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Nightmare For Forces?: FAULTY MILITARY PROCUREMENT POLICY, by B.K. Mathur, 18 June 2007 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 18 June 2007

Nightmare For Forces?


By B.K. Mathur

Defence Ministry’s one policy that has repeatedly come in for criticism for decades, perhaps since independence, is its military equipment procurement policy. Various Parliamentary Committees have gone into the faults in specific cases time and again. So have several reports of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). On its part, the Ministry too has made some policy changes from time to time. But flaws in policies and planning continue unabated. The latest on this front is the CAG report tabled in Parliament last month. It stresses that the weapon systems that should have been inducted in the Army within 12 months were not made available to the force anywhere close to that deadline.

The CAG made this remark while going into some acquisitions which were required to be made under the Ministry’s fast track procedure (FTP) for buying weapon systems on emergency basis to cater to urgent operational requirements. But the delay in their procurement has presented a sort of a nightmare to the armed forces. The FTP policy, remember, was introduced in 2002, that is three years after the Kargil operation in 1999. It allows the military establishments to ignore the laid down procurement policy in an effort to plug gaps in the military’s operational capabilities. It has been noticed that the Ministry has compromised “competitiveness” in terms of adequate vendor identification in the name of urgency, but the forces did not get any benefit. Vested interests have invariably prevailed.

Remember, soon after the Kargil operation the, then, Chief of the Army Staff, General V.P. Malik has forcefully commented on the role of Babudom in defence planning and security matters. A frustrated General had minced no words in highlighting during a massive military exercise in Rajasthan, operation Vijay Chakra, that “procedural problems” more than “funds constraints” were coming in the way in modernization of the Army. The military brass has, in fact, been quite upset about the red-tape and delayed acquisition for a considerable period of time. The bureaucracy sits with great comfort on files pertaining to military demands, something which was clearly and concerned reflected in the Kargil operation.

As various reports indicated, the Kargil operation provided in a way the repeat of 1962, when China attacked India and the Army deployed there was caught napping. After the tragedy of the north-eastern Himalayas, India and its traumatized Prime Minister Nehru realized the serious shortages of equipment and such wherewithal which provide to the forces the required teeth to protect the country’s security. The Government then moved fast to go in for heavy purchases to update the armed forces. The result was seen within three years when the Indian forces took on successfully the Pakistani attack in 1965. No doubt, the Indian machinery was undoubtedly inferior to Pakistan’s, but the manpower superiority helped fully.

The real advantage of updating the arms and the men of the forces was clearly seen in 1971 when the Indian forces performed extremely well against Pakistan, both in the eastern and western sectors.  The success prompted the Government to again go in for updating the military machines both from the West and the erstwhile USSR. With the machines, alas, came the scandals connected with military purchases---big slush money, procurement of inferior or outdated weapons and systems. Remember, the big deal in the purchase of fighter aircraft, the Jaguars and Mirages. Both were inducted into the Air Force at least a decade late, when other air forces had begun to go in for the next generation of the aircraft. The delays in almost all purchases were caused by the bureaucracy, aided and abetted by the politicians.

In fact, the system of negotiating with foreign manufacturers officially through the middlemen was dispensed with and the Government started “handling” the manufacturers directly. This led to scandals and wrong contracts and, of course, slush money for the purchases of expensive machines like Jaguar aircraft, submarines and Bofors gun, which caused even the fall of a Government at the Centre.  In this process of increasing corruption in defence deals an effort which Indira Gandhi had made towards increasing indigenization of military hardware started suffering, resulting in more and more dependence on imports. Worse, delayed acquisitions were made from the Western sources, which were at that time surprisingly acquired without production technology.

More than two decades later, one discovered that things were back to square one, resulting in the Kargil tragedy in 1999 and the Army Chief’s reaction quoted at the outset. In fact, the shortcomings which the Indian forces had faced during the Kargil operations had prompted the Defence Ministry to work out the fast procedure to provide for the armed forces the equipment they needed urgently. Even in the case of such acquisitions, the same decades-old malady has continued to be practised by vested interests, concerned more about themselves than the security of the nation. For them, it is just a routine matter what the CAG has pointed out in its latest report.

