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Friday, 20 January 2012

From Today's Papers - 20 Jan 2012
B’desh army foils plot to topple Hasina govt

Dhaka, January 19
The Bangladesh army said on Thursday it foiled a coup attempt by retired and serving officers late last month which intelligence sources said was driven by a campaign to introduce Sharia law throughout the majority Muslim country.

Impoverished Bangladesh has a history of coups, with army generals running the South Asian nation for 15 years until the end of 1990.

"Specific information has been unearthed that some officers in military service have been involved in the conspiracy to topple the system of democratic governance," Brigadier General Muhammad Masud Razzaq told reporters. He said around 16 former and active officers were involved. Some had been detained and would appear before a military court.

Sources in the army said the coup attempt was made late last month. "The attempt has been effectively controlled and now the process is on to punish the culprits," one military official said. The Prime Minister's Office and the Home Ministry did not comment, but addressing a rally outside Dhaka earlier this week, Hasina urged Bangladeshis to remain alert. — Reuters

Army Chief’s age row sensitive issue: PM
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 19
As a controversy rages on over the date of birth of the Army Chief General VK Singh, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today termed it as a sensitive issue.

“It is a sensitive issue. I do not want to comment,” said the Prime Minister on the sidelines of a function to launch the book The Tribune 130 Years: A Witness to History.

He was asked by mediapersons if the government has formulated its plan.

Meanwhile, sources in the government said the establishment was unhappy at the Chief’s move to file a plea in the apex court. The Army Chief has filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court seeking direction to the government that his date of birth on military records be treated as May 10, 1951 and not 1950.
SC to hear PIL on Army Chief’s age today
Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, January 19
The Supreme Court will hear tomorrow a PIL filed by an association of ex-servicemen from the Army on the controversy over Army Chief Gen VK Singh’s age. The PIL has sought quashing of the government order declaring Gen Singh’s date of birth as May 10, 1950.

The PIL has been listed before a three-member Bench comprising Chief Justice SH Kapadia and Justices AK Patnaik and Swatanter Kumar. The government order was contrary to the consistent stand taken by Gen VK Singh that his DOB was May 10, 1951 and “backed by his matriculation certificate which is the only authentic document which can be taken into consideration for establishing the DoB of a person,” the Grenadiers Association (Rohtak Chapter) has contended in the petition.

The government had taken his DoB as 1950 on the basis of the age mentioned on the admission form to the National Defence Academy in 1966, but this was subject to correction after submission of the matriculation certificate, the petition said.

Uncertainty over the tenure of the Army Chief would affect the capability, strength and morale of the forces as a whole and adversely affect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, the association argued.

The government order was contrary to the opinions rendered by four former Chief Justices of India - JS Verma, RC Lahoti, GB Patnaik and VN Khare - according to which the DoB on the school-leaving certificate was to be taken as authentic, it said.

Gen VK Singh has also challenged the government order in a separate petition filed earlier this week. However, it is not known when this would be listed for hearing.

Meanwhile, Gen Singh, in his 68-page petition challenging the government’s decision, has told the Supreme Court that he was treated by the government in a manner which reflects total lack of procedure and principles of natural justice in deciding his age.
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Army chief's age row: PM steers clear; Gen V K Singh meets MoS defence
NEW DELHI: Even as controversy continued to rage over Army chief Gen V K Singh's date of birth, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Thursday steered clear of making any comment, contending that the matter was "sensitive".

His evasiveness on the issue came on the eve of hearing by the Supreme Court of a petition filed by a private organisation in support of Gen Singh. It was not clear whether a petition filed by Gen Singh himself would come up on Friday.

"It is a sensitive issue. I do not want to comment," the Prime Minister said on the sidelines of a function to launch the book 'The Tribune 13 Years: A Witness to History.

He was asked about the controversy surrounding the age of Army chief who has dragged the government to the Supreme Court to seek a direction that his date of birth on military records be treated as May 10, 1951 and not 1950.

Meanwhile, the Army chief met minister of state for defence M M Pallam Raju on Thursday afternoon, a day after the latter expressed unhappiness over the matter being taken to court.

It was not clear as to what transpired at the unscheduled meeting between Raju and Gen Singh but it is believed to have been arranged to clarify things.

"It is an unfortunate development and it is not a healthy precedent either for the (defence) ministry or the armed forces... It is an unhealthy precedent. It does not auger well either for the ministry or the forces," Raju had said on Wednesday while reacting to a question on the issue.

Gen Singh moved the Supreme Court on Monday challenging the government's rejection of his claim on his date of birth. The defence ministry had recently rejected his contention that he was born in 1951 and not in 1950.

