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Thursday, 16 February 2012

From Today's Papers - 16 Feb 2012
Inshore patrol vessel for Coast Guard commissioned

Indian Coast Guard Ship Rajshree during its commissioning in Kolkata. — PTI

Kolkata, February 15
ICGS Rajshree the first of eight inshore patrol vessels (IPVs) equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry and advanced communication and navigational equipment was today commissioned by Coast Guard Director-General Vice-Admiral MP Muralidharan.

The 50m indigenous vessel built by the Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers here displacing 300 tonne with an endurance of 1,500 nautical miles at an economical speed of 16 knots can achieve a maximum of 34 knots.

It makes the vessel an ideal platform for undertaking multifarious close-coast missions such as surveillance, interdiction, search and rescue and medical evacuation.

“There is a need for continuous vigil along the nation’s maritime frontiers to preserve and protect our maritime interests,” Muralidharan said after commissioning the IPV.

He said that several far-reaching initiatives towards augmentation of manpower and force levels were underway to provide requisite fillip to the Coast Guard’s capabilities.

Commander, Coast Guard region (East) Inspector General S P Sharma and senior dignitaries were present at the commissioning. — PTI
Army Chief denies bias while writing Maj-Gen’s ACR
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, February 15
Gen VK Singh, Chief of the Army Staff, has denied bias, malafide and subjectivity on his part while assessing the performance of one of his subordinates Maj-Gen TS Handa during their tenures in the Eastern Command.

Maj-Gen Handa, then posted as General Officer Commanding, 57 Mountain Division, has, in a petition filed before the Armed Forces Tribunal, averred that Gen VK Singh, then the Eastern Army Commander and the senior reviewing officer of his annual confidential report (ACR), had awarded him a “displeasure” and given him a “lukewarm” report in contrast to his earlier profile and his performance.
The petition, which was expected to come up for hearing yesterday, will now be taken up on March 1.

Among other contentions, the Major-General had alleged that his ACR was "spoilt" by the Chief after he refused to change his date of birth while he was posted in the Military Secretary’s Branch at the Army Headquarters prior to proceeding to the North-East.

According to the petition, Handa, in December 2006, was posted as Deputy Military Secretary (DMS) when Gen Singh, then GOC, 2 Corps, Ambala, had asked the branch to change his recorded date of birth from May 10, 1950 to May 10, 1951.

Denying that he had met Handa in connection with the change in his date of birth, Gen Singh has, in his reply, maintained that he had assessed Handa entirely on the basis of his performance and that there were no extraneous considerations.

Gen VK Singh contended that in the subsequent ACR, he had assessed Handa as “above average” in accordance with his performance during that period. He also hadn’t interfered in the processing of a distinguished service award for Handa, he added.
WAS victimised: OFFICER

Major-General Handa has alleged that his ACR was "spoilt" by Army Chief Gen VK Singh after he refused to change his date of birth while Handa was posted in the Military Secretary’s Branch

HE WAS Assessed only on performance: Gen

In his reply, Gen VK Singh has maintained that he had assessed Handa entirely on the basis of his performance and that there were no extraneous considerations
Reform the Holy Cow: Army Chief's age saga
The issue of Chief's age has raised many unsavory issues, which need to be addressed. Systems are reform averse due to the fear of power shift and accountability. However, the Holy Cow must be reformed lest the nation is subjected to grave humiliation in the future.
THE RECENT controversy over the Chief of Army Staff General VK Singh's age has been resolved, hopefully, amicably. However, larger issues were thrown up that must be addressed lest this becomes a case of cutting the rotting branches rather than curing the root cause. The issues that came up were raised by various experts or aggrieved parties, were:
Previous Chiefs connived to ensure a set line of succession

Senior officers were bulldozed to submission, i.e., accept the dictat or loose the next rank
Mismatch of important records with in the organisation

Failure of the individual or the system to address basic issue

Babus influencing the Ministry to humiliate the Chief

Opaqueness with in the Army system

Incompetent handling of the issue by the Ministry.

There is some truth in all these, however, the need is to look at the steps needed to be initiated to prevent reoccurrence of such an incident, which has far reaching ramifications. Some issues are procedural and will get addressed with automation and counter checks being initiated. Commonality of date of birth between two record keeping branches will get resolved sooner or later. Though earlier the better, as this would resolve the cascading problems.

