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Monday, 7 May 2012

From Today's Papers - 07 May 2012
MOD rapped for failing to service BSF helicopters

New Delhi, May 6
A Parliamentary panel has pulled up the Defence Ministry for not honouring its commitment made to the BSF for providing technical support, including supply of spare parts, to the paramilitary force’s helicopter fleet.

The BSF’s Mi-17 IV helicopter fleet not only undertakes sorties to help in anti-Naxal operations, but is also used for transporting paramilitary forces.

The panel has also asked the Indian Air Force and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to plug “operational constraints” which are leading to this problem and ensure a solution so that the BSF is able to operate its fleet in full strength.

“The committee is constrained to note that helicopters are not functional due to scarcity of spares. Such a situation should not have been allowed,” the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs noted in its recent report tabled in Parliament.

“The committee takes serious view of the fact that despite an MoU having been signed between the MHA and the MoD, the Air Force is not able to extend the required support in terms of pilots, technical manpower, spares backup and repair facilities to the MHA due to its own operational constraints.

“When the MoU has been signed, the MoD should honour it without a fail. The MoD should plug these operational constraints,” the panel said when it was briefed that out of the six MI-17 IV BSF military helicopters, two were grounded for want of service.

While the BSF flies these helicopter under military registration, it has also contracted Pawan Hans and other helicopter service operators to cater to more than 70 battalions of the Central forces put on anti-Naxal duties and for other logistical sorties.

“At present, two Mi-17 IV helicopters, out of a fleet of six with the MHA, are in unservicable condition, due to non-availability of critical components, spares, including aero engines and main rotor blades,” the Home Ministry said in its reply to the House panel.

The panel also recommended that the MHA should “impress upon the MoD to supply adequate number of helicopters to it with a guarantee of spares”. — PTI
DRDO to tap geothermal energy to power Ladakh
Vijay Mohan/TNS

Chandigarh, May 6
As part of its efforts to tap non-conventional resources in its pursuit of energy security, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is exploring the feasibility of tapping geothermal energy in Ladakh for generating electricity.

Geothermal energy is the natural heat of the earth generating from the original formation of the planet and subsequently from radioactive decay of minerals over thousands of years. It is continually regenerated by the decay of radioactive elements that occur in all rocks.

“Two valleys in Ladakh have significant geothermal energy reservoirs that can be exploited,” Dr RB Srivastava, Director of DRDO’s Leh-based Defence Institute of High Altitude Research told The Tribune. “There are 36 potential sites in Ladakh that can be tapped and we would soon begin research to assess the power generation potential of these reservoirs,” he added.

The DRDO would also be collaborating with other agencies involved with exploring geothermal resources, including the Geological Survey of India (GSI). According to scientists, it makes sense to tap non-conventional resources in that region not only because Jammu and Kashmir is a severely electricity-deficient state but also keeping in view long-term economic and environmental issues.

Geothermal power is considered to be sustainable because the heat extraction by generating stations is small compared with the Earth's total assessed heat content. It is also cost effective, reliable, and environmentally friendly. According to available information, the emission intensity of existing geothermal electric plants is about 122 kg of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of electricity, which is about one-eighth of a conventional coal-fired plant.

Green power

n Geothermal energy is the natural heat of the earth generating from the original formation of the planet and subsequently from radioactive decay of minerals over thousands of years

n Geothermal power is sustainable, cost effective, reliable, and environmentally friendly
A year after he was killed, the network Osama bin Laden led is fragmented, but it has not been eliminated.
What next for Al-Qaida?
Patrick Cockburn

A year after Osama bin Laden was killed, how relevant is Al-Qaida? In the decade since 9/11 Bin Laden was always a symbol rather than an operational commander. His death did not do much to disrupt the group as an organisation. Occasional recordings of his voice that surfaced over the years contained no new ideas and were primarily a way for Al-Qaida to show that he was still alive. In death such a symbolic but inactive leader can exercise as much influence as when he lived, so his killing by US commandos has not inflicted fatal damage to his organisation.

