (the US) for purchasing an ultralight howitzer directly. We will follow both routes. The moment one of them is successful, we will go ahead with that purchase.”

But, MoD sources say they are not rethinking the ban on the Pegasus. They say the CBI has solid proof that STK paid money into Ghosh’s bank account in Singapore. Asked why the CBI has failed to file charges against Ghosh, who was freed on bail last July, they have no answers.

Now, STK has also, for the first time, publicly protested the ban. Last week, STK’s CEO, Brigadier-General Patrick Choy, revealed to the press in New Delhi that he had travelled to India last year to assist the CBI in its investigations into Ghosh’s alleged corruption. Choy said he had invited the CBI team to Singapore for a full audit of STK, promising that he would fully open the company’s books to investigators. The CBI has not, so far, responded.

STK first encountered the unpredictability of the Indian defence market when it flew a Pegasus howitzer into India for trials last year, in response to an MoD request. On June 5, 2009, just as the Pegasus reached the Pokhran Field Firing Ranges in Rajasthan, a media statement from the MoD spokesperson announced that STK had been banned. To this day, the MoD has not officially intimated STK about any ban.

After remaining stranded by the roadside in Pokhran for several days, the Pegasus was moved to Gwalior, where it remains housed in an army unit.

The Indian Army’s artillery modernisation plan has remained stalled, for various reasons, for over two decades; the ultralight howitzer is only the latest procurement fiasco. The army’s 180 artillery gun regiments — each having 18 guns — have not received any new weaponry since the Bofors gun was bought in the late 1980s.

Army wants more short service officers
Unable to woo enough officers to join its permanent ranks, the Indian Army has proposed to increase their intake under the Short Service Commission (SSC) cadre. It wants two SSC officers for every permanent officer.

The proposal, now with the defence minister, seeks to increase the proportion of SSC officers with respect to the permanent commissioned officers.

"The army has submitted the proposal to increase the intake of short service commissioned officers by making it more lucrative. The proposal is lying with the defence ministry," a senior armed forces official told IANS, requesting anonymity.

Currently, people who are not certain about committing to permanent positions in the army join under SSC and serve the army for five years. At the end of the period the officer is allowed to either opt for permanent commission, choose another five years of service or retire.

In contrast, an officer under permanent commission has to serve for 20 years.

The SSC acts as the support cadre to the regular cadre, which is twice its strength. The proposal seeks to reverse the proportion.

"According to an internal report the shortfall of 11,000 army officers would be bridged in 20 years. The proposal is to take two short service officers for every permanently commissioned officer. This will help make up the shortfall in due course without affecting the promotion aspects caused by the pyramidal structure of the army.

"In short the proposal is to increase the proportion of short service commissioned officers from the current one-third," the officer told IANS.

The army's sanctioned strength is 46,615 officers, but it has been facing a shortage of 11,238. For the world's fourth largest army middle-rung officers leaving for better-paying corporate sector jobs has been a constant problem.

The problem has been aggravated because the army is unable to get enough numbers to join its officer rank. The defence forces need 2,100 officers every year.

The army is now opening a second Officers Training Academy (OTA) at Gaya in Bihar. Set to house 500 cadets, the academy is scheduled to start functioning by the middle of the year.

However, in the existent OTA at Chennai the cadet intake has come down from 407 in 2008 to 315 in 2009, against an authorised strength of 700.

"The army has sought to make SSC more lucrative by increasing the number of serving years from five to 10. Another proposal is to give them a two-year study leave at the end of their service to help them find a better second career option," said the officer.

Now, the army is hoping the financial crisis in the corporate sector and the Sixth Pay Commission -- which has increased their salaries -- will help bring in many more officers to the armed forces.

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