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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

From Today's Papers - 29 Feb 2012
Govt calls off Army Chief’s visit to Israel
Ajay Banerjee/TNS
New Delhi, February 28
In keeping with its neutral stance on Israel-Iran tensions, India has asked its Army Chief General VK Singh not to travel to Tel Aviv on a scheduled official visit next month.

Officially, the Defence Ministry has cited "critical situation prevailing in the Middle-East" as the reason behind the move.

General VK Singh was scheduled to visit the country from March 16 to 18. The Chief has now been advised to travel there later this year. It means his successor - scheduled to be take over the charge on June 1 this year - will go to Tel Aviv to discuss cooperation.

Israel is India’s second largest defence equipment supplier after Russia while Iran caters to around 10 per cent of India growing crude oil needs.

Senior officials have not ruled out the latest flare-up between Israel and Iran over embassy blasts as one of the reasons for not sending the Army Chief to Tel Aviv. Israel had asked India to impose a trade embargo on Iran and implement other sanctions.

By not sending its Army Chief to Israel, New Delhi probably wants to show Iran that it was adopting a neutral stance at this juncture even as global pressure was mounting against Tehran.

After the February 13 Delhi car-bomb attack, in which an Israeli woman diplomat was injured, India has done the proverbial tightrope walk to manage its two strategic partners. It has warded off high-pitched suggestions from Israel that Iran had a hand in the attack. Home Minister P Chidambaram has made it clear that there was no evidence to link the attack to any specific country. Sources maintained that an official visit to Israel, at this stage, could send wrong signals to Iran.

All military visits are planned and cleared at least a year in advance. So, this sudden move by the government has raised many brows.

Sources said there could be other reasons for not sending Singh to Israel. One of them could be a kind of ‘trust deficit’, a fallout of the confrontation between the government and the Army chief over his age. The Ministry of Defence, however, has denied this.

General VK Singh is the first serving Army Chief to drag the government to the Supreme Court.
Reading the fine print

    Officially, the Defence Ministry has cited “critical situation prevailing in the Middle-East” as the reason behind the move
    Senior officials have not ruled out the latest flare-up between Israel and Iran over the embassy car blast as one of the reasons for not sending the Army Chief to Tel Aviv
    Sources said an official visit of the Army Chief to Israel, at this stage, could have sent wrong signals to Iran. India is adopting a neutral stance on Israel-Iran tensions
Brakes on NCTC
Need to reform, not to scuttle

True to expectations, the Union Home Ministry has put off indefinitely the operationalisation of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre which was scheduled to start functioning from March 1. This had indeed become inevitable after the proposed body was opposed by as many as 10 State governments which included West Bengal where the Congress is in alliance with Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. Evidently, the Union Home Ministry had not done its homework adequately and had to pay a price for it. While a nodal agency for counter-terror intelligence is a welcome initiative, it was clearly wrong of the Home Ministry to have not taken the states into confidence. The protesting states, with some justification, took the position that the powers of arrest and search given to the NCTC amounted to interfering with the jurisdiction of states on law and order and hence, the executive order impinged on the federal structure of the Constitution.

As things stand, the Union Home Secretary will invite chief secretaries and home secretaries of all states along with the DGPs and heads of anti-terror wings for a meeting that is likely to be held on March 10. Thereafter, the Chief Ministers will hopefully get a chance to discuss it when the Centre calls a conference on internal security a few days later. There is no way the non-Congress chief ministers who opposed the counter-terror body would agree to it in its present form. While the Centre must be prepared to hold out some concessions to address the concerns of the dissenting states, the states on their part must realize that it would be grossly wrong of them to scuttle the setting up of the counter-terror body out of political expediency.

Whenever there is a major terror strike anywhere in the country the lack of effective coordination between the State where the incident occurs and the Centre comes out starkly. It is, therefore, necessary to have a nodal counter-terror mechanism in place. The example of the United States where such a counter-terror body was set up three years after the New York Twin Towers terror strike showed that such a body can be put to good use. For India, too, the experiment can be efficacious provided the coordination is handled effectively.
Army chief General VK Singh denied permission to travel to Israel

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New Delhi:  The Ministry of Defence has reportedly denied General VK Singh permission to travel to Israel. Officially, the ministry has cited "critical situation prevailing in the Middle-East" as the reason for the denial. Sources however say the move is a fallout of the confrontation between the government and the Army chief over his age. The Ministry of Defence has denied this.

