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Wednesday, 7 October 2015

From Today's Papers - 07 Oct 2015

How to checkmate China
The situational landscape is better, but not completely tilted in India’s favour
CHINA’S geopolitical ambitions manifest in the strategic outreach of the ‘Pearl Ports’ of its economic, military and political footprints. Ostensibly, safeguarding the choke points along the sea lines of communication (SLOC) for the energy-guzzling Chinese economy (the narrow Straits of Malacca facilitates nearly 80 per cent of the Chinese oil import route). With the Chinese holding energy reserves estimated to last only a few weeks, the vulnerability of the Chinese economic juggernaut (and therefore regime survival) is on perpetual tenterhooks. Then, the inevitable dependence of the energy resources and imports via maritime routes only (at least in the medium term), these ‘Pearl Ports’ become a crucial part of the Chinese realpolitik jigsaw. However, commercial considerations aside, it is the added military and political mandate to these ports that colour the intention for the wary neighbourhood.

Geographically, the ‘String of Pearls’ span from the Hainan Islands in the South China Seas where tempers flare up routinely between China and its worried neighbours to the resource-rich lands in the African hinterland, but for us, it is the more immediate string-ports in Myanmar, like the Coco Islands (20 km from the Andaman & Nicobar Islands) and Sittwe, Chittagong in Bangladesh, Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Gwadar in Pakistan that suffocate India, strategically. The term ‘String of Pearls’ was coined by the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton to describe the Chinese quest for a hegemonic reign in a bipolar world.

While the Chinese deny any such conceptual sophistry or muscle-flexing capabilities, its actions on these ‘Pearl Ports’, like building runways (e.g. in the disputed Spratly Islands) and deployment of naval presence, point to the contrary. Therefore countries like Japan too, which rely on over 90 per cent of its oil supplies coming via the Pearl Port-infested South China Seas remains restive and tends to join strategic hands with India and the US to counter similar risks to itself.

For any geopolitical strategy to fructify, the ground realities of the world order ought to support the moves. Post-Cold War, the US/western narrative slipped into an era of over-committed and overstretched stakes in the Balkans and then at multiple points in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Global theatre beyond the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan was a lesser priority of the only reigning superpower, then. So, with the Military Junta in Myanmar upset with Indian overtures to pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, an anti-India sentiment during the intermittent BNP rules of Khaleda Zia in Bangladesh and more recently, the similar hawkish approach of the Rajapaksa decade in Sri Lanka (not to mention the perennial hostility with Pakistan), the nuts and bolts for the String of Pearls encircling India, was perfectly knotted. It seemed the Indian neighbourhood had fallen for the Dragon’s charms, beyond the ‘all-weather’ friendship between Pakistan and China. This friendship is not rooted in any cultural, civilisational, religious or even ideological basis, this is a friendship based on a common foe; subsumed on the platform of strategic counterfoil and convenience. In an era of a constant battle for ‘bargaining space’ and ‘meaningful voice’ in an increasingly intertwined and competing world order, such friendships are perfectly kosher. So, with the emergence of ‘Pearl Ports’, four countries (eg Sri Lanka) along our border began flirting, sometimes dangerously, with China, knowing well the implications for India.

However, there are no constants on a diplomatic chessboard. The current resetting of the dynamics offers a glimmer of hope for India to ‘de-strangulate’ itself — Myanmar is more assured of Indian intentions with the recent incident of allowing the Indian Special Forces to do the requisite action on its soil, Bangladesh has moved on to a decidedly more India-friendly rule of Awami League with Sheikh Hasina in power, Sri Lanka under Maithripala Sirisena is more amiably predisposed towards New Delhi. This is coupled with active Indian engagements and investments in these three countries specifically. This leaves the Gwadar Port in Pakistan as a sore thumb sticking out in the equation. Now, this does not mean the immediate flight of the Chinese stakes in any of the said three countries, but it opens up the Indian diplomatic initiatives, conversations and support to these countries getting contextualised with the specific need to ‘restrict’ the Chinese military or political mandate getting overtly affixed to these ‘Pearl Ports'. Gentle preconditions and nudges can ensure the Indian dialogue to water down the ‘Pearl Port’ intensity. Initially, we may as well overlook the purely commercial aspects and facilities of the current Chinese investments on-site, in order to pace the changes, prudently, as long as the more aggressive footnote of the military and political nature gets tempered down. The current disposition allows for no such laxity in Gwadar.

