Custom Search Engine - Scans Selected News Sites

Loading

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

From Today's Papers - 24 Aug 2010





New era, same old defence cuts 
Faced with making 15% savings, experts are counter-intuitively suggesting the navy commission more but cheaper Monday 23 August 2010 19.26 BST                           When Admiral Sir David Beatty, Britain's most glamorous 20th-century naval commander, complained there was "something wrong with our bloody ships today" as he saw German cruisers sink them at the Battle of Jutland, he was more prophetic than he realised.  As two naval writers complained in Whitehall only today, there is always something wrong. At Jutland in 1916 the Grand Fleet had speed and firepower, but were vulnerable to better German gunnery, though the navy's blockade helped win the war. A generation later, surface ships were vulnerable to aircraft and submarines, but there were still 900 vessels in 1945.  Decades of spending cuts have reduced that number to below 90. If the Argentine generals had waited until Margaret Thatcher's 1982 cuts had been implemented instead of pouncing on the Falklands straight away, the task force that sailed 8,000 miles to take them back could not have done so.  Every year it gets harder. The US navy still rules the waves, but China is expanding its first blue water fleet since the 15th century. India and Australia are doing so too. Despite the nine-year war in Afghanistan, Britain faces a further defence squeeze in the shape of Liam Fox's autumn defence review, in which all three services will be hit hard by 15% cuts. Labour would have done the same.  Which is why a retired vice-admiral, Sir Jeremy Blackham, and Professor Gwyn Prins of the LSE have launched a counter-intuitive bid for more but cheaper surface vessels: how about adaptable, modular frigates? Built on Dutch and Danish lines, they are far cheaper than the top-range Type 45 destroyers and the slightly smaller Type 23 frigates now being expensively built for the wrong kind of war – let alone the Type 26 frigate to follow.  Their argument states that when 19th-century nationalistic tensions are resurfacing, not to mention piracy close to global choke points like the Suez canal (fibre optic cables carrying the world's email traffic have vulnerable choke points too, including one below the Red Sea), the so-called "silent principle" should not be neglected – goods still go by sea, even if people nowadays fly.  Principles based on silence are not ideal for 24-hour news. What the authors mean is that just because we rarely see the globalised seaborne trade that keeps our supermarkets stocked being threatened, it does not mean they would not happen without visible deterrence. It's the navy's "constabulary" role, protecting British trade since Henry VIII built his first fleet. Somali pirates are only the most obvious manifestation of lurking disorder.  Is this special pleading with a rearview kick at Gordon Brown's naive reliance on the "soft power" virtues of aid and Tony Blair's military overstretch which undervalued the role of navy and RAF in supporting his beloved can-do army? Of course, though the Tories also neglected surface ships in the cold war era of anti-submarine priorities and Trident.  Since Blackham and Prins ritually deplore such inter-service "tribalism" at the wasteful MoD they do not say "slash the RAF" or "cut the army from 100,000 to 80,000" (both likely to happen).  They do not even suggest that the navy's two new aircraft carriers should be scrapped, trimmed or mothballed. It is too late for that. At 65,000 tonnes apiece, they are due to be completed at Rosyth (Brown did grasp constituency employment issues) for at least £4bn, by 2016-ish. The authors do insist that 21st-century "expeditionary" warfare will need versatile surface ships – and that defence is not a discretionary spending item even for impoverished coalitions. Over to you, Liam Fox.