The news of the denial comes on a day when retirement orders General Singh were issued by the Military Secretary's branch, confirming that he will retire on May 31.

The government officially maintains that the situation in the Middle-East is not favorable with war clouds gathering over Iran. An official visit to Israel, it says, could send a wrong signal to Iran, with who India is doing a tight-rope walk.  However, it is note-worthy that all military visits are planned and cleared at least a year in advance. The sudden denial of the permission has therefore raised many eyebrows.

General Singh was scheduled to visit the country from March 16 to 18. He has now been advised to travel there in the latter part of the year.

General VK Singh  is the first serving Army chief to take the government to the Supreme Court over his age.  But he was forced to withdraw his petition after the court sided with the government and indicated that it was not in favour of entertaining his petition, asking for all his records to show his date of birth as May 10, 1951 and not May 10, 1950.  Documents in the Army reflect both years.

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Army issues retirement note to Gen VK Singh
Press Trust of India / New Delhi Feb 28, 2012, 20:15 IST

After a delay of over seven months, the Army has finally issued a retirement note to its Chief General VK Singh communicating to him that his tenure will end on May 31, official sources said today.

Gen Singh, who is in Jodhpur today, was issued the Retirement Warning Letter (RWL) by the Military Secretary (MS) branch recently, they said.
RWL is normally given to officers about 10-11 months before their due date of retirement but it had not been issued to Gen Singh as he had filed official pleas to get his date of birth changed.

After rejecting his plea to change his date of birth to May 10, 1951, the Defence Ministry in November last year had asked the MS branch to issue the letter.

The MS branch had then expressed its inability to do so saying the matter was sub-judice.

The Army chief had at that time filed the Statutory Complaint with Defence Minister AK Antony to accept May 10, 1951 as his date of birth.

On February 10, the Army Chief withdrew his plea on the age issue in the Supreme Court which held that May 10, 1950 will remain as his date of birth in service records.

The Defence Ministry has shortlisted three seniormost officers - Eastern Army Commander Lt Gen Bikram Singh, Army Vice Chief Lt Gen Shri Krishna Singh and Northern Army Commander Lt Gen KT Parnaik - to succeed him.
Army chief's visit to Israel cancelled
New Delhi: Army Chief General V K Singh's visit to Israel next month has been cancelled because of "instability" in West Asian region, particularly Syria, Government said today.

Singh's three-day official visit to Israel was scheduled to start from March 16.

"Syria is restless and other things are happening in the region...," Minister of State for Defence M M Pallam Raju told reporters here today while replying to a question on the reasons for cancellation of the visit by the Defence Ministry.

"Primarily because of what is happening in Syria which is experiencing little turbulence. So I guess it is better. I am sure they must be better informed about the situation."

When asked why the decision was taken so late, he said, "These things can happen anytime. We cannot predict. So it is better to be cautious."

During his visit, the Army Chief was expected to discuss with his Israeli counterpart the future joint development of defence programmes.

Defence cooperation between India and Israel has been burgeoning since diplomatic relations between New Delhi and Tel Aviv were established in 1992.

The ties have become stronger in the recent times with India emerging as the largest purchaser of Israeli defence hardware since the beginning of the 21st Century.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

From Today's Papers - 28 Feb 2012
China opts out of meet on piracy in Indian Ocean
Ajay Banerjee/TNS

New Delhi, February 27
China has opted out of the two-day maritime conference on piracy and challenges in the Indian Ocean that started here today. Speakers from the USA, France, Australia, India and Gulf countries are participating in the conference to highlight issues that confront navies and merchant vessels in the pirate-infested waters.

The conference on "Indian Ocean challenges - a quest for cooperative solutions" is being organised by the Ministry of Defence-backed think tank, the National Maritime Foundation headed by former Naval Chief (retd) Admiral Sureesh Mehta.

Without China's participation and its cooperation, the conference is incomplete and may not throw up an exact picture for policy makers, officials maintain. The Chinese Navy is working on the high seas against piracy and has posted its warships in the Gulf of Aden to provide an escort to merchant vessels crossing the piracy-prone areas. It even cooperates in forming the escort schedule with India.

