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Friday, 24 June 2011

From Today's Papers - 24 Jun 2011





Obama keeps his word US troops to pull out from Afghanistan

As President Barack Obama had promised after taking up the reins of power, he has announced that 10,000 US troops will leave Afghanistan this year, beginning next month. An additional 20,000 troops will be back to the US in 2012. This means that he will try his luck for a second presidential term when nearly 70,000 members of the US armed forces will be there in the Afghan battlefield. The complete withdrawal will have to wait till 2014. Will the US voters accept this? There is a strong feeling among the US public that the pullout of the US forces should be as quick as possible. People do not want the US to remain bogged down in as dangerous a place as Afghanistan, where billions of dollars are being spent without the intended result being in sight — taming of the Taliban.  The US has encouraged President Hamid Karzai to hold negotiations with what are being described as the "good" Taliban for their induction in the Afghanistan government. The idea is that it is better to win over those Taliban factions who agree to lay down their arms. Achieving military victory over them is just not possible. The efforts to hunt down the key Taliban figures like Mullah Omar will continue, but maintaining law and order will be the task of Afghanistan's own security forces.  If the US public wants the American forces to be flown back home, the Afghans too will be happy with this development. But will the US really leave Afghanistan to its own fate? This is unthinkable at this stage. The US has made a huge investment in terms of money and human capital to achieve its objectives in the Afghanistan-Pakistan area. It is believed that the US presence will remain there for a long time to come so that extremist forces never feel easy in this most dangerous part of the world. However, the US dependence on Pakistan for the purpose is not in the interest of peace and stability in the region. Islamabad can use the opportunity to meddle in the Afghan affairs with the help of pro-Pakistan extremist forces. The cause of peace demands that no third country's involvement should be allowed in Afghanistan after the US troop pullout.








Obama orders withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan n US President says goals achieved n Process to begin this year

Washington, June 23 Claiming that the US had largely achieved its goals in Afghanistan, and acknowledging the financial strain of sustaining the war on terror, US President Barack Obama today ordered withdrawal of his troops from there beginning this year.  US commanders admitted on Thursday that Obama's plan for pullout was "bigger, more aggressive and riskier" but went on to say that the risks were manageable. Analysts criticised Obama for not making any long-term commitment to Afghanistan, without which, they felt, peace would be short-lived. And Taliban spokesmen were quoted in US websites as claiming victory over the "super power". The pullout, one of them said from an undisclosed destination, was the beginning of the end for the US in Afghanistan and signalled the return of the Taliban.  NATO and US commanders in Afghanistan had argued for a more intense engagement across Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, where the 'last and the longest' battles would have to be fought, they reckoned.  He said that America's efforts must also address terrorist safe-havens in Pakistan. "For there should be no doubt that so long as I am President, the United States will never tolerate a safe-haven for those who aim to kill us: they cannot elude us, nor escape the justice they deserve," he added.  The withdrawal will see a first group of 10,000 American soldiers brought home from Afghanistan this year and another 23,000 by the end of September 2012, two months before voters decide whether to give Obama a second term.  In a prime-time address to the nation from the White House, Obama said America was starting the drawdown from a position of strength, asserting that Al-Qaida was under "more pressure" than at any time since 9/11.  "Together with the Pakistanis, we have taken out more than half of Al-Qaida's leadership. And thanks to our intelligence professionals and Special Forces, we killed Osama bin Laden, the only leader that Al-Qaida had ever known," he said in his 13-minute address that sounded like a campaign speech.  "This is the beginning-but not the end-of our effort to wind down this war. We will have to do the hard work of keeping the gains that we have made, while we drawdown our forces and transition responsibility for security to the Afghan government," he said.  "By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security." He said after the initial reduction, American troops will continue coming home at a steady pace as Afghan security forces move into the lead.  "Our mission will change from combat to support. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security," Obama said.  He had sent 30,000 surge troops to Afghanistan in December 2009 plus 3,000 support soldiers in a bid to reverse the Taliban's momentum in the country. Nevertheless, about 68,000 US troops will remain in Afghanistan.  Obama said Al-Qaida's leaders had escaped into Pakistan and were plotting new attacks, while the Taliban had regrouped and gone on the offensive.  "We will work with the Pakistani government to root out the cancer of violent extremism, and we will insist that it keep its commitments," he said. — PTI








