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Monday, 28 May 2012

From Today's Papers - 28 May 2012
Sukna scam: Army Chief ratifies Lt Gen Avadesh’s dismissal

Lt Gen Avadesh PrakashNew Delhi, May 27
Just before his retirement, Gen V K Singh has ratified a court martial's decision to dismiss former military secretary Lt Gen Avadesh Prakash from service after he was found guilty by an Army court in Sukna land scam case.

The dismissal means that he will not get any benefits like pension and will not be entitled to use Army rank or any privilege attached with military service.

Prakash is the senior-most officer to have been awarded this punishment by the Army.

General VK SinghThe Army Chief confirmed the sentence awarded to the former Military Secretary by a General Court Martial (GCM) in December last year.

The decision was taken by Gen V K Singh on May 21, 10 days before his retirement from service, sources said.

Commenting on the development, Prakash said, "I am considering various options available under the service rules and legal remedies to protest against the decision taken by the Army Chief."

In recent interviews, the Army Chief has blamed the former Military Secretary for raking up the age issue by filing RTIs.

Held guilty by GCM

Prakash was held guilty of misusing his position under Section 45 (conduct unbecoming of his position as an officer) and Section 52 (intent to defraud) of the Army Act by the General Court Martial (GCM). The court martial was conducted after Prakash was indicted by an Army court of inquiry in 2010 for his role in the illegal transfer of 71 acres of land adjacent to Sukna military station near Siliguri in West Bengal to a private realtor.

3rd such case

He is the third Lt Gen rank officer to have been punished in a corruption-related case. Earlier, Lt Gen S K Sahni was cashiered from service for his role in the ration scam, while Lt Gen P K Rath was given a punishment in the Sukna case. While Prakash and Sahni were punished after their retirement, Rath was serving when he was indicted.

Prakash was held guilty of misusing his position under Section 45 (conduct unbecoming of his position as an officer) and Section 52 (intent to defraud) of the Army Act by the General Court Martial at 51 sub-area of the Army station at Narengi in Guwahati.

The court martial was conducted after Prakash was indicted by an Army court of inquiry in 2010 for his role in the illegal transfer of 71 acres of land adjacent to Sukna military station near Siliguri in West Bengal to a private realtor for constructing an educational institution in 2008.

He is the third Lt Gen rank officer to have been punished in a corruption-related case.

While Lt Gen S K Sahni was cashiered from service for his role in the ration scam, Lt Gen P K Rath was given a punishment in the Sukna case. While Prakash and Sahni were punished after their retirement, Rath was serving when he was indicted. The officer has now retired.

The Sukna land scam dates back to 2008 when the alleged move to transfer the land in Siliguri to a private educational trust came out in the open, leading to the Army initiating disciplinary proceedings against senior Army officials, including Prakash and Rath. — PTI
Army worried over NATO’s early pullout from Afghanistan
Arun Joshi
Tribune News Service

Jammu, May 27
As the date for the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan is being scheduled ahead of the December 2014 deadline, the pressure on the Indian Army is on the rise.

So, it has worked out a strategy to deal with the worst-case scenario of the militants making more bids to cross the Line of Control.

The thinking is that militant outfits operating in Afghanistan at the behest of Pakistan will be diverted to Kashmir. This had happened earlier in 1989 when Russian troops moved out of that country. Funds were directed towards Kashmir to foment militancy which, till date, has left 50,000 dead.

Pakistan’s intentions on Kashmir are “unchanged”, argue senior Army commanders. It would send into Kashmir the militants who are not needed in Afghanistan after the NATO withdrawal.

“Pakistan has the capability to do that,” a senior Army officer, who cannot be named under the defence rules of reporting, told The Tribune.

“This matter has been discussed at all levels in the Army. This was one of the reasons for the Army’s objection to the revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act,” the officer said.

The ball for the early withdrawal of NATO forces was set rolling by French President Francois Hollande, who during his visit to Afghanistan this week, declared that French troops would be back home this year - two years ahead of schedule.

The Indian Army’s worries are also rooted in the “poor training” of the Afghan national army.“Though they have flashy weapons, their level of training is not up to the mark and they are no match for the Taliban and other groups there,” the Army officer said.

On the anti-infiltration grid, he said that infiltration bids cannot be brought to zero despite the high level of vigil along the 742-km-long Line of Control between India and Pakistan. “There is no human chain at the LoC and it cannot be formed in the future either,” the officer said.
BJP wants govt to clarify on Army Chief’s charges
Girja Shankar Kaura/TNS

New Delhi, May 27
Looking to seize another opportunity to pin down the beleaguered Congress-led UPA government, the BJP today demanded a "proper response" from the government to serious allegations levelled by outgoing Army Chief Gen VK Singh about decision-making and functioning of the armed forces.

