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Friday, 4 March 2011

From Today's Papers - 04 Mar 2011

Killing field called Pakistan No space for debate, discussion 
The gun culture in Pakistan has claimed the life of another well-known public figure — Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti. The cold-blooded killing of Bhatti, the only Christian minister in Pakistan, was perpetrated in less than two months after Pakistani Punjab’s Governor Salman Taseer fell to his own bodyguard’s bullets in Islamabad. Both were vociferous critics of the controversial blasphemy law, formulated during Gen Zia-ul-Haq’s regime. Both openly sympathised with the incarceration of poor Aasia Bibi on a charge of having violated the dreaded law. They, like many others, wanted the law to be amended so that it could not be misused to punish innocent individuals. The only difference between these two and the others who subscribe to their viewpoint is that they put across their opinion forcefully, little bothering about the threats to their lives from extremists and terrorists. They have lost their lives, yet they are not losers. After all, they have sacrificed their lives for championing a cause dear to them and many others.  Bhatti, who had been receiving threats to his life for a long time, perhaps, believed that even his security guards would not be able to save him when the end were to come. That is why he did not ask his security men to accompany him when he left his house in Islamabad on the fateful Wednesday morning to attend a Cabinet meeting, which he could not. But by sacrificing his life he has given added strength to the movement for amending the blasphemy law. Now the government in Islamabad, which had chosen to keep quiet on the controversial law after Taseer’s assassination, cannot remain unmoved. It has to move forward if Pakistan is to remain a part of the civilized world.  Mere condemnation of Bhatti’s killing will not do. The forces of extremism and terrorism must be told clearly and forcefully that the gun cannot be allowed to decide the fate of a debate or a discussion. The Pakistani Taliban, who have claimed responsibility for Bhatti’s assassination, and the supporters of its extremist ideology must be dealt with ruthlessly so that they cannot gather courage in future to say that “those proposing amendments to the blasphemy law will meet the same fate”.

No military action to free hostages: Antony
Tribune News Service  New Delhi, March 3 India is not planning any military offensive against pirates to free its nationals held captive on board two hijacked merchant vessels off the coast of Somalia in north-eastern Africa.  Defence Minister AK Antony said, “The government is aware of the sensitivity. We are all concerned about the agony of the people.” He, however, said, “There is no military option.” He was talking to reporters after inaugurating an international hydrography seminar organised by the Indian Navy here today.  Somali pirates are holding captive nine Indians among 22 crew members of Iranian merchant vessel MV Sinan since February 12 and another six Indians among 25 sailors on board Egyptian cargo ship MV Suez since August 2 last year.  In the latter case, the pirates have asked for a ransom of $ 2.5 million and threatened to kill Indians if their demand was not met. The Egyptian company has washed its hands off the matter. Families of persons held hostage met External Affairs Minister SM Krishna yesterday. They told him that the sea brigands had stopped giving food and water to the hostages for the past five days.  On the issue of paying ransom to secure release of abducted Indian nationals, Antony said, “That part government is not handling. We are trying to lessen the woes of the relatives of the people who are abducted.” In a way, Antony admitted that piracy in the Gulf of Aden was not under control despite the presence of navies of 18 countries, including India.  Speaking on the occasion, Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma said it was for the government to decide and permit offensive against pirates. The government would have to take into consideration the issue of casualties. “Besides that, there is a concern of jurisdiction on foreign flag vessels. There are certain issues, and many stakeholders,” he said.