10% Armymen have chronic kidney diseases: Study

Vijay Mohan/TNS  Chandigarh, June 23 A study by medical specialists has revealed that about 10 per cent "apparently healthy" Army personnel were found to have symptoms of chronic kidney disorder. Over 37 per cent soldiers have abdominal obesity.  "Although our sample is highly selective and not representative of the Indian population, it does show that the burden of chronic kidney disease even in a low risk healthy population, who are under regular preventive medical surveillance, is much higher than previous estimates," the researchers assert. Since high risk groups and documented cases were excluded from the study, actual prevalence is likely to be much higher even in the Army, they add.  The study conducted by Maj Gen PP Varma, Deputy Commandant, Army Research and Referral Hospital, and three other doctors - Lt Col DK Raman, Lt Col TS Ramakrishnan and Lt Col Pragnya Singh - has been published in a recent issue of the Armed Forces Medical Journal India. Prior to this study, no data existed on the prevalence of chronic kidney disorder in the armed forces.  Observing that changing demographics, increasing affluence and sedentary lifestyles have led to increasing prevalence of non-communicable diseases like heart and kidney problems, the authors have pointed out that chronic kidney disorder (CKD) is associated with significant morbidity, mortality and high-risk for progression to end-stage renal disease, requiring expensive renal replacement therapy. CKD is also the most important independent risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, with such patients being 100 times more vulnerable to cardiac disorders.  According to the study, there are about 300 serving personnel undergoing renal replacement therapy, which costs the army about Rs 4.5 crore per annum. This does not include the cost of other medical expenses, complications, co-morbidities and loss of man hours. The cost of renal replacement therapy forms a significant chunk of the Armed Forces Medical Services' expenditure.  The researchers screened and examined 1,920 personnel, out of which 731 were from the armed forces. Screening included a structured questionnaire and collection of anthropometric data besides a series of laboratory tests. Known or documented cases of renal disorders and certain other diseases were not included in the study.  Given the strength of the Army to be about 12 lakh personnel, findings of the sample group translate into over 1.2 lakh troops being associated with kidney problems. Medical experts say similar situation could prevail in other services as well as paramilitary organisations.  Pointing out that early detection can reduce the risk of CKD progression, the authors have suggested that screening for CKD in the armed forces can be implemented easily by dovetailing it with the current medical examination guidelines. It would also be cost-effective in the long run.








Italian firm favours government route for military sale

PARIS: Seeking to increase its share in the growing Indian defence spending, Finmeccanica, an Italian conglomerate, hopes that Italy could sell military and other equipment to India through the government instead of through the current commercial engagement.  Stressing on the need for exploring the option, the country head of Finmeccanica in India, Paolo Girasole, told a group of Indian trade delegation to the Paris Airshow that this would give Italy the same advantages as those enjoyed by the U.S. and Russia.  There has been criticism over India's decision to purchase military wares from the U.S. through the Foreign Military Sales (government to government) route, which avoids competition.  However, speaking separately to The Hindu, Union Minister of State for Defence M.M. Pallam Raju said the government did not favour the Foreign Military Sales route unless it was absolutely necessary.  Mr. Raju, who led the Indian delegation to the airshow at Le Bourget, said the event helped India clarify a few issues in the ongoing procurement with top representatives of the manufacturers, besides analysing the latest products on display.  Mr. Girasole said Finmeccanica India grossed orders worth €250 million (approximately Rs.1,700 crore) in India between 2005 and 2009, while in 2010, the orders stood at €768 million (approximately Rs.4,000 crore), including the one for 12 AgustaWestland helicopters.  The company, he said, was trying to exploit research and development opportunities with the Defence Research and Development Organisation and was planning to increase its orders which now totalled € 8.5 billion, by adding another €2.5 billion by 2014.  The company has an interest in Eurofighter, which is in the race for the Rs.45,000-crore Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft deal. Through its subsidiary of Alenia Aeronautica, Finmeccanica has a stake in Eurofighter GmbH, which makes Eurofighter. It has formed a joint venture with Tata Sons to assemble the Rotorcraft AW119Ke helicopter in India from December this year. The company collaborates with Bharat Electronics in military ATC radar through Selex Integrati.










