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Thursday, 28 January 2010

From Today's Papers - 28 Jan 10








Antony orders court martial of Lt Gen
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 27
Virtually cracking the whip and differing from the opinion of the Indian Army chief, Defence Minister AK Antony today recommended that court martial proceedings be initiated against military secretary Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash.

Army chief Gen Deepak Kapoor had recommended only a milder “administrative action” against Lt Gen Prakash and two others, Lt Gen Ramesh Halgali and Major-Gen P Sen, while he okayed disciplinary proceedings against Lt Gen PK Rath in what is now known as the “Darjeeling land scam”. Administrative action is a mild reprimand when compared with disciplinary proceedings, which can lead up to a court martial.
The advice of the Defence Minister had reached the Army chief this evening, sources said while confirming the developments. Such an advice coming from the Defence Minister was unprecedented. The onus is now on the Army chief to take action. Sources said the Army chief is “unlikely to differ on the Defence Minister’s advice” and it was likely that General Prakash will not escape unscathed.
Last week, Adjutant-General Lt Gen Mukesh Sabharwal acting on the advice of the Army chief issued notices for taking administrative action against Military Secretary General Prakash and others. General Prakash, who is to retire on January 31, has replied to the notice, sources said today.
Last week, Antony had questioned the Army chief as to why different yardsticks were applied in deciding the nature of action against four senior Generals. The court of inquiry ordered by the Eastern Army Commander Lt Gen VK Singh had indicted two officers, including General Prakash, for their role in issuing a no-objection certificate to a private establishment that falsely claimed to be establishing an affiliate of the well known Ajmer-based Mayo College on land adjacent to the Sukna military station in Darjeeling district.
On Saturday, General Kapoor had explained to the defence ministry why he wanted only an administrative action against Prakash while the COI ordered by General VK Singh had wanted General Prakash be sacked. The Army chief ’s ruling given on January 11 was in contrast to the recommendation of the COI and that had prompted Antony to seek a reply.
The Defence Minister had reportedly asked General Kapoor as to what was the basis to take disciplinary action against only one of the four senior Generals who were facing a probe.
Lt Gen Rath, is his earlier capacity as commander of the 33 corps at Darjeeling, had a major role in of signing of a memorandum of understanding with a private realtor for a 70-acre plot adjacent to the military station near Darjeeling. Rath during the court of inquiry had blamed the military secretary for putting pressure on him to allow the MoU.






Govt asks for court martial of senior general
NDTV Correspondent, Wednesday January 27, 2010, New Delhi

Defence Minister AK Antony has recommended that one of the country's senior-most generals face a court martial. (Read: Army's shame: Generals involved in land scam)

Lieutenant General Avdesh Prakash was indicted by an army inquiry of using his position to help a businessman in Siliguri in West Bengal. Prakash is the Military Secretary and eight principal staff officers to the Army chief, General Deepak Kapoor. (Read: Will Generals face the heat in land scam?)

The internal investigation found that Prakash influenced officers to permit a real estate developer to acquire 71 acres next to the Army's 33 Corps Headquarters in Siliguri in West Bengal. The Army, which had earlier told the government that this land could not be sold to any commercial developer for security reasons, okayed the transfer of the land to Agarwal.

The Army's inquiry said Prakash should be sacked for he "became a facilitator in promoting (his friend) Dilip Agarwal's business."

However, General Deepak Kapoor decided to ask Prakash for a formal explanation before determining what action to take against him.






'NATO powers want high-profile role for India in Afghan'
January 26, 2010 21:41 IST
Tags: North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, India, Afghanistan, ABC News, David Miliband
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Efforts are on to persuade India [ Images ] to undertake a more high-profile role in embattled Afghanistan as India's external affairs minister arrives in London [ Images ] on Tuesday to participate in the one-day meet on Afghanistan.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown [ Images ] who has taken the initiative for the conference on Thursday said, "I believe that the neighbours of Afghanistan should come together to help sustain an infant democracy like Afghanistan. India has a big role to play."

