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Wednesday, 12 December 2012

From Today's Papers - 12 Dec 2012
Why China and Pakistan want demilitarization of Siachen
Siachen and Sir Creek are back on the menu again. The Track II diplomacy to bring about a rapprochement between India and Pakistan is interesting in many ways. Official bilateral conclaves having failed to make much headway in ‘confidence building measures’, the Track II peace initiative is now joined by those who have fought fierce battles against each other – the military veterans from both sides of the border and the Line of Control (LoC). Sworn enemies and acclaimed warriors then, they now realise futility of war and advise India to abandon its defences to ‘demilitarise’ Siachen complex at one end and reconcile to Pakistan’s idea of border alignment at Sir Creek.
Siachen Glacier, the highest battlefield of the world, is at the northern extremity of the LoC in J&K. Sir Creek is the lowest point at its southern end where the Indo-Pak border meets the Arabian Sea. There is no human habitation at either location. Siachen, they say, is a wasteland bereft of life and resources taking avoidable toll of soldiers besides being a huge burden on the defence exchequers. Sir Creek, likewise is a mass of uninhabitable marshlands where the alignment of the IB is in dispute for about 100 kilometres.  India believes it runs along midcourse of the stream; Pakistan believes it runs along the eastern edge of the creek.
 No doubt, for twenty years since 1984, numerous attempts were made by the Pakistan Army to wrest control of these heights but in vain.
Since an unresolved terminal point of Indo-Pak border at Sir Creek estuary controverts alignment of maritime boundaries and EEZs, there have been problems like fishermen and trawlers straying into disputed areas.  Clearly, there is a case for amicable resolution of the alignment of the border that actually exists but is being interpreted differently. In the case of Siachen, on the other hand, its present status does not affect life of common people on either side of the border in any way. Logically, since it lies beyond point NJ 9842, the Indian Army deployment violates neither the LoC nor any Treaty or Agreement. No doubt, for twenty years since 1984, numerous attempts were made by the Pakistan Army to wrest control of these heights but in vain.  Saltoro ridge and heights dominating the complex are under Indian control while the Pakistan Army is holding lower western reaches of the range. The situation has been quiet since the ceasefire agreement of 2003.
Ideally, as civilised progressive societies of modern world, India, Pakistan and China should have no need to hold their borders militarily. Economic cooperation, technology exchange, trade and cultural exchange and development programmes should have been the hallmarks of good neighbourliness instead of an atmosphere of animosity and suspicion. It is strange that eminent media houses like Times of India, Jung and the ‘freelance’ Track II group of senior military veterans have ignored issues that are far more vital and notorious for derailing every peace move in the past and continue to be the main threat even now, for instance, Anti-India Terrorist Camps in Pakistan, Role of ISI in sponsoring terror attacks (Mumbai 26/11 gave ample evidence), Pakistan harbouring some of India’s most wanted criminals, ignoring evidence given by India to substantiate such claims. When seen in the light of such momentous issues, ‘demilitarisation’ of Siachen becomes too tiny and insignificant to be traded for larger objectives like peace and friendship between India and Pakistan.
There is a value difference in the perceptions of people and authorities in the two countries over the issue though. In Pakistan, the Government, the Army and the media perceive withdrawal of the Indian troops from Siachen a great strategic advantage over India.  This is quite understandable because this way they would be achieving peacefully what they could not by force.  In India, however, the perception is somewhat squinted – the Army does not want to lose its vital ground of Siachen which they have fought for valiantly and kept since 1984 having sacrificed nearly a thousand precious lives. But the government, a section of media and, ironically, a small group of military veterans are verily inclined in favour of the Pakistani proposal to ‘demilitarise’ (read ‘hand over’) the region and declare it as ‘Peace Park’ – an idea that was first mooted at the 5th World Parks Congress held in Durban in Sep 2003. The thought would be noble and praiseworthy if only there were not a history of Pakistan betraying all previous peace initiatives from India.
A History of Killing Peace Initiatives!
There is enough in the living memory that feeds these suspicions in the Indian mind
Responding from the syndrome of ‘once bitten twice shy’, many Indians suspect this noble looking package of peace and tranquillity from Pakistan of containing something sinister to dispossess India of her vital assets. There is enough in the living memory that feeds these suspicions in the Indian mind.  The chronology of peace initiatives between both the countries substantiates these suspicions because nearly every move has been followed by a sinister move against India – almost always.  Here is how India’s confidence has been consistently shattered in the past:-