BJP’s chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said the General had raised certain critical issues about the functioning of the Ministry of Defense. “He has levelled serious allegations about supply and purchase in the armed forces," said Prasad, demanding a proper response from the government.

“The Army is a very important institution of the country and the BJP would like a proper response from the government which owes a duty to the nation to explain and assure that the country's defence preparedness is safe and that no attempt is being made to save anyone,” Prasad said.

The Army Chief in a series of interviews to TV channels over the past few days has alleged that there have been serious anomalies in supply and purchase in the armed forces. In response to the letter written by party MP Ram Jethmalani to party president Nitin Gadkari alleging that party leaders were "silent" against corruption in UPA-II government and were instead engaged in infighting, Prasad said that the party was not in agreement with these views.

"Ram Jethmalani is a senior MP and we all have a lot of respect for him. But as chief spokesperson of the party, I would like to say that the party does not agree with his views about the functioning of the organisation. The BJP has been most forthright in exposing the corruption in the UPA government," Prasad said.
Vajra Corps showcases might
UAVs, satellites being used in 4-day military exercise
Varinder Singh
Tribune News Service

Jalandhar, May 27
The Indian Army showcased its might with more than 12,000 jawans, 200 tanks and infantry combat vehicles shaking the ground along the Sutlej as part of ‘Ashwamedha’, the four-day hi-tech military training exercise, which took off in Punjab today.

The hi-tech army exercise witnessed a swift mobilisation of units and offensive manoeuvres of the next level of battle technique.

The offensive was backed by real-time intelligence inputs procured from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), geostationary satellites and ground-based sensors. These inputs were sent across the network, which aided all the field commanders in quick decision-making and swift execution of operations.

“The exercise is aimed at demonstrating integration of armoured, artillery, air defence, surveillance and specialised engineer equipment. The Vajra Corps is carrying out its training exercise ‘Ashwamedha’ in the rural hinterland of Punjab. The exercise will continue day and night for four days,” said Defence PRO Naresh Vig.

The exercise ground comprises the banks of the Sutlej in Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Jagraon and Moga.

The GoC, Lieut-Gen Sanjiv Madhok, witnessed different army manoeuvres during the exercise.

Strengthening the soldier-farmer-ex-servicemen bond, various welfare events and interactions with the youth and civil administration were held prior to the commencement of the exercise.

The population of Punjab is confident that their security rests in safe hands, with the Vajra Corps showcasing its might, said General Madhok.
3 securitymen die in gunbattle with Maoists

Malkangiri (Odisha), May 27
A day before Union Minister Jairam Ramesh's visit to Malkangiri in Odisha, three securitymen were injured, one of them critically, in a gunbattle with Maoists in a forest in the district today.

The exchange of fire occurred in Kanaguda forest in Kalimela area when jawans of elite anti-Naxal Special Operation Group (SOG) were returning after combing operations, Superintendent of Police Anirudh Singh said.

The Maoist terrorists first exploded claymore mines when the jawans were returning on the way, some of them on motor-cycles, and then fired at them, he said. — PTI
Prestigious staff college course to go online
Vijay Mohan/TNS

Shimla, May 27
To train and prepare more service officers to handle important mid-level staff appointments in various military establishments, the prestigious Defence Service Staff College (DSSC) Course would now be conducted online for selected officers.

Officers at the Army Training Command (ARTRAC) here said that the online course would be available only to those officers who have cleared the competitive entrance examination for the course and made it to the merit list, but could not be included in the regular course due the limited number of vacancies.

The Staff College Course is a 45-week programme held at DSSC, Wellington that aims at imparting training in operational and staff functions in an inter-service as well as joint service environment. It is attended by officers of all three services as well as a few civilian officers and officers from foreign countries. Completing the course is now mandatory for selection-grade promotions above the rank of major/lieutenant colonel and equivalent.

Termed as e-psc, (passed staff college), the online programme would be of two years duration, with two contact programmes as the DSCC to take up classified topics that cannot be placed on the service intranets. Though undergoing the same course, e-psc officers would be lower in precedence than regular staff college graduates.