In its recent order, the ministry has taken his date of birth as May 10, 1950, and not May 10, 1951, which the General has claimed as real as per his matriculation certificate.

An organisation The Grenadiers Association, Rohtak Chapter, had earlier filed an application in the apex court in support of Gen Singh. It is slated to come up on Friday.

In his own petition, the Army chief has contended that he was treated by the government in a manner which reflects total lack of procedure and principles of natural justice in deciding his age.

In his 68-page petition, Gen Singh has challenged the government's "illegal and arbitrary" rejection of his statutory complaint to defence minister A K Antony on December 30 last for accepting May 10, 1951 as his date of birth.

He has termed it as violation of his fundamental rights. Seeking the quashing of this order, the Army chief has pleaded that the government be directed to treat May 10, 1951 as his date of birth and "grant all consequential reliefs thereto".

"The respondent (government) needs to explain as to why the senior most officer of the Army could be treated in a manner which reflects total lack of procedure and principles of natural justice and that too on an opinion obtained from the Attorney General," his petition said.

Gen Singh also wondered as to why the ministry of defence would doubt the records in the adjutant general's branch, the official record-keeper of the Army, has not been explained. Nor has any authority while rejecting his plea for treating his date of birth as 10.5.1951 ever doubted the birth certificate of the petitioner.
Army chiefs and courts
In both India and Pakistan, the Chief of Army Staff, in person or in shadow, has sought the intervention of the Supreme Court against the civilian Government.

In one of those quirks of history, the most frequently warring neighbours are both riveted before their respective Supreme Courts. And in both cases before the court is the Chief of Army Staff, in person or in shadow. If one is on account of political malfeasance towards the Chief of Army Staff, a besieged Chief of Army Staff attempting a coup de court against a defiant political system inspires the other. In both cases someone is ‘showing the eye’, the ultimate South Asian expression of defiance. If General VK Singh is ‘showing the eye’, it is on account of a dishonest political leadership that has been consistent in its deceit. And Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is compelled to ‘show the eye’ because of the tricks being played by a GHQ that is fighting for its status of sole arbitrator. This is where the similarities end, however, for the role played by the respective Supreme Courts in India and Pakistan has been polar in its difference.

The long-simmering row between the Government of India and its Chief of Army Staff is now reaching a climax with the latter taking the issue to the Supreme Court. The Government has been seriously insincere in its handling of the matter, purely on account of its own motivated interests. And there is ample evidence to suggest that the political portion of the Government has motivated interests in this matter. Army officers are easy with their criticism of the bureaucrats who run the Ministry of Defence and are given to blaming the babu at the drop of a pen, as in the row over the Army Chief’s age. Often the criticism is valid, but sometimes it’s way off the mark, as in this case. The root of the problem is the political manipulation of Army institutions to suit their own vested interests.

The Government manipulated an internal Army matter and made it snowball into a controversy that never was in the Sukna land transfer case. Had the Government’s intentions been honest, it would not have moved against senior Army officers when not an inch of land had changed hands. In that episode were the seeds of the age row planted. The decision to promote Gen Singh from Army Commander to Chief of Army Staff was taken by the political authorities. Such decisions are taken on the basis of confidential reports about integrity, authority and seniority. The Chief of Army Staff is privy to, and guardian of, the most important military matters. The level of clearance is the highest possible, for such is the nature of the job. And that job comes from the confidence that the Government has vested in him. It is on account of trust that an officer becomes the Chief of Army Staff.

So, if the officer has a discrepancy in his records, and has petitioned for it to be cleared, doesn’t it behoove that ‘trust’ and ‘confidence’ which the Government had in plenty when it promoted him that it takes his word for it? Gen Singh can be trusted with top secret military matters, but not when it comes to him declaring his date of birth? He can be trusted to wage war for his country, but not when he wants to clear a discrepancy in his documents? For, there is a genuine discrepancy and the Govern-ment has its own motivation to not clear the matter according to institutional norms.

The records of all Army personnel are the purview of the Adjutant-General’s Branch. Promotions and postings are the responsibility of the Military Secretary’s Branch. It so happens that often the twain doesn’t meet. Gen Singh is not the first officer of the Army who has discrepancies in his date of birth, and with matters not having been resolved to institutional benefit, his will not be the last such case. Hundred of officers have served and retired from the Army with different documents for their date of birth. Many have tried to clear their messy documents, but some haven’t even bothered to attempt doing so on account of the inertia inherent in the military bureaucracy.

