Thursday, October 27, 2016

Rafale Deal Will Strengthen France-India Technological & Industrial Cooperation: Christophe Sirugue

by Arun S

As part of efforts to boost India-France trade & investment ties, French Minister of State for Industry Christophe Sirugue is on a three day tour to India beginning October 25. The focus of his trip is on developing bilateral industrial partnership under the “Make in India” initiative as well as on innovation & new technology.

In an interview to The Hindu, Sirugue termed the €7.87 billion deal for purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft by India as a major strategic success, and said it will pave the way for an unprecedented strengthening of France-India technological & industrial cooperation. Besides, he said Alstom’s troubles in France owing to poor demand will not impact its India operations -- including implementation of the over €3 billion contract it bagged in November 2015 to supply Indian Railways 800 freight electric locomotives and carry out the related long-term maintenance. The minister also said in addition to defence, aerospace and nuclear energy, he sees strong potential in three rapidly growing sectors in India: urban development (including urban transport, renewable energy, water & waste treatment), food processing and healthcare. (Edited excerpts)

Q: An India-France joint statement in January had referred to the attractiveness of France for Indian investors, especially for leveraging French technological expertise & competencies. Which are the sectors in India where there is a demand for French technologies; and what are the problems being faced by French firms regarding transferring technology to Indian firms?

A: There are many solid reasons behind France’s attractiveness for Indian investors. France is the fifth largest economy in the world, and the second largest market in Europe. Around 25,000 foreign companies present in France employ more than 1.7 million people, and, every week, 19 foreign firms choose France for new investments, considering its skilled workforce, its excellent infrastructure and its central location in Europe.

French technology and know-how are renowned worldwide in numerous sectors. There is longstanding cooperation between our countries and our companies in sectors such as defense, aerospace and nuclear energy. Both sides have developed long-term partnerships. I also see strong potential in three rapidly growing sectors in India: (i) urban development – an area in which many French companies are already present and can offer innovative technologies in urban transport, renewable energy, water and waste treatment; (ii) the food processing sector, in which many of our specialized SMEs wish to establish themselves; and, (iii) healthcare, a competitive and technologically advanced sector in which France has much to offer.

Q: Can you share some details on cooperation between states / provinces of India and France?

A: Indo-French economic relations are ever-intensifying, at all levels, be they at the central, state or local ones. The union territories, states and local bodies are obviously key players with whom French companies are increasingly working. French companies are spreading their presence throughout India, especially in large metropolitan cities like Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Ahmedabad. During my India visit, I made it a point to schedule a trip to Chennai, where I will be meeting companies that have been successfully established there: so, that includes Renault’s Kwid assembly plant and the Saint-Gobain research and development center.

Urban development, smart cities and renewable energy are particularly promising sectors. More than 60 French companies with recognized expertise are now operating in India. French authorities have organised more than twenty French companies’ delegations / roadshows in various Indian states and cities. During the State Visit of President François Hollande in January 2016, France entered into a preferred partnership with the cities of Chandigarh, Nagpur and Pondicherry with the view to offering them assistance and expertise on their participation to the Smart City mission.

Some French regions and cities have also entered into direct cooperation with Indian authorities, like the one between Bordeaux Metropole and the State of Telangana for Hyderabad city on various matters, such as aerospace, urban transportation, water and heritage management. Center Val de Loire has cooperation with Tamil Nadu since 2008. Similarly there is ongoing cooperation since 2011 with Region des Pays de la Loire, which has opened a permanent representative office in Chennai.

Q: Regarding the €7.87 billion deal for purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft by India, what kind of technologies will the French industry transfer and develop with Indian defense labs? How will France / French firms help build capacity in India to make them part of the French global defense supply chain to execute the offset requirements?

A: The Rafale deal is a major strategic success that forms part of a longstanding and close defense relationship between our two countries, and paves the way for unprecedented strengthening of our technological and industrial cooperation. The offsets contract was concluded between French companies and Indian authorities, so I’m not in a position to provide you its details. They will define, together with Indian companies, how the required transfers of technology will be implemented. I believe they have already made good progress on this.

What I can tell you, though, is that the offsets will contribute to a soaring, solid and autonomous defense industry in India. France perfectly understands this quest for strategic autonomy, which is a goal that we ourselves have been pursuing since decades. We welcome our cooperation with India in implementing this.