Calling the Army for Peace Restoration
K C Dixit  August 23, 2010  The Army has been called upon time and again to restore peace in insurgency and terrorist affected areas. This practice is likely to continue in future as well. The underlying reason for resorting to such a practice has to be clearly understood and analysed in the Indian context. This tendency is the result of trust, faith and confidence in the capability of the Indian Army reposed by the citizens and the government. What needs to be done and how peace can be attained in any insurgency affected area is not something which is unknown.  Maintaining law and order in states is the responsibility of the civil administration with the assistance of their respective police forces. If people’s basic needs of roti, kapra and makaan are adequately and timely addressed and if basic civic amenities in the form of infrastructure for communications, education, health, security and generation of employment are ensured by the government, the organisations with vested interests will never ever be able to either flame or intensify any insurgency anywhere. This is again very well known to every government. Therefore, one cannot deny that likely insurgencies can be forecasted. If the likelihood of insurgencies can be forecasted, even roughly, why cannot the government establishments initiate necessary measures to nip the causes in the bud and save the innocent public from misery by resorting to fight our own through police forces?  Even at this stage, the root cause of unrests is overlooked. Instead of initiating fast track measures to meet people’s aspirations, time is wasted by government functionaries on trying to justify their irrational logic of efficiency. And when the situation goes beyond the control of local/state police, the ultimate instrument of national power – the Army, is called upon to restore peace. While pressing this ultimate instrument of national power into action, it is forgotten that it will be only a temporary solution for peace restoration. The crux of a permanent solution will still rest on realistic development of necessary infrastructure and meeting the aspirations of the people. If this is not ensured, the situation will deteriorate immediately after the withdrawal of the Army from such areas.  By deploying the Army, the insurgents’ activities get restricted and their free movement at night is effectively controlled. During the day-light hours, the police force is able to limit the insurgents’ actions. Thus, the Army with close coordination with local police is able to control violence significantly. In the bargain, as a result of the asymmetric nature of conflict, the security forces suffer disproportionately heavy losses in terms of their precious human resource vis-à-vis militants. After paying such a heavy price and subjecting the innocent population to inherent sufferings, human and material losses and miseries, a suitable atmosphere is created by the security forces to force the aggrieved leaders to come to the negotiating table. It is unfortunate that such an interim opportunity to undertake fast track developmental projects to meet the aspirations of the local population, raising the efficiency of various government departments, and re-generating the faith and confidence of masses in the government institutions is allowed to be lost through inaction.  Instead of focusing on the development of the affected areas and addressing the genuine grievances of the local population in a quick time frame by taking advantage of the interim peace created by the security forces, political leaders start issuing uncalled for statements like withdrawal of forces and amending the provisions of AFSPA. Such statements confuse simple soldiers and must be avoided. Political mileage should not be gained at the cost of the motivation of troops who derive no pleasure in such risky operations for which they have been requisitioned by the government. It is right that any excesses on innocent people during counter-insurgency operations in any ‘disturbed area’ must not be taken lightly and suitable action must be taken against the offenders. And, this is being ensured by the Army authorities in all seriousness. But it has to be realized that it is because of these powers that the Army is in a position to create an atmosphere of interim peace in the insurgency affected areas by effectively controlling violence through the use of minimum force. Any dilution of AFSPA will not be in the interest of the nation and hence must be avoided.  Recently, a senior political leader was reported to have advocated handing over of Kashmir to the military. Such a move will again become a repetition of the past, if the underlying principle of finding a permanent solution to insurgency is not suitably exploited by the political leadership in the interim atmosphere of controlled violence achieved by the Army in coordination with other security agencies. Therefore, before taking a call on such a crucial issue, the political leadership must chart out a clear-cut agenda for effective execution in a time-bound manner and gear up all its institutions to ensure its ruthless implementation from the word go.  The Indian Army has always withstood the test of time and lived up to the expectations of our countrymen. The hardships experienced by soldiers in such types of operations cannot be ignored. The sentiments of soldiers also need to be respected. With a view to mitigate the hardships on account of family problems due to criminal or civil disputes of serving Armed Forces personnel deployed on hard duties in far flung areas, the central government has been approaching state government functionaries to be more pro-active in promptly responding to the grievances and problems of defence personnel and their families. Such communications have not yielded the desired results and such matters are still treated in a routine manner and with no special priority. Such an apathetic attitude on the part of district authorities adversely affects the morale of soldiers and is detrimental to national interests.  Specific steps should be taken to pay greater attention at Tehsil and Block levels in those areas from where a greater number of personnel traditionally join the armed forces to serve the nation. There should be statutory provisions mandating the district authorities to address the problems and grievances of serving defence personnel within a stipulated time-frame. There is also a need to make institutionalized arrangements in close coordination with the state governments and state government functionaries. The matter relating to making statutory provisions in the Services Acts needs to be re-examined and a solution found even if public, police, local government, land and revenue etc. happen to be state subjects.  Another important issue which needs greater attention is the shortages of officers in the Army at junior and middle levels. The deployment of the Army to counter insurgency effectively calls for posting of officers to units based on their actual authorization and not the hard scale authorization. Shortages can only be managed by making the service conditions for permanent commissioned officers more attractive through an immediate cadre review by assuring faster and higher promotions to qualified officers and men to enable them to earn their grade pay in the service bracket at par with their civilian counterparts and assuring them a service for 60 years of age. A solution can be found out only if the frozen mindset is melted.









