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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Army units fight while militants slip

Srinagar: A dispute over jurisdiction between two units of Army apparently helped terrorists of Pakistan-based Lashker-e-Tayabba and Jaish-e-Mohammed sneak out from Lolab area where they were reported to be present to other parts of the Kashmir valley.
According to a report of the state home department, Jammu and Kashmir Police developed an intelligence input about presence of nearly two-dozen terrorists of Lashker and Jaish in the Doruswani forests of Lolab valley in North Kashmir.
Immediately, the army authorities in the area were approached for launching a quiet and a swift operation with the help of Paratroopers, who are trained for such tactical warfare.
Since the area which has a presence of Rashtriya Rifles, a counter-insurgency force carved by the Army, a request for ensuring jurisdiction for para-troopers and state police's Special Operation Group was made.
Repeated requests for an early solution to jurisdiction issue between two units of army did not bear any results despite warnings from intelligence agencies that terrorists were planning to shift their bases from Doruswani forests to other areas of the valley including Bandipore, Sopore in North Kashmir, Shopian, Kulgam and Tral in South Kashmir besides Ganderbal area in outskirts of Srinagar.
Army authorities were not available for comment.

Army man gets lifer for killing pregnant wife

Madurai: An Army man was sentenced to two concurrent life terms and slapped a fine of Rs 40,000 by a fast track court here for murdering his pregnant wife.
Judge S. Balasubramanian sentenced the soldier to two life terms with a direction to undergo the sentence concurrently and slapped a fine of Rs 40,000 on him.
According to prosecution, Amkaraj, 30, a soldier, murdered his wife Durga Devi, 28, in 2008 when she was pregnant, suspecting her fidelity.

All terror camps in Pak intact: Antony

Defence Minister AK Antony yesterday reiterated his opinion on the Indo-Pakistan relations saying “all terrorist camps in Pakistan were intact with many operating in the vicinity of army bases. There are various terrorists groups operating from Pakistan, but despite India’s repeated requests all terrorist camps are intact. Antony said unless Pakistan makes serious and convincing efforts, it won’t help in improving relations with Pakistan. “We are not lowering our guard. If something happens we will act accordingly,” he said in response to a question about what would India’s reaction be in case of another terrorist attack. Just last week the Home Minister had said “ we will retaliate in case of another attack”.

Asked about reports of the Lashkar-e-Taiba targeting the National Defence College (NDC) an elite boarding school in India, Antony said: “We know very well that there are forces who now and then are creating problems in India. We are making all out precautions across the country.”

On Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama, Antony repeated the stance of the Prime Minister saying, he (Dalai Lama) was an honoured guest of India but he would not be allowed to indulge in political activities here.

Cost of info under RTI in Bihar: Murder charge

If you dare to seek information under the Right to Information Act in Bihar, you should also be prepared to be booked in a fabricated criminal case and you may also be sent to jail. The criminal charges may vary from murder to attempt to murder, kidnapping or extortion. You can even be charged with rape or attempt to outrage the modesty of a woman. It also implies to the elderly persons, retired soldiers and physically handicapped.

At least 49 such cases were brought to light here today during a people’s court (Jan Sunwai) named ‘Meri Awaz Suno’ organised by Humlog, a social organisation and Bihar Right to Information Manch. A physically handicapped person, Birendra Kumar Sah, native of Pirmaker village under Bihar’s Saran district, narrated his woes to the audience about how he and his brother were framed in false case of murder by the local police at the behest of his village pradhan (Mukhia) for seeking information under the RTI Act about appointment of school teachers.

Another such victim, Ram Balak Sharma, a native of Manikpur village under Lakhisarai district, narrated his tale of being framed in an attempt to rape case for seeking information about the absence of doctors and para-medical staff in his district’s government hospital.

Both Sharma and his co-applicant Ramchandra Mandal were arrested and sent to jail by the police. They were released on bail after 26 days of imprisonment. A score of similar victims from different parts of the state narrated their respective story of harassment at the hands of government officials for seeking information under the RTI Act.

The convenor of Humlog Trust, Praveen Amanullah, said several such cases were being reported to her organisation from across the state and she had brought the matter to the notice of state Information Commission but it went in vain. Subsequently, she moved the State Human Rights Commission with the plea that it was violation of an individual’s rights to be victimised and penalised for seeking information under the law of the land.

