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Wednesday, 20 November 2013

From Today's Papers - 20 Nov 2013

Govt all set to scrap VVIP copter deal with Agusta
New Delhi, November 19
The government has decided to cancel a scandal-tainted chopper deal with Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland, prejudging the outcome of a meeting on Wednesday between company executives and Defence Ministry officials to discuss the contract, three sources said.

The decision could re-open the contract to rivals, including United Technologies Corp's Sikorsky Aircraft, EADS’ Eurocopter and Lockheed Martin.

Scrapping the 560 million euro ($757.40 million) deal to buy 12 helicopters for top politicians will not necessarily lead to New Delhi blacklisting the firm, sources said. It, however, closes a chapter of the struggle by AgustaWestland, a division of Italian defence group Finmeccanica, to keep the contract alive.

A senior Defence Ministry official said there was no hope that AgustaWestland officials could salvage the deal in the meeting scheduled for Wednesday. "This is just a face-saving exercise by Agusta. But the government has already decided to cancel the deal because they have violated the integrity pact," said a source in the ministry, who declined to identified.

A spokesman for Finmeccanica declined to comment. Under India's defence procurement rules, the integrity pact prohibits paying or accepting bribes. The government can cancel a contract if the pact is violated, and the seller has to forfeit any security money it deposited as a bidder. Last month, AgustaWestland called for arbitration in the dispute, but Defence Ministry sources say there is no case for this because the firm breached the integrity pact.

However, under the rules, it could still take the case to an Indian court. The deal for the AW101 helicopters went off track in February after the then-chief executive of Finmeccanica was arrested by Italian police for allegedly paying bribes to secure the deal, prompting India to freeze payments to the company. AgustaWestland said last month that suspension of payment was not provided for under the terms of the contract and that Indian authorities had not responded to its requests for bilateral discussions since April.

Italy and India are separately investigating the allegations. AgustaWestland denies any wrongdoing.

India's federal auditor said in August the Defence Ministry had initially stipulated that the helicopters should be able to fly to an altitude of 6,000 metres (19,685 feet), which meant that AgustaWestland could not compete since the AW101 was certified to fly only to 4,572 metres (15,000 feet). Later, the minimum altitude requirement was lowered to 4,500 metres (14,763 feet), even though the helicopters were expected to be used in mountainous northern and northeastern parts of the country where altitudes are higher, it said.

India took delivery of three helicopters before the deal stalled. Three more have been ready for delivery to India. — Reuters
 The choppy deal
The government had entered into a $757.40 million (around Rs 3,600 crore) deal with AgustaWestland, a division of Italian defence group Finmeccanica, for purchase of 12 helicopters to fly top politicians

What went awry

The deal went off track in February after the then-chief executive of Finmeccanica was arrested by the Italian police for allegedly paying bribes to secure the deal, prompting India to freeze payments to the company
Under India's defence procurement rules, the integrity pact prohibits paying or accepting bribes
The government can cancel a contract if the pact is violated. Last month, AgustaWestland called for arbitration in the dispute, but Defence Ministry sources say there is no case for this because the firm breached the integrity pact
The government last month issued a final "show-cause" notice to the firm seeking to end the contract
Centre approves Army corps along China border

New Delhi, November 19
The government has given its final go-ahead to the Army for raising a corps along the China border. It will involve deployment of 50,000 additional troops along the border at a cost of Rs 65,000 crore.

The 17 Corps, the latest and the 14th such formation of the Army, will initially be based at Ranchi in Jharkhand and after development of infrastructure, will be moved to Panagarh in West Bengal. This will be the first corps with strike elements to be deployed close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The Defence Ministry has given the Government Sanction Letter (GSL) to the Army in this regard with complete details of the new formation to be raised and the funds sanctioned for the purpose, government sources said.

The postings of the officers to the new formation have started and its chief will be chosen from the fresh batch of Major Generals who have faced a promotion board recently to be elevated to the rank of Lieutenant General, sources said. — PTI
 VK Singh files reply to J-K Assembly notice
Dinesh Manhotra
Tribune News Service

Jammu, November 19
Former Army Chief Gen VK Singh has filed his reply to the breach of privilege notice issued to him by the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly.

Speaker Mubarak Gul received VK Singh’s reply on Tuesday and described it as positive. The Assembly had issued notice to the General asking him to explain his allegation of pay-offs to certain ministers in the state by the Army. The notice was issued to Gen Singh on October 24 and he was given 20 days to file a reply.