2 Army divisions for Arunachal
Aug 23rd, 2010 - MANOJ ANAND |      The defence ministry has cleared the decks for the deployment of two additional Indian Army mountain infantry divisions in the frontier state of Arunachal Pradesh besides raising two battalions of Arunachal and Sikkim Scouts to counter a possible Chinese offensive on the Sino-Indian border.  Disclosing that the state government has already allotted the land for infrastructure, security sources told this newspaper the MoD has also started the process of raising two battalions of scouts besides intensifying the construction of seven forward landing airstrips in Arunachal Pradesh. A delegation of Congress leaders from the state were informed of this by the Prime Minister when they called on him Friday. The proposed Arunachal and Sikkim Scouts’ battalions will be raised on the pattern of the Ladakh Scouts, which played a stellar role in dislodging Pakistani intruders during the 1999 Kargil conflict. The Army intends to enrol people from high-altitude areas who are better adapted to the rigours of the Sino-India border. The divisions will mostly comprise mountain infantry elements, but some armoured assets will also be included later, sources said.









The military and the mullahs 
William Dalrymple  Published 23 August 2010      The Pakistani state has a long history of nurturing jihadis as a means of dominating Afghanistan and undermining India. It is proving a fatal alliance.  It may have been a nightmarish year for Pakistan but it has been a pretty good one for the country's inscrutable chief of army staff, the most powerful man in the Land of the Pure, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.  For a start, the army's response to the floods has compared well to the usual corrupt incompetence of Pakistan's civilian politicians, guided by their chateau-hopping president, Asif Ali Zardari (while minister for investment, he was nicknamed "Mr 10 Per Cent"; he has now been upgraded to "Mr 110 Per Cent"). This has led to discussion in army circles about whether it is time to drop the civilian fig leaf and return the country to the loving embrace of its military. So serious is this threat, that one of the country's most senior and well-connected journalists, Najam Sethi, editor-in-chief of the Friday Times, went on the record this month to warn that elements in the army were plotting yet another coup. "I know this is definitely being discussed," he said.  Then there was the news that Kayani was going to be allowed to keep his job for a second term: "an extraordinary situation requires an extraordinary decision to overcome it", explained a brigadier, writing in the Nation newspaper. Kayani, a former head of Pakistan's notorious intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), can now continue to run the army, and by default Pakistan's foreign policy, until November 2013.  But Kayani's biggest triumph this year, arguably the greatest of his career, was his visit to Kabul in July as the honoured guest of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. The visit marked an important thawing in Pak-Afghan relations, which have been glacial ever since Karzai came to power in 2001. It also coincided with the sacking of Amrullah Saleh, Karzai's pro-Indian and rabidly anti-ISI former security chief. Saleh is a tough Tajik who rose to prominence as a mujahedin protégé of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Indian-backed "Lion of Panjshir". The Taliban, and their sponsors in the ISI, had regarded Saleh as their fiercest opponent, something Saleh was enormously proud of.  When I had dinner with him in Kabul in May, he spoke at length of his frustration with the ineffectiveness of Karzai's government in taking the fight to the Taliban, and the extent to which the ISI was managing to aid, arm and train its puppet insurgents in North Waziristan and Balochistan. Saleh's sacking gave notice of an important change of direction by Karzai. As Bruce Riedel, Barack Obama's Af-Pak adviser, said when the news broke, "it means that Karzai is already planning for a post-American Afghanistan".  It seems that Kayani and Karzai are discussing some sort of accommodation between the Afghan government and ISI-sponsored elements in the Taliban, maybe those of Sirajuddin Haqqani, which could give over much of the Pashtun south to pro-Pakistan Taliban, but preserve Karzai in power in Kabul after the US withdrawal. The expulsion of India, Pakistan's great regional rival, from Afghanistan, or at least the closing of its four regional consulates, would be a top priority for the ISI in return for any deal that kept Karzai in power.  With the US toppling of the Taliban after the 11 September 2001 attacks, Pakistan's influence disappeared abruptly from Afghanistan and India quickly filled the vacuum. To the ISI's horror, in the early years of this decade, India provided reconstruction assistance and training worth roughly £835m in total. It also built roads, sanitation projects, the new Afghan parliament and free medical facilities across the country. It even offered to help train the Afghan army. Nato refused. As General Stanley McChrystal put it in a report last year, "while Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures".  