  • The first ever conflict between India and Pakistan in 1947-48 was rooted in sheer deceit. Within eight weeks of the Partition, Pakistani irredentist forces including Army and para-military forces infiltrated into J&K to annex it by force. Had the Indian Army not been restrained in December 1948 by India’s own Prime Minister Pandit Nehru, the J&K problem would not have festered through so many wars and terror to remain what it is now. As per the UN resolution of 05 Jan 1949, Pakistan was required to ‘withdraw its forces, both regular and irregular’ from the occupied territory. Even so, Pakistan has not only ditched those resolutions and agreements but also has continued to fuel insurgency and terrorism unabated ever since.
  • President Ayub Khan and Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri had first agreed and signed for peace in June 1965 bringing the Kutch conflict to a halt.  Yet, Pakistan launched ‘Op Gibraltar’ infiltrating combatants in the guise of marauders into J&K in Aug 1965.  It led a shocked Shastri to whine, “Even before the ink of Kutch Agreement had dried up, Pakistan has raised its hood to strike again.” At Tashkent, Prime Minister Shastri signed an agreement with President Ayub agreeing to withdraw from all Pak territories captured by the Indian Army – an overarching generosity that took Shastri’s life.
  • At Kargil, defences were only temporarily vacated – say, ‘demilitarised’ (for the time being at least) – by Indian troops every winter trusting their Pakistani counterparts would not violate the Shimla Agreement and established norms. But India’s trust was betrayed by Pakistani troops infiltrating and occupying these positions surreptitiously in the guise of local shepherds. What’s more, Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif were singing peace and harmony in Lahore in February 1999 even as the Pakistani troops were infiltrating and occupying Indian positions.  We signed for peace but were served War at Kargil that cost us over 500 youthful lives.
  • In 2001, although the Agra summit failed to reach a formal agreement, President Parvez Musharraf and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee gave a joint call to ‘burry the bitter past’ and move towards peace. Musharraf had even invited Vajpayee to visit Pakistan.  As if all good initiatives must be followed by sinister inimical teasers, the roller-coaster journey to peace was once again blasted by the LeT/JM attack on India’s Parliament on 13 December 2001 – an audacious attack on the sovereignty of India bringing both the countries on the verge of war with both the armies mobilised and remaining deployed along borders for almost a year.
  • An important landmark in the process of confidence building measures (CBMs) was opening of historic trade route (Srinagar – Muzaffarabad) across the LoC in 2008. The process of Confidence building measures (CBMs) between the two countries was just gaining momentum. Economic cooperation and trade between the two countries was just picking up when a fully trained band of terrorists struck Mumbai on 26 November 2008 creating havoc in the city.  Revelations by Kasab and David Headley confirm that Mumbai 26/11 was the handiwork of ISI.
  • Even as the eerie lull of incident free times continues, the ‘demilitarisation’ proposal from Pakistan and its advocates raises uneasy curiosity: Wow! Is Pakistan really meaning it this time?
A Stratagem or Philosophy of Peace? 
Now, in the realm of this realpolitik, let us analyse what has driven Pakistan to seek demilitarisation of Siachen. Anybody who controls Siachen will influence life in the Nubra and the Shyok valleys. Freedom of unhindered movement between Aksai Chin and Baltistan, Shaksgam valley will also be very restricted.  Siachen Complex may also serve as a suitable firm base for developing operations northwards (Karakoram highway) if required.
Anybody who controls Siachen will influence life in the Nubra and the Shyok valleys. Freedom of unhindered movement between Aksai Chin and Baltistan, Shaksgam valley will also be very restricted.
China continues to hold Aksaichin and, in collusion with Pakistan, it has steadily increased its presence beyond Shaksgam Valley into Baltistan. It has also been developing surface communication network in this region to facilitate all weather transportation of goods and military between West Tibet and ethnically sensitive province of Xinjiang. In fact, the road connecting Lhasa to Kashgar in Xinjiang province runs almost parallel to India-China border and cuts through Aksaichin. India’s presence at Siachen and enhanced influence in the region is naturally a cause of concern for China in such a scenario.
In southward expansion of China’s interests, it has invested heavily in developing Pakistan’s Gwadar into deep-water port. With most of the ‘Friendship Highway’, another name for the Karakoram Highway, having been upgraded in width from 10 m to 30 m enhancing its transport capacity by three times, China’s access to West Asia by land route will now be speedier and more economical – a great strategic and commercial gain indeed. Indian presence near Karakoram and Aksaichin would be naturally irksome not only for Pakistan but also for China. Demilitarisation of Siachen is therefore a strategic necessity for both.