Sources said Gen Singh, in his reply, has denied his remarks. “I have received the General’s reply and need to examine it properly before divulging any details. I have gone through it briefly and it looks positive,” Gul told The Tribune. The Speaker said he has also received a VCD of the controversial interview given by the General to a Delhi-based news channel on September 23, 2013.

It was in this interview the General had alleged that the Army was secretly funding mainstream politicians in J-K since 1947. “I have to see the entire interview before announcing the future course of action,” said Gul.
 India, Vietnam to bolster defence ties
Ashok Tuteja
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 19
Bilateral defence cooperation against the backdrop of shared fears over a rising China will be high on the agenda when India and Vietnam hold talks here later this week during the state visit of Vietnam Communist Party general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong to this country.

India’s offer of a $100 million credit line to Vietnam to purchase military equipment, particularly four surveillance boats, has already created the right atmosphere for the visit by the Vietnamese leader.

Nguyen will hold delegation-level talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh here tomorrow at which security, defence, economic and cultural issues are expected to be discussed apart from various global developments, official sources said.

Thanks to Chinese assertiveness in the disputed South China Sea, India has expanded its defence cooperation with Vietnam in recent years.

Apart from offering the credit line, the Indian Navy is learnt to have agreed to train Vietnamese submarine crews as Hanoi begins to acquire six kilo-class submarines from Russia. Asked if India was also considering Vietnam’s keenness on buying BrahMos missile, sources said it was not on the agenda at this stage.

Beijing’s posturing on the South China Sea is also likely to figure prominently during the talks between the two sides. Both India and Vietnam have noticed a significant change in China’s position over the disputed sea. Sources said the Chinese now appear to discuss the South China Sea sovereignty issue within the ASEAN ambit.

On the table

    Vietnam Communist Party general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong will hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday
    Security, defence, economic and cultural issues are expected to be discussed apart from various global developments
    Beijing's posturing on the South China Sea is likely to figure prominently during the talks
 NATO ally aircraft may have snooped on INS Vikramaditya

New Delhi, November 19
Aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya may have been snooped on by a surveillance aircraft belonging to one of the NATO countries when it was undergoing sea trials in Russia.

The aircraft carrier may have been snooped on by an American-origin P-3C Orion surveillance aircraft belonging to the NATO nations, sources said.

They, however, said the warship was with the Russian Navy when the P-3C Orion flew close to it during the sea trials.

INS Vikramaditya has generated a lot of interest in the global navies and a lot of them, including both friends and adversaries, want to know about its capabilities and strengths. — PTI
Relief all over as Kayani is set to retire
His farewell advice to successor unsolicited and uncalled for
Kuldip Nayar

PAKISTAN Army Chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's announcement to retire on November 29 was a lead story in his country's media. Some newspapers had bannered it. Opposition leader Syed Khurshid Shah welcomed the statement. In fact, there has been relief all over, including in India, that Kayani had announced his exit.

This was primarily because Kayani was considered an ambitious General. Moreover, it was believed that there might be another coup because such had been the practice in the past. But, fortunately, Kayani has come out in the open on what his plans are. "I am grateful to the political leadership and the nation for reposing their trust in me and the Pakistan Army at this important juncture of our national history. However, I share the general opinion that institutions and traditions are stronger than individuals and must take precedence."

The perception about Pakistan is that the Army can walk in whenever it likes. The coups first by Gen Mohammad Ayub, then by Gen Zia-ul-Haq and finally by Gen Parvez Musharraf have given the impression that although the Army goes back to the barracks, its influence does not wane.

This is true as well because even Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has said that the PM is the 'boss', has been careful not to lessen the pre-eminence of the army. Since the Prime Minister, after election through a democratic process, was thrown out by General Mushrraf, Nawaz Sharif is understandably respectful to the Army Chief. Both the PM and Kayani are reportedly discussing who should succeed Kayani, a job which in a democratic country is settled by the government. Most pictures I see in newspapers show Kayani by the side of Nawaz Sharif.

Therefore, there was surprise as well as a sense of satisfaction when there was a cryptic press release from the Inter Services Public Relations that the Chief of Army Staff will retire on November 29, when his extended tenure ends. In fact, when Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani gave Kayani three years’ extension, there were rumours that Gilani had no choice as if the extension was at the point of gun. There was nothing like that. Gilani wanted a professional head to depoliticise the Army, something which Mushraff had not done during the eight and a half years that he stayed in power.