McChrystal was right. The Pakistanis have always been paranoid about the small Indian presence in Afghanistan. "We have strong evidence [that India is] using Afghanistan against Pakistan's interests to destabilise Pakistan," a foreign ministry spokesman claimed in March. Pakistan's military establishment, terrified of the economic superpower emerging to the south, believes it would be suicide to accept an Indian presence in what it regards as its Afghan backyard - a potential point of retreat for the army in the event of an Indian invasion, something Pakistani analysts refer to as vital "strategic depth".  According to Indian diplomatic sources, there are still fewer than 3,600 Indians in Afghan­istan; there are only ten Indian diplomatic officers, as opposed to nearly 150 in the UK embassy. Yet the horror of being encircled has led the ISI to risk Pakistan's relationship with its main strategic ally, the US, in order to keep the Taliban in play and its leadership under ISI patronage in Quetta - a policy Kayani developed while head of the ISI. Karzai's new deal with the Pakistanis, and his clear intention to try to reach some accommodation with their proxies among the Taliban, therefore represents a major strategic victory for Kayani and Pakistan's military, as well as a grave diplomatic defeat for India.  Pakistan's support for the Taliban today is only the most recent chapter of an old story of complicity between jihadi movements and the Pakistani state. Since the days of the anti-Soviet mujahedin, Pakistan's army saw violent Islamic groups as an ingenious and cost-effective means of both dominating Afghanistan (which they finally achieved with the retreat of the Soviets in 1987) and bogging down the Hindu-dominated Indian army in Kashmir (which they managed with great effect from 1990 onwards).  The former ISI director and Dick Dastardly lookalike Hamid Gul, who was largely responsible for developing the strategy, once said to me: "If the jihadis go out and contain India, tying down one million men of their army on their own soil, for a legitimate cause, why should we not support them?" Next to Gul in his Islamabad living room lay a piece of the Berlin Wall presented to him by the city's people for "delivering the first blow" to the Soviet empire through his use of jihadis in the 1980s. The WikiLeaks documents suggest he is still busy liaising with jihadis in his "retirement".  The Pakistani military top brass were long convinced that they could control the militants they have nurtured. In a taped conversation between President Pervez Musharraf and Muhammad Aziz Khan, his chief of general staff, that India released in 1999, Aziz said the army had the jihadis by their "tooti" (balls). Yet the Islamists have increasingly followed their own agendas, sending suicide bombers out against not just Pakistan's religious minorities and political leaders, but even the ISI headquarters. Nonetheless, many in the army still believe the jihadis are a more practical defence against Indian hegemony than nuclear weapons. For them, supporting Islamist groups is not an ideological or religious whim, so much as a practical and patriotic imperative - a vital survival strategy for a Pakistani state.  The army and ISI continued this duplicitous and risky policy after 11 September 2001 despite Musharraf's public promises to the contrary. The speed with which the US lost interest in Afghanistan after its invasion and embarked on plans to invade Iraq convinced the Pakistani army that the Washington had no long-term commitment to Karzai's regime. This led to the generals keeping the Taliban in reserve, to be used to reinstal a pro-Pakistani regime in Kabul once the American gaze had turned elsewhere.  So it was that the ISI gave refuge to the leadership of the Taliban after it fled from Afghan­istan in 2001. Mullah Mohammed Omar was kept in an ISI safehouse in Quetta; his militia was lodged in the sprawling suburb of Pashtunabad. There, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar presided over the Taliban military committee and war chest. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of Hizb-e-Islami, was lured back from exile in Iran and allowed to operate freely outside Peshawar, while Jalaluddin Haqqani, one of the most violent Taliban commanders, was given sanctuary in North Waziri­stan. Other groups were despatched to safehouses in Balochistan.  By 2004, the US had filmed Pakistani army trucks delivering Taliban fighters at the Afghan border and recovering them a few days later; wireless monitoring at the US base at Bagram picked up Taliban commanders arranging with Pakistani army officers at the border for safe passage as they came in and out of Afghanistan. Western intelligence agencies concluded that the ISI was running a full training programme for the Afghan Taliban, turning a blind eye as they raised funds in the Gulf and allowing them to import materiel, mainly via Dubai. By 2005 the Taliban, with covert Pakistani support, were launching a full-scale assault on Nato troops in Afghanistan and being given covering fire as they returned to their bases in Pakistan.  At the same time, Taliban attacks on Indian interests in Afghanistan intensified, beginning the process of turning the Afghan conflict, like that in Kashmir, into what it is today: an Indo-Pak proxy war. The Indian embassy in Kabul was twice bombed - in July 2008 and October 2009 - as were two city-centre hotels thought to have been used by the Research and Analysis Wing (Raw), the Indian intelligence agency. Seven Indian civilians and two Indian military officers died in the blasts.  