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Monday, 15 February 2016

From Today's Papers - 15 Feb 2016

Top priority for all-weather road to Daulat Beg Oldie
Ajay Banerjee

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, February 14
Peeved over the “slow pace” of construction of strategically vital roads in the Himalayas, the Ministry of Defence has set stiff targets for India-China Border roads — 73 in number.

“Top priority” has being accorded to the road to Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) — 16,000 feet high plateau in northern Ladakh — and making of better roads in Arunachal Pradesh, especially a new shorter axis to Tawang.

The government wants infusion of new technology and faster working schedules and showcase actual work. Only 20 of the 73 roads have been completed in around 10 years. Work on some has not even begun due to forest and environmental issues.

Sources told The Tribune that an all-weather 255 km road connecting Darbuk in eastern Ladakh to DBO will be ready by 2017 and its progress is being monitored from South Block in Delhi.

The road between Leh and Darbuk exists, beyond that it’s dodgy. In winter, Army vehicles use frozen Shyok river to cross over. In summer, that option is ruled out as water flow from snow melt is rapid. Troops on induction have to cross a high-pass on foot.

The previous road — built at a cost of Rs320 crore and constructed between 2000 and 2012 — was too close to the Shyok and got washed away. Around 160 km of it is being re-aligned to make it access in every weather.

The DBO sits just 10 km from the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China in Aksai Chin. The IAF carries out landing of its transport planes on mud-paved advanced landing ground at the DBO. The road will dominate the LAC in Aksai Chin. The Indian and Chinese Army have had face-offs in 2013 and 2014 in the area.

Another focus area is Arunachal Pradesh. A top MoD official had visited Tezpur in north Assam — the point from where the road to Tawang takes off. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has asked Defence Secretary G Mohan Kumar to monitor it personally.

A 367-km road connecting Tezpur in upper Assam to Bum La, located smack on the LAC with China, is literally a lifeline — connecting Tawang, Bomdilla, Dirang and Tenga. It is the only connection with ‘mainland’ India.

The existing ‘road’ can be a back-breaking, at times stomach-churning, exercise across a rubble-laden track.

China has black-top roads to the very top on its side. And, has added more “contact points” for themselves at the LAC — this, in simple words, means more roads, a source said.

An alternate road route between Tezpur and Tenga (141 km) is being built via Orang in upper Assam and is expected to be completed in March this year. However, the alternate road from Tenga to Tawang (190 km) is stuck up in forest clearances. This is what the MoD wants to hasten.
Army in Siachen must stay put
The glacier affords India strategic, diplomatic and psychological advantage
SIACHEN GLACIER is known variously as the ‘highest battlefield in the world’, ‘third pole’, ‘largest non-polar glacier’ and a supremely ambiguous cartographical description as ‘thence north to the glaciers’ (on official maps that thought it too desolate and unforgiving a region for physical inhabitation, to worry about proper demarcation beyond the coordinate NJ9842) — a historical curse of the incomplete task of defining boundary lines along the Indo-Pak borders. Today, it has evolved into a perennial flashpoint of potential military muscle-flexing and diplomatic saber-rattling. The recent horrific avalanche tragedy that swallowed 10 soldiers (one was subsequently and miraculously rescued), reiterated its infamy as the most inhospitable environment to be deployed under, with the unpredictable supremacy of nature’s fury, that accounts for higher fatalities than actual enemy-combat.

Such tragedies inevitably resurrect the talk about demilitarising the glacier and the draining ‘cost’ of retaining it. To start with, it’s important to appreciate the evolution of the dispute, the historical conduct of the stakeholders in Siachen, prevailing ground situation and the potential stakes involved, and only then, juxtaposing the element of ‘cost’ to retain the current status of militarisation.

The fractious Indo-Pak border relations of cloak-and-dagger moves got a surreptitious entry into the glacier in the 50s and 60s, which was hitherto unoccupied and barren, by Pakistan issuing ‘permits’ for international mountaineering expeditions, thereby sneakily establishing its ‘claim’ on the region — giving birth to a new form of strategic doctrine called ‘Oropolitics’, the abuse of mountaineering towards political purposes.

In the 70s, India resorted to calling the bluff and counter the territorial allusions with its own mountaineering expeditions to establish its rightful territorial credentials and claims,  but this was still shadow boxing at best, with no permanent deployment to ‘hold’ the territory from a military angle.