For China and India, the security of the sea lanes of communications (SLOCS) is vital. These SLOCS run across the high seas and around 82 per cent India's gas and oil needs are shipped through these waters. In case of China, around 61 per cent of its oil and gas is shipped through the Indian Ocean.

In the backdrop of China opting out of the conference, it is explicit belief that India alone cannot be the dominant player in the Indian Ocean.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister AK Antony today said the "real problem" of piracy was located on land where powerful people were backing the sea brigands and piracy cases were continuing at an alarming rate.

"While the pirates can be neutralised at sea, the real solution lies in addressing the root causes-which are complex and are actually located on land. Pirates are only the front as there are powerful people behind them," he said.

The minister said India has put forward certain proposals before the United Nations to tackle piracy, for which a consensual and cooperative effort was required.
NCTC to miss its March 1 deadline
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 27
After days of hectic political lobbying, the Ministry of Home Affairs today announced that the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) will not be operationalised from its scheduled date of March 1.

The Tribune, in its edition dated February 24, had mentioned that the NCTC will miss its deadline. The MHA had announced in the first week of February that the NCTC - a single point pan-India body - will start functioning from March 1.

The NCTC is facing stiff opposition from non-Congress Chief Ministers. The NCTC may take its shape only after a meeting of the police chiefs of all states likely to be held in Delhi on March 10. The appointments of the director and three joint directors of the NCTC have also been put on hold.

The Union Home Secretary will invite Chief Secretaries and Commissioners of Home Departments of states along with the DGPs and heads of anti-terror organisations for a meeting, possibly on March 10, to "discuss in detail the scope and functions of the NCTC", Home Ministry sources said.

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has written a letter to the Chief Ministers explaining the NCTC.
Army Act needs to be reviewed

STRIKING a balance between the need to punish wrongdoing and the rights of those accused of wrongdoing is a delicate task the world over. But sometimes it becomes patently obvious that an unwelcome imbalance has resulted and that is surely the case when it comes to the Pakistan Army Act, 1952. From the state having the right to terminate the services of an officer or jawan and there being no recourse to judicial review, to allowing punishments to be enhanced at the appellate stage, to being able to deny the documents of the trial proceedings of a military court to the accused, the denial of fair and legitimate rights and due process to those tried or punished under the Army Act is hard to defend. That the major distortions have come under military dispensations only makes the case stronger for a thorough review of the Act to bring it in like with the spirit of the constitution and international norms. So, it is some relief that the Pakistan Ex-Servicemen Society has called on the government to review the Army Act and strengthen the protection for those tried or punished under it.

The Society may have its own motives for taking up the matter. It was one of the more high-profile organisations to openly criticise the Musharraf regime, and has included in its resolution on bringing changes to the Army Act specific references to personnel dismissed through administrative orders during the Musharraf era. Nevertheless, the thrust of their demands is largely correct. Perhaps most problematically of all, the jurisdiction of the high courts to review certain actions against civilian or uniformed individuals under the Army Act has been ousted by a clause of the constitution, while the Supreme Court’s ability to intervene has also been somewhat limited to matters of ‘public importance’ and concerning fundamental rights. Surely, more judicial scrutiny, not less, is required when the armed forces have the ability to proceed against civilians under laws governing the armed forces.

To be sure, being a country racked by terrorist violence and one where militants are known to have infiltrated the armed forces, the law must be able to adequately deal with those seeking to undermine and overthrow the state. But basic civil liberties also need to be protected. The long journey to becoming a country where the rule of law has primacy will never be complete until regressive measures are expunged from the statute books.

— An editorial in Dawn, Islamabad

Antony terms China’s reaction to Arunachal visit objectionable
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 27
Defence Minister AK Antony today reacted sharply to China’s “objections” to his visit to Arunachal Pradesh last week.

“Statements made by China are objectionable. Arunachal Pradesh is a part of India like Jammu and Kashmir, the Northeast and any other state of India. As Defence Minister I can visit any place within my country,” he said on the sidelines of a seminar here today.