The degree to which the ISI has been controlling the Afghan Taliban has only just become clear, and not just in the documents published by WikiLeaks. A report by Matt Wald­man of the Carr Centre for Human Rights at Harvard, based on interviews with ten former senior Taliban commanders, closely documents how the ISI "orchestrates, sustains and strongly influences" the Taliban and shows how the ISI is even represented on the Taliban's supreme leadership council, the Quetta Shura.  Meanwhile, in the Punjab, Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, founder of Lashkar-e-Toiba, and the man believed to have been behind the 2008 Bombay attacks, has been allowed to continue operating from Muridke, near Lahore. "The powerful western world is terrorising Muslims," he told a conference in Islamabad this year. "We are being invaded, manipulated and looted. We must fight the evil trio of America, Israel and India. Suicide missions are in accordance with Islam. In fact, a suicide attack is the best form of jihad."  At the same time as pursuing its policy of selectively using jihadis, Pakistan has appeased the US by giving generous assistance to the CIA in arresting foreign Arab al-Qaeda personnel. A major assault was also launched against both the militants who took over the Lal Masjid and the ultra-radical Pakistan Taliban who took over the Swat Valley and announced their intention of turning the country into an Islamic Emirate. In the course of these operations and others in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, more than 1,500 Pakistani soldiers and policemen were killed; another 250,000 people were made homeless in the Pak army assault on Bajaur. The ISI has even been prepared to arrest any members of the Afghan Taliban who didn't follow orders. Hence the seizure in Karachi, in February, of the Taliban second-in-command, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, along with about a dozen other senior Taliban whom the ISI regarded as infringing on their hospitality by opening talks with the Karzai administration via the Saudis, without ISI clearance.  Yet, even though the Pakistani army has conducted major offensives in six of the tribal areas, the seventh, North Waziristan, has been left alone, as it is home to the ISI's favourite proxies: Haqqani and Hekmatyar. Similarly, Pakistan's foot-dragging response to the 2008 attacks on Bombay, and the lack of response to the attacks on minority faith groups in Pakistan over the past few months, show that the Janus-faced policy remains in place. This summer, the chief minister of the Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, was quoted heatedly denying that there were any militant groups working in the Pakistani Punjab, or that the Punjabi Taliban even existed. There are still, in the eyes of many in the Pakistani establishment, good Taliban and bad Taliban, useful militants and expendable ones.  In their eyes, the ongoing defeat of Nato in Afghanistan, with US and British troops suffering record casualties last month, is a vindication of its long-term strategy. Islamabad has succeeded in regaining influence in Afghanistan and Delhi has been checked. But India will not take this lying down. Already the Indian press has reported attempts to resuscitate the Northern Alliance as a contingency against the Taliban's takeover of the south, and here India is working in conjuction with Russia, Iran and the central Asian "stans". The Indian national security adviser, Shivshankar Menon, was despatched to Afghanistan in March, and the foreign minister, S M Krishna, has visited Tehran. Post-American Afghanistan is looking increasingly likely to be divided between the Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara north and the Pashtun south, either formally, with a partition, or more likely, to slip into inter-ethnic civil war, with India supporting and arming the north and Pakistan the south.  As diplomacy gathers pace, the Afghan Tali­ban, who already control over 70 per cent of the country, continue to increase their power. The most worrying development has been the spread of Taliban units to the previously peaceful north, where they have taken over pockets of Pathan settlement around Kunduz and Badakhshan. The death of the British aid worker Karen Woo on 5 August was a direct result.  In Pakistan, too, jihadi activity is growing. Last year there were 87 suicide attacks across the country, killing roughly 3,000 people and the ISI this week stated that, for the first time in the nation's history, it regarded home-grown Islamic militants to be a bigger threat to the integrity of the nation than India. Yet the army continues to obsess about India. In a recent speech, Kayani emphasised that although the army knows the dangers of militancy, it was against Indian attacks that he was principally focused. At a time when Pakistan's economy is in crisis, electricity supply increasingly erratic and the educational system in complete breakdown, Kayani has secured a huge increase in the country's defence budget.  It is not a pretty picture: growing violence everywhere, increasing Indo-Pak tensions and a defeat for western interests in the region. Worst of all, because the Pakistani army regards this as a major triumph, it is unlikely to change its policy any time soon.










