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Friday, 24 December 2010

From Today's Papers - 24 Dec 2010

Infrastructure cauldron on the eastern frontier
Maj Gen Raj Mehta (Retd)  A Border Roads Organisation bulldozer clears a motorable track in the forward areas of Arunachal Pradesh. The functioning of the organisation has come under critical review by a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence FOR A ROAD AHEAD: A Border Roads Organisation bulldozer clears a motorable track in the forward areas of Arunachal Pradesh. The functioning of the organisation has come under critical review by a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence  Defence Minister A.K. Anthony was reportedly shocked when, in December 2007, he personally saw the terrible state of the Nathu La axis in Sikkim vis-à-vis the swish Chinese infrastructure across. The traveller today experiences a sickening feeling of déjà vu. Our border infrastructure is as somnolent as it was in 2007. The strategic 165 km long National Highway 31-A linking Siliguri through Gangtok in Sikkim to the Indo-Chinese border at Nathu La (14,300 feet) still looks bombed out, devastated and gutted. Blocked by landslides, ridden with pot-holed patches and untidily strewn road-widening activity, a one-way journey on this Border Roads Organisation (BRO) road, Sikkim's lifeline, takes over eight backbreaking hours. NH-31A truly represents the dismal state of border infrastructure in the northeastern region, reflected accurately by the state of the equally strategic NH-31 linking Siliguri to the "seven sisters".  No better proof of government apathy is more evident than from the 8th report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence tabled in August 2010. Titled Construction of Roads in the Border Areas of the Country, it savagely indicts the "casual attitude" of the Ministry of Defence. One excerpt reads: "It is truly mind-boggling that the Defence Ministry has no data on the roads being made by neighbouring countries in the border areas… Then there is the BRO, which conveniently deflects the question on the slow pace of construction of roads in border areas due to "historical" reasons. Really, did the Government of India actually believe till two years ago… that we should not make roads as near to the border as possible....incomprehensible and inconceivable".  Commenting on the Ministry's two Long Term Perspective Plans (LTTP-I and LTTP-II) for augmenting border roads, the Committee notes, "out of the 277 roads of the length of 13,100 km to be built till 2012, only 29 are complete and work is in progress on 168 other roads. No work has yet started in respect of 80 roads measuring 2,624 Km." The Committee has pulled up the BRO for its inexplicable "sense of complacency".  It is tragic that the visionary letter that then Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel, wrote to Nehru on November 7, 1950 is, 60 years later, an eloquent strategic statement which has not been acted upon. Patel had cautioned Nehru with prescience that a long-term view was needed for "improvement of our communication, road, rail, air and wireless, in border areas and frontier outposts". Nehru never responded, but left as legacy, the incomprehensible ostrich policy of not developing our border areas.  Compare this with the Chinese approach. In 1950, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) entered Tibet with two slogans: "Development", and "Strengthening the Borders". These remain constant even in 2010. China has created and upgraded the entire spectrum of infrastructure in Tibet — from railways to roads, power projects, cities, airports, military and missile bases. With Lhasa connected by rail, the network is being extended to Nepal and to the Indo-Chinese border at Shigatse, north of Chumbi Valley and Tsona, north of Tawang. Pan-Asian rail links to Myanmar, Indo-China and Singapore are also proposed. This Chinese projection of national interest to revive, upgrade and promote Chinese influence, trade and commerce, stabilise unsettled areas as well as project its military muscle is neither unfair nor unwarranted.  Indian strategic thinkers are driven by the fear of Chinese encirclement of India by their "string of pearls" strategy and by the Sino-Pak collusion in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. These developments could, however, also be fallouts of Chinese economic expansion and the need to develop China equitably, but with a military subtext.  India in her national interest has also started looking towards East Asia. Implementation of Sardar Patel's advice has fitfully started, with accretion in military manpower, news of Agni missile sites being reconnoitered and activation and upgradation of airfields at Nyoma, Fukche and Daulat Beg Oldi, besides moving some top line aircraft to Tezpur.  Serious problems however remain unaddressed. Land acquisition, bureaucratic red tape, court cases, lack of cooperation at functional and policy making levels between departments, agencies, statutory bodies, state governments and ministries hold implementation hostage. Progress is also held up by sluggish environmental and forest clearances at the centre and state levels, railway clearances for rail over/under bridges, shifting of utilities - electricity and water pipelines, sewers, telecom cables and law and order problems.  Absence of a firm apex and functional leadership, the near total absence of modern processes, systems, and of performance and maintenance audit of BRO by local field Army commanders also seriously inhibits progress as the BRO is answerable only to its controlling Ministry of Surface Transport and the Ministry of Defence. Another issue is the multiplicity of other construction agencies answering to different ministries. The Government's Special Accelerated Road Development Programme in the North East (SARDP-NE) covering 9,740 kms is under the Ministry of Surface Transport and has 10 executing agencies. The Border Area Development Programme (BADP) under the Ministry of Home Affairs has five executing agencies. Thus, 15 agencies and 10 ministries are involved in border infrastructure leading to chaos and total lack of construction synergy.  The BRO, once the cynosure of all eyes, today has a huge backlog. Apart from its serious road construction slippages, BRO needs 20 years to complete the 36,000 meters of already accepted bridging work. Seriously understaffed and under-equipped, it functions in a technology/management time warp. Forced to resort to "casual labour" to cut costs, devoid of dedicated airlift (the IAF simply can't cope), with only a handful of its officers trained abroad in cutting-edge construction practices, this once world class organisation is not only in serious decline but is operating with its hands tied in archaic procedures and unimaginative financial norms. Mindless bureaucratic resistance to hiring retired Sappers (officers and men) and General Reserve Engineering Force personnel, and, pitiably, undertaking construction activities in Maharashtra and Chattisgarh that have nothing to do with border infrastructure, add to its woes.  What needs to be done is quite clear. An inter-ministerial Border Infrastructure Team (BIT) under the Prime Minister's Office must be urgently set up to implement the infrastructure road map with time bound and fast track sanctions. The Defence ministry should be nominated as the sole ministry dealing with the BRO's functioning, and accountability established through senior field formation commanders. Issues such as getting reputed national and international infrastructure agencies involved in construction, hiring of retired engineer personnel, training key BRO personnel abroad, dedicated airlift, induction of new technology, remote sensing, bringing in drinking water, education, health, power, telecommunications, commerce and connectivity must be part of the holistic vision that will drive the BIT's functioning and accountability.  The writer has served in Sikkim

