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Thursday, 18 September 2014

From Today's Papers - 18 Sep 2014

LAC tension mounts amid Gujarat bonhomie
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 17
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi rolled out the red carpet for Chinese President Xi Jinping in Ahmedabad today, the ongoing stand-off between the armies of the two sides along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) escalated further at Chumar in south-eastern Ladakh. The two leaders are slated to hold bilateral talks in New Delhi tomorrow.

The armies were locked in three separate face-offs — with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) opening another front today — along the LAC, the de facto border.

The Army and the PLA played out a game of military one-upmanship at Chumar — located at an altitude of 14,600 feet. Soldiers on both sides were locked in an eyeball-to-eyeball face-off at a mountain pass listed as “R-30”.

Around 40 soldiers on either side were already locked in a face-off at Demchok, around 70 km east of Chumar, over the control of grazing grounds for shepherds. The Chinese side opened another front 2 km from “R-30” today, making it the third such point in the Chumar-Demchok sector.

The two sides held two Brigadier-level flag meetings today. Major General-level officers may meet tomorrow. The Indian security establishment, after a meeting tonight, decided that the Army and the ITBP will hold on to their existing positions in full strength. There are 300 PLA troops at both locations in Chumar.

PLA’s pullback farce

After a Brigadier-level flag meeting on Wednesday morning, the PLA pulled back some of its troops at the face-off point in Chumar. But by sunset, its soldiers were back to their original numbers.
US puts together a coalition against IS

The US and its allies have vowed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the ISIS, the terrorist organisation that now calls itself Islamic State. The US has got an endorsement from 40 countries for its campaign of air strikes and what it promises as a “comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy.” What is also obvious is that other countries have shown reluctance to commit their military resources to the operation, and thus boots on the ground are going to be a problem even in Iraq, let alone Syria, where their writ does not run.

Syria-based IS fighters seized vast tracts of land in northern Iraq virtually unopposed by the Iraqi army. The government in Baghdad is weak, in spite of a new Prime Minister. However, Shia dominance of the country continues. A government often considered ineffective and corrupt marginalised the minorities and spread disaffection. It is no coincidence that a number of Sunnis who served in Sadaam Hussein's army have been actively involved with IS fighters.

The IS is not a ‘Bedouin raiding party’, as was wrongly assumed initially. It is now an established presence with access to oil revenues estimated at over a million dollars a day, a vast arsenal of captured and purchased weapons and tens of thousands of fighters. It controls a land mass that straddles territory in Syria and Iraq and has the potential to redraw the maps of West Asia. Combating this well-funded and powerful terrorist organisation should be a priority with the governments of not only the Western powers, but also the Arab states in the region. They have the most to lose if the IS spreads further. What is sorely missing is a sense of urgency and unity to defeat a common enemy, whose barbaric practices have created revulsion around the world. Even as the Western powers promise intervention, it needs to be recognised that what people eventually want is a good government that rises above the Shia-Sunni divide. Only then will the extremist organisations that purport to speak for Islam be stopped in their tracks.
Playing both sides: The general & his power games
If the army chief general Raheel Sharief takes over, he’s the reluctant dictator. If he does not take over, he’s democracy’s hero. The boys’ core constituency is the boys themselves and certain truths are embedded within. You can’t order them to stop believing.
Cyril Almeida

THERE are, really, only two possibilities: either there is a cabal or there isn't; either factionalism exists or it doesn't; either Raheel is in charge or he isn't. Those understanding the army's structure and working cannot imagine this. Everyone is allowed to discuss their opinions in a free and frank manner but the army chief's decision is considered final and troops follow his lead. No, the chief has said via ISPR, there is no cabal. Others may have opinions, but only he decides. Others may want; only Raheel decides what they — all of them, together — will have. The intervention won't quell rumour and conspiracy, but it was necessary. Because after the frenzy — the great frenzy in the political arena — the inevitable, and serious, questions would come. Sir, was it you? And if it wasn't you, what does that say about your army — and you? There are serious implications either way.

Either Raheel is sneaky or Raheel is weak — neither a reputation a year-old chief will want to grow. One: there is no cabal. To anyone who knows anything about how the boys function, the idea is a risible one.

