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Friday, 9 May 2014

From Today's Papers - 09 May 2014

 India-Pak relations after elections
Islamabad watches the emergence of Narendra Modi with trepidation

THERE is little doubt that there will be a change of government after May 16. It is likely that the new government will be that of the National Democratic Alliance. The BJP is the largest single party among the NDA constituents. Notwithstanding doubts expressed by persons such as Sharad Pawar, Narendra Modi is likely to become the Prime Minister. His emergence as Prime Minister would carry its own message which would reverberate across the continent and even beyond.
An analyst has written that Pakistan is watching the election scene with trepidation. The prospects of Narendra Modi emerging as the new Prime Minister are causing uneasy feelings among large sections of Pakistan because of his Gujarat antecedents which inevitably trace their origin to the 2002 riots. During the electoral process a few rabble-rousers from the VHP and the Sangh Parivar made some utterances with anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan overtones which attracted prompt action from the Election Commission. Modi himself has taken strong exception to such irresponsible statements and appealed to them to desist from making such statements.

Modi has stated that he would run the government according to the Constitution and that there was only one religion for the government -- India First. He has also stated that Muslims need not fear him, that he would carry forward Atal Bihari Vajpayee's foreign policy and he believed that co-operation should be the basis for relationships with foreign countries.

Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit has welcomed Modi's statements saying that Pakistan is interested in engaging quickly and comprehensively with the new government in India.

Pakistan should remember that during the visit to Lahore by Atal Bihar Vajpayee along with an entourage of journalists and old friends of Pakistan, Gen Pervez Musharraf was busy planning the Kargil attack with the presumed approval of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Sharif had then rushed to the US to seek the mediation by President Clinton, who advised Pakistan to withdraw its forces from Kargil without delay. Nawaz Sharif suffered the humiliation of complying with the advice of President Clinton, but General Musharraf himself went scot free. Soon after, Musharraf carried out a coup and took over power after overthrowing Nawaz Sharif.

There is speculation that following the footsteps of Vajpayee, Narendra Modi would make an early visit to Pakistan after he becomes Prime Minister. But is Pakistan in a position to host him?

The reappearance of Maulana Abdul Aziz, an extremist cleric who had earlier failed in his attempt to impose strict sharia law on Pakistan's capital, carries an alarming message for the future of Pakistan. The Red Mosque and madarassa complex in Islamabad was stormed four years ago on the orders of Musharraf. Dozens of people had died during the attack but Aziz himself escaped dressed in burqa. Seven years later while Musharraf is facing trial on charges of high treason, Aziz is back in full force and busy rebuilding another marble edifice which would accommodate seminary students and teachers.

Pakistan has yet to successfully prosecute the accused arrested in connection with the Mumbai attack on November 26, 2008, and thereby prove its bona fides.

Stephen P Cohen, who has been described as a "guru of gurus" and, more importantly, a great student of the subcontinent affairs, was in Delhi some time back and he said that many people felt that Pakistan was a failed state and if Pakistan broke apart, millions of Pakistanis would like to go back to their ancestral home in India which would create a huge problem for India. Stephen Cohen said that it was outrageous that a man like Hafiz Saeed was allowed to parade himself in Pakistan. Cohen said that left to him, he would like to send a missile against Hafiz Saeed and went on to say that perhaps Pakistan was too weak to do anything. Pakistan is now struggling with the problem of Afghanistan. Cohen added that the two countries were so different, and clubbed together, they would not succeed in the next two hundred years. Cohen said that India had to deal with Pakistani jihadis as it would deal with any other terrorists and that India had to live with troubles from Pakistan and deal with them as the situation arose.

Will Nawaz Sharif be able to set his house in order? Does he exercise complete authority over the military authorities? General Kayani, the previous Army Chief of Pakistan, was patronising Lakshar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed and that he considered him as a strategic asset to be used against India. The new Army Chief, General Raheel Sharif, reportedly visited the ISI headquarters on April 23. The ISI continues with its highhandedness in dealing with the perceived enemies of the State such as Hamid Mir, a Pakistan journalist who was shot at recently in Karachi. The Army chief's visit to the headquarters was apparently meant to show the military establishment's full backing of the ISI.