China-Vietnam Row On Spratlys In South China Sea: Lessons For India – Analysis

One can see that the intensity of the ongoing competition between China and Vietnam in claiming sovereignty over two disputed South China Sea island chains, the Paracels (Xisha in Chinese, Hoangsa in Vietnamese) and Spratlys (Nansha in Chinese, Truongsa in Vietnamese) is growing day by day. Beijing claims a vast sea area stretching from Hainan, its southern most province as belonging to it historically, whereas Hanoi argues that the two chains are Vietnamese territory since 17th century. As per known data, China has presence now in 9 locations in Spratlys, while Vietnam has in 29. Other regional powers are also involved in the dispute – the Philippines says that the two chains are its territories on the basis of their geographical proximity to it; Malaysia and Brunei view that the territories fall under their respective Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) as defined by the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea.  For all the claimants, the strategic importance of the South China Sea region has increased as current estimates confirm vast reserves of natural resources there – about 25 million metric tones of crude oil and approximately 25 trillion cubic meters of natural gas. The region is also home to important shipping lanes.  As Chinese analysts see, to defend its strategic interests in South China Sea, China may have to deal with, what they consider as, two 'unfavourable' factors – firstly, China has actual control over only a small number of disputed islands and lacks channels that give connection to the ocean and secondly, the country has 'no formidable' Navy to protect its maritime interests. For them, the remedy may lie in China's ability to transform itself 'from a continental power to maritime power' (Gong Jianhua, China Daily, 8 June 2011). Given such assessment, China may think that more time is needed to turn its naval power conditions in its favour and prefer to wait before taking any assertive action on the islands issue; Finding a final solution to the issue may thus take a long time. In the meanwhile, South China Sea is expected to continue as a regional flash point.  China-Vietnam clashes over Paracels and Spratlys are not new. In 1974, the two fought in Paracels and China then captured territories there. Since China launched a war against Vietnam in 1979 to "teach Vietnam a lesson", occasional conflicts between them have taken place, notable among them having been the fighting in 1988 over Johnson Reef in Spratlys, which resulted in loss of Vietnamese Navy personnel. The nineties saw no major confrontation between the two nations, with China in that period opting more for a political approach towards the islands issue; the then Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng proposed in 1990 that the territorial issue may be put aside, to enable the two sides to indulge in 'common development' and two years later, China passed its "Law on Territorial Waters and Adjacent Areas" which reiterated its claim over Paracels and Spratlys. Beijing's signing of "Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in South China Sea" in 2002 was a major Chinese diplomatic move with respect to South China Sea issue. However minor clashes still occurred; in April and July 2007, Chinese patrol boats captured some Vietnamese fishermen and boats operating close to Spratlys.  The latest incident in Spratlys took place on 26 May 2011, when a Chinese fishing boat, escorted by two Chinese patrol vessels, rammed into and disabled the cables of a Vietnamese seismic survey ship owned by 'Petro Vietnam'. Hanoi called the act constituting a 'deliberate' Chinese violation of Vietnam's territorial sovereignty and diplomatically protested to Beijing. China, on its part, alleged that the Vietnamese ship was illegally exploring in the area of its jurisdiction and explained that the ship's cable was cut in the 'turmoil' that resulted from the chasing of Chinese vessels by Vietnamese ships. Following the incident, anti-China demonstrations took place in Hanoi, albeit with the tacit permission by the Vietnamese authorities.  The holding of "Live Fire Drills" by both Vietnam and China involving their respective civilian coastal security units and also military forces, in the period immediately following the 26 May 2011 incident, was the most serious incident to happen since 1988. It raised the possibilities of escalation of the conflict into a war-like situation. The venue for Vietnam's drills (13 June 2011), which took place with Hanoi's prior-publicity for the first time, was Hon Ong Island, 40 kms off its central coast, 250 kms away from Paracels and 1000 kms away from Spratlys. Hanoi described the drills as 'routine annual training activity". The drills were close to land territory and no anti- ship missiles were fired. Thus, Vietnam appeared to have acted with some degree of caution, possibly with intention not to jeopardize the otherwise positive climate prevailing in its political ties with China.  China chose to respond quickly and rather aggressively. It sent the country's maritime surveillance forces, responsible for 'defending islands and meeting any crises' to the vicinity of Spratlys for conducting a 3- day long "live fire drills." Taking part in the excercise, which began on 17 June 2011, were 14 Chinese patrol boats, landing craft, submarine-hunting boats and two Chinese fighter aircraft, along with 'naval forces'. (Chinese TV broadcast, 17 June 2011). Further demonstrating its resolve to protect the country's maritime interests, China, through a statement of the Defence Ministry (Beijing, 9 June 2011), disclosed that the country's Navy would hold 'training drills' in late June 2011 in the waters of West Pacific.  