The region holds other attractions too. Not yet fully explored though, the region is potentially rich in natural resources including minerals, precious stones, metals, oil and hydrocarbons. The Glacier itself is vast reservoir of fresh water – a resource that will be critical for survival in the future. These resources are valuable assets to attract all and sundry. Naturally, Siachen assumes strategic significance for India, Pakistan and even China because it forms a hub between Shaksgam Valley, Karakoram pass and Aksai Chin. Therefore, holding Siachen is vital for India to prevent ingress not only from Pakistan but also from China.
All these attributes add to Siachen’s military value. Having failed to capture these dominating heights militarily, Pakistan has also attempted to isolate Siachen by infiltrating and occupying heights in Kargil Sector in 1999. Since that attempt also failed, it now plans to get it through a currently more fashionable non-military route like rallying support from the environmentalists and innocuously clothed peace vendors, military veterans and media on both sides of the border. Incidentally, it was an Italian ecologist Giuliani Tallone who first proposed setting up of the ‘Siachen Peace Park’ at the Durban Conference in 2003. With Ottavio Quattrocchi still haunting the Indian memory for his hideous role in Bofors scam, could it be yet another fiddle playing ominous ball with Pakistan to beat India at Siachen?
Indian presence near Karakoram and Aksaichin would be naturally irksome not only for Pakistan but also for China. Demilitarisation of Siachen is therefore a strategic necessity for both.
The hyperbole of pious intentions is deeply intriguing. Whole world knows that it was the Pakistan Army that had first planned to occupy these heights in summer 1984.  The Indian Army only pre-empted and occupied strategic heights before the former could reach there in April 1984.  The Pakistan Army has since then launched many attacks to dislodge the Indian Army from Saltoro ridge in the longest fought military conflict for 20 years. They now call it ‘futile’ to hold these chilly hills and want the area ‘demilitarised’. Were they fighting all this while to capture and hold these heights or to bestow serenity on these mountains? Nothing can be more preposterous than this proposal of ‘demilitarisation of Siachen’ coming from an Army that has fought longest to gain control of the same positions.
Cost of National Security?
In support of their argument for ‘demilitarisation’ of Siachen, the lobbyists have inspired emergence of a school of thought in the Indian media and military veterans who question the high rate of casualties and prohibitive maintenance costs involved in holding defences as one of the reasons for the Indian troops to vacate Siachen. However, the argument that Siachen is a very costly battlefield in terms of money as well as human life is also no longer true today. In the initial stages when there was no infrastructure on these heights, casualties and costs were undoubtedly high.  More casualties were suffered due to unexplored hostile terrain and extremely severe climatic conditions where mercury dips as low as minus 58 degree Celsius making soldiers vulnerable to chilblain, frostbite, pulmonary oedema and accidents – a phenomenon that claimed lives and limbs more than combat.
With essential infrastructure now in place, the costs of maintenance have  gone down considerably. It is now comparable with any other high altitude areas in J&K.
That was until the infrastructure was built to match the harsh conditions of weather and terrain. With essential infrastructure now in place, the costs of maintenance have  gone down considerably. It is now comparable with any other high altitude areas in J&K. Consequent to the ceasefire agreement of 2003 between the opposing forces, battle casualties are also now negligible.  Moreover, Siachen is not the only air-maintained forward position in our context. There are many other posts in inaccessible high altitude areas in the East, North and other locations in J&K where forward posts are maintained by air even today. We cannot factor natural calamities in our reckoning of costs to life and property. Catastrophes can befall anyone anywhere from tsunami at sea level to avalanches in high mountains.
Above all, nothing is ever costlier in terms of life and money than wars for nations. It is therefore necessary to keep war at bay or win it decisively if and when thrust upon us. And the best way to keep war away is being always prepared for it.  No financial cost is, therefore, too high for keeping national security intact and maintaining our Armed Forces at the peak of their operational preparedness at all times, which at present has many holes that need to be plugged.
The question that arises in this scenario is: If peace, friendship and cooperation between India and Pakistan were the genuine aim, why limit the idea of ‘demilitarisation’ to Siachen alone? Why not make entire South Asia a ‘Continent of Peace and Prosperity’. The first step to proceed in that direction is to dismantle all Terror Training Camps and facilities, lock up the likes of Hafiz Mohd Sayeed, LeT and other terrorist gangs transparently and effectively.
Tata group develops artillery gun