Although details of the proposals are being kept under wraps, and Islamabad [ Images ] has already opposed involving New Delhi [ Images ], commentators and strategic experts said the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation powers were looking increasingly at India for fresh ideas to resolve the Afghan crisis.

Indian Foreign Minister S M Krishna [ Images ] will meet the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Wednesday morning and the Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith in the afternoon.

The continued attack on Indian students in Australia [ Images ] will figure in the talks with Smith.

"The road to success for NATO's strategy runs through India," wrote a commentator in The Spectator, a respected British magazine that supports the opposition Conservative

Party.

Taking a non-partisan view of Miliband's proposal for the regional council, the Spectator said India's help was needed to offset Pakistani support for Afghan Taliban [ Images ] groups.

"Miliband's idea deserves all the support it can get," it said.

A recent poll conducted for western broadcasters ABC News, BBC and the German ARD by the Afghan Centre for Socio-Economic and Opinion Research showed that ordinary Afghans view India more positively than any other country.

In spite of its low profile role, as many as 29 percent of Afghans had a "very favourable opinion" of India, compared to only two percent for Pakistan, seven percent for Britain, eight percent for the US, 17 percent for Germany [ Images ] and 18 percent for Iran.

"There is no doubt that India has a very strong bilateral relationship with Afghanistan, building everything from toilets to transmission lines as the Afghans love to say," said Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, a leading London-based expert on South Asia.
"The question is whether India is ready to move from a bilateral to a multilateral relationship with Afghanistan," he said.






A first: ITBP’s women battalion
Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, January 27
The Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force is set to induct its first batch of women constables. As many as 209 women would be joining the ranks of the force that maintains border vigil over the world’s highest mountain range, when they pass out from the Basic Training Center near here this week.

Another batch of women constables would be passing out shortly, taking their initial number in the force to about 400. They would form part of ITBP’s 43rd battalion based at Patiala.
“Women personnel would be deployed for security and escort duties at Nathu La pass in Sikkim and along the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra through Uttrakhand into Tibet, due to the presence of a number of women traders and pilgrims,” VK Upretti, Inspector General Operations and Training told The Tribune.
The ITBP had been feeling the need for women constables for quite some time and the sanction for raising a women’s unit was accorded in 2007. Other major para-military organisations like the CRPF and the BSF already have women’s battalions. The CISF also has a small women’s component.
The 44-week training for women recruits who come from all over India had commenced in March last year and is the same as that for male recruits. This included drill, firing, rock climbing, battle-craft and internal security duty. Specialised training like mountaineering; river rafting, skiing and commando training would be undertaken at a later stage.Upreeti said though the women’s unit would initially be commanded by male officers, ITBP was trying to get women officers on deputation from other police organisations. A case is also being taken up with the Staff Selection Commission for recruitment of women at the level of sub-inspector and inspector for the force.
At the lower level some women non-gazetted officers at the level of head constable or havildar, who were already serving in clerical or technical cadre have been sidestepped to the women’s battalion.