The two larger issues of system failure are the more serious. Firstly, the outsiders, namely babus, influencing the Minster and the insensitive handling of the issue aimed at humiliating the Chief. There is general mistrust between the two. Second, the dubious manipulation by successive Chiefs "to fix a line of succession” and subjugate the senior officers by bull dozing to acceptance the official line or face consequences of supersession. Even if partially true, these are extremely serious issues, which need immediate measures at the appropriate level to prevent cascading ramifications.

Today, unfortunately, the civilians manning the Ministry of Defence sit on decision making and exercise tremendous powers with little defence professional competence or accountability, therefore, they cannot be faltered for the poor decision making or failing to appreciate or understand the manipulations within the system. Thus, the policy being followed is that of live and let live and control based on procedures rather than value addition. This leads to arrogance, delay and mistrust amongst the vital limbs where everyone is a looser. Notwithstanding the internal and external weaknesses which have been exposed, the larger issues will again be pushed under the carpet. Until and unless the larger issues of transparency within the system and competence and truest between the services and ministry restored, this will have grim ramifications for the nation parallel to the 1962 humiliation, thus the need for urgent proactive corrective measures.

It would be unfair to accept any system to reform from within. Everyone will justify about the time tested-ness of the system and bla bla. This is also borne by the fact that power shift is resisted by the powers that be for the fear of losing the shift of power.

There is a need to have a Blue ribbon Commission similar to the US Army where in wise men from the society with proven credentials and no personal agendas look at any system de novo and suggest reform. It’s time the Nation looks at the Holy Cow and forces reform from outside since the internal reforms would at the most be incremental and insignificant whereas the need is of major review.
The lack of unity in the Bangladesh army, brought on by several factors, is a matter of concern for India, writes Abhijit Bhattacharyya

Difficult occupation

The ‘failed coup’ by Islamic fundamentalist elements within the Bangladesh army, brings to the fore, once again, the hazards of soldiering in troubled times in the turbulent terrain of South Asia. Institutionally, though a descendant of the British Indian army, the soldiers of Dhaka thus far have not demonstrated their ability to uphold the apolitical professionalism of either the former or that of the Indian army. In a way, professionalism was compromised in the barracks since the beginning of the movement to free Bangladesh. Thus, in a span of 24 years — from August 15, 1947, to December 17, 1971 — Bangladeshi soldiers underwent an identity crisis as the institution changed hands from the British to Pakistan and, finally, to Bangladesh.

Understandably, this experience of transition could not have been a pleasant one. Even during British rule, the Bengali-speaking soldiers from the east were an unwanted lot. Paradoxically, with the change of command from London/Delhi to Islamabad in 1947, things deteriorated further as the ‘martial’ Punjabis from Pakistan failed to take on board their brethren from the east. This resulted in the creation of a great divide and, ultimately, led to the division of a united Pakistan.

The birth of an independent Bangladesh, however, did not improve matters militarily. This was because one of the most important divisions within the armed forces in Dhaka witnessed a struggle between the radicalized ‘freedom fighters’ and the professional soldiers, who had served under the Pakistani rulers. The rancour between these two factions intensified owing to the special benefits — such as the accelerated promotions — that were bestowed on the ‘freedom fighters’ by the ruling party. The seeds of disunity that were sown resulted in congenital indiscipline in Bangladesh’s nascent army.

A classic example of this deep-rooted division surfaced in 1997 when lieutenant-general Mahbubur Rahman was retired after a brief tenure of a few months. He was succeeded by the former freedom fighter, general Mustafizur Rahman. Another distressing feature of the armed forces in Bangladesh came to light during the tenure of Ziaur Rahman when almost two dozen disruptive attempts were made under the guidance of the highly politicized freedom fighters. This tug-of-war between political workers and professional soldiers, however, took a turn towards professionalism after Rahman increased the size of the army through the late 1970s in an attempt to reduce the influence of freedom fighters on the professional soldiers. When more than 400 officers above the rank of major repatriated from the Pakistani army to Dhaka (including the future general, H.M. Ershad) they too were not averse to the idea of a military government, having had first-hand experience of dealing with the former Pakistani military dictators such as Ayub and Yahya Khan.

