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Saturday, 18 April 2015

From Today's Papers - 18 Apr 2015

US Defence Secy likely to visit India next month to sign $2.5 bn copter deal
New Delhi, April 17
US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter is likely to visit India next month when the two sides are expected to ink the nearly $ 2.5 billion deal for 22 Apache and 15 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters.

Though the final dates for Carter’s visit have not been announced, defence sources said the visit will take place in May during which the two sides will discuss ways to enhance defence ties, especially in context of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make-in-India’ initiative.

The Apache and Chinook helicopters deal is likely to be among the pacts that will be inked during the visit, the sources said. The deal would be presented before the Cabinet Committee on Security for approval soon, they added. — PTI
Masarat held; clashes erupt in Valley
Geelani calls for shutdown as Tral rally foiled | Mufti’s ‘battle of ideas’ put to test on Srinagar streets
Azhar Qadri

Tribune News Service

Srinagar, April 17
Two days after separatist leader Masarat Alam raised pro-Pakistani slogans and flags during a rally, he was arrested today on charges of “provocative and seditious” sloganeering.
The authorities thwarted separatists’ march to Tral where two youths recently died in an encounter with the Army. Masarat’s arrest coincided with violent clashes in Srinagar where protesters, led by moderate separatist chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, burnt the national flag and hurled stones at the police and paramilitary personnel against the Tral encounter.
Masarat, a key deputy of hardline separatist chief Syed Ali Shah Geelani and the architect of a massive agitation in 2010, was arrested this morning from his residence in Srinagar’s old city that ended his 42-day release after four-year detention. He was briefly detained at the city’s Shaheed Gunj police station before being shifted to Budgam, where a case has been registered against him and other separatists. A government spokesman said Masarat has been arrested for “seditious activities” at a rally to welcome Geelani after his return from New Delhi. He said initial investigation revealed Masarat was “involved in leading the crowd to raise anti-national slogans and hoist Pakistani flags”.

Masarat has been booked on multiple charges, including non-bailable Section 13 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, advocating and abetting commission of any unlawful activity, and 120-B of the Ranbir Penal Code, being party to a criminal conspiracy.
Masarat’s arrest seems to have jeopardised CM  Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s attempt to reach out to separatists. Sayeed has been espousing a softer policy towards separatists and has repeatedly said that he would take along “all stakeholders, mainstream and others” on the path to peace. The hardline separatist faction led by Geelani criticised the CM saying he had adopted policies of the previous government and his slogan of “battle of ideas” had been punctured.
BJP general secretary Ram Madhav said the state government had acted on its own in Masarat’s case and his party had not exerted any pressure on the state government.
However, the arrest came a day after Home Minister Rajnath Singh called up Sayeed and asked him to take “strictest possible action”, following which the proposed separatist rally to Tral town of south Kashmir was also scuttled and Geelani was put under house arrest.
The hardline separatists had planned to hold a march on Friday towards Tral town, where the brother of a militant commander was killed by the Army earlier this week.
Masarat’s arrest came after a media outcry that focused on the display of Pakistani flags and his anti-India and pro-Pakistan sloganeering.
The media coverage of the rally, which focused more on Masarat than on Geelani, angered the hardline separatist faction that issued a threatening statement and warned the media by saying that “all reporters and correspondents” had been discussed at its meeting on Thursday and accused them of a “criminal character”.
In his latest statement, Geelani called for a shutdown to protest, what he called, the “negative propaganda” by the media. Geelani said the shutdown would also be a protest against the killings in Tral and arrest of separatist leaders.
Zero tolerance towards militancy in J&K: Centre
As separatist leader Masarat Alam Bhat was arrested in Jammu and Kashmir, Centre on Friday said it was keeping a "close watch" on the situation in the state and there would be "zero tolerance" militancy and separatism.

Holding that the BJP-PDP alliance in the state was done "purely" for the sake of governance despite "quite divergent ideologies", Union Minister of State in PMO Jitendra Singh said there would be no compromise on its principles.