Everyone — everyone — serves at the chief's pleasure. The army is not a debating club. You don't go behind the chief's back on something as big as this. Plus, the cabal is retiring in a few weeks.

Everyone who reports to the soon-to-be retired cabal is appointed by the chief's office and all of them have records to protect and years of service to look forward to — why be more loyal to the soon-to-be defrocked and risk being cashiered?

Ah, but the cabal can do this on its own. And of course Pasha wrapped up his service in Abu Dhabi recently. Again — that means a group of generals meeting among themselves on the side to plot politics.

If that isn't a sacking offence, one that a chief can materialise with the stroke of a pen or even just the words “go home”, then we're in a lot more trouble than any of us thought.

More on that trouble in a minute.

If a cabal is a risible idea, why was it floated in the first place? Because the boys are yet again playing two sides: the constituency within and the public at large. Internally, the cabal theory is mocked because the boys know how the boys function. Externally, with the public, the cabal theory has been lapped up.

See how the cabal theory has worked in the public arena. Raheel the good guy, only looking to put just and desirable pressure on a loose-cannon PM. The cabal the bad-bad guys or the bad-good guys.

Hardliners, who, depending on your point of view, are the bad-bad guys looking to overturn the still-fragile democratic system and grab power or are the bad-good guys who have the guts to do what's necessary to save us all from a fake democracy.

Any which way, the army wins.

It's a peculiar breed of strategy that is as risky as it is high-stakes: the chief gets others to do his dirty work, blame shifts to them, he stays clean — until he doesn't. We've seen this template before: memogate. Then, Kayani's hand was being forced by — again, depending on your point of view — a righteous, ambitious or ballsy Pasha and the chief had to juggle opposing concerns: national security versus the democratic project.

Now, it's Nawaz who's the national security threat and it's a bunch of no-name generals who are putting pressure on Raheel, and the chief is having to juggle the two.

If he takes over, he's the reluctant dictator. If he doesn't take over, he's democracy's hero. It's sneaky, sneaky as hell, and can work — until folk pause and ask, err, is the army really riven by factionalism? And then folk start thinking through the implications of that factionalism. On to those implications.

Two: there is a cabal. On India, on Afghanistan, on militancy, even the chief knows he can't do just anything he wants. The boys' core constituency is the boys themselves and certain truths are embedded within. You can't just order them to stop believing. Every chief knows this — which is why, Zia or Musharraf, Kayani or Kakar, Karamat or Raheel, certain things are not attempted. Because no chief wants to issue the order he knows may not be executed. Here's the problem though — on Nawaz, we're in a world far, far removed from core interests. Let's say that on every one of those things — India, Afghanistan, militancy, throw in the US and state restructuring too — Nawaz is at odds with the army. Fine. But what has Nawaz got away with? Wanting to do something is different to being able to do that something. And from here, post azadi and inquilab, what does Nawaz look like he'll ever be able to get away with, even if he survives? If factionalism is tolerated, if a cabal exists, on matters of dull politics, then who else may get what kind of loopy ideas in areas far, far more troubling? Pick any of the contradictions. The enemy is the militant, but religion is in the fabric of the army. The secular authority of your leader is inviolable, but a higher power is sacrosanct. Do what you're told, but believe in scripture.

Cabals and factionalism in matters of dull politics, when, as the naval dockyard attack depressingly recalled, terrifyingly bigger fault lines remain largely unseen, unheard and unspoken of.

You don't want a sneak, you don't want a weakling - we just really need Raheel to be in charge.
Army, BRO restore road link between Rajouri and Buhal
Army engineers and Border Roads Organization on Wednesday have restored the road link between Rajouri and Budhal after building a 180-ft bailey bridge, the longest ever in Jammu and Kashmir.

Pointing out that the double storey bridge has been constructed over the Ans river at Kotranka, an Udhampur based defence ministry spokesman Colonel S D Goswami said that the army engineers and BRO personnel worked round the clock to complete its construction within the shortest possible time so that the relief and rehabilitation material could reach people in remotest part of the state.

Another bailey bridge is also being constructed by them over river Ans at Kotranka so as to restore critical road link between Rajouri and Reasi districts. The road link between them had got broken following the washing away of one of the abutments of a concrete bridge during flash floods separating nearly 1.40 lakh people living on both sides of the river from each other.

