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Wednesday, 21 September 2011

From Today's Papers - 21 Sep 2011






Hope soars for MFN status from Pak

Pak Commerce Minister likely to make announcement next week Ashok Tuteja Tribune News Service  New Delhi, September 20 India is hopeful that Pakistan would grant it most favoured nation (MFN) status when its Commerce Minister Makhdoom Amin Fahim arrives here later this month for talks on promotion of economic and commercial relations as part of the resumed dialogue process between the two countries. India had granted Pakistan MFN status way back in 1996.  Fahim is expected to arrive on September 26 and hold talks with Commerce Minister Anand Sharma on September 28-29. He is also scheduled to call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and meet some other leaders and officials.  The Commerce Minister’s visit marks elevation of the dialogue process between the two countries to the ministerial level. The dialogue, suspended by India in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, was resumed this February after a hiatus of over two years.  Sources said the two ministers would discuss issues like removal of trade barriers and reducing the number of items on the negative list of products that the two countries don’t wish to trade in. At the last meeting of Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan in New Delhi in July, the neighbour had announced measures to promote cross-border trade.  Under the changed environment when the two countries are talking of promoting people-to-people contact and enhancing economic ties, New Delhi believes Pakistan would not delay granting it the MFN status and fulfilling its obligations under the WTO regime.  Chambers of commerce of the two countries have also favoured expanding commercial relations. The Confederation of Indian Industry recently stated that it was an appropriate time for Pakistan to accord the MFN status to India.  Meanwhile, India has asked Islamabad to prepare the negative list of items, which it does not want to import from India. Pakistan maintains a ‘positive list’ of items which are allowed to be imported from India.  India-Pakistan trade was estimated at $1.85 billion in 2009-10. Of this, Indian exports were to the tune of $1.7 billion.  It is estimated that unofficial trade between the two countries through the Gulf route could be much more than the official trade.