Q: (French rail transport major) Alstom had bagged an over €3 billion contract to supply Indian Railways with 800 freight electric locomotives and carry out the related long-term maintenance. However, Alstom was in trouble recently as it had announced plans to halt production in Belfort (France), and the French state (which holds a 20% stake in the company) had to face criticism regarding a rescue package aimed at saving around 400 jobs. Will the multinational company’s troubles have any impact on its Indian operations and the $3 billion contract with Indian Railways?

A: Alstom and the French government recently held talks on the future of Belfort site, and more generally on the situation of Alstom’s different sites in France. The government, Alstom and stakeholders elaborated a joint plan which will preserve Alstom’s strong technological expertise on several segments of the railway market, in particular locomotives. Therefore, those talks will have no impact on Alstom’s operations in India, including the contract you mention.

Q: It was reported that France is aiming to be a major protein supplier by 2030 with plans to hike investments into ‘intelligent food’ from vegetable & animal sources. India had recently allowed 100 per cent foreign direct investment in marketing of food products produced & manufactured in India. Can you share some details on the proposed collaboration between India and France in food processing, food technology and retail industries?

A: French companies are also involved in Make in India in the food processing industry. Axereal, Bongrain, Danone, Lactalis, Limagrain, Pernod-Ricard, Roquette and Soufflet – to mention but a few – are all European or world leaders successfully established in India. These food companies are well aware of the advantages of investing in India: abundant agricultural supply at a low price, diversification of agricultural production which can be transformed, and the possibility of selling not only in the Indian market but also exporting to the Middle-East or Southeast Asia.

It is also well known that the French agricultural and food processing industries innovate constantly, be it in packaging, preservation methods, or nutritional aspects, what you called ‘intelligent food’. And this is done with the constant aim of adapting to consumer needs.

Regarding innovation and technologies, France is a leader in building world class equipment for food processing companies. In this domain, we have companies specializing in cold chain, packaging solutions and every food processing sector: dairy, bakery, meat, grains processing, fruit and vegetable processing. France is already involved in training Indian experts in the cold chain field. This is a partnership based on knowledge sharing and awareness of better technologies.

In a nutshell, the potential is indeed immense not only for the food processing groups, but also for equipment manufacturers for this industry. The Goods and Services Tax reform as well as the new FDI policy in this sector are certainly strong positive signals. It will definitely help attract more investments in India, and more innovations from French companies.

Q: France had welcomed India’s recent ratification of the Paris climate change pact. Will this lead to higher French investments in India’s renewable energy sector?

A: Our authorities have stated on many occasions how India played a driving role in the adoption of the Paris Agreement in December 2015. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to ratify the Agreement also helped accelerate its entry into force, which will take place on 4th November. Also, France supported India’s initiative on the International Solar Alliance, which will help attain the goals of the Paris Agreement by facilitating access to solar energy.

India has fixed the target of producing 40 per cent of its electricity from non-fossil fuels by 2030, while meeting its vast energy needs that are necessary for nurturing its economic growth. Prime Minister Modi’s impetus has already resulted in a remarkable development of Indian capacities in renewable, which today has attained 44 GW. France is, of course, ready to extend all assistance – and has already done so. Did you know that 10 per cent of India’s installed solar capacity is provided by French companies? The French Development Agency (AFD) was among the first to back this emerging sector via two credit lines extended to the Indian renewable energy development agency (IREDA).

French companies, which have recognized expertise and know-how in the renewable energy sector, are already present in the market and participate in tenders floated in this sector. Thus, we can anticipate a major increase in French investments in this area.

India, Russia Sign Agreement For Further Military-Technical Co-operation

CEO of BRAHMOS Aerospace Dr. Sudhir Mishra and General of Army of Russia Sergei K. Shoigu during the latter's visit to the Indo-Russian Joint Venture company - File Photo

The Indian and Russian defense ministers have signed an agreement for further military-technical co-operation between the two nations.

“We note progress in our large projects such as joint construction of Ka-226 helicopters, BrahMos cruise missiles, S-400 Triumph air defense systems,” Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted as saying by Sputnik at a meeting of the Indo-Russian Inter Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation (IRIGCMTC) Wednesday.

"I think today is a good opportunity to summarize the past year and identify the challenges for the next year. We are ready to discuss the most pressing issues, problems and prospects of our military and military-technical cooperation. Additional tasks assigned during the meeting of the leaders of Russia and India on October 15-16 suggest that we need to expand our sphere of military-technical cooperation," Shoigu said.

