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Monday, 4 February 2013

From Today's Papers - 04 Feb 2013
Defence clears new corps on China border
After much back and forth, the Defence Ministry has cleared setting up of a mountain strike corps along the China border, signalling its intent to press ahead with plans to strengthen offensive military capabilities despite recent calls from Beijing for a "new type" of military relationship.

The plan involves fresh accretion of close to 89,000 soldiers and 400 officers. The focus, sources said, is to be able to launch a counter-offensive into Tibet in case of a "Kargil-type adventure" by China.

The proposal was first mooted in 2010 and given an in-principle go ahead by the Cabinet Committee on Security a year later, but was sent back last year with instructions for a re-look by all three services so that a common plan could be drawn up.

It took the Chiefs of Staff Committee another six months to review the plan, which was also essential because the Army Chief had changed since the proposal was first moved.

Sources said the proposal has now been reworked with some minor changes relating to additional Air Force elements. The projected amount too has gone up marginally from the earlier estimate of about Rs 65,000 crore.

The new strike corps is expected to come up in Panagarh, West Bengal, along with two more divisions. An independent armoured brigade along with an artillery division may be part of the set-up. Already, two divisions are being raised in the eastern theatre.

However, the road ahead will still be difficult, particularly given the strain on the Finance Ministry at this point. While this is not going to be a one-time expenditure, it does fly in the face of North Block's efforts to effect expenditure cuts to contain the growing fiscal deficit.

In its last version too, the proposal had faced some tough questions from the Finance Ministry, including a searching query on how long South Block expected the China threat to last. As of now, China has made some very conciliatory noises. However, New Delhi believes that is because of its preoccupation on the eastern front.

The plan

Fresh accretion of close to 89,000 soldiers, 400 officers

Corps to come up in Panagarh, West Bengal, with two more divisions

Independent armoured brigade, artillery division may be part of the set-up

Should be capable of counter-offensive into Tibet in case of a 'Kargil-type adventure' by China
CCI gives 30 days to get oil blocks out of MoD fire
The Cabinet Committee on Investment (CCI) on Tuesday asked the oil and defence ministries to sort out the issues concerning pending defence clearances for several oil and gas blocks and report back to the committee within a month. After the first meeting of the newly set up panel headed by the Prime Minister to fast-track big infrastructure projects, information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari told reporters that the panel discussed oil & gas projects "extensively" and "fruitfully" and a "holistic overview" was taken to expedite clearances.

Oil and gas projects worth $13.5 billion are facing hurdles for security concerns, as several blocks including Reliance Industries\' producing KG-D6 gas fields, where it is struggling to ramp up output, fall within the no-go area of the defence ministry.

It is learnt that the defence ministry had earlier agreed to give clearance to seven offshore oil and gas blocks that were previously classified as no-go areas, giving much-needed relief to energy majors BHP Billiton, Cairn India and state-owned ONGC in pursuing their hydrocarbon hunt in sensitive Indian waters. The clearance came with the rider that these areas should be made available for naval exercises and firings with a week\'s notice. The RIL-owned D6 block in the Krishna-Godavari basin, however, continues to be a no-go area as it is close to a strategic naval base that was approved in 2008, eight years after the block was licensed to RIL.

If the CCI directive is complied with by the oil and defence ministries, it would benefit several projects of ONGC, GSPC and Cairn Energy, besides RIL. Seven of the no-go area blocks are on the east coast. When asked what project was cleared by the panel, Tewari said the CCI was an architecture the government had put in place to expedite clearances, although there could not be "one size fits all" solution to various projects.

Out of the seven blocks that got the defence ministry\'s clearance, four were assigned in the Mumbai offshore region to a 26:74 consortium of BHP Billiton Petroleum and GVK Oil and Gas. One block belongs to Cairn India awarded to it in the eighth round of licensing. BHP has full development and production rights on two other blocks in the Mumbai offshore region, while a 90:10 consortium of ONGC and Oil India have production rights over a block in the Andaman-Nicobar basin.

The ministry has said these companies have to take approval for building any permanent structure after the exploration and that fresh security clearance is required for the different kinds of vessels used in survey, exploration and production, sources privy to the development said. The ministry also said that another seven blocks that were also classified as no-go areas would continue to be so.

The roadblock on exploration activities had adversely affected investor interest in India\'s recent auctioning of oil and gas blocks. It also came in the way of India\'s efforts to reduce import dependence on crude oil and natural gas. India imports about 70% of its crude oil requirement and close to a fourth of the natural gas consumed in the country. The energy crisis that is gripping Asia\'s third-largest economy also casts serious doubts about its ambition to double the share of manufacturing output in its gross domestic product to 32% by 2020.
Armed chopper ‘Rudra’ gets operational clearance
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 3
Paving the way for the Indian Army to get its first lot of armed helicopters, the indigenously produced armed helicopter ‘Rudra’ has been accorded the initial operational clearance, marking an important milestone in military aviation history in the country.