Critically, the situational landscape is not completely tilted in India’s favour either. Nepal has been cozying up the Dragon’s alley for some timeand the current Madhesi unrest has left India perpetuating the ‘Big Brother’ syndrome, whereas the Maldives under Abdulla Yameen no longer feels obliged towards India, as the previous President Mohamed Nasheed did. These two nations do offer a counter-port opportunity to the Chinese, at least circumstantially. However, to invest or divest of a strategic checkpoint in the form of a ‘Pearl Port’ is a lot more complex and strategic in nature. But the opportunity to de-strangulate from this threat in the immediate vicinity with dexterity and circumstantial nimbleness is also in our hands, though historically, not a strong point in our past diplomatic record. China is still not a classical blue-water capability navy, a la the US 7th Fleet in Yokosuka, Japan, or Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, however, neither is any other country in the South East Asia or South Asia, individually. However, with unresolved maritime disputes of China brewing with Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and for other reasons, with the other regional powers like Australia and India, the Chinese are now getting tested in their sabre-rattling and show of power on the Eastern seas. Checkmating China would also find passive support in the Washington DC and Moscow, equally, thus a more unified maritime approach and formation that allays the fears emanating from the String of Pearls beckons.

  The writer is a former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry
4,300 take part in Army recruitment rally
Tribune News Service

Mandi, October 6
More than 4,300 candidates took part in an open Army recruitment rally organised at the historic Paddal Ground here today. The five-day rally is being organised for the youths of Mandi, Kullu and Lahaul-Spiti districts.

Col Amarjeet Vasudev, Commander, Army Recruitment Office, Mandi, said it was for the first time that registration of the candidates was done online in the state. They had received 11,256 online applications till September 30, he said and added that nearly 600 more applications had been received after the closing date.

Of the total applicants, nearly 9,800 were from Mandi district alone. As many as 74 applicants were from Lahaul-Spiti and nearly 1,300 from Kullu district, he added.

Col Vasudev said 4,304 applicants took part in the race and other physical activities and 427 remained absent. He said 3,302 applicants appeared for the general duty and 1,102 for the post of clerk.

Col Vasudev said Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) provided extra bus services to ferry aspirants, the health department had deputed a team of doctors, the IPH Department provided drinking water facilities, while the MC took care of the sanitation.

Overwhelming response was received to the recruitment rally and religious organisations came forward to help the candidates. Gurdwara management provided free food, Nirankaris served free tea and dharamasalas gave free accommodations to the aspirants.

He said the online registration of candidates was made mandatory for the recruitment. Recruitment was being held for solider (general duty), soldier (clerk) and for the Defence Service Corps (DSC).

The candidates, who had registered between September 24 and 30 and not received their admission cards on their e-mails, could take part in the rally on October 9. Those candidates who had been given October 10 as the date of appearing in the rally could also take part in the rally on October 9.
Air strike on Afghan hospital was mistake: US commander
Washington, October 6
The deadly American air strike on a hospital in northern Afghan city of Kunduz that killed 22 persons, including women and children, was a mistake, a top US commander in Afghanistan today said as he conceded that they were taken by surprise by the recent Taliban upsurge.

General John Campbell, Commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, testified before a Senate committee that the investigation into the attack on a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) hospital will be "thorough, objective and transparent."