Rehabilitating retiring soldiers  Use them to combat Maoists

by Lt-Gen Harwant Singh (retd)  More than 80 per cent soldiers retire at the age of 36 or 37 years and their annual number is almost 50,000. They do not even reach the midway point of their pay band, miss out on increments, get pension based on the point in the pay band they are retired, missing out 24/23 years of higher pay if they, like all civilian government employees, had to serve up to the age of 60 years.  Consequently, they suffer multiple disadvantages. Retired too early and given inadequate pension, they, in addition, lose out on the largesse of at least two subsequent Central Pay Commissions. After taking the best years of a soldier’s life, we throw him out to fend for himself in the harsh realities of life: to find a job in mid-life.  The Defence Minister has finally realised that ex-servicemen do need a second career. According to him, they could be accommodated in Central Police Organisations (CPOs — now called CAPFS), government jobs, etc, and that he will also write to the states to employ ex-servicemen. Surely, he should know that instructions to the states and the CPOs already exist to that end, but are not implemented. Simply because implementation of orders/instructions, enforcement of laws, timely completion of projects, etc, are extremely poor in this country. Above all, there is so much money to be made in fresh recruitment!  This trained manpower, instead of being taken as a national asset, is simply being wasted, resulting in an ever-increasing number of disillusioned veterans. The government must work out a comprehensive scheme to absorb this trained and disciplined manpower into gainful employment. Some percentage must be taken into government jobs, the CAPFS, the railways, the state police, the forest departments and so on. Some others can be given technical training so that they can run their own little establishments or join the industrial force. These schemes will be implemented only when an Act of Parliament to this end is passed.  CAPFS units presently deployed against the Maoists and those special state police units created to deal with the Maoists, no matter how fanciful a name one may give them, (Grey Hounds, Cobras, etc) have simply not been able to measure up to the job. Reinforcing these units, presently fighting the Maoists, with retiring soldiers will not do. The latter will soon acquire habits and work culture prevalent in these units.  The deficiency with these units is of leadership, which has failed to train their men and are unwilling to lead and share the risks faced by their constables, etc. Thus, policemen of all hues, ill trained as they appear to be, are being routinely killed in large numbers while their officers do not figure even among the wounded! How come in every “fire-fight,” Maoists are always successful in carrying away their dead! There is the other issue of morale of this constabulary. At the last Independence Day function policemen were given around 900 gallantry awards. This is an unusually high number. According to Sun Tzu, the great Chinese soldier and scholar, indiscriminate grant of gallantry awards to a force is a sure sign of low morale. There is complete failure to infiltrate these groups with intelligence organisations’ own operators (moles). Consequently, the police is being perpetually surprised.  Raising more CAPFS and state police units in any form will not do, as these have simply not been able to meet the Maoist challenge. Moreover, these units will be on the country’s pay rolls for the next 40 years and on the pension list for another 15 to 20 years: long after the Maoist problem would have disappeared. Therefore, raising of such units should be stopped and instead financial resources earmarked for these be deployed for the betterment of people in the Maoist-affected areas. The practice of outsourcing an anti-Maoist operation to SPOs and Salwa Judum groups must be ended. Such groups tend to become law unto themselves, settle personal scores, indulge in contract killings, kidnapping, etc, as it happened in Punjab during the eighties and the early nineties. Such vigilante groups are no solution for combating insurgencies.  Based on the indications from the Ministry of Home Affairs, the military is reported to be working on raising two Corps with Rashtriya Rifles (RR) units. RR battalions have been formed by milking regular units. This has resulted in serious deficiencies in the regular units, particularly of officers. This shortage is impacting training, administration and operational fitness of these units. Raising more RR units will aggravate this problem. It amounts to dealing with one problem and creating another far more serious. Further, the situation in Jammu and Kashmir does not appear to be stable enough to pull out RR battalions from there. In case these are raised as an additional manpower, the problem would be the same as in the case of raising more police units.  A better and cheaper option is to raise military units from the retiring soldiers, who are already trained. These units should be headed by Short Service Commission and other officers who retire early. It may be advisable to take some retired and yet young brigadiers and maj-generals who have a vast experience of counter-insurgency operations. This should be taken as their second career, spanning five (for officers) to 10 years (soldiers), with pay and gratuity in addition to the emoluments earned earlier. For cohesiveness and integration of personnel into well-organised units, it would be preferable to form them out of their original groupings — Dogras, Jats, Kumaon, the Artillery Regiment, etc.  Where possible, officers for these units too should be from the same groups. Brigade and divisional headquarters as well as corps headquarters can be formed mostly from the pool of retired officers and others. This force should be mandated to operate across state boundaries and work in consonance and in coordination with the CAPFS, state police forces, intelligence agencies and state governments. Such an arrangement will prove an effective instrument to completely eliminate the Maoist problem in a span of five to 10 years, which otherwise has all the portents of spreading. While these new units and formations are given six months to organise, integrate and train at the regimental centres, minimum essential temporary accommodation must be there in various locations where these units and formations are to be housed. Once such a proposal is accepted, the other details can be worked out.  The eventual remedy for the Maoist problem lies in undertaking developmental work in the affected districts. Therefore, anti-Maoist operations and developmental work must go apace; these should be well coordinated and be complementary to each other. While we go hammer and tongs after the Maoists, every step must be taken to avoid collateral damage and mishandling of innocents and those caught up in the vortex of Maoists violence. Operations should be coordinated by all agencies.  The Maoist problem needs urgent attention. Though the Prime Minister considers it as the most serious threat to internal security, there is much delay and procrastination in the proper tackling of this menace. Left inadequately addressed, it will spread, with grave consequences for the country’s stability and progress.n  The writer is a former Deputy Chief of Army Staff.


Army ITI students develop geared battery-operated van

A group of students of Motor Mechanic, Electrician and Welder trade of Army ITI at Ambala Cantonment have developed a Battery Operated Utility Van, which has five gears including a reverse gear.  According to a press statement by Hq Kharga Corps, a battery operated vehicle with gears is not common in India.  The idea was conceived about six months ago, when the Dean and instructors of Army ITI decided to fabricate a battery operated vehicle which should be unique and at the same time had training value commensurate with the cost incurred.  “In consonance with training philosophy of ` Learning by Doing ‘ the trainees and the instructors worked overtime and fabricated this pollution free and energy efficient four-wheeler. The project is in keeping with the motto of `health solution, rid of pollution’ and has rightly been named `The Cleanlander’,” said a press statement of Hq Kharga Corps. Brig EME, Kharga Corps, also provided technical guidance throughout the implementation process.


