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Saturday, 13 June 2015

From Today's Papers - 13 Jun 2015

ISIS, Pak flags raised after Mirwaiz sermon in Srinagar
Hurriyat leader calls for halt to anti-encroachment drive by forest dept
Tribune News Service

Srinagar, June 12
Pakistani and ISIS (Islamic State) flags today appeared in downtown Srinagar following a Friday sermon by moderate separate leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq in which he warned of an agitation if the ongoing campaign to retrieve forest land was not stopped.

As soon as the Friday prayers were over, a group of masked youth carrying a black ISIS flag and a Pakistani flag appeared in the Jama Masjid area this afternoon.

Some of the youth also indulged in stone-throwing. The situation was soon brought under control by the security forces deployed in the area. So far no arrests have been made in connection with the latest raising of the ISIS flag. Earlier on May 22, Pakistani flags were raised during a protest by youth the same area.

Mirwaiz, while delivering his Friday sermon from the pulpit of Jama Mosque at the Nowhatta area of Srinagar, said: “We won’t allow such conspiracies to succeed in which people belonging to a community in the Jammu region are forcibly being evicted from their lands and homes.” He was referring to the anti-encroachment drive by the state forest department launched on the orders of Forest Minister Bali Bhagat.

Mirwaiz asked the government to stop this drive and also “rein in” the BJP and RSS elements, who he alleged were “targeting” a particular community in the region. He said people in Kashmir would not sit as silent spectators if such things continued.

Geelani, aides under house arrest

Leaders of hardline separatist faction Syed Ali Geelani, Ashraf Sehrai, Ayaz Akbar and Raja Mehraj-ud-din were placed under detention on Friday and prevented from participating in the scheduled funeral prayers for their slain party member Sheikh Altaf, who was killed by unknown gunmen in Sopore earlier this week.

A small number of party leaders and activists, however, held a demonstration at Pratap Park in Srinagar to protest against Altaf’s killing. The demonstrators were later detained by the police.

Protests in north Kashmir

Protests and minor clashes were also reported from north Kashmir on Friday against the killing of Hurriyat activist Sheikh Altaf in Sopore earlier this week.

A protest demonstration was taken out from Jamia Mosque in Sopore up to Main Chowk (town square) soon after the Friday prayers, where clashes between the stone-throwing youth and the police were also witnessed, reports from the area said.

Protests and minor clashes were also reported from the Palhalan area in Baramulla district after the Friday prayers against the killing of the Hurriyat activist in Sopore by unidentified gunmen a few days earlier. However there were no reports of injury to anyone.
US asks China to end island building in South China Sea
Washington, June 12
US Defence Secretary Ash Carter met a top Chinese general on Thursday and repeated a US call for a halt to land reclamation in the South China Sea, while stressing that the Pentagon remained committed to expanding military contacts with China.

China insists it has sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, a major global shipping route believed to be home to oil and gas reserves, but rival claimants accuse it of expansionism.

At the meeting with General Fan Changlong, a deputy head of China's powerful Central Military Commission, Carter stressed his commitment to developing "a sustained and substantive US-China military-to-military relationship", the Pentagon said.

It said this would be based on a shared desire to deepen cooperation in areas including humanitarian assistance, disaster response, peacekeeping, counter-piracy, as well as "constructive management of differences".

In reiterating US concerns about tensions in the South China Sea, Carter called on China and all rival claimants to halt land reclamation and militarisation of disputed territory, and to pursue a peaceful resolution in accordance with international law, the Pentagon statement said.

Carter also reaffirmed his commitment to reach a consensus by September on a memorandum of understanding aimed at reducing the risk of accidents when the two countries' aircraft operate in close proximity, the statement said.

Fan told Carter that China's construction work in the South China Sea was mostly to improve living conditions in order to better protect its sovereignty. He also said China had a right to build on its own territory and deploy forces there, China's Defence Ministry said. Fan also urged the United States to stop its military activities in the South China Sea.

"The South China Sea issue is only an interlude in Sino-US ties and both sides should look further ahead and pay attention to more important and bigger international and regional issues," it paraphrased Fan as saying.

Fan's visit to the Pentagon was part of a week-long trip to the United States, which will include a meeting with US National Security Adviser Susan Rice at the White House on Friday. Earlier this week, Fan visited the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and US military bases.

Wu Xi, deputy chief of mission at the Chinese embassy in Washington, said on Wednesday that Fan's trip was aimed at preparing the way for a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping in September.

China protested to the United States last month after a US spy plane with a television crew aboard flew close to artificial islands China has been building in the South China Sea. — Reuters
For ‘more ops’ against rebels, NSA to visit Myanmar on June 17
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 12
National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval will visit Myanmar on June 17 to “mollify” the leadership following varying statements made by ministers in India on the Army's June 9 offensive and look for possibilities of “further action” against north-eastern insurgents.