Defence land under House panel’s scanner
Vijay Mohan Tribune News Service  Chandigarh, March 3 In the backdrop of a series of alleged scams and other issues pertaining to defence land coming to light in recent times, Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence is examining the management of military cantonments and real estate assets owned by the Ministry of Defence.  The committee’s chairman, Satpal Maharaj, who was here, said that development and upgradation of cantonments has remained stagnant since Independence as the laws related to their management and functioning of cantonment boards are archaic. This has resulted in instances of cantonment residents and officials resorting to underhand means to suit their needs.  There are 62 cantonments in the country, which date back to the British era and have a sizable civilian population co-residing with military establishments. “We are seeking opinions whether residents prefer freehold or lease of existing property in cantonments,” he said. “The money so generated could be used to procure defence new land for defence needs elsewhere,” he added.  Maharaj said the committee would be examining opinions and suggestions of all stake holders in the cantonments, including the military, civilian residents, experts, welfare associations and urban development professionals. These would be included in the committee’s report and would form the basis of its recommendations that would be laid in the Parliament shortly.  Other issues pertaining to defence land also include encroachments by civilians on defence land, violations along peripheries, unauthorised constructions in the safety zones around sensitive areas like ammunition depots, irregularities in grant of no-objection certificates for sale or transfer of defence land and for allowing constructions n the vicinity of defence establishments.  The Sukna land scam in West Bengal, which resulted in disciplinary action against several senior officers, including three lieutenant generals, the Adarsh housing society scam in Mumbai, Kandivali land transfer issue near Pune and the sale of military farm land near Delhi are some of the alleged scams that came to light in the past couple of years.

ITBP mulls change in uniform of female para-medical staff
 Vijay Mohan Tribune News Service  Chandigarh, March 3 Keeping in tune with the contemporary working ethos of medical staff in modern hospitals, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force (ITBP) is considering a change in the working dress for its female para-medical staff to make it more functional and purposeful.  The issue was discussed at the ITBP annual medical officers’ conference held here recently. Sources said that the force’s medical directorate has been asked to submit a detailed report on the proposed changes to the provisioning directorate for approval by the competent authority.  At present, the prescribed attire for female para-medical staff is a khaki-coloured saree or salwar-kameez with dupatta. Para-medical staff includes nurses, nursing assistants, pharmacists and midwives. ITBP officers estimate their strength in the force to be over a thousand personnel and besides hospitals and clinics they are also deployed in field areas and forward locations.  “In most hospitals, including, many government ones, the dress code for female para-medical staff is in the form of a tunic or safari suit type attire and sport shoes, with colour codes for different ranks and streams,” a senior officer said. “Uniforms and dress codes of the female staff in the ITBP also needs redefining,” he added.  Sources said the present attire is not well-suited to service conditions, especially in field areas. There are also functional aspects like lack of pockets for carrying papers, medications or instruments and the need to constantly manage the flapping edges of sarees and dupattas while working in laboratories and wards.  In fact, a few years ago, the army had also changed the uniform of officers in the Military Nursing Service (MNS), which had resulted in considerable controversy within the force. The white tunics and stockings of the MNS were replaced with olive green shirt and trousers as worn by the regular army. This had resulted in opposition from Army Medical Corps officers on the grounds that olive green uniforms gave the impression that nursing officers were doctors. This prompted the Army to re-design MNS uniforms, but nursing officers were up in arms against the new changes over the uniform’s new design. Controversy and debate continued till finally a beige-coloured coat with maroon epaulets and trousers were introduced.

Fishing for trouble in Pak waters 
NDTV Correspondent, Updated: March 04, 2011 02:08 IST Every year hundreds of Indian fishermen get caught illegally entering Pakistani waters. In Porbandar alone, 474 Indian owned fishing boats have been confiscated for encroaching the maritime border since 2003. Each boat can cost up to a lakh and a half rupees.  Fishermen say they have no choice because there are no fish left to catch in the waters off the State's coast.  23-year-old fisherman Vir Abbas has been arrested twice and detained for over 20 months for fishing in Pakistani waters.  "We have to work, be it here or anywhere else. We need to work. We need to earn in order to survive," said Abbas.      Day after day, men like Vir, venture out into the tempting sea filled with riches beyond their wildest dreams, in search of a livelihood for their families, aware that they may not return home to their loved ones and that they could become pawns in the political game of Indo-Pak politics.  "Earlier we could find fish here within 12 hours, we could earn some money but now it is very difficult here. We have to go far away. It is very expensive," said Jignesh, a fisherman from Porbandar.  Gujarat state has branded itself as an attractive destination for foreign investment, but fishermen say instead of reaping the benefits, they are paying a high price.  "There is so much pollution. There are industries all along Gujarat's coastline and they are all dumping their pollutants in the water. All the fish are dying," said Manish Bhai Lodhari, Secretary, Fisherman Boats Association, Porbandar.  But the fishermen are not completely free of blame. The nets they use are so fine that that they indiscriminately catch everything in its path. Even the smallest baby fish that are of no commercial value to the fishermen are carelessly discarded later. Years of such practices have contributed to the over fishing of the Saurashtra coast. This despite the government laws that state that the mesh size of fishing nets should not be longer than 40 mm.  The government has now restricted the registration of new trawlers but, the waters may have been affected beyond repair.

