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Wednesday, 4 January 2012

From Today's Papers - 04 Jan 2012
letter on army chief’s age Amarinder says it was his personal opinion
Vibha Sharma/TNS  New Delhi, January 3 Even though PPCC president Amarinder Singh tried to downplay his letter to Defence Minister AK Antony on the issue of birth records of Army chief VK Singh, calling it his personal opinion, his party, it seems, is not too happy at his intrusion into what is clearly an “internal” matter of Armed Forces.  “He (Amarinder Singh) had already clarified that this was his personal view. Generally, politicians should not comment on the internal affairs of the Armed forces,” AICC general secretary Janardan Dwivedi was quoted as saying in response to remarks of the former Punjab Chief Minister over the age row involving General VK Singh.  With the controversy threatening to snowball in the days to come, the carefully worded statement by the senior Congress leader in Delhi carried a clear message for his colleague to refrain from meddling in Army matters.  Sensing trouble, Amarinder Singh was also clarified that his letter to the Defence Minister over correction of the General’s date of birth was “his personal opinion”.  In the letter, Amarinder Singh had supported the contention of the Army chief who is currently involved in a bitter battle with the Defence Ministry over his date of birth. Different records show May 10, 1950 and May 10, 1951 as VK Singh’s date of birth. The Army Chief has been claiming that he was born in 1951 and not 1950 as maintained in the records of the Defence Ministry. The Congress had expressed concern over the controversy yesterday. Responding to reports that Army Chief may seek legal redressal on the age row after his statutory complaint was rejected by the Defence Ministry, Congress spokesman Manish Tewari had said that “Armed forces are an institution, which are held high in esteem not only by the political establishment but by various sections of the society. What is happening is definitely a matter of concern. But I would not like to go into it. Those who are charged with the responsibility or are dealing with the issue should arrive at some kind of appropriate solution”.
Army: LeT training 21 women terrorists against India in PoK
New Delhi, January 3 The Lashkar-e-Toiba is raising a group of 21 female terrorists at its training camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir for carrying out sabotage activities in India, Army sources said today.  “We have confirmed reports that LeT is imparting training to 21 selected female terrorists at its training facilities in Muzaffarabad in PoK for carrying out terrorist activities in India,” an Army official said here. They said the new group, named as Dukhtareen-e-Toiba, is planned to be made active in the Kashmir Valley by the LeT.  In the recent past also, reports have suggested presence of female terrorists operatives in the 42 active terror training camps in PoK.  The women terrorists are planned to be infiltrated into India through routes in Uri sector or using the aerial route through some other country.  Sources said the raising of the female terror group was brainchild of LeT senior functionary and mastermind of Mumbai terror attacks Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi.  They said the terror group has suffered serious setbacks in Jammu and Kashmir with the elimination of their top leadership by the security forces.  They are also working on recruiting local youth in certain areas of the state, including Pulwama, to expand terror network and the task has been assigned to a person, Usman Bhai, alias Chhota Rehman, they said. — PTI
Case for Delhi meet on Kabul Role of regional stakeholders is crucial
by D. Suba Chandran  During the last two months in 2011, there were two major international conferences in Istanbul (Turkey) and Bonn (Germany). With the 2014 deadline for the US-led foreign troop withdrawal fast approaching, the international community is frantic about achieving its interests before getting out of Afghanistan. What can India do in this situation?  Despite Islamabad’s negative contribution to peace in Afghanistan, there has been an international recognition that Pakistan is a part of the solution. It appears that Pakistan has succeeded in positioning itself as a central piece in the Afghan chessboard. Where has India positioned itself? What roles does it want to play to protect its own interests? What strategies could New Delhi pursue to improve its position in deciding the future of Afghanistan?  First, an analysis of where India stands among the international community in deciding the future of Afghanistan. While the US and the rest of the international community appreciate New Delhi’s economic investment in Afghanistan, not many of India’s “strategic partners” in the American and European continents would give a blank cheque. While India has already invested billions of dollars in Afghanistan, and is willing to expand further its political and economic footprints, there is an apprehension.  The international hesitation in allowing India to do what it is willing is based on two counts. First, there is an apprehension that India is expanding its intelligence network within Afghanistan to prevent Pakistan from having strategic depth vis-a-vis India. Some even suspect that India is building a coalition within Afghanistan to counter Pakistan’s presence. In short, there is strong suspicion among the international community, and some even openly accuse India of using Afghanistan as a proxy against Pakistan.  Second, a substantial section of the international community, including the US, does not want to offend the sentiments of Islamabad and its military by allowing India to have a larger footprint in Afghanistan. The general belief among this section is that Pakistan’s inputs and involvement are much more important to build a stable Afghanistan. This section acknowledges, at times even publicly, that Pakistan has played a negative role in Afghanistan, yet it would want to work with Islamabad.  