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Friday, 22 February 2013

From Today's Papers - 22 Feb 2013


The Valley weighs its options

The mood in Kashmir is sombre following Afzal Guru’s hanging. Amid fears of further alienation, The Tribune examines the possible long-term consequences, which will depend on how the state and Central govts engage the people hereon

Arun Joshi


Afzal Guru was hanged to death on the morning of February 9, ending the suspense over whether the Parliament attack convict would ever be executed. The man who was seen as a symbol of the terrorist assault on the Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001, invoked a debate, with certain quarters seeing “political selectivity” in his hanging, while others insisting “justice has been done”.


Now that the execution has happened, the concern is over what direction will the Valley take next? Surrounding that, there are many unanswered questions that dominate the public discourse in Kashmir — the fact being that there is a tussle in both the mainstream and separatist camps in the state for the political space in the run-up to 2014 polls.


Whatever be the sense in the rest of the country, the cloak of secrecy under which Afzal Guru was executed, without even informing his family that was just a phone call away, has raised serious questions. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is on record having said that he could have provided a state aircraft “to ferry the family to Delhi to meet Afzal Guru one last time.”


Now the talk has turned to the demand that Afzal Guru’s body be exhumed from his present resting place in Delhi’s Tihar jail and handed over to his family. The demand is picking up, and political parties are seeking to benefit from it by insisting the government hand over the body.


The hanging of a Kashmiri in Tihar jail — the second since February 1984, the first being that of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front founder Mohammad Maqbool Butt — has triggered a competition among political parties over gain much space in the 80 x 80 mile Kashmir Valley, geographically as well as politically.


Kashmir’s leading political group, the National Conference (NC), ruling the state in alliance with the Congress, is in direct combat with its main rival, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Both the parties have started a war of words, targeting Delhi on one hand and on the other levelling charges against each other. While the NC has accused the PDP of “remaining quiet when Afzal Guru was first awarded the death sentence in 2002,” PDP president Mehbooba Mufti has levelled a counter-charge against the Chief Minister and working president of the ruling party, saying “Omar Abdullah cannot wash his hands of his role in the execution,” as he is the Chief Minister and partner in the UPA at the Centre.


CM anxious


Omar Abdullah has voiced his apprehension that there would be severe “ramifications” from the hanging and the youth “would identify themselves with Afzal Guru”. While that is his worry in the long run, in the short term the concern is over the day-to-day law and order situation. However, he is confident of handling that with help from the police.


A positive tone has also been set by Afzal Guru’s son Ghalib, who has expressed his desire to become a cardiologist. Looking at it in a wider term, he has spoken for his generation, which has its own aspirations: making it good in various professional fields.


With every passing day, the political competition is getting fiercer. The tone and tenor that the NC and PDP have adopted in their acidic statements against each other has also led them to the separatist camp, which is no less competitive. Hurriyat Conference chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who likes to see himself and his group as moderate — in comparison to the hard-line faction of the Conference headed by octogenarian Syed Ali Shah Geelani — has said the “hanging of Afzal Guru means end of dialogue”.


This is his way of undermining the rival faction, which has issued a strike calendar to create a situation in the Valley that could resemble 2010, when a cycle of street protests started with the killing of a teenager, Tufail Mattoo, in June that year. But a question the Mirwaiz has left unanswered is where has been the dialogue since May 2006. He was only talking to Islamabad and his team members even met Hafiz Sayeed, the mastermind of 26/11.


Finding a balm


At the moment, the Valley has been swept with an overwhelming view that the execution of Afzal Guru was unjustified, while the government could have covered itself with glory by sparing the life of the Parliament attack convict. A halo of innocence has been built around him. If the body of Afzal Guru is handed over to his family, or there is some other mechanism through which the family and the authorities can find a middle ground, it could help assuage hurt feelings.


There are fears in the common man’s mind about the future. Things could travel beyond the statistics this time, and there are three directions the situation could take: One, revert to the dark days of militancy and the Valley gets stuck in a life of endless restrictions. Two, people let the episode be where it is, and if anything further happens then a mass outpouring on the streets could follow to demonstrate they have been defeated neither psychologically nor physically. The third possible situation is people moving on with life, weighing the pros and cons of a good economy, a robust tourist season, so they may not suffer losses worth billions of rupees, as they have done in the past.


Right now, the Valley is at sea with no clear direction. The tourism sector is feeling the heat, the economy is slowing down, the anger is refusing to die down, the crackdown on youngsters is fuelling anger, and leaders like the Mirwaiz are making extremist noises.


What happens next would depend on how the government addresses the various concerns. That is important as it is being said that to remove the sense of alienation, the government has to give space to Kashmiris within the Indian Union, where they may not be asked to stop their car or picked up for questioning just because of their complexion and sharp features that betray them as residents of Kashmir. Such treatment only alienates them further.


