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Friday, 22 August 2014

From Today's Papers - 22 Aug 2014

Tamasha at Wagah border
Col IPS Kohli
Most of us have witnessed the ‘Beating the Retreat’ ceremony at the Wagah border. Detail is unwarranted since the genesis of the drill is well known.

The Wagah border is the 'Berlin Wall of Asia.' While the two Germanys demolished the wall and reunited, the one between India and Pakistan appears insurmountable. The ground for summit-level talks is laid with an exchange of fire and lobbing shells at each other. The result is doomed even before the talks begin.

The uniform of the Border Security Force and the Sutlej Rangers is colorful. When the drill is in full flow, it appears akin to the 'dancing of peacocks. Six feet tall soldiers on both sides are chosen based on their fitness levels and the length of the moustache. It is a choreographed show of contempt and ‘rabble rousing’ by two nations perpetually finding ways to normalise relations and live like brothers.

On August 15 this year I switched to a TV channel showing the ceremony. The familiar stomping of feet, aggressive gesturing and contemptuous shaking of hands in the background of cries of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ and ‘Jeeve Jeeve Pakistan’, there were two additions this year. A commando each from India and Pakistan in dark glasses marched up to hand-shaking distance and kept staring at each other for 40 minutes. Who blinked first no one knows due to the dark glasses. The other addition: a tit-for-tat gesture to counter the smart drill of the two women constables from the ‘mahila’ wing of the BSF. A matronly looking ‘mohtarma’ stood ‘savdhaan’ on the Pakistan side of the divide and did not move her butt at all. I am convinced that at the last minute the services of the ‘Principal Matron’ of ‘Military Hospital’, Lahore, were requisitioned for the ceremony to counter the presence of the Indian women constables.

In 2008, the high point of our visit to London was the ‘Changing the Guard’ ceremony at Buckingham Palace. This is a process involving a new guard exchanging duty with the old guard. It was a beautiful morning and I and my wife walked from Oxford Street to Buckingham Palace through the Hyde Park. The Guard which mounts at Buckingham Palace in their full uniform of red tunics and bearskins is divided into two detachments: the Buckingham Palace Detachment and the St James Palace Detachment. Each detachment is commanded by a Lieutenant. The handover is accompanied by a guards' band. The colour of the battalion providing the guard is carried by a Second Lieutenant. A well-rehearsed solemn ceremony of precision drill is witnessed by thousands of people every day. No unnecessary sound. No jibes, no taunts. Somebody tapped me from behind. ‘Myself Jeet Singh from Patiala’. Bhaaji pade likhe lagde ho. Tussi inhan nu suggestion deyo ke janta nu bewakoof na banana, te parade Wagah ton sikh ke aan.
Army giving befitting response to ceasefire violations, says Defence Minister Arun Jaitley

Indian troops are giving appropriate response to ceasefire violations by Pakistan along the border, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said on Thursday.

"Whenever ceasefire violations take place our soldiers give appropriate response at the border," Jaitley told reporters here.

The Minister was asked about the continuing ceasefire violations on the sidelines of a conference of tourism ministers here.

There have been 12 ceasefire violations in the past ten days along the border by Pakistani troops.

India had called off the talks between Foreign Secretaries of the countries slated for August 25, telling Pakistan bluntly to choose between an Indo-Pak dialogue or hobnobbing with the separatists.
Beijing: China on Wednesday appreciated the Indian Army's response on recent reports of incursions by the PLA in Ladakh, saying it reflected "objective understanding" of the "special situation" along the borders.

In a guarded response to the reports that the Chinese troops entered 25 to 30 km deep into the Indian side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Burtse area in Ladakh, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying called on media to be more objective in reporting such incidents.

"China has noted relevant reports and the Indian position. The Indian position reflects the objective understanding and rational attitude towards the special situation in the China-India border areas," she said in an apparent reference to denial of the incident by Indian Army officials.

Army Chief Dalbir Singh Suhag himself said "there is nothing like that".

