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Friday, 14 October 2011

From Today's Papers - 14 Oct 2011

Unsafe Pak nukes
It’s a matter of global concern  While nuclear bombs anywhere remain a threat to human existence, the world immediately needs to focus on the safety of Pakistan’s weapons of mass destruction. The reason, which has been pointed out time and again, is that Pakistan faces a serious challenge to its stability from extremists, who may capture power if that country continues to slide downhill as can be seen today. And once Pakistan’s nuclear weapons fall into wrong hands, no one can guarantee that these will not be used on any pretext. What Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said while addressing a conference of military commanders in New Delhi on Tuesday should be viewed against this backdrop. He did not name Pakistan, but the message he wanted to convey was crystal clear: South Asia was faced with a major threat of “nuclear proliferation and nuclear safety” emanating from India’s “neighbourhood”.  India has been raising this issue time and again, but only now the US and its NATO allies have begin to concur with New Delhi’s argument. Yet the world community is not as serious about this horrifying scenario as it ought to be. The US and its Western camp-followers need to be told that those associated with Al-Qaida and the Taliban in Pakistan are not the only extremists who will be unperturbed about the consequences of using nuclear weapons in a future conflict with India or any other country. There are others, too, who consider the weapons of mass destruction as their ultimate “shield”.  As the situation prevails in Pakistan, merely keeping a close watch on the developments there will not be enough. Continuous pressure must be maintained on the establishment, particularly the army, in Pakistan to make it realise that the world community will not remain a silent spectator if Islamabad does not take the safety of its strategic assets very seriously. At the same time, a strategy should be devised to strengthen the hands of democratic and secular forces so that extremists remain weak and ineffective. This may lead to the emergence of a more mature political leadership, which can be expected to behave responsibly as far as Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are concerned.  Top                   Contrails and carbon credits ‘Fuel from steel,’ a promising beginning  We all know that fossil fuel is finite, and that it pollutes the environment. As the world has become sensitised to the pollution caused by fuel, governments in developed nations have taken the initiative to enforce progressively stringent anti-pollution provisions on vehicle and aircraft manufacturers and operators. The European Union has been a leader in this regard, and in fact the EU has set a target of 30 per cent reduction in carbon reduction by 2020. The US, too, is focusing on measures that will decrease pollution. This provides companies the impetus to explore various alternatives, and thus many new initiatives are being taken worldwide.  While contrails, the trails of condensed water from an aircraft at high altitude, look pretty when seen as a white streak against the sky, aeroplanes are significant polluters, and thus airlines are under pressure to reduce their carbon footprint. The latest initiative announced by Virgin Atlantic, of chemically converting gases that are a by-product of the steel processing industry into aviation fuel, is promising, especially since a pilot project has already demonstrated the technology.  With India and China being the largest steel manufacturers in the world, it comes as no surprise that Virgin and its partner, LanzaTech, the Swedish company that has developed the gas-to-ethanol technology, have announced that the conversion plants will be set up in these two nations. The technology, when implemented, will go a long way in both providing carbon credits and an alternative bio-fuel for the airlines. It will also help in meeting the pollution-reduction goals. Some hiccups are to be expected as the technology transitions from a demonstration stage to actual industrial production. However, in the long run, this process holds the promise of harnessing technology for a better, more sustainable, future.