Traditionally, Pakistan has always dabbled in ‘low-investment-high-impact’ tactics of covert military activism. Immediately after Independence, the tribal influx of Afridi raiders into the Kashmir valley, with the tacit support from the Pakistani military, laid the pattern for all subsequent adventurism. Pakistan's creative bent of similar tactics manifested again in 1965 via Operation Gibraltar, extreme policing brutality in 1971 to hold on to Bangladesh, recent Kargil misadventures and the multitude of support history to various internal insurgencies in India are reflective of the infamous Zia-ul-Haq’s ‘bleed through a thousand cuts’ philosophy. In almost all cases, Pakistan has initially feigned ignorance about the genesis of the contentious issues, or when exposed, attributed the same to ‘non-state’ actors — either way, consistently displaying malintent or duplicitous behaviour that does not augur well for any bilateral discussions that are to be based on mutual trust and respect of the terms of agreement. In an unparalleled and unprecedented act of strategic generosity, it officially handed over 5,180 km of territory in Aksai Chin to China in 1963 — thus drawing China permanently into the hyphenated Indo-Pak dispute and ensuring a strategic pivot to buttress its own counter claims. Thus now, the northern part of J&K theatre has a trilateral dimension.

Even though Pakistan has a relatively easier access leading up to the glacier, the Indian Army holds the strategically vantage high-points to dominate it. This was achieved through a textbook military operation (Operation Meghdoot) by the Indian defence forces in 1984 to preempt the Pakistani move of capturing the glacier militarily, and then rebuffing the Pakistani counter-assaults in 1987 and 1989 (Brig Pervez Musharraf was personally involved in the ill-fated first assault that would have scared his mind to the geo-political reality, only to reopen the wounds in Kargil in 1999, as the chief of Pakistan army). This ground reality in Siachen explains the Pakistani amiability and willingness to discuss demilitarisation of the glacier to neutralise its obvious disadvantage on ground. Kargil is also a grim reminder in terms of the subsequent ‘costs’ of regaining a position once-held, though taken over by the enemy, clandestinely. Such a scenario is plausible given the pattern of military moves in the region.

Importantly, the biggest ‘cost’ element is human life and the loss of limbs owing to the surreal environmental conditions of -50 degrees that test the spirit, instinct and existence of a soldier. No one understands the vagaries of nature better than a field soldier, but he does not act on individual volition, he is trained to execute the state’s order. It is imperative that no efforts should be spared to ensure the best quality equipment, infrastructural support to sustain operational efficacy and familial/monetary compensation to soldiers to endure such hardship. The glaring inequities on this front affronts the soldier’s sensibilities.

It is more probable that the ‘cost’ being alluded to pertains to the bandied figure of Rs 5 crore spent on sustaining Siachen deployment, every day. While this is a serious amount, but, when contextualised to the ‘cost’ of retaining territorial integrity, it becomes immaterial. The oft-quoted status of land irrelevance by way of ‘not a blade of grass grows’, is the sort of alluvial appreciation not indulged by the defence forces in deciding if the said tract of national land is worth defending, irrespective of the ultimate price paid by the soldiers in doing so, the quality or fertility of soil be damned. Given the trilateral border disputes across J&K, and with China on Arunachal, creative pragmatism of demilitarising Indian lands is loaded with dangerous import as the same logic can be extended to other contentious areas as well. Besides, the critical issue of national integrity, the civil, administrative and political decision-making should also incorporate the notional future ‘cost’ from the repercussions of intentional or unintentional military withdrawals. The cost of rectifying or reclaiming lost ground is almost always prohibitively ‘expensive’.

The soldiers need to be adequately enabled, empowered and meaningfully respected beyond platitudes. Soldiers who are physically present have never raised an excuse to surrender the hard-fought and well-earned positions on the glacier. The Pakistanis also suffered a similar avalanche-related incident in Gyari region in 2012, killing 140 persons. This is the sad truth of a soldier’s life. Militarily, despite the immense challenges, Siachen affords us the strategic, diplomatic and psychological advantage that could well reverse with the creative suggestions to demilitarise it, given the history, geo-politics and the stated intent of all the stakeholders in the region.
The Army is not war ready
A generation of officers has grown and won awards, laurels and promotions doing counter-insurgency operations. With all present generals having donned the uniform after the last full-scale war of 1971, war-preparedness has become an elusive concept
Speaking recently at the Counter-Terrorism Conference in Jaipur, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, alluding to Pakistan, said, “Some countries have used non-state actors (terrorists) for 15 years to achieve political and strategic objectives, with counter-productive results.” The truth is, far from being counter-productive, the Pakistan army has achieved substantive results against India through this strategy.