The striking example of the utter neglect of FTP that the CAG has pointed out is the purchase of electronic warfare systems, which the Army had urgently needed. A contract for this deal was signed more than four years after the Ministry had approved the procurement under the FTP.  Likewise, the purchase of extended range rockets met an almost similar fate. A contract was signed in December 2005, even though the FTP was invoked in August 2002. More time was required for completing the deal. One can go on and on highlight similar delays in acquiring for the forces important machines to keep them in operational readiness.

This kind of delays should not have happened especially in case of FTP on emergency basis. The FTP does away with critical elements of the procurement process like the issue of request for proposals (RFP), and technical evaluation for purchasing an established and tested project. The CAG has faulted the Ministry for going in for the FPT when its application was not justified in some cases. For instance, it says that the electronic warfare system for Kargil and the north-east were an urgent requirement in 1999 when the case for procurement was initiated.  But it was brought under FPT in October 2001 by when it could have been procured through normal procedure. Indeed, vested interests would have suffered.

The frustrating story which the CAG has revealed in its latest report last month is indeed tragic. Despite having in our Defence laboratories excellent scientists and technicians we, in the first place, rush for purchases abroad and then delay in acquiring the machines the forces urgently need. The negotiations with foreign vendors take years, as has concernedly happened in the case of advance jet trainers (AJT), which is actually the lifeline of the IAF. More about it another time. In the present context, the disastrous military equipment policy has indeed cost the armed forces dearly all these years. Time now to set things right.---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


An Unprofessional Policy: ARMY DEPLOYMENT, CIVIL CONTROL, by B.K. Mathur, 21 May 2007 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 21 May 2007

An Unprofessional Policy


By B.K. Mathur

The Army deployment in Jammu and Kashmir for tackling prolonged militancy has raised several issues concerning the country’s armed forces. Two most controversial of them are their deployment for civil duties and, if deployed, under what control and command. This depends upon the type of assignment. Deployment in aid of civil authority has necessarily to be under civil control, but the Jammu and Kashmir assignment is entirely different, where the Army is fighting for years a war-like situation against foreign militants, professionally trained for military operations in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. For such a deployment, the Army needs to be given full control and command, without which it becomes difficult for it to achieve its assigned task.

Presently a controversy is going on in J&K between the ruling coalition partners, the Congress and the PDP over the army deployment in the State. The latter party is persisting with its demand to withdraw the Army or reduce its presence in some crucial areas in pursuance of its “healing touch” policy, a policy which the armed forces personnel do not understand by virtue of their basic training. They are trained to “kill” to achieve their target. They have to be reckless with complete control and command. The State’s Chief Minister is against withdrawal or reduction of the Army at this stage in view of the existing situation in which the infiltration has increased during the last two months. But, at the same time, he continues to talk about human rights and advises the Army to observe restrain in handling the militancy, an entirely unprofessional policy.

Military intelligence and the GoC-in-C of the Northern Army Command have informed the Government with facts and figures that the infiltration of trained militants from across the border has increased during the last two months, April and May, as compared to figures of the corresponding period last year, despite the confidence-building measures (CBMs) for peace between the two neighbours. The infiltration has taken place by cutting the barbed wire fencing at several points along the Line of Control (LoC) and attempts to sneak in with the mortar and even artillery support from behind in the Pak-held area, have been foiled by the Army units. At times exchange of fire has taken place for hours together.

Those who have been repeatedly demanding the Army withdrawal to the barracks or its re-deployment seem to have missed the well-planned strategy of the militants; a diabolical gameplan. They are sneaking into the Indian territory but not striking. Instead of increase in violent incidents there is decrease which gives one the impression that the militancy is now under control and that the Governments at the Centre and in the State would be forced under political pressure to withdraw or reduce the Army deployment. It is evident that the gameplan of the militants and their supporters in Islamabad is to regroup the militants and prepare them for their operational readiness for a massive strike as was planned prior to the Kargil operation in 1999.

The first principle of a military operation is to take the enemy by surprise to ensure success. This was their strategy prior to operation when they quietly prepared for a long time as proved by the construction by them of multi-purpose bunkers and ammunition stores not only in Skardu but also close to the LoC. The reaction of the Army based in J&K should obviously be to prepare itself for such an eventuality and be ruthless in handling the militants trying to regroup themselves with the help of local elements. For such a readiness to counter a possible attack, the Army needs to be given compete authority without any political interference or any talk of “healing touch” or “human rights”, notwithstanding the fact that the unified command in the State is headed by the Chief Minister.