Top Officers for Army-to-Army Contacts With Pak

With a view to forging better ties, two GOCs today favoured army-to-army contacts between India and Pakistan.  "Army-to-army contact is not a bad thing at all (between India and Pakistan). This can be worked out," General Officer Commanding (GOC), 16 Corps, Lt. Gen. J P Nehra said.  He was addressing a conference here on the second day of the seminar "Mapping Contemporary Pakistan", jointly organised by the Department of Strategic and Regional Studies, University of Jammu, and White Knight Corps.  Lt. Gen. Nehra was reacting to recommendations of various panelists and academicians favouring army interactions for forging better ties.  "Panelists have suggested volleyball and tennis matches between the two armies along the border. It will help in the process of engagement," the GOC said.  "However, we should be realistic and pragmatic in our approach and never sacrifice the national interest," he said.  The GOC, 10 Infantry Division, Major General Rakesh Sharma, also favoured interactions between the two countries.  "Why not have interactions at the military level (between India and Pakistan)? At some level we should meet and talk," he said.  "We have held interactions with PLA. But, we have not interacted with the Pak Army," he said.  The GOC Romeo Force, Major General G S Shergil, however, did not favour such a suggestion.  "I do not subscribe to this point of view as it will create problems in various quarters," he said.


Age row: is the army chief right?

If the general wanted to change his birth date, he could have done so earlier; but accepting his demand will go a long way in salvaging the government’s long-term relationship with its military.

Maj Gen Nilendra Kumar (Retd)  Former Judge Advocate General of the Indian Army

A plea to treat 1950 as the army chief’s year of birth will be a setback for the army’s cleansing drive  The last few months have seen Army Chief V K Singh’s name in the media in a controversy relating to his age. The general is an outstanding soldier who is a renowned strategist and a brilliant practitioner of military craft. I have known him well for over four decades. I, however, differ with him and his well-wishers on a few counts.  The general has submitted a statutory complaint on the matter of his birth date. Army Act Section 27 affords a right to any military person who feels wronged by the decision of any superior to seek remedy from the central government. The remedy is available to all, from the junior-most soldiers to the senior-most commanders. There are a number of reasons that make the case of the army chief different.  General V K Singh joined the National Defence Academy in June 1966. Three years later he entered the Indian Military Academy and, after completing his training, was commissioned in the Infantry in June, 1970. The year 1950 was recorded as his year of birth when he filled out the UPSC admission form for the National Defence Academy. Sometime in 2006, an entry of 1951 in the matriculation certificate came to be reported. There are discrepancies in the documents held by the Adjutant General and Military Secretary Branches of the army headquarters.  The regulations enjoin that any discrepancy in the date of birth is to be reported within the first couple of years after entry into service. The claim is then examined and settled. In this case, the officer could have taken timely recourse to those provisions to get the actual date entered in his dossier.  While he was a major general and waiting to be cleared for elevation to a three-star general he gave a written assurance that he would abide by the 1950 year and not to stake any claim for the year to be reckoned as 1951. Having once forwarded such an undertaking and gained promotion to a higher rank, would it be open for him to demand that 1951 be accepted as the year of his birth?  There are numerous allegations and counter allegations. It has been asserted that V K Singh was pressured to submit an undertaking to avoid withholding the process of the entire selection board.  Some believe that the case was put on the fast track by engineering a query under the Right to Information Act enquiring about the dates of birth of all army commanders and above. Certain members of political parties are reported to have met the prime minister to plead the army chief’s case. The outcome is not known.  Army headquarters took the unusual course of seeking the opinion of three former Chief Justices. They ruled in favour of the army chief. Perhaps they were approached without the government’s concurrence. If so, such a precedent may have dangerous consequences. Any soldier, say, a person convicted by a court martial, may obtain and forward comments and recommendations of former judges or law officers to demand a reversal of valid and bonafide decisions.  The matter is being projected by a few as a civil-military conflict. This view appears to overlook the fact that the matter was handled by three successive military secretaries starting with General Richard Khare. If the army did not agree to accept 1951 as year of birth, would the fault lie with the ministry of defence?  A plea to treat 1950 as the army chief’s year of birth will be a setback for the army’s cleansing drive. Can a senior commander be allowed to use his headquarters to pursue his personal case against the higher authorities? Should a general be retained to serve as a chief if he has any complaint against the government?  The army chief has risen to the very top position in the army, which is administered by well-regulated orders and rules. It is ironic that having attained the senior-most position he has now chosen to project his grievances against the system.  A statutory complaint in the shape of an alternate remedy has to be first submitted before approaching a court of law seeking judicial remedy. Any delay in disposing of the complaint or an unfavourable decision may lead to the matter being taken to Armed Forces Tribunal and further acrimony.