In large parts of western Myanmar, the writ of the government does not run and insurgents have some 20 camps. In the past, the two countries have conducted joint operations to flush out such groups, like the one in January 2006 and another one in April 1995, code named operation 'Golden Bird'.

Doval will meet top political and military leaderships in Myanmar, which could possibly include President U Thein Sein. The visit comes after the Army's counter-insurgency operation on June 9. The neighbouring country had expressed “unhappiness” after public statements in India.

“At this stage, India needs Myanmar's  help” said a source, explaining that the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (K)  and the United Liberation Front Asom (Paresh Baruah faction)  have colluded with smaller groups to from an umbrella organization, United National Liberation Front of West South East Asia. These groups are based in Myanmar.

The armies of the two countries have “excellent” relations. Carrying out the June 9 strike, India invoked the May 2014 border pact with Myanmar which provides a framework for security cooperation and exchange of information between them.

Within the Army, strict instructions have been issued to clamp down on information related to the operation. Now, it’s only through Additional Director General Military Operations Maj Gen  Ranbir Singh the force will speak on it.
Verbal incursions
Hawks have field day on both sides of the border
As if needlessly annoying a friendly neighbour like Myanmar was not enough, Modi's ministers have pointlessly stirred the Indo-Pak pot. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore's tweets were uncalled for; the novice minister exposed a cross-border Indian Army covert operation that like many earlier ones should have remained in the penumbra of deniability. It also upset the Myanmar Junta's tactical calculations for the forthcoming parliamentary elections. Naypidaw will now be seen as untrustworthy by the dozen non-Burman ethnic groups with whom the generals had patiently struck ceasefire agreements, given a measure of autonomy and, hoping, in turn, for their support to President Thein Sein's Union Solidarity and Development Party, keen to make up for the loss of Burman vote which might go to Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy.

Rathore’s verbal missiles landed in Pakistan too.  He was at his immature best when he told the media that “Western disturbances will also be equally dealt with.” This was a red rag to right-wingers among Pakistanis who were already apoplectic with Narendra Modi for raking up the ‘71 war while in Dhaka. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar too stepped into the mess with a more hazardous formulation. He extrapolated a simple action against insurgents to a “change in mindset” and a “new posture”. The Rathore-Parrikar duo, joyfully assisted by the audio-visual media which went on to manufacture probable scenarios of cross-border raids into Pakistan, transformed the cold vibes between the two nations into a blazing war of words.

The civilian-military axis in Pakistan, with its plate full in dealing with out-of-control religious and sectarian outfits, has been too happy with the unexpected diversion provided by New Delhi. The confrontational verbal exchanges should also help it close the door on India’s requests for speedy prosecution of the Mumbai attacks case. Worse, it might encourage a hothead or two from either side on the border to test the so-called changed approach to unresolved political problems that have degenerated into cross-border militancy. Unfortunately, neither side has statesmen at the helm to calm down the hot-heads.
The OROP imbroglio
The Prime Minister needs to take a call
One rank, one pension’, or its acronym OROP, is a household term today. Even those who do not understand its nuances know that some issue called OROP is stuck. This is an update on its status.

The concept of OROP first surfaced in the early 1980s. Retired Maj Gen RS 'Sparrow', then a Member of Parliament, explained it in the House in very plain terms.  The then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, understood and immediately ordered a committee to examine the issue.  Unfortunately, before the scheme could be implemented, Indira Gandhi was assassinated. Since then OROP has been on a simmer, consistently opposed by the bureaucracy and denied by successive governments. In 2008, in the wake of the Sixth Pay Commission report coming out, we raised the Indian Ex Servicemen Movement and gave OROP a renewed  impetus.

It is neither good for the country nor is it in the military ethos   to air one's demands in public. We explored every possibility to avoid taking to the streets. This writer personally met the Prime Minister in April 2008 and implored him to treat OROP with due urgency. Unfortunately, he showed no inclination. When every attempt failed to move the government, the first public demonstration was held on April 27, 2008. After that there was no looking back. The protests included even depositing our hard-earned medals; over 20,000 of these are still lying in a government store.      

What is OROP? It is payment of the same pension to military retirees of the same rank and same length of service, irrespective of their date of retirement. Further, any future enhancement in pension is to be automatically passed on to the old pensioners. This definition stands accepted by the Koshyari Committee and both the UPA government and the NDA have accepted it on the floor of the House. Based on two simple parameters of rank and total length of service, this definition is easy to understand and implement. Besides, it has the widest acceptance. 