The greatest tragedy of nearly too decades of militancy is that the Pak-trained militants have been harboured by a large number of local people across the State and allowed to live and act at will. Such people who harbour the nation’s enemy have not been tackled more because of political reasons rather than Army laxity. In fact, the Army has suffered tremendously all these years of losing large-number of its personnel at the hands of the “hidden militants” living in safe buildings, virtually out-of-bounds for military action. Such militants are not only just harboured but also allowed to carry, and even store, arms and ammunition to kill the men of the security while on the move to tackle the bigger operations by the enemy. The personnel are killed undefended, with their hands tried to their back.

This at once reminds one of the Indian Peace Keeping Force’s (IPKF) mission of the Army against the LTTE in north-eastern parts of Sri Lanka in mid-1980s. This writer visited the area twice and saw with great surprise the Indian soldiers fighting the LTTE offensive with their hands virtually tied to their back. They were asked to keep peace in the region, help the Lankan Government without undertaking any operation intended to kill the enemy or to occupy any land. In the process, the Army lost a large number of its men, without fighting any regular operation. Unfortunately, on their return from the assignment some pro-LTTE element in India equated the IPKF mission with the Mylai operation in Vietnam.

Sri Lanka has again tried last week to get around New Delhi for military assistance to tackle the continuing problem with the LTTE. The Tigers, as the LTTE activists are called, have armed themselves adequately in the last two decades to fight the Lankan forces to get freedom for the Tamilian-dominated north-eastern region of the Island nation. As in 1983-84, Colombo has asked New Delhi for military assistance to fight the Tigers, who have now become much stronger than during the 1980s. They have also acquired air power, which could be a danger to India also. If India fails to help them, the Lankans have indicated they would take military equipment from China and Pakistan. Both Beijing and Islamabad have been trying for long to establish their bases in the Indian Ocean and surely both will jump at the opportunity of military relationship with Colombo.

It would be strategically wise for New Delhi somehow to stop China and Pakistan getting militarily close to Sri Lanka. National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan is right in quickly offering to Colombo “whatever its requirement”, with a rider that New Delhi’s assistance would be confined to “defensive capabilities”. Importantly, if the Army personnel are to be deployed in Sri Lanka even for training or equipment maintenance purposes, they need be sent with clear directions and authority to take on-the-spot decisions required according to situation. In fact, such clear professional directions and authority need to be given to the forces deployed with a defined assignment, like the tackling of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir. How they achieve the assigned target is their business---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance))


CAG Highlights Irregularities: FLAWED MILITARY PROCUREMENT SYSTEM, by B.K. Mathur, 21 May 2007 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 21 May 2007

CAG Highlights Irregularities


By B.K. Mathur

Procurement from abroad, off-the-shelf and production under licence or wholly indigenously of machines and weapon systems for India’s armed forces has been a matter of great concern for years no end, rather decades. There have been great scandals galore on purchases from abroad from time to time. Even a Government of the Union has fallen mainly because of a gun deal involving slush money. Such deals have been examined by several Parliamentary Committees and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) from time to time. But all the exercises and recommendations have gone down the drain.  Only the vested interests have prevailed.

After the Kargil confrontation in 1999, a Group of Ministers, headed by L.K. Advani, had suggested several changes in the procurement system. But not much has changed and the Ad-hocism continues unabated for various reasons, most concernedly the massive costs of the machinery procured from time to time. The Advani Committee had strongly recommended the need for the establishment of a Procurement Board to plan imports or indigenous production of machines and systems for the three Services. What was actually stressed was the need for advanced planning for procurement. Such a Board presently exists but does not seen to be functioning the way Advani Committee had suggested.