As the world saw One World Trade Center (R) become the tallest building in New York, it also became a time to reflect on Al-Qaida, the terrorist organisation that destroyed Twin Towers in 2001.
As the world saw One World Trade Center (R) become the tallest building in New York, it also became a time to reflect on Al-Qaida, the terrorist organisation that destroyed Twin Towers in 2001.

Yet his death was very important, less because of its impact on Al-Qaida than because of Bin Laden’s unique position in American demonology after 9/11. It is difficult to think of anybody else in US history with the same Satanic status.

Al-Qaida’s impact

President Barack Obama trumpets as one of his main achievements his administration’s success in tracking Bin Laden down and eliminating him. With him dead, it became easier for the White House to proceed with the withdrawal from Afghanistan where the presence of a few hundred Al-Qaida fighters was used to justify the presence of 90,000 US soldiers. The shock to Americans of the 9/11 attacks may be diminishing but it is still there. As a result, any act by Al-Qaida will go on having an impact out of all proportion to its size or capacity in future just as it had done over the last decade.

No US administration can afford to be seen by American voters as derelict in pursuing Al-Qaida whenever it shows the slightest signs of life. Few Americans pay attention to the turmoil in Yemen, but any stirring there by Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), head-quartered there, attracts immediate official and media attention. It was from Yemen that two botched plots, the underpants bomber and explosives packed inside ink cartridges, were launched. Both failed but, as an Al-Qaida statement pointed out, these failures were a success in grabbing the attention of the world.

Arab Spring

Aside from the killing of Bin Laden, have the Arab Spring uprisings and protests over the last year knocked away one of Al-Qaida’s main ideological justifications? This was that dictatorships in the Muslim world could not be peacefully overthrown and the priority was to attack the US as their chief sponsor. In 1998, claiming that the US had declared war on God and his messenger, Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, his Egyptian second in command, called for the murder of Americans anywhere in the world as the “individual duty for every Muslim”. This made limited impact at the time, but did resonate in the Muslim world after President George W Bush intervened militarily in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003.

It is a bit glib to imagine Al-Qaida becoming a back number in the wake of the Arab Spring.

In Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Islamic and secular opponents combined their efforts to overthrow police states. But the belief that Islamic fundamentalism is passé may be exaggerated. Firstly, Al-Qaida was always a small minority and was never planning to run for election. It will not go out of business because there are other effective methods of agitation, though its appeal may be more limited. The Israeli conflict with the Palestinians festers, as the US makes no effective efforts to restrict Israeli settlements on the West Bank, and may soon explode. The political temperature of the whole region is rising and this cannot be to the disadvantage of Al-Qaida.

Islamic militants in eastern Libya, once a recruiting ground for Al-Qaida suicide bombers going to Iraq, were last year closely cooperating with Nato to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. They included such leaders as Abdelhakim Belhadj, former head of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, who was notoriously handed over to Gaddafi’s torturers by MI6 and the CIA. Such people are now publicly distancing themselves from Al-Qaida. Likewise in Egypt the Salafists, hardliners who used to denounce democracy as un-Islamic, run successfully for parliament, are seeking to broaden their appeal, and last weekend surprisingly adopted a liberal former Muslim Brother as their presidential candidate.

But all the news is not bad for Al-Qaida because tightly run police states have collapsed across the region. There is room for small groups of militants to organise without being under constant pressure of state security forces. Whatever happens in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria over the next year, the states there will be weaker than before. Moreover, the near civil wars in Syria and Yemen are not over.

There are two other reasons why Al-Qaida has survived the death of Bin Laden and other leaders over the last year. US security officials speak of it as if it was structured like the Pentagon with ranking officers whose killing by drones or death squads would disrupt the organisation. It was always much more ramshackle than this. Few of the Al-Qaida militants killed over the last year are irreplaceable, an exception being perhaps Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen. An intelligent, eloquent English-speaking fundamentalist, and one of the few effective Al-Qaida propagandists he was killed by a US drone on 30 September last year.