China claims a large part of Arunachal as its territory, which is disputed by India. The two nations have a boundary dispute, a legacy of the British days. Antony expressed surprise over China’s reaction and termed it “highly objectionable”, adding that Beijing had “no right” to interfere in India’s domestic affairs.

China had reacted sharply to Antony's visit to Arunachal Pradesh to take part in its 25th Statehood Day celebrations and said that India should refrain from taking any action that could "complicate" the border issue.

New Delhi said it took this matter seriously, asserting that Beijing had no right to interfere in its domestic affairs. External Affairs Minister SM Krishna said Arunachal was a “part and parcel” of India. "India will not tolerate external interference of China in Indian territorial affairs," he said.
Defence Min okays $1.5-bn aircraft deal for Navy
Press Trust of India / New Delhi Feb 27, 2012, 20:30 IST

To boost maritime surveillance capabilities of the Navy, the Defence Ministry has approved the proposal to procure nine medium range reconnaissance aircraft expected to cost over $1.5 billion.

The approval for procuring the advanced medium range maritime reconnaissance (MRMR) aircraft was granted by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) on Friday, Ministry officials said here today.
The nine MRMR planes will be in addition to the 12 American-origin P-8I long-range (LRMR) aircraft already being acquired by Navy at a $3.1 billion price tag.

Several global aviation majors including American Lockheed Martin, Swedish SAAB, French Dassault Aviation, Brazilian Embraer and European EADS are in contention for this big contract.

With an operating range of over 350 nautical miles, the MRMR planes will act as Navy's eyes and ears over Indian Ocean in the medium range.

While the P-8Is, with an operating range of around 1,200 nautical miles, will patrol the outermost layer of India's three-tier maritime surveillance grid, Israeli spy drones like Heron and Searcher-II as well as Dorniers make up the inner most layer.
Defence minister A. K. Antony gets agitated over Chinese objections to his trip to Arunachal Pradesh

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Defence minister A.K. Antony is a reticent man.

But his agitation at Chinese objections over his recent trip to Arunachal Pradesh came forth on Monday in a rare show of eloquence.

After Antony's visit to the North-Eastern state on February 19, a Chinese foreign ministry official had issued a veiled warning.
Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony delivers a speech during the silver jubilee celebration of Statehood Day in Itanagar earlier this month

Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony delivers a speech during the silver jubilee celebration of Statehood Day in Itanagar earlier this month

'India should work with China to maintain peace and stability in border areas.

China advocates seeking a fair and rational solution through equal and friendly negotiation.

Beijing's stand on the border issue, including disputes regarding the eastern sector, has been consistent and clear-cut,' the official had said.

This was in line with the fact that China has routinely objected to Indian leaders visiting Arunachal Pradesh which it refuses to recognise.

But that has not prevented India to emphasise that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of the country.

Accordingly, Antony's visit was to take part in its statehood celebrations. On Monday morning, Antony hit back, asserting that the Chinese official's comment was 'objectionable' and visiting the state was part of his 'duty as defence minister of India'.

'I was surprised to see such a reaction. I feel it is most unfortunate and, at the same time, it is really objectionable,' Antony said in response to Chinese remarks.

His Arunachal visit was marked by a grand celebration which included a fly past by Indian Air Force's top of the line fighters - the Sukhoi-30s.

The IAF has recently moved Sukhois to the North-East to strengthen its capabilities in the region. In a provocative gesture, the fighter formation that took part in the celebrations was led by the same IAF officer who was denied a visa by Beijing last month.

China had objected to the presence of the IAF pilot, Group Captain M. Panging, in a defence delegation scheduled to visit Beijing.

Panging, whose brother is in the army, belongs to Arunachal Pradesh and China is averse to giving visas to people from the state. China 'advised' Antony, saying India should refrain from taking any action that could 'complicate' the border issue.

    The McMahon Line serves as the effective boundary between India and China. This line separates Arunachal Pradesh from Tibet
    It is named after Sir Henry McMahon, then foreign secretary of British India, who negotiated the boundary agreement between Great Britain and Tibet at the Simla Accord in 1914
    But China rejects the accord, claiming Tibet was not sovereign so it did not have the power to conclude treaties. Thus it considers Arunachal Pradesh as disputed territory between India and China
    The McMahon Line extends for 890 km from Bhutan in the west to 260 km east of the great bend of the Brahmaputra in the east along the crest of the Himalayas

It had issued similar statements when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pratibha Patil visited the state.