The lapse is clearly indicated in the four Audit Reports on Defence Services by the CAG for the year ending March 2006, presented to Parliament on May 14, 2007. The CAG has noted in Report No.4 on “Army and Ordnance Factories: “There was significant amount of unplanned procurement as several items which were not catered for in the Tenth Plan were procured each year. The unplanned procurement increased from two per cent in 2003-04 to 43 per cent in 2005-06 (in terms of value)”. The number of items procured without planning during 2004-06 was 24, valued at Rs.3,361 crore. The Defence Ministry justified this procurement by telling the CAG that “the requirement of these items emerged on the battlefield suddenly and that these items could not be forecast initially and hence were not included in the five-year plan.”

The CAG has, however, noted differently. On closer examination it has found that “many of these items were not exactly in the nature of emergency procurement. Items like Air Target Imitator (ATI), Boot Antimine etc were identified for acquisition by the Army more than a decade before.  The Army had proposed for procurement of ATI in 1997 yet it was not included in the Tenth Plan. Similarly Boot Antimine was proposed for procurement in 2000 yet not included in the Tenth Plan (2002-07). Similarly, Extended Range Rockets, Unattended Ground Sensors (UGS), Integrated Field Shelter etc. which were procured without being included in the original Plan, could not be justified as emergent procurement.”

More. The CAG has found with great concern that four items were procured by the Army independently. In doing so, the Army failed to coordinate effectively with the other Services, the Navy and the Air Force, and resorted to independent procurement, instead of planning joint procurements to obtain best value of money.” It has been rightly observed by the Auditors that aggregation for common purchases for tendering is desirable to minimize transaction cost, reduce processing time, avoid multiplicity of repair and overhaul facilities, economy in procurement from bulk buying. The CAG has identified four items which have common use but procured independently. They are Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV), Integrated Oxygen / Communication Mask Helenet Skipper Rifles SVD and combat underwater diving Equipment.

Now let us see the Defence Ministry’s shopping skills that take care of only vested interests at the cost of national interest. Not only that. The exercise to serve self first directly affects the growth of the domestic defence industry. Things which can easily be designed and produced indigenously are imported after paying much more than the cost involved in indigenous production. The excuses of “urgent requirements” or the industry’s failure to produce in time are trotted out to justify procurement from abroad at high costs that includes massive under-the-counter payments. The anxiety to run abroad for frequent foreign trips also causes delay in procurements, leading to a situation where an expensive machine becomes obsolete by the time it is finally procured. The most glaring example of this tendency is the acquisition of fighter aircraft for Indian Air Force. 

Take another glaring example to prove the point. The history of the indigenous production of a main battle tank, planned way back in 1974. After 33 years of trials and errors 40 tanks, now named “Arjun”, have been handed over to the Army for “trial”. The Army is still not satisfied with the produce; the tank gets heated up fast and do not compare well with the imported ones. Not many may know the real cause for the delay. The tank, called MBT was initially designed in the 1970s and produced for trials with a 1000 hp engine, when it reached the Army about a decade later, improved versions with 1500 hp were available in foreign market. The Indian scientists then began the update exercise to produce a tank on a 1500 hp. engine. That took time, yet the original design remains incomplete to match with the 1500 hp engine. The Arjun may ultimately get discarded by the users.

Despite the fact that the Ministry had prepared the defence procurement procedures for the years 2005 and 2006, they were ignored when it came to implementation. Take, for example, the Rs.673.42-crore project to upgrade the IL-38 maritime reconnaissance plane, signed with a Russian company in 2001. The procurement did not progress as per the schedule owing to delays in the finalization of certain weapon systems and customer supplied equipment. Two of these aircraft were delivered after a delay of 25 months and 16 months respectively.  Strangely, these two late-delivered aircrafts are without essential avionics and weapon systems---missiles, bombs and tarpedos---thus limiting their operational capabilities.

About the procurement for the Army, the CAG has noticed “incorrect assessment” of its requirements HHTIS (4062 units) first procured from Israel and later from other sources, including Bharat Electronics. This led to excess procurement for 56 units that caused an avoidable expenditure of Rs.10.16 crore. Same for procurement for the IAF. The Ministry had entered into a Rs.586-crore contract for 20 air surveillance radars to replace obsolete ones. But their acquisition was “considerably delayed”. What is more, the process also deviated from the prescribed procedure. Not only that. As many as ten radars, costing Rs.251 crore and received between March 2005 and August 2006, remained unstalled for non-completion of works services. Consequently, the IAF’s bases continue to operate flights with obsolete radars.