Waiting for peace in Afghanistan
Regional cooperation can help
by Maj-Gen Ashok K. Mehta (retd)
The stunning attack this month in Kabul due to intelligence and security lapses — in the Red Zone near the Presidential Palace when the new Cabinet was being sworn in — shows that the Taliban movement is winning the war. The attack was on the eve of the international London conference of 63 countries on Afghanistan, mainly to work out “the transfer plan” to Afghan command and control from ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) when US troops start withdrawals in July 2011.
Despite announcing the exit time-line, the US has followed a policy of ambiguity dictated by political, not military, considerations. It is insisting there will be no cut and run; the transition and transfer of responsibility will begin after measuring progress against an elaborate mechanism of benchmarks. The military surge - clear, hold, build and transfer charge - will be accompanied by a civilian surge underscoring a US-Afghan partnership.
Organised confusion has followed from the lack of clarity in both military and political objectives. The main issues are rightsizing the Afghan National Security Forces, (ANSF) creating CIS and policing capacities, shoring up governance, reducing corruption and reconstructing infrastructure. An immediate problem is about holding of parliamentary elections or extending the term of Parliament through a constitutional amendment. For militarily marginalising the Taliban, disrupting its sanctuaries in Pakistan is essential. But with friends like Pakistan, who needs enemies?
Scenario builders have painted three contingencies based on two assumptions: that the ANSF will acquire the requisite skills and motivation to contain the Taliban and the West, including the ISAF, will not pull the plug prematurely. There is wide consensus that Taliban rule is not acceptable to the majority of Afghans and virtually all of the international community, including even Pakistan.
The scenarios are: staying the course; gradual withdrawal commensurate with progress on benchmarks; and muddling through after an impromptu deinduction of the ISAF.
There is a fourth contingency: breakup of Afghanistan-Pakistan on ethnic lines straddling the Durand Line into Pakhtunistan or Pakhtunkhwa. The first contingency is not likely, the second most desirable and the last best avoided. In 1992, everyone thought that the Najibullah regime would collapse in two weeks against the onslaught of the Mujahideen, but it survived for three years.
The third review of Af-Pak later this year has to come up with more realistic time-lines of a phased withdrawal with benchmarks for measuring progress. Training and motivating Afghan forces from scratch and equipping them with skills and artifacts for CIS will take time, patience and perseverance.
The fate of Afghanistan has been in the hands of Western powers the US, the UK and their NATO allies. The march of NATO eastwards to defeat Al-Qaeda (and the Taliban) is its first out-of-area mission, well thought out with an eye on Central Asia, Iran, China and Russia. The strategic investment in the region will preclude a precipitate withdrawal, rather a long-term commitment is on the cards. It is up to regional powers to create the conditions for Western forces to vacate by ensuring an orderly transfer of power and resources to Afghanistan.
As the US-led Af-Pak strategy continues with the empowerment of Afghans in peacebuilding, security and stabilisation, a regional initiative must be ready and equipped to occupy the space vacated by Western forces. Many Pakistanis and some Afghans believe that the presence of ISAF in Afghanistan is the key driver of insurgency though this reasoning has diluted following the socio-economic development programmes undertaken by the UN, the coalition forces and India. Many Afghans now want ISAF to stay longer to keep the Taliban off their backs.
A military solution in Afghanistan is impossible. While targeting Al-Qaeda and keeping the Taliban at bay, efforts have also to be made to mainstream the resistance much in the manner that the Maoists were brought into the reconciliation process in Nepal. The Japanese who have pulled out of their refuelling of ships mission off Afghanistan are hosting a $ 5 billion programme for the rehabilitation and reintegration of the Taliban. The UK, the US and Saudi Arabia are already engaged in direct and indirect talks with the hard-core Taliban. India is totally opposed to the idea of reconcilable Taliban but lately has softened its position.
Five types of the Taliban have been identified: ideologically motivated hard-core insurgents; those disaffected by the government; the financially underprivileged; those fed on drugs money, possess weapons and are paid more than government soldiers; and the foreign Taliban. Reconciliation is best achieved at the local level by village elders, but the good old tribal system has broken down.
The Mehsud tribes in Waziristan boast they can make a suicide bomber in six minutes. Indoctrinated youth, graduated from madarsas and served with the Taliban take an average of four years to detoxify. Nearly 15,000 Taliban insurgents have to be neutralised either by the gun or through the lure of dollars. Al-Qaeda and other foreign fighters are not eligible for reconciliation.
At some stage in 2012, the US should transfer its responsibility to a contact group under the UN auspices comprising Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Central Asian Republics, Pakistan and India. It will ensure that the prescribed benchmarks are achieved. Once the reconciliation process is activated, qualified Talibs will be rehabilitated and their leaders inducted into Parliament and democratised. Again the Maoist model in Nepal is a useful reference point. The Japanese and the Norwegians have valuable experience in mainstreaming of rebel groups, but the ownership of reconciliation and the political process must return to the Afghans in substance and perception.
How proactive must India be to shape its future role in Afghanistan? In a recent Gallup poll, India topped the list of countries doing good work in Afghanistan. Pakistan figured last and at least 33 per cent of Afghans saw Islamabad supporting the Taliban. In another poll, India also was number one among the countries with good relations with Afghanistan.
At present, Delhi has no intention of expanding its footprint beyond the use of its soft power. On several occasions, the US has noted that India is doing a great job which in no way impinges on Islamabad’s security concerns. The view from South Block is that it is cognizant of Pakistan’s legitimate concerns though doing more by way of training the Afghan Army will not constitute any overreach.
A more vocal minority is advocating offering upto two divisions of troops for North-West Afghanistan and gifting military equipment for arming two divisions of the Afghan Army. The rationale is that as the Taliban pose a direct threat to India, it must be confronted at source. The difficulties of maintaining two divisions without any logistics corridor will be enormous.
Many Pakistanis recognise that as a regional power, Delhi has legitimate interests and goals and since the Taliban factor is a common threat for all three — India, Pakistan and Afghanistan — they should unite to fight terrorism. In the transition phase, Delhi must plump for the regional mechanism to dilute Islamabad’s centrality in the Af-Pak area. At the same time, India and Pakistan must reopen the composite dialogue process at the earliest so that their mutual concerns on Afghanistan can be allayed. Focussing on trilateral cooperation within the regional compact will help promote peace and stability in Afghanistann