“UPA’s efforts have come undone”


“The UPA has undone all that it had to its credit to resolve the K issue, which is put on the back burner. India's mainland politics has no concerns for J&K sentiments. For the first time, mainstream and off-stream political parties of the J&K and Bharat are on the same page. While the future of temporary provision of (Article) 370 is uncertain, total calm is the need of the hour. Hopes for bridging the trust deficit are shattered.”


“Afzal's body in Tihar Jail would prove to be more dangerous than was keeping him alive. Its political repercussions should be examined.”


“In compliance with the jail manual and Omar Abdullah's request, Afzal's body should be given to the family, lest the matter takes an ugly turn. Let us not go to a point of no return.”

Austere year likely for Defence

 If the observations of Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram are any indication, it is going to be an austere year ahead for expenditure on defence or on the police forces.


Linking availability of funds for the defence sector to India’s growth story, Mr. Chidambaram, delivering the K. Subrahmanyam memorial lecture earlier this month, said “growth is the key for greater public welfare and greater security”. As sluggish growth is likely to clock 5.5 per cent and the social sector vying for greater attention, it is likely that defence allocation in 2013-14 budget will be under pressure and allegations of scams in mega defence deals will only add to the woes of the sector.


Turning to modernisation


In the last budget, the government had kept up the tempo to modernise the armed forces and then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee increased defence spending by about 18 per cent and hiked the budget for capital acquisition by 15 per cent. He had earmarked Rs. 1,93,407 crore for Defence, which is 1.9 per cent of the GDP. The figure was 12.97 per cent of the total expenditure by the government.


While the country is expected to spend over Rs. 50,000 crore each year toward modernisation of the armed forces, the military spending has hovered between 1.97 and 2.4 per cent of the GDP over the last few years. Mr. Mukherjee’s allocation represented a growth of 17.63 per cent over the budget estimate of Rs. 1,64,415 crore for 2011-12 and a 13.15 per-cent growth over the revised estimate of Rs. 1,70,937 crore for the last fiscal.


The government, with its emphasis on increasing indigenous content in defence procurement, has been allocating funds for the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). But there is a steady decline in utilisation of funds for the job.


While calling for more resources to the security related manufacturing and services sector, Mr. Chidambaram had made out a case for allowing more players to change the scenario by stepping up investments in a big way if India wanted to become an aerospace and aeronautical manufacturing centre. He noted that indigenous advance light helicopter, light combat helicopter, light utility helicopter, intermediate jet trainer and basic trainer aircraft were still at the stage of design and development. The main battle tank, Arjun, was inducted into the Army in 2004 after many years of development and the next model is still some years away.


With the resources crunch making its presence felt, veteran defence analyst C. Uday Bhaskar says that big ticket purchases like 126 medium multirole combat aircraft Rafale from Dassault Aviation of France might be put on hold for the time being. “For the defence sector, this year is going to be a lean year.”


Strategic insight lacking


Lamenting the lack of long-term, macro strategic planning for the overall national security, he said absence of strategic insight in defence planning, budgeting and expenditure had played havoc. While emphasising the development of indigenous capabilities, he regretted that nearly four million uniformed soldiers of the Army and paramilitary forces were still burdened with old assault rifles and ordnance factories were yet to produce a modern rifle for the jawans.


The Army also plans to speed up its plan to modernise artillery after the move to procure ultralight howitzers through foreign military sales got materialised.


The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence too had identified issues like swifter procurements, modernisation of industries, functioning of cantonments and stations, cyber security, modernisation of military airfields, service matters for review.


Speedy defence procurement, especially armaments, is one of the major challenges being faced by the armed forces and the country on an average spends around $10 billion (Rs. 53,000 crore) each year to modernise its forces. India has a land border of about 15,000 km with Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, China, Bangladesh and Myanmar and a small length of 106 km with Afghanistan. The country’s coastline extends to nearly 7,500 km and it was only after the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008 that India strengthened coastal security.


On the other hand, in India’s neighbourhood, China had raised defence spending by 11.2 per cent in 2012, taking its annual military expenditure beyond $100 billion as it goes ahead with the plans to modernise its armed forces. However, analysts point out that China faces a set of security challenges that are different from the ones confronting India.

Britain, India and the arms trade

The PM's recent drive to drum up trade for the UK arms industry in India takes place at a critical time for British arms firms (Is Britain's arms trade making a killing?, G2, 19 February). In fact, the global arms trade has never before been under closer scrutiny. The arms trade treaty (ATT), an agreement that will bring much-needed global regulation to the sale of weapons and ammunition, is currently being negotiated at the UN with a view to protecting human rights, clamping down on corruption and curbing illicit brokering. A conference to finalise this long-overdue treaty will be held in New York next month.