One can go on and on with such flaws, which seem to have become a matter of routine for the Defence Ministry and the three Service headquarters. The continuing malice has prompted the CAG to ask the Ministry once more for a drastic overhaul of the entire defence procurement system. It needs to be done on high priority basis to ensure that the armed forces get the “capabilities” they need to meet the threat perception in a timely and cost-effective manner. In the final analysis, most important in this regard is that the policy planners and their executors must put the national interests above all else, especially the vested interests.---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

The Enemy Within: MENTAL DISORDER IN ARMED FORCES, by B.K. Mathur, 7 May 2007 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 7 May 2007

The Enemy Within


By B.K. Mathur

 A shocking, to say the least, disclosure was made in Parliament the other day by Defence Minister A.K. Antony, that as many as 559 personnel had to be discharged from the armed forces during 2006 due to what he described as “mental disorder”. Those “boarded out” from the Air Force during the year were 35 and 15 from the Navy. The tragedy does not end there. About 350 militarymen die annually in road accidents, about 250 in fighting terrorists and, most concernedly, about 120 lives are lost in stress-related deaths because of suicides and “fragging” annually.  The total number of the armed forces personnel we lost last year during peace time is alarmingly eye-brow raising 1,279---a figure officially stated in Parliament.

The causes of tragic end of India’s brave militarymen have been identified by Antony as “psychosis, neurosis, personality disorders, adjustment disorders and depression” and, of course, the “alcohol dependence syndrome.” The tragic developments in India’s armed forces, once praised no end by none other than Winston Churchill for their prowess displayed in two World Wars while fighting for British Regiments, has not taken place in just one year in 2006 for which figures were quoted by Antony. The Army discharged 350 soldiers due to these reasons in 2004. The figure rose to 405 the next year. See, it is gradually rising year after year. The trend requires immediate attention.

There are several causes for this alarming state of affairs in the armed force. First among them is recruitment of the type of personnel which the military services need. This column has raised this issue several times in the two decades and more. When we raised this issue with George Fernandes, when he was the Defence Minister in the Vajpayee Government, he had reacted sharply and stated that our information was wrong. George reeled out figures to claim that the numerical strength of the trainees at various military Academies was full and a good number of youngmen were joining the Army. George’s statement at once brought to the force the fact that it is not the quantity but the quality that matters.

Quality in-take has not been there for various reasons, more so in the officer-cadre. There are three main irritants for this increasing decline. First, lack of interest among the youth in joining the armed forces because better career avenues are available to them elsewhere. In fact, most of the brilliant students in the educational institutions today prefer a career in the corporate world and not even in the IAS which at one stage was considered the steel-frame of governance. Secondly, the in-service conditions in the armed forces are deteriorating day by day. This trend has, in fact, been set by the undesired command and control situation, actually created by sub-standard recruitment.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the armed forces personnel who retire early and require a second career do not get one. On retirement they are not looked after by the state. There are several cases of outstanding cadets in the Indian Military Academy who retired as Lt-Colonels have migrated to foreign countries for small jobs only because they never got their due from the state and the Army which they served faithfully. In fact, there are hundreds of cases where the boys offered their services to the Army, and to the nation, suffered in return. It is natural, therefore, for the youngmen to opt for an easy and comfortable career. I think of my own son whom I suggested to take a chance for the armed forces after his graduation. He snubbed me and his mother called me a “mad man.”

True, the Government and the armed forces cannot possibly match the salaries which the private sector offers to young marketing men promoting sales of their produce. But better service conditions and post-retirement benefits can certainly attract the youth. It is in this context that the problems of ex-Servicemen require to be examined in their proper perspective. In fact, quality intake could be made possible not only by offering them just higher salary packets, undertaking quick cadre reviews and increasing the retirement age. These are undoubtedly significant. Additionally, an officer in the armed forces must get the respect in the civil society which he earlier used to get.

In contrast what happens today. A friend known to me from the Academy days retired from the Army a few years ago. A year after retirement, Colonel Sahib felt humiliated when he had to stand in a queue to renew his gun licence with great difficulty and days later he had to pay bribe to have the plan for the construction of his house approved by the Delhi Development Authority. These small but significant things are required to be looked into to attract high quality recruitment into the armed forces. Alas, a sense of pride needs to be restored in the minds of the armed forces personnel. All this is no digression from the main issue of this column. Better command and control of the forces and their proper deployment is sure to attract talent and decease mental disorder.