The post-Ershad era has not witnessed any overt military action to usurp civilian rule. Dhaka’s present incumbent appears to have adopted a well-thought-out strategy and eschewed the tradition followed by her political predecessors who, on assuming power, would inevitably purge officers deemed to be loyal to the previous regime.

Yet, factionalism has continued to be cause for deep concern owing to the support of the three main political parties to build a support base among groups of favoured officers. This, in turn, has adversely affected organizational unity and professional competence in the defence forces, especially within the army. The suppressed grievance against the Bangladesh army burst out in the open with the February 2009 mutiny of the Bangladesh Rifles — the paramilitary border force — which killed more than 100 military officers who were in charge of the BDR men. The incident exposed the below-par command capability of the officers of Dhaka’s military machine.

One of the key duties of the army in Dhaka is to ensure internal security. This is apart from its primary task of maintaining territorial safety on the border. Thus, when the former prime minister, Begum Khaleda Zia, deployed 40,000 sailors and soldiers across the length and breadth of the country in 2002-2003 to conduct “Operation Clean Heart” — a military drive to tackle crime — the soldiers virtually assumed the duties of the police, tracking down and arresting suspected criminals and recovering illegal arms, ammunition and explosives. Though limited in duration, the deployment of the army on the road and in the urban areas was an acknowledgement of the incompetence of the police in dealing with surging crime. Worse, the armed forces also ended up performing urban traffic control duties at the time of Eid in September 2009.

A fundamental disincentive towards disciplining Bangladesh’s armed forces appears to be the virtual absence of a military foe in the neighbourhood. Although Dhaka has a large army, it remains under considerable political influence. Both Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina Wajed have maintained a firm grip on postings and promotions of senior officers. Reportedly, they have also had greater direct contact with junior officers thought to be supportive of their respective administrations. Understandably, this could not have had a positive impact on the cohesion within the officers in the army. Although Wajed appears to have learnt lessons from the past, the forcible retirement/dismissal of a clutch of officers from the navy, air force and the army — allegedly for their action during the reign of the Bangladesh National Party-led alliance — is unlikely to be forgotten by elements within the armed forces. This is not good news for either Delhi or Dhaka, the former being the closest of all allies and neighbours of the latter.

Seen in this context, one can understand the inherent difficulties of soldiering in Dhaka. Christened as ‘soldiers of a religious state’ in 1947, they underwent another transformation in identity in 1971 and, thereafter, have been surviving under the shadow of animosity between the Bengali freedom fighters and the religious bigots. All this has had repercussions on the barracks. On top of that looms the shadow of the Pakistani army and the Inter-services Intelligence, two institutions that had been humiliated on Dhaka’s soil in 1971.

The chronic turbulence in the garrisons in Dhaka is a potential area of trouble for India, which shares a strategic border area in the east and in the northeast with Bangladesh. Born in 1971, Bangladesh continues to reel under a seismic zone of conflict. The conflict can be attributed to overpopulation as well as to the influence of religious fundamentalism. This has often resulted in soldiers prioritizing religious duty over their commitment to the nation’s army.
Army Chief meets senior UK defence officials
On a four-day visit to the UK to strengthen bilateral military ties, Army Chief Gen VK Singh on Wednesday met senior British defence officials and discussed several issues of mutual interest.

"Gen Singh was received by British Chief of General Staff General Sir Peter Wall and he reviewed the Guard of Honour. Later the Indian Army Chief interacted with Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond," Army officials said.

During the visit, Singh will tour training establishments and witness a defence exercise. He will hold discussions with senior military leaders about ways to strengthen defence ties.

Singh will also call on the British Secretary of Defence and discuss the ways of extending the existing cooperation between the defence forces of the two sides.

He will visit the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, which was the cradle of Indian army's leadership in the pre-independence era.

The army chief will also interact with the famous Special Forces of Britain during the visit.

Gen Singh's official visit will end on February 17, but he will be there for next two days on leave and return India on February 20.

The two sides have strong defence cooperation and a British delegation recently visited India to hold discussions with the Defence Ministry and the industry here.

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