Taking into account all these developments, Pakistan looks like descending into a morass of "jihadism" and mullah dominance. The Karachi Project, headed by Major Zakir-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, is still very much active and it continues to plan attacks at various places of India. The arrests of Abu Jundal and Yasin Bhatkal have revealed the continued Pakistani backing to jihadi elements who are trained by the ISI and Lakshar-e-Taiba and pushed into India for jihadi attacks.

Will Pakistan be able to dismantle the jihadi machinery operating under the supervision of the Army and the ISI and resume the essential character of a normal state before the prospective visit of an Indian Prime Minister to Pakistan?

A perceptive Pakistani columnist has referred to the foot-dragging by Pakistan in restoring free trade after having signed the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement with India. Pakistan's non-state actors do not want trade with India since they look at trade as a "dangerous alternative" to war. Nawaz Sharif's younger brother, Shahbaz Sharif, who is Punjab Chief Minister, has disclosed that the Pakistan Army does not want trade with India.

The columnist goes on to say that Pervez Musharraf's decree of 2006 to remove jihad from the textbooks was ignored by the provinces and the new textbooks actually make fun of "enlightenment" as an "alien doctrine". Pakistani nationalism is now manipulated by the clergy and the Army under the increasing shadow of Talibanisation.
Why the New Army Chief Should be Named by the New Government
As the country reaches the denouement of perhaps the longest elections in recent memory, two seemingly unrelated but important events occurred on Monday.

One, the outgoing UPA government decided not to go ahead with constituting the 'Snoopgate' commission to investigate allegations of spying on a woman against Narendra Modi, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate and Gujarat chief minister.

Two, a writ petition that made the Indian Army's Vice Chief of Staff Lt. Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag a key respondent in an alleged fake encounter case filed in the Manipur High Court, was dismissed on technical grounds, leaving the petitioners an option to file another application in the Gauhati High Court on a later date.

I talk about both these events in the same breath because the UPA government had gone to the Election Commission asking for its permission on both counts. It is interesting that the UPA brains trust decided not to go ahead with the 'Snoopgate' commission although the Election Commission (EC) had given it the clearance to do so. Moreover, many of the ruling Congress' stalwarts had emphatically declared last week that the government will constitute the panel before May 16, the day votes are counted, come what may.

The Defence Ministry has sought clearance from the EC to appoint the successor to Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh, who retires on July 31. Lt Gen Suhag, being the senior-most officer, is widely seen as the man who will take over the Indian Army on August 1.

The Election Commission is likely to take a call on clearing the process for the appointment of the next Army Chief any day this week, although as of now there appears to be a divide within the commission on the issue after the defence ministry resubmitted its query. At least one of the three-members is of the view that the current government must not name the next Army Chief.

In late March, the Election Commission had made it clear that the Model Code of Conduct "is not applicable to any matter pertaining directly to the defence forces, be it in the recruitments/promotion for defence forces...and consequently no reference need be sent to the Commission pertaining to the model code in these matters..."

So why did the Defence Ministry, led by the ultra-cautious -- some call him timid -- AK Antony refer the matter to the Election Commission? One theory doing the rounds is that Antony, as is his wont, does not want to risk any decision in the face of the BJP's stand that all important appointments must be left to the next government and is therefore taking the shelter of technicalities.

So, if the EC gives a go ahead, Antony can use the clearance to say "I went through the proper channel." And if it declines permission, the minister can throw up his hands and say '"what can I do. The EC did not permit us, even though we wanted to appoint the next Army Chief!"

Whatever the reason, for the first time in many years the appointment of the Army Chief has got embroiled in a political battle and an unseemly controversy that both the government and the Opposition could have avoided.

There are two compelling reasons why the Army Chief's appointment can wait. One is the question of legitimacy versus legality. Legally, the government can go ahead and name the next Army Chief, since the UPA-II is neither a defeated government nor a care-taker government.

But given that we are less than a fortnight away from election results, there is the question of the government's legitimacy. Propriety demands that the outgoing government leave all important decisions -- financial and administrative -- to the incoming government. By that count, the current government might as well complete the process of appointing the next Army Chief, but must leave the announcement to the new government.

