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Monday, 9 April 2012

From Today's Papers - 09 Apr 2012
Stop terror against India, PM tells Zardari
* Pak President told to act against Saeed
* Islamabad raises Sir Creek, Siachen issues
* 40-min meeting ‘friendly’
Ashok Tuteja/TNS

New warmth: Zardari and Manmohan Singh last met at the SCO Summit in Russia in June 2009
New warmth: Zardari and Manmohan Singh last met at the SCO Summit in Russia in June 2009. — PTI

New Delhi, April 8
Dubbed as ‘Dargah Diplomacy’, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari’s day-long private visit to India today to offer prayers at the Ajmer Sharif did help the two South Asian neighbours reduce mutual tension and consider practical ways to speedily settle some of the less contentious issues such as Sir Creek and Siachen.

At his one-on-one meeting with Zardari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, however, made it a point to highlight the issue of terrorism upfront and unequivocally told the Pakistani leader that action must be initiated against JuD chief Hafiz Saeed and other perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai attack.

Terming the 40-minute meeting as ‘friendly and constructive’, Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai said Singh also told Zardari that Pakistan must prevent terrorist activities against India from its soil. “The (two) leaders discussed the problem of terrorism, which is a major issue by which the Indian people will judge progress in the bilateral relationship,’’ he added.

Reflecting the view of Islamabad, the Pakistan President said the issue of Hafiz Saeed, on whose head the US recently declared a bounty of $10 million, needed to be discussed between the Home/Interior secretaries of the two countries who would meet shortly in Islamabad. He also stated that there were legal processes in Pakistan without going through which the civilian government could not move against the masterminds of the Mumbai attack.

But for the first time perhaps, Islamabad indicated that it was seriously looking at the India-China model of bilateral relations wherein the two countries have put contentious issue on the backburner and made significant gains in their trade and commercial ties.

Zardari raised issues such as Sir Creek, Siachen and Jammu and Kashmir and stressed the need for resolving them. To this, the PM said both sides needed to move step by step and that the bilateral dialogue was in the mutual interest of the two countries.

As the two leaders warmly shook hands at the start of their meeting, Zardari renewed Islamabad’s invitation to Manmohan Singh to visit Pakistan. The Indian PM, who was born at Gah village (now in Pakistan), said he would be very happy to visit Pakistan on a mutually convenient date. Contrary to Pakistan ’s expectations that the visit could fructify by the end of the year, Singh gave no such indication.

Official sources said the Prime Minister’s visit required substantive preparations and a step-by-step approach. New Delhi’s expectation is that the dialogue process with Pakistan should produce concrete results in the coming days which could pave the way for the visit.

There was also a mention of the liberalised visa regime that the two countries desire to usher in. The two leaders observed that an accord could be signed when the Home/Interior secretaries meet.

The PM conveyed to Zardari his condolences over reports that more than 100 Pakistani soldiers were feared buried after an avalanche smashed into the Pakistani army's headquarters near Siachen. He said India was ready to provide any help that Pakistan needed to deal with the tragedy. Zardari thanked Singh and said he would get back to him after talking to his officials in Islamabad .

In his brief media statement, Singh said the relations between the two neighbours should become normal. “That’s our common desire. We have a number of issues and we are willing to find practical, pragmatic solutions to all those issues and that’s the message that President Zardari and I would like to convey.’’

Zardari said Pakistan would like to have better relations with India. “We have spoken on all topics that we could have spoken about and we are hoping to meet on Pakistan’s soil soon.’’

After the talks, the Prime Minister hosted lunch in honour of his guest and his delegation. Zardari and his entourage later left for Jaipur on way to Ajmer.

we’ll meet on saeed: zardari

Zardari said the issue of Hafiz Saeed needs to be discussed between the Home/Interior secretaries of the two countries who would meet shortly in Islamabad. He said there were legal processes in Pakistan without going through which the civilian government could not move against the masterminds of the Mumbai attack.

Prays at AJmer Sharif

Pak President offered prayers at the historic 13th century dargah of sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer after which a $1 million donation for the shrine was announced.
China praises visit

Beijing, April 8
China today lauded Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's visit to India, saying better ties between the two nuclear-armed neighbours would benefit both countries and bring stability in the region.