During the last few days, nearly 10,000 personnel of Army engineers and the Border Roads Organization, equipped with an over 400 dozers, excavators and JCBs, besides 300 tippers and dumpers, have restored road links at over 1,000 places which had been damaged by landslides and flash floods. This has been apart from various bridges constructed by them across the state, Colonel Goswami pointed out.
India to defend its border with China after incursion by People's Liberation Army ahead of Xi Jinping's visit
India said on Tuesday it would firmly defend its 3,500-km- (2,200-mile-) long border with China after domestic media reported a new face-off on the disputed frontier, just days ahead of a visit by President Xi Jinping. More than 200 soldiers of the People's Liberation Army crossed into what India considers its territory in Ladakh in the western Himalayas last week, and used cranes, bulldozers and a Hummer vehicle to build a 2-km (1.2-mile) road within it, the Hindustan Times said.

Indian soldiers challenged the Chinese troops and asked them to withdraw, the newspaper said. Then, on the night of September 10, soldiers demolished a temporary track built by Chinese forces. There was no immediate comment by India's defence ministry.

Both China and India are trying to put a positive spin on Xi's first summit meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi since the Indian leader took office in May. He arrives on Wednesday after touring the Maldives and Sri Lanka. The two countries are expected to ramp up commercial ties and open the way for Chinese investment in Indian infrastructure, including railways, but the contested border remains a stumbling block to better political ties.

Both lay claim to vast tracts of territory and after two decades of talks are no closer to a resolution of a border dispute over which they went to war in 1962. They have not even been able to agree on the Line of Actual Control where the two armies are deployed, leading to frequent reports of border violations.

 "Let me assure you that our brave sentinels on the border will address any issue that happens on the border," said foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin. "We are confident that our borders are in safe hands."

Modi and Xi will discuss the border dispute this week, he added. In Beijing, Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry, said the border issue had not affected the development of two-way ties.

"We hope that both sides can continue efforts to keep maintaining the peace and tranquillity of the border area and create a good atmosphere and good conditions for the development of relations," he told a daily news briefing. India has reported a jump in border violations in the past two years that military experts say is a sign of greater Chinese assertiveness on the frontier. The government itself has sought to play down the incursions.

The number of Chinese infringements had reached 334 by August, the government told parliament last month. The corresponding figure in 2013 was 411, while in 2012 it was 426, in 2011 it was 213, and in 2010 it stood at 228. China denies intruding into Indian territory.

In another wrinkle ahead of Xi's trip, India on Monday extended a $100-million export credit for defence deals to Vietnam and tightened energy ties with the country, which has strained ties with China, over an increasingly ugly territorial dispute in the South China Sea. That included a deal to "consolidate" energy cooperation following a 2013 pact under which PetroVietnam offered India's ONGC oil and gas blocks for exploration and production.

If that pact covered Chinese waters in the South China Sea and any exploration went ahead without China's approval, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong said the government would be "concerned". He added, "We could not support it," but did not elaborate.

Relations sank to a three-decade low this year after China deployed a $1-billion oil rig to waters Vietnam claims as its exclusive economic zone, sparking a wave of riots and bloody clashes between Vietnamese and Chinese workers in Vietnam. China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to be rich in deposits of oil and gas resources.
What’s at Stake in Xi Jinping’s Visit to India
Both sides will be anxious to focus on business and avoid areas of tension
Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in India Wednesday, making the first visit by a Chinese head of state in eight years, and underscoring the increasingly important economic and strategic partnership between the world’s two most populous nations.

China is India’s largest trading partner (although the trade deficit between the two countries has been widening), and trade and investment will undoubtedly be foremost on both leaders’ minds. Beijing has already outlined plans to build two industrial parks, with multi-billion dollar investments in both. There are also projects being discussed that will revamp India’s vast but outdated railway network.

“This visit presents a unique opportunity for Chinese industry to invest in India before Japan does,” said Swaran Singh, a professor at the Center for International Politics in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) who specializes in India-China relations. “China will try and find a foothold for investment and technology transfer in this window.”