The Russian and Indian defense ministries have been tasked with developing cooperation in the military-technical field, and have already made progress in talks on joint projects, including on S-400 air defense systems, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday.

At the 16th Russia-India delegation-level inter-governmental commission on military cooperation, Shoigu said that the sides had already started discussing and would continue discussing all those issues, in particular, related to the after-sales service of the previously supplied military equipment.

He also agreed with Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar that "it is necessary to prepare a more extensive and more voluminous road map for bilateral military cooperation" between the military departments of the two countries.

After a hiatus of nearly a year, India and Russia had in February revived talks on the much delayed FGFA project after a clearance from Parrikar.

Since then, a lot of issues related to work share, IPR and technology transfer among others have been sorted out between the two sides along with the monetary commitments.

Under the new offer, India will have to pay about USD 3.7 billion, instead of USD 6 billion, for technological know-how and three prototypes of the fighters, the sources said.

In 2010, India had agreed to pay USD 295 million towards the preliminary design of the fighter, called in India as Perspective Multi-role Fighter (PMF).

The two sides are also expected to discuss the upgrade of SU-30 MKI, India’s front line fighter aircraft. Russia is also eyeing the multi-billion dollar deal for P75-I project of India under which six conventional submarines are to be built with Air Independent Propulsion systems.

With deals over USD 12 billion in kitty this month, including leasing of a second nuclear submarine, Russia hopes to bag more projects as it termed itself as not just a business partner but an “ally” who stood by India in its “darkest hours”.

On Arunachal Pradesh, New Delhi Must Tell Beijing To Mind Its Own Business

by Bobby Ghosh 

That China has professed displeasure over a recent visit to Arunachal Pradesh by Richard Verma, the US ambassador to India, is both unsurprising and irrelevant. Beijing is merely effecting to be hopping mad, when it has no leg to stand on.

Resorting to classic 1950s Communist Party vernacular, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang pronounced that Beijing was “firmly opposed” to Verma’s visit to Tawang — how does one oppose something that has already happened? — on the highly dubious grounds that it might “damage the hard-earned peace and tranquillity of the China-India border region.” Lu told a press briefing in Beijing that “any responsible third party should respect efforts by China and India to seek peaceful and stable reconciliation, and not the opposite.” He went on: “We urge the United States to stop getting involved in the China-India territorial dispute.”

One imagines he wagged an admonishing finger as he spoke.

For all the faux umbrage, Lu’s argument is bunkum. The travel plans of a foreign envoy, even one from the US, represent no material threat to relations between India and China. Nor does Verma’s visit to Tawang in any way compromise his government’s “respect” for India-China peace. Lu knows this, and it’s not the point: Although the scolding was notionally directed at Verma, the message was meant for the Modi government. Beijing knows the ambassador would not have made the trip without New Delhi’s knowledge and blessing.

What China is reminding India, with all the subtlety of a giant dam across the Yangtze, is that it will not renounce its claims to the swath of Arunachal Pradesh it calls “South Tibet”. If India thinks allowing ambassadors to visit might change the status quo, then it is sorely mistaken.

But there’s nothing to suggest this was India’s calculation — New Delhi views the status quo in Arunachal Pradesh quite differently. Its reaction to Lu’s pouty posturing was as bland as it was blunt: “The US Ambassador visited Arunachal Pradesh, a state which is an integral part of the country to which he is accredited. There is nothing unusual in it,” said Vikas Swarup, spokesperson of the ministry of external affairs.

Swarup is an accomplished novelist (he wrote the book that became the movie “Slumdog Millionaire”) and it can’t have been easy to restrain himself from using much more colourful language — and from exercising an entirely different finger gesture.

Were he not shackled by diplomatic considerations, he might have mentioned that if the “hard-earned peace and tranquillity” along the India-China border is being damaged, it is not by the scheduled and advertised visit of the American envoy, but by the clandestine infiltration along the frontier by Chinese troops. There were 350 such transgressions last year alone. India’s restraint in this matter has been remarkable.

Swarup might also have pointed out that China is a fine one to preach about the need to tread carefully on disputed territory, when its soldiers have been spotted in border posts in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir: Earlier this year, Chinese officers were seen in the Nowgam sector, close to the Line of Control. Imagine the hyperventilating in Beijing if Verma had been accompanied by a handful uniformed US army officers!