Tense US-Pak relations More troubled than important
by Inder Malhotra  WHAT an irony it is that the worst-ever spat between the United States and Pakistan — the “most allied allies” during and the Cold War and “key allies” in the “war on terror” since 9/11 — has coincided with the tenth anniversary of the blasting of twin towers in New York and a small corner of the Pentagon in Washington. It is not at all unkind to say that today the US must be ruing both its decisions — to rush into the retaliatory war in Afghanistan within 26 days of 9/11, and to put its faith in Pakistan, particularly in its all-powerful army.  For, today all the lofty American objectives in Afghanistan — quickly eliminating al Qaeda and its allies, restoring peace and stability in the rugged land, and persuading the tribal and medieval Afghan society to embrace democracy, free market and gender equality — are reduced to debris. No matter what claims the US commanders in Afghanistan might make, there is no way the US, the NATO and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) can win this war that is intensely unpopular back home and horrendously costly.  In an election year, the beleaguered President Barack Obama has no option but to somehow declare victory and evacuate at least several thousands of ground troops before the end of this year, and almost all of them by 2014. America’s closest western partner in the war, Britain, is anxious to withdraw immediately. However, the endgame designed towards that end, attempts to reach some kind of an understanding with the Taliban, has collapsed.  Before arriving in New Delhi to sign the landmark Strategic Partnership Agreement with India — the first such protocol Kabul has signed with any country and has been welcomed by the Pentagon — Afghan President Hamid Karzai minced no words in declaring that there was no point talking to the Taliban because he could not find them. Talks, if necessary, will have to be held with their mentor, Pakistan.  As far as the US taking Pakistan on trust, it was a classic case of the triumph of hope over experience. It needs to be remembered that America secured Pakistan’s support to the war on terror by threatening its then military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, that should he fail to comply, his country would be “bombed back to the Stone Age”. The man who used these words was the then US deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage.  Gen. Musharraf, who until then was backing Afghanistan’s Taliban government, headed by Mullah Omar, to the hilt, justified the 180-degree change of policy by telling his generally anti-American people that if he hadn’t done so, Pakistan’s “strategic assets”, the customary euphemism for the nuclear arsenal, would have been endangered.  From day one, however, he embarked on a policy of duplicity that can be best described as one of hunting with the American hound and running with the jihadi hare. The US was by no means unaware of what was going on, but the surprise is that it was content to remonstrate with Gen. Musharraf privately and hailing his as a “key ally” publicly. This was reminiscent of America’s policy during the anti-Soviet jihad during the 1980’s to turn a blind eye to Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear programme even while championing the cause of non-proliferation.  Those who succeeded in overthrowing Gen. Musharraf and ushered in a civilian government of sorts have stuck to his policy and stratagems resolutely. An obvious reason for that is that in Pakistan the Army that calls the shots. The present Army Chief, General Ashfaque Kayani, is his predecessor’s nominee. He should have retired a long time ago but the ineffectual civilian government gave him a three-year extension. Here is another quirk of irony: all American dignitaries visiting Pakistan have always spent more time talking to Gen. Kayani, spending very little time with President Asif Zardari or Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. None met the defence minister!  And so things went on until the case of Raymond Davis, a member of the US Special Forces on an obviously delicate mission who shot dead two agents of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Lahore. Amidst mounting Pakistani anger he bought his escape by paying blood money to the tune of $ 2.5 million. Anti-American feelings in Pakistan did not abate but reached a crescendo with the elimination of Osama bin Laden at the garrison town of Abbottabad. A huge storm of protest against the “violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty” continued to prevail and became a shield for both the Army and the civilian government.  The worsening relationship between unhappy allies reached the brink, however, after the attack on the US embassy in Kabul, followed by the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former president of Afghanistan and at the time of his murder chairman of the Peace Council. The about-to-retire US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, who had earned the nickname “Pakistan’s best ambassador in Washington”, categorically blamed the Haqqani network in North Waziristan for both these outrages and equally emphatically declared that the Haqqani network was an “arm of the ISI”. He also stated that America would take whatever action was needed to protect “American personnel and interests in Afghanistan”.  Pakistan’s response to this was a combination of denial and defiance, threatening strong measures against any fresh attempt to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. Fears of a showdown started abating, however, when there were attempts by both sides to de-escalate the crisis. But then President Obama spoke up. He avoided Admiral Mullen’s harsh words but left no doubt that the US would constantly evaluate its relations with Pakistan and would have no use for a long-term relationship that is directed against US lives and interests.  Since then the future developments in this strange relationship (“complex but important”, in the words of Hillary Clinton) has become a guessing game. Those who believe that neither side wants a breakdown argue that Pakistan, with a highly precarious economy, cannot do without American money. China is not interested in being the substitute, and even Saudi Arabia would think twice before defying the US.  On the other had, it cannot be overlooked that American presidents do not say publicly what they do not intend to do. In other words, to use a Chinese phrase, they do not fire empty cannon.