With President Hamid Karzai failing to have a stable government in Afghanistan, the above section considers Pakistan much more important for the future of Afghanistan than any other country. This is why, despite regularly accusing the ISI of using the Taliban and the Haqqani network against the international troops and the Karzai government, they still want to work with Pakistan and are willing to exclude India in this process.  Given the importance that Islamabad has succeeded in getting in the estimation of the international community at the cost of reducing the Indian footprint, what can New Delhi do? How can India protect its own interests in Afghanistan and help it to stabilise?  A Delhi conference with substantial inputs from regional countries around Afghanistan will help India achieve its objectives and stabilise the Kabul regime for the following reasons. First, in recent months there have been two international conferences — one in Istanbul and the other in Bonn — during the second week of December. Both conferences had been organised by the international community, which would like to protect its own investments in Afghanistan and help Mr Karzai. The primary purpose behind this analysis is not to criticise India for what it has achieved as a result of these two conferences. The analysis is aimed at finding ways and means so that India can achieve its own objectives.  Second, a Delhi conference is essential to reach out to the regions and countries surrounding Afghanistan. Most countries of Central Asia, Russia and Iran also have substantial interests in Afghanistan, besides Pakistan and China. New Delhi will not be able to protect its interests or investments in Afghanistan on its own. Besides, India, on its own, could only devise strategies to adapt itself to the changing game rather than ambitiously change the game in Afghanistan. Should India play according to the changing game or plan towards changing the game in Afghanistan? A Delhi conference may help India decide its primary objectives and then achieve them.  Iran, Russia and Central Asia, in particular, have substantial interests in what happens in Afghanistan. All these actors have serious reservations about the efforts made by the US and its NATO partners, though they have been taking part in international efforts. Iran is extremely apprehensive of the American interests and presence in Afghanistan. Tehran by now should be convinced that the US troops are not going to leave Afghanistan completely by the end of 2014. There will be a substantial American military presence in Afghanistan, which is not likely to be targeting only the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Tehran has every reason to suspect that the American presence in Afghanistan will be detrimental to its own future. The possibility of Tehran even tactically supporting the Taliban to achieve its short-term objectives cannot be ruled out. Iran may see the Taliban in Kabul as a lesser threat than Mr Karzai collaborating with the US troops.  Central Asian countries and communities like the Uzbeks and the Tajiks have their own objectives to achieve in Afghanistan because of historical linkages and the presence of their brethren in that country. None of the Central Asian countries is comfortable with an Afghanistan totally under the control of a Pashtun leadership — Taliban or otherwise — with substantial linkages with Islamabad. Russia also has the same interests and apprehensions in Afghanistan.  Third, a Delhi conference, if projected as a complementary process and not in competition with the existing international conferences, would fill the gap in the much-needed regional approach towards stabilising Afghanistan. The international community is keenly looking for alternative approaches. During the recent Istanbul conference there was reluctance towards a regional approach among the Afghan neighbours, primarily because it was seen as an American project. If India has to lead the efforts for an alternative process, which is seen as independent one, the regional countries, including Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Iran, along with Russia and Afghanistan, may be favoured. Iran and Russia, in particular, will always be apprehensive of any West-led initiative on Afghanistan. While they may not be too anxious to accept the idea of a Delhi dialogue on Afghanistan, they are likely to be less suspicious about an Indian initiative. As mentioned earlier, if it is projected as a complementary process, even the West may be willing to support such an initiative.  For India, a Delhi conference on Afghanistan would provide the much-needed space to work with the neighbours of Afghanistan. From the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline to reviving the old Silk Route, there is much that this conference can focus on like economic, cultural and political issues. Perhaps more on economic and cultural issues and less on political issues, for it should be left to the Afghans to decide what form of government they would like to have. This would not only allow India to work with Afghanistan and its neighbours, but also result in creating regional constituencies within Afghanistan.  Pakistan is likely to remain suspicious and may not take part in such an initiative. So would be China. The objective of a Delhi initiative should not be aimed at isolating Pakistan; India needs to play a role if any initiative on Afghanistan has to succeed. So far as the Chinese role and their investments in Afghanistan are concerned, there has been an exaggeration. Will they make use of a regional initiative, or try to scuttle it? The real question is: Will Pakistan be willing to take part in an Indian initiative?  Irrespective of how Pakistan behaves, India needs to pursue multiple strategies to protect its interests in Afghanistan. A Delhi conference on the lines of the Bonn and Istanbul conferences may give the much-needed space to India to enlarge its footprint in Afghanistan.