No doubt, both held drills, but China's exercise, by its scale and timing, definitely appears to be a bigger show of strength against Vietnam. Beijing, at the same time, in an effort taken prior to its exercise with the apparent aim of preventing a loss of image internationally, made an official statement containing seemingly benign inputs (Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Beijing, 14 June 2011). It blamed Vietnam for provocation, but at the same time pledged that China "will not resort to use or threat of force" in South China Sea disputes. Stating that China was willing to hold direct negotiations with other nations making territorial claims within the framework of the Code of Conduct agreed in 2002, it indirectly warned the US by urging "nations not directly involved in the maritime disputes to respect all efforts towards solving the issue peacefully". A Liberation Army Daily commentary (14 June 2011) was more forthright in opposing 'internationalization' of the issue and asking for China-Vietnam 'direct negotiations'.  The following four compelling reasons can be traced with respect to China's show of force against Vietnam this year – (i) 70% increase in Vietnam's Defence Budget, presented in January 2011, reaching up to US$ 2.6 billion, (ii) signs of Hanoi's preparedness for a war with China , as evidenced in its Decree issued on 13 June 2011 specifying the category of citizens that would be exempt from military service at times of war, (iii) challenge posed by Vietnam's renewed activism in exploring oil and gas in the disputed area, as a follow up to Petro Vietnam's signing last year of contracts with international oil firms like ExxonMobil and BP and (iv) increase in the level of attempts by Vietnam and the US to 'internationalize' the South China Sea issue.  On the last mentioned, notable are the statements of US Secretary of State Clinton, made in July 2010, that Washington considers South China Sea as strategically important and supports 'freedom of navigation' there, and her offer of US mediation to resolve the issue through a 'multilateral approach'. On its part, Vietnam (through foreign ministry statement of 14 June 2011) wanted 'international involvement' to keep peace in South China Sea, signaling its welcome to the US involvement. Also, the "US- Vietnam Political, Security and Defence Dialogue" (Washington, 17 June 2011) saw both nations coordinating their positions on South China Sea issue; they described the area as one of "common interest to international community".  China-Vietnam political and economic ties witnessed a visible improvement in recent years. The two sides have been able to solve the boundary issue through signing a land border treaty in 2008 and increase the two-way trade to US$ 27 billion in 2010. During the visit to China of a special envoy of Vietnam Communist Party General Secretary Nguen Phu Truong in February 2011, a decision was taken on exchanges of official visits by Truong and his Chinese Communist Party counterpart Hu Jintao. China's Vice-Chairman of Central Military Commission, Guo Boxiung, has visited Vietnam and the defence ministers of China and Vietnam have vowed for speeding up military exchanges during their interaction at this year's Shangrila Dialogue (Singapore, early June 2011). As late as 10 June 2011, senior political advisers of the two nations discussed matters on bilateral cooperation at Beijing.  Question arises – why then China clashed with Vietnam now? The answer is simple – Beijing utilized the clash to reassert its claims over Spratlys. In broader terms, the 'reassertion' at this juncture is very much linked to China's current 'core interests' concept, which disallows compromise and even permits use of force while addressing all sovereignty related issues including the South China Sea. In fact, the concept has now come to override every other Chinese diplomatic principle governing territorial issues. (It does not matter whether or not Beijing has ever formally defined the South China Sea as an area of "core interest"; a debate still exists on this count).  What lesson India can learn from the latest China-Vietnam clash? Firstly, India should realize that the 'core interests' concept which China uses against Vietnam, can also influence Beijing's policy behaviour with respect to the Sino-Indian border issue( though not so far included by China in the 'core interests' list). Next, India should take note of the contradiction between China's "not to use force" declaration with respect to settlement of South China Sea disputes and its ground level actions of confronting Vietnamese boats and carrying out a Navy-involved exercise to warn Vietnam. The contradiction was also visible in the case of China's approach towards Japan on Senkakus issue. Not long time back, Beijing bullied Tokyo on the issue. Can China, which in theory stands for a peaceful dialogue on the Sino-Indian boundary issue, indulge in limited, but offensive border actions against India in practice at any point of time from now? New Delhi should ponder over this question especially with reference to the "Chinese intrusions" into Indian border being frequently noticed.  Next, China is applying the 'diplomatic' formula of "shelving the disputes and seeking common development" to its stand on territorial issues with Vietnam. This line may turn into an aggressive one, as and when China becomes a 'maritime' power, leaving no necessity for 'shelving.' In the case of India also, Beijing is in favor of 'shelving' the 'difficult' border issue and improving ties in other areas. Will China gain assertiveness on territorial issues with India once its defence modernization programme is complete, say by the middle of the century as being projected? India should deeply examine this aspect too.  As next point, the US factor has emerged as an irritant in China's dealing with the islands issue with Vietnam. There is a parallel case with respect to India with Chinese opinions doubting Washington-New Delhi collusion to strategically 'encircle' China. New Delhi should therefore handle the US-China-India triangular relations with finesse.  Last, but not least, New Delhi should look closely at the implications of China's aim to become a "maritime power" for the situation in the Indian Ocean, a region of strategic importance to India.  (The writer, D.S.Rajan, is Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies, Chennai, India.