The remarks by the Minister came after the arrest of Alam in connection with the raising of Pakistani flags during a rally in the state on Wednesday.

"The central government is keeping a close watch on situation in J&K. Union Home Ministry is keeping itself abreast with all the sequence of the events from time to time.

They are also giving most valuable guidance to the state of J&K," he said.

"As far as BJP is concerned both at Centre and states, our stand has been very consistent as far as nationalism, patriotism is concerned. We follow a policy of zero tolerance towards terrorism, towards separatism...The coalition, which has come in Jammu and Kashmir is purely for the sake of governance," he said.

Singh made it clear that there would be no compromise on principles.

"There is going to be no compromise on principles, which are very close to our heart for 60-65 years... Nobody should get away with this impression that merely for the existence in government in coalition, the BJP would be ready to compromise on any of these principles," Singh said.

The minister also noted that due to fractured poll mandate in J&K, BJP and PDP, which emerged as the two largest parties, came together to form a government to discharge democratic responsibilities "purely for the sake of governance" based on a common minimum programme.

"I am sure that with today's experience also, both the parties will learn not to trespass into each other's domain and ideological stands," he said while hoping that both will instead concentrate their energies on issues of larger interest to the common man.

He also expressed hope that the two parties would “learn to agree on the issues on which we do not see eye-to-eye and not create these contentious situations from time to time."

Asked about delay in arrest of Alam by the state government, Singh said, "I don't think that it was a delayed response...I am sure but the experience of today would make all of us learn. We have to be very clear about how to go about and even if it is a perceptible delay, it should be avoided.

On the issue of Centre's responsibility, he said, "I would not like to engage myself in a discussion for the reason that the state government is already taking action in the case and therefore any unwarranted comment will interfere with plan of action of state government."

"Pakistan is always looking forward to fish in troubled waters but as far as we are concerned and the BJP is concerned, we are very clear about it. We have zero tolerance towards separatism and terrorism", he said.

"Ours is an organisation whose founding father laid down his life on the soil of Jammu and Kashmir in the name of patriotism and it will be sacrilegious or a sin for us to deviate from the basic principle which forms the core of our existence," he said.

Responding to the arrest, Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju said, "The coalition government is in the interest of the Jammu and Kashmir, should not be construed as a weakness on part of the BJP or the central government. We are very clear about it.

"...As far as our approach is concerned, we will not tolerate any kind of anti-India activities inside Indian territory. That is why our encouragement was to the state government was that they should take immediate action without any further delay."

Rijiju said that he wants to make it very clear that anybody, who defies the Indian system or who acts in a manner, which is detrimental to the country's national pride and national sentiment or violates the law, "there are means to take action against the concerned person".

He said Alam has conducted in a manner, which is "demeaning the national interest" and hence action should be taken against him as per the rules.

"There are people, who are trying to fuel unnecessary tension in the Valley, whereas the majority of the people are not on the same page. There are few fringe elements who are displaying this kind of Pakistani flags or raising pro-Pak slogans. They are not the majority of Kashmiris. These are fringe elements.

"The action is to be taken by the Government and the government is doing that. We are very clear that we will be watchful of all such activities in Kashmir and anywhere else in the country," Rijiju said. PTI
The Siachen Story, Then And Now
Vishnu Som is a senior anchor and editor of documentaries and special programs at NDTV.)

More than 15 years ago, when I reported from the snout of the Siachen glacier for the first time, the Indian Army's Siachen base camp was nothing more than a military outpost in the most unimaginably desolate surrounding. Located at the base of the glacier, the old base camp was a collection of a few prefabricated buildings and a helipad, all packed together as close as possible to the base of the Saltoro range which dominates the glacier to its West.
There was a reason why pushing the base camp to the foot of the hill feature made sense - there was a belief that Pakistani artillery shelling, a regular feature here in the late nineties, would not be able to hit targets shielded by the massive range and would instead fall harmlessly nearby.