The poorly regulated global arms trade fuels armed violence and poverty. Every minute, a life is lost through armed violence. Arms deals – whether brokered by the British PM, or anyone else – should meet the highest standards and weapons and ammunition must not be allowed to fuel human rights violations or exacerbate poverty. All countries will benefit from common regulations, increased transparency and a level playing field in the arms trade. The UK has worked for an ATT since 2006. To date, India has been deeply sceptical of a treaty. It is vital the UK does all it can to work with India, and others, to deliver a strong treaty – without major loopholes – that will protect people from human rights abuses and armed conflict.

Anna Macdonald

Head of arms control, Oxfam


• The idea that hundreds of millions of pounds from Britain's aid budget could be "diverted to peacekeeping defence operations" is deeply concerning (Report, 21 February). In 2010 the government pledged to ringfence aid spending and its commitment to it has made Britain a lead in tackling poverty and inequality around the world. To now endanger that by mixing aid and defence budgets is both unethical and ineffectual. It goes against the principles of aid and endangers the UK's impressive record in helping some of the world's poorest families.


By 2015, British taxpayers' money through the Department for International Development will secure schooling for 11 million children worldwide – more than we educate in the UK but at 2.5% of the cost. Why put that at risk? Furthermore, siphoning off a relatively tiny amount of the aid budget is never going to plug cuts in £37bn of defence spending, while putting the principles of aid in jeopardy.

Tanya Barron

Chief executive, Plan UK


• After more than 200 years of shared history, all David Cameron can offer India is military hardware to increase tension in the area, and fast-track visas for businessmen. No wonder Napoleon called the British a "nation of shopkeepers", and Gandhi remarked that "western civilisation would be a good thing". Not only does this reveal the paucity of Cameron's ideas, it is a waste of opportunity. The burgeoning wealth of the Indian middle classes means they can afford to travel abroad as tourists or to visit relatives. However, they face draconian restrictions for even a tourist visa, and are treated with disdain and mistrust at Heathrow. This is what Cameron should regard as deeply shaming, rather than an admittedly dreadful incident from 1919.

Jane Ghosh



• This blurring of the line between aid workers and soldiers creates further risks for NGO employees. Taliban beliefs will become even more entrenched and their justification for murdering aid workers greater. Not to mention that this is just another way that the morally bankrupt regime that currently runs our country diverts taxpayers' money into the pockets of their cronies.

Phill Davies

Aberaeron, Ceredigion


• The purpose of UK aid is to reduce poverty and this is enshrined in law. Of course, when UK forces are in action they should always co-ordinate closely with international development experts to make sure that the needs of local people are met. But raiding the aid budget to pay for military activities would deprive some of the world's poorest people of life-saving support and undermine UK efforts to promote poverty reduction globally. Military objectives and defence needs must have no bearing on how aid is spent, as has already been shown by US army-led activities in Afghanistan where the use of the military in development projects has put lives at risk. At a time of global want, the government should be proud to say that it will spend 0.7% of our national income on aid alone and, in so doing, uphold a 40-year-old promise to the world's poor.

Army, HAL sign Rs 300 cr deal for 20 Cheetal choppers

New Delhi: The Army on Thursday signed a Rs 300 crore contract with the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for procuring 20 Cheetal helicopters to boost its capability in carrying out high-altitude operations in areas like Siachen.


The Cheetals are being procured to fulfil the deficiencies faced by the force in light helicopter segment in view of the delays in the procurement of new 197 choppers for it and the IAF.


The Cheetal helicopters are the upgraded versions of the Cheetah/Chetak choppers in the Indian Armed Forces and have been equipped with stronger engines to enhance their performance.


The contract for the procurement was signed today between the Army and the HAL today and the first helicopter would be delivered within next two years from now, army sources said.


The negotiations for the deal started in December 2010 and it was cleared by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) headed by Defence Minister A K Antony last December, they said.


The Cheetals come with a longer range than their predecessors and will have a range of 640 km in comparison with the 540 km of the vintage choppers.


They will also have a better load-carrying capability in the high altitude areas as they can carry 90 kg while the Cheetahs can carry only 50 kg along with the pilots.


Army has some of its squadrons of Cheetah/Chetak choppers deployed in Siachen base camp and around Leh in Jammu and Kashmir to support its troops deployed at and along the world's highest battlefield there, the officials said.


The Defence Ministry is procuring 197 LUHs of which 133 would go to army while the remaining would go to IAF.


The deal is awaiting clearance by the DAC which has to decide on whether to allow certain deviations in the tendering process after going through a Special Technical Oversight Committee report in this regard.


European Eurocopter AS550 Fennec and Russian Kamov 226 Sergei are in race for supplying these new choppers.


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