The Government could have cleared up this mess for future generations of Army officers, but it did not do so as it was not interested. Its motives become clear from its actions; in this case, the Defence Minister and his boss have been mendacious. Their preference for a preconceived outcome has made them recognise a document that should never have had legal sanction. In the process, the sanctity of Army institutions has taken a hit for the Adjutant-General’s Branch is now not the repository of trust, which can safely look after personal documents of commissioned officers. To suit its end results, the Government has decided that the preferred choice for personnel documentation is the Military Secretary’s Branch, to hell with institutional sanctity, integrity, heritage and procedures.

Which is also something that the brave Government of Pakistan is violating in its eyeball-to-eyeball situation with a GHQ in the shadows, an Imran Khan on the streets, and a Supreme Court eager to please the Army. That’s in stark contrast to the situation in India. In its brave defiance of military threats, the Government of Pakistan is matched by its principal Opposition, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), and the National Assembly as a whole. The role of Mr Nawaz Sharif has been one of the best-kept secrets of this episode. His commitment to the procedures of democracy is a result of his suffering at the hands of a military dictatorship. It has been his behind-the-scene backing of the Government that has resulted in an overwhelming National Assembly sentiment against military intervention, which is really what the game-plan has been.

From the Operations Rooms of the various Corps, to the GHQ in Rawalpindi, the plot has been to unseat this Govern-ment and get Mr Imran Khan into power. The Gilani Government may well be unpopular, and President Asif Ali Zardari could well be a reviled man, but constitutionally they are the power centres of Pakistan at a time when the image of the Army has taken a beating of significant consequences. From the midnight raid on Abbottabad to snatch Osama bin Laden, the terrorist attack on PNS Mehran in Karachi, to finally the US marking November 26 with an attack on a border post in Mohmand Agency. To top it all, civilians are now ‘showing the eye’, which the Supreme Court has to take into account.
Govt vs General: Why there will be only losers in this war
An SMS joke doing the rounds goes something like this. “In India, the government decides the age (of retirement) of the army chief; in Pakistan, the army decides the age of the government.”

This joke is the only reason anyone can have to smile about the ongoing embarrassment the country is facing over the government’s ham-handed handling of army chief Gen VK Singh’s date of birth. Gen Singh says it is 10 May 1951, and the government has decreed it is a year earlier (For full details, read this).

On the face of it, the whole controversy seems to be about whether Gen Singh should get an additional year as army chief or not.

However, many other issues are involved, and the Supreme Court, where General Singh has filed his petition against the government’s decision on his age, will have to take a final call on it.

Fighting each other. Image courtesy PIB

But whatever the court decides, everyone will lose from it. Consider the following ifs…

If the court finds that General Singh is right, the government’s credibility will be seriously damaged for it has staked its prestige on the age issue.

If the government’s stand is held to be correct, something even more fundamental will be lost: the sanctity of the matriculation certificate as proof of age will always be in question. Apart from the birth certificate, the matriculation certificate as proof of age is accepted in almost all organisations and for all purposes, including the issue of passports. This certificate is the basis of General Singh’s age claim, and thus cannot be easily set aside.

If the government loses and still decides to remove Singh using its executive powers, it will damage the army’s morale. No previous army general has ever been removed by a civilian government, especially for a trivial reason like age-proof.

If the government does not remove a recalcitrant general after losing a court battle, it will dent people’s faith in the supremacy of civilian control of the army.

If General Singh wins, but chooses to remain in office till next year, the relationship between government and the army will be damaged for another year.

If the government wins, and retains the General till 10 May this year, we will have three or more months of a bad relationship souring government-army ties.

If the government chooses to remove General Singh and replace him with General Bikram Singh, the latter will start his tenure with the taint that he was beholden to politicians for his elevation. His moral authority with the army will fall in proportion.

If General Singh is removed, given his role against corrupt elements in the army, the public will assume that he was inconvenient to people who wanted to hide their corrupt practices.

If the Supreme Court decides on a third option – like sending the case back to the government for reconsideration or asking a group of bureaucrats to find out the real status of the general’s birthdate and army records – we are back to square one.

If the Supreme Court, no matter what it decides, castigates the army for failing to reconcile the difference in birth dates recorded by the Military Secretary’s branch (which had the 1950 date) and the Adjutant General’s branch (which had the later date), the army may have a huge jobs reconciling all its current records on every person employed by it. Who knows how many such divergences exist? Why should a jawan not get the same benefit as a general?

Clearly, there will be no winners in this war over the general’s age. In the circumstances, the best solution is still a compromise between the general and the government. The second-best option is for the general to resign and fight his battle for honour as a private person.

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