Antony said he had been visiting Arunachal since 1984.

'This time, I was thrilled to visit the state on its silver jubilee of attaining statehood,' Antony, commenting about the progress made by state, had said.

China views Arunachal Pradesh as part of the border dispute but India has countered the move, leading to a stalemate in the talks to settle the boundary question.

As the fresh row between India and China broke out, a group of US Army soldiers landed in New Delhi for the next round of the bilateral exercise Yudh Abhyas.

The growing military ties between India and the US have often made Beijing uncomfortable.

The Yudh Abhyas 2011-12 will involve mechanised forces. A reconnaissance platoon with the Stryker reconnaissance vehicle has also arrived for the exercise that will take place in the Rajasthan desert.

As the US troops landed in India, Antony also talked about the military presence of the world's major powers in the Indian Ocean Region despite the waters being far from their shores.

'Unlike the Atlantic and Pacific, a few of the major powers are geographically contiguous to its waters and yet they have maintained a certain military presence and abiding politico-diplomatic interest in these waters,' he said, speaking at a maritime seminar.

Read more:
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Army Chief's visit to Israel likely to be deferred
US troops to celebrate Holi with Indian Army
A group of 200 US army troops will get a taste and a feel of Holi, the Indian festival of colours, even as they test their battlefield skills with Indian Army personnel during an annual war game in the Rajasthan desert beginning next week.

With barely a week left for the exercise to begin, a group of 30 American troops along with their Stryker reconnaissance armoured personnel carriers and support equipment arrived here Monday. The rest will arrive later.

The American troops will participate in the bilateral Yudh Abhyas-2012 war games involving the mechanised forces of the two countries, an army spokesperson said here.

"With Holi falling within the training calendar (on March 8), the US troops will also get a colourful experience of this vibrant festival as a part of the cultural exchange between troops," the spokesperson said.

The troops and their equipment are from the 2nd Squadron of 14th Cavalry Regiment from the 25th Infantry Division of the US Army's Pacific base in Hawaii. The initial lot of 30 will directly proceed to the exercise area and will be joined by another 170 American army personnel within a few days.

The joint exercise is designed to promote cooperation between the two militaries at the tactical level, while sharing training procedures and building joint operating skills, within the framework of UN peacekeeping operations, the spokesperson said.

During the exercise, troops from both nations will engage in joint planning for a variety of missions including live fire drills, cordon and search operations and search and rescue training.

Monday, 27 February 2012

From Today's Papers - 27 Feb 2012
Festering Baloch crisis
Islamabad’s offer unlikely to help

Pakistan’s Balochistan problem continues to be a festering sore with rebel leaders from the province having got asylum in Switzerland a few years back. The harsh policies of Islamabad forced them to first go underground and then move abroad after the killing of Nawab Akbar Khan Bughti in 2006. Since then they have been effectively carrying on their crusade to end the exploitation of Balochistan by Islamabad. Among the nationalist Baloch leaders working from abroad are Nawab Bughti’s grandson Brahamdagh Bughti and Hyrbyiar Marri. However, the Balochistan Nationalist Party chief, Sardar Akhter Mengal, has been fighting for the cause of Balochistan from within Pakistan. He has rejected the Pakistan government’s latest offer that all the cases against the Baloch leaders in Europe will be withdrawn if they come back home. The offer came after some behind-the-scene meetings between the two sides.

The Baloch leadership is unimpressed by Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s announcement of amnesty because of the huge trust deficit between the government and the Baloch rebels. Islamabad’s attitude has always been discriminatory against Balochistan and hence their unwillingness to take any offer from the government seriously. The Pakistan government cannot succeed in winning over the hearts of the Baloch so long as the trust deficit remains.