Indian official: Pakistani leaders knew of bin Laden's whereabouts

A prominent Indian opposition leader said Thursday that senior Pakistani leaders must have known of Osama bin Laden's whereabouts before the U.S. Navy SEAL operation last month that killed the al Qaeda leader in a military town outside Islamabad.  Arun Jaitley, who leads the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India's upper house of parliament, told The Washington Times that the terrorist mastermind's extended stay in Abottabod — the Pakistani equivalent of West Point — suggested that he had not only a local support system but also the blessing of national leaders.  "The fact that he's in a garrison town in Pakistan so close to the capital itself obviously can't be without the knowledge and acquiescence of some relevant people in the establishment," Mr. Jaitley said.  The BJP leader declined to name particular officials and said he was not aware "whether some knew or all knew." But he mocked "the whole defense that is not complicity, it is incompetence."  "I don't buy it," he said of Pakistan's insistence that its senior leaders were not aware of bin Laden's presence in their country before the SEALs' May 2 raid.  While statements like Mr. Jaitley's have been legion in Congress, Obama administration officials have been more cautious, stressing the need for Pakistan to conduct a credible investigation.  Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates last month said he had seen "no evidence at all that the senior leadership knew" of bin Laden's whereabouts and "some evidence to the contrary."  Pakistan last week detained more than 30 people, including five CIA informants, for questioning as part of its bin Laden probe. Islamabad has denied that bin Laden received state support but has acknowledged that rogue elements within its intelligence service could have helped him.  India has long accused its western neighbor of aiding and abetting Islamic extremists, particularly those that have targeted India itself, like the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).  Mr. Jaitley repeated the Indian government's allegation that LeT's 2008 attacks in Mumbai, which killed 166, received the direct support of the Pakistan's intelligence service.  "The distinction between the state and the non-state players is getting gradually obliterated," he said.  Mr. Jaitley said that he had cautioned wariness on Pakistan in his meetings with U.S. policymakers and opinion leaders.  "They seem to be suggesting that the only course open to them is engagement," he said. "I've been suggesting to them that if they've chosen the course of engagement, they should at least be realizing that engagement can bring results only if Pakistan decides on what future course it is to adopt."  "I don't think anybody is sure of the direction Pakistan is going to take," he added. "People are watching the situation with their fingers crossed."







Raise FDI cap in defence sector to 49%, says Assocham

The government should raise the FDI limit in the defence sector to 49% from the current 26%, for enabling indigenisation and access to the latest technology, an industry chamber has said.  "Raising the foreign direct investment (FDI) limit in the defence sector to 49% will enable India to acquire self-reliance in defence production and allow foreign firms a larger share of risks and profits," Assocham Secretary General D S Rawat said. Also, it will give confidence to transfer sensitive technologies to joint ventures in India, he added.  Besides, the chamber asked the government to support setting up of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) for the defence sector, aimed at expanding manufacturing activities in the country thus boosting the exports.  "Incentives may also be given to establishments in such SEZs to boost exports to the neighbouring countries," it said in a suggestion made to the working group on defence and aerospace industry, under the Planning Commission, for the 12th Five-Year Plan (2012-17).  Further, it said, the government may consider an option of providing 25 to 30%reservation to SMEs in defence orders, under the proposed Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Procurement Policy.  To increase focus on research and development (R&D) in the sector, Assocham said, "A dedicated fund of Rs 400 crore should be created to support R&D by the private sector."




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