Franchisees of terror

A further reason is that its most powerful elements have always been franchisees not under the control of any core group. This was true of Al-Qaida in Mesopotamia led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which, starting in 2003, became a lethally effective organisation in Iraq until much of the Sunni community turned against it. It still has the capacity to bomb Shia civilians and, though it may be weaker, it is far from being eradicated.

But Al-Qaida in Mesopotamia was always distinct from the core group of leaders around Bin Laden. From the beginning it focussed primarily on a sectarian war against the Shia targeting day labourers in the markets, pilgrims and worshippers leaving mosques. For all their ferocity, Al-Qaida suicide bombers infrequently attacked US troops in the years before the US final withdrawal. Similarly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan, where the core of Al-Qaida is supposedly based, there are plenty of people who have experience in guerrilla warfare. Hatred of foreigners and infidels of all sorts is a Pashtun tradition. A kidnapped British aid worker, Khalil Rasjed Dale, was killed there at the week-end. But the local Pakistani Taliban, periodic allies of Al-Qaida, are involved in their own struggles and closely monitored by Pakistani and foreign intelligence services.

Many power centres

As a base, Yemen has the advantage of being a mosaic of different power centres and with a weak central state. President Ali Abdullah Saleh, now removed from power, used to play an elaborate game with the US whereby he would present himself as America’s loyal ally against Al-Qaida, offering even to take responsibility for their drone attacks.

Weakened but not out

Weakened though it may be, Al-Qaida will not fade from the headlines. This is partly because headline writers have got used to its existence as a universal bogeyman. The “war against Al-Qaida” since 9/11 has also produced self-declared experts, think-tanks, intelligence officers and army generals who all have budgets to defend. They are never likely to declare the Al-Qaida threat over, while emphasising, as one counter-terrorism expert said, that “we’ve made progress towards defeating Al-Qaida the organisation”.

US counter-terrorism and intelligence officers say that Al-Qaida could never again carry out an onslaught as devastating as 9/11. They may well be right. On the other hand, the very length of time it took for the US to find Bin Laden and his family, though they had been living in the same house for years, may show that their own level of competence, in contrast to their numbers and budgets, has not improved much since the World Trade Centre was destroyed.

Suicide bombers

It is a sight the world had got used to: a crater in the road where the suicide bomber detonated the explosives packed into his vehicle; the pools of blood and hunks of flesh of people caught in the blast; ruined buildings where floors have collapsed on top of each other; shocked survivors wandering amid the mangled cars and broken glass.

Almost invariably over the last decade such carnage has been the work of Al-Qaida or similar Islamic fundamentalist movements such as the Afghan or Pakistan Taliban. But the latest such explosions, coming a year after the killing of Osama bin Laden, took place this week in the Syrian city of Idlib where two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the headquarters of army and airforce intelligence services. The Syrian government says that nine people were killed and 100 wounded.

These bombings are significant because they show that Al-Qaida is still very much in business, despite the death of Bin Laden and other Al-Qaida leaders. It not only still exists but it is becoming engaged in new conflicts that have followed the Arab Spring. Al-Qaida has always been the child of war. This was true in Afghanistan when the Taliban were fighting to take over the country prior to 2001; in Iraq after the US invasion in 2003; and in Yemen where civil conflict has escalated since the Arab Spring last year.

Sunni Fundamentalism

Al-Qaida-type Sunni fundamentalist groups flourish in times of conflict because holy war is at the heart of their faith and martyrdom opens the way to heaven. Its militants make good soldiers. A moderate Sunni in Baghdad told me towards the end of the sectarian civil war there in 2007 that Al-Qaida fighters would only be allowed back into his district if it came under assault from Shia militiamen. Otherwise, they were hated and feared by local Sunni for their ferocity, fanaticism and violence. "Why would you let them back in then?" I asked. "Because they will fight to the death," he explained.

It may be comforting for Western governments to imagine that the jihadist version of Islamic fundamentalism is a back number since the onset of the Arab Spring. There are now other avenues for effective protest by disaffected Muslim youth. But this view is deceptive because, if the Arab Spring has brought change, it is also brought armed conflict to much of the Arab world where change has been blocked, as in Syria, or state power has weakened, as in Libya.