“With the e-psc more officers would be groomed to take up appointments at the division and corps level that were so far tenable only by regular staff college graduates. This would allow service headquarters greater choice in working out postings,” a senior officer said.
Has Gen V K Singh begun behaving like a politician?
NEW DELHI: General Vijay Kumar Singh is signing off from the Army with a lot of noisy questions, whose echo will continue to reverberate in the corridors of power and armed forces circles much after his successor Lt Gen Bikram Singh takes over as the chief of the 1.3 million-strong Army.

Gen Singh's retirement will signal the end of the era of Army chiefs who actively participated in battles (he had participated in the 1971 Indo-Pak war; the other serving officer Lt Gen S R Ghosh too will retire along with Gen Singh on May 31). It will, however, not bring to an end the controversies spawned by the retiring Army chief - alleged politics in drawing the line of succession for Army chief, allegation of corruption in defence deals and the alleged shielding of incompetent officers.

Just before retirement, Gen Singh issued a show-cause notice to Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag for an alleged botched up operation in Jorhat in December last year. Prior to this, he almost created panic in public by writing to the prime minister describing how ill-equipped his Army was.

Everything was in its groove and the Indian Army was the one of the finest when Gen Singh took over as Chief of Army Staff on March 31, 2010.

But from somewhere, the leaks started. Information about Gen Singh's representation for correction of his year of birth in official records surfaced in the media. Documents from his confidential files got annexed to a PIL filed in the Supreme Court by public-spirited eminent persons who could not stomach the injustice being meted out to the decorated General.

The General has accused Lt Gen Suhag of running to the media with the show-cause notice and criticized it by saying it was against the Army tradition. Well, someone must ask the General how so many documents from his personal file maintained by him and the defence ministry were leaked so often and whether that was in line with the highest traditions of discipline one had heard repeatedly.

Gen Singh's belated allegations about corruption must be probed at the highest level and not by the CBI if the government is interested in maintaining the public's unadulterated respect for its armed forces. But it is equally important to probe the breach of discipline allegation - both in Gen Singh's case relating to leak of documents as well as Lt Gen Suhag's show-cause notice.

For, the SC in its May 11 judgment (Chandra Kumar Chopra vs Union of India) said, "The primary obligation of a member of armed forces is to maintain discipline in all aspects." If Gen Singh accuses Lt Gen Suhag of breach if discipline by assuming he had leaked the show-cause notice, then he too needs to explain how secret documents from his file reached the public domain.

Moreover, he needs to explain his activities during the last five months, which resembled that of a politician. He accepted bow and arrow at gatherings wearing his uniform, went to temples and did puja at the ghat of Ganga. We thought religion was a purely private matter, especially for a person who leads a multi-cultural and multi-religious Army.
Our mandarins, their mandarins
The 33-year sentencing of Shakeel Afridi, a Pakistani doctor who provided information on Osama bin Laden's whereabouts, is rapidly turning into a wedge issue between Pakistan and the US. The appropriations panel of the US Senate hit back immediately when it voted unanimously to cut $33 million in aid to Pakistan - a million for each year of the sentence. While this cut may be symbolic, another Senate committee voted on the same day to limit the availability of $1.75 billion in coalition support funds unless Afridi is freed.

Islamabad's official view is that Afridi's sentencing is a judicial decision and the government can't intervene. But Afridi was denied due process, as the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has pointed out. His alleged offence took place at Abbottabad, but his trial was shifted to a tribal court under the Frontier Crimes Regulation, a non-transparent mechanism which bypasses the regular judicial system and allows no representation to the accused.

Assuming that Dr Afridi knew what his activities in collecting blood samples for the Americans was leading up to, his crime appears to have been taking a little too seriously the official Pakistani narrative of being in the forefront of the fight against terror. Since the army and ISI set-up felt humiliated after the US Navy Seals raid on bin Laden, Afridi's harsh punishment is - to all intents and purposes - a deterrent message sent to those who participate, wittingly or unwittingly, in such endeavours.

But while the bin Laden raid may have hurt the army, what's surprising is the backing provided to it by Pakistan's civilian establishment, which could very well have utilised the occasion to pose tough questions about how bin Laden was being sheltered right in the army's backyard in Abbottabad. There's a near-universal sense of victimhood and betrayal, which overlooks that if Pakistan's borders are porous with respect to terror attacks on other countries, and its authorities don't act on this, then 'national sovereignty' can't be a hallowed principle and those borders are liable to be porous in the other direction as well.

Pakistani ire at the bin Laden raid as well as American drone attacks on its tribal territories may, however, have had a paradoxically beneficial effect. America has risen and India fallen in its demonology - facilitating a substantial improvement in India-Pakistan ties. In the long term, that's the key to a peaceful and prosperous South Asia.