Army chief overruled by Antony: court martial aide
Manu Pubby Posted online: Thursday , Jan 28, 2010 at 0220 hrs
New Delhi : Intervening in proceedings on the Sukna land scandal case which was first reported by The Indian Express, Defence Minister A K Antony has directed the Army to court martial one of its seniormost Generals who was indicted by an Army court of inquiry for allegedly influencing junior officers to favour a land developer.

Overruling a decision by Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor to take only administrative action against Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash, Military Secretary at Army Headquarters, Antony called for court martial proceedings against Prakash.

This will be the first time in the Army that two Lt Generals will face a court martial — the other officer is former 33 Corps Commander Lt Gen P K Rath. Two other Generals named in the probe, Lt Gen Ramesh Halgali and Maj Gen P C Sen, are set to face administrative action.

Antony’s intervention follows the Army Chief’s decision to go for only administrative action against Prakash who is one of his closest aides. Eastern Army Commander Lt Gen V K Singh, who initiated the court of inquiry, had recommended that Prakash be sacked.

The case involves the grant of NOCs (no objection certificates) for transfer of 71 acres near the 33 Corps headquarters in Sukna, West Bengal. The court of inquiry found that Dilip Agarwal, a land developer, had close links with Prakash.

The decision to counsel the Army on the matter was taken on Wednesday after the Ministry reviewed the Army Chief’s recommendations. The Ministry considered the court of inquiry report, the opinion of the legal branch as well as the reply to a show-cause notice that was served on Prakash.

Prakash is set to retire by the end of this month but sources said that court martial proceedings would continue as the officer would remain under the purview of the Army Act. The court martial will be preceded by a formal recording of evidence that will begin shortly.

The Ministry had questioned the Army over the different degrees of punishment against officers indicted in the court of inquiry. It was of the opinion that court martial proceedings were necessary to bring out the extent of the scandal and the alleged nexus between officers and land developers.







US okays howitzers worth $647 million for India
TNN, 28 January 2010, 02:00am IST
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WASHINGTON: Asserting that its sale to India will "improve interoperability with US Soldiers and Marines," the US defense agency tasked with transfer of military hardware and promoting military-to-military ties has notified the US Congress of the Obama administration's intention to sell 145 M777 Howitzers to India in a deal worth $ 647 million.