Developments in Syria are important because Al-Qaida is beginning to show strength in a core region of the Middle East and is no longer confined to isolated fastnesses in north-west Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia.

Like 1950s and 1960s

The convulsions of the Arab Spring may have been inspired by different ideas than those of Bin Laden and his followers, but the weakening of police states across the region makes it easier for Al-Qaida to operate. The Arab world today looks more and more like it did in the 1950s and 1960s, when nationalists, Islamists, Communists, secularists and liberals contended for power. After the uprisings of last year many countries will be freer, but many will also be more divided and violent.

How did Al-Qaida survived the intense pressure placed on it by security services after 9/11 and will it be able to do so in future?

The answer is that it did so because the organisation never existed in the form that so-called counter-terrorism experts imagined. It was never a sort of Islamic Comintern, with tentacles stretching from Waziristan to Birmingham. When it was at its strongest as a cohesive group at the time of 9/11, Bin Laden could only look to some 100 men to facilitate the sort of attacks he intended. On the other hand, the ideology he espoused and the fundamentalist jihadist tendency in Islam, is far broader and far more difficult to eliminate.

Groups that have no organisational connection with Al-Qaida now employ its tactics because they are effective. As in Idlib a couple of days ago this involves what anarchists used to call "the propaganda of the deed", the destruction of a highly visible symbol of the community or state under attack. Suicide bombing in which the perpetrator knows he is going to die has the tactical advantage of enabling untrained but fanatical recruits to inflict maximum damage. But for Al-Qaida bombers self-immolation is much more than this, serving as a demonstration of their faith.
India’s missile defence shield ready

New Delhi, May 6
India has developed missile defence shield, which can be put in place at short notice to protect at least two cities, bringing the country on par with an elite group of few nations. The shield, developed by the DRDO, has been tested successfully and an incoming ballistic missile with the range of up to 2,000 kms can be destroyed. The system is to be upgraded to the range of 5,000 km by 2016.

"The Ballistic Missile Defence shield is now mature...We are ready to put phase one in place and it can be put in very short time," DRDO chief VK Saraswat told PTI here in an interview.

He said the shield, as part of phase one of the programme, can be put in place at two places in the country, where the infrastructure is available. However, the two places have not yet been identified and the selection will be made at the political level. The DRDO used variants of Prithvi missiles as simulated targets and successfully intercepted missiles in test-firings. "We have carried out six successful launches and demonstrated the capability for 2,000 km targets...We have demonstrated it in two layers that is endo-atmospheric (inside the Earth's atmosphere) and exo-atmospheric (outside the Earth's atmosphere)," Saraswat said.

He said all the elements such as long-range radars and tracking devices, real-time datalink and mission control system required for the missile system have been "realised" successfully.

Under the phase two of the project, the premier defence research agency would upgrade the system to handle ballistic missiles with range of 5,000 km. This phase is expected to be ready by 2016.

The system required for phase-II of the project is being developed, he said, adding that for this purpose, ships are being built from where the target missiles would be launched. The DRDO chief said the phase two of the project is expected to be completed by 2016.

Talking about the advancement of the system, Saraswat said the missile defence shield has been "automated" to an extent where human intervention would be required only if the mission has to be aborted.

The DRDO chief said the Indian missile defence system is comparable with the US Patriot 3 system, which was successfully used during the 1990 Gulf War against Iraq.

As part of its efforts to protect itself from enemy missiles, India is developing this two-tier BMD which can intercept enemy missiles at altitudes of 80 km and 150 km.

The DRDO is thinking of intercepting the missiles at higher altitudes as it would give it more response time in case the first attempt is a miss and the second layer of the system can be put into action.