New Delhi, December 11
In a step towards developing the indigenous private sector defence industry, the Tata group has come up with a new artillery gun and has requested the Army to provide its ranges and ammunition for trying out the howitzer.

"We have worked with a number of foreign partners to develop the mounted gun system. We have requested the Army to provide its ranges and ammunition to us for engineering firing of the howitzer," Tata Power Strategic Electronics Division chief Rahul Chaudhary said here today.

He said a prototype of the Howitzer has been produced and "around 50-55 per cent of its content is indigenous." "By the time we are in position to produce 150 or more guns, we would be able to increase the indigenous content to 70-75 per cent," he said. — PTI
Kargil martyr Capt Kalia’s father moves UN seeking justice
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 11
Capt Saurabh Kalia’s family and well-wishers have moved the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) seeking justice and trial for the Kargil War hero who was captured, tortured mercilessly and brutally killed by the Pakistani Army over 13 years ago. The UNHRC monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which India and Pakistan are parties.

The petitioners — Capt Kalia’s father Dr NK Kalia, Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar and the Flags of Honour Foundation — have urged the United Nations Humans Rights Commission for a full and independent investigation into the torture and death of Capt Kalia and five jawans during the Kargil War in 1999 and sought justice for them.

Capt Kalia and jawans Arjun Ram, Bhanwar Lal Bagaria, Bhika Ram, Moola Ram and Naresh Singh of 4 Jat regiment were the first to officially verify intrusions by Pakistan Army in the Kargil sector. They were on a routine patrol of the Bajrang Post in the Kaksar sub-sector of Kargil on May 6, 1999, when Pakistan Army soldiers fired at them.

Capt Kalia and his men put up a valiant fight, but ran out of ammunition and were captured alive by the enemy and subjected to inhuman torture and killed. Pakistan handed over their badly mutilated bodies 22 days later.

The autopsy report of the Captain and jawans revealed extreme torture, including cigarette burns, eardrums pierced with hot rods and chopped off limbs and private organs before they were finally shot dead.

The petition was filed on December 7 with Juan E Mendez, Special Rapporteur on Torture, Office of High Commissioner of Human Rights, UN Office Geneva. It urges UNHRC has been urged to take appropriate steps to ask the Government of Pakistan to probe the matter and ascertain who was responsible for the torture and death of Captain Kalia. The petition cites from available correspondence, post-mortem reports and also a book authored by the then Army Chief General VP Malik (retd).

“I am supporting this petition to UNHRC to seek justice for the family of Capt Saurabh Kalia who was tortured and shot dead while performing his duty, a clear case of war crime and a violation of the Geneva Convention,” said Rajeev Chandrasekhar.

