US ASIA-PACIFIC MILITARY REBALANCE: THE STRING OF PEARLS IN REVERSE
- Raghavendra Mishra and Kamlesh K Agnihotri
The broad contours of ‘US Rebalance towards the Asia-Pacific’, that form a critical component of US military redistribution and global drawdown were enunciated at the Shangri La Dialogue 2012 in Singapore by the US Secretary of Defence, Leon Panetta on 02 June 2012 . This seems to have set the proverbial cat among the pigeons as far the Chinese are concerned. Their media has criticised this posture as one that may lead to a regional arms race, destabilise regional power dynamics and pose a challenge to Beijing’s Nine Dashed Lines territorial claim(submitted to the United Nations in May 2009) that virtually encompasses the whole of the South China Sea. This commentary aims to examine the salient aspects of the future US military posture in the Asia-Pacific brought out in the Panetta address and its regional geo-political connects.
The question as to why the Asia-Pacific matters so much to the US can be seen through the prism of this equatorial oceanic pendulum, which whilst being in focus for energy security and economic growth is also the hub of violent terrorism, extremism and non-traditional security threats. The second reason is the growing assertiveness of China, which is a natural corollary to its meteoric economic and military rise and poses a counter to the US led world order. One US assessment mentions the following goals for China in the Asia-Pacific context:-
- Asserting China’s maritime territorial claims, particularly in most of the South China Sea.
- Enforcing China’s view that it has the right to regulate foreign military activities in its exclusive economic zone(EEZ).
- Displacing US influence in the Pacific Ocean region.
- Asserting China’s status as a major world power.
The key drivers for this US military realignment in Asia-Pacific are the Defence Strategic Guidance(03 Jan 2012), Joint Operational Access Concept(JOAC) of 17 Jan 2012, and last but not the least, the $ 487 Bn fiscal strait jacket over the next decade proposed by Pentagon in the 2013 budget.
The major impact of this global realignment would be on the hitherto equitable 50:50 distribution of US forces between the Atlantic and the Pacific which would now be skewed to 60:40 in favour of Asia-Pacific with a greater number of aircraft carriers and principal combatants allocated to this region. This re-arrangement of US forces is not ab-initio and it merits recall that as far back as in 2005, the US Quadrennial Defense Review(QDR) directed the US Navy to deploy six aircraft carriers and 60 percent of its submarine force to the Pacific Ocean. CRS report to Congress in December 2009 brought out that these had more or less been met by the US Navy deploying 31 of its 53 attack submarines and six of its 11 carriers in the Pacific. Such a force structure cements the US “pivot” to the East with an added emphasis on the Middle East and the Western Pacific.
The emphasis of this realigned US force structure would be on achieving a technological dominance especially in the areas of space, cyber warfare, unmanned platforms and Special Forces. Some of the key platforms identified for greater manoeuvre, access and operational leverage in threatened areas are - the advanced fifth-generation fighter, a more capable nuclear powered submarine modelled on the existing Virginia class SSN, enhanced electronic warfare and communications capabilities backed by improved precision weapons including ballistic missile interceptors. Some of the other key military aviation capabilities include advanced aerial refuellers, bombers and maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare(MRASW) aircraft. If the above technological superiority has to be brought to bear on the potential adversary, US military would require suitable staging posts interspersed at regular intervals and connected by an invisible thread – possibly a “Reverse String of Pearls?”
In addition to the deployed US forces in South Korea and Japan, Guam and other Northern Mariana dependencies(Rota, Tinian and Saipan), Australia would be an important base for rotational deployment of key US naval support personnel at HMAS Stirling, Perth and a combined arms Marine Air Ground Task Force(MAGTF) at Darwin. Further, Singapore has been identified as the location for sustaining operational turnarounds of the Littoral Combat Ships(LCS).