The system was first test-fired in November 2006 elevating India into the elite club of countries to have successfully developed an Anti-ballistic missile system, after United States, Russia and Israel. — PTI
Defence ministry pursued stake purchase in Tatra even after Army Chief General VK Singh bribe charge
NEW DELHI: A year before the defence ministry asked the Central Bureau of Investigation to probe BEML's role in the supply of Tatra trucks to the armed forces, it had directed the state-run company to acquire a strategic stake in the truck maker.

According to BEML, about a year ago in 2010-11, a secretary in the defence ministry had advised the company to consider picking up stake in Tatra to have control over its technology and to maximise local production. The company had subsequently appointed Dun & Bradstreet to study Tatra's operations in the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

"...the management of BEML had appointed Dun & Bradstreet to study the Tatra company of both Czech and Slovakia and come out with a report, including possible valuation, to enable us decide on picking up a stake as directed by the government," said a company spokesman. An email to the defence ministry spokesman on the issue did not elicit any comment.

If BEML's account is correct, it would appear that the defence ministry was pursuing a stake purchase in Tatra even after Army Chief General VK Singh had complained to Defence Minister AK Antony in 2010, that he had been offered a bribe for clearing the supply of substandard trucks.

Antony has publicly confirmed the Army chief had come to him with this charge in September 2010. But it is not clear whether General Singh had specifically mentioned Tatra or whether Antony had shared the contents of this conversation with the mandarins in his ministry. General Singh went public with his accusation in March.

Fernandes too Pushed for Buy

The defence ministry has asked the CBI to probe the alleged bribe offer to the Army chief, for which the agency registered a preliminary enquiry on April 11. The CBI also registered an FIR on March 30 against the truck maker's owner and Vectra Group Chairman Ravinder Kumar Rishi along with unnamed officials from BEML, the Army, the defence ministry and Tatra Sipox (UK) for alleged irregularities in the supply of trucks to the Army by BEML.

Dun & Bradstreet submitted its report on the proposed stake purchase in June 2011, putting a value on the Tatra business entities and detailing their current management structures and shareholding patterns. A BEML executive said the PSU's top management didn't take the report to the board or pursue the Tatra stake purchase plan after an internal analysis of cost-benefit as well as return on investments in view of uncertain business prospects.

"The functional management of BEML discussed in depth the prevailing business situation, the order book position and the fact that expected future orders were very low as compared to the past," said the company spokesman. The Indian Army's relationship with Tatra trucks began in 1969 with the armed forces initially importing the trucks directly. Since 1986, BEML came into the picture and started assembling the heavy vehicles with 20% indigenisation. The company claims that currently about 62% of the trucks are locally made, including its engine, and says it has supplied over 7,000 Tatra trucks to the defence forces in the past 26 years.
BEML sources truck components for the Army from the UK-based Vectra Group, which owns a majority stake in Tatra Sipox (UK) and Czech truck maker Tatra with facilities in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Incidentally, this was not the first time the defence ministry had mooted the idea of BEML acquiring equity in Tatra. Soon after the then defence minister George Fernandes visited the Czech Republic in 2003, a proposal to acquire the stake of US firm Terex - the then majority shareholder in Tatra's Czech factory - was discussed.

"The defence ministry told us that sanctions could be imposed on India's use of the technology. So we were advised to pick up a minimum 26% stake (to safeguard future supplies)," a senior BEML executive said about the previous defence ministry proposal.

"A 26% stake would have ensured at least one BEML director a place on Tatra's board and some control over the use of its truck technology for India's armed forces. The BEML board had cleared the proposal and was waiting for government clearances when Terex sold its stake to UK-based Vectra Group, stalling the Indian company's plans," the spokesman said.

Tatra has undergone a series of ownership changes in the past two decades following the break-up of the erstwhile Czechoslovakia. As per the current structure, the Vectra Group is the sole owner of Tatra Sipox (UK) Ltd and the Tatra Slovakia factory (also known as Tanax). It is also the single largest shareholder with a 41% stake in Tatra a.s., the Czech arm of the company. Black River, a consortium of Czech and other investors, holds 51% stake in the Czech operations and its representative Ronald Adams is the CEO of Tatra a.s. The remaining 8% stake is held by small shareholders.

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