As fellow defence beat journalist Ajay Banerjee of The Tribune points out, there exists a precedent for this situation. The outgoing NDA government processed the file for the appointment of a new Navy Chief during election time in May 2004, but it was left to the UPA-I government to announce the name of Adm. Arun Prakash as the next Chief of Naval Staff on June 1, 2004 (see, exactly 10 days after the Manmohan Singh government had taken charge on May 22, 2004.

Arun Prakash took over on August 1, 2004.

Whoever is the next incumbent as the Chief of Army Staff -- and there is no indication that the next government will go against the seniority principle -- will start his innings on a strong wicket if the announcement is made by the fresh government in Delhi. He will then not carry the baggage of being the previous government's man. A new government will have more than 10 days to name the next COAS.

And finally, this sequence of events will help keep the Army and by extension the armed forces out of politics.

Hopefully, all stakeholders will show the maturity to handle this delicate matter deftly.
Is The Coup Finally Upon Us?
Former army chief Gen V.K. Singh is leading a contingent of military officers who are contesting the 16th Lok Sabha elections. Gen Shankar Roy Chowdhury was the only other army chief to enter Parliament but via the Rajya Sabha. V.K. Singh is the most high-profile officer to ever fight an election—and self-acclaimedly one destined to clean the stables of the spectacularly mismanaged ministry of defence, were he to become the country’s next defence minister. In an unabashedly immodest int­er­view to the Hindustan Times, he said he knew what was wrong in the MoD and could set right the deficiencies in the system. He’s got his eyes set on it. Across battleground Ghaziabad, V.K. Singh had deployed in battle formations, across a dozen reg­ions, four-member command teams to help him win the elections. That Gen Singh’s legacy does no army proud is another matter; still one should worry about the signals this sends about the background of service officers aspiring to join the highest house in the country.

Tainted politicians and upright military officers are poles apart. Based on complaints, the Election Commission, acc­ording to news reports, had to warn V.K. Singh not to introduce himself as ‘army general’ or ‘army chief’. What can be more embarrassing and denigratory for a former chief?

V.K Singh’s legacy includes taking the government to court over the age row, a blatant anti-government media campa­ign, sensitive revelations with bearing on internal and ext­e­r­nal security and a slew of court cases. That such an individual might be considered for ministerial office violates the military code of conduct. Rewarding a retired army chief culpable in the eyes of soldiers with a ticket is tantam­ount to politicisation of the services. The political opposition has repeatedly been pointing out this anomaly. It is water off a duck’s back as far as V.K Singh is concerned. Sample his latest shenanigan: last week, V.K. Singh was recreating the controversy over naming the successor to Army chief Gen Bikram Singh when he retires this July 31. The present government is all set, and legitimately too, to announce Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag, the seniormost of those in line, as Gen Bik­r­am’s successor. The post is inv­a­­­riably announ­ced 2-3 months in adv­­a­nce and so the new government will not have the required time for processing papers. V.K. Singh tried to put a spoke in the wheel by que­s­tioning the timing of taking the next chief’s announcement by the present government as well as Lt Gen Suhag’s credentials. As army chief, he had tried to scuttle the prospect of both generals Bikram and Dalbir taking the coveted post so that his relative, Lt Gen Ashok Singh, could become army chief. By mischievously reviving the succession issue, he’s revealed the real V.K. Singh.

The highest military officer to win an election has been a three-star lieutenant general and the maximum number of officers at any time in both Houses has never exceeded one dozen. Only a sprinkling of officers is to be found in state legislatures. This year, four retired generals and a general’s daughter are joining battle for the Lok Sabha. Ex-servicemen providing organisational support to them is also at a record high. The majority of serving and retired personnel view the BJP as ‘more nationalist than the Congress’ and expect it to do more for the cause of defence and national security. The BJP has formed a ‘strategic action team’ which has in its ranks a lieutenant gene­ral-rank office-holder. For the first time, billboards appeared in NCR-Delhi claiming credit for the Congress in implemen­ting the long-delayed one rank, one pen­sion demand. This followed after the BJP had promised to enact the OROP award and ex-servicemen had taken the unprecedented step of countrywide protests and return of medals to the president. These highly politicised manoeuvres will alas likely blur the red line between the soldier and other members of society.
The politicisation of the military is not a new thing. It began with then defence minister V.K. Krishna Menon’s direct int­­e­rference in the army’s internal affairs which led to COAS Gen K.S. Thimayya resigning, the motivated ‘inq­uiry’ against Maj Gen Sam Manekshaw and the creation of the ‘yes men’—all of which in turn contributed to the 1962 debacle in the high Himalayas, the resignation of Krishna Menon, Nehru’s death and the Henderson-Brooks inq­uiry report—inexplicably kept out of public view for so long. For the next three decades and more, thanks to the character of military leadership, the armed forces were kept reasonably immunised aga­­inst the virus of politics till Kargil happened when a full-blown war erupted between the ruling BJP and the Congress which took to defending the sacked Kargil bri­gade commander, Brig  Surinder Singh. The political mud­slinging was not restricted to the organised defence of the dismissed brigadier but also the subsequent scrutiny of the emergency purchases of war-fighting equipment, including coffins for the Kargil dead that famously came to be called Coffingate when the Congress returned to power. Recently, the Vice-Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal P.K. Borbora, publicly remarked that def­e­nce preparedness has taken a hit due to the fear of inv­e­stigations with change of governments as they go for each other.