Frankfurt shooter confesses to targeting US armymen 
Associated Press, Updated: March 03, 2011 21:24 IST Frankfurt:  The suspect in the slaying of two US airmen at the Frankfurt airport confessed to targeting members of the American military, a top security official said on Thursday, in a case that German officials are treating as a possible act of Islamic terrorism.  German Federal prosecutors took over the investigation into Wednesday's shooting, which also injured two airmen, one of them critically. They are working together with US authorities.  Hesse state Interior Minister Boris Rhein told reporters in Wiesbaden that the suspect, identified as a 21-year-old ethnic Albanian from Kosovo, was apparently radicalized over the last few weeks and acted alone, the DAPD news agency reported.  "The suspect is accused of killing two US military personnel and seriously injuring two others," Federal prosecutors said in a statement. "Given the circumstances, there is a suspicion that the act was motivated by Islamism."      The suspect's family says he worked at Frankfurt airport and was a devout Muslim, but Rhein said he did not belong to a wider terrorist network or cell. He was taken into custody immediately after the shooting and is to appear later Thursday in Federal court.  Frankfurt police spokesman Juergen Linker told the DAPD news agency that one airman remained in critical condition after being shot in the head. The other wounded airman was not in life-threatening condition, Linker said. None of the victims have yet been publicly identified, pending notification of next of kin.  The attacker's family in northern Kosovo identified him as Arid Uka, whose family has been living in Germany for 40 years. At his father's home in Frankfurt on Thursday, a man yelled at reporters to "go away," threatening to call police.  Kosovo is mostly Muslim, but its estimated 2 million ethnic Albanians are strongly pro-American due to the US' leading role in NATO's 1999 bombing of Serb forces that paved the way for Kosovo to secede from Serbia.  The US Embassy in Kosovo's capital Pristina said in a statement that "the act of a single individual will in no way affect the deep and abiding friendship between our two countries."  The suspect's uncle, Rexhep Uka, said the suspect's grandfather was a religious leader at a mosque in a village near Mitrovica, and that Arid Uka was a devout Muslim himself.  But he said the family was pro-American and was also having a hard time imagining that their nephew was involved.  "I love the Americans because they helped us a lot in times of trouble," he told The Associated Press in Kosovo. "I had an American neighbor and we never had a problem. What happened in Germany is beyond me."  Behxhet Uka, a cousin of the suspect, said he had spoken to the gunman's father in Frankfurt by telephone several times. The family told him that they only knew that their son did not come home from work at the Frankfurt airport on Wednesday.  "We heard about this from the local police, and it was confirmed that this shooter was my first cousin," he said. "I would hope that this is not true, but if it is true, it will be very hard for us here in Kosovo. We could not imagine something like this would happen because Americans are our brothers."  Frankfurt airport spokesman Alfred Schmoeger said he had "no information" about Uka working at the airport, but said it was being checked.  "We have 70,000 people who work here at 500 businesses," he said.  Police said the attacker had an altercation with US military personnel in front of a bus outside the airport's Terminal 2. They said the man started shooting, then boarded the bus briefly and was apprehended by police when he tried to escape.  The airmen were based in Britain, a US Air Force spokesman for the Lakenheath airfield in eastern England said. They were bound to Ramstein Air Base from where they were to have been deployed to support an overseas operation, the US. military said, without elaborating.  The US has some 50,000 troops stationed in Germany. It operates several major facilities in the Frankfurt region, including the Ramstein Air Base, which is often used as a logistical hub for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.  In Washington, President Barack Obama promised to "spare no effort" in investigating the slayings. "I'm saddened and I'm outraged by this attack," he said.