Relevantly, improper intake and poor service conditions invariably create situations in the Units where a militarymen is forced to commit suicide or face personality disorders and adjustment disorders, leading one to take recourse to excessive consumption of alcohol which is freely and cheaply available in Messes. In regard to problems of psychosis, neurosis and depression among Officers of the armed forces a thorough review of the methods adopted by the Services Selection Boards is required, because at present officer-trainees are selected by the Board on psychological basis. The selection is based on the reports of three persons: the Psychologist who makes his assessment from the answers to some questions in a written test without seeing the candidates. Second is the Group Testing Officer (GTO) whose criteria is to examine the physical aspect of the candidate and third is the President of the Board whose report is based on the findings of the first two, and especially of the Psychologist.

The entire system seems to be defective, because it is not able to spot out rightly the personality of a youngmen ready to join the forces. A boy’s psychological development of mind could, we suppose, be determined at the recruitment stage. When a candidate stays in a Selection Board for three days, there should be no difficulty in determining if the candidate is sensitive and prone to taking such steps as committing suicide or going into depression. Additionally, there is also the need to review the deployment system of the forces, so that a soldier is able to avail fully his annual leave, which is presently for two months in a year. A soldier doing duty in difficult terrain needs to go home compulsorily for two months in twelve months to look after himself and his family back home.

What is now happening is that the troops are deployed in the militancy-hit border areas in Jammu and Kashmir and the insurgency-hit north-eastern States. They are not able to get leave when they want. And when they get it, it is for short duration. The result? They are not able to meet their families and resolve their problems back home. This leads to increasing cases of militarymen suffering from depression and at times taking their own lives and of others whom they think responsible for their depression. Of course, the forces must be deployed in areas affected by militancy and foreign infiltration. But deployment system must ensure that the personnel deployed in troubled areas do not suffer depression as well as their training schedules which help them in future promotions.  The forces need to be looked after well not only during service but on retirement too.---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

Indo-Pak Talks: SIACHEN GLACIER ON BOIL AGAIN, by B.K. Mathur, 15 May 2007 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 15 May 2006

Indo-Pak Talks


By B.K. Mathur

This is a repeat of what one heard, spoke and wrote last year before and after the tenth round of Defence Secretaries parleys to resolve the prolonged Siachen Glacier issue between India and Pakistan. Like last time this year too, it was reported prior to the talks last week that both sides were slowly inching towards a solution for the withdrawal of troops from the Siachen Glacier and Saltoro ridge, the highest battleground in the world.  One hoped against hopes that some sort of an understandings could be arrived at to demilitarize certain areas, to start with. President Mushrraf had indicated Islamabad’s willingness to work out a formula and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too has been holding that an understanding could be a major breakthrough in Indo-Pak relations.

Nothing of the sort has happened. India wants, and rightly too, Islamabad to authenticate the positions of the Indian troops in the region at present to eliminate any mischief by the Pakistan Army in claiming those strategically advantageous heights which the Indian troops are presently occupying at high costs, notwithstanding clear indications prior to the Rawalpindi talks that Islamabad was, in principle, inclined to arrive at an agreement for the withdrawal of Indian troops.  Islamabad obviously wants New Delhi to be flexible on the distance to which the Indian troops will pull back with actually no commitment about the withdrawal of troops from where to where and why.  Naturally the controversy remains unresolved, notwithstanding the diplomatic and political statements by the top leadership of the two countries.

 Strategically, the Indian troops are based at a height very advantageous to them in the event of a war. This is hurting the military rulers in Pakistan against the backdrop of its defeats at the hands of India’s armed forces in 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999.  All the time the Pak forces have attacked India from the Kashmir side and had to pay heavily, despite assistance and support from powerful, developed countries. Islamabad now wants the Indians troops to be withdrawn from these heights over the Saltoro ridge, which India should not leave.  Islamabad may have lately accepted in principle the Indian troops’ positions. But there is certainly need to first get confirmation of the “actual ground position line (AGPL) as the defining line or Line of Control.