Whether Kayani’s retirement in a regular manner is enough of evidence to infer that there would never be a coup in Pakistan is not easy to say. But chances will lessen as the days go by because the people have more and more vested interest in the election process. I find the leading politicians of different parties going on record as saying that the people would come on to the streets if ever the Army tries to take over.

I wish it would be true. But my experience is different. When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto assumed power in the wake of the Bangladesh liberation war, he told me that “we have learnt from history” and that the Pakistanis would revolt and hit the streets to stop the tanks if they ever came out. This was proved wrong when Musharraf took over.

The Pakistanis, like we Indians, want to rule themselves. But with almost a span of 50 years of military rule since the 66-year-old Independence, democracy has not taken roots in the country. The people are too afraid. Today the situation has worsened because the Army is the only force which has the wherewithal to fight the menace called Taliban. The challenge will become bigger when the Western forces leave Afghanistan next year.

I am intrigued by more or less the farewell statement that Kayani has made. He has said: “It is important that the military leadership in future also continues to play its unreserved role for (the) strengthening of (the) democratic system in the country.” That Kayani made the statement on October 12 to coincide with the military coup in which the elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was thrown out is significant. He announced his retirement on October 6 but delayed the statement by six days. I do not know what message he was trying to convey.

But Kayani's use of words like the military's "unreserved role" for the strengthening of the democratic system conveys it all. The "unreserved role" means that the military is expected to act in a manner which is not written in any Constitution, nor defined otherwise. The role is important to "strengthen (the) democratic system" but not spelled out.

Kayani has been concentrating on Kashmir. He has removed the demand for plebiscite and forsaken Musharraf's proposal to make the borders of Jammu and Kashmir irrelevant. During Kayani's time the violations of the ceasefire have increased to as many as 100 in the last few weeks.

Kayani's vague words remind me of what General Zia-ul-Haq told me during his dictatorial regime. General Zia-ul Haq argued that the Army had every right to intervene if the situation went bleak. I told him "you have come in whenever you wanted to do. Where did the worsening of the situation arise and where was the justification?"

Kayani should know that the elected government has the final word. Most of Pakistan's problems are the doings of the military. The Taliban whom it is trying to eliminate in its own country is because of the military's thinking that the group fired by the ideology of jihad will come in handy to keep India on its toes. Today Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has become such a Frankenstein that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has promulgated an ordinance of special powers to confront the Taliban.

Kayani's farewell advice to his successor, yet to be named, to back democracy is unsolicited and uncalled for. Kayani should realise that democracy is not a gift, definitely not from the armed forces. What he is saying from experience is that the Pakistanis are not prepared for another military rule. This has had a salutary effect of Mushraff's failure and people's loss of faith in military rule. It is a plus point for democracy in Pakistan.
US-Afghanistan inch closer to troop deal
The hardball negotiations between Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and the United States over what happens when foreign combat troops leave by December 31, 2014, seem to have inched closer to an agreement.

If there is no agreement, all troops and not just combat personnel could be pulled out. Reports suggest that compromises have been reached on key contentious clauses, one of them being Mr Karzai's insistence that any troops staying on do not enter Afghan homes in raids.

Mr Karzai's spokesperson reportedly told a select group of journalists that a compromise over the possible deal-breaker has been reached after US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to the Afghan President on Tuesday. A journalist privy to that briefing said that initial Afghan offer was to invite Secretary Kerry to speak to the Loya Jirga (a Grand council of 3,000 Afghan elders) that begins meeting on Thursday in Kabul to convince them.

The Americans, though, reportedly agreed to President Obama writing a letter to the Afghan people expressing his regret for mistakes in the past during US raids that killed Afghan civilians. His apology and assurance of no recurrence of those mistakes is reportedly to be appended to the draft Bilateral Strategic Agreement (BSA) that the Jirga will debate.

US bases for military aid, equipment and training

Mr Karzai's office has confirmed that Mr Kerry has assured the Afghan head of state that President Obama will give the Afghan people clearly written assurances which will be part of the draft text submitted to the Jirga. The Presidential Office also confirmed that other issue discussed between Secretary Kerry and President Karzai was Afghanistan's security and defence after the April 2014 Presidential polls. So, the agreement, if reached, will allow the US to keep bases and troops in Afghanistan with the quid pro quo being America providing military aid, training and assistance to Afghan security forces post 2014.