There is, in fact, need for a complete reversal of the Balochistan policy of Islamabad. Pakistan must launch large-scale development projects in its most backward province which is otherwise the richest area in terms of natural resources--- oil, gas, uranium, copper, gold. Balochistan has the lowest literacy rate and the highest number of the unemployed in Pakistan. There is little industrial activity because of an acute shortage of power availability. The Baloch argue that the province will have no shortage of funds if it gets adequate royalty for its natural resources. They have been opposed to any move to dilute the population complexion of the province as this can destroy their tribal identity. This was the primary reason why they resisted the development of Gwadar seaport and the plans for army housing schemes in the past. Thus, Islamabad will have to make drastic policy changes to end the Balochistan crisis.
US pullout from Afghanistan
Serious implications for regional security
by Anita Inder Singh

The announcement by Leon Panetta, US Defence Secretary, that the US could end combat operations in Afghanistan in 2013 — instead of 2014, as declared earlier — and concentrate on providing training for Afghan forces was the first time a senior Obama administration official had made such a statement. It took even America’s NATO allies by surprise, although some of them — especially France and Britain — were already thinking of cutting back on their own military operations.

Panetta claimed that the quicker handoff was possible because of improved security and performance by Afghan forces. But that is at odds with the view of senior Afghan military officials that such a hasty move could spell disaster. It also goes against a warning by the American intelligence agencies in January that the Afghan conflict is mired in stalemate partly because of Pakistan’s extremist exports across the Durand Line, partly because many difficulties could jeopardise the Obama administration’s plans to withdraw most U.S. troops and hand over responsibility for the war to the Afghan government by 2014.

Indeed, the Karzai government was already fearful that Afghan troops might not be ready to assume more responsibility for maintaining security. Panetta’s caveat that US and NATO troops that stay in Afghanistan would be "combat ready" has not eased Karzai’s concern.

The main problem with President Obama’s Afghan strategy has always been his withdrawal statements in 2009 and 2011, and his 2014 deadline for NATO troop pullout This deadline has been unconnected to the West’s aims in Afghanistan. "2013" is even more unconnected and is inspired largely by Obama’s calculation that bringing the boys back home sooner rather than later will help him win next November’s presidential election.

Even before Panetta’s surprise statement, Washington had topped up Obama’s withdrawal statements of 2009 and 2011 by stating that NATO would remove $30 billion worth of military equipment from Afghanistan; defence cuts (which will also affect Europe) and reduced aid to Afghanistan. Earlier this year, he talked of drawing down from Afghanistan and moving eastwards, strengthening America’s position in the Asia-Pacific. (That last statement of intent will not impress India or any other Asian country, especially if the US is perceived as retreating from Afghanistan; it will instead raise the question how America’s move eastwards will be financed if military expenditure is reduced).

The exit strategy for Afghanistan included building of a strong Afghan government and army, able to defend their country. But Obama’s hurry to exit in 2013 raises the prospect of Afghanistan being up for grabs in a free-for-all that could include the Afghan army, the Taliban, and warlords belonging to minorities.

Obama’s personal and domestic political considerations have come to the fore. The trouble is that they have little to do with Afghanistan’s stability. This is why American’s attempts to get reconciliation on the rails in December failed, with the Taliban declaring that they would continue fighting. That failure was all the more conspicuous because neither the Karzai government nor any Afghan group, apart from the Taliban, took part in the peace talks.

Dr Abdullah Abdullah, an ethnic Tajik, who unsuccessfully challenged Karzai in the 2009 presidential elections and could stand for political office once again, is a major Taliban opponent. And even if Karzai tries his own hand at reconciliation with the Taliban, he will face resistance both from a parliament that is demanding an expansion of its oversight powers and a revived political opposition, the National Front for Afghanistan (NFA).

The NFA is composed of leaders from three major non-Pashtun communities — the Tajiks, the Uzbeks and the Hazaras — all of whom opposed the Taliban and Pakistan during the 1990s and remain hostile to both. At the very least, the NFA — and parliamentarians from other groups — is opposed to parleys with the Taliban, and will call for a meaningful role in the peace process. That will go against the grain of Washington’s thinking that it is enough to talk to the Taliban to usher in peace.

Even if Karzai — or the US — manage to include more Afghan parties in negotiations they will have to reconcile the Pashtun Taliban with the non-Pashtun NFA. Whether the Taliban will give up their insistence on the implementation of strict Sharia law is anyone’s guess. Women and minorities were among the most persecuted groups under the Taliban regime and will challenge any attempts to throw them back to second-class status. In such a situation the Afghan security forces could split along ethnic lines.