US Senate ratifies new arms control treaty
Signed with Russia early this year, new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty would reduce the nuclear stock piles of the two countries to 1,500  Washington, December 23 The US Senate ratified the arms control Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia to cut down the countries’ nuclear stockpile, after several Republicans broke ranks with their party to vote in its favour giving US President Barack Obama a major political victory ahead of Christmas. The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty cleared the required threshold of a two-thirds of the Senators present, and the Senate ratified it by an overwhelming vote of 71 to 26.  As many as 13 Republican lawmakers crossed their party lines to join 56 Democrats and two Independents to enable the treaty sail through. The treaty was signed between the US and Russia early this year and the US administration considers it the centrepiece in resetting the relationship between the former Cold War foes and key to national security interest.  Soon after the Senate green light, Obama told a White House news conference that this was the most significant arms control agreement in nearly two decades. “... it will make us safer and reduce our nuclear arsenals along with Russia. With this treaty, our inspectors will also be back on the ground at Russian nuclear bases. So we will be able to trust but verify,” Obama said.  The New START would reduce the nuclear stockpiles of the two countries to 1,500 down from the current ceiling of 2,200, besides establishing a system for monitoring and verification. It will also replace a 1991 treaty and would pave the way for resuming weapons inspections that ended last year with the expiry of the earlier treaty.  “We will continue to advance our relationship with Russia, which is essential to making progress on a host of challenges - from enforcing strong sanctions on Iran to preventing nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists. And this treaty will enhance our leadership to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and seek the peace of a world without them,” Obama said.  The development was also welcomed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov who said the ratification was signal of “efforts to ensure the dynamic development of bilateral relations” between Russia and the US.  Russia is yet to approve the accord that was signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.  The treaty allows the two countries to conduct 18 short-notice, on-site inspections each year, with as many as 10 "Type 1" inspections, which focus on strategic systems, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarines and bombers, and up to eight "Type 2" inspections, which cover storage sites, test ranges and other operations.  On-site inspections, data exchanges on the technical characteristics, locations and distribution of weapons are key components of the treaty.  Once the treaty enters into force, on-site inspections of Russia's strategic nuclear weapons facilities can resume, providing US with an on-the-ground view of Russia's nuclear forces, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. — PTI