The key policy determinants identified for supporting this new pattern are the adherence to universally accepted international norms like the promotion of regional peace and stability, freedom of navigation and unhindered access for commerce. This strategy recast also looks at further strengthening of bonds with formal alliance partners such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and Philippines. These would be supported by fostering key partnerships with like-minded countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia and India who are not military allies of the US.
The US Naval Operational Concept(NOC) of 2010 clearly states that it shall maintain the forward presence of a carrier strike force in the Western Pacific for the foreseeable future to possibly prevent the Western Pacific and South China Sea turning into a virtual Chinese lake. Towards that end, Vietnam and Philippines assume much greater salience as possible ‘reverse pearls’. US recognises this imperative and has been making efforts to involve these states more proactively into the complex South China Sea dynamic.
At the August 2010 ARF Summit in Hanoi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a significant assertion that “…US has national interest in the freedom of navigation and open access to Asia’s maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea…”. In support of this articulation, the US carrier George Washington carried out naval exercises with the Vietnamese Navy in the South China Sea besides hosting government and military officials. Additionally, US Destroyer John McCain visited the historic Da Nang port. This proactive stance was further reinforced by a US Senate resolution of June 2011, calling for “a peaceful and multilateral resolution to maritime territorial disputes in South East Asia; deploring the use of force by naval and maritime security vessels from China in the South China Sea; and supporting the continuation of operations by the US armed forces to enable the freedom of navigation in international waters and air space”. There have been some reports of Vietnam having unofficially offered the historically prominent Cam Ranh Bay for US use, during Secretary Panetta’s visit to Hanoi immediately after the Shangri La dialogue.
It is opined that the Philippines would not have been able to sustain its position for more than a month in the recent standoff with China over the Huangyan Islands(Scarborough Shoal) without the tacit US support demonstrated by the latter’s overt pronouncements and activities for the last three years. In fact, the October 2010 statement of the US envoy in Philippines, to the effect that the US was willing to help China and the ASEAN nations formulate a legally binding ‘Code of Conduct’, further emphasised the heightened US involvement in regional matters.
A peripheral positioning of US military power around the approaches to the Western Pacific, the maritime chokepoints in the Indian Ocean including the Middle East may accord the United States an inherent flexibility to apply pressures on the economic jugular of the potential adversaries, particularly China, right from the source(s) to destination(s). By fostering deeper interactions with Vietnam, India and the other littorals, the Pentagon would further complicate Chinese dilemma and provide the US with additional leverage and another front for suasive force application, if push comes to shove. This ring of US influence is expected to run in an unbroken arc from Japan and South Korea as formal military allies in the North Western Pacific - the United States itself at Hawaii, Guam and Northern Marianas - Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam and Taiwan in the South China Sea and Singapore guarding the Malacca Straits - Australia and New Zealand blocking off the southern deep water straits of Sunda, Lombok and Ombai-Wetar with the US Central Command military component and, as hoped for by Secretary Panetta, possibly India acting as a “swing state” for concerted action in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal.
In addition, the recessed US presence would provide safety in depth and complicate surveillance and targeting issues. This ‘out of sight’ approach would also remove the negative US proxy connotation in the context of formal alliance countries such as Japan, Taiwan, Philippines and ANZUS partners, whilst giving them the requisite diplomatic room to ‘push back’ against Chinese assertiveness. Most of the key military capabilities that the US has identified are those where it has clear capability and technological superiority on a global scale and if this gap were to widen any further, it would bring back into the relevance the conventional military deterrence in Asia-Pacific geopolitics especially against emerging power centres. Further, if anti-submarine warfare, Ballistic Missile Defence(BMD), littoral combat capabilities, the JOAC with its air-sea battle concept are taken into account, it is China that emerges as the focus of this strategic counter to Anti Access Area Denial(A2AD) philosophy.