This will result in induction of the first squadron of the choppers within the next few months. The Rudra is based on the platform of the advanced light helicopter (ALH) that is already in service in India. It has been code named ALH Mark IV and is produced by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The helicopter derives its name from Rigvedic god for wind, storm and hunt.

The Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC), a body under the Ministry of Defence, presented the airworthiness certificate to the HAL today. “The occasion gives us the confidence and it is a proud moment for the country and boosts our indigenous activities”, said Dr RK Tyagi, chairman, HAL.

This will be the first time that the armed forces will be equipped with armed helicopters capable of fighting in the higher reaches of the Himalayas along the borders with China and parts of Pakistan.

The Army will get the first two squadrons of 10 armed helicopters. The induction of the Rudra will be an important milestone as the Indian inventory of armed helicopters, the Mi-35, currently has a flying ceiling of 10,000-12,000 feet. The Rudra, powered by a new Shakti engine that has been co-developed by French company Turbomeca, will fly up to an altitude of 20,000 feet. The Himalayas rise above this altitude along large parts of the India-China frontier.

The weapons on board the chopper will include a M6-21 20 mm gun and 70 mm rockets with a range of 8 km. These have been put through tests in hot, cold and humid climates. The chopper will also carry anti-tank guided missiles and the air-to-air-missiles, the first lot has been imported but will be produced here latter. The engine can carry a full weapon load to altitudes of 20,000 feet.

It is equipped with integrated sensors, weapons and electronic warfare suite using an upgraded version of the glass cockpit used in the Mk-III of the ALH. The cockpit avionics are among the best. The sensors include stabilised day and night cameras, infrared imaging, as well as laser ranging and designation.

The Electronic Warfare (EW) suite consists of missile approach warning system, laser and radar warning systems and automated sensors covering all envisaged threats. It has automatic dispensation of countermeasures like chaff and fare dispensing systems. The Army has contracted to buy 60 such helicopters. The final plan is to have an aviation brigade with each of the 13 corps of the Indian Army, the number of such armed choppers could go up to 130.

Each corps will have 10 (one squadron) armed helicopters, one squadron of reconnaissance helicopters and a squadron of utility helicopters.
India poised to ink major defence contracts at airshow

NEW DELHI // South Asia's biggest airshow kicks off in India on Wednesday, where global armament firms will be vying for multibillion dollar contracts from the world's biggest importer of weapons.

India launched the biannual Aero India event in 1996, three years before a mini-war with Pakistan prompted New Delhi to go on a global shopping spree for tens of billions of dollars worth of hardware to equip its million-strong military.

A total of 78 countries have confirmed their attendance, while companies from 27 of them will showcase their latest products at the five-day show in Bangalore, the hub of India's aviation, space and IT industries.

India's state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), which signed a deal with Russia in 2010 worth $30 billion (Dh110) to jointly produce 250 to 300 fifth-generation fighter jets, says it hopes to ink major contracts during the show.

"A number of memorandum of understandings in the pipeline are likely to be signed at the air show," a senior HAL source said without elaborating.

Seattle-based Boeing last year agreed in principle to provide India with 37 attack and heavy-lift helicopters worth more than one billion dollars. Negotiations are still underway.

Such negotiations are not a guarantee of sale in Indian defence deals, which can be excruciatingly slow and are often held up by administrative problems and red tape.

Last year India chose Dassault Aviation of France as the preferred bidder in a $12 billion deal for 126 fighter jets, but talks are still underway with no progress expected this financial year.

Other deals still awaiting a green light include a $600 million contract to supply 197 helicopters to the Indian army, which was scrapped in 2007 after being awarded to the European manufacturer Eurocopter.

The helicopter unit of aerospace giant EADS in 2010 resubmitted a bid for the same deal, with Russia's Kamov also in the running.

The United States will provide the largest contingent of companies at the show, with 67, marking growing ties between the two countries, the chief organiser said in New Delhi.

France, Israel and Russia - India's biggest arms supplier - also have a large presence at the show, said India's Defence Production Secretary R K Mathur, adding that neighbouring Pakistan had not been invited.

Deadly border tensions flared last month following exchanges of fire in disputed Kashmir which left five soldiers killed on both sides of the highly militarised frontier.

Mr Mathur said China, which fought a brief but bitter war with India over a border dispute in 1962, was likely to attend.

"China has been invited for the show as a formal letter has been sent to them," he said.

Israeli state-run armament firms are scouting to sell unmanned aerial vehicles to bolster India's modest fleet of surveillance drones, some of which are used in the country's struggle against Maoist rebels.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in March 2011 said India received nine per cent of global arms transfers from 2006 to 2010, making it the world's largest importer of weapons.