 In other words, the LoC which was earlier drawn up only up to NJ 9842 should be extended as part of a firm compromise and defined upto the end. Nothing short of which need to be accepted, notwithstanding Islamabad’s diplomatic pressure for world consumption. The Indian side, particularly the Defence side, including the armed forces, should ignore what the Pakistan Defence Secretary’s delegation had reportedly stated after the last week’s unsuccessful round, like in May last year: India has remained adamant on its demand for authentication of the present position of Indian troops, even though we had offered to “record” the positions.  This clearly means that Islamabad remains adamant to its known position that it does not want to legalise the AGPL.

 What the Indian Army insists is to have a “clearly defined operational response mechanism.”  A firm provision needs to be incorporated in the agreement, that in the event of the Pakistani troops intruding into the Indian territory and taking positions belonging to the Indian Army and withdrawn under the agreement\, the Indian troops would be within their right to undertake an operational response and re-capture the positions on the Glacier heights held by them prior to the implementation of the agreement, if any.  But before the “give and take” arrangement which PM Manmohan Singh seems willing to work out with President Musharraf, it is necessary for New Delhi to draw the LoC upto the end.

The defining of the AGPL is at the root of the prolonged Siachen problem.  Remember, following the Shimla Agreement after the 1971 war, the ceasefire line was converted into the Line of Control (LoC) and so delineated on the maps.  This exercise established Point NJ 9842 as the anchor around which the LoC got further defined as “thence north to the glaciers”. This controversy over the “undrawn” LoC beyond NJ 9842 and its continuation towards north or “north-east” has remained unresolved, which consequently led to the operation “Meghdoot” in 1984.  The Indian forces then occupied the strategic heights.  The inviolability of the LoC has to be maintained and made an important national objective, as stressed by former Defence and External Affairs Minister, Jaswant Singh of the BJP.

This national objective must be kept in mind while working out any agreement with Pakistan.  It should not be treated casually because the LoC in the Siachen sector has been turned into the AGPL. If New Delhi is now considering withdrawal of troops from the heights acquired through great efforts in 1984, then there is need for secure certain commitments and assurances from Islamabad. Any formula to resolve the contentious issue must, therefore, include the confirmation of the AGPL, as the defining line, commitment against the re-occupation of the heights surreptitiously by Pakistan, defining the extent of the withdrawal and, importantly, cleaning of that part of the Glacier which has been under the Pakistani troops for a long time.

 Any withdrawal of Indian troops from the strategic heights for a military operation needs to be negotiated after obtaining adequate assurances, with a clause for immediate military action against the violator, that is, Pakistan. In this context, it must be remembered that the positions on which the Indian troops are deployed are not over Siachen but the Saltoro glacier west of Siachen.  Pakistan has attempted several times since 1984 to dislodge our troops from that height and has, in the process, lost substantial number of troops.  Evidently, therefore, any agreement with Islamabad without confirming the validity of the AGPL would amount to a violation of the sanctity of the LoC – and dilution of India’s stand all these years.

In the past successive Army Chiefs have expressed their concern about an agreement on withdrawal of the troops from these heights in a hush hush manner, at times warning of the consequences. The Chief of the Army Staff, General J.J. Singh had boldly stated: last year prior to the tenth round of the Defence Secretaries meet: “We have conveyed our concern and views to the Government and we expect that the composite dialogue will take care of these concerns and the decision of the Government will be taken in consonance with the views which have been projected.”  The Army’s main plea now, as on two earlier occasions in 1989 and 1990, is that some kind of a mechanism should be incorporated in the agreement that defines the Indian troops’ positions after withdrawal.

 Truly, it will be suicidal for India to agree on anything less than getting Indian troops present position “authenticated” before any withdrawal. This done, another “precautionary measure” must be taken: continued presence of the Indian Air Force, even if the troops are ultimately pulled back. The IAF bases of the Western forward area should remain in full “operational readiness”, because Kashmir and its annexation has always remained close to the hearts of all military rulers. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has disclosed the other day in her amended autography that Musharraf as Director of Military Operations has “sought” permission to “take” Kashmir and assure control of Srinagar in 1996.  What he wanted was foolishly attempted in Kargil in 1999. Please remember this.---INFA

  (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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