From the above, it is averred that the US is attempting to apply the metaphoric Chinese ‘string of pearls’ strategy in reverse, at places that remain critical vulnerabilities of nations that are expected to pose a counter to US global hegemony. As far as India is concerned, it is opined that these “interesting times” would call for a long term pol-mil cost benefit analysis either to throw the lot with one or the other, or to chart an independent course. India has done remarkably well in consistently enunciating that it “supports the freedom of navigation in international waters including the South China Sea ......” and emphasising that it expects “these principles to be respected by all”. These pronouncements largely conform to the statements at Shangri La 2012; but India has not linked this issue to “national interests” as stated by the US. In doing so, India has demonstrated its balanced stance to retain strategic autonomy. Hazarding a guess as to how the future dynamics will pan out, would be akin to peering at a cloudy crystal ball as time will only tell whether or not the new Pax Americana prevails.
Jundal, Saeed were in 26/11 control room in Karachi: PC
Tribune News Service
P ChidambaramThe policy of the Government of India is to look ahead and have greater normalisation of relations with Pakistan. However, that does not mean a lowering of guard on the security front.
— P Chidambaram, Home Minister
New Delhi, June 29
Terming Abu Jundal as a “key operative” of Lashkar-e-Toiba, Home Minister P Chidambaram today asked Pakistan to accept facts relating to the 26/11 Mumbai attacks conspiracy and named Hafiz Saeed as one of those present in the Karachi-based control room directing the 2008 attacks.
Addressing a press conference here this afternoon, Chidambaram said the arrest of Syed Zabiuddin Ansari alias Abu Jundal was vital and had helped connect the missing pieces in the 26/11 conspiracy puzzle. He said his interrogation had clearly established that a control room had been set which had "some kind of State support".
Jundal, Chidambaram said, was chosen to train the 10 LeT men who sailed into Mumbai in Hindi and the customs followed by Mumbaikars.
What The Home Minister says
The LeT is extremely active from Pakistani soil and targets India
Abu Jundal’s interrogation clearly established that a control room was set up for the Mumbai attacks in Karachi, which had “some kind of State (Pakistan) support”
Islamabad should admit Abu Jundal did go to Pakistan and was part of the group that trained Ajmal Kasab and nine others
He said it had now been established beyond doubt that there was a control room in Karachi from where the 26/11 attacks were monitored and directed. Besides Abu Jundal, several persons were present there. “The control room had some kind of state support… people were present in it and one of them was Hafiz Saeed,” the Home Minister said.
Abu Jundal told interrogators that men were trained at several locations in Pakistan and how infrastructure was provided. “All these activities could not have been carried on without State support,” the Home Minister said.
“We are alive to the fact that the LeT is extremely active from Pakistani soil and targets India. The policy of the Government of India is to look ahead and have greater normalisation of relations with Pakistan. However, that does not mean a lowering of guard on the security situation,” he said. On being asked if a threat remained from across the border, Chidambaram said, “Yes, I think so.”
When pointed out that Pakistan Interior Minister Rehman Malik had asked India to look inwards as the arrested suspect was an Indian, Chidambaram said, “I agree Abu Jundal was Indian. He was perhaps radicalised in India. Pakistan should admit that Abu Jundal did go to Pakistan and was part of the group that trained Ajmal Kasab (death-row convict in the Mumbai attacks case) and nine others; that Abu Jundal was in the control room and is one of the handlers of the attackers. Just as we admit, Pakistan should admit facts too.”
At this stage, Home Secretary RK Singh interjected, saying, “They (Pakistan) should also admit the passport they gave to Abu Jundal under the name of Riyasat Ali and the two identity cards. They claimed to Saudi Arabia that Abu Jundal was a Pakistani national.”
The passport was issued despite an Interpol red corner notice against Ansari and his name being in the 26/11 dossiers that India handed over to Pakistan.
“Abu Jundal had found a safe haven in Pakistan,” Chidambaram said while rebutting claims that the March 2011 Cricket World Cup semi-final tie at Mohali was a target of Abu Jundal and his group. “The cricket match was fully secure. I am aware of the security arrangements. There was no threat to the Prime Minister of India or to the visiting Pakistan PM,” he said.