Modi’s recent visit to Japan was described as “successful” by the Indian media, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledging $34 billion in investments to India and Indo-Japan ties receiving a significant boost. The personal warmth between Modi and Abe was also evident, and although Modi and Xi connected during the BRICS summit in Fortaleza earlier this year, it remains to be seen how that equation will progress this week.

Singh says Xi’s visit will fundamentally focus on “projecting the personal chemistry of two very popular, strong, pro-business Asian leaders.”

He adds: “Both of them see themselves at the helm for at least a decade. They will show how the relationship has progressed to the next level.”

Geo-strategic cooperation between the two countries is slightly trickier, and has been marked by contentious border disputes and maritime disagreements. While China lays claim to the Indian border state of Arunachal Pradesh, India says that the Chinese-occupied Aksai Chin region is part of Kashmir.

However, it increasingly seems that the border disputes will not occupy much of the conversation between Xi and Modi, at least not publicly.

Lt. Gen. Ata Hasnain, a former Indian army officer who was part of a recent delegation to China, said the border issue was not brought up by the Chinese at all, and was largely ignored when he brought it up himself.

“My personal take is that China wishes to continue following a dual track policy of intimidating India along the LAC [line of actual control] and promoting cooperation,” he told TIME in an email. But Hasnain also says China is “keener than ever for partnership and continued dialogue with India,” a sentiment that has been expressed by the Chinese as well.

“Politically speaking, the major objective is to try and eliminate distrust and elevate mutual trust,” said Zhao Gancheng, director of the South Asia Institute at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies.

India is also wary of China’s growing naval prowess and unhappy about Beijing’s perceived aggression in the Indian Ocean region. New Delhi could create a hurdle to China’s desire to establish a “maritime silk route” through Asia. Xi has already received the cooperation of Sri Lanka and the Maldives, both of which he visited en route to India, but Modi’s government is still on the fence.

“Even now, there is no clear view what will happen,” said Srikanth Kodapalli, a professor at JNU’s Centre for East Asian Studies. Kodapalli added that India’s location and presence makes its cooperation essential for the route.

However, India is far more enthusiastic about the proposed Bangladesh-China-India-Burma trade corridor, commonly known as BCIM, which experts say is another issue bound to come up during the visit. “The BCIM route will play a big role, and I hope India gives a positive response to that because it would benefit all four countries,” Zhao said.

Zhao also rubbished speculation that Xi’s overtures to India, and his decision to postpone his proposed Pakistan visit, signal a shift away from the historic Chinese ally. “The political climate in Pakistan is not appropriate for a head of state to visit right now, but Pakistan is a good neighbor to China and a very important element in its South Asia strategy,” Zhao said.
Book launched on anecdotes of military personnel, veterans
A book, ‘Maimed by the System’, written by Navdeep Singh, a practicing advocate in Punjab and Haryana High Court, was released on Tuesday by former Chief of Army Staff, General V P Malik.

The book has a collection of real life accounts of defence personnel, military veterans, disabled soldiers and their kin who were wronged by the system but fought and successfully claimed their rights and dues.

One of such story is that of a 90-year-old widow, Surjit Kaur, whose husband was declared Burmese by the Indian Army’s record office as Razmak, a place in Pakistan, was made a part of Burma.

“Surjit Kaur’s husband, late Sepoy Sital Singh, was with the Punjab Regiment and he died during World War II in Razmak.The pension to his widow was suddenly stopped, and the reason given was that her husband had never been with the Indian Army, but with the Burmese Army,” the author narrated.

He continued, “As the sepoy was serving in the 5th battalion (Burma), the authorities assumed that he was a Burmese soldier. The fact that the sepoy had been killed in Razmak also made up for his non-Indian identity.”

However, the judges of the Armed Forces Tribunal, Chandigarh bench, took up the issue with the Central government and relief was later on provided to the widow.

“Just to deny the claim of the poor 90-year- old widow, the men in uniform said it on affidavit that Razmak is in Burma. This is what pains us,” the author said.

General V P Malik said, “I feel ashamed and depressed to be a part of such a system (Ministry of Defence and Indian Army), which has been corrupted by babus. It is sad to see how a large number of veterans and widows are not getting their dues.”

He added, “A lot has to be done to improve the system and the book reflects on that through these stories.”

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