Other soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army have made their presence felt near the Tangdhar sector. The ostensible reason is the construction of a hydel project there by a Chinese company, but that’s not much of an excuse: Either Beijing doesn’t trust its ally, the Pakistani military, or the soldiers are there for another reason.

There will be many more excuses for a growing Chinese troop presence in PoK in the months ahead. Beijing is literally bulldozing a highway, known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, through areas India regards as its own. CPEC, a $46 billion project that seeks to connect the Chinese province of Xinjiang to the Pakistani port of Gwadar, will pass through Gilgit-Baltistan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj have expressed New Delhi’s reservations about this to Beijing, with little effect.

Nor has Beijing been especially accommodating of the claims of other nations in the South China Sea littoral, where international arbitrators have ruled against its spurious proclamations of ownership. China has opposed India-Vietnamese oil exploration in the area, and maintains, without explanation, that there are no parallels between its presence in PoK and India’s commercial pursuits in the South China Sea. What’s more, operating on the principle that possession is nine-tenths of the law, China is building islands in disputed waters with the sole purpose of turning its claims into a fait accompli.

Two can play that game. Having dispensed with Beijing’s blather over the American envoy’s North-Eastern trip, the MEA should now consider building metaphorical islands in Arunachal Pradesh. The area is ripe for tourism, especially of the environmental kind favored by many Westerners and a growing number of Indians. An economic corridor in Arunachal Pradesh would be welcomed by locals for the jobs and opportunities it would bring.

In the meantime, the Modi government should encourage more foreign diplomats to visit Tawang — individually, and in groups. After all, as Verma tweeted after his trip, it is a place of “stunning mountains and wonderful people.”

Better yet, why not hold an international event there, inviting ALL foreign envoys currently in New Delhi? Yes, China’s too.

Bobby Ghosh is editor-in-chief, Hindustan Times

New Zealand Backs India's NSG Bid

Prime Minister Modi met with Prime Minister of New Zealand John Key

by Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury

It is understood that the Kiwi PM emphasized on India's adherence to the non-proliferation regime amid its push for NSG membership.

NEW DELHI: Indicating its support ahead of the NSG Vienna meet in November, New Zealand on Wednesday announced that it is constructively engaged with India on the issue of Delhi's membership in the exclusive nuclear club and would work with other NSG members on the case.

The issue of India's proposed NSG membership figured prominently in discussions between Narendra Modi and visiting Kiwi PM John Key. The two sides also decided to expand intelligence sharing mechanism as well as deradicalisation initiatives including cyber domain besides ramping up defence cooperation for stability in the Asia-Pacific region.

"We are encouraged by the discussions on the NSG issue. New Zealand showed understanding of India's clean energy needs and the importance of predictability in global rules on nuclear commerce in enabling the expansion of nuclear energy in India," an official source said following the talks.

"There is a process underway within the NSG on the membership issue. New Zealand conveyed that it would be constructively engaged on India's membership of the NSG and would work with the others in the NSG," the official pointed out. This was reflected in PM's remarks to the press where he stated, "I am also thankful to Prime Minister Key for New Zealand's constructive approach to the consideration of India's membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group."

Later the Indo-Kiwi joint statement noted, "New Zealand acknowledged the importance to India of it joining the NSG…Prime Minister Key stated that New Zealand would continue to contribute constructively to the process currently underway in the NSG to consider India’s membership.”

But it is understood that the Kiwi PM emphasised on India's adherence to the non-proliferation regime amid its push for NSG membership. "India acknowledged the importance to New Zealand of a strong non-proliferation and disarmament regime. It reiterated its commitment to the total elimination of all weapons of mass destruction including in particular nuclear weapons. Pending the global elimination of nuclear weapons, India will uphold global non-proliferation and work with partners such as New Zealand to advance nuclear disarmament."

In the June NSG meet in Seoul New Zealand -- a NSG member -- had raised questions on India's entry into the exclusive club based on its principled stand on India's non-NPT status.

While China had taken a hostile position and was vocal blocking India's entry into NSG at the Seoul plenary meeting in June, New Zealand raised questions on India's bid citing non-proliferation concerns. Though it did not side with China, Wellington expressed concerns over whether this may adversely effect the non-proliferation regime.