Army to try 5 officers for Pathribal killings
NC hails decision, victim’s kin disappointed
March 20, 2000 Unidentified gunmen kill 36 Sikhs in Chattisinghpora village
March 25 Army claims to have killed five foreign militants in Pathribal involved in the massacre. Locals allege the encounter was stage-managed
Oct 31 Justice Pandian asked to investigate killings
July 16, 2002 CFSL finds that the five killed in Pathribal were villagers gone missing
Late 2002 Pathribal case handed over to the CBI. It registers murder case against five men of 7 Rashtriya Rifles. Army resists prosecution of its men
2007 SC stays high court proceedings on an Army plea that it cannot prosecute without the Centre’s nod
May 1 Court directs Army to choose between court martial and criminal trial for its officers
Srinagar, June 29
The Army has decided to try in a military court five of its officers allegedly involved in the Pathribal fake encounter killing of five civilians in Anantnag district of Kashmir in March 2000.
The Supreme Court had on May 1 given the Army eight weeks to decide whether the accused — Brigadier Ajay Saxena, Lt Col Brijinder Pratap Singh, Major Saurabh Sharma, Major Amit Saxena and Subedar Idrees Khan — should be tried under the Army Act or face criminal trial.
The Bench had also directed the Army to communicate its decision to the Srinagar Chief Judicial Magistrate (CJM). The Army had moved an application on June 26 before the court of CJM Rajeev Gupta and agreed to the trial of the case in a military court. The Army plea was allowed.
“Within the parameters of the Supreme Court judgment, the case is passed to competent Army authorities,” the court order said. The CJM also directed transfer of case documents and chargesheet to military officials.
The CBI had in 2006 indicted five Armymen for killing five civilians and dubbing them as foreign militants. As per the probe, the civilians were killed and branded as militants days after 35 Sikhs were massacred in the nearby Chattisingpora village. All the Armymen were posted out of Kashmir soon after the incident and the force remained silent on their present postings.
On March 25, 2000, the Army and the J&K Police claimed to have killed five Pakistani Lashkar-e-Toiba militants who they claimed were responsible for the killing of 36 Sikhs in South Kashmir’s Chattisinghpora. The killing of Sikhs had happened ahead of then US President Bill Clinton’s visit to India.
Local residents alleged the Pathribal encounter was stage-managed and those killed were civilians.
The Army and police had jointly given a detailed briefing of the Pathribal operation to then Union Home Minister LK Advani when he visited Chattisinghpora.
After tremendous public pressure, the bodies were exhumed and the Central Forensic Scientific Laboratory established that the five persons killed by the Army were indeed villagers, who had gone missing from different places in the area.
After the CFSL report, the Pathribal case was handed over to the CBI. In February 2003, the CBI registered a case, charging five Army personnel of 7 Rashtriya Rifles with abduction, murder, criminal conspiracy and destruction of evidence.
All the Armymen were posted out of Kashmir soon after the incident and the force remained silent on their present postings.
The Army had resisted the CBI’s move to prosecute the accused in criminal courts, arguing they had immunity against prosecution under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and prior sanction from the Centre was required to do so. The CBI approached the apex court against the Army’s stand.
On May 1, the apex court directed the Army to decide whether its men accused in the Pathribal fake encounter would be court martialled or face criminal trial.
The ruling National Conference has welcomed the Army’s decision. “It’s a welcome step but we demand that the proceedings and results be made transparent so that there is no scope for any allegations or feeling of a cover up,” party spokesman Tanvir Sadiq said.
Relatives of victims were disappointed over the development and said there was little hope for justice. "We have never heard what happens inside the court martial proceedings... the results are never made public," Rashid Khan, son of one of the victims, Jumma Khan, said.
20 Naxals killed in gunfight with CRPF
18 bodies of suspected rebels recovered; 2 jawans critical
Raipur/New Delhi, June 29
In a major crackdown by the CRPF, at least 20 Naxalites, including a woman, were killed in a fierce overnight gunfight in the dense jungles of Dantewada in Chhattisgarh that also left six jawans wounded.