On the one hand, it has increased India's policing commitments on the land and coastal borders. The 1999 Kargil conflict forced the Indian Army to deploy a division (12,000 troops) round the year at 15,000 to 18,000 feet to ensure no reccurrence of mischief. After the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, the Indian Navy, made responsible for coastal security, has been flogging its expensive warships, at the cost of war preparedness. On the other hand, Pakistan's strategy has, to its own amazement, rendered the Indian Army unfit for conventional war. After Operation Parakram (the 10-month military stand-off from December 2001 to October 2002), where India failed to militarily coerce Pakistan, the Indian Army was expected to learn the right lessons. Since no insurgency which enjoys an inviolate sanctuary has ever been defeated, it was, since 1990, argued that the Indian Army should build capability to hit terrorists' bases in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir rather than fight the elusive terrorists on its soil.

Instead, it did the opposite. Once the November 26, 2003, ceasefire, at Pakistan's initiative, was accepted, the artillery guns on both sides fell silent. With long-range firepower to hit Pakistani bunkers no longer an option, raids by Special Forces to thwart the proxy war was the natural choice to keep the Pakistan army on tenterhooks. Calling it a war-avoidance measure, this option was closed by the Army Chief, Gen. NC Vij by fencing the Line of Control in July, 2004.

The argument that the fence is cost-effective and prevents infiltration continues to be made by senior officers who are unwilling to concede its biggest drawback: It has instilled the Maginot mentality, (a line of defensive fortifications built before World War II to protect the eastern border of France but easily outflanked by German invaders.).

Any worthwhile military commander the world over will attest that a fortification induces a false sense of security and stifles the offensive spirit and action. Today, the fence denotes the Indian Army's physical, mental and psychological limit of war-fighting. It gives respite to the Pakistan army and encourages it to continue with the proxy war, without fearing Indian retaliation. The initiative has passed completely into the hands of the terrorists and their Pakistani handlers. The latter dictate the rates of engagement, infiltration, areas to be activated and to what purpose, including methods of initiation. This is the reason that even with the strength of over 12 lakh, the Indian Army fails to deter the six lakh Pakistani army from cross-border terrorism. The Pakistan army refuses to hand over Hafiz Saeed, Dawood Ibrahim, Masood Azhar and others to us. Each time our political and military leaders warn Pakistan, it challenges us to a war.

The Indian Army Chief, Gen. VK Singh wrote a letter (leaked to the media) to the Prime Minister in March, 2012, saying the Army was unfit for war. Media reports routinely decry the unpreparedness of the Army. What little the Army has as war reserves, for example, equipment, vehicles, spares and ammunition, is merrily being using to raise more units — two divisions (each with 12,000 troops) between 2009 and 2011, and a Mountain Corps (90,000 troops). Since 2012, the Army's annual defence spending ratio of capital (for acquisitions) and revenue (pay and allowances) has been 40:60, instead of the other way round. This means more manpower costs and less war preparedness.

Unfortunately, the present state suits both the political and the Army leadership; the former does not want to understand military power and is petrified by nuclear weapons, the latter is comfortable with counter-insurgency operations (CI ops). The Army has honed its skills in it for 25 years. About 40 per cent of the Army is in the Jammu and Kashmir theatre doing CI ops, while an equal number prepares itself to replace those. A generation of officers has grown and won awards, laurels, promotions and status doing CI ops. With all present generals having donned uniform after the last full-scale war of 1971, war-preparedness has become an elusive concept.

The irony is that the people of India do not know what the Army is supposed to do. The nation regularly pays homage to soldiers who die fighting terrorists inside the Indian territory rather than fighting Pakistani soldiers on the border. Few bother to think that if the Army does CI ops (which should be the paramilitary's job), who would do its job of fighting the war? Should the nation be spending huge amount of money building a military force when what the Army wishes to be is to become a glorified paramilitary force?