"A hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a protected medical facility," he said. "I must allow the investigation to take its course and, therefore, I'm not at liberty to discuss further specifics at this time. However, I assure you that the investigation will be thorough, objective and transparent," he said three days after the medical clinic strike.

The MSF has branded the attack a war crime, and has pulled out of the Afghan city in the aftermath of the attack. — PTI
Veterans to intensify stir for OROP
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, October 6
A section of ex-servicemen today expressed dismay over non-implementation of the “one rank, one pension” (OROP) formula for the defence services and said they would seek political support from like-minded parties and leaders to further their cause.

Different groups of ex-servicemen have expressed varying opinion about seeking political support for their struggle for OROP.

Brig KS Kahlon (retd), president of the Punjab chapter of All-India Defence Brotherhood, said ex-servicemen from Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh would further intensify their stir in support of the demand for OROP.
Why America is cozying up to the Indian army
Gunfire rang out violently. Indian and American troops stormed a compound in Leschi Town, a mock city soldiers use for urban combat training at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. The soldiers hauled ladders to scale the walls while a machine-gun team laid down suppressing fire from a nearby ridge.

The soldiers hurriedly scurried over the wall shouting instructions at each other. The American and Indian troops occasionally struggled to understand each others' accents — and vocabularies. The Indian troops' English had different words for tactics and formations.

But the soldiers ultimately figured out how to communicate fairly quickly — often through gestures — as they worked together to take the facility. Mixed teams worked together to breach doorways and clear out buildings.

It's part of Exercise Yudh Abhyas 2015, the 11th iteration of an annual exercise between the U.S. and Indian militaries. The two militaries trained together for two weeks in September while also breaking for social functions like going to the beach and tailgating at a Mariners game.

India and the United States have been seeking closer ties in the 21st century, and this exercise is just one part of that effort. As the U.S. broadens its engagement in the Pacific and continues operations in Central Asia, military relations between Washington and New Delhi are growing.

"Both the armies have very common concerns, we have very similar interests, and we have similar kinds of challenges to face," said Indian Army Lt. Col. J.S. Ulshai, an officer with the Kumaon Regiment. "We know that the U.S. has got its interests in the Pacific and the areas around the Indian Ocean, so it is important because in their future the U.S. is going to work with India in a broader perspective."

"They want what we want," said political scientist Stephen Cohen, a senior fellow and India expert at the Brookings Institution. However, he told War Is Boring that while Washington and New Delhi are seeking closer ties and have cooperated in the past, it's a stretch to call them allies. "There's no formal [military] agreement between the two."

Lt. Col. Teddy Kleisner, the commander of the 1-2 Stryker Brigade's 23rd Infantry Regiment, said that though this exercise is mostly tactical rather than strategic, any interaction between between the United States and India is obviously important.

"On our end we're keenly aware that our two countries are having conversations," Kleisner explained. "What we're doing here is making good on that dialogue."
Pacific pivot

During the early 1960s, the U.S. government made support for newly independent India a priority. President John F. Kennedy mobilized American aid in support of India during the Sino-Indian War in 1962 as Indian troops fought against Communist China in the mountains.

After the JFK assassination, shifting attention to Vietnam led to a lack of interest on the part of most U.S. policymakers toward India. This in part lead to New Delhi seeking closer ties with the Soviet Union. By 1971, President Richard Nixon openly supported Pakistan during the Indo-Pakistani War.

But the end of the Cold War and increasing globalization have led India to build strong trade relations with both the United States and China.

In recent years, U.S. President Barack Obama has put renewed military focus on Asia as part of the "Pacific Pivot." The U.S. has strengthened ties with Cold War allies Japan and the Philippines — and even former enemies such as Vietnam — many of whom are suspicious of China's growing military strength and increasingly bold moves in the South Pacific.

JBLM is home to the U.S. Army's I Corps, which oversees Army units based on the American West Coast, most of which operate in Asia and the Pacific. While Indian troops trained at JBLM, I Corps also hosted Japanese troops just across the Cascade Mountains as they trained at the Yakima Training Center.