Army’s diesel selling Captain dodges CBI
 23 08 2010 0 0 i Rate This  Quantcast  Border Roads Organization  An Indian Army officer who was caught red-handed selling diesel from the army’s stocks in the market in Himachal Pradesh has failed to turn up for questioning, a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) official said here Monday.  “We summoned Captain Vikalp Purohit to our Shimla office Sunday but he didn’t turn up for examination,” CBI Superintendent of Police R. Upasak told IANS.  Captain Purohit of the General Reserve Engineering Force, a wing of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), was posted at Koksar in Lahaul and Spiti district and was Friday caught by a team of CBI sleuths who posed as decoy customers.  The diesel was meant for the BRO’s Project Deepak, which maintains a 222-km stretch between Manali and Sarchu, part of the 475-km Manali-Leh National Highway-21.  “We are awaiting his arrival and if he fails to join the investigation, legal action would be initiated against him,” he added.  Upasak said the accused was trapped by two decoy customers, who projected themselves as contractors of the public works department. They entered into negotiations with the accused regarding bulk purchase of fuel. They also bargained the price and later caught him.  The CBI team is on lookout for army officials who are allegedly selling in the open market diesel meant for the forces.  Another CBI official investigating the case said all records of diesel supplies and consumption by the BRO have been sought for verification.  “Only after going through inventory records, we will be able to comment on how large the racket is or involvement of any other official,” he added.  A. Chattopadhya, joint director (Personnel), Project Deepak, told IANS: “We have informed the higher authorities about the incident.”