The next political bombshell was the summary dismissal of navy chief Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat which gave the Con­gress another opportunity to embarrass the government. Bhagwat was variously and effectively used to slam the BJP. More recently, the Congress was paid back in the same coin by the BJP selecting the discredited and disgruntled V.K Singh as its candidate for the 2014 elections for his anticipated critique of the government on its poor defence performance.

Earlier this year, defence minister A.K. Antony had to say what no government minister has ever had to say in response to troop movements ordered in 2011 by V.K. Singh: that the Indian armed forces will never plot a coup. These unsavoury developments over time mark the gradual but only barely imperceptible politicisation of the military, especially the army. It’s a far cry from when the bbc’s epic TV serial, 50 Years After the Raj, singled out the Indian army as the last bastion of democracy. 

In liberal democracies, the rights of soldiers are assured and ensured through legislation and Acts of Parliament. For their expertise, retired military officers are appointed as advisors and not compelled to slug it out through the electoral route. Indeed, it is time to reinvigorate parliam­entary oversight of def­ence and national security by reorganising defence cons­ultative and defence standing com­m­ittees. Further, the Ind­ian military being kept off limits from app­o­intments like the NSA and these made the preserve of the foreign office are retrograde steps which need to be corrected.

The armed forces, for long cocooned in cantonments, have only in this election been given the fundamental right to vote from where they are posted. Although only a few new generals will contest elections, an elaborate network of ex-servicemen has been deployed to support them. For the first time, two army officers are battling it out in Barmer: the erudite nine-time MP, Maj Jaswant Singh, versus three-time MP, Col Sonaram Chaudhary. Politics is extremely divisive and corro­sive, it will fracture the army’s cohesion. Sentiments and per­ceptions that the ‘BJP is a more nationalist’ party and that legitimate rights of soldiers and ex-servicemen can best be secured from inside Parliament could further politicise the military. Gen V.K. Singh has fired the first salvo even before entering Parliament. Azam Khan communalising the victory in Kargil is the flavour of politics of the future. It will need God, politicians and society to keep the army apolitical.
Army initiates green drive in Ladakh
 JAMMU: Army along with locals on Thursday launched an afforestation drive in Nubra valley of Ladakh district.

The Ladakh Scouts Battalion of the Trishul Division organised a tree plantation drive to commemorate the 42nd Red Cross Day at Partapur in Nubra and other nearby villages in Leh district, defence spokesperson said.

As part of the green drive, 500 Ulet (a popular local Ladakh tree) and 100 Yrapa trees were planted by the army personnel in Skuru and Hunder villages of Nubra valley.

The green drive has been undertaken to encourage locals to plant trees in Shyok and Nubra, he said.

The village elders and numbardars (village heads) assured that the newly planted saplings would be well looked after and they would actively work towards making the Nubra Valley greener, he said.
Appointment Of Next Indian Army Chief: A Contested Political Issue
The UPA government led by PM Manmohan Singh is expected to demit office on 16 May 2014 when the eagerly awaited elections results will be announced by the Election Commission (EC). Both the BJP and the Congress have been making strong claims that they will emerge as winners, though the betting is on the former – and the possibility of a non-Congress Modi led government in Delhi is the higher probability. But at the same time, it merits recall that Indian elections have not always followed opinion polls and ‘trends’ and the BJP remembers this all too well from its 2004 and 2009 experience. Thus the uncertainty about which party will get the definitive numbers (273 seats) and the nature of the new government, including who will be the Prime Minister and the composition of the coalition will continue – till all the results are announced.