"Better ties between Pakistan and India, two nuclear-armed heavyweight neighbours on the South Asian subcontinent, will benefit both countries and regional stability," a commentary by state-run Xinhua news agency said.

"The two countries’ efforts in warming up their ties certainly are welcomed and applauded by the international community including China, which neighbours both nations and maintains significant ties with them," it said. China and Pakistan have been all-weather friends over the past decades, while both China and India have been members of BRICS, a bloc of five major emerging economies that also includes Brazil, Russia and South Africa. — PTI
Islamabad:  Pakistan's military hoped for a miracle on Sunday as rescue teams searched for 124 soldiers and 11 civilians buried by a Himalayan avalanche near the Indian border, with no sign of survivors more 24 hours later.

The avalanche engulfed a Pakistani army battalion headquarters near a glacier early on Saturday, leaving snow up to 80 feet (25 metres) deep over an area a kilometre wide.

The victims are trapped in one of the most unforgiving environments on Earth, at an altitude of 15,000 feet (4,500 metres) near the Siachen Glacier in the Karakoram mountain range.
"Let's hope for a miracle," a military official, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters.
Helicopter rescue teams and troops on the ground with sniffer dogs were racing against time.
"On Wednesday and Thursday we expect cloudy conditions and some snow fall as well which will make it difficult for any rescue operations to continue," said meteorologist Mohammed Hanif on state television.

The area is also one of the world's most militarily tense frontiers, where the Indian and Pakistani armies have confronted each other over disputed territory for decades.
Eleven civilian employees of the military were buried under the snow along with the soldiers of the 6 Northern Light Infantry Battalion, the military said in a statement.
The army listed the names of the missing on its public relations website, from officers to waiters to barbers.

The military has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 64 year history, setting foreign and security policy even when civilian governments are in power, as is the case now.

Siachen is in the northern part of the Himalayan region of Kashmir. The no-man's-land of Siachen is 20,000 feet (6,000 metres) above sea level.

Military experts say the inhospitable climate and avalanche-prone terrain have claimed more lives than gunfire.

Muslim-majority Kashmir is at the heart of hostility between India and Pakistan and was the cause of two of their three full-scale wars since independence from Britain in 1947.
Siachen has been described as the world's highest battlefield. Indian and Pakistani troops have fought at altitudes of over 20,000 feet in temperatures of minus 60 degrees Celsius.

Between 10,000 and 20,000 Indian and Pakistani troops are stationed in the mountains above the glacier.
Tatra case: BEML flouted deal terms
The CBI’s probe into alleged irregularities in the purchase of over 6,000 all-terrain Tatra trucks for the Indian army after 1997 has revealed violations of a contract signed between defence PSU Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML) and a UK-based firm.
In a 1997 agreement signed between
Tatra Sipox UK and the defence PSU, an “article” had mandated increasing indigenisation of the Tatra trucks but it was allegedly overlooked as part of a conspiracy between unidentified officials of the two firms, said a CBI source.

“The article 11 of the 1997 agreement had laid down that BEML should not use any trademark or trade name of Tatra. But this part of the agreement was not implemented by BEML,” said the source. CBI recovered the documents pertaining to the agreement between the two firms during recent searches of the BEML offices, the source added.

CBI has grilled London-based businessman Ravi Rishi, chief of the UK-based Vectra Group that had “bought the majority stakes in Tatra Sipox,” said the source. The agency will be questioning BEML officials as part of its probe too. Both Vectra Group and BEML were named in the CBI’s First Information Report in the case.

The probe has now also found alleged irregularities in the supply of around 2,500 tool-kits to the army by the UK-based firm.

“The agreement signed with a foreign trade corporation of Czechoslovakia for the supply of the vehicles was fraudulently assigned to the UK-based, Tatra Sipox, by showing it as original equipment manufacturer or fully- owned subsidiary of the Czech firm, Tatra,” said the CBI source.

“This was against provisions of the defence procurement procedure,” the source said.
Pawar wonders why Army Chief's bribe allegation came so late
Commenting on Army chief General VK Singh's allegation that he was offered a bribe, Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar on Sunday asked why the incident was not brought to government's notice earlier if it had taken place over a year and half ago.

"But now, even though it has
been brought to the government's notice so late, the Defence Ministry has ordered a CBI inquiry into the issue," he told reporters on the sidelines of a function.