Article 3 of the Geneva Convention — drawn up after the World War II — clearly states that soldiers who have been detained or have laid down arms shall not be subjected to “murder of all kind, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture, humiliating and degrading treatment, passing of sentences, carrying out of executions”.

Tortured, killed IN pakistan

    May 6, 1999: Capt Kalia and five jawans of 4 Jat regiment are the first to officially verify intrusions by Pakistan Army on routine patrol in Kaksar sub-sector of Kargil
    Pakistan soldiers fire at them; they put up a valiant fight, but run out of ammunition and are captured alive
    June 9, 1999: Pakistan hands over their badly mutilated bodies 22 days after they were captured
    The autopsy report of the Captain and jawans reveales extreme torture before they were finally shot dead
AFT upholds GCM’s verdict, says pilot guilty of mid-air collision
Vijay Mohan/TNS

Chandigarh, December 11
Seventeen years after a mid-air collision between two fighters claimed the lives of two children on ground, the Armed Forces Tribunal has upheld a general court martial’s verdict holding a Group Captain responsible for the mishap. But the AFT has reduced the quantum of punishment in view of the officer’s “exemplary” service record before as well as after the incident.

In December 1995, while on a routine training sortie, two MiG-23 aircraft collided after one of them had suffered a generator failure. While the pilots managed to bail out safely, the debris had resulted in the incidental death of a five-year old girl, Monica, and a nine-month-old boy, Shiv, in Hoshiarpur district.

The petitioner, Gp Capt Ajit Singh, was tried by a GCM for three charges under the Air Force Act without reasonable excuse, destroying an aircraft belonging to the government, neglect in flying aircraft causing loss of life and neglect in flying aircraft causing injury to a person.

He was acquitted of the charges in 1998, but the then AOC-in-C, Western Air Command, Air Marshal Vinod Patney ordered the GCM to revise its findings. On re-assembly, the GCM, while holding him guilty of the first charge, ordered forfeiture of three months service for the purpose of pay and pension and a severe reprimand.

The petitioner moved court against the GCM’s order and in September 2010, the tribunal, while setting aside the sentence, remanded the matter back to the GCM with liberty to take additional evidence and hearing both parties, and to reconstitute the GCM if the original members were no longer in service. Accordingly, the IAF reconstituted the GCM, which held the petitioner guilty of the first charge but not guilty of second and third charges.
Indian Army ready to deal with any insurgency, says chief
 After admitting that rate of infiltration has increased this year in comparison to last year, Chief of Army Staff General Bikram Singh said that Indian defence forces are completely prepared and ready to take on any external aggression, if it happens in the near future.
He said that Army’s commitment to protecting the nation against external aggression, stating that the Army is still alive in the fight against terrorism and other internal security challenges. He said that what we have watched now is a bigger thing, because, in spite of our involvement in fighting internal security threat, we are not losing sight of the fact that our primary responsibility is the defence of external aggression.
“What we have just demonstrated here is that we are ever ready to defend the country. The zeal and high morale of the young passed out officers is enough to send message across that Indian Army is fully capable and prepared to deal with any insurgency,” he reiterated, adding that modernisation and up-gradation of the arms and ammunition including communication equipments is a regular feature in the Indian Army.

He however, reassured towards encouraging research and innovations by the various formations of the Army, towards improving the efforts of the Indian Army. While giving highlighting about the high standards of IMA, Gen Singh said that officers have been fortunate in having been groomed at the academy which has produced some of the world’s finest military leaders, including the legendary field Marshal Sam Manekshaw.
“As young Army Officers, your basic role will be that of a warrior and protector. You will also have to act as an apostle of peace and hope for the citizens of this great country. Wherever and in whatever capacity you are, always remember that you belong to the last bastion of the country and you cannot afford to fail and ever let your country down,” he said, adding that the Indian Army has a formidable image, both at home and abroad. It is an Army known for its long martial traditions with the time-tested ethos of nationalism, patriotism and discipline as its bedrock.

