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Wednesday, 18 June 2014

From Today's Papers - 18 Jun 2014

 Time to cement ties: Pak to India
Ashok Tuteja
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 17
Pakistan today said it was committed to exploring all possible avenues for enhancing mutual understanding and bilateral cooperation with India, emphasising that the time had come to move beyond rhetoric and transform the bilateral relationship into one of peace, cooperation and prosperity.

“I have no reason to doubt for a moment that ‘acche din aa rahe hain’ (good days are coming for India-Pakistan relations),” Pakistan High Commissioner Abdul Basit told mediapersons, borrowing a phrase Prime Minister Narendra Modi used frequently used during his election campaign ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.

The Pakistani envoy was speaking at the curtain-raiser of “Aalishan Pakistan: 2nd Pakistan Life-Style Exhibition’’ to be organised by the Trade Development Authority of Pakistan (TDAP) in New Delhi from September 10-14.

Referring to the recent meeting between Prime Minister Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in New Delhi, Basit said the two leaders had articulated their mutual desire for peace and development. It was now important to move forward towards realising realising their vision.

Asked when Pakistan would grant the Non-Discriminatory Market Access (NDMA) to India, he hoped that process would begin as soon as the two countries formally resume their stalled dialogue.

His comments came days after Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh made it clear to Pakistan that peace and tranquility along the LoC was a pre-condition for normal relations between the two countries.

On the upcoming exhibition, Basit said such event would complement the diplomatic efforts in enhancing understanding and creating more opportunities for interaction between the two countries.

SM Muneer, Chief Executive of the TDAP, said more than 250 top companies from Pakistan would showcase their high-end products during the five-day exhibition.

Earlier in the day, the Pakistani envoy and the TDAP Chief Executive called on Minister for Commerce Nirmala Sitharaman to discuss trade and economic relations between the two countries. The two sides reaffirmed the commitment of their respective governments to establish normal trading relations.

They also noted with satisfaction that there has been an enhanced interaction between the business communities of both the countries and several trade delegations have been exchanged.
Panic spreads as Baghdad prepares for battle
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq is breaking up, with Shia and ethnic minorities fleeing massacres as a general Sunni revolt, led by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) sweeps through northern Iraq. The Isis assault is still gaining victories, capturing the Shia Turkoman town of Tal Afar west of Mosul after heavy fighting against one of the Iraqi army’s more effective units.

Iraq could soon see sectarian slaughter similar to that which took place at the time of the Partition of India in 1947. Pictures and evidence from eye-witnesses confirm that Isis massacred some 1,700 Shia captives, many of them air force cadets, at the air force academy outside Tikrit, which proves that Isis intends to cleanse its new conquests of Shia. Sunni cadets were told to go home.

If the battle moves to Baghdad, then the Shia majority in the capital might see the Sunni enclaves, particularly those in west Baghdad, such as Amiriya and Khadra, as weak points in their defences, and drive out the inhabitants.

In a misguided effort to sustain the morale of people in the capital, the government closed down the internet at 9 am. It had already closed YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. The excuse is that Isis uses them to communicate, but this is extremely unlikely since Isis has a more professional communications system of its own. Since there is little confidence in the news on government-run television stations, or provided by official spokesmen, the internet shutdown is creating a vacuum of information filled by frightening rumours that are difficult to check.

The result is an atmosphere of growing panic in Baghdad with volunteers from the Shia militias being trucked to Samarra, north of the capital, to stop the Isis advance. The cost of a bullet for an AK47 assault rifle has tripled to 3,000 Iraqi dinars, or about $2. Kalashnikovs are almost impossible to buy from arms dealers though pistols can still be obtained at three times the price of a week ago. In the Shia holy city of Kerbala, south-east of Baghdad, the governor has asked volunteers to bring their own weapons to recruitment centres. Rumours swirl through Baghdad. There was a report yesterday morning that the whole of Anbar, the giant Sunni province, which normally has a population of 1.5 million, had fallen. But a call to a friend in its capital Ramadi revealed that fighting is still going on. A former minister told me that Isis, unable to take Samarra, had switched its assault to Baquba in Diyala province, one of the gateways to Baghdad, but a resident denied there was fighting.