The mandatory notification follows a request from India for the light-weight towed Howitzer with Laser Inertial Artillery Pointing Systems (LINAPS), the first major artillery purchase by New Delhi after the star-crossed Bofors deal going back to the 1980s.

The $647 million deal will include warranty, spare and repair parts, support and test equipment, publications and technical documentation, maintenance, personnel training and training equipment, US government and contractor representatives' technical assistance, engineering and logistics support services, and other related elements of logistics support, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in its January 22 notification.

"This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to strengthen the US-India strategic relationship and to improve the security of an important partner which continues to be an important force for political stability, peace, and economic progress in South Asia," DSCA said.

The Agency said the howitzers will assist the Indian Army to develop and enhance standardization and surprisingly asserted it will also "improve interoperability with US Soldiers and Marines who use the M777 as their primary means of indirect fire." India will have no difficulty absorbing these weapons into its armed forces, it added.

In its standard caveat, the Agency also assured the Congress that the "proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region," and "there will be no adverse impact on US defense readiness as a result of this proposed sale."

The M777 purchase, seen in some quarters as a political decision favoring US, was not without the usual controversy that has come to dog almost every major defense acquisition in India.

The gun trailed the front-runner, the Pegasus lightweight howitzer developed jointly by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) and Singapore Technology Kinetics, for several months, But Pegasus was knocked out of the race following reports of corruption and bribery that necessitated a CBI investigation.

While that inquiry is continuing, the government decided to go in for the US artillery given the Army's urgent requirement.

The M777 howitzer was originally developed by the British Vickers group, but is now produced by BAE Systems Land Systems in the US. It has largely replaced the M198 howitzer 155mm towed howitzers in the US Marine Corps and US Army and has seen action since March 2008 in Afghanistan. US allies Canada and Australia are the only two countries the US has sold the guns to.





Pakistan can alone help safe US exit: Gen Gul
Indian army chief’s threat sheer madness

Interview
Tanvir Siddiqi

Islamabad—United States has been virtually defeated in Afghanistan and Pakistan is the only country which can help provide it a safe and honourable exit from Afghanistan, former ISI Chief Lt General (Retired) Hamid Gul said this on Wednesday.

In an exclusive interview with Pakistan Observer, he said the United States and its allies have realised that it is impossible to find a military solution to the Afghan conflict and the only way was to pull out their forces from Afghanistan through dialogue with the Taliban.

In this context, he referred to the removal by UN of some Afghan Taliban including Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, from the “Terrorists’ list on the request of the United States and said such elements had lost influence in Afghanistan. The sole leader of Taliban is Mulla Omer and it is he with whom the United States should seek a dialogue. But, since the defeat of the US in Afghanistan is certain, Mulla Omer, whose government had been toppled following the 9/11 incident, enjoys the support of the overwhelming population of Afghanistan. He would not like to enter into any dialogue with the United States unless and until the foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan.

He dispelled the impression that the Taliban were seeking dialogue with the US. It was rather the United States which wanted to hold dialogue with the Taliban.

He said keeping in view the importance of the Conference on Afghanistan in London being held today (28 January), it is high time for Pakistan to take major decisions to safeguard its national interests. He said there might be more pressure on Pakistan at the Conference to expand its operation against Taliban.

He lauded the Pak army decision not to open another military front after its operations in Swat and South Waziristan for at least one year.

General Hamid Gul said “It is the strategic position of Pakistan that makes its role in bringing peace in Afghanistan and the region extremely important. Pakistan can and must play a key role” in this regard, he added. .

He said the recent visit to Islamabad of US Defence Secretary Robert Gates was to allay Pakistan’s fears of an attack on Pakistan if Mumbai-like terror attacks again happened in India. Gates, who had hinted at such a possibility while he was in India, took a U-turn and assured Pakistan of no such possibility. It showed the double standards of the US policy and such a statement was meant to appease India.

He said the Indian military chief’s threat of simultaneously attacking Pakistan and China reflects was sheer madness on the part of India. “This is not doable, this is sheer madness”, he added.