The mere prospect of such a catastrophe should push Washington, Kabul and Islamabad to do everything to reach a broad-based political settlement. Peace talks must include all Afghan political groups and be Afghan-led. Even if the US manages to strike a deal with the Taliban — which seems to be difficult at the moment — it will not be able to impose its wishes on the Afghans who dislike it. Only the Afghans can forge an enduring consensus about their future government and political system.

Last but not the least, America’s failure to coax or cajole Pakistan into making the Taliban more amenable to peace, despite massive amounts of aid over the last decade, stands out. Washington has brought no military pressure to bear on Pakistan to tackle the Afghan Taliban: US-Pakistan relations only nosedived after the killing of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani turf in May 2011 — and the US remains dependent on Pakistan’s army. Pakistan could certainly get a seat at the negotiating table — but could turn out to be obstructive if it keeps banging on its anti-India drum (General Kayani wants the Indian Embassy in Kabul to close down, but neither Karzai nor the US would accept this).

India has always wanted NATO to stay the course — that is, defeat the Taliban. It must start thinking what it will do if NATO scuttles from Afghanistan and the Taliban come back to power. One option is to continue developing closer contacts with Russia, Iran and Central Asian countries, all of which have a vested interest in a stable Afghanistan; in addition, Iran is close to Afghanistan’s Shia minorities. Iran can also provide India access to Afghanistan and other Central Asian nations through the port of Chabahar.

The Obama administration’s statements about withdrawal from Afghanistan have been ill-judged and ill-timed, and have serious implications for security in South Asia.
‘No point talking to Pak till Army in control’
At a time when India has resumed backchannel talks with Pakistan, on Sunday, two political activists — originally from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan — cautioned New Delhi regarding the peace process with Islamabad, saying that it doesn’t have a future unless the Pakistan army gives up its control over the State.

Mumtaz Khan from PoK migrated to Canada more than two decades ago because of alleged persecution and Senge Sering of Gilgit currently lives in Washington, US. They were here to attend a conference on “PoK and Northern Areas: Present Status and way forward”.

Khan, who runs the International Centre for Peace and Democracy in Toronto, said, “I don’t know when India is going to learn. Pakistan is smart... it has initiated wars and terrorist attacks. But New Delhi still wants to talks with them.”

Sering, who heads the Institute of Gilgit-Baltistan Studies in Washington, said, “Pakistan is only buying time. India has the memory of a goldfish, which lasts only seven seconds. New Delhi should realise that they are dealing with a State which is not trustworthy.”

Both the activists, who have their families in PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan, respectively, slammed the Pakistan government for denial of basic political freedom and lack of civic amenities in these areas.
ndian Army to hold summer exercise in Rajasthan desert
New Delhi : The Indian Army will be conducting one of its largest-ever exercises, using battle tanks and armoured personnel carriers, in the Rajasthan desert this summer to validate its integrated theatre battle concept, an officer said.

The exercise, in which all formations and units under the Jaipur-based South Western Command will participate to validate doctrines in a joint service environment, will be held from March to May 2012, army spokesperson Col. Jagdeep Dahiya said here.

Defence sources, meanwhile, said the Mathura-based 1 'Strike' Corps units too will be part of the exercise that will be carried out around the Suratgarh and Mahajan Ranges areas.

"The exercise will be based on the Integrated Theatre Battle Concept and will be one of the largest manoeuvres conducted so far," Dahiya said.

"Joint synergy will be enhanced by the active participation of the Indian Air Force (IAF), with the air assets of the army and the air force being employed in an integrated manner," he added.

Battlefield transparency and operational plans based on real-time situational awareness will be enhanced using intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) inputs from unmanned aerial vehicles, radars and satellites, Jodhpur-based defence spokesperson Col. S.D. Goswami said.

"The exercise will start with the mobilisation and build-up of units in the months of February and March. This will be followed by training at unit and formation level and finally culminate in large-scale manoeuvres," he added.

A wide array of tanks, infantry combat vehicles, artillery guns, helicopters, fighter jets, UAVs, air defence weapons and radars will be fielded in the exercise.