Jurisdiction of US crimes

The other contentious clause is what happens to crimes committed by US troops in Afghanistan? Though it's unclear what compromise, if any, has been reached, the US insists it will not back down on the condition that only its military and civil courts will have complete jurisdiction to try any troops committing crimes. The US had completely withdrawn from Iraq in 2009 when a similar insistence wasn't agreed to. The most infamous incident involving an American soldier in recent times took place in March, 2012 when Staff Sergeant Robert Bales went on a murderous massacre killing 16 civilians and injuring six others in Panjwai district of Kandahar province. The soldier was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole by a jury in Washington in August 2013.

Draft strategic agreement negotiations

Though the number of US troops that remain (if any) after the drawdown of foreign boots on the ground by December 31, 2014, will be decided by President Obama, the draft BSA (Bilateral Strategic Agreement) being negotiated says. The troops will stay, of course, only if it is signed. The Pentagon has reportedly been plugging for between 10,000-15,000 foreign troops to stay on for training, assistance and counter-terrorism operations. A draft BSA in the process of being negotiated states, "Confirming the recognition in the Strategic Partnership Agreement that cooperation between the Parties is based on mutual respect and shared interests - most notably, a common desire for peace and to strengthen collective efforts to achieve a region that is economically integrated, and no longer a safe haven for al-Qaeda and its affiliates." It acknowledges, "that ISAF's mission will be concluded by the end of 2014 and that the close partnership will continue beyond the end of the transition period including through NATO and Afghanistan's mutual commitment to work to establish a new NATO-led Mission to train, advise, and assist the Afghan National Security Forces, and noting here that such a mission will also need to be provided with the necessary authorities, status, arrangements, and legal basis.'  The document makes it clear negotiations are on for troops to stay till 2024 and beyond if necessary. Article 28 states, 'This Agreement shall enter into force on January 1, 2015, after the Parties notify one another through diplomatic channels of the completion of their respective internal legal requirements necessary for the entry into force of this Agreement. It shall remain in force until the end of 2024 and beyond."

India watches keenly

The 25-page document along with US President Barack Obama's letter of regret is reportedly going to be placed before the Loya Jirga for debate starting Thursday. Analysts are divided on whether the elders will reject the clause allowing US troops to conduct raids inside Afghan homes and/or insist that American troops, accused of crimes, be tried in Afghan courts or whether the Jirga is just a rubber-stamp for President Karzai. It also has to get Afghan Parliament's as well as Congressional approval. Worried about the ramifications for Indian assets in Afghanistan and terror spilling across Pakistan's border into India, if there is a foreign military vacuum, New Delhi has always pushed for no hasty or complete withdrawal of coalition troops. As regards the strategic agreement between the Americans and Afghans, New Delhi will hope the Dari proverb "no matter how high the mountain is, there's still always a way to the top" rings true.
Norwegian army goes on vegetarian diet
OSLO: The Norwegian military said on Tuesday it plans to put its troops on a vegetarian diet once a week in a bid to fight a new kind of enemy — climate change.

The army said its new meatless Mondays are meant to cut its consumption of ecologically unfriendly foods whose production contributes heavily to global warming.

"It's a step to protect our climate. The idea is to serve food that's respectful of the environment," spokesman Eystein Kvarving told AFP.

The diet has already been introduced at one of Norway's main bases and will soon be rolled out to all units, including those serving overseas, said the army, estimating it would cut its meat consumption by 150 tonnes per year.

"It's not about saving money," said Kvarving. "It's about being more concerned for our climate, more ecologically friendly and also healthier."

A Norwegian environmental group that campaigns for meatless Mondays nationwide, The Future in Our Hands, welcomed the army announcement.

"The defence ministry deserves a lot of praise because it's taking climate and environmental issues seriously," said the group's director, Arild Hermstad.

According to the organisation, the average Norwegian eats more than 1,200 animals over the course of their life, including 1,147 chickens, 22 sheep, six cattle and 2.6 deer.
‘Saurabh Kalia’s torture was not a war crime’
 The Government of India has said that torture inflicted upon on slain martyr Capt. Saurabh Kalia by the Pakistan Army cannot be termed as a war crime.

Counsel for the martyr’s family Arvind Sharma said the Union government told the Supreme Court that it had no intentions to raise the issue in the Geneva Convention since it was a signatory in the Shimla agreement of 1972.