Taking cognisance of her case wise complaint, the commission has asked the Chief Secretary to take stern action against the guilty officials for harassing and terrorising the information seekers within four weeks from the date of receipt of commission’s directive.

Supreme Court advocate and a civil rights activist, Prashant Bhushan, who was also present on the occasion, said it was becoming a nationwide trend to delay and dilute the RTI Act by the government officials.

India negotiating $1.7 billion deal for 10 Boeing C-17 Globemaster heavy-lift transporters news

New Delhi: Unconfirmed reports would have it that the Indian ministry of defence is negotiating the purchase of Boeing's C-17 Globemaster Heavy-Lift aircraft from the United States through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route. The reports peg the deal at $1.7 billion for the purchase of 10 of these aircraft.

This may be an anomaly, for the aircraft cost $250 million apiece and the US Congress has sanctioned $2.5 billion this October for 10 of these heavy-lift transporters for the US Air Force. If the figure of $1.7 billion is correctly mentioned then it is not clear how such a huge discount will be made available.

It's a separate story that this is an aircraft that the US Department of Defence does not want for itself anymore.

Recently, the US Air Force flew the Globemaster in a joint air-lift exercise between the air forces of the two countries held in India. Held in Agra, in the period 19-23 October, the US Air Force let the Indian Air Force familiarize itself with the transport craft.

India already operates a fleet of 40 Ilyushin-76 'Gajraj' heavy lift transporters of Russian origin and will be adding an entirely new bird to its transport fleet at three times the comparable cost.

Reports suggest that the defence ministry is quite taken up with the Globemaster's ease of handling, as compared to the IL-76, and its ability to operate from short and rough airstrips.

Reports also suggest that the $1.7 billion deal is likely to be finalized by early 2010. If it should be finalised, then it would become Boeing's second-largest deal with India after a $2.1 billion agreement finalised in January 2009 for the supply of eight P-8I maritime patrol aircraft to the Indian Navy.

Unnamed officials have been quoted as saying that India needs to triple its lift capacity, given the looming threats it faces from the North and to its West, apart from the recently flaring problem of internal insurgency on the domestic front.

India already has contracted for six Lockheed Martin C-130J aircraft from the United States, the delivery of which is expected to begin by 2011.

Apart from 40 Russian-made IL-76, the Indian Air Force operates more than 100 AN-32s, which are currently being upgraded by Ukraine. In July, India signed a $400 million contract with Ukrainian military export agency Ukrspetsexport to upgrade the fleet of 100 Soviet-built AN-32 cargo aircraft. 

IAF glider makes ‘precautionary landing’

SHILLONG: An Indian Air Force (IAF) power hand-glider made a ‘precautionary landing’ in Assam’s Barpeta district on Saturday while it was flying from Hasimara in North Bengal to Guwahati.

IAF sources here said “inclement weather’’ forced the pilots to land the glider on the banks of the Brahmaputra near Bohori. There was no injury to the two IAF personnel in the glider, they said adding it will later fly to Guwahati. — PTI 

India's COS Visits Israel

( General Deepak Kapoor, the Chief of Staff of the Indian Army, landed in Israel Saturday for a four-day working visit. Kapoor was invited to Israel by IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi.

IDF spokesmen said Kapoor was invited as part of an effort to strengthen the military cooperation between Israel and India, with an emphasis on Middle East issues.