It was a different story in Tal Afar, supposedly defended by 1,000 Kurdish peshmerga but they were either overwhelmed or forced to retreat. There are reports the commander of the Iraqi army division fighting there had been captured. The Turkoman Shia inhabitants have fled to Kurdish-held zones and the town is largely deserted. A source in Mosul said yesterday that the Iraqi air force had carried out bombing raids there, and electricity supplies had been cut. What is not in doubt is that the Sunni revolt, in which Isis fighters act as shock troops, is still gathering strength though there has been no serious attack on the capital. If it does begin, Isis will be faced by hundreds of thousands of Shia militia and, if it makes progress, by Iranian military forces probably in the shape of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Iraqi media has been reporting that two Iranian divisions are already in Iraq, but as of Monday afternoon I had not met anybody who had seen them.

With regular Iraqi army commanders discredited or distrusted, Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds force of the IRGC is in Baghdad and is reported to have taken over planning and strategy. Iraqi officials say the Iranians plan to secure the road north to Samarra, a mostly Sunni city, but with a revered Shia shrine, and then use that as a rallying point for forces to re-take Tikrit and Mosul.

An important factor is how far President Masoud Barzani, head of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government, who has just made historic gains for his people by taking over Kirkuk and other territories in dispute with Baghdad, will want to join a government counter-attack. The extent to which the entire 350,000 strong Iraqi army forces are demoralised is also unclear. Officers returning from Mosul say that their senior commanders fled or told them not to resist.

Asked about the cause of defeat, one recently retired Iraqi general said: “Corruption! Corruption! Corruption!” He said it started when the Americans told the Iraqi army to outsource food and other supplies in about 2005. A battalion commander was paid for a unit of 600 soldiers, but had only 200 men under arms and pocketed the difference which meant enormous profits. The army became a money-making machine for senior officers and often an extortion racket for ordinary soldiers who manned the checkpoints. On top of this, well-trained Sunni officers were side-lined. “Iraq did not really have a national army,” the general concluded. — The Independent
India May Restart Vehicle Program
NEW DELHI — India’s Defence Ministry is considering restarting a US $10 billion infantry vehicle replacement program in order to include more domestic defense companies as potential bidders.

The Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV) program is likely to be among the first major decisions by the new government voted in last month, an MoD source said.

The Indian Army wants to produce 3,000 vehicles to replace upgraded Russian combat vehiclesat a cost of over $10 billion under the FICV program, first conceived in 2009.

Under the “Make India” arrangement, the government will finance up to 80 percent of the cost of the prototype, to be built by two short-listed development partners. After the prototype is put to trial and evaluated, one development partner is selected to produce the futuristic vehicles.

After the program was conceived in 2009, India’s domestic defense major Mahindra & Mahindra created a joint venture with BAE Systems. Also, Larsen & Toubro, Tata Motors and state-owned Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) gave their detailed report to the MoD nearly three years ago, but no development partner has been short listed so far.

The program will be restarted to include private-sector firms Bharat Forge, Punj Lloyd, Force Motors and Ashok Leyland. The new domestic companies will be included in the FICV program and a fresh “acceptance of necessity” will be approved under the Make India category, the source added.

The overseas firms likely to join the domestic ones include Rafael of Israel, Nexter and Thales of France, General Dynamics of the US, Rosoboronexport of Russia, Doosan Group of South Korea and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann of Germany, according to an industry source.

The proposed FICV will have a combat weight of less than 20 tons, amphibious capability, a third generation fire-and-forget anti-tank guided missile, automatic grenade launcher and co-axial machine gun.

After the approval of the acceptance of necessity and inclusion of more domestic defense companies, detailed reports will be submitted to the MoD by the end of year, after which two development partners will be shortlisted. Those two entities have three years to build the prototype. The selection of a single vehicle producer will be made in four to five years, the MoD source added.

“Since the MoD has no previous experience of making weapons under the Make India category, it is likely that the whole program will get bogged down in bureaucratic details at a later stage, and there is every possibility of the FICV program becoming a non starter,” said Nitin Mehta, New Delhi-based defense analyst.

