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Thursday, 8 September 2011

From Today's Papers - 08 Sep 2011





Pakistan, Xinjiang and China Looking beyond extremism

by D. Suba Chandran  During the last one month there were two high-profile visits from Pakistan to China; the first one in the middle of August by new Foreign Minister of Pakistan Hina Rabbani Khar and the second by President Asif Zardari. Are these visits part of the regular rhetoric — “all-weather friendship” — or linked to the violence in Xinjiang in July after which the local government in China accused Pakistan?  Clearly, there is a strong component of fire-fighting from Pakistan’s side, especially after the government in Xinjiang accused Pakistan of not preventing Uighur radicals from using Pakistan’s soil, if not aiding them. The fact that Zardari visited Xinjiang on the occasion of Eid along with a high-profile team, and met various officials of the government of Xinjiang speaks for itself.  First, a geo-strategic look at Xinjiang will reveal the importance of China’s western-most province; the province shares legal borders with Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. Xinjiang’s border with Pakistan is actually shared by Gilgit-Baltistan, and also a small border with the Aksai Chin. Xinjiang is China’s gateway to the rest of Central Asia and Europe. All the gas pipelines and the proposed trans-Asian railways have to cut across Xinjiang. Historically, Xinjiang was the centre of multiple Silk Routes, which crisscrossed the vast deserts and oasis cities of this historical province.  Second, a short note on what actually happened in Xinjiang before analysing the role of “Islamic terrorists”. For the last many years, there has been unrest within Xinjiang, but this issue is not monolithic. There are serious divides and multiple fault-lines within Xinjiang on social, economic and radical lines. The primary problem in Xinjiang is ethnic; the Uighurs who form the majority in Xinjiang claim that historically they were never a part of the Chinese kingdom. The fact that Xinjiang means “new frontier” and the Chinese dynasties have many “Xinjiangs” underline the Uighurs’ efforts to delink from the rest of China on a historical basis.  However, more than the historical question — whether Xinjiang belongs to China or not — the primary issue today is ethnic. According to the latest census, the Uighurs are 45 per cent, followed by the Hans who form 40 per cent of the population. The Mongols, Kazaks, Kirghiz and the Huis are the other substantial ethnic groups having more than 1 per cent strength each. More importantly for the Uighurs, from a political perspective, their ethnic origin plays an important role — they are of Turkic origin. What really hurts the Uighurs is their treatment by the rest of China in matters of culture, religion and language. The Uighurs complain against the state of China for mistreating them, affecting their future. They also complain against the rest of Chinese society for treating them as second class citizens. In any given ethnic situation, some perceptions are genuine and the rest perceived. Whether genuine or perceived, there are serious grievances among the Uighurs against the Chinese state, primarily relating to the ethnic question.  Third, and more importantly, in recent years, China has been attempting to develop Xinjiang as a gateway to the Western world; as a part of this objective, there have been efforts to create special economic zones and build cities of international standards. This strategy has resulted in two serious economic imbalances: first, as is happening in the rest of China, there is a rural-urban migration factor. For example, Kashgar today attracts a substantial number of migrants from rural Xinjiang. Second, economic investments in Xinjiang have also attracted substantial Han migration from the rest of China into this region. The Uighurs, like the Tibetans, complain that this Han migration into their region is a deliberate strategy of the Chinese government to change the ethnic composition of their homeland.  The influence of Uighur Muslim radical groups and the Pakistan connection should be seen against the above backdrop. While there are serious grievances being nursed by the Uighurs, these have remained primarily ethnic and political. During the last two decades, a section within the Uighurs has been trying to superimpose its religious agenda on them. Today, Uighur society is divided on ethnic and religious lines — whether to project their ethnic identity as a Uighur or their religious identity as a Muslim. Within this religious-ethnic divide, a section is further trying to hijack the religious agenda through a radical onslaught, using violence for the purpose. Thus, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), believed to be having its bases inside Pakistan, is a small organisation trying to impose itself on a larger Uighur cause.  According to media reports, the ETIM was founded in the mid-1990s; its leadership moved from Xinjiang into Afghanistan, when the Taliban and Al-Qaeda attracted all radical groups of the region from Uzbekistan to Pakistan. It was during this time (in the mid-1990s) that Afghanistan became a violent black hole, absorbing all radical groups into it — the ETIM (from Xinjiang), the IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) and multiple radical groups from Pakistan. Whether these groups formed a larger network can only be a conjecture; but what could be ascertained was that these groups got displaced from Afghanistan when the US troops entered the region following 9/11. While the IMU got into FATA, the ETIM moved into Pakistan’s heartland. In terms of strategy, the ETIM’s technique is not new; there are numerous Taliban and Al-Qaeda franchisees within Pakistan attempting the same.  The crucial question today is: how far will Pakistan and China go? For Islamabad, a positive relationship with Beijing is the most important aspect of its foreign policy. With the 2014 deadline of US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan fast approaching, the US-Pakistan relations are likely to undergo transformation. The economic aid and political support from Washington to Pakistan will see transformation; at least that is what Islamabad and GHQ are afraid of. Worse, there is also the fear within Pakistan that the Indo-US strategic partnership, especially the nuclear deal, will enhance India’s nuclear capabilities. At the economic level, from Gwadar to the Sust dry port across the Khunjerab pass, China has made huge investments in Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).  At the border level, what is not fully analysed is the relationship between Xinjiang and PoK especially with the Gilgit-Baltistan entity. Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) share strong economic linkages with Xinjiang. Most of Pakistan’s trade with Xinjiang actually is done through GB. There was a bus service between Gilgit and Kashgar during recent years; local businessmen from GB visit Xinjiang often; given their economic interests and religious background (the majority of the people in GB are Shias), they are unlikely to support any radical hold in Xinjiang.  Clearly, Pakistan needs China more than vice-versa. And unlike the Lashkar-e-Toiba or the Taliban, the ETIM does not fit in with any of Pakistan’s strategic objectives. Therefore, Islamabad is likely to work with China in addressing the ETIM threat emanating from Pakistan. Despite calling the recent violence in Hotan and Xinjiang as “terrorism”, Beijing should know that the threat comes not only from the ETIM but also from its larger ethnic problem, growing rural-urban migration and uneven economic development. Besides, Beijing also needs Pakistan to play a proxy role in South Asia for obvious reasons. Finally, there seems to be a difference in how Beijing and the local officials in Xinjiang see the role of Pakistan; it was the local officials from Xinjiang who complained that the militants were trained in Pakistan.  The unrest in Xinjiang is unlikely to alter Sino-Pak relations; there are larger strategic interests for both China and Pakistan to protect.n  The writer is Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, and Visiting Professor, Pakistan Studies Programme, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.