Think peace
Tucked away within America's 2012 defence spending Bill is an item of great significance for South Asia. The Bill seeks to suspend 60% of the $1.1 billion military aid to Pakistan till the US Congress is satisfied with Islamabad's efforts in the war against terror. Given the lack of inclination on the part of the Pakistani military to provide that kind of satisfaction, this could be the beginning of the end of America's 'special' relationship with Pakistan - whereby Washington felt obliged to be Pakistan's chief armourer and prop it up with financial aid.  New Delhi has been long highlighting diversion of American military aid to Pakistan for activities far removed from fighting terror. Instead of combating jihadis, these funds have been used to strengthen the Pakistani army's hand domestically and upgrade its assets against India. Relying on the American crutch does nobody any good. It breeds resentment rather than gratitude in Pakistan. Arming the military to the teeth makes Pakistan a praetorian state by artificially propping up the army and allowing it to play a larger-than-life role. It also breeds resentment in India, coming in the way of the India-US relationship.  The converse argument also holds. Throwing away the foreign aid crutch would enhance the incentive to improve Pakistan's economy by stepping up trade with neighbours, including India. The Pakistani economy is in poor shape with double digit inflation persisting for more than four years. The country is in the throes of a deepening energy crisis, with increasing power outages. This in turn is cutting industrial output and exports. In this context, the new agreement between India and Pakistan to trade in electricity and petroleum products is a welcome step. Recent times have seen healthy interactions between business chambers of the two countries. Pakistan is also expected to ease trading norms with India and grant the latter most favoured nation status by October this year.  Bilateral synergy in trade and business will help wean Pakistan away from reliance on foreign aid. In that sense it serves the interests of people in both India and Pakistan. Normalisation of relations with India would pave the way for economic prosperity, transforming South Asia into a vibrant growth hub. Since the army is deeply involved in business in Pakistan, it too would have a stake in booming business ties. There's evidence that in contemporary Pakistan, the image of India as the principal enemy has suffered erosion as the country has other preoccupations nowadays. It's time to seize this opportunity.