Indo-US defence engagement set to grow bigger

NEW DELHI: India and the US will let their armed forces have more vigorous engagement in the coming year even as agreement on two critical defence pacts _ the logistics support agreement (LSA) and communication interoperability and security memorandum agreement (CISMOA) _ remain elusive.New Delhi and Washington on Friday wrapped up discussions on the future course of their growing strategic ties exhibiting the intent to take forward the relations to a new level. Such issues are discussed under the framework of the Defence Policy Group headed by the Defence Secretary. The group was formed to steer the 10-year defence programme launched in 2005.When the US representative, Deputy Secretary of Defence William J Lynn, met Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar, they thrashed out the programme of military engagement for next year.They agreed that the scale will grow only bigger. This year, India and the US carried out two big exercises separately involving air force and army . The US air force brought its big transport aircraft to IAF Air Base in Agra and the US army troops took part in an armoured exercise with the Indian army personnel in the north Indian town of Babina.It was the biggest deployment of US armoured vehicles Strykers outside Iraq and Afghanistan.The defence planners of the two sides have now indicated that the scale of such exercises is only going to get bigger.The visiting US official also kept the Indian side informed about the series of events happening in the region. The US military engagement in Afghanistan was a prime topic of discussion.Washington wants to take India into confidence as it is the biggest stabilising factor in South Asia. Another issue that came up for talks was the status of China and its growing significance in the region.The officials claimed that every issue that concerns the two sides was talked about and discussed. There is an obvious interest in issues like counter-terrorism.The officials hinted that little has moved on the two key defence pacts _ CISMOA and LSA. India is not keen to go ahead with LSA but the US wants to take the discussions ahead and conclude them. India, US for common vision for futureINDIA and the US propose to unveil a "common vision for the future" during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit here later this month.Indicating this, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake spoke of the desire of the two countries to work together on the major challenges confronting the world including food security, climate change, green technology and education. The vision document is expected to dwell on cooperation on all these aspects, he said.Speaking at an `India Day' event here, hosted by the US firm Honeywell to celebrate decades of business partnership between the two countries, Blake commented that it was "no accident" that the Obama Administration has handpicked the Indian Prime Minister to be the first pay a state visit to Washington.For the US, ties with India represent one of the most important partnerships of the 21st century, Blake said, recalling the institution of a high-level strategic dialogue between the two countries during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent visit to India. Indian Ambassador Meera Shankar said the Manmohan Singh Government and the Obama Administration "are equally committed to take our relationship to the next level". 

Bluestar was too little, too late

Life can sometimes come full circle. On that fateful night in 1984 when the Indian Army seized control of the Golden Temple, I was part of a tiny minority who regarded the operation as a disaster.

I remember going for dinner that evening to the Indian Express penthouse at Nariman Point in Bombay to find my host Ramnath Goenka and his houseguest, Rajmata Vijayraje Scindia virtually whooping with delight. Neither of them was any kind of fan of Indira Gandhi’s in normal circumstances, but that night they sang her praises.

Theirs were not isolated views. All over the country there was jubilation at the success of Operation Bluestar. News magazines wrote cover stories with all the gravitas and maturity of a Commando comic. On Doordarshan, General Brar was projected as the conqueror of the Golden Temple and discussed the operation with the swagger of General Eisenhower describing the success of D-Day.
Many of us are so guilty about the terrible violence of November 1984 that we have blanked out what went before.But I had my reservations. While it was then considered blasphemous to say anything bad about the Indian Army (and perhaps it still is), I thought the military had screwed up big time. The overconfidence of army commanders had led them to underestimate the opposition they would encounter in the temple and their hubris had cost the lives of hundreds of jawans. Worse still, they had taken tanks and Armed Personnel Carriers into the temple, destroying the Akal Takht and badly damaging the Harmandir Saheb.

All this was certain to hurt Sikhs and inflame sentiments. Now, to hide the extent of the army’s ineptitude the government was telling lies (“not a single bullet hit the Harmandir”), covering up the avoidable casualties (the innocent pilgrims who were caught in the crossfire because the army decided to attack on a Sikh holy day), and overplaying the extent of the victory.

My view then — as today — was that first of all, we should think twice before using the army in such situations. (A few years later, the National Security Guard (NSG) was asked to clear the Golden Temple again in Operation Black Thunder and it did a clean surgical job.) Secondly, you should never unleash a media blitz that projects the Indian State as the conqueror of a holy shine. And thirdly, in the aftermath of Bluestar, we needed to assuage Sikh sentiments, not glory in some bogus victory.

Twenty-five years later, I have not changed my mind.

But I think everybody else has.

If you saw the assessments of Indira Gandhi’s reign on October 31 on TV channels, you will have noticed that it has now become obligatory to refer to Bluestar as a big mistake (“her biggest blunder” even) and many Sikhs now hold forth about how so many innocents were murdered by the Indian State because of Indira Gandhi’s callousness.

Some of this stems from ignorance. Many TV journos were either not born or were children when Bluestar happened. And some of it is because we subliminally link Bluestar to the pogroms in which Sikhs were massacred after Mrs Gandhi’s assassination.

In fact the truth is that as much of a disaster as the military operation was and as badly as government (and the popular media and the educated middle class) behaved in its aftermath, there was no alternative to Bluestar.