After the Seoul NSG plenary New Zealand High Commissioner to India Grahame Morton had said that his country only wanted a criterion to be fixed for the entry of non-NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) states into the 48-nation NSG. Morton had said the NSG’s doors for India were not closed and constructive discussion would lead to a solution. "It is a process and talks will continue," he said.

It may be recalled that New Zealand was one of those last few NSG members to agree to a clean waiver to India in 2008. People familiar with New Zealand’s stand on nuclear non-proliferation issues pointed out that Kiwi stand dates back to US nuclear tests in the Pacific. New Zealand is a member of a group of NPT parties called the New Agenda Coalition (NAC), which focuses on identifying and advocating practical steps on nuclear disarmament. The other members are Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico and South Africa.

The two sides explored prospects for information sharing in support of our mutual interests in maritime security and also undertake defence education exchanges, by placing Indian and New Zealand defence personnel on each other’s defence courses and staff colleges; and they also encourage naval ship visits to each other’s ports, with the next visit of an Indian vessel to coincide with the Royal New Zealand Navy’s 75th anniversary commemorations in November 2016.

Lockheed To Miss F-35 Targets

Lockheed Martin's F-35 deliveries were down in Q3

Shipments of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft slipped during the third quarter and the firm will miss 2016 targets, the company revealed on 25 October.

However, CEO Marillyn Hewson cited the next-generation fighter’s positives in a conference call with analysts, following release of the company’s financial results. According to Hewson, the F-35A obtaining initial operating capability certification by the US Air Force has been a momentum builder, as the variant accounts for nearly 70% of units expected to be produced under the program.

Hewson also lauded Norway’s decision to be the first country to formally commit to participation in a projected multi-year, multinational block purchase of F-35s. A US Navy live-fire intercept test of its Aegis weapon system in conjunction with an F-35 conducted in August – a first – provides additional confirmation of the aircraft’s capabilities, Hewson said. The F-35 acted as an elevated sensor platform and used a data link to transmit tracking information.

News was not so good regarding F-35 shipments, which slipped to 10 units during the third quarter, down from 12 in the third quarter last year. A company official cited lower-tier supplier-issues for the shortfall, notably “out-of-spec” deliveries of (coolant) insulation tubes, which affected several aircraft.

The problem is serious enough that Lockheed Martin must repair existing aircraft in the field, and the slowdown will cause it to miss its 53-unit 2016 delivery target. Lockheed Martin is not expected to be back on schedule with F-35 shipments until the end of 2017. Deliveries of F-16 Falcon, C-130J Hercules, and C-5 Galaxy (three, four, and two units respectively) remained stable during the quarter compared with the comparable period last year.

However, Lockheed will compensate somewhat through revenue gains on the F-35 sustainment front, where results continue to exceed what a company spokesperson called its “conservative” forecasts.

Terrorism Cannot Be Defeated With Double Standards

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu sign protocol document after the 16th meeting of the India-Russia Intergovernmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation in South Block, New Delhi on Wednesday. (Source: PTI Photo)

Coming together against terrorism, India and Russia on Wednesday said the menace cannot be defeated with ‘double standards’ and there is a need for ‘zero tolerance’ and collective efforts to combat terrorism. Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar held a detailed meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu here during which the issue of terrorism was also discussed. Parrikar also made it clear that Russia is India’s time tested and closest partner and it will continue to remain primary defense partner.

“One of the key security challenges faced by India is that of cross-border terrorism. We appreciate Russia’s consistent and unwavering support for India in our efforts to eliminate this menace, which is a manifestation of the continued presence of terrorist groups in India’s neighborhood,” Parrikar said as he co-chaired the Indo-Russian Inter Governmental Commission on Military Technical Cooperation meeting.

He noted that Russia has also been actively engaged in efforts to eliminate terrorists in West Asia.

“We both recognize that the menace of terrorism cannot be defeated with double standards. There is a need for zero tolerance and collective efforts to combat terrorism,” he said.

On his part, Shoigu said at times there is unacceptable “double or even, at times, triple standards” in fight against terrorism.

“What is absolutely unacceptable in terms of the fight against terrorism is the use of the double or even, at times, triple standards…. The serious consolidation of all reasonable powers is necessary to fight this 21st century’s evil,” he said.

Shoigu also alluded to the problem of distinguishing between terrorists and moderate opposition, which hindered the collaboration between Russia and the United States in Syria.

