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Wednesday, 23 November 2011

From Today's Papers - 23 Nov 2011

Pakistan raising green wall along border to blind BSF
Jupinderjit Singh/TNS  Chicken Neck (Kanachak), November 22 While continuing making concrete bunkers along the international border in the Jammu area, Pakistan is erecting a wall of trees to block the view of the BSF. The line of sight has reduced from 2 km to half-a-km or less, where the saplings have grown to considerable height.  With foggy winter approaching fast, the BSF is worried that the blocked sight would aid infiltration in the region. They have formally (in writing) objected to the Pak Rangers, who replied they were just planting saplings for the sake of environment.  Some saplings planted within last year have grown to considerable height in this highly sensitive and strategic border area near Akhnoor. Encouraged by it, new saplings have now been planted on almost all along the border from Kathua to Akhnoor. The new saplings have come especially in the Samba-RS Pura belt, from where infiltration attempts are often made.  Despite four wars and the continuous proxy war against India, this move to use a natural wall of trees to block movement across the border has been observed for the first time.  The Tribune team witnessed the obstruction in the line of sight of the BSF during the day as well as night hours on this border. BSF sources said they pruned some of the trees, whose branches extended to Indian side, but they can’t uproot trees as they were away from Zero Line.  Most of the trees or the saplings are of Sheesham species but at some places the fast growing ‘Arandi’ (Castor) tree were also planted. This tree spreads in a large area fast as it strews seeds all around it.  The BSF is relying heavily on night vision equipment using the thermal imaging or the satellite imaging to keep a watch on the activity in the counterpart area. “It is an issue of grave concern for us. Earlier, it was just the seasonal wild grass ‘sarkanda’ in which militants used to hide before attempting to enter India. The trees would be there for all time,” a BSF official said.  'Chicken Neck' vs 'Dagger'?  India surrounds Pakistan from three sides at the 'Chicken Neck' area, which Pakistan terms as 'Dagger'. Pakistan uses the name to suggest that its land extending into the Indian territory is like a dagger in India's heart. On the other hand, India calls it the chicken’s neck suggesting that it is a weak neck (of Pakistan) that can be twisted anytime.
Asia-Pacific strategic landscape India must make use of opportunities
by Harsh V. Pant  The rapidly changing strategic landscape of the Asia-Pacific has once again been in focus in recent days. Even as Europe struggles to come to terms with its economic decline, major powers in the Asia-Pacific are coming to terms with their region’s rapidly rising economic and political profile. US President Barack Obama was in Asia to underscore America’s commitment to regional stability at a time when he is wrapping up two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As the US Secretary of State has already underlined, “the future of politics will be decided in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the centre of the action.”  At a time when talk of American decline and retrenchment from global commitments has become de riguer, the signals coming from Washington are that it has no intention of leaving the Asian strategic landscape. Nor will regional states allow America to lower its profile. After all, the elephant in the room (region) is China’s faster than expected ascent in global inter-state hierarchy.  The East Asia Summit was the second gathering in a week that brought American and Chinese officials together for a regional meeting. It followed the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Hawaii where, much to China’s annoyance, the US President suggested that Beijing needed to “play by the rules” in international trade. From there, President Obama moved to Canberra where he secured new basing rights even as eight regional states signed up for the Obama administration’s new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free-trade plan. As the threat of a rising China increases, most regional states are eager for greater economic, political and military engagement with the US.  Australia made it clear how, despite growing economic linkages with China, regional states continue to hedge their bets by courting American security partnerships. The US announced a permanent military presence in Australia and the move to send 250 Marines to bases there for six-month tours starting next summer, eventually rotating 2,500 troops through the country, is being widely viewed as the start of the administration’s strategic objective of repositioning the US as a leader on economics and security in the fast-developing Asia-Pacific region. Not surprisingly, Beijing was quick to react questioning whether expanding the military alliance “is in line with the common interest” of the countries in the region.  China also views the development of the TPP as a political move to create a US-dominated counterweight to a rival trade bloc of Southeast Asian countries plus China, Japan and South Korea, known by the acronym ASEAN Plus Three. Meanwhile, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao demanded that “outside forces” had no excuse to get involved in the complex maritime dispute, a veiled warning to the US and other countries to keep out of the sensitive issue. The issue of South China Sea has disrupted China’s ties with its neighbours. Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei are the other claimants to parts of the South China Sea, a major route for some $5 trillion in trade each year and potentially rich in resources. The US is supporting these states and wants a multilateral approach towards the resolution of the issue.  It is in this broader context that India’s emerging role in the region should be assessed. India is emerging as a critical balancer in the Asia-Pacific, and regional states are recognising New Delhi’s growing clout. This was reflected in Australia’s recent decision to reconsider its ban on the sale of uranium to India. That a Labour government, traditionally considered a non-proliferation hawk, should take this decision is reflective of the changing priorities of Canberra. And that this could not have happened without American pressure on the Australian government to change its policies should also alert New Delhi to the important role a so-called declining America continues to play in supporting Indian ambitions in the region and globally.  In his meetings with the Chinese Premier and the US President, the Indian Prime Minister did raise a range of issues. Though Mr Singh ruled out any major changes in the nuclear liability law in the near future, despite American misgivings, he urged Mr Obama to commence nuclear trade with India. The US was also informed that India was ready to ratify the Convention on Supplementary Compensation (CSC), another issue that the US wants to be done as part of implementation of the civil nuclear deal. This is an important issue to be clarified on an immediate basis, given a wide-ranging perception that the US-India ties have entered a period of drift. The strategic priorities of New Delhi and Washington are in alignment but it is the tactical issues that have made the two wary of each other. This needs rectification as America’s Asia-Pacific policy will come unhinged without Indian support, and Indian desire to effectively balance China will remain just that, a desire, without American support.  With Mr Wen Jiabao, the Indian Prime Minister was refreshingly emphatic in suggesting that India wouldn’t take sides in China’s territorial disputes with its neighbours over the South China Sea, but India did have a right to exploit the sea’s oil and gas commercially. Mr Wen urged India and China to work “hand-in-hand” to ensure that the 21st century belonged to Asia. There are, he said, enough areas where India and China could cooperate with each other. Yet this cannot hide the fact that frictions are increasing with each passing day between the two Asian giants.  China must understand that with its rise on the international stage comes increased responsibility, argued Mr Obama. If Beijing does not respect international rules, Mr Obama said, “We will send a clear message to them that we think that they need to be on track in terms of accepting the rules and responsibilities that come with being a world power.” This reflects that American strategic priorities are changing and changing rapidly. Indian diplomacy will have to be equally agile to take advantage of all the opportunities that this new realignment of structural forces presents New Delhi in serving its own interests.
Indian salute to Bangla army
New Delhi, Nov. 22: The Bangladesh Army chief will review the passing-out parade of the National Defence Academy next week, in a rare honour to Dhaka on the 40th anniversary of its liberation and symbolic of New Delhi’s reach-out to its neighbour.  General Muhammed Abdul Mubeen has been invited to be the reviewing officer at the NDA, Khadakvasla. He will be only the third foreigner to take the salute after the late Chinese Premier Chou En Lai and the former chief of the (former) Royal Nepal Army, General Pyar Jung Thapa.  In a similar gesture, the Sri Lanka Army commander, Lt General Jagath Jayasuriya, will review the parade of cadets passing out of the Indian Military Academy who will be commissioned as officers in the Indian Army.  The visits by the chiefs of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka over the next two weeks signal a sudden upswing in neighbourhood military-diplomatic exchanges.  The army chief, General V.K. Singh, returned from a five-day visit to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan last night. General Singh’s visit to the Central Asian countries is part of an effort to prepare for the drawdown of US forces from Afghanistan in 2014.  The last time foreign (Soviet) forces left Afghanistan after occupying it, the Taliban took over and India’s relations with Central Asian countries bordered on the tenuous. This time India is preparing in advance for the imponderables in Afghanistan. This includes reviving a military hospital and helipad at Farkhor in Tajikistan, on the northern border of Afghanistan.  Bangladesh’s General Mubeen will review the NDA parade on November 29 in the course of a six-day visit. He is also slated to visit the Para Training School in Agra and the Eastern Command headquarters in Fort William, Calcutta. In between, in New Delhi, he will meet the service chiefs. Bangladesh and India are planning a series of joint military drills in 2012.  Sri Lanka’s Lt General Jayasuriya was the force commander of the military in the last Eelam war in Vanni in the north-east of the island. Forces under him vanquished the LTTE and neutralised its leadership, including Prabhakaran.  Lt General Jayasuriya is scheduled to visit, apart from the IMA in Dehra Dun, Bodh Gaya, Delhi and Agra.  This week, the chief operations officer of the Bhutanese army, Major General Batoo Tshering, returned to Thimphu after a three-day tour that included a visit to the Central Command headquarters in Lucknow.  Later this month, the Indian Army is also expecting to a host a military team from Myanmar in Bangalore that will visit an army engineers’ centre and participate in sports and cultural events.