The idea of a fence on the LoC came from the BSF, which had erected one on the India-Pakistan border from Gujarat to Rajasthan and another on the India-Bangladesh border. But the Army was never receptive to the idea of erecting a fence as it was found effective only against illegal immigrants and was considered a police tactic. The Army chief, General S. Padmanabhan (General Vij's predecessor) told me: “When Vij asked my opinion on the fence, I told him that this idea had been there since 1993. The reason why it had not been implemented so far was that it was unsuited for the terrain along the LoC. Moreover, a fence would instil a defensive mindset in our troops.” What should the Army do? The Army Chief, Gen. Bikram Singh invited me to his office in January, 2013, and asked my opinion. I suggested four-pronged action: The fence on the LoC should be dismantled; troops should be reoriented to the conventional war role from the present anti-infiltration role; CI ops should be handed over to the paramilitary and the police in Jammu and Kashmir in a phased manner; and the Army should go back to its core competency — preparing to fight a war.

These are the actions that the Army would take during war; taking them in peacetime would help deter Pakistan from continuous trouble across the LoC. Adopting an offensive-defence posture does not imply war; it means peace and stability on the LoC as it would spur the Army to equip and train itself for war. These actions will also help the Army to reduce its strength by nearly 2,00,000 troops in five years; a must for a professional Army desiring to prepare itself for present-day warfare.

The Modi Government, which projects itself as more muscular than the previous regimes, has not helped matters. Speaking in the Rajya Sabha on  July 22, 2014, the then Defence Minister, Arun Jaitley praised the Army for CI ops by concluding that, “innovative troops deployment, efficient use of surveillance and monitoring devices and fencing along the LoC have enhanced (the Army's) ability to detect and intercept infiltration.” Encouraged, the Army decided to upgrade the fence. The northern Army Commander, Lt Gen. D.S. Hooda told the media in August, 2015 that, “The new fence will be twice as effective as the existing one. It will be hard to breach.” The Pakistan army will continue to allow the Indian side to repair the fence damaged by vagaries of nature each year, without resorting to small-arms firings.
Martyred soldiers redefined camaraderie, says Indian Army

Srinagar, Feb 14: The Indian Army on Sunday paid rich tributes to two brave jawans who were martyred in Kupwara during an encounter on Saturday. At a solemn ceremony, the Army paid homage to Naik Shinde Shankar Chandrabhan, Gunner Sahadev Maruti More at the Badami Bagh Cantonment in Srinagar.

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Chandrabhan was a resident of Nasik in Maharashtra and Maruti hailed from Bijapur in Karnataka. Both were the leading scouts of the team of Army and Jammu and Kashmir Police, which had launched a combined search operation in Zonreshi village of Chowkibal in Kupwara District. Saluting the heroes, Lt Gen Satish Dua, Chinar Corps Commander said in their sacrifice, the duo has inspired an entire generation of soldiers and future warriors. According to Army officials, both fallen heroes lived buddies, served buddies and as buddies they embraced martyrdom. Best buddies together in their last journey "Being the scouts Naik Shinde Shankar and Gnr Sahadev Maruti bore the brunt but true to their reputation for selfless bravado and grit, they, despite being grievously wounded, immediately retaliated with fire and prevented the terrorists from firing with impunity. Despite being mortally wounded, they continued fighting the terrorists leading eventually to their elimination," says Col N N Joshi, PRO (Defence), Srinagar. He said with almost 10 years separating them in age and service, they began their tenures in the 41 Rashtriya Rifles unit together in June last year. "And in this short span of time, this potent mix of experience and youthful vigor had not only become inseparable buddies but had also carved a niche for themselves as sharp scouts and had been part of numerous operations. The two embodied the true spirit of the ‘buddy system' in the Army that encourages true comradeship between soldiers. They lived by this spirit and they breathed their last lending more to that spirit," adds Col Joshi. Gunner Maruti was all set to get married Naik Shinde (34) joined 11 Maratha Light Infantry Battalion in September 2000 and was known for his determination and resilience right from initial days. He is survived by wife Suvarna, six-year-old daughter Vaishnavina, one-and-a-half-year-old son Om and aged parents. Gnr Maruti (26) comes from a humble family of farmers in Bijapur, Karnataka. His passion for adventure saw him getting enrolled in the Army at Belgaum in 2011 and joined 158 Medium Regiment. The martyr is survived by his old parents and was about to turn a new leaf in life in a week's time when he was to proceed on leave for his marriage to a girl he had seen last year. "He was progressive man and insisted on delaying the marriage so that his prospective bride could complete her education," says Col Joshi.

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