Ajai Shukla Military Analyst and Former Army Officer  By insisting on his rights, the army chief has embodied popular disenchantment against the MoD

It would be naïve to believe that the controversy about when the Army Chief, General V K Singh, was born (and, therefore, when he should retire) is simply about a date of birth. Singh has provided his boss, Defence Minister A K Antony, cast-iron evidence to prove that he was born on May 10, 1951. This includes 15 categories of documents including his birth certificate from an army hospital; his matriculation certificate; four decades of service documents; promotion and medical records; and a range of civilian documents including his passport, PAN card; and driving and gun licences.  Nor is the argument sustainable that Singh should have changed his date of birth within two years of being commissioned, which is all that ministry of defence rules permit. The Army List of 1974-75, which is the key army document that records his date of birth as 1950, was only published four or five years after Singh became an officer. Besides, he insists he is not seeking to “correct” his date of birth. The Adjutant General’s Branch, the prime authority that maintains officers’ personal records, has always recorded the correct birth year of 1951. Singh demands only that his birth year be “reconciled” with this lawful authority.  Since the documentary record is so clear that Singh was born in 1951, why is this controversy snowballing into a corrosive civil-military face-off? The answer is that Antony has taken a position on this case and fears that withdrawal would result in a serious loss of political face. A weakened UPA wants to look decisive after a series of political mistakes: Telangana and the Jagan Mohan Reddy crisis in Andhra; the 2G scam; and the Anna Hazare anti-corruption agitation. Dizzy from opposition pummelling, the UPA fervently hopes (the same mistake that it made with Reddy and Hazare) that a resolute rebuff will cause Singh to back off. But, typically, the government misjudges the doggedness of its army chief.  Singh’s determination to defend his honour (he is indignant at being painted a liar) is fortified by the manipulative argument that the MoD has put out through media leaks. This insinuates that Singh has already been elevated to the pinnacle; by clinging on longer he is tarnishing the army’s image. But this is chicanery. Singh reached the top through merit, not government endowment; and the vast majority of his officers back him as he faces up to a capricious MoD that seeks to humiliate their chief.  India’s soldier community, both serving and retired, overwhelmingly believes that the military is ill used by the babus and dhoti-wallas, their mocking reference to the political-bureaucratic establishment. They believe that the government has misused the unexceptionable principle of civilian control to encroach on turf that is acknowledged worldwide, even in the most liberal democracies, as the preserve of the military. Many ask why their generals meekly accept even improper instructions from the civilian government (as in 1962). There is a wellspring of resentment at the way generations of generals have bartered away service interests in exchange for post-retirement office. In contrast there is admiration for V K Singh. He could have arranged a happy sinecure, perhaps in some Raj Bhavan, in exchange for a quiet exit. Instead, by insisting on his rights, he has embodied popular disenchantment against the MoD.  Most people would have preferred the chief to make his stand on something relating to equipment procurement or strategic planning, where the MoD has demonstrably failed its soldiers, sailors and airmen. That would have spared him barbs about self-interest. Nevertheless, it is in our democracy’s long-term interest to question the assumption that – just as Nehru tamed General Thimayya; and Vajpayee sacked Admiral Bhagwat – the government can ram any decision, howsoever perverse, down any military chief’s throat.  Legal advisors on both sides – the MoD’s as well as the army chief’s – insist (as lawyers are prone to doing!) that their client has an unshakable legal case. But both sides must realise that there will be no winners in a fight to the finish. The ball is in the MoD’s court; if Antony is as wise as is rumoured he will cut a deal with General V K Singh, salvaging the government’s long-term relationship with its widely-respected military.


Ambala: Army jawan refuses to cut braid citing religious freedom

A junior commissioned officer (JCO) of the Indian Army, posted in Ambala, has stirred a hornet's nest by refusing to cut-off his choti (braid) when ordered recently.   Citing right to religious freedom, Subedar S.P. Shukla, who has put in 28 years of service with a spotless record, declined to follow the orders issued to him.   The army sees Shukla's carefully nurtured choti as a violation of rules prohibiting display of religion. He is now pitted against age-old army traditions to honour, what he calls, his religious freedom.   "On August 15, Major General Alok Dev saw me with the shikha (braid) and directed that I should be asked to remove it. I cannot do so. This is against my religious freedom and is my constitutional right. I replied back very politely to him in a letter that I request that an advice be taken from experts on this," Subedar Shukla told Headlines Today.   He wrote a detailed letter to the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of 40 Artillery Division giving out his reasons for sporting the braid.   "I am a disciplined soldier and I do not want anything wrong to happen with the army. But I want a decision on this issue so that everyone benefits from it," he insisted.   Despite the stand-off, the army has not initiated any action against Shukla for now even though he has refused to follow a direct order.




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