The Supreme Court issued a notice to the Union government on a petition by Capt. Saurabh Kalia’s father N.K. Kalia on December 14, 2012, seeking a direction that the matter should be referred to the International Court of Justice. The family had even approached the Defence Ministry to raise the issue in the International Court.

But the Ministry hinted on solving all the matters peacefully through bilateral talks with the neighbouring Pakistan.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony in his reply to Karnataka MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar in Rajya Sabha in October said that, “we are committed to settle differences with Pakistan by peaceful means and through bilateral negotiations.”

Capt. Kalia’s father has alleged that the government had never taken the issue seriously and never raised the matter in the bipartite talks even. Capt. Kalia of 4thJat Regiment was the first Indian officer to disclose of incursion of the Pakistan Army into the Indian territory in Kargil. He along with five other soldiers was taken captive by the Pakistan Army on May 15, 1999 and their mutilated bodies were handed over to Indian Army on June 9.
Army gets final nod to deploy 80,000 troops along China border
NEW DELHI: The ball has been set rolling for the Army to raise a new mountain "strike" corps with two "independent" infantry brigades and two "independent" armoured brigades, totalling over 80,000 soldiers, along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.

While the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on July 17 had cleared the new mountain corps and brigades, as was then reported by TOI, the defence ministry has now issued the "government sanction letter" to the Army for the new raising to be undertaken.

The new corps — the 1.13-million strong Indian Army already has three "strike" corps among the 13 such formations but they are largely geared towards Pakistan - will eventually have its headquarters at Panagarh in West Bengal.

The new formation to be called 17 Corps, along with its infrastructure, will come up over seven years at a cost of around Rs 90,000 crore. "Officers and soldiers are already being earmarked for posting to the new corps," said an official.

With additional armoured regiments and infantry units based in Ladakh, Sikkim and Uttarakhand, the new mountain corps will for the first time give India the capability to also launch a counter-offensive into Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in the event of a Chinese attack.

As part of the overall plan for "major force accretion" along the "northern borders" with China, two new infantry divisions (35,000 soldiers and 1,260 officers), have already been raised at Lekhapani and Missamari in Assam in 2009-10. Their operational tasking is the defence of Arunachal Pradesh, which China often claims as its territory.

The new corps, with two specialized high-altitude divisions for "rapid reaction force capability in mountains", will add to all this. This will give India, which for long has focused on the land borders with Pakistan, some offensive teeth against China as well.

This is critical because China has "aggressively'' strengthened its military capabilities in TAR, with at least five fully-operational airbases, an extensive rail network and over 58,000-km of roads. This allows China to move over 30 divisions (each with over 15,000 soldiers) to the LAC, outnumbering Indian forces by at least 3:1 there.
Indian Army Successfully Tests BrahMos Block-III Deep Penetration Variant
India tested a “block-III variant of BrahMos with deep penetration capability” from a mobile launcher.

The Indian Army test-fired an advanced version of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile system on Monday.

According to The Hindu’s Business Line, a “block-III variant of BrahMos with deep penetration capability was test launched from a Mobile Autonomous Launcher.” The test was reportedly successful.

It specifically focused on the missile’s deep penetration capability and took place in Pokhran, Rajasthan. According to an official  “The launch has successfully validated the deep penetration capability of the supersonic cruise missile system against hardened targets.” The tested missile was able to successfully follow a predetermined trajectory, and hit a hardened concrete target with perfect accuracy given its supersonic velocity.

The BrahMos is currently the fastest cruise missile in production capable of delivering a conventional warhead, traveling at speeds of up to Mach 3.0. The missile is a joint effort between India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroeyenia (its domestic defense research agency).

Times of India reports that the Indian Army has incorporated two regiments of the missile into its arsenal, with a third expected to be added soon. The Indian Navy has also inducted the missile, using it across several frigates and destroyers. The Indian Air Force will test an air-launched version of the missile shortly.

The Brahmos-II is currently under development and is expected to be the hypersonic successor to the original BrahMos. India’s former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has pushed for the development of an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) variant of the upcoming hypersonic missile, saying that the “missile should be able to deliver its payload and return to base.”

In general, the surface-to-surface variants of the BrahMos have seen the most extensive testing. Its penetration capabilities had been impressively demonstrated in the past at sea when a single BrahMos cruise missile was able to effectively pierce the hull of a free-floating ship, destroying it entirely.  That test, in 2010, rendered India the first country to have a maneuverable supersonic cruise missile. The deep penetration block-III variant expands this capability greatly, allowing the BrahMos to destroy reinforced targets.

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