India, in many ways, shares concerns about its large and powerful neighbor. Lately, trade relations between the two giants have heavily favored China. There have also been continued tension along the border. In September 2014, Indian authorities accused the Chinese military of crossing the border into India's Chumar sector.

"India is a major regional power, at present, in Asia with a long standing border dispute with China with no foreseeable solution," said Gopalan Balachandran, a researcher at India's Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses. "It is a border dispute over which the two countries had gone to war, of a sort, in the past and where Chinese actions in recent past have raised tensions between the two countries."

"Many of the East and South East Asian countries have felt, and expressed in many open fora, that India should play a more active role in future Asian security architecture," Balachandran added.

Cohen said that New Delhi is definitely wary of Beijing's growing military strength and the security along the two nations' borders. But he added that preparing for natural disasters, "broken down governments," and quelling insurgencies are in many ways more pressing in the eyes of many Indian officials than fear of potential Chinese expansionism, which Cohen called a "hypothetical threat."

Tragedies such as the massive 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the destructive earthquake in nearby Nepal have made New Delhi concerned about disaster readiness. In the immediate aftermath of such huge cataclysms, the military's logistical capabilities are often needed to deliver aid and conduct search and rescue operations.

Cohen explained that the U.S. military is an attractive partner for India. In particular the U.S. Navy has ability to rapidly respond and work with Indian forces after disasters. Training together in advance and learning how to work together will make it easier to respond jointly in the event of another calamity.

Floods and earthquakes have been particularly destructive in recent years. Both India and its neighbors have growing populations and economies, but in some ways have struggled to build the infrastructure to support both. Maintaining order is a major concern for New Delhi.

Natural disasters aren't the only threat to that stability.
Ex-Army chief dismisses coup theory in Hoon’s book
General Rodrigues said he was not bothered by an author who wanted to sell some extra books by raking up a controversy. He insisted that he was speaking out to uphold the facts.
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Former Army chief General Sunith Francis Rodrigues on Tuesday dismissed allegations made by Lt General (retired) P N Hoon in his book that the Army was involved in a plot to overthrow the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1987.

Contradicting Lt Gen Hoon’s claims over Army HQ seeking three para-commando battalions, General Rodrigues said the three units were deployed for Indian Peace Keeping Force training in Sri Lanka as sanctioned by the Director General of Military Operations on record.

“They were not even close to New Delhi; as part of a military exercise they were deployed to Sri Lanka. They were not even the relieving or the assistance force, but were sent to hone their tactical skills and gain expertise in guerilla warfare. And to presume that such group roamed around Delhi unnoticed by existing defence parametres of the Army contingents, as though they were wearing some invisible cloaks, it’s ridiculous,” said the former Army chief.
General Rodrigues said he was not bothered by an author who wanted to sell some extra books by raking up a controversy. He insisted that he was speaking out to uphold the facts.

In his book The Untold Truth, Lt Gen Hoon had claimed that Rodrigues, while being GOC-in-Command of the Western Command along with late General Krishnaswami Sundarji and Congress leader Zail Singh had plotted to topple the Rajiv Gandhi government in a military-style coup.

About the alleged possibility of the military coup, the 82-year old said: “The question of a military coup does not arise. The Army is conditioned to be committed to the democratic framework. There is no other way.”

“Let’s speak facts now, I was appointed during the tenure of the Congress government as GOC-Central and Western Command, Director General of Military training, Vice Chief of Staff and Chief of Army Staff. I served two terms on the board of National Security Advisor, one being under the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajapayee. If my intentions were to topple democracy, would I have been appointed?,” he added.

Calling Hoon’s book as fiction, Rodrigues added: “He has timed his ‘fiction’ at a juncture where no one except me, can give a befitting reply, in any case my life and career are testament to my commitment to protect India’s democratic identity. Need no ratification from Hoon.”

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