Today, things have changed. There is a ceasefire in place since 2003 based to a large extent on the belief that neither side can really achieve anything here by lobbing artillery or mortar shells. For starters, India dominates the Saltoro range with posts going up to more than 22,000 feet. Pakistani posts are located at lower heights. Launching any operation on the massive Indian military complex through the Saltoro would be suicidal, militarily just too costly for Pakistan.
And so, the occupation of the heights continues. For the Indian Army, the Siachen operation is today a well-oiled machine. Stockpiling of soldiers in tiny high-altitude posts through choppers, evacuating casualties, specialised mountain training, inducting and de-inducting forces is a 24/7 job done through the summer and winter.
The experience of having done this for three decades makes the Siachen operations somewhat more predictable than in the past though not necessarily any less dangerous. Sub-zero temperatures dipping to -50 degrees, the constant threat of avalanches and crevasses on the glacier and on the Saltoro range and a range of potentially fatal altitude related ailments remain constant threats here. Most of the men who have been killed here have been victims of the weather, altitude and terrain. The actual threat of Pakistani guns is far less.
The men who go up to the posts know that their survival depends on an element of divine intervention and that is why they seek the blessings of OP Baba, each and every time. Legend has it that OP Baba was a soldier deployed in the early eighties in the Bilafond La pass area on the Saltoro range and went missing. Today, soldiers here say OP Baba is their savior, someone who will keep them alive. And when they return after their tenure on the heights, the first place these jawans head for is OP Baba's shrine. Their message is simple - thank you OP Baba for saving our lives.
Consolidation is the key focus here and in the process, the size of the Army's presence in the area has grown. The once small Siachen base camp is almost like a mini-cantonment with everything from accommodation for visiting VIPs to momo and dosa stands for soldiers based here before they are shifted to high-altitude posts for a three-month tenure.
BSNL has a cell-phone service and officers can access the internet. A decade ago, I remember coming here with a satellite phone, the display on which read "location: China". Tata Sky dishes point upwards and jawans get the opportunity to see their favourite soaps on television. There is a full-fledged dental clinic here to look after the needs of soldiers. There are multiple helipads and several Commanding Officers handling the deployment of various infantry and artillery formations based here - this is a busy mini-military township, not unlike so many across the country.

And then, there is the road. 15 years ago, the road to Siachen was nothing more than a rough dusty track best traversed by a jeep. Today, that same dust track is a properly surfaced road connecting the base of Khardung La pass (the world's highest motorable road) with the base camp located several hours away. Along the way, as the road passes through the staggeringly beautiful delta of the Shyok and Nubra rivers, there are the first real signs of development in tiny towns like Sumur and Panamik - a handful of small inns, a few restaurants, a well-stocked main market, decent local schools, well-provisioned health centres. Villagers here are grateful for the road which brings in tourists not just from India but around the world.

Just a few hours down this road, beyond the final check-post at Sasoma, lies the glacier itself, a warzone so close to a zone of peace and development. Many tourists travelling through this area would never know of the sacrifices of Indian soldiers in securing the area. It has now been 31 years since India launched Operation Meghdoot to capture the Siachen heights. Nearly a thousand men have given up their lives in the icy wilderness of the glacier and Saltoro range to keep the peace, to maintain an Indian presence and now, to give people in this remote part of the world, the possibility of a real future.
Perform or perish is the new mantra in the Defence Ministry
Cut your coat according to your cloth. That’s the loud and clear message Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has sent out to the three armed forces. In less than six months after taking over, Parrikar has studied various complex issues dogging the Defence Ministry and has come to his own conclusions on what needs to be done. By his own admission, Parrikar spent the first four months as defence minister taking inputs from a range of experts both within and outside the MoD before making up his mind.

The first thing he said he realised, was the mismatch that existed between various acquisition plans of the three armed forces and the availability of funds. “Many grand plans were made without taking the budget into consideration,” he told me.