General Singh had claimed an equipment lobbyist had offered him a bribe of Rs 14 crore to clear a procurement of 'substandard' vehicles.

On the media report about the movement of two Army units towards New Delhi in January, Pawar said "I had been the defence minister of the country. I know the Indian army...Our armed forces can only think of marching on the enemy."

Asked about the CAG report indicting leading Maharashtra politicians for allegedly 'grabbing' land at cheaper rates for educational institutions, Pawar said if such land remain unused for a long time or are being misused, government can take action against them.
Army units story may be mischief by someone in government: Pallam Raju
New Delhi: Someone within the government could have tried to play mischief, says Minister of State for Defence Pallam Raju on the Army spooks report. He said that exaggerated reports about troop movement in January may have been the handiwork of some mischief makers.

Speaking to Karan Thapar on Devil's Advocate, he said that the situation may have been used by people to create confusion in the already trying times. Raju also said that there was nothing controversial about the troop movement on January 16.

On the government's response to the situation, he said, "I would not put it that the government has reacted. It's probably somebody down the line who might have read too much into it."

"It was not that people would try to create little bit of confusion in the current scenario and I don't think we must react too much to these things. We know what our national interests are and what has to be done to protect our national interests and I think they are acting in accordance," he said. He said that mischief makers tried to create concern by exaggerating something that was quite ordinary and straight forward.

Earlier, Indian Army Chief General VK Singh blamed "rogue elements" in the bureaucracy for stoking controversies and denied any rift between him and Defence Minister AK Antony. "There is nothing wrong. I am on the same page as the government. We enjoy good relations, and I have no differences with the (minister)," Gen Singh said.

The Army Chief accused "rogue elements of the bureaucracy" of wanting to "blow things up". The chief said the January 16-17 movement of two units was routine and the army didn't need to notify the government about it. "Notify for what? What was happening? We keep doing this so many times," he said.

He said the Wednesday Indian Express article on the troop movement was "absurd and deplorable". Asked who could be behind it, the General said he didn't want to "waste time thinking about it" but pointed fingers at a section of the bureaucracy.

"There are so many theories doing the rounds. There was a newspaper story which said it was being done at the behest of a central minister. Sections of the bureaucracy can be feeding wrong inputs. They have made a mountain out of a molehill… God knows who all may be involved, nor do I want to waste time thinking about it," he said.

He also rejected any link between the timing of the troop exercises and his petition over his date of birth in the Supreme Court, outright denying that the army movement was to scare the government. "You have gone to the Supreme Court. What is there to scare the government for? These are fables of a sick mind. Anyone who makes a connection needs to see a psychiatrist. I had followed the laid down norms of a democratic constitution and gone to the Supreme Court. Where is the doubt left?"

Asked about a March 13 interview to a weekly in which the General had hinted that a controversy could be created out of a routine army exercise, the army chief said: "It is like this. When there is general suspicion, you can do anything. Funny ideas can be planted. I had mentioned it last month itself that, you know, tomorrow there will be exercises - and a big story will be made out of it."
DEHRADUN: Chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on defence Satpal Maharaj on Sunday sought to downplay the controversy over the alleged unnotified movement of two Army units towards the capital in mid-January, saying such exercises are routinely held.

"The Army troops' movement in the month of January was a routine exercise and such exercises are routinely held," Maharaj, a Lok Sabha member from Pauri, said in a statement here.

He said the Indian Army has full faith in the Constitution as well as the high values of democracy and is committed to protecting them.

Maharaj, however, did not comment on whether the Army should have notified the government on such movement.

Members of Parliament had on April 4 quizzed defence secretary Shashi Kant Sharma and Army Vice Chief S K Singh on a media report of "suspicious" movement of troops near the capital in January but they dismissed it as baseless.

Sharma and Singh, appearing before the parliamentary panel, said it was normal process of testing the preparedness of the armed forces, sources said. Army Chief Gen V K Singh, too, has dismissed reports of "unusual" movement of two elite units of army towards the capital, calling it "routine" for which there was no need to "notify" the government.
Cancelling Eurocopter deal got AK Antony enemies
NEW DELHI: The decision to scrap the Rs 3,000-crore Eurocopter deal at the last minute in December, 2007, might have been the flashpoint that convinced arms lobbies that defence minister AK Antony was a serious thorn in their flesh.