Govt firm on Army chief's birth date

NEW DELHI: The government is not going to back down in the ugly face-off with the Army over the exact date of birth (DoB) of General V K Singh, who might seek legal recourse now to get the defence ministry to accept his contention of being born on May 10, 1951.  This was pretty much clear from defence minister A K Antony's written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, which held that Gen Singh will have to retire in May 2012.  "Gen Singh's DoB has been maintained as May 10, 1950, at the time of his selection as corps commander in 2006 as well as his subsequent promotions as Army commander in 2008 and Army chief in 2010. Accordingly, he is left with eight months and 23 days of service as on date," said Antony.  "However, a different DoB (May 10, 1951) finds mention in certain documents. Recently, Gen Singh filed a statutory complaint in the matter," added the minister.  This comes just three days after a defiant Army made its first public statement on the age row to virtually reject the MoD order that Gen Singh's year of birth will stand at 1950, as reported by TOI.  The MoD order, on July 22, held the Army's adjutant general branch's move to change Gen Singh's date of birth to `May 10, 1951' was "null and void and non est (non-existent)". This came after Antony himself examined all records as well as the opinion of the law ministry and attorney general.  With competing lobbies working overtime, the Army's chain of succession hangs in balance. As of now, present Eastern Army commander Lt-Gen Bikram Singh is slated to become the next Army chief.  But if Gen V K Singh's year of birth is finally settled at 1951, then Northern Army commander Lt-Gen K T Parnaik will the next chief since the former will continue in office till March 2013. As per rules, a Service chief can serve for three years or up to the age of 62, whichever is earlier.

Antony says Army Chief to retire next year

Breaking his silence on the controversy surrounding the army chief’s age, defence minister AK Antony on Wednesday said that Gen VK Singh would retire next year. This comes on the heels of Singh filing a statutory complaint with Antony against the ministry’s directive in July that he would not be allowed to change his year of birth from 1950 to 1951. Antony told Rajya Sabha that Singh’s date of birth (DoB) was maintained as May 10, 1950, at the time of his selection as corps commander in 2006, army commander in 2008 and army chief in 2010.  “Accordingly, he is left with eight months and 23 days of service as on date. However, a different DoB finds mention in certain documents. Recently, Gen Singh has filed a statutory complaint in the matter,” Antony said in a written reply.  The controversy arose in May 2006 when conflicting DoBs for Singh were detected in the records of the Military Secretary’s branch (1950) and the Adjutant General’s branch (1951).  Singh will have to retire next May on turning 62, going by the DoB ratified by AK Antony, after being cautioned twice by the law ministry that any change in his year of birth would violate army rules and lead to unnecessary litigation.  But if 1951 is taken as Singh’s DoB, he will retire in 2013.  Eastern Army commander Lt Gen Bikram Singh is expected to replace VK Singh if he retires next year. However, the top job will go to Lt Gen KT Parnaik if Singh were to retire in 2013. Four former chief justices and a former solicitor general have backed Singh’s claim that he was born in 1951.