During a couple of on-camera and off-camera (but on record) conversations, Parrikar talked to me about how the planning for the much-touted Mountain Strike Corps (MSC) was faulty. “The need for acquiring an offensive capability against the Chinese was projected (and sanctioned) but not the funds. I will not go into who is responsible for this faulty planning and projection but the fact is, they (the army) was using war reserves to equip the Mountain Strike Corps. Fortunately, we realised the mistake early and I can assure you that the reserves have not depleted to a level where it can be termed alarming. After a review, we have realised that the MSC will have to be frozen at a point where it is now..”

Later, in another interview to Hindustan Times, he confirmed the actual figures. “I have frozen the cost at Rs 38,000 crore over the next eight years. It will consist of 35,000 men,” the Defence Minister said. So from 70,000 men and Rs 88,000 crore, Parrikar has made the Army cut the size of the MSC down to almost 50 percent. And rightly so, since funds are not infinite.

Indeed, the biggest example of Parrikar’s dictum is the decision on the purchase of 36 Rafale combat jets from France. “The Air Force may want 126 Rafales and I may want to give them 500 but where are the funds? We have to be realistic. So why not go for LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) Tejas, Mark II made in India which will save us some money and give a boost to the indigenous aerospace industry? At the same time, we understood that the IAF needed the Rafale jets, so I went to the Prime Minister, who took a very bold political decision. This proves that important acquisitions have to be made at the government-to-government level,” he said.

Rafale and MSC are two big ticket items that have been cut down according to the availability of funds, but in his review, Parrikar also found that the bureaucracy in the ministry — both civil and military — was sitting on some 400-odd big and small projects that are critical to the three armed forces. Without getting into details, he said, “The first thing I did was to look at projects that are stuck at various stages of clearances since the most common complaint across the board was ‘nothing moves’ in the MoD.” A thorough review revealed that nearly one-third of the 400-odd projects were now irrelevant. So they were discarded. About 50 projects were accelerated since they were of critical importance.

The next step was to prioritise the projects. Over the past month, Parrikar and his closest aides have managed to identify critical schemes across the three services that needed immediate funding and implementation. The purchase of 50,000 bullet proof jackets, for instance, was sanctioned on a fast track basis once it was realised that troops involved in counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency operations were facing a severe shortage. Similarly, a small bureaucratic standoff had held up supply of Extreme High Altitude Clothing (for soldiers posted in Siachen and similar terrain) for more than two years. Parrikar personally intervened and resolved the issue, he said.

But more than anything else, the former Goa Chief Minister seems to have brought in a sense of purpose in the notoriously risk-averse MoD. Without directly criticising India’s longest serving Defence Minister AK Antony, Parrikar said that the ministry was rudderless for a long period. “There was no control over the system. There were no reviews, no feedback and there was no fear of punishment for non-performance. An important ministry like Defence cannot run like this,” Parrikar remarked. Elsewhere too he has spoken on how ineffective supervision led to the mess that the three armed forces find themselves in. A case in point is the freedom and impunity with which the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) operated in recent times, not meeting deadlines, obfuscating performance and delaying critical projects for the IAF. Under Parrikar however, HAL and other leading defence Public Sector Undertakings are now subject to fortnightly reviews and so is the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). Perform or perish is the new mantra in the defence ministry.

The bottom line, according to the minister, an IIT Powai graduate and a voracious reader, is that people elect politicians to take a firm decisions. “Out of let’s say 10 decisions I take, five may be good, two may be average and three may turn out to be big mistakes but as long as the decisions are taken in good faith, I am willing to take them,” Parrikar told me. It’s an attitude that is not only refreshing but also reassuring. But his job has only begun. As I wrote earlier, the defence minister has a steep mountain to climb. He has only taken the first few steps towards ascending the summit.
Manohar Parrikar to axe former Defence Minister AK Antony's rule on arms deals

NEW DELHI: Modi government Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar is set to axe UPA defence minister AK Antony's most important rule — and as a result, India's defence purchase programme may at last get speeded up.

Antony had decreed that any defence purchase must be put on hold in the event of a complaint or allegation against the deal.

ET has learnt that the Modi government has decided to nix this rule. A procurement process will now continue regardless of any complaint, which ..

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