According to him, Indian Army has set benchmarks for valour, courage under fire and selfless sacrifice in four major wars on our borders after independence and in the ongoing internal security commitments and the Army is admired for its prompt and effective response to conduct disaster relief and humanitarian assistance operations in the aftermath of natural calamities. In the global environment, the Army is renowned for its contributions in UN peace keeping operations.  Gen Singh also conveyed appreciation the passing out cadets from Afghanistan, Maldives, Tajikistan, Mauritius and Bhutan.
Indian Navy needs a wider berth
The new Chief of Naval Staff Admiral D. K. Joshi takes command at a time of extraordinary expansion for the Indian Navy.

He has also gone on to say that the Indian Navy — the fifth largest in the world — is ready to protect the country’s economic interests in the South China Sea, particularly the oil blocks off the coast of Vietnam being explored by ONGC.

The Indian Army and the Indian Air force are accustomed to fast growth, but the Navy, after a brief spurt in the mid-80s, suddenly came to a halt. It, however, appears to be back in full steam mode.

However, the Navy’s place within strategic thinking in India, a country with a predominantly landlocked mindset, is uncertain.
The Royal navy legacy

According to the Defence Ministry, the Navy has added as many as fifteen ships over the last three years. This includes a leased nuclear submarine from Russia, the Akulla II class.

It will soon take delivery of the much-delayed Russian aircraft carrier retrofitted for Indian use, the INS Vikramaditya. Other ships include three “stealth” frigates of the Shivalik class, resupply tankers and fast attack boats.

The plan is to add five more ships every year for the next five years. The Navy has received a major boost in its surveillance capability with the acquisition of the US-made P8i aircraft, armed with Harpoon missiles. These aircraft will replace an aging fleet of Tu142 and IL38 aircraft of the 80s.

The aircraft carrier group and the nuclear submarine are capabilities, that could, over time, restore Indian maritime primacy in the Indian Ocean waters. The imperial Navy that India inherited from the British controlled seas from Aden to Singapore.

That sea control included an outreach capability over the three critical “chokepoints”— Bandar Abbas in the Persian Gulf, the straits south of Sri Lanka and the Malacca straits in the Singapore littoral.
More bases

Besides these impressive strides in hardware, the Indian Navy has also developed two critical bases, at an estimated cost of $3 billion. On the Western Seaboard, the INS Dweeprakshak on the Lakshadweep Island will handle surveillance and base larger war ships. With this base, India has will acquire a robust sea control capability.

On the Eastern Sea Board similarly, India has opened a new base, the naval air station, Baaz. This base will be under the tri-command in the Campbell bay, Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Significantly, it is nearer to the Malacca strait than to India.

The two bases are complemented by India’s longest runway at the INS Rajali in Tamil Nadu that will base the P81 spy aircraft. The Navy has also gone digital with all ships in the process of being linked to a command and control apparatus.
Strategic Centrestage

With its ability to remain underwater without refuelling for long periods, the nuclear submarine is the ‘Alpha’ asset. It is virtually impossible to detect and can have several nuclear weapons aboard depending on the configuration. What is more, the nuclear submarine can be far, really far, out at sea.

The Navy is unique in its ability to project power beyond the constraints of national boundaries. After twelve nautical miles, the world is your oyster. Neither the Army nor the Air Force enjoy a similar advantage. For India, the submarine combined with the aircraft carrier battle group provides a critical edge. It is a pity that the Indian mindset is landlocked. The strategic planners need a complete reorientation from brown and white lands of Rajasthan and the Himalayas to the endless oceans. The Navy, to be truly a strategic force, will require two critical changes in India’s way of war.

First, India will have to move away from prioritising the million-plus army and allocate bandwidth and funds for the Navy in strategy.
Time overruns

Second, the Defence Ministry and the Navy with the myriad defence public sector undertakings that they control, need to get their act together. Although Indian-made warships cost a quarter of similar class ships in the West and Japan, the time overruns are very high. The Navy has a staggering delayed delivery schedule. This constrains the force with only about six submarines at any given point at sea. The Indian Navy needs robust oversight and a bold decision — allowing private players in warship building. Some of this is already happening. The hull of Arihant, India’s own nuclear submarine due for sea trials this year, was built by L&T, a private firm.