In 2012, the FICV program went into limbo after the Russians offered their BMP-3 infantry combat vehicle if the FICV project was scrapped. The MoD has since rejected the Russian offer of scrapping the FICV because the domestic defense companies have already invested heavily in the program, the MoD source added.

The Army is using the Russian-made BMP-1 and BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles, which are slotted for midlife upgrades.

The Army will need advanced vehicles to replace the upgraded BMP-2 in another 10 years, said an Army official, who hoped that by then the FICV program will be in the production line.
Nepal-India military ties boosted after Army Chief's visit
Nepal today said military-to- military cooperation with India has been deepened after the visit of army chief General Gaurav Shumsher Rana who held wide ranging talks with the Indian military leadership.

Rana, who returned to Kathmandu today after concluding a five day official visit to India, held talks with senior army officers of India including Chief of Indian Army, Gen Bikram Singh.

During the meeting matters relating to bilateral cooperation and security concerns were mainly figured, according to Nepal Army headquarters.

They also discussed about the bilateral cooperation and exchange of training programmes between the armies during the meetings.

He also held separate meetings with Chief of Air Staff Arup Raha amd Indian Navy vice admiral Sunil Lamba.

"Such types of high level visit by the military leadership will further deepen and strengthen existing bilateral cordial relations between the two countries and help in strengthening and expanding relations between the two armies," said the Nepal Army headquarters.

During his vist, Rana attended the concluding ceremony of Officer Level Basic Training conducted in Indian Military Academy in Dehradun as Chief Reviewing Officer.

He inspected India Military Academy and met commandant Lt Gen Manvender Singh and discussed about matters of mutual interest and exchange of training programmes.

He also inspected Research and Referral Hospital and National Defence College of the Indian Army and was briefed about different aspects of the hospital and the college.

Rana also visited formation and units of the Uttar Bharat area under the central command of the Indian Army.
Chinese army relaxes physical standards for new recruits
Stepping up its recruitment drive to attract people with high education background, the 2.3 million-strong Chinese military has relaxed its physical standards for new recruits, allowing shorter and fatter people to gain entry.

The height requirement for a male candidate has been adjusted from 162 cm to 160 cm and for female candidates, from 160 cm to 158 cm, by the world's largest army.

The upper weight limit for male enlistees was also relaxed by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to allow more portly young men into the military, the Defence Ministry's recruitment office was quoted as saying by the state-run China Daily.

The new standards also lowered eyesight requirements because nearly 70 per cent of high school and university students in China are nearsighted.

The PLA is now more tolerant of tattoos, which had been regarded as a taboo in the military.

People who have less than 2 cm of tattoos showing on their body while in uniform or 10 cm of total ink are allowed to join the military.

However, tattoos with obscene or violent matter or referring to illegal organisations will still disqualify candidates.

The PLA has also for the first time removed mental illnesses from a list that would bar candidates from military service, including schizophrenia, dissociative disorder, depression and bipolar disorder.

Officials say that the recruitment rules which were being steadily relaxed over the years are aimed at attracting more college graduates considering that most of the modern fare involved a lot of technology and the military personnel should be more tech savvy.

The four municipalities of Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing, and provincial capitals, as well as regions with high concentrations of universities, will recruit only among those who have at least a high school diploma.

Other cities or regions will gradually reduce the number of recruits without a high school education, the report said.

Enlisting more high-quality soldiers is extremely important to building a strong and capable military, recruitment officials said, noting that the PLA has created a host of preferential policies to attract young people.
Bottlenecks Clog Army's Bid to Procure M777 Howitzers

NEW DELHI: The Army’s bid to buy 145 ultra light howitzers, to provide fire power to troops posted along the borders with China, is getting more difficult by the day, as India is undecided on its plans to get the BAE Systems’ M777 guns directly from the US.

The Centre has not had any formal communication with the US Government or the British guns manufacturer since September 2013, when the BAE Systems last gave its offsets proposals worth $200 million (approximately `1,000 crore) to be invested back in India, if the deal goes through.