The CRPF has recovered 18 bodies of the suspected Naxalites while one of the ultras died after he was shifted to a hospital in state capital Raipur as he had sustained bullet injuries.
"Sixteen bodies were recovered at Basuguda while two were recovered from Penta near Chintalnar. The forces have also recovered weapons and other belongings from the Naxals hideout," CRPF IG (Operations) at force headquarters in Delhi Pankaj Singh said.
Sources said the Naxals fled with the body of one of its cadres. The encounter, which took place in the forests of Silger, an uncharted Maoist zone between the Naxal hotbed of Jagargunda and Basaguda in Bijapur district of Bastar region, was launched last night in a joint operation by over 300 CRPF and state police personnel from three directions.
Officials said there were reports of more Naxals being killed in the encounter but the bodies could not be recovered.
Home Minister P Chidambaram, while interacting with the media in the national capital, said among the killed ultras, three were "important leaders" of the Naxalites cadre and identified them as Somulu, Nagesh and Mahesh.
"The CRPF and security forces dealt with the incident bravely and with great courage and skill," he said.
This is the biggest offensive by security forces in a Naxal stronghold in Chhattisgarh this year.
Six CRPF men, including two CoBRA commandos, sustained bullet injuries and have been air-lifted for medical aid to Raipur. Two of them are critical, officials said.
This is the same area, close to Chintalnar, where Naxals had carried out an audacious attack on security forces killing 75 CRPF men and one state police personnel in 2010.
Chidambaram said the operation was planned by the CRPF and state police but the "first fire" came from the Maoists and the forces were subjected to heavy firing.
He said there were 45 ultras who ambushed the security forces' squad.
Keeping in view the tough terrain and presence of a big Naxal squad in mind, the CRPF had deputed a deputy inspector general and two commandant-rank officers, supported by an additional SP of state police, to lead the operation.
The CRPF mobilised three units of commandos and regular troops, aided by two helicopters for the encounter from three directions — Jagargunda, Chintalnar and Basaguda.
The security forces also recovered some weapons, .303 rifles and other paraphernalia after the area was searched by them.
The encounter comes over a month after Maoists had abducted and subsequently released the Collector of Sukma district Alex Paul Menon in Bastar region.
The CRPF has deployed about 20 battalions (20,000 personnel) for undertaking anti-Naxal operations in the state. — PTI
A joint operation
The encounter, which took place in the forests of Silger, an uncharted Maoist zone between the Naxal hotbed of Jagargunda and Basaguda in Bijapur district of Bastar region, was launched on Thursday night in a joint operation by over 300 CRPF and state police personnel from three sides
China factor brings India, Japan & South Korea closer
New Delhi, June 29
Against the backdrop of Beijing’s aggressive posturing on the South China Sea issue, India, Japan and South Korea today launched a trilateral dialogue, expressing their commitment to maintaining freedom of the seas, combating terrorism and promoting inclusive growth.
While kick-starting the dialogue, the three countries also took note of the fact that they were all democracies of Asia which shared a commitment to democratic values, open society, human rights and the rule of law.
The dialogue was held in pursuant of the joint declaration between India and South Korea during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Seoul in March this year. The dialogue, simlar to the one between India, Japan and the US, was inaugurated by Sanjay Singh, Secretary (East) in the External Affairs Ministry.
The participants included Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA) Director General Arvind Gupta, Japanese Ambassador to India Akitaka Saiki and South Korean envoy Kim Joong-Keun.
In what was clearly a message for China, Sanjay Singh said the common objective of India, Japan and South Korea was to see that the seas and oceans became regions of cooperation instead of competition particularly since every nation’s energy security and trade depended on them.
“India, Japan and ROK (South Korea) depend heavily on the Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOCs) for their energy security. These are also the mainstay for trade and connectivity amongst our countries and other countries in the region. The Indian Ocean Rim is characterised by large Exclusive Economic Zones and unexplored and untapped marine resources. Similar potential exists for example in the South China Sea which today is witnessing competing claims,” he said.