Antony took the tough call to cancel the order for the 190-odd attack helicopters for the Army due to irregularities in the bidding process and deviations from established procedures and this brought home to defence lobbyists and vendors, who were used to having their way, that it would not be business as usual anymore.

Sources said the Eurocopter decision sent shockwaves through the defence and business establishments as the contract was all but sealed and the firmness with which the French government's vocal protests were ignored induced a sense of panic among arms-dealers and lobbyists.

Long used to peddling influence so that shortlists and seeding were altered and technical parameters re-jigged to disadvantage rivals, the new regime in the defence ministry after Antony took charge began to bother several interests. Soon, Antony was accused of slowing down defence acquisitions due to his fear of taint.

The charge of a defence freeze is contested, with official sources pointing out that budgets have been utilized. Even last year, 66% of the defence budget was utilized by December, while around Rs 3,000 crore had to be returned to the finance ministry due to a resource squeeze affecting the central government.

With his political mandate aimed at keeping the government free of "scam", Antony acted without hesitation whenever a serious complaint was brought to his notice, making it plain that he would not hesitate to scrap a deal or order fresh tendering.

The Eurocopter deal was not a flash in the pan. The defence ministry's insistence that all bidders for the Rs- 100,000 crore 126-aircraft contract for the Indian Air Force fulfill excruciating technical parameters that would be the sole criteria for finalizing the deal made big names in the business nervous.

The failure of in-house lobbying and the exclusion of US F-16s and F-18s from the race along with the Russian MiG 35 at the technical evaluation stage led to outrage, with the Indian government politely, but firmly ruled out any reconsideration of its decision.

Sources familiar with proceedings said it was odd that criticism was leveled that India was "restricting" the race after the rules of selection were plain to all the bidders. The refusal to allow "geo-political" considerations to influence the deal left foreign suppliers and their Indian partners distraught and disbelieving.

The decision to blacklist Singapore Technologies Kinetics following corruption charges was yet another major friction point that disrupted the cozy co-habitation between arms-dealers and both civilian and military officials. "The government could hardly have pretended that nothing was happening," said sources.

With a series of decisions indicating policies benefitting select vendors and procurement procedures open to manipulation were being replaced by a more predictable and level-playing field, the utility of power brokers itself became questionable.
New Delhi: Lieutenant-General Bikram Singh has been selected as the 25th General of the Indian Army by the Government of India. He will succeed General V. K. Singh, who retires on May 31, 2012,

Notably, he will be the second Sikh to be Chief of Army Staff, first was General J. J. Singh, to head 1.3 million-strong Indian Army.

Currently Lieutenant-General Bikram Singh heads the Eastern Command.

Academically, Lieutenant-General Bikram Singh is an alumnus of National Defence Academy and Indian Military Academy. Also, Lt Gen Bikram Singh studied at the Defence Services Staff College, the Army War College and the U.S. Army War College, Pennsylvania.

He also holds an M. Phil in Defence Management from Indore University. He is a recipient of the PVSM, the UYSM, the AVSM, the Sena Medal and the VSM and was among one of the Honorary ADCs (aide-de-camp) to the President of India.

Lt Gen Bikram Singh was commissioned into the Sikh Light Infantry Regiment on March 31, 1972 and in the past four decades; he has served various Command and Staff appointments.

Also, he has served as Deputy Force Commander of the multination U.N. Peace Keeping Mission in Congo, in addition with U.N. observer in Nicaragua and El Salvador during early 1990s.

Lt Gen Bikram Singh also landed in a trouble when a group of retired officers and bureaucrats moved the Supreme Court of India challenging Bikram Singh's appointment as the next Army Chief after it was alleged that he was involved in a fake encounter in Jammu and Kashmir in 2001.

The petitioners against the Lt Gen Bikram Singh include former Navy Chief Admiral Laxminarayan Ramdas and former Chief election Commissioner N Gopalaswamy.

Some other names in the list of petitioners are eminent journalist Sam Rajappa and social activist MG Devasahayam. They alleged that Lt Gen Singh failed to take any action against officers who were involved in the sexual harassment and rape during their posting in Congo in 2008 as part of the UN peace-keeping mission.

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