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Sunday, 29 March 2015

From Today's Papers - 29 Mar 2015

India, China keen to allow military officers in each other’s academies

Ajay Banerjee

Tribune News Service
New Delhi, March 28

India and China are keen to allow military officers on either side to attend courses at specialised military training academies in each other’s country — a move that will be keenly watched by Islamabad, Tokyo, Washington and even Moscow.

The two countries, edgy over each other’s claims and counter-claims along the 3,488-km-long frontier running all along the Himalayan ridge line, have negligible military exchange. Rather, India is suspicious of China joining hands with Pakistan and launching a simultaneous two-front war.

A high-level Indian delegation led by Air Marshal PP Reddy, Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (CISC), was in Beijing on March 20 where the Chinese side offered exchange of cadets and officers in academies of either country.

Admiral Sun Jianguo, Deputy Chief of General Staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), made the offer, sources said. Admiral Sun Jianguo’s opinion was that the two militaries should maintain high-level exchanges, enhance mutual trust, manage and control differences and deepen pragmatic cooperation in fields such as education and training.

“India is not averse to it. Rather, it is open about it but the modalities need to be worked out,” top sources told The Tribune while terming the move as part of the confidence-building measures.

Allowing exchanges in military academies has been discussed for the first time at such a high level, sources said.

Defence Secretary RK Mathur will be in China on April 8 for the annual defence dialogue (ADD) where the matter is expected to come up for discussion and decision-making.

So far, New Delhi and Beijing have had — over the past 7-8 years — four rounds of the ‘hand-in-hand’ series of counter-terrorism military exercises. They have also conducted half a dozen scheduled border personnel meets at the three designated spots — Spangur Gap in eastern Ladakh, Nathu La in Sikkim and Bum la in Arunachal Pradesh.

“To have a small number of Chinese military personnel attending a course in an academy here in India will be an entirely different ball game,” said an officer, pointing out that, so far, officers of ‘friendly countries’ attend such courses.

The exchanges can be possible at all levels like the National Defence College or the Army War College, or other academies like the Indian Military Academy, IAF Academy or the Naval Academy.
The flare-up in Yemen
Chinmaya R. Gharekhan
The best option for India is to practise non-alignment
West Asia is on the boil, literally.  The events surrounding Yemen, which exploded within the past 48 hours, have been building up for much longer.  What was a local, civil war has morphed into a full-scale regional war, with major participation from extra-regional powers, thus making it an international conflict. In the meanwhile, the Syrian and Iraqi war theatre continues unabated, without any hope of an early end.

In an article published in a leading English daily almost exactly four years ago entitled ‘The New Great Game in West Asia’, this writer had anticipated the Shia-Sunni conflict as the major, perhaps defining , feature of West Asia; many analysts thought  I was over-reading the situation.  The Shia-Sunni feud is as old as Islam itself. At various periods in history, it has lain dormant or become explosive; it never disappeared and will not, ever.

The Shia-Sunni tensions became acute after the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, but the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88 kept them in check for a while. The tensions were rekindled with the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. History alone will tell us whether this was an intended or unintended consequence of that illegal war. The years 2006-8 witnessed a bloody Shia-Sunni civil war in Iraq, causing tens of thousands dead among both communities.  The feud got a big shot in the arm with the outbreak of the civil war in Syria. While the principal objective on non-regional powers in the Syrian imbroglio was to damage Iran's clout by getting rid of the Assad regime, the regional players were mainly motivated by sectarian considerations; they wanted to replace the minority Alawite-Shia regime by a Sunni dispensation. The Syrian conflict, like the one in Yemen now, is simultaneously a civil war, regional war and an international conflict.

In the case of Yemen, two of the players, Saudi Arabia and Iran have extremely vital interests. Saudi Arabia in particular feels, with justification, directly threatened. The forced ouster of its chosen leader, Mr. Hadi, who has now taken shelter in Saudi Arabia, by the Shia Houthis, with undoubted encouragement and strongly suspected direct help from Iran, is regarded as a direct threat to the kingdom. If Yemen comes to be controlled by the Houthis, and hence by proxy by Iran, the Saudi state will feel threatened, particularly in its eastern region which is predominantly Shia and where much of the kingdom's oil wealth is concentrated. Add to this the fact that the Saudi regime for the most part of its history has grossly discriminated against its Shias, and the concern of the Saudis  is understandable.