He was obviously referring to the Chinese attitude over the South China Sea. Beijing is at loggerheads with virtually every nation in the region, staking its claim over the South China Sea. In recent months, it had also warned India against undertaking oil exploration in blocks allotted to New Delhi by Vietnam in the South China Sea.
The Indian representative said the primacy of India, Japan and South Korea was to maintain maritime trade, energy and economic security in the sea around them.
“There is indeed a compelling case for us to cooperate on maritime security. From a nuclear security perspective as well, there can be significant cooperation amongst us as not only we need to deal with the conventional risks associated with nuclear power but also confront the risks of nuclear and missile proliferation in our neighbourhoods. Deepening cooperation amongst our defence and security establishments will promote our mutual security,” Sanjay Singh added.
A range of views were expressed on the role of ASEAN and Russia in the Asian structure. It was also felt that India, Japan and South Korea should cooperate in developing the security architecture in Asia pacific by engaging China thoughtfully to fight the menace of piracy in the sea and mitigating natural disasters like earthquake and tsunami.
n India, Japan and South Korea on Friday launched a trilateral dialogue, expressing their commitment to maintaining freedom of the seas, combating terrorism and promoting inclusive growth
n Three countries took note of the fact that they were all democracies of Asia which shared a commitment to democratic values, open society, human rights and the rule of law
n The dialogue was held in pursuance of the joint declaration between India and South Korea during PM Manmohan Singh’s visit to Seoul in March
Tatra deal: CBI to confront
New Delhi, June 29
The CBI is likely to confront suspended BEML chairman VRS Natarajan and Vectra Chairman Ravinder Rishi in its probe related to alleged irregularities in the procurement and supply of Tatra all-terrain vehicles.
The agency will also question two former chairmen and Managing Directors of BEML along with Natarajan, sources said. The CBI has decided to question Natarajan, Rishi and former BEML officials after its recent spot visit to Banagalore from where it had seized some documentary evidence, they said.
Based on these documents, CBI officials concluded that the officials need to be questioned again in connection with the alleged irregularities and if needed brought face to face to clarify some issues regarding the Tatra Sipox UK and BEML deal, they said. CBI sources said Natarajan will also be confronted with the documentary evidence of alleged irregularities which the agency teams have collected during searches and visit to Banagalore office of the PSU. Natarajan and Rishi, both have been questioned by the agency in connection with the case. Both have refuted allegations of any wrong-doing in connection with the case. — PTI
Malegaon blast: Did Army go wrong in Lt Colonel Purohit's case?
New Delhi: The Indian Army appears to be caught in the cross-hairs of a big new controversy - in 2008, it may have acted too quickly in accepting that a serving military intelligence officer, Lt Col Prasad Purohit, was linked to a right-wing terror group.
In 2008, a bomb exploded on a Friday evening near a mosque in the town of Malegaon, killing six people. One month later, the Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) in Maharashtra said a group of Hindu right-wing radicals was to blame. Lt Col Purohit, who was posted in Pachmarhi in Madhya Pradesh, and was undergoing an Arabic Language course, was accused and arrested.
The Army, without conducting an immediate court of inquiry, handed him over to the ATS. Later, it did order a court of inquiry but did not allow Lt Col Purohit to cross-examine witnesses.
Two years later, under orders from the Armed Forces Tribunal, the Army restarted the court of Inquiry.
Now, more than 50 army personnel have testified that the Army may have wrongly handed over Lt Col Purohit to the Anti-Terror Squad without conducting its own investigation. Lt Col Purohit, who has been in a jail in Taloja in Mumbai, was allowed to cross-examine witnesses in Mumbai.
Many said that he was actually an infiltrator and not a conspirator, who had been assigned to collect evidence and details of right-wing terror groups.
From the very beginning, Lt Col Purohit has claimed that he had kept his bosses informed of his activities which included attending meetings of the Abhinav Bharat.