In the short term, though, it does point up the 'schizophrenia' that US senators Patrick Leahy and Lindsey Graham have seen to be inherent in Islamabad's approach. While there may be ample room for criticism of Washington's policies it was, after all, doing Pakistan a favour with the bin Laden raid. Not only was bin Laden sworn to decimate Pakistan's civilian establishment - among other things, civilian democracy is an affront to God's law in al-Qaida's belief system - the terror group's affiliates had launched attacks on army and navy bases in Pakistan, besides umpteen assassination attempts on civilian and military leaders. If anything, Pakistan's security establishment should itself have acted in its defence against bin Laden, which would have precluded the American raid and presumed insult to national honour.

But is Pakistan the only country in the region prevented from acting in its self-interest due to hysteria, emotionalism and deep divisions among its political elites? For Indians, that's a tempting thought. However, India's political classes too have revealed an inability to think clearly and appear to remain in a bubble of their own making. Thus the current economic despondency, when only two or three years ago the India story was riding high. If Pakistan's jihad factory deters foreign investment and causes domestic capital to flee, similar effects have been achieved in India through a slowdown in decision-making.

In both nations, policymaking is hostage to the interests and whims of a small minority. In Pakistan, the interests of a few Islamists and generals can override the rest. In India, the interests of a few pilots (and perhaps netas and babus accustomed to freebies on the national airline) ensure that vast sums of taxpayer's money continue to be sunk into a dying airline. The ostensible reason? National honour demands a national airline.

This is only a symptom of a larger problem in India - bloating public subsidies, a bloated bureaucracy and growing red tape which slows decision-making. 'Policy paralysis' is a widely circulating shorthand for all of this, as bad news on the economy comes in with metronomic regularity. This has been brought on by a risk-averse bureaucracy and political class that is solidly resistant to change and insists on throwing away opportunity after opportunity.

By stigmatising reforms as inherently anti-poor, India has nurtured the status quo and scored the same self-goal that Pakistan did when it stigmatised India (and more recently, America) as inherently anti-Pakistan. While there is no moral equivalence between the inability to institute sustainable and inclusive economic growth in India and the nursing of fanatical terror groups in Pakistan, social tensions could explode in India as well - breeding fanaticisms of various kinds - if lethargic decision-making and poor governance are unable to keep pace with popular aspirations.
Taskforce pushes for special operations command
NEW DELHI: India urgently needs a Special Operations Command (SOC), which brings together disparate special forces of the Army, Navy, IAF and other agencies under a unified command and control structure in order to execute strategic or politico-military operations in tune with national security objectives.

Experts say the government must no longer dither in creating the SOC, one of the key recommendations of the 14-member Naresh Chandra taskforce report submitted to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on May 23, since the country needs to strengthen its clandestine and "unconventional" warfare capabilities to effectively tackle the challenges ahead.

"The threat of full-blown conventional wars may be receding but the spectre of terrorism, irregular, asymmetrical or fourth-generation warfare is looming large. Inadequately equipped Indian special forces are wallowing in merely tactical roles, often pulling in different directions,'' said a senior officer.

"The SOC, which will be more relevant in peace than war, should be a critical element in India's preparedness to handle non-traditional threats and out-of-area contingencies. Our special forces need unity of command as well as proper structuring, modernization and tasking for effective covert operations and counter-terror,'' he added.

The idea for a SOC is of course not startlingly new, much like many other recommendations of the taskforce report that call for more effective integration of the three Service HQs with the defence ministry, revamp of the entire intelligence system and rapid infrastructure development to meet external and internal security challenges, as was earlier reported by TOI.

But the first anniversary this month of the flawless operation by the American Navy Seals (under the United States SOC that works closely with CIA) to take out Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad last year has only served to reinforce it.

The taskforce report, on its part, stresses the Indian special forces are not being utilized to their full potential. They need to be brought together under the SOC, which would report directly to the chiefs of staff committee (CoSC), it says.

Indian special forces like Para-SF (Army), Marine Commandos (Navy), Garuds (IAF), Special Frontier Force (cabinet secretariat) and National Security Guards (home ministry), among others, currently report to different masters and ministries.

Interestingly, the committee's report has also recommended the creation of a permanent post of CoSC chairman, without impacting the autonomy of the Army, Navy and IAF chiefs who constitute the panel as of now. At present, the seniormost of the three services also wear the CoSC chairman's hat.

This is not too different from the 2001 Group of Ministers' report on "reforming the national security system" after the Kargil conflict, which had also recommended a chief of defence staff (CDS) to provide single-point military advice to the government.

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