Russian armaments accounted for 82 per cent of Indian military imports, the global arms transfer monitor said.
Pakistan army battles legacy of mistrust in Taliban heartland
CHAGMALAI, Pakistan: In a Pakistan army base high in the mountains on the Afghan frontier, a general explains a strategy for fighting the Taliban he calls simply "WHAM".

The name has a distinctly bellicose ring. But the soldiers are learning to fight a new kind of war in a region US President Barack Obama has called the most dangerous on Earth.

"WHAM - winning hearts and minds," explains the straight-talking General Nazir Butt, in charge of converting the army's gains on the battlefield into durable security. "The plan is to turn militant sanctuaries into safe havens for the people."

The term WHAM has been used before, but the focus this time is South Waziristan, an enclave on the Afghan border once the epicentre of a spreading Pakistan Taliban insurgency that shocked the country with its challenge to the authority of the nuclear-armed state.

According to the army narrative, the campaign includes winning over the region's ethnic Pashtun tribes through dialogue, creating commercial opportunities and providing education in new schools and colleges.

During a three-day trip with the army, Reuters got a rare glimpse not just into the scale of the army's state-building project in South Waziristan, but also the challenges that lurk in the inhospitable territory.

However well-meaning the new approach, there are problems that won't go away - threats of retaliation by the al-Qaida-linked militants, a lack of effective civilian administration and endemic corruption.

And the campaign to win hearts and minds has an ignoble track record in other conflict zones which serve as a reality check for even the most optimistic Pakistani officials.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, Western nations poured in millions of dollars to rebuild militant strongholds and win affection. Results have been limited: many residents view the armies as occupiers and militants remain a danger.

The goal won't be any easier in South Waziristan. The area forms one-fifth of Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas which are roughly the size of Belgium and governed under a system inherited from British colonialists.

Government-appointed political agents rule through the Pashtun tribes and collect and distribute revenue with little oversight. The people have limited rights.

While the Pakistani army backed the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1990s, and supported militants fighting Indian rule in the disputed Kashmir region, in South Waziristan it found itself under attack.

Decades of resentment felt by the population and the U.S. bombing campaign on the Afghan border following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States spawned a generation of Pakistani militants who used South Waziristan to launch assaults against the Pakistani state and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan.

A donkey and a highway

Unsure how to respond, Pakistan see-sawed between brief military campaigns and appeasing the militants with short-lived peace deals. Then, in 2009, Pakistan's army chief ordered the biggest offensive yet, pouring 40,000 troops into South Waziristan in a bid to tip the balance.

The 2009 offensive displaced almost half a million people as homes, schools and hospitals were turned into hideouts by militants and meagre civic amenities were destroyed.

Today, a combination of the offensive and US drones has helped drive the Pakistan Taliban leadership out of South Waziristan and the army is looking for ways to convince people it is safe for them to return.

But after having spent close to three years in camps, only 41,000 refugees have come back.

"The people can only feel fully secure if there is social and economic uplift," said a brigadier who commands a cliff-side compound near Wana, the main town in South Waziristan. "It took some time but we know now that 1,000 bullets can't do the work of one school."

Many of the refugees have resettled in Chagmalai, a village close to Jandola, where the army is headquartered in a fort built by the British in the nineteenth century - a reminder of a centuries-old policy of ruling the area through a mix of intimidation and armed intervention.

A small, colourful marketplace was inaugurated last year and the green-and-white Pakistani flag was painted on the shutters of shops given to traders for a nominal fee. In a courtyard next door, army officers and government officials teach people how to raise poultry and set up bee farms.

But despite the development, Chagmalai still resembles a ghost town, a collection of ruined houses and abandoned clinics and schools with falling plaster and bullet-pocked walls. The army says it wants to turn the secluded landscape into a new home for those who have found the courage to return.

Ashraf Khan is a recently widowed farmer who has just returned from the Jandola fort where he asked the commanding officer for a loan.

"My wife used to gather firewood and collect water," he said. "Now I need to buy a donkey. I'm hoping the soldiers will keep their promise to help."

A few kilometres away, construction workers and army engineers have dug through rugged terrain to build a road, which will connect the isolated region with the northwest city of Peshawar, the nearest economic hub. The US government has contributed $170 million for the 287-km (180-mile) road.

Agricultural land and poultry farms line the sides of the highway, which zips through a breathtaking chasm of mountains and cliffs, its dual-lanes in better shape than many of those in Pakistani cities.

"The road has made it so much easier to move flocks, feed and medicines," said Hamid Jan who runs a poultry farm. "I've never earned this much money before."

"Ask me about my books"

The army believes it can create goodwill by encouraging commerce and, more importantly, education. Officers say 33 schools have been restored and 4,000 students enrolled, 200 of them girls, but verifying such data is difficult.