Army in pursuit of winged dream
New Delhi: The Indian Air Force may crib all it wants, but the Army is pressing on regardless - with its plans to have its own air force, albeit a 'mini' one. Fighter jets may not be on its wish-list, but the 1.13-million strong force wants everything else, from attack helicopters to fixed-wing aircraft.  Army's long-term plans include a squadron each of attack/armed, reconnaissance/observation and tactical battle-support copters for each of its 13 corps. The three 'strike' corps, with HQs at Mathura (1 Corps), Ambala (2 Corps) and Bhopal (21 Corps) will get more 'air assets' in keeping with their primary offensive role, say sources.  To top it off, each of Army's six regional or operational commands will at least get 'a flight' of five fixed-wing aircraft for tactical airlift of troops and equipment. "Army Aviation Corps, which is observing its 25th anniversary this month and operates around 250 light helicopters, has plans till the end of the 14th Plan (2022-27)," said a source.  In the short to medium term, AAC plans to induct 259 light-utility and observation helicopters to replace its ageing Cheetah and Chetak fleets that service Siachen, Kargil and other high-altitude areas.  Army Aviation Corps also wants 140 multi-role tactical battle-support helicopters to provide 'integral tactical lift to its formations' and 114 light combat helicopters that are being developed indigenously.  Army is slated to get its first-ever attack helicopter squadron by February-March. These copters will be weaponized versions of indigenous Dhruv advanced light helicopters, called the Rudra, armed with 20mm turret guns, 70mm rockets, air-to-air missiles and anti-tank guided missiles.  Army and Indian Air Force have long been engaged in the bitter dogfight over 'air assets', which erupted even during the 1999 Kargil conflict. The persistent turf war forced defence minister A K Antony to call for a ceasefire, maintaining the two forces should work in synergy by reconciling differences.  Holding that IAF does not fully comprehend its operational philosophy and concepts like 'close air support' or 'nuances of the tactical battle area', Army says it wants 'full command and control' over 'tactical air assets' for rapid deployment.  IAF contends 'air assets' are 'scarce resources' that should be handled by a force with operational expertise and requisite 'air-mindedness'. But Army is unconvinced.  Itfeels the IAF can continue with its larger 'strategic role' and the 'tactical role' should be left to it.  For one, AAC aviators and engineers are drawn from Army combat arms, like infantry, mechanized infantry, armoured corps, air defence and artillery.
Taking a big gamble
Trust but verify doesn't suffice when dealing with Pakistan's Deep State: the army-ISI combine. Yet, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has concluded the army is "on board" with the idea of peace. The generals next door haven't said so, nor indicated a change of heart. The gamble is being taken on the assurance of Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani whose leader, President Asif Ali Zardari, is currently stuck in a humiliating stand-off with the army over his ambassador in Washington, Husain Haqqani.  That the generals have demanded the head of the wrong Haqqani over an alleged memo while merrily subverting their country's constitution can't be lost on New Delhi. Internal mess? Yes, but this eternal internal mess always makes the external difficult, if not impossible.  But Singh has gone out on a limb for Pakistan. One hopes his instinct and judgment are right. The overture is especially significant because it comes on the eve of the third anniversary of the horrific Mumbai attacks in which the ISI stands implicated after the testimony of David Headley - to say nothing of the countless attacks of years gone by. This is not living in the past but taking a full accounting of the present.  The prime minister's gamble raises many questions. If General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani indeed says "aye" to peace with India, can we request him to simply go on record? There should be no shadows and ghosts if the process is to be sustained. The army-ISI complex can't both want peace and also remain anonymous so that it can wreck it at will. The world knows that it is the generals who make the consequential decisions as is apparent to any casual observer of Pakistani politics. The pretence that the civilian government actually runs Pakistan is useful on some issues but not on this one.  The generals must take responsibility in some fashion, either by gesture or with words. For starters, they could put Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) founder Hafiz Saeed in jail instead of letting him run around spewing venom. The case in Pakistan against the seven other LeT terrorists arrested in connection with the Mumbai attacks drags on with four changes in judges and no real movement. The Deep State has produced men for both the US and China, including Pakistani citizens, bypassed the judicial system at will and delivered because it wanted to or had to. But for India, it has produced only excuses.  