Indo-US Defence Policy Group meeting begins in Washington 
PTI / Thursday, March 3, 2011 21:54 IST The two-day Indo-US Defence Policy Group meeting began in Washington on Thursday to discuss the bilateral ties and review the situation in the region in particular in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Defence secretary Pradeep Kumar led the 9-member Indian delegation, while the US side is led by Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defence for policy affairs.  During the meeting, the two sides would review the defence ties and discuss issues including the situation in the region in particular in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The Indian side is likely to raise the issue of procurement of M-777 ULH from the US through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route for the artillery, which has not inducted a new gun for the last 25 years.  Indian side is also likely to discuss the acquisition of 10 C-17 heavylift transport aircraft and Javeline Missiles from the US through the FMS route.  The American side is expected to push the case of its two fighter aircraft in race for Indian Air Force's 126 multi-role combat aircraft deal.  The meeting between two sides comes ahead of six-day visit of Army Chief General VK Singh starting Monday.  In the last five years, defence relations have been expanding between the two countries under the New Framework for US-India Defence Relations.  The US undertakes the highest number of joint exercises with India amongst all nations that includes the navy-to-navy Malabar and SALVEX, army-to-army Yudhabhyas and aerial 'Cope-India' exercises. 

Army chief to discuss howitzer procurement during US visit 
Aiming to further enhancing defence cooperation, Army Chief General V K Singh will be on a six-day visit to the US starting Monday where he is likely to discuss the acquisition of 145 ultra light howitzers (ULHs).  During the visit from March 7-12, the Army Chief will also be inducted into 'The Hall of Fame' of the US Army War College, Carlisle of which he is an alumunus. He has also done the prestigiuos US Army Rangers' course and still dons the badge on his uniform.  In his meeting with the US military officials, Singh is likely to discuss the procurement of M-777 ULH from the US through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route for the artillery, which has not inducted a new gun for the last 25 years, defence sources said today.  The acquisition process is now under scanner after the trial reports of the howitzer were leaked prompting the Army Headquarters ordered a court of inquiry (CoI) under a Lt General-rank officer. The visit comes two years after former Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor had gone to the US and also witnessed the firing of the same guns in 2009. Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar will also be part of the Indian delegation.  During the visit, the Army chief is expected to discuss the procurement of the Javelin missile system, which again has been offered to India through the FMS route, the sources said.  In the last five years, defence relations have been expanding between the two countries under the New Framework for US-India Defence Relations. The US undertakes the highest number of joint exercises with India amongst all nations that includes the navy-to-navy Malabar and SALVEX, army-to-army Yudhabhyas and aerial 'Cope-India' exercises.  During the visit, the Army chief will visit important US Armed Forces establishments and meet a number of high ranking defence and civilian officials. 

Defence forces to induct 1,000 helicopters by 2020
New Delhi, Mar 3 (PTI) In a massive multi billion dollar acquisition programme, the Indian Armed Forces plan to induct more than 1,000 indigenous and foreign helicopters for attack, transport and utility operations by the end of this decade. The choppers to be inducted into the Army, Navy and Air Force include around 450 light utility, 12 VVIP, over 200 attack, 139 Mi-17 transport and 15 heavy-lift helicopters and over 50 multi-role helicopters for the Navy, Defence Ministry officials told PTI here. Giving details of the various deals, they said the contract to replace and augment the existing Cheetah and Chetak fleets of the Armed Forces is expected to be finalised by the end of this year. "The trials have been completed and after analysing the evaluation report, a vendor would be chosen to supply 197 LUHs to the Army and the Air Force," an official said. Another 187 similar choppers would be produced indigenously by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and its design has already been completed, he said. The Navy is also planning to procure more than 60 twin-engine choppers to replace its vintage Cheetah and Chetak helicopters and has already initiated the acquisition process for the purpose. To strengthen its fleet of Russian Mi-35 and Mi-25 combat helicopters, the IAF is planning to acquire 22 attack helicopters for which Boeing''s Apache 64-D and Russian Mi-28 are the contenders. "Trials for the tender have been completed and the report has been submitted with the Air Headquarters and the deal would be signed in the near future," the official said. The HAL is also developing the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), 200 which will be supplied to both the IAF and the Army to meet their demands. By mid-2011, India will also start inducting 139 Mi-17 helicopters from Russia, which would be inducted in batches within two to three years. The first 80 choppers would augment the present fleet and the remaining will take care of the ones to be phased out in the near future, the officials said. They said the IAF is also in final stages of trials for procuring 15 heavy-lift helicopters to replace the fleet of Russian-origin Mi-26. Russian Mi-26 and the Boeing twin-rotor Chinook 47D are in the race for the tender. The trials to procure 16 Multirole Helicopters (MRF) for the Navy are also expected to begin in April-May this year and American Sikorsky-70B and European NH-90 are the contenders for supplying the choppers, they added.