Saudi Arabia has cobbled together a Sunni coalition of nine countries for airstrikes against Yemen: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco and Sudan. A significant omission in this list is Oman which tends to follow a line independent of the Saudis for its own reasons. It is reported that Pakistan is actively considering joining this alliance. The US, always an indispensable power in West Asia, is furnishing logistic and intelligence support, indicating that it has been closely involved in this operation. The Saudis have declared that they will take any and all steps necessary to restore Hadi to his throne in Sanna. In the UN Security Council lingo, this would be 'take all necessary measures'. The Sunni coalition has categorically stated that ground intervention is not ruled out. Pakistan has been approached in this regard.

If the US is involved, can Russia and China remain far behind? The Iranians have condemned the Saudi ‘aggression’; they have called for a political solution to the Yemen conflict, but one can be confident that they too will be contemplating 'all necessary steps' to protect their protégés. It will be interesting to watch the stance of the government in Iraq which is Shia dominated and very close to Tehran but which is heavily dependent on America and other Sunni Gulf states for the struggle against the Islamic State. One will not have to wait long for Baghdad's policy in this rapidly evolving situation. Can Iraq afford to alienate either of its vital supporters in what is a crucial conflict for both?

The matter will come up before the Security Council before long. Battle lines will be drawn along the Shia-Sunni divide as well as between the protagonists in the renewed, though not yet all out, East-West cold war. China will condemn or deplore ‘interference in the internal affairs’ and along with Russia oppose any action aimed at authorising member states willing to do so to use ‘all  necessary measures’. The Horseshoe Table will witness harangues on all sides. In the meanwhile, innocent civilians will continue to be killed.

The Yemen crisis, unlike the Islamic State crisis, might have impact on the US-Iran talks on the nuclear issue and has already led to an increase in the price of crude; thus it has  global implications.

According to some diplomats from the region based in Delhi, Mr Obama has approached PM Modi to join the alliance against the Islamic State in some form. The same diplomats also believe that the recent visit of the Emir of Qatar also had the same objective. The events in Yemen will surely increase the pressure on India ‘to do something’ to join ‘this common threat’. India had displayed  wisdom in 2003 under Vajpayee's leadership and decided against joining the  coalition against Iraq, even though the Americans had pressed us hard and there was a great deal of support for the idea within our establishment. No doubt, the present NDA dispensation will display the same wisdom.  As one West Asian diplomat from an important country told this writer, it would be best for India not to get dragged into the ‘Middle East mess’. There are some among the strategic community who advocate India walking the talk about India being a major power regionally and globally. India is not such a power nor ought we nourish such ambitions for quite some time. The best option for India, as was mentioned by this writer four years ago, is to remain agile and practise non-alignment in the present context, and confine ourselves to pledging support for a political solution.
Diplomats, UN staff flee Yemen as Houthi fighters target Aden
Gulf Arabs offer Yemeni President support at Egypt summit
Aden, March 28
Saudi Arabia’s navy evacuated dozens of diplomats from Yemen and the United Nations pulled out international staff on Saturday after a third night of Saudi-led air strikes trying to stem advances by Iranian-allied Houthi fighters.
Residents reported heavy clashes between the Houthis and mainly Sunni tribal fighters in the south of the country, while the Saudi-led air campaign sought to stall a fresh offensive by the Shi’ite Muslim group on Aden from the east.
Riyadh’s intervention, a surprise move from a conservative monarchy better known for flexing its muscle in oil markets than through military might, is planned to last a month but could extend for five or six, a Gulf diplomatic source said.
Dozens of diplomats were shipped out of Aden to the Red Sea port of Jeddah, Saudi television said, escaping the city where President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi had taken refuge until Thursday, when he left for Egypt to shore up Arab support for his crumbling authority.
The director general of Yemen’s Health Ministry, al-Khadher Laswar, said more than 62 people had been killed and 452 wounded in the city since Wednesday. Explosions at the city’s largest ammunition depot on Saturday left at least nine badly wounded, he said.
In the capital Sanaa, which has been under Houthi control since September, more than 100 UN staff were evacuated, a United Nations source said. Airport staff said dozens of other foreigners working for international oil companies and NGOs also flew out to Ethiopia and Djibouti.
Houthi fighters seeking to overthrow the Western- and Saudi-backed Hadi have continued to make gains since the Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes against them on Thursday.
On Friday, the Houthis and allied army units gained their first foothold on Yemen’s Arabian Sea coast by seizing Shaqra, 100 km east of Aden, allowing them to open a new front to march on the south’s main city.
Residents said a Houthi convoy of armoured vehicles, tanks and military trucks heading along the coastal road to Aden from Shaqra was attacked by warplanes before dawn on Saturday, and a number of vehicles were hit.
There was no immediate comment from the Houthis, and no details on any casualties were available.
At the Arab summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Hadi urged Yemen’s army to protect state institutions and obey the orders of Yemen’s “legitimate leadership”.
He also underlined the regional dimensions of the conflict, calling the Houthis “Iran’s puppet”.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman told the summit the operation would continue until Yemen achieved peace and security, while Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, said the Houthi advances “pose a threat to our security”. — Reuters
Ban list: Defence minister Manohar Parrikar to review Vectra case