But if the officer was operating on behalf of the military, the Army has to figure out why his tip-offs on rising right-wing extremism in areas like Nashik, Malegaon were not shared with other agencies.
There's also the issue of why the Army or civil agencies like the ATS did not hold its own investigation.
Lt Col Purohit has also accused a colonel in Military Intelligence of colluding with civilian intelligence agencies to detain him without any arrest warrant and torture him. The Colonel, Purohit says, wanted to score brownie points and earn award etc.
The Army, however, says the Colonel in question was officially deputed to liaise with civil agencies.
CBI probing Tejinder-Rishi links in bribe offer to Gen V K Singh
NEW DELHI: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is probing if links exist between Lt Gen (retd.) Tejinder Singh and Vectra Group chairman Ravi Rishi as it tries to establish bribery charges leveled by former Army chief General V K Singh against Tejinder Singh.
Gen V K Singh had claimed that the retired Army officer had offered him Rs 14 crore to clear the purchase of over 600 Tatra trucks in September, 2010, to be supplied by Vectra Group through defence public sector unit BEML. The bribe, the retired Army chief had claimed, was offered by Tejinder Singh on behalf of Rishi.
The agency is talking to several retired officials of ministry of defence and the Army to ascertain if links exist between Tejinder Singh and Rishi. "We are examining some officials to know whether Tejinder Singh had any role to play in Tatra Sipox getting the contracts with the Indian Army. It will help us find the link between the two in bribery case as V K Singh had alleged that offer was made by Tejinder Singh on behalf of Ravi Rishi," said a senior CBI official.
The agency is also planning to confront suspended BEML chairman V R S Natarajan and Rishi in its probe related to alleged irregularities in the procurement and supply of Tatra trucks to the Army. The CBI has decided to question Natarajan, Rishi and former BEML officials after its recent spot visit to Bangalore from where it had seized some documentary evidence.
Agency sources say that they will also question two former chairmen of BEML along with Natarajan in the case. Based on documents seized from BEML, the CBI concluded that the officials need to be questioned again in connection with the 'irregularities' and could be brought face to face to clarify some issues regarding the deal between Tatra-Sipox, UK, and BEML.
Sources added Natarajan will also be confronted with documentary evidence of alleged irregularities which the agency teams have collected during searches and visit to BEML's Bangalore office. Both Natarajan and Rishi have refuted allegations of wrong-doing in course of their interrogation.
The agency is probing alleged irregularities in assigning supply from the Czech-based Tatra, with which the agreement was originally signed in 1986, to Tatra-Sipox, UK, owned by Rishi, in 1997 showing it as the original equipment manufacturer and the fully-owned subsidiary of the Czech firm in violation of defenec procurement rules.
Off-air phone-tap: Army confirms MHA letter, says 'double-checking'
The Army is going through its records afresh after the union home ministry sought details of what is believed to be undisclosed purchases of off-air interception systems that surfaced during an audit of such equipment.
Army Headquarters officials confirmed that the ministry had raised questions, and said that a response would be drafted after an internal “double-checking” of records.
The Indian Express reported on Thursday that a glaring discrepancy came to light during an audit of snooping equipment by the ministry after defence PSU BEL said 20 such devices had been sold to the Army. The Army has in the past denied having off-air phone interception systems.
While the Army will send its version to the home ministry shortly, one explanation being offered is that the systems were part of a secretive electronic warfare system that the Army uses on the border. “Project Suraj” is used to jam enemy communication and signals but, in the absence of adequate checks, can be moved around and misused as phone interceptors, sources said.
According to the rulebook, within the military, only the Defence Intelligence Agency — which comes directly under the Integrated Defence Staff — is authorised to intercept phone conversations, that too only in the North-East and Jammu and Kashmir where it has an active counter-insurgency role.
The audit of off-air phone-tapping equipment was carried out after allegations in 2010 that the National Technical Research Organisation was tapping phone conversations of politicians. The government then ordered a recall of all such devices.