Both leaders are also understood to have discussed deeper military cooperation, especially focusing on joint production of fifth generation fighter aircraft, upgradation of Su-30 MKI planes and firming up the contract for the Triumf air defense system.

“Russia is India’s time tested and closest partner and it will continue to remain our primary defense partner,” Parrikar said.

He said that while military technical cooperation is progressing well, he feels that the traditional military-to-military cooperation needs more focus.

“The pace and depth of our exchanges at the level of Chiefs, training of personnel in each other’s institutions, joint military exercises between all armed forces should be enhanced.

“We could mutually work out the modalities of increasing the military-to-military cooperation and draw up a road map for implementation,” he said.

India Slams Organization Of Islamic Cooperation For Raking Up Kashmir Issue

In the resolution, the OIC said it condemned use of force to quell protests in the aftermath of killing of Burhan Wani and called upon the international community to "break its deadly silence" over situation in Kashmir

In a sharp reaction, India on Wednesday slammed the OIC, an influential grouping of Muslim countries, for making "misleading references" to the Kashmir issue during its conclave, saying the bloc has no locus standi to comment on India's internal matters.

A meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Tashkent, in a resolution, severely criticized India for ongoing violence in Kashmir Valley and said it was deeply concerned at the "alarming" increase in the "indiscriminate use" of force.

"We note with extreme regret that the OIC has again chosen to comment on India's internal affairs during the 43rd Session of the Council of Foreign Ministers held in Uzbekistan on October 18-19," External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said. He said certain resolutions adopted at the conclusion of the session contain "factually incorrect and misleading references" to matters internal to India, including Jammu and Kashmir which is an integral part of India.

"We out rightly reject all such references," he said, adding OIC has no locus standi to comment on India's internal affairs.

"We further advise the OIC to refrain from making such references in future," he said.

In the resolution, the OIC said it condemned use of force to quell protests in the aftermath of killing of Burhan Wani and called upon the international community to "break its deadly silence" over situation in Kashmir.

India-NZ To Further Strengthen Defence & Security Ties

Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key in New Delhi

New Delhi: India and New Zealand today decided to further strengthen the bilateral defense and security ties, especially in the maritime domain.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his visiting Kiwi counterpart John Key underlined that India and New Zealand are both maritime nations with a strong interest in the Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific regions being stable and prosperous, by ensuring the safety and security of sea lanes and freedom of navigation.

They decided to explore prospects for information sharing in support of our mutual interests in maritime security.

A joint statement issued at the end of the meeting said both leaders also agreed to undertake defense education exchanges, by placing Indian and New Zealand defense personnel on each others defense courses and staff colleges.

They also decided to encourage naval ship visits to each other's ports, with the next visit of an Indian vessel to coincide with the Royal New Zealand Navy 75th anniversary commemorations next month.

The two Prime Ministers commemorated the shared history of the sacrifice of New Zealand and Indian servicemen and servicewomen, who had fought and served alongside one another around the world over the past century.

They observed that ongoing commemorations of the centenary of World War I was a reminder of this shared history of service and sacrifice.

Airstrikes Outside Syrian School Kill At Least 17, Mostly Children

Syrian Airstrikes (File photo | AFP)

BEIRUT: Syrian activists say that airstrikes outside a school in the northern, rebel-held province of Idlib have killed 17 people, mostly children.

The Idlib News network says the airstrikes hit as the children gathered outside a school complex in the village of Hass, in northern Idlib, on Wednesday.

The group says most of the casualties are children and that there are fears the death toll could rise further as some of the wounded are in critical condition. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 22, including 14 children. It also says the death toll is likely to rise.

Idlib is the main Syrian opposition stronghold, though radical groups have a large presence there also. It has been regularly hit by Syrian and Russian warplanes as well as the U.S.-led coalition targeting Islamic State militants.

Police Arrests Four Persons For Fuelling Unrest In Kashmir

An elderly person seeking permission from security personnel guarding during curfew in Srinagar

SRINAGAR: Police on Wednesday said it has arrested four persons including two active members of a militant group for fueling and sustaining the present unrest in Sopore area or North Kashmir while the shutdown continued for 110th day in the Valley.

A police spokesman in Srinagar said cops arrested four persons including two active members of a militant group, who had got money from Pakistan for fueling and sustaining the ongoing unrest in Sopore area of North Kashmir’s Baramulla district.

“Police arrested two persons namely Gowhar Ahmed Bhat and Hilal Ahmed Gojri of