China to unveil defense budget to nervous region 
:01am EST By Ben Blanchard BEIJING (Reuters) - Japan scrambled fighter jets this week when two Chinese naval planes flew close to disputed islands. Nothing came of the incident, but Tokyo's comments later spoke volumes about its anxiety as Beijing's military might grows. "China's modernization of its military and increased activity is, along with insufficient transparency, a matter of concern," Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Yukio Edano said on Thursday. He was speaking a day before China is expected to unveil its new defense budget which will give a guide to how much it wants to build up a military whose growing reach is already unsettling others in the region. A parliamentary spokesman is likely to announce the 2011 defense budget at a news conference on Friday, ahead of the weekend start of the annual session of the Communist Party-controlled legislature. The budget went up by just 7.5 percent in 2010, or 532.1 billion yuan ($81 billion), after long periods of double-digit increases. Many observers believe the real figure is much higher. China's top military newspaper, the Liberation Army Daily, on Thursday made clear the armed forces continued to see its role as central to China's development. "In its development, China is shouldering unprecedented challenges and massive pressures," it wrote. "To cope with a changeable scene rife with challenges, the forces must possess the capabilities needed for diverse military tasks, to ensure the safety and well-being of the people." Beijing often points out that its defense spending pales in comparison with the United States and that its military upgrades are purely for defensive purposes. The Pentagon last month rolled out a record base budget for fiscal year 2012 of $553 billion, up $22 billion from the level enacted for 2010. The stealth fighters, advanced missile systems and aircraft carriers China has in the works have rattled the region, especially Taiwan, the self-ruled island China claims as its own, as well as Japan and India. "If you have, for example, double-digit increases in spending year after year over 10 to 20 years or more, you are going to have a pretty dramatic increase in capabilities in a relatively short time," said Rory Medcalf, an international security expert at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. "The stealth fighter was a very early test flight; there's no suggestion it is going to be an active capability for many years to come. But that capability will come in time," he added. The United States, the world's only superpower with a military reach that far exceeds China's, is also looking on warily. New Chinese missiles that can take out an aircraft carrier are a particular concern for Washington. ASSERTIVE CHINA U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in January that a U.S. military presence in the Pacific was essential to restrain Chinese assertiveness. China chose his visit to Beijing to announce it had test-flown a stealth fighter. Japan said on Thursday it scrambled military jets after Chinese naval airplanes flew near disputed islands in the East China Sea, though the Chinese did not enter Japan's airspace. Other nations are upgrading their forces in response to China. India increased annual defense spending by about 11.6 percent this week and is shopping for advanced fighter jets, transport aircraft, surveillance helicopters and submarines. "Even Australia nowadays has a new military policy that is aiming at shoring up its naval power in anticipation of potential difficulties with China," said Jonathan Holslag, a fellow at the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies. "What a lot of Asian countries have in common is the rise of China," he added. China's growing military clout has been accompanied by an increasingly assertive tone in Chinese diplomacy. Relations between Asia's biggest economies chilled last year when Japan detained the Chinese skipper of a boat which crashed into its ships near disputed isles in the East China Sea, the site of vast potential gas and oil reserves. China's loud, renewed claims to a vast swathe of waters and mostly uninhabited islets in the South China Sea, along with the expansion of its military presence there, likewise rattled Southeast Asian nations in 2010. "Certainly China's behavior is being watched more and more closely. In the last half of last year many regional countries had reason to express caution and hesitation about some of China's actions," Geoff Raby, Australia's ambassador in Beijing, told the Foreign Correspondents Club of China.

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