General Hamid Gul questioned the US policy of promoting India as a counter-weight to China.

The former ISI Chef said India is totally disoriented. India is on the wrong side of history. The ground reality is that despite all the pampering of India by the United States, India’s strategic alliance with the United States has gone into doldrums, as China’s role in the world and regional politics is increasing. Pakistan is regarded as a key player in the region and a nuclear power. As opposed to this, India has become unbalanced and disenchanted. It is almost against the entire Muslim word and has been in collusion with the Israelis to subjugate the Palestinians and harm the Muslim cause the world over.

“The West has its hands tied to a certain extent and Pakistan knows this,” he said. “Any successful solution in Afghanistan needs Pakistan on side, General Hamid Gul emphasised. “If the US and its allies withdraw from Afghanistan after failing to defeat the Taliban, then Pakistan would be better placed to confront India should it continue to try and exert greater influence there in any potential power vacuum, he observed” The exit of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan will be a great blow to Indian ambitions in Afghanistan, General Hamid Gul said.

To a question he said Pakistan should not allow its territory to be used by India for transit trade with Central Asian states unless and until all the outstanding problems with Pakistan including the core issue of Kashmir are resolved.






Pak overture to Turkey for attack drones worries India

TNN, 27 January 2010, 02:42am IST
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NEW DELHI: Finding the US not overly helpful on arming it with drones and drone technology, Pakistan has now made overtures to the Turkish army for technology and attack capability, which India is now monitoring closely.

During his recent visit to Islamabad, US defence secretary Robert Gates promised the gift of 12 drones for surveillance. But the 12 RQ-7 Shadow drones cannot send in Reaper or Hellfire missiles which would make them truly lethal and would have provoked an immediate outcry from India. However, experts believe this is dangerous stuff anyway, and it will not take much for Pakistan to reverse engineer them or tailor them for needs other than spying on the Taliban, in other words, to target India.

Needless to add, Pakistan was less than overwhelmed by the offer. Therefore, Indian sources said, Pakistan is now approaching their its friends in the Turkish army for this technology. The Turks were given drones, both attack and surveillance ones, by the Israelis as they battle the Kurds. Whether they are persuaded to part with these for the Pakistanis is another matter, and likely to involve a lot of pre-emptive Indian diplomacy.

India is finding less and less to be positive about in the Pakistan-Afghanistan theatre.

Apart from gifting surveillance drones to Pakistan, the US may be winking at a more robust reconciliation policy with the Taliban in Afghanistan. This will include a greater Pakistani role in the mediation process, which means the ISI will be able to give them greater say in what kind of Taliban gets to be in power in Kabul. This, Indian officials argue, will happen despite US and British "oversight" on Pakistani efforts.

"Their knowledge is pretty flawed, and they remain beholden to the ISI. This is likely to influence their decisions," said sources. The Pakistani presence in the negotiations comes despite Afghan evidence that attacks like the one in Kabul last week was done by the ISI-friendly Haqqani network.

The reconciliation programme has acquired urgency in the backdrop of President Barack Obama's withdrawal strategy for 2011. This is of greater concern to India, because it could put a huge question on India's own participation and future in Afghanistan. Ahead of the London conference on Afghanistan starting on Thursday, foreign minister S M Krishna will try and get a sense from other leaders about the US-led western presence in Afghanistan.

A glimpse of how things may turn out was given by US general David Petraeus when he said, "The concept of reconciliation, of talks between senior Afghan officials and senior Taliban or other insurgent leaders, perhaps involving some Pakistani officials as well, is another possibility."

Gen Stanley McCrystal, in an interview to Financial Times, said he hoped increased troop levels would weaken the Taliban enough for its leaders to accept a peace deal.

India is increasingly coming round to accepting the reality that some sort of a peace deal could be made. In recent statements, Indian officials have admitted the possibility that people who renounce violence and the Taliban as well as disarm, could be accommodated into Afghanistan's establishment.







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