And why are only the military pensioners demanding it? It needs to be remembered that pensions are increased during pay commissions constituted every 10 years. As of now this enhancement is given only prospectively. The gap between the old and new pensions keeps increasing.

The defence forces are required to keep a youthful profile. Its members are therefore retired early. Nearly 85% of military personnel are sent home before they reach the age of 40. It is not difficult to visualise the mental trauma one suffers on being thrown out of a job when one's financial needs are at their peak. There isn't and cannot be any compensation for this. At least in financial terms there should be some recompense. A defence retiree on an average sees four to five pay commissions in his life time and suffers the widening gap severally. OROP is designed to keep his pension equated with the new retirees and thus give him at least some relief in financial terms.

Where does OROP stand now? After our protest had gone on for close to six years, the then Finance Minister announced its grant on February 17, 2014. The scheme was to take effect from April 1, 2014. It has been nearly 16 months but OROP has still not been implemented. The BJP had included the grant of OROP in its manifesto during the 2014 general election. Besides, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared his government’s commitment on OROP at many public meetings. He also repeated it in his recent interview to The Tribune  and during his 'Man ki Baat' radio broadcast on  May 31, 2015. After a joint meeting between the Service Headquarters and the Ministry of Defence in February 2015 modalities based on the accepted definition were worked out. The Defence Minister has reportedly approved it. The total annual financial outlay comes to nearly Rs 8,300 crore.

It is learnt that the Finance Ministry has raised some objections. One possible change they wish to insert is to base OROP on service in the last rank held instead of total service as it would bring down the annual expenditure to some Rs 5,400 crore rupees. However, this would not be just and fair.   The promotions  of  Junior Commissioned Officers and below, who constitute 96% of the total strength,  are decentralised to a unit level and are subject to the availability of vacancies. In one unit ‘A’may be promoted Havildar in 16 years while in another unit 'B' may take 20 years. Since Havildars retire at a fixed service of 24 years, ‘A’ would have earned relatively higher salary for four additional years. If the criterion of service in the last rank is followed, 'A' would also get a higher pension for a life time; a double whammy for 'B'. Even among officers, a junior often picks up his higher rank ahead of a senior due to various administrative constraints and the same problem would occur.   The criterion of service in the last rank therefore is grossly unjust and will not find acceptance among the pensioners. 

There has also been talk recently of the Central Police Forces demanding OROP. They are our own people and not adversaries. But the early retirement, the only plank on which OROP demand rests, is not applicable to them. Let me repeat what I had told the Prime Minister in 2008 when he raised the same apprehension: “Let all defence employees be kept in government service till the age of 60 like everyone else. We will then not need OROP”.

The veterans have full faith in the Prime Minister's assurance and are certain OROP will come. However, the date of its final implementation remains in the penumbra. With the inordinate delay the veterans are getting edgy. They have already announced the restart of  their protest from June 14.  For an emerging global power it would be an unhappy spectacle to see its veterans holding a public protest.  The Prime Minister needs to take a call. Urgently.    

The writer is the Chairman, Indian Ex Servicemen Movement
Myanmar op: Plotting the attack

Soon after the Manipur ambush in which 18 soldiers of Indian Army's 6th Dogra Regiment were killed, home minister Rajnath Singh went into a huddle with defence minister Manohar Parrikar, national security advisor Ajit Doval and army chief Dalbir Singh Suhag.

During the meeting, it was initially suggested that India must give insurgents an apt reply. A surgical strike on the militants, who had reportedly sneaked into Myanmar after carrying out the attack in Manipur's Chandel district, was agreed upon. It was decided that an operation targeting the militants would be carried out the very next day (Friday, June 5). The meeting also explored the options of air strike by Indian Air Force's Sukhoi and MiG-29 fighter jets as well as ground strike by special forces. Since the possibility of collateral damage would have been high in an air strike, that option was ruled out.

Also read: Indian Army's Myanmar operation: 10 insider facts

The Army chief, however, expressed his inability to carry out the strike in such a short notice, sources privy to the discussions said. Since a 'hot-pursuit' is normally carried out within 72 hours, it was decided that the strike has to be carried out as early as possible. Then, the top security establishment decided that the attack would be carried out on Monday (June 8) and directed General Suhag to make all the preparations.

When the plan was confirmed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Bangladesh and there was a necessity to brief him about all aspects of the surgical strike. So, the military operation was again delayed by a day and finalised for early Tuesday morning (June 9). The Prime Minister was briefed about the plan after his arrival from Bangladesh on Sunday night following which a final clearance was obtained.

Specially trained commandos of the Indian Army were airdropped deep inside Myanmar's territory, closer to the camps of the militants. The strike finally started at 3am Tuesday. According to ground reports, 38 militants were killed and seven others were injured in the operation, the first of its kind conducted by the Indian defence forces.

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