It was a mess. It was regrettable. But it was necessary.

We forget how bad things were in Punjab in the early 1980s. The Congress (in the shape of Giani Zail Singh with the blessings of the Centre) had propped up an obscure preacher called Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to serve as a foil to the Akalis.

To the Congress’s horror Bhindranwale turned into a monster. He claimed that Sikhs were second class citizens in India and demanded a separate nation called Khalistan.

His followers and other militants spread a trail of terror all over Punjab, specifically targeting Hindus. Buses would be stopped. Hindus would be separated from Sikhs and shot dead in cold blood. Prominent Hindus were assassinated. Funds were raised through robberies and extortion. Women were kidnapped and kept prisoner for the sexual gratification of militants. Bombs were placed in public places to kill innocent civilians. Moderate Sikhs were threatened and murdered.

All this was carried out from the Golden Temple where Bhindranwale had taken control of the Akal Takht. Either because he had supporters in the police and administration or because the cops were scared, nobody stopped the shipments of arms that regularly entered the temple. Bhindranwale had made it clear that the violence would continue till an independent country called Khalistan was created.

Faced with this intolerable situation, Indira Gandhi blew it.

The problem was not that she acted with haste or brutality. Quite the opposite.

The problem was that she did too little for too long.

She put her faith in talks, allowed the killings to go on and funked sending the police into the Golden Temple. Even when a police DIG was murdered in full public view at the temple she refused to send the forces in.

When she did act, it was almost too late. And the operation was botched.

The real criticism of Bluestar is not that the forces of the Indian State entered the Golden Temple in 1984. The real problem is that they did not go in much earlier and take out Bhindranwale and his gang of terrorist murderers.

It astonishes me that the reality of the Punjab militancy has been swept under the carpet along with the murders of Hindus and Sikhs. Of course, the army screwed up the operation, and, of course, the Congress must take the responsibility of bringing Bhindranwale to public attention.

But how can we talk about the operation only in terms of “a murder of innocents”? How can we forget that Bhindranwale was a forerunner of Osama bin Laden in that he was a fanatic who turned against the people who had discovered him? Why do we hear so little about the terrorism that led to Bluestar and the horrors of that phase in our history?

The trouble is that the middle class has done an about-turn. Many of us are so guilty about the terrible violence of November 1984 that we have blanked out what went before. Just as we were unreasonably delighted about Bluestar when it happened, we now seek, as unreasonably, to dissociate ourselves from it.

But let’s see sense. Murderers under the leadership of a violent fanatic threatened the unity of India for no good reason (at least in the case of the Naxalites we can understand the grievances), killed innocents, drove a wedge between Hindus and Sikhs and destroyed law and order in the Punjab.

It was a terrible time. And I hope that nothing like it happens again. But if it does, we must not hesitate to use force to take out the murderers. And we should do it as soon as possible.
That’s the real lesson of Bluestar.

The views expressed by the author are personal 

Army offers career help

CHANDIGARH: An exhibition on career opportunities in Army was held at DAV College premises at Sector 10, Chandigarh on Saturday under the aegis of Headquarters Recruiting Zone, Ambala Cantonment. It was inaugurated by Col (Retd) RK Singh, an alumni of DAV College in presence of principal BC Josan and Brig JS Soin, deputy director general recruiting (States), Headquarters Recruiting Zone, Ambala Cantonment.

Brig Soin stated that the elite Indian Army provides an excellent opportunity to the youths to serve the nation and is one of the finest, stable and prestigious careers options today coupled with an unmatched lifestyle.

The meet showcased various entry schemes to join as officers and personnel below officer rank into the Indian Army with special emphasis on National Defence Academy, Indian Military Academy, Officers Training Academy, Women Entry Schemes, Service Selection Board interview, besides highlighting pay and allowances, facilities and life in the Army.

The computerized interactive modules, movies of prestigious training institutions, presentations and distribution of brochures and other training related material gave an impetus to the drive in generating awareness amongst the participants.

The recruiting officers from Haryana and Himachal Pradesh helped and counselled prospective candidates to select appropriate mode of entry into the Army.

Students, prospective candidates and aspirants from the affiliated colleges of Punjab University and department of higher education of UT, besides cadets of NCC and those from Sainik schools at Kunjpura, Kapurthala and Sujanpur Tira explored the various opportunities available in Indian Army.