Such participation can accelerate if India allows majority investment by foreign players in shipbuilding and taps the potential of defence offsets.

Partnership is the way forward. India’s state-owned shipyards are in a growth dilemma — choked with orders they cannot fulfil for lack of technology and funds.

The ocean is too large to be anybody’s playground. Technology, with cruise missiles and potential anti-aircraft carrier missile defence, has shrunk geography.

India shares with democratic countries the maritime advantage — all of them have robust navies. Working with the democracies of the US, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore and Australia will be to its advantage.

This will need diplomatic innovation and a strategic re-jig. Without it, floating assets, even hefty ones, will count for little.

Lastly, the Defence Ministry will need to control leaks on its mother ship. With a nuclear submarine, potentially armed with nuclear weapons out at sea, another such leak could lead to an unthinkable catastrophe. Securing ships is the vital challenge for the Indian Navy in the years ahead.
Indian military facing manpower shortage
New Delhi, Dec 10, 2012 (IANS):

The Indian Army is facing a shortage of 10,100 officers and 32,431 men below officer ranks, Defence Minister A.K. Antony told parliament Monday.

In a written statement in the Lok Sabha, the minister said the navy also had a shortfall of 1,996 officers and 14,310 sailors while the air force was short of 7,962 personnel including 962 officers and 7,000 airmen.

He said the naval shortages were counted on Sep 30 and the air force shortfall on Dec 1.

The minister said some of the major reasons for the shortage were difficult service conditions, perceived high risks, stringent selection criteria and lucrative alternative career avenues.

He said the number of military personnel who took premature retirement slipped from 8,563 in 2009 to 8,492 in 2010 and again rose to 11,760 in 2011. The number for 2012 was 10,822.

Antony said the government had taken a number of steps to encourage youth to join the armed forces.

These included conducting recruitment rallies and media campaigns to attract the young to join the army, navy and air force.

He said the government had also taken steps to make military jobs more attractive.
Egypt army seeks national unity as crisis mounts
CAIRO: Egypt's army chief called for talks on national unity to end the country's deepening political crisis after a vital loan from the IMF was delayed and thousands of pro- and anti-government demonstrators took to the streets.

The meeting, scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, was called in response to a destabilising series of protests since President Mohamed Morsi awarded himself sweeping powers on Nov. 22 to push through a new constitution shaped by his Islamist allies in a referendum on Saturday.

"We will not speak about politics nor about the referendum. Tomorrow we will sit together as Egyptians," armed forces chief and defence minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said at a joint gathering of army and police officials.

An aide said Morsi had supported the call for talks. The Muslim Brotherhood announced it would be there, while the main opposition coalition said it would decide on Wednesday morning whether to attend.

Earlier, the finance minister disclosed that a $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan, a cornerstone of Egypt's economic recovery hopes, would be delayed until next month.

Mumtaz al-Said said the delay was intended to allow time to explain a widely criticised package of economic austerity measures to the Egyptian people.

On Monday Muris backed down on planned tax rises, seen as essential for the loan to go ahead, but which the opposition had fiercely criticised.

"Of course the delay will have some economic impact, but we are discussing necessary measures (to address that) during the coming period," Said told Reuters, adding: "I am optimistic ... everything will be well, God willing."

Prime Minister Hisham Kandil said the measures would not hurt the poor. Bread, sugar and rice would not be touched, but prices of cigarettes and cooking oil would go up and fines would be imposed for public littering. In a bid to rebuild consensus, he said there would be a public consultation about the programme next week.

In Washington, the IMF said Egypt had asked for the loan to be postponed "in light of the unfolding developments on the ground". The Fund stood ready to consult with Egypt on resuming discussions on the stand-by loan, a spokeswoman said.

Gunmen open fire

On the streets of Cairo, tensions ran high after nine people were hurt when gunmen fired at protesters camping in Tahrir Square, according to witnesses and Egyptian media.

The opposition has called for major protests it hopes will force Morsi to postpone the referendum. Thousands gathered outside the presidential palace, whose walls are scrawled with anti-Morsi graffiti.