Does the CAG leak defence secrets? 
Air Chief Marshall PV Naik, inaugurating the Phalodi air base on 6th April 2010. From the infrastructure in the photo, this was clearly a hurried job!    The first IAF fighter landing at Phalodi after the inauguration. The runway was still not fully prepared then. Was it the coming CAG report that hastened the inauguration?   by Ajai Shukla Business Standard, 24th Aug 10  Perhaps this question relates to how inept, corrupt and incompetent the defence establishment appeared in the audit reports that the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) tabled in parliament on 3rd August. Within days, the Times of India carried a news report about the military’s secrecy concerns about the CAG’s public assessment of its operational readiness.  The military was particularly incensed, or so ToI suggested, by the CAG’s exposure of its poor readiness for war. The report hints darkly that the enemy would gain strength from the secrets that the CAG had unthinkingly leaked. Rather than going public about the decrepitude of our national defence, complained an anonymous military officer to the ToI, sensitive CAG reports must go only to “a select few of decision-makers” (sic).  This insidious argument raises important questions. Are there tangible benefits from our openness about military readiness? Does the public need to know what the CAG unearths? And do our potential military adversaries, China and Pakistan, pore over the CAG’s reports to discover secrets they do not already know?  To put the military’s complaints in context, remember that it is highly sensitive to public criticism. With its holy-cow status under enthusiastic attack from an activist, and often sensationalist, media, the uniformed community reacts to criticism with a defensiveness that is baffling in India’s most respected government organisation. As part of a largely unaccountable government, the military’s growing siege mentality translates into a reflexive impulse to shut out public scrutiny by citing secrecy.  That notwithstanding, there is a reason why the military --- comprising of 16 lakh citizens drawn from an increasingly corrupt societal milieu --- remains a functional and honest organisation. The credit goes to a finely structured system of checks and motivations. The motivations are mostly internal, such as the institutional process of imbuing recruits and cadets with the ideals of izzat (self-respect); imandari (honesty); and wafadari (loyalty) from the day they join. But equally important is the system of checks and balances, which includes multiple layers of audit, culminating in that of the CAG. Diluting CAG oversight, especially the audit of functional performance, would disturb a balance that has evolved over time.  To examine the questions raised let us look at two of the audits tabled by the CAG on 3rd August. The first case details how Defence PSU, Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), obtained an MoD order to indigenise radars in India, but then simply bought them from a foreign vendor and sold them to the MoD for a premium.  That DPSUs like BEL don the cloak of “indigenisation” to obtain preferential MoD orders is an open secret within the military, the MoD and the analyst community. Soldiers joke that the only BEL-made part of an ostensibly BEL-made radar is the “Made by BEL” plaque that covers the original “Made in France” stamp.  Proving that is difficult and the MoD and the DPSUs stonewall any questions. But this CAG audit painstakingly documents how the MoD paid BEL Rs 870 crore for 22 radars in 2007, Rs 41.39 crores more than the cost of buying from the original manufacturer, Italian company Selex. The rationale for this largesse: indigenous production. But then, within three months of that contract, BEL ordered 13 radars from Selex, in CKD (Completely Knocked Down) kits, “in gross violation of its own commitment of manufacturing these radars indigenously”.  The MoD, unusually, has admitted that BEL has effectively fronted for a foreign vendor and handsomely profited from it. What use would have been served by placing this audit before the MoD, when the ministry itself is a part of this charade? The CAG report has provided a public tool (howsoever apathetic our jaded janta and media might be towards it) to pressure the government for a level playing field in defence production.  A second CAG audit dissects a two-decade delay by the Indian Air Force (IAF) in building and commissioning a strategic airbase at Phalodi, near Jaisalmer. Sanctioned Rs 29 crores in 1985, little happened until 2000, when the IAF reinvented Phalodi’s importance. This time Rs 227 crores were sanctioned --- 8 times the original cost --- including Rs 25 crores for fast-tracking the project. Then apathy again replaced urgency. By Sept 09, only Rs 85 crores had been spent. The runway, a key asset, was only 71% complete.  What happened next illustrates the power of such an audit. With a CAG indictment imminent, the Air Chief hastily flew to Phalodi in April 2010 to “inaugurate” the incomplete base. The official press release on that occasion falsely claimed, “the base is ready to undertake all types of operations of IAF.” In fact, as recently as Sept 09 (the CAG report notes) essential facilities for an air base --- radio communications, bomb dumps, blast pens, etc --- had not been sanctioned, leave alone constructed. And few noticed that the IAF photos of Phalodi depicted a runway without lighting.  The sorry Phalodi tale is hardly news to Pakistan. Commercially available satellite imagery would have kept Pakistani intelligence fully informed about the IAF’s sluggishness on what it had advocated as an essential counter to Pakistan’s stepped up construction of airbases across the border. But this is news to the Indian taxpayer. And, importantly, the CAG audit has goaded the IAF into action; once populated, Phalodi will quickly be completed.  CAG performance audits are an essential step towards greater public scrutiny of India’s closeted and hidebound defence establishment. They supplement the MoD’s own Annual Report and the reports of parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence, in throwing light on the handling of a massive chunk of taxpayer money. Whether the public and the media can use this information to pressure the MoD into positive action is another question.




No comments:

Post a Comment

 

Mail your comments, suggestions and ideas to me

Template created by Rohit Agarwal