A gentleman-officer’s seventy-fifth
by Lieut-Gen Baljit Singh (retd)  Stationed at a small-town cantonment, one morning I was informed that a retired Army Commander had been admitted to our hospital. So I made a courtesy visit to the ailing General but found him in good humour. With a twinkle in his eyes he said: “To tell you the truth Old Boy, I had received the Platinum Grant and in celebration, downed a bottle of champagne and lots of rich food!”  I had no clue about the Platinum Grant nor indeed the courage to enquire, because this walrus-mustachioed KCIO (King’s Commissioned Indian Officer) had an acerbic tongue. Recently, when I too received the bank demand draft for Rs 50,000, I wondered about the Good Samaritan who had conceived this joyous scheme to endow each gentleman-officer with a gift on his 75th birthday! And as I flaunted the bank instrument, I realised how envious the officers of the Air Force and the Navy felt of this exclusive Indian Army grant.  It was on this occasion that I learnt that this initiative was launched way back in 1951, by deducting a mere Rs 2 from the month’s salary of every serving Army officer. This contribution was steadily enhanced but ultimately capped at Rs 60 per month. Once the accruals had taken the fund to a comfortable level, the first lot of bank demand drafts (Rs 20,000 to start with), were sent to the octogenarian officers in Dec 1981.  Lately, the managers of the fund have added to the grant an attractively packaged set of two CDs: “Military Bands, Martial Tunes”. The container is a laminated, cardboard foldout having six coloured photographs of Army bandsmen in resplendent ceremonial attire. Tucked in between, is a booklet explaining the origins of martial music.  The first CD has 25 excerpted tunes from the ensemble of British martial music. Almost all tunes successfully create the auditory ambience of the battlefield; the awesome clatter of the hooves of galloping horses, clashing of swords and the crescendo of the thunder and volley of shell-burst.  One of these tunes surprised me with its title, “PUNJAUB”! Surely, it must have been inspired by the epic battles of Mudki and Chillianwalla (1845-9) where the Sikh soldiers, in the words of the British commanders, were found “plucky as lions, fought like devils,………fierce and valiant even in their dying struggle ….”  The second CD has 29 ethnic martial tunes composed by the post-1947 Indian Army. It opens with that most inspiring military-tune, “Kadam kadam badhaye chal…..” which would fire even the gout afflicted to leap out of the bed and start marching. As the finale, the last martial tune gives meaning to the collective sacrifices of the Indian soldiery, over the last 200 years, through the dignified and soul-arousing “Sare jehan se achcha, Hidustaan hamara, hum bulbulen hain iski, yeh gulistan hamara ….” Is the Ramlila Maidan generation listening?
Indian Army troops to get hi-tech shelters by 2012
New Delhi, Oct 13 (IANS) Several thousand Indian Army soldiers posted in rugged mountain terrain of Jammu and Kashmir along the borders with Pakistan and China will now be able to stay comfortably with the military commanders conferrence here deciding to provide them ‘plush’ hi-tech shelters by 2012.  The move comes following the success of a pilot project with the modern, eco-friendly shelters that the army launched in 2010, according to officers in the army headquarters here Thursday.  The army commanders conference, that began here Monday, concludes Friday.  The project was launched after Defence Minister A.K. Antony’s visit to the forward areas, when such a request was made by soldiers, who had to vacate their posts for six months during winter due to the inhospitable weather.  ‘The army commanders discussed the necessity to improve habitat in difficult areas. While there have been incremental efforts to improve the infrastructure along border areas, a pilot project was initiated for a quantum jump in improvement of habitat, which becomes the most important factor to boost the morale of all ranks,’ a defence ministry statement said.  The pilot project, implemented in posts at heights over 14,000 feet, had improved the satisfaction levels of troops deployed in difficult terrain and bad weather conditions in high altitude areas where the temperature dips to minus 50 degrees Celsius in winter.  The project involved construction of plush-looking, insulated shelters at various posts on the borders on ‘an incremental module’ concept using technologies suitable to the terrain and weather conditions.  ‘These hi-tech shelters will not only improve the living conditions of troops manifold, but will also have a direct bearing on the individual capacities to perform their tasks better, since terrain and weather impose severe restrictions on all ranks,’ the statement said.  The ‘light-weight, modular, pre-fabricated’ shelters require minimum logistical and transportation efforts and are an apt answer to the climatic challenges that officers and soldiers face.  In consonance with the armed forces efforts to go green, special emphasis has been laid in designing the shelters on incorporating appropriate active and passive measures for energy conservation. The special design also maximises sun light exposure and minimises heat loss to keep the troops warm under extreme cold temperatures.  In addition, various types of bio-digesters, sewage treatment plants, and composting toilets are being constructed to ensure better sewage disposal in extreme cold climatic conditions.  In July, an army major and a lieutenant were burnt to death and four soldiers were injured in a fire at their fibreglass bunker on the Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battlefield.  ‘Such accidents can be prevented in these new shelters, as these would be centrally heated, and there would be no fire sources that results in the burning of the shelters,’ they said.