The Taliban oppose girls' education and in October shot a 15-year-old Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, for advocating schooling for girls.

But the army says it will power on. Having previously served in the disputed border region between Pakistan and India, Colonel Asim Iqbal now shows off a flagship technical institute and cadet college built as part of the WHAM initiative.

Seventy-five students graduated from the 11-million-rupee Waziristan Institute of Technical Education in December with diplomas in auto-mechanics, carpentry and IT. Nearby, a cadet college has been built at a cost of 500 million rupees.

In the college computer lab, Shamsullah, 15, learnt word-processing. A poor teenager whose uncle was a militant commander killed in a U.S. drone strike, Shamsullah could have been a ready Taliban recruit. Instead, he just wants to study.

"I have nothing to do with militancy," he said. "Ask me about my books."

But for all the high hopes, enthusiastic students, freshly plastered classrooms and tarmac roads, there is little sign of a credible civilian administration taking root.

The highest political officer in the area, the political agent, does not even live in South Waziristan out of fear of being killed by the Taliban, who have murdered hundreds of leaders in the tribal belt in recent years.

Pashtun elders said official records showed that school teachers absent for months were still drawing salaries while the administration took no action.

But political agent Shahidullah Khan said he was doing the best he could. "There is only so much I can do when I can't even travel outside the army camp," he said by phone from Tank, a town to the east of South Waziristan.

Only on Saturday, more than 30 people were killed in an attack on a military checkpost next to South Waziristan which the Taliban said was revenge for a drone strike that killed two commanders in North Waziristan last month.

Many of the boys playing cricket close to the market declined to answer when asked about army assurances of a better life. But referring to militants and the military, one said: "They're all the same."

Some army officers accept such criticism as valid, admitting to the state's decades-old heavy-handedness in the region.

"The budget for my brigade alone could take care of the education of all of South Waziristan," said General Butt. "We have made many mistakes. And we don't deny it any more."

But while Butt insists that the militants are no longer a force to be reckoned with in South Waziristan, many people are less optimistic.

"The army has blocked them for now but the Taliban can return," said a shop-keeper.

A tribal elder whose family has moved away and is too afraid to return, asked: "If the Taliban are really gone for good, why doesn't the army also leave?"
Unleash the Army
The killing Friday of two members of the Lebanese Army in Arsal has highlighted the urgent need for the authority to be granted unrestricted access to the country’s entire territory.

If anything positive can come from the loss of two young fathers while on duty, it must be a realization that the Army must finally be allowed to carry out its primary responsibility, to protect the country and all of its people.

The Army is now the only institution which is not sectarian, or politicized. It is something which virtually all Lebanese are proud of and can unite behind. But this position was only achieved after a devastating Civil War, exacerbated partly due to the Army’s weakness in the face of warring factions.

And after the war it took years for the Army to strengthen and become a unifying symbol for the country and enjoy the support which it does today, with the arrival of the Army during recent clashes in Tripoli or elsewhere has generally been welcomed.

So the widespread condemnation which has followed Friday’s tragic events, when one soldier and one officer were killed while trying to arrest a terrorism suspect, from the president, the prime minister and the commander of the army, among others, is right and commendable.

But more than stern words are needed now. Can an army call itself an army if it is has to be selective about which lands it can and cannot protect?

The Lebanese people want, and need, an Army which can be present whenever and wherever. Not one which must be fearful or have to exercise trepidation in its actions and maneuvers.

A strong, united Lebanese Army would be one of the best messages to send to the international community, and indeed to those seeking to destabilize this little country, that its people, its institutions and its defenses are solid, and united.

There has been so much talk and political rhetoric – some of it genuine, some of it not so – over recent months about the need for national unity and the best methods to achieving it. On top of social and legal reforms, such as the introduction of civil marriage, the Army must also be given the resources and capability to patrol with total authority the entirety of the country. This would inspire a newfound confidence among the population in the Army, at such a crucial time for the country, and after nearly two years of civil war in neighboring Syria sporadically and undeniably trickling across the border, igniting tensions in Tripoli, the Bekaa Valley, the south and the southern suburbs of Beirut.

As so many events have shown over recent months, the absence of the Army leads to kidnappings and casualties.

This vital institution must now be given political cover so that it can act unilaterally, and apply the laws of the land without having to take specific sectarian or territorial factors into consideration.

This state of affairs is detrimental to the Army and undermines its legitimacy, which, ultimately, is dangerous for the safety of the Lebanese people and the stability of the country.

Everyone must now agree that the Army is an institution for all the people, and that its members must never be prevented from carrying out their legitimate duties. No area, not a single town nor village, should be out of bounds for them.

Regardless of some schisms in society, most Lebanese are striving for unity, and a strong Army would do well to usher this unity in, and also to prevent any more unnecessary tragedies.

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