A bigger crowd of flag-waving Islamist Morsi backers, who want the vote to go ahead as planned on Saturday, assembled at a nearby mosque, setting the stage for further street confrontations in a crisis that has divided the nation of 83 million.

In Egypt's second city of Alexandria, thousands of rival demonstrators gathered at separate venues. Morsi's backers chanted: "The people want implementation of Islamic law", while his opponents shouted: "The people want to bring down the regime". Others cities also witnessed protests.

The upheaval following the fall of Hosni Mubarak last year is causing concern in the United States, which has given Cairo billions of dollars in military and other aid since Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation, made peace with Israel in 1979.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland emphasised "deep concerns" over the situation in Egypt and repeated calls on protesters to demonstrate peacefully and on security forces to act with restraint.

"Key stakeholders in Egypt are raising real and legitimate questions, both about the substance and about the process for moving to a constitutional referendum this weekend," Nuland told a news briefing. She declined to be drawn on whether Washington believed the referendum itself should be postponed.

The turmoil has also put a big strain on the Egyptian economy, sending foreign currency reserves down to about $15 billion, less than half what they were before the revolt two years ago as the government has sought to defend the pound.

"Given the current policy environment, it's hardly a surprise that there's been a delay, but it is imperative that the delay is brief," said Simon Williams, HSBC economist in Dubai. "Egypt urgently needs that IMF accord, both for the funding it brings and the policy anchor it affords."

The IMF deal had been seen as giving a seal of approval to the government's economic plans, vital for drawing more cash into the economy to ease a crushing budget deficit and stave off a balance of payments crisis.

Masked attackers

In central Cairo police cars surrounded Tahrir Square, the first time they had appeared in the area since shortly after Morsi awarded himself the sweeping temporary powers in a move that touched off widespread protests.

The attackers, some masked, also threw petrol bombs that started a small fire, witnesses said.

"The masked men came suddenly and attacked the protesters in Tahrir. The attack was meant to deter us and prevent us from protesting today," said John Gerges, a Christian Egyptian who described himself as a socialist.

The latest bout of unrest has so far claimed seven lives in clashes between the Muslim Brotherhood and opponents who gathered outside Morsi's presidential palace.

But the Republican Guard, which protects the palace, has yet to use force to keep protesters away from the building, now ringed with tanks, barbed wire and concrete barricades.

The army has told all sides to resolve their differences through dialogue. For the period of the referendum, the army has been granted powers by Morsi allowing it to arrest civilians.

In statement issued after rights groups criticised the army's new police powers, the presidency said anyone arrested by the military during the referendum would face civil rather than military courts. It said the army's new role would only last until results are declared after Saturday's referendum.

Leftists, liberals and other opposition groups say the hastily arranged constitutional referendum is polarising the country and could put it in a religious straitjacket.

Islamists have urged their followers to show support for Morsi and for a referendum they feel sure of winning.
Army planning trial units in commands to expedite acquisition
New Delhi: Against the backdrop of delays in procurement of weapon systems, Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh is planning to set up trials cell in each of the six army commands to fasten up the process of field evaluations of arms and equipment.

The step will help the Army to save the time take taken to carry out these trials and will also help in ensuring more transparency and accountability in the trials process, Army sources told PTI here.

The sources said the Army Chief is planning to create a trial cell in each of the six operational commands of the force so that the process of trial of weapon systems and equipment can be fastened up, they said.

Doing away with the 'hollowness' and slow modernisation is one of the key focus areas of Gen Singh.

At present, the trial cell is located in the Army headquarters which forms trial teams in operational areas and get reports from them but these teams are not accountable for this particular task to their immediate superior formations.

With trial cells set up in all commands, the onus of conducting trials in a specified time period would lie with these commands.

The Army has currently more than 500 procurement cases going on to meet its various requirements. It is also evaluating a number of Indian and foreign equipment for its troops.

In recent times, the Army faced several problems in its acquisitions due to problems in the trials and evaluation process. Many of its deals including the procurement of 197 helicopters for its aviation wing had to be scrapped in 2007 due to issues with evaluation process.

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