The exercise will enable the army to validate its war fighting concepts while working towards a capability-based approach relying on a series of transformational initiatives, concepts, organisational structures and absorption of new age technology.
IAF rescues 11 civilians from Kashmir avalanche
The Indian Air Force (IAF) on Sunday rescued 11 civilians from Sonamarg area of Ganderbal district in Kashmir as authorities issued a fresh avalanche warning in the area.
On the instructions of Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Asgar Samoon, IAF airlifted 11 civilians from Sonamarg to
Gund town of Ganderbal as there was a possibility of fresh avalanche striking the area, an official spokesman said.

All the civilians have been evacuated out of Sonamarg and adjoining snow-bound areas, he said.

Sonamarg has been the site of one of the two massive avalanches that hit army camps in Kashmir on Wednesday.

Three soldiers were killed when a massive avalanche hit an army camp at Sonamarg and another massive avalanche hit the headquarters of 109 Infantry Brigade at Dawar area of Gurez sector, near LoC, in Bandipora district on Wednesday night resulting in the death of 14 soldiers while two others are still missing.

Meanwhile, the search operation for the two missing jawans in Gurez continued for the fourth day on Sunday, defence sources said.

Sources said inclement weather was hampering the search for the two jawans, who remain buried under 18 feet of snow.
Army staff chief visits Mhow College
INDORE: Chief of Army staff Gen VK Singh recently visited Army War College, Mhow and addressed the officers of Higher Command Course, including the officers of the Army, Navy and Air Force, who were attending the Joint Training Capsule there.

He deliberated on the present geopolitical challenges in the region, with specific reference to the Indian subcontinent. Articulating his views on the subject, Chief emphasized upon the operational necessity to focus on joint response in future conflict scenarios in the subcontinent.
New Delhi: The tradition of a salute has huge importance in the army. But do you know how the tradition begun – or what a salute means? When a soldier salutes his superiors, his right hand goes up on his forehead with his palm showing. What this means is that he has no weapon hidden up anywhere and that his intentions are good.

The practice started with the soldiers of the defeated forces, who would greet soldiers of the victorious army in this manner. To begin with, the forces of the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force would keep their palms open while doing the salute, the soldiers of the Indian Navy would turn their palms slightly inwards.

The reason for this was that the palms of the naval soldiers were usually soiled by oil or dirt on the ship deck and they did not want to show their dirty palms to their superiors. Now the IAF soldiers have also started turning their palms slightly inwards – akin to the manner in which the US Air Force personnel do the salute.

Not for an individual, the salute is for the uniform

A salute is a form of respect not to an individual, but to the uniform and the designation of the officer concerned. Elaborate rules have been laid down to define the manner in which an official would do the salute – and about the protocol of rank for officers who will accept the salute.

If a junior officer salutes his seniors, only the senior-most of the officers will acknowledge and return the gesture. If officials of all the three forces are present, the senior-most of them will return the salute. The Indian Army is considered the senior-most, followed by the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force.

What a Guns Salute means

In the olden times, a guns salute was given to a very important person; or by the defeated ship to the victorious one. The meaning of a guns salute was that the defeated ship had fired off and exhausted all its fire-power. A guns salute is usually of odd numbers, as even numbers were considered inauspicious.

Until a few years after Independence, there was the tradition of giving a 31-guns salute to the President. Later, the numbers were reduced to 21. On important occasions, the national flag is also given a 21-guns salute.

The military honors of giving a guns salute at the last rites of a deceased officer started with the belief that the evil spirits emanating out of the dead body would be pushed off into a distance.

Women and the Ship

The Navy has a tradition of getting commercial ships inaugurated at the hands of a recognized woman. You may remember that when India’s first indigenously developed submarine was launched off at the Vishakhapatnam port in July, 2009; the honors had been done by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s wife Gursharan Kaur.

A ship is considered to be a female form. This is the reason that in the English language, a ship is referred to ‘she’ and ‘her’.

In the Western countries, ships are launched by opening champagne bottles, but in India the honors are done in a traditional way by breaking coconuts and offering flowers to the gods.

Another interesting aspect is that the front part of ships has two eyes designed on them. Ships that do not have the eye design are considered inauspicious.

Ships are not launched off on Thursdays in the Western countries, as that day is considered inauspicious. Varun is considered the God of Water. The Indian Navy’s slogan is this: May Varuna – the lord of the sea – bless us.


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