The September proposal was the last of the eight reiterations of the offsets offers from BAE Systems for a deal which was likely to cost a maximum of $647 million in a deal through the US’ Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route.

The company has also signed MoUs for offsets with around 40 Indian partners, both private and public sector, half of which are medium and small enterprises.

However, since Narendra Modi Government has taken over in May this year, hope floats for both the Army and  BAE Systems, for the M777 deal going through. But a likely cost escalation, and further delays in delivery schedule of the guns, pose further difficulty, according to sources. “We are at a new juncture with this new Indian Government. There is great optimism that this government will review its defence requirements, part of which will be M777. We stand ready to engage alongside the US Government, expeditiously. We are very positive of the outcome,” BAE Systems’ India vice president Mark Simpkins told ‘Express’ in an exclusive interaction here.

“It has been a very long road for the M777 in India since the first tender in 2006, and later, the letter of request to the US Government from India. Since October 2013, when the US offer costing $647 million expired, there has been no formal, direct engagement with the Indian government,” he said to a specific query.

As the US’ Congressional Notification of the likely sales of M777 to India expired last October, a second notification was initiated in early 2013 by the US government for the deal. It quoted $885 million as the fresh ceiling price for the guns for the Indian Army.

“This fresh price - though not specific to India - is only an estimated ceiling cost for the 145 howitzers valid for five years,” according to industry sources.

For a better idea of how much the 145 guns would cost, all that India may have to do is to ask the US to “restate” the price afresh.

However, there are other issues that need to be tackled. The BAE Systems, with no orders coming from India since October 2013, has already suspended production of the M777 guns at its facility in Barrow-in-Furness, where the components are designed and 30 per cent of the system are fabricated.

The BAE Systems also notified and shifted out 50 per cent of its work force from the Barrow facility to its submarine production facility within the UK, following the work suspension at Barrow.

“If orders for the guns had come in October 2013, the supply of M777 to India would have started this year. It gets more difficult now, as the BAE Systems has to re-qualify all components from manufacturers. It has to go through a long validation process for the quality of the components to be supplied, before production can begin. That takes time, and it is difficult to specify how long it would take. Hence, specifying a delivery schedule too becomes difficult,” said an industry source.

On the offsets proposals that were taken up by the Defence Acquisition Council in its last meeting in the UPA regime, but left undecided, Simpkins said: “In line with the Defence Procurement Procedure Offset Policy, the latest package of over $200 million was submitted in the third quarter last year. It was developed over several iterations incorporating input from the government at every stage.”

The conclusion of the M777 deal between India and the US, would enable the BAE Systems to make a significant long-term investment in the domestic industrial complex and develop an Indian supply chain for its air, land and sea programmes, both locally and globally.

“Since the extended offer expired mid-October last year, we are standing ready to discuss and progress this,” Simpkins added.
Army may back out of Agra Fort soon
AGRA: In the face of strong demands to conserve Agra Fort, a world heritage site, Indian Army may soon vacate a part of the two-third portion of the Fort it occupies. The area in question is off-limits for tourists.

The issue has gathered momentum recently with Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) also planning to write to its headquarters, requesting it to hold talks with the Army for possible vacation of the Fort.

Minister of state for culture Shripad Yasso Naik is learnt to have told a delegation of Agra residents led by Agra MP-elect Ram Shankar Katheria that the defence ministry has agreed to hand over a portion of the Fort, not in use by the Army, to ASI.

Earlier, the delegation met Naik in Delhi to discuss a host of tourism related issues in Agra, where vacation of Agra Fort by Indian Army was the prime topic.

"Violating monument preservation norms, Army personnel, use diesel vehicles within Fort premises. They reside and cook there, as well," said Katheria, adding that, "The delegation apprised the minister of the situation and demanded that entire area under the Army should be handed over to the cultural ministry."

"The minister agreed to discuss matters with the concerned ministry regarding the Army vacating the whole Fort," said K C Jain of Agra Development Foundation, a member of the delegation.

Meanwhile, the cultural ministry also plans to look into starting an e-ticket facility for Taj Mahal, to spare tourists the trouble of standing in queues.

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