NEW DELHI: Manohar Parrikar has made his opinion against random blacklisting of defence companies that complicate modernisation of the forces, but he will now have to walk the talk on a specific case involving a group against which restrictions had been put in place but has since been cleared of charges by investigative agencies.

The minister, who has repeatedly spoken against the 'blacklisting culture' of the last government, is set to take a call on whether a banned company against w ..

Sources say that Parrikar, who has also promised to put in place a new policy that would legalise and regulate middlemen or consultants in the defence business, has to shortly take a decision on an Army contract that involves the Ravi Rishi owned Vectra group. The minister is likely to take the opinion on the matter of his key advisors at an apex level meeting on modernisation on Saturday.

While the contract itself is small - valued at around Rs ..

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India's Army Chief calls for better UN consultations
United Nations: Representing the largest contributor to the UN Peacekeeping Operations, India's Chief of Army Staff General Dalbir Singh Suhag has called for better consultations with troop-contributing countries in deciding mandates for the operations.

Addressing the first UN Chiefs of Defence Conference here on Friday, Suhag reiterated India's concerns over the inadequacy of consultations with countries deploying their forces in UN operations.

In the past, India has repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that the Security Council in practise ignores the UN Charter requirement for nations contributing troops "to participate in the decisions" of the Council on their deployment. Reiterating the nation's commitment to the world body's peace efforts, Suhag referred to India having contributed over 180,000 troops to UN operations.

He said India would continue to abide by the cardinal principles of UN peacekeeping, which are impartiality, consent of the parties to the conflict and use of force in self-defence or defence of the mandate.

India has 8,145 personnel serving in 12 of the current 16 UN operations. Historically, Indian troops have participated in 43 of the 69 UN peacekeeping missions and 156 have died while serving under the UN's blue flag.

Defence chiefs from 108 countries participated in the conference, the largest gathering of the world's top military leaders.

While summing up the conference proceedings, Hervé Ladsous, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said the defence chiefs felt "better clarity on mandates was required."

At the start of the conference, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in "our largest deployment in history" more than 130,000 military, police and civilian staff from serve in the UN's 16 peacekeeping operations.

"It must be matched by a stronger international partnership for peacekeeping," he said. "Peacekeeping is a shared global responsibility that advances the world's common interests."

"Over the past two decades, the Security Council has given peacekeepers increasingly challenging mandates," Ban said. "Effective performance demands broad consensus on why, where and how peacekeepers carry out their mandates."

Atul Khare, the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, described the recent efforts to improve the missions' ability to respond to respond to challenging environment by adopting a comprehensive approach.

An issue that came up at the conference was the growing problem of asymmetric threats that peacekeepers face from adversaries using non-conventional tactics.

According to Ladsous, to meet these threats the defence chiefs emphasised developing better relations with the local people where the troops operate and the deploying agile and mobile units.

"Rapid deployment was recognised as an absolute necessity," Ladsous said.

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