"The border troops of China and India are very clear about the actual situation on the border. For a long time, they have exercised restraint and have maintained peaceful coexistence," Hua said in a written response to PTI query over the presence People's Liberation Army (PLA) troops in the Burtse area which was noticed last weekend.

"On the whole, the situation along the China-India border is peaceful and stable," she said, adding that China is willing to work with the Indian side to jointly maintain peace and tranquillity along the border areas.

She also urged media to report on the border situation objectively.

"China hopes that the relevant media would proceed from the fundamental interests of the people of the two countries and view and report on the situation along the China-India border objectively, truly and rationally," she said.

In a broad reference to the reports of incursions, specially the one at the Depsang valley in Ladakh sector last year, the Chinese Ministry of Defence last month said such incidents occurred due to different perception about the disputed border but were resolved through negotiations.

"The boundary line has not been demarcated and both sides has different interpretation on the Line Actual Control," Colonel Geng Yansheng told a media briefing last month.

"Last year there was some incident on in the border region. All the issues have been properly solved though negotiations," he said without mentioning the stand off at the Depsang valley in Ladakh region where the Chinese troops pitched tents to assert their control over the area.

They pulled out after weeks of negotiations between the two countries.
Indian firms tool up for defense orders
 Some of India's biggest companies are pouring billions of dollars into manufacturing guns, ships and tanks for the country's military, buoyed by the new government's commitment to upgrade its armed forces using domestic factories.

India, the world's largest arms importer, will spend $250 billion in the next decade on kit, analysts estimate, to upgrade its Soviet-era military and narrow the gap with China, which spends $120 billion a year on defense.

Under the last government, procurement delays and a spate of operational accidents - especially dogging the navy - raised uncomfortable questions over whether India's armed forces are capable of defending its sea lanes and borders.
 Even before his landslide election victory in May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to assert India's military prowess and meet the security challenge posed by a rising China and long-running tensions with Pakistan.

Within weeks of becoming prime minister, he boosted defense spending by 12 percent to around $37 billion for the current fiscal year and approved plans to allow more foreign investment into local industry to jump-start production.

Launching a new, Indian-built naval destroyer last week, Modi said: "My government has taken important steps in improving indigenous defense technology ... We can guarantee peace if our military is modernized."
 This build-up comes as Southeast Asian nations expand their own defense industries, spurred by tensions with China. India, reliant on a state defense industry that often delivers late and over budget, risks being caught flat-footed.

"The opportunity is huge," said M.V. Kotwal, president (Heavy Engineering) at Larsen and Toubro, one of India's biggest industrial houses.

"We really expect quicker implementation. There are signs that this government is very keen to grow indigenization," added Kotwal, referring to increasing domestic production.
 Tata Sons, a $100 billion conglomerate, said last month it will invest $35 billion in the next three years to expand into new areas with a focus on a handful of sectors including defense.

Larsen is putting $400 million into a yard to build ships for the navy, while Mumbai-based Mahindra Group is expanding a facility that makes parts for planes, including for the air force, and investing in armored vehicle and radar production.

The companies are being lured by the prospect of lucrative returns on their investments as the Modi government has pledged to make "buy Indian" the default option for future orders.
 Larsen is targeting a fourfold increase in annual defense revenue to $1 billion within the next five years.

Critics of indigenization argue that producing gear - especially in the lumbering state sector - is more costly than buying from abroad. Such deals can add layers of bureaucracy, increasing risks of corrupt dealings.

Indian industry is renowned for its ability to adapt, yet questions remain whether the private sector can come up with the solutions needed to bring armed forces into the 21st century without sufficient access to world-class foreign technology.
 A quick decision to relaunch the program would demonstrate Modi's resolve, said S.P. Shukla, who heads Mahindra's defense business. Past tenders have stalled amid wrangling over whether or not to allow state manufacturers to bid and under what terms.

Larsen's Kotwal said its Kattupalli shipyard in south India has yet to receive any orders for warships or submarines despite being designed to do just that and despite past government pledges to build at least two submarines in private yards.

In the meantime, the yard has switched to constructing and repairing commercial vessels.

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