Arjun Goes Gold

September 7, 2011: The Indian Ministry of Defense recently revealed that the new version of its locally built tank, the Arjun Mk 2, would enter service in 2015, and cost $8 million. This would make it the most expensive tank in the world. The improvements over the current Mk 1 make the Mk 2 about as capable as the most current versions of the M-1, Leopard or Merkava. Most importantly, some 90 percent of the Mk 2 components will be made in India. But there’s more to Arjun than that.  It was only last May that the first regiment (battalion) of locally designed and built Arjun tanks entered service with the Indian Army. This came 18 months after competitive tests between the Indian designed Arjun and Russian T-90 tank showed that the Arjun Mk 1 was superior. That resulted in an order for another 124 Arjuns. The Indian Army had been compelled (by pro-Arjun politicians) to conduct field tests between the domestically designed (and largely rejected) Arjun tank, and the Russian T-90 (now considered the army's primary tank). Fourteen of each tank was used, and the results were classified. But journalists had no trouble getting unofficial reports that the Arjun managed to best the T-90 in tests of mobility, endurance and gunnery.  This was unusual because, until then, the Arjun was considered an expensive and embarrassing failure. Development of the Arjun began in the 1980s, and until five years ago, the army had received only five of them, for evaluation purposes. The evaluation did not go well. Originally, the Arjun was to have replaced thousands of Russian tanks, but after so many delays, the army only reluctantly ordered 128 Arjun Mk 1s (for equipping the 140th Armored Brigade). These are still being delivered. The 2010 test results put renewed pressure on the army to buy more Arjuns. Last year’s tests imply that the Arjun has really fixed all the problems it was having with its electronics (mainly the fire control system). But Arjun has also had problems with its engine, and that fact that its size and weight prevents it from being used with current tank transporters.  Meanwhile, two years ago, an Indian factory delivered the first ten (of a thousand) T-90 tanks to the Indian Army. The Russian designed armored vehicles are being built in India under license. Many of the components are Indian made, and some of the electronics are imported from Western suppliers. The Indian made T-90s cost about $3 million each. India has already bought 700 Russian made T-90 tanks, at a cost of $3.5 million each.  Five years ago, India adopted the Russian T-90 as its new main battle tank. By 2020, India will have 2,000 upgraded T-72s, over 1,500 T-90s, and few hundred other tanks (including a few Arjuns). This will be the most powerful armored force in Eurasia, unless China moves ahead with upgrades to its tank force. The border between China and India is high in the Himalayan Mountains, which is not good tank country. India's tank force is mainly for use against Pakistan.  The T-90 is a highly evolved T-72. Originally, the T-90 was done as a fallback design. The T-80 was supposed to be the successor to the T-72. But like the T-62 and T-64 before it, the T-80 didn't quite work out as planned. So the T-72, with a much improved turret and all manner of gadgets, was trotted out as the T-90. Weighting 47 tons, it's 9.6 meters (31 feet) long, 3.77 meters (12.4 feet wide) and 2.27 meters (7.5 feet) high. Same package, better contents. And with well-trained crews, it can be deadly. The Arjun is a larger vehicle (59 tons, 11.25 meters /34.9 feet long and 4.1 meters/12.7 feet wide).

Kashmir politicians and the army milking government: US cable   Read more at:

Kashmiri leaders own palatial houses, flaunt expensive accessories and lead flashy lifestyles, particularly the Abdullahs, Omar and Farooq.  All this is thanks to the huge amount of money being pumped into the state by the Union government to contain the insurgency and by New Delhi's adversaries to keep the conflict going.  In a cable titled, 'Show me the money', US diplomats say Indian and Pakistani money have made all Kashmiri political leaders dependent on handouts and changed the way they live. As the money flows freely, all the stake holders in the conflict have developed a vested interest in the problem continuing, according to the diplomats.  "Omar and Farooq Abdullah, descendants of the Sheikh who first figured out Delhi's money game, live in fabulous houses in Srinagar and Delhi, wear matching Panerai watches, serve Blue Label to the guests and travel all over the world first class courtesy of the Indian government," the cable reads.  "Mirwaiz (Umer Farooq) is alleged to have real estate in Dubai courtesy of Pakistan. The state administration gets rivers of money for development but the streets in J& K are appalling, even by Indian standards," says the cable.  The US has also not spared the army for milking the conflict. "Army officers, we have heard, allegedly bribe their superiors for postings to J& K to get their hands on the logistics contacts and 'hearts and minds' money," the cable reads.  The US diplomats feel Kashmiri politics is nothing but a money game. "Sajjad (Lone) lamented that the conflict remained lucrative to many, and he is right. CPM legislator Tarigami also told us too many people have a stake in the conflict's perpetuation."  In a cable dated August 1, 2005, 'India now holds all the cards, but will it pay them', it quotes A. Y. Khan, who has been introduced as a prominent banker to explain the flow of money in the state.  "A.Y. explained to us that as people hunkered down for the long years of violence, they sent their sons and daughters to schools in every part of India, opened shops and businesses in Himachal, Delhi, Rajasthan, Bangalore, and Punjab, and, ironically, prospered mightily."  The banker said the "rich elite in Kashmir had been taking money from India (the RA& W and the IB) for a long time. Then, money started flowing in from Pakistan too."   Read more at:



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