Against this backdrop, the appointment of a new Army Chief to succeed General Bikram Singh, who retires on 31 July 2014, has come into sharp and undesirable focus. Under normal circumstances, the government of the day takes such decisions three months in advance and there has been no protest given the sensitivity of the office of a service Chief – which has a direct bearing on national security. It may be recalled that when the BJP-led NDA government lost the 2004 elections, there was no controversy about the appointment of the Naval Chief at the time. The incumbent was to retire in end July 2004 and the Vajpayee government announced the appointment of then Vice Admiral Arun Prakash as the next naval Chief. The Congress party which was to form the next government, as the lead entity in the UPA, did not see this as untoward or raise the ‘lame-duck’ government charge.

Regrettably in the current political environment where even civility in speech has become a casualty, the appointment of the next Army Chief has become a contested political issue. The BJP, it is understood, has questioned the propriety of the UPA government taking this decision and has approached the EC to restrain the government. The logic being advanced is that there will be a clear two months plus even after mid-May for the incumbent – General Bikram Singh – to retire and that this decision should be the prerogative of the next government, which the BJP presumes it will lead.

Earlier in end March, the EC had opined that specific to the defence forces, matters pertaining appointments, promotions, tenders and procurement do not come within the purview of the Model Code of Conduct in relation to the elections and hence the government was within its rights to proceed as deemed appropriate to ensure that the national security apparatus was in no way compromised or adversely impacted.

Given the attention the Army Chief’s appointment has received, Defence Minister Antony stated on 2 May that the government had sought the EC’s view on this issue as it wanted to “strictly follow all the procedures.” The EC in turn has indicated that they will review the matter – both the reference made by the UPA government and the BJP protest in the course of this week.

Coincidentally, mid-May is also the period when India would differently recall the Kargil war of 1999 and the manner in which national security and sovereignty were challenged. Despite the animus between the Congress and the BJP over the latter’s decision to conduct the nuclear tests of May 1998 – all political parties closed ranks over Kargil and India was able to wrest back the craggy mountain peaks stealthily occupied by the Pakistan Army – albeit at a heavy human cost.

Fifteen years later, one would submit for the consideration of the EC and the BJP leaders that national security remains as sacred and sensitive and that any decision taken ought to be based on the most objective professional considerations. As a country with nuclear weapons, it is imperative that the higher echelons of national security – both civilian and military – are appropriately staffed and here the hierarchy of the armed forces have a special status.

Over the last three years, civil-military relations in India have been muddied by the unsavory controversy generated over the date of birth issue associated with former Army Chief General VK Singh. At the time the most deplorable aspersions were cast about the integrity and rectitude of promotions to higher ranks in the Army and a certain sectarian bias was alleged. Regrettably the UPA government did not intervene in a firm and empathetic manner and the Supreme Court was invoked.

Bitter personal rivalries came to the fore and all of this had a corrosive effect on the cohesion of the Indian Army and by extension – the texture of both civil-military relations and institutional credibility. The last time that India went through such a bleak phase was in the run up to the 1962 war with China and the price paid was both heavy and ignominious.

In the current situation, the BJP would be well-advised to keep this issue quarantined – and away from media glare – and in the event there are serious and substantive differences of opinion, the same could be addressed through quiet, constructive consultation with the government. The perception in the public domain is that the entry of General VK Singh into the political arena as a high-visibility BJP member has queered the pitch. The rank and file of the Army is aware of the bitter charges and allegations that clouded the elevation of General Bikram Singh and are watching the current proceedings with some dismay.

Will the appointment of the next Army Chief proceed as per the professional norms and protocols that have been evolved in India or will certain subjective and partisan considerations come into play? The Election Commission has been unwittingly drawn in to this sensitive area which may be beyond its mandate – but its decision will have a long-term bearing on the equipoise that should characterise the political-military interface. Consequently all eyes, this week, will be on Chief Election Commissioner Sampath.

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