Army commandos put up a breezy show
Time: Around 10.45 a.m. A core team of Army commandos on board the Advanced Light Helicopter flying over the city get ready for their mission.  Attired in black jumpsuits, wearing helmets and goggles and equipped with wrist altimeters and parachutes, the five commandos of the elite 1 Para (Striking Forces) battalion of the Indian Army jump out one by one from the chopper from a height of 6,000 feet as Tiruchiites on the ground watched the spectacle with wonder.  After a free fall for few seconds, the highly-trained commandos open their parachutes upon reaching 4,000 feet and steer the parachute by pulling its strings to glide down before hitting the landing zone perfectly at the St. Joseph's College ground one after the other with ease.  It was indeed a grand sight for the group of enthusiastic students, general public and ex-servicemen assembled at one corner of the sprawling ground who could not hide their enthusiasm and rushed towards the well-trained skydivers greeting them the moment they touched the ground.  The parachute jump display on Tuesday by the elite Army commandos which the city has never seen was organised to commemorate the 250{+t}{+h} Raising Day Celebrations of the 1 Para (Striking Forces) battalion headquartered at Nahan in Himachal Pradesh.  Tiruchi was chosen as the venue for organising the adventurous event as it was here that this unit was raised on October 17 in 1761 as 8 Coast Sepoys under Captain Cook during the British Raj, said Lieutenant Colonel Vikas Singh of 1 Para (Striking Forces) battalion who headed the commando team. The 1 Para (Striking Forces) is the oldest unit of the Indian Army.  The commando team at first carried out a reconnaissance and went up to a height of 6,000 feet in the Army helicopter to set out on the mission, Lt. Col. Vikas Singh said adding that the entire operation was well-planned and neatly executed.  The other commandos who took part in the jump were Subedar R.K. Yadav, Havildar Basavaraj, Havildar Ravinder and Lance Naik Mukesh. A grand Raising Day celebration is to be organised at the unit headquarters in Nahan on October 17.
Military satellite delayed again by a year
NEW DELHI: PM Manmohan Singh may wax eloquent that the military will be equipped with "all necessary means to meet all threats", including those "which go beyond conventional warfare", but no sense of urgency is being shown in the space arena.  Indian armed forces are still to get their own dedicated surveillance and communication satellites despite several years of promises and plans, leave alone offensive space capabilities like ASAT (anti-satellite) weapons or advanced directed-energy laser weapons.  Moreover, the government continues to keep the desperately-needed tri-Service Aerospace Command in cold storage, even though China has taken to the military exploitation of space, which includes ASAT capabilities, in a major way.  Top defence officials admit the much-awaited launch of the naval communication and surveillance satellite, "Rohini", has been once again delayed by a year or so. Satellites for Army-IAF will only follow thereafter.  Incidentally, during the naval commanders' conference in 2009, defence minister A K Antony had declared that the satellite to boost connectivity over sea would be launched in early-2010.  Subsequently, Indian Space Research Organization ( ISRO) had revised the satellite's "launch window" to December 2010-March 2011. But to no avail.  "There has been another big delay won't be possible before end-2012 at the earliest," said an official, even as all top military commanders are currently in New Delhi for their annual brain-storming sessions.  "The problem is the repeated failures of GSLV (geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle) and indigenous cryogenic engines (ISRO is now left with only one of the cryogenic engines imported from Russia)," he added.  With no early launch in sight, talk is gaining ground that India should contemplate a foreign launcher for its GSAT-7 series of military satellites.  The 2,330-kg naval satellite is supposed to have an around 1,000 nautical mile footprint over Indian Ocean, stretching from Red Sea to Malacca Strait, to ensure "network-centric operations" and "maritime domain awareness". The IAF-Army one, in turn, will have a similar footprint over land.  The Defence Space Vision-2020 identified only intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance, communication and navigation as the thrust areas in Phase-I till 2012. But even such capabilities, which include the critical necessity to keep 24x7 tabs on enemy troop movements, warships, airbases and missile silos as well as bolster surveillance over Indian airspace, will remain limited in the absence of dedicated military satellites.  Interestingly, while India is publicly opposed to "militarization of space", the defence ministry last year had come out with a "Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap" till 2025 which identified space warfare as a priority area, as was first reported by TOI.  The roadmap, for instance, identified development of ASAT weapons "for electronic or physical destruction of satellites in both LEO (2,000-km altitude above earth's surface) and GEO-synchronous orbits" as a thrust area.

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