Given the history of failed initiatives, the "on board" express is nothing but a tactical move by the Pakistani army to ease pressure on the border with India because of the strain from the Americans on its western front. No evidence of a strategic shift is in sight. Terror remains the largest policy tool in ISI's toolbox. Last week, Pakistan chose not to include Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) on the list of terrorist groups, once again an open admission that it may be useful down the line. A month after the Mumbai attacks, Pakistani officials had promised to act against the JuD if the United Nations banned the group, something the UN Security Council did shortly after 26/11. The world is still waiting for Pakistan to fulfil its promise.  A former ISI chief, Lt Gen Asad Durrani, famously wrote earlier this year that "terrorism is a technique of war, and therefore an instrument of policy". Take that with your morning tea. Is the Indian prime minister betting on a transformation of the ISI, an organisation that has birthed and nurtured terrorist groups against India for decades? The ISI and LeT are brothers-in-arms and protection and immunity from prosecution are a given. The hope that sprang briefly in the wake of the Osama bin Laden raid when Pakistani liberals began asking hard questions about the competence and credibility of the Deep State is already a thing of the past.  The civilian government failed to convert the question mark into even the smallest bit of leverage. The success of the Pakistani army's non-cooperation movement against the Americans is for all to see.  If the US was unable to convert its leverage from the bin Laden raid into anything substantial with all the carrots and the many sticks at its disposal, there is little likelihood of India succeeding. And India's peace process with Pakistan can't depend on the hope that the Deep State will end its support of terrorism.  So what does it really mean in the end? That India will simply absorb future attacks, get used to living with a terror-infested Pakistan and watch out the best it can? Perhaps. But at least India should reject the moral equivalence Pakistani leaders have sought to establish on the issue of terrorism. We are not victim-victim, bhai-bhai. India is at the receiving end of state-sponsored terrorism.  If Pakistan is a victim today because its society is gripped by jihadi fever thanks to the contagion released by the ISI, it has only itself to blame. The blurring of lines here is insulting. The Mumbai attacks should not be equated with Samjhauta Express because there was no state role in the latter. But Pakistan has slowly established it as a talking point with New Delhi, with Washington and in the think tank circuit. Clever, but few buy it.  Except the prime minister has for some reason. Breakthroughs in difficult relationships are always welcome and a transformation with Pakistan would be historic. But the lure of legacy must not obscure reality.
Defence diary: Pushpak expedition flagged off
The Pushpak expedition of the Army Aviation Corps (AAC) was flagged off at the Combat Aviation Training School on November 17 by Lt Gen Gurdeep Singh, Commandant, School of Arty and an Army Aviator. As part of the silver jubilee celebration of AAC, the Pushpak expedition witnessed the Pushpak aircraft cover 10,024 km over a period of days. Flown by Brig AS Sidhu, Maj Arvind Saini and the support team of four officers and six others ranks, the Pushpak expedition was flagged off at the Aero India in Bangalore in February. The aircraft, which has contributed significantly in the 1965 Indo- Pak war and the 1971 war of Liberation of Bangladesh touched upon 39 bases including Pune, Baroda, Nagtalao, Jaisalmer, Longewala, Bathinda, Amritsar, Jammu, Luknow, Gorakhpur, Bagdogra, Tezpur before landing at Nasik- the Alma mater of Army Aviation Corps. ‘Pushpak’ was a fixed wing aircraft on the inventory of Air OP (present day Army aviation Corps) in 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars and had palyed vital roles in both the wars. gradually it was phased out and was never flown after 1980.  OFD awarded excellence award  Ordnance Factory Dehu Road (OFD), a unit of Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), has been awarded the Best Performing Factory award under the Raksha Mantri’s Award of Excellence for the year 2009-10. This award was received by Vinay Bhalla, IOFS, General Manager of the factory from Defence Minister A K Antony in an award ceremony held on November 14 at Ministry of Defence, New Delhi. Shekhar Agarwal, Secretary/ DP, B B Kaura, joint secretary (Cord) and S D Dimri, DGOF and chairman, OFB, Kolkata were also present during the ceremony. OFD has got the prestigious Raksha Mantri’s Award of Excellence twice earlier for design efforts and innovation during the year 2007-08 and Best Performing Factory of OFB during the year 2008-09.  Cadets shine at Vayu Sainik Camp  Maharashtra directorate of the National Cadet Corps (NCC) ranked first at the All India Vayu Sainik Camp which concluded at Bangalore recently. The 33 cadets who participated in the camp were trained in Pune at the National Defence academy. Gp Cpt S N Sharma was the chief training officer for the cadets while Wg Cdr B Roy, commanding officer of Nagpur- based air squadron and Wg Cdr A B Gavandi, Commanding officer of Mumbai- based Air Squadron were the overall in-charge. At the camp, the cadets were tested in various events including flying, firing, drill, tent pitching and line area and health and hygiene. Among seven individual medals - two gold, four silver and one bronze were bagged by the Maharashtra directorate. Three medals were bagged by Pune cadets. While Cadet Komal bagged silver in flying, Cadet Aditya and Cadet George bagged silver in rifle and health and hygiene respectively.

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