Indian Army denies chief's 'Pakistan army chief' remarks
The Indian Army Tuesday officially denied that its chief, General VK Singh, had alluded to the defence ministry's handling of his age row "as though he was Pakistan's army chief" in a meeting with Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma. In a clarification issued in New Delhi, the Indian Army headquarters said the media report in this regard was "factually incorrect" and has been made "to sensationalise" a routine meeting.  "With reference to the media report, it is clarified that the report is factually incorrect and has been made to sensationalize a routine meeting," the clarification issued by the army spokesperson's office said here.  The report had claimed that Gen. Singh told Sharma during a one-on-one meeting that he was being treated by the ministry as if he was the Pakistan army chief and that he felt humiliated by the bureaucrats in the ministry.  Meanwhile, former Punjab chief minister and state Congress president Captain (retd.) Amarinder Singh has batted for Gen. Singh in a letter written to Defence minister AK Antony on his decision to reject the army chief's contention that his date of birth is May 10, 1951 and requesting that the official records be reconciled.  Antony had last week rejected a statutory complaint field by Gen. Singh four months ago, citing the recommendation of the attorney general that changing birth date records at this state would vitiate the existing succession line in the army.  Amarinder Singh, in his letter to Antony, said that he backed the army chief's fight for his honour and for upholding his integrity and that the controversy was affecting the morale of the 1.13-million strong army.  The former Punjab chief minister also reportedly attacked former army chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor, saying politics played a large part in have this controversy brewing so that it benefits some individuals.  The discrepancy in Gen. Singh’s date of birth in army records, he said, “seems to be part of some army headquarters politics geared to placing individuals in position to be future chiefs”, a reference to Lt. Gen. Bikram Singh, the present Eastern Army Commander, who is touted to be the next chief based on his seniority when the present chief retires in May this year.  Asked about Amarinder Singh's letter to Antony, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said it was written by the former Punjab chief minister, a former army officer with own views on matters military, in his personal capacity.  Tewari's comments come even as Amarinder Singh himself clarified that he had written the letter in his individual capacity.  The age row has its genesis in the two different sets of records maintained by two different branches of the army headquarters that deal with personnel matters. While the Adjutant General's branch, which is the official record keepers dealing with pay and perks, has 1951 as the army chief's year of birth, the Military Secretary branch that handles postings and promotions has 1950 as his year of birth.  The issue first came up in 2006, when Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee was the defence minister, even as the government was considering Gen. Singh's name for promotion as a corps commander. Again, in 2008, when his name came up for promotion as army commander, the age issue once again reared its head.  On both occasions, the government maintained 1950 as the year of birth and accorded its approval for his promotion.  With these as the basis, Antony and the defence ministry has rejected a couple of times rejected Gen. Singh's request for reconciling records to reflect 1951 as the year of birth.  As the army chief has now exhausted all options that are available for him to get his grievance redressed within the service, he has the option of either going to the Armed Forces Tribunal or the Supreme Court with his plea.
India Army offers 'glacier toilet' in hi-tech sell-off
NEW DELHI: Developed for troops serving on glaciers high in the Himalayas, the non-flushing " bio-digester" toilet made by India's top defence research body is now being offered to companies and poorer states.  It is one of 200 technologies produced by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) identified as for sale via the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry ( FICCI).  The national trade body and DRDO in October forged a four-year partnership to hawk dual-use military products as part of Premier Manmohan Singh's pledge in 2008 to offer defence technology spin-offs to the public, officials said.  The "bio-digester" is among 10 of the DRDO products put on the fast-track for sale to state governments and private companies, an Indian defence ministry official added.  "Our condition is to take any non-classified technology (that can be used) for the benefit of the common man," said Nirankar Saxena, Executive Director of FICCI's Centre for Technology Commercialisation, which heads the project.  The "bio-digester" toilet conceived by a DRDO unit in the city of Gwalior, works by mixing self-multiplying bacteria with human waste in specially-made tanks, resulting in the production of methane gas and water.  It was meant for Indian combat troops deployed on Siachen, a 6,300-metre-high (20,800-feet-high) glacier in disputed Kashmir where temperatures can fall up to to minus 50 degrees Celsius (minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit).  Experts say they believe some 5,000 soldiers are deployed on the frigid wasteland, where calm has prevailed since a 2003 ceasefire with rival Pakistan.  "Work on it began 15 years ago because excreta buried in snow by soldiers in the Siachen glacier polluted rivers when the ice melted," said scientist Vijay Veer of the Defence Research and Development Establishment, a DRDO unit.  The bacteria used in the mountain version of the toilet were originally found in Antarctica, but another cocktail can be used in the hot tropical plains where the need for toilets in India is most acute.  FICCI's Saxena said the Indian territory of Lakshadweep -- a cluster of islands -- has sought 12,000 bio-digesters at some 25,000 rupees ($550) a unit for a major housing project.  Other DRDO products include heat shields for trains and vehicles, windows that control light penetration, mosquito repellents and medical kits to tackle dengue and chikungunya, both insect-borne viruses.  They also plan to market a spray that guarantees to keep woollen clothes moth-free, affordable fire extinguishers and a body cream that keeps bed bugs away.  The DRDO also has high hopes for its "Heat Stabilised Narrow Fabrics and Cordages for Improved Elastic Recovery Property" which military boffins believe could be used in bras.  "The technology is a heat-stablised narrow fabric and the elastic in it is more robust than materials used in commercial brassieres," a DRDO official added.