Senate approves nuclear arms treaty with Russia
The Senate voted 71-26 in favor of the New START treaty between the former Cold War foes after a contentious debate with Republican leaders that threatened traditional bipartisanship on security affairs.
                    THE SENATE approved a landmark nuclear arms control treaty with Russia on Wednesday, giving President Barack Obama a major foreign policy victory in his drive to improve ties with Moscow and curb the spread of atomic weapons to other nations.  The Senate voted 71-26 in favor of the New START treaty between the former Cold War foes after a contentious debate with Republican leaders that threatened traditional bipartisanship on security affairs.  "This treaty will enhance our leadership to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and seek the peace of a world without them," Obama told a news conference after the vote, praising the bipartisan nature of the final result.  The vote was an endorsement of Obama's efforts to improve relations with Russia and curb the pursuit of nuclear weapons by countries like North Korea and Iran.  Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the process was "a new gold standard for concluding agreements of this kind."  "Not only does the treaty facilitate a strengthening of the security of Russia and the USA but it will also have a positive effect on international stability and security in general," Lavrov told the Interfax news agency.  The Russian parliament has yet to approve the treaty -- signed by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in April -- but the Kremlin-backed United Russia party is dominant, so ratification there is all but assured.  Still, Russian lawmakers will review the terms in the U.S. Senate's resolution of ratification.  "Taking into account the amendments added by senators, we are forced to undertake a deep and thorough analysis of the text ... since we are speaking about the national security of our country," Leonid Slutsky, deputy chair of parliament's international affairs committee, told Interfax.  Senator John Kerry, who led the debate as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the treaty was a message to Iran and North Korea "that the international community remains united to restrain the nuclear ambitions of countries that operate outside the law."  "We send a message that the two countries that possess 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons are fulfilling their obligations to reduce their arsenals in a responsible manner," Kerry said.  The treaty will cut long-range, strategic nuclear weapons deployed by Russia and the United States to no more than 1,550 on each side within seven years. Deployed missile launchers will be cut to no more than 700 on each side. The agreement also creates an inspection and verification process to replace the one that expired nearly a year ago with the end of the original START accord.  The new treaty has wide support in military and diplomatic circles. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said it would make a "significant contribution" to regional security and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was a "clear message" supporting nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.  U.S. CREDIBILITY AT STAKE  Passage of the treaty with support from 13 Republicans was a big victory for Obama just weeks after his Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives and narrowly retained control of the Senate in the November 2 congressional elections.  Republican senators had sought to amend the treaty this week to allow for more inspections, more deployed missiles and to force talks on tactical nuclear weapons. But Democrats, who still control the chamber 58-42 until the new Congress sits in January, easily defeated the amendments.  Kerry said Senate approval was critical for sustaining Obama's credibility with fellow world leaders and supporting his ability to advance the U.S. agenda. Officials in the Obama administration have said passage of the New START treaty was a prerequisite for turning to other arms control issues such as reducing tactical nuclear weapons.  But Jon Kyl, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate and an opponent of New START, said he would fight any effort to revive the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.  "This may be the last arms control agreement for a while," Kyl said. "I think we can get back to focusing on the real issues -- issues of proliferation, terrorism and dealing with threats from countries like North Korea and Iran. "  Arms control experts disagreed, hailing the treaty as a step in the right direction. Steven Pifer, director of the Arms Control Initiative at the Brookings think tank, said failure of the treaty would have undercut Obama on the world stage.  "Virtually all the NATO allies came out and endorsed this treaty," he said. "And had the Obama administration not been able to deliver its ratification, I think that it would have really been a blow to the credibility and authority of the president when he was engaging overseas."  While the treaty will not cause Iran or North Korea to alter their behavior, Pifer said, "it does give the administration a greater authority with other countries to up the pressure on North Korea and Iran."  Daryl Kimball, director of the nonpartisan Arms Control Association, said the treaty "does augur well for the Senate's pursuing further fact-based, adult conversations about nuclear security issues and I'm optimistic about the prospects for building upon this bipartisan consensus."

Won't accept foreign troops on our soil, says Pak
December 24, 2010 03:04 IST Tags: Abdul Basit, Pakistan, NATO, North Waziristan Agency, IAEA Share this Ask Users Write a Comment  Pakistan made it clear that it would not allow US or other foreign troops to conduct operations on its soil, saying such a move would amount to crossing the "red lines" set by the country for cooperating in the war against terrorism.  "We have made our position very clear and the US knows our position and our red lines. We do not expect the US to complicate matters involving counter-terrorism," Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit told a weekly news briefing.  Noting that the mandate of NATO and International Security Assistance Force troops is "restricted to Afghanistan and our security forces are capable of taking action against militants", Basit said: "Given this, we would not accept any foreign troops on our soil."  The spokesman was responding to a question on media reports that the US-led forces in Afghanistan planned to expand their operations across the border to Pakistan. Basit said Pakistan is committed against terrorism and extremism and has been "carrying out operations wherever required".  He added that Pakistan already had troops in North Waziristan and the "scope and timing" of any operation in the region would be determined by "us and us alone". In recent months, the US has stepped up pressure on Pakistan to move troops into North Waziristan Agency, considered a safe haven for Taliban [ Images ] and Al Qaeda [ Images ] elements.  Responding to another question on US reservations about civil nuclear cooperation between China and Pakistan, Basit said this collaboration is for "peaceful purposes and in accordance with our respective international obligations and under IAEA safeguards". "So any reservation or objection to this cooperation is unwarranted," he said.  Accusing the US of adopting "double standards" for civil nuclear cooperation with India [ Images ] and Pakistan, Basit said Islamabad [ Images ] wanted the adoption of a "criteria-based approach rather than creating unhelpful exceptions". © Copyright 2010 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.

India´s CoAS returns    
 The Himalayan Times HIMALAYAN NEWS SERVICE  KATHMANDU: Chief of the Indian Army Staff‚ General VK Singh‚ today returned home with the title of honorary General of the Nepali Army‚ capping a visit that included meetings with Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal and Defence Minister Bidhya Bhandari‚ among others.  The Indian army chief assured Prime Minister Nepal and Defence Minister Bhahdari that New Delhi is ready to resume military assistance‚ including the supply of arms and ammunition‚ blocked since the February 2005 royal takeover‚ if Nepal asks for the same.  According to NA’s Directorate of Public Relations‚ Lieutenant General Toran Janga Bahadur Singh saw off General Singh at the Tribhuvan International Airport.  Leading a six-member delegation‚ the Singh had arrived here on Chief of Army Staff Chhatraman Singh Gurung’s invitation on Monday.

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