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Thursday, 19 May 2011

From Today's Papers - 19 May 2011

Mishap at Visakhapatnam naval dockyard, four killed
Visakhapatnam:  Four Navy personnel, including two officers, were killed when a docking gate collapsed at the Visakhapatnam Naval Dockyard here today, officials said.  The docking gate, which was meant to take sea water into the dry dock collapsed during routine operations at around 10 am today, resulting in the death of two officers and two sailors.  The deceased identified as Commander Ashwini Kumar (47), Lt Commander Ranbir Ranjan (30) and Master Chief Madhu Babu (31) died on the spot, while another sailor (working in Separate-III post), Rajesh (30), succumbed to his injuries in the evening, Navy officials in Visakhapatnam said.  A release from the Indian Navy said the cause of the accident and other details are being ascertained and a Board of Inquiry has been ordered to probe the cause and circumstances leading to the accident.  
"The Indian Navy regrets to inform the occurrence of an accident at the Naval Dockyard Visakhapatnam due to collapse of a docking gate during routine operations that was being undertaken today," the release said.  "While the cause of the accident and other details are being ascertained, we can confirm two officers and two sailors lost their lives in the incident," it said.  

Attack Choppers to Add Teeth to Indian Army's Strike Corps
New Delhi, May 18 (IANS) With the rapid evolution of battlefield concepts, the Indian Army is preparing to shore up its aviation wing with attack and tactical-lift capabilities to increase the punch of its three potent strike corps, a concept fine-tuned during a just-concluded war game in the Rajasthan desert close to the Pakistan border, defence analysts say.    With the strike corps tasked to slice through the enemy's defences, the helicopters will supplement this by the quick insertion of fully-armed soldiers and their heavy weaponry, as also provide close air support to the troops and the armoured elements, a senior officer of the army's Ambala-based 2 Kharga Corps explained.  It was this transformational doctrine that was validated during the month-long exercise Vijayee Bhava (Be Victorious), even though the army does not operate any attack helicopters in its aviation wing at present and has to depend on the Indian Air Force (IAF) for them, the officer added.  "The strike corps trains for rapid mobilisation and resolute application. Mechanised (battle tanks and armoured personnel carriers) manoeuvres are the essence of offensive operations. In the future battlefield, air assets will play a decisive role. With the exponential increase in the air assets with the army and the air force, these will be employed in an integrated manner to gain a decisive edge in combat. This is the first time we have used the combat air assets in such an exercise," the officer told IANS, but speaking strictly on condition of anonymity as he was not supposed to speak to the media directly.  As per the army's plans for its aviation wing -- mooted in 2007 and to be implemented over a 15-year period ending 2022 -- the three strike corps would be beefed up with an aviation brigade comprising two squadrons of 12 attack helicopters each, apart from two squadrons with 15 choppers each for tactical battle reconnaissance and casualty evacuation, top army sources said.  Apart from the 1, 2 and 21 strike Corps, the army will also provide aviation brigades to each of its 10 pivot or defensive corps, but these would essentially be in the nature of tactical lift capabilities, with some offensive elements.  At present, the army relies on two squadrons of Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters and Mi-17 medium-lift choppers of the IAF for testing its transformational concepts.  Defence ministry officials, when asked about the army's aviation plans, said the IAF would continue to play a "strategic" role while the army would acquire its air assets for a "tactical" role.  The army, obviously, wants to have "full command and control" over the "tactical" operations of air assets so that it could meet its rapid deployment needs and for combat air support.  The army is already looking at procuring 114 of the indigenously-developed light combat helicopter (LCH), which took to the skies for the first time in March 2010, and 64 of which IAF is buying.  This apart, the army is in the process of acquiring 133 light utility helicopters for $1.9 billion, along with the IAF's 64 for $960 million, as part of a 197-chopper deal for which Eurocopter's AS550-C3 Fennec and Russia's Kamov Ka-226 are in the race. These would replace the 150 Cheetah and Chetak helicopters of 1970s vintage in the army aviation fleet which are extensively used for transportation in high-altitude areas, including the Siachen Glacier.

Army calls off plan to close road after residents protest
CHENNAI: After a five-hour stand-off on Wednesday morning, army officials temporarily called off their plan to close Ramar Koil Street, entry point to an open plot of Defence land, in Nandambakkam for traffic. Local residents had threatened to block Mount-Poonamalle Main Road, a state highway, if the army officials went ahead with their plan. Kancheepuram collector Ashish Chatterjee also spoke to the senior army officials.  Around 9.30am, officials led by Brigadier Avatar Singh and Colonel L Sekar, defence estate officer for defence lands in the state, landed there. They began erecting steel poles across the street to prevent its misuse through dumping of garbage when the trouble started.  Soon, local residents, revenue officials, including Tambaram RDO K Sowrirajan, and the suburban police gathered there. They were taken aback by the the way the army had come prepared with arms and truck full of personnel for the task. For, it was only on Tuesday evening that a peace committee comprising army officials, revenue officials, suburban police and local residents decided that revenue officials would verify land records before trying to resolve the issue. But the army officials decided to act. On their part, the residents threatened to block Mount-Poonamalle Road, connecting the city with the western suburbs, unless the plan was withdrawn. A huge contingent of the suburban police led by deputy commissioner G Ramar was present to ensure that things did not go out of hand.  Army officials claimed it was their land and that they could do anything to safeguard it. "We are here to stop misuse. It's our land, we can do it at any time at our convenience," a senior army official told The Times Of India. The residents, however, wanted the Army to find an alternative to end garbage dumping instead of closing the road to traffic. "We have used this route for generations. During the annual car festivals of two ancient temples here, the cars are brought through this route. How we can change our tradition?" said V Dillibabu of Nandambakkam.  It was after collector Chatterjee spoke to the army officials that they relented and decided to hold a meeting on the issue before proceeding further. In the meantime, a few other army officials closed two other entry points to the road.  Ramar Koil Street, part of which is owned by the defence ministry, is an entry point to the pathway on open defence land. The pathway, over the years had been used by residents in interior areas to reach Mount-Poonamalle Road and GST Road. Then it began to be used as a dump yard by some local bodies, incensing the army officials..

‘Adarsh plot did not exist till 1960s’
Brigadier Deepak Saxena, being cross-examined before the two-member Adarsh commission, admitted that the 1957 Survey of India map of military lands, Colaba, did not show “the existence or demarcation of the land in question”. He was referring to the plot on which the controversial Adarsh housing so ciety stands.  The statement could subvert the Army’s claims that the Adarsh plot had been in its possession since the colonial period. Saxena, however, immediately retracted the statement saying, “The map now shows the existence of the land in question.”  The counsel representing the state government and the counsel representing Adarsh society on Monday continued its cross-examination of Brigadier Deepak Saxena, over the plot of the society, claiming that it was under the sea until the 1960s and the area was reclaimed much later by the state. The Army’s stand has been that the concerned land had been handed over to the defence by the British. The Brigadier said the plot came to the Ministry of Defence in the 18th century and was being used by the military.  The state government contested this claim by showing city survey maps from 1914 onwards that show the land in question under the sea and reclaimed much later in the ’60s.  When quizzed by the state counsel, senior advocate Anil Sakhare, Saxena denied that in 1937 the land in question was under water. He, however, again admitted that the military did not have any record of this land. And, it also did not have documentary evidence to show for what purpose the land was being used.  However, later when being quizzed by the counsel for the society, advocate Satish Maneshinde, on the 1957 India Survey map, Saxena admitted that the Captain Prakash Pethe Road (on which the Adarsh plot currently stands) was constructed in 1966-67. He also admitted that in 1958 Block VI (which includes Adarsh plot) was not reclaimed.

Experts offer road map for Pakistan stability
Pakistan should rein in the military's political and economic dominance, take steps to end the rivalry with India and curb militancy within its own borders in order to foster peace and prosperity in South Asia, according to a report released Wednesday.  The report said Pakistan is not a failed or even a failing state, but, it has stumbled from one crisis to another in recent years and faces serious challenges including terrorism, religious extremism, underdevelopment and chronic political instability.  Written by Columbia University Professor Hassan Abbas, who served in the administrations of Prime minister Benazir Bhutto and President Pervez Musharraf _ with input from 30 other experts from the U.S. and Pakistan _ the report warns that internal security problems, weaknesses in government, and "Pakistan's perennial identity crisis also have risen to dangerous levels."  The report, entitled "Pakistan 2020," lays out a road map to tackle the country's challenges in the next decade with the goal of establishing stability, a sustainable democracy, and a better life for the country's 180 million people whose poverty and illiteracy rates are among the highest in the region.  "Without the urgent adoption of both remedial and revolutionary measures, Pakistan's future challenges will only become more serious over time," the report warns.  The experts said one of the most important challenges facing Pakistan "is the military's dominance of the country's fiscal priorities" and consumption of the lion's share of state resources, and its dominance of the country's strategic outlook which continues to focus on its fear of India's regional domination.  Internally, the report said Pakistan faces a significant rise in terrorist activity as well as threats from criminal networks, groups devoted to sectarian violence and extremist political groups.  The report called for police reforms, law enforcement "de-radicalization programs," as well as military force, to reduce religious militancy and confront the multiple insurgent and terrorist groups operation in the country.  It warned that Pakistan is unlikely to meet the optimistic scenario of 5 percent annual economic growth in the next 10 years "without a sustainable peace deal with India that includes an amicable resolution of the Kashmir dispute."  To improve relations with India, the report called for increasing annual bilateral trade to more than $5 billion by 2020, reforming the visa process, and enhancing energy cooperation. India and Pakistan should also put a moratorium on expanding their nuclear weapons programs and agree on a set number of weapons and on spending limits, it said.  The report said Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and other external powers must also cooperate in fighting terrorism, which is not confined to a single country. It calls for civilian law enforcement agencies from South Asia to develop ways to ensure such cooperation.  "It will be Pakistan's ability to tame militancy within its borders and its success in contributing to a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan, along with an eagerness in India and Pakistan to resolve their mutual differences, that will bring peace and prosperity to South Asia," the report said.  Asia Society President Vishakha Desai stressed that as the world's sixth most populous country, the second-largest predominantly Muslim state, and a nation with a nuclear arsenal that shares borders with India, China, Iran and Afghanistan, "Pakistan's future is of vital importance, both regionally and globally."  She noted in the forward that the report went to print as news broke that U.S. military forces killed al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden at a house near a military academy in Abbottabad, Pakistan without informing the Pakistani government, sparking "an extremely difficult moment in their bilateral relationship."  Desai said all the experts _ from the military, government, academia and civil society _ broadly support the report's recommendations though some may disagree with parts. The experts include retired Pakistani Lt. Gen. Asad Durrani, a former director general of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence; Asma Jahangir, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan; retired Pakistani Gen. Jehangir Karamat, a former army chief; Ambassador John Negroponte, a former U.S. director of national intelligence and deputy secretary of state; and Ambassador Frank Wisner, a former U.S. under secretary of defense.

Pak army will hold on to India policy
Pakistan's military has gone on the offensive in a bid to retain its control over the country's intelligence gathering apparatus and over foreign policy following the American raid in Abbottabad. General Kayani told a select group of journalists at a briefing in Rawalpindi this week that the army ha d no intention of giving up either control of the intelligence agencies or the country's foreign policy, especially with regards to India, the US and Afghanistan.  But Pakistan's civilian politicians say they are not willing to let the generals off the hook so easily. "There must be a paradigm shift. The control of the intelligence agencies must be in the hands of the elected government and not any other power," opposition politician Mian Nawaz Sharif said in a gathering at Hyderabad on Tuesday.  Following the American raid, local politicians are incensed over the fact that they have to share the blame over a supposed intelligence failure that led to bin Laden living in an Abbottabad suburb for over five years and the failure of Pakistan's defence forces to detect the entry of American helicopters into Pakistani territory.  Earlier this week, politicians booed the ISI chief, General Shuja Pasha, who appeared before the parliament for an in-camera briefing on the Abbottabad incident. Sharif and others have called for a judicial commission to investigate the intelligence failure. "We want judges not Generals investigating the matter," he said.  Kayani, in his briefing, said that the army needs to consider its option and that there needs to be more balance between foreign policy and public opinion. This translates into a less pro-US policy, he said but added that the country could not afford bad relations with the US.  It may be significant to note that Senator Kerry first met Kayani in his recent visit to Pakistan before meeting the PM and President. In his briefing Kayani said that the nature of relations will change with the US, but the cooperation would remain. He once again blamed the political government for allowing hundreds of US personnel into the country without proper verification.  As Kayani spoke, small groups of men and women appeared in streets of cities all over Pakistan with pro-military banners. They chanted slogans in favour of the army and the generals. This has not gone down well with either the government or the opposition. It is possible, say analysts, that the parliament in its session will move to clip the military's unquestioned powers. "This is the real battle for Pakistan and we are all waiting for it to happen," said one analyst.  Supreme Court Bar Association president Asma Jahangir said that it is sad that in a country like Pakistan, no one knows who the intelligence agencies are reporting to. "This has to change," she commented.

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