Not a level battlefield
Finally, after much dragging of feet, the defence ministry has agreed to grant permanent commissions to women in the army, thereby enabling them to hold down regular army jobs along with their male colleagues. While this is surely a positive development, it does not signify any genuine enhancement of women’s responsibility and prestige in the army as they are still excluded from the combat streams.  Although many nations send their women to war zones across the world, Indian women are not yet thought fit enough to fight for their own country.  The arguments put forward in support of this exclusion range from the crudely sexist to the paternalistic. The strongest apparent reason cited is the notion of women’s ‘weakness’. It is unscientific and unfair to assume that given the right material conditions women cannot, if they wish to, develop the physical strength needed to withstand the rigours of the battlefront.  History abounds with instances of women engaging in physically demanding activities, fighting included. Moreover, modern warfare, conducted with technologically advanced battlegear, is not entirely, or even primarily, about brute power. And to assume that women would be inferior to men in strategising or in mental stamina and sharpness of faculties is rank sexism.  In most countries, women have faced obstacles to their participation in the national security systems. The defence establishment everywhere has been the last impenetrable bastions of patriarchy. Man — in his pride of superior physical strength — has tenaciously held on to this last vestige of exclusivity even as all other masculinist citadels, like politics and science, have gradually succumbed to the international women’s movement and women’s demonstrated abilities.  As Simone de Beauvoir argued, it is the embodiment of the lack of everything that defines man as an independent human subject — viz. physical and mental strength, intelligence, and independence of will — that signify the patriarchal conception of ‘Woman’ as the ‘second sex’, the ‘Other’ to ‘Man’ as the human norm. The fact is, then, that it is not Indian women who are weak; rather, the fragile ego of the man in the army is not yet strong enough to face up to the idea of women as fellow soldiers, let alone withstanding the prospect of female superiors.  Fear and hatred of female power and the independent female will make weakness, timidity and stupidity in women attractive to men. Men need women to be weak, docile and mindless in order to maintain and justify their dominance. Hence, the ideology of ‘femininity’ is advanced at all levels of culture as an apotheosis of these negative attributes. The idea of women at war militates against this pernicious femininity against which men measure their ‘manliness’.  It is this notion of ideal womanhood (often conflated with motherhood) that actuates also the apparently benevolent eagerness on the part of men to protect women from the hazards of the battlefront. What lies beneath this chivalry is a condescending paternalism that is a more insidious form of the idea of male superiority. Instead of recognising the dignity of women as human equals of men this ideology — with its feudal lineage — seeks to ‘respect’ and ‘protect’ women’s ‘delicacy’, thereby underlining their assumed inferiority and rendering them dependent. Moreover, the spuriousness of this benevolence is established amply by the actual treatment meted out to women in the armed forces. Taunts and abuse, physical and mental harassment and even wilful victimisation have often greeted pioneering women in these institutions and even in the police.  A case in point is that of Anjali Gupta — the first woman in the Indian Air Force.   While her suicide might have been the result more of personal rather than institutional betrayal, the way her career was destroyed with the ultimate military punishment of the court-martial does smack of sexist vendetta on the part of her superiors.  A strain of feminism that allies itself with the international pacifist movements may look askance at women clamouring to go to war. But it does seem a point of honour for Indian women to insist on real gender equality — as distinct from tokenism — from the country’s defence establishment. After all, they have a rich legacy of female heroism to carry forward, they who are the descendents of women like Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, Matangini Hazra, and many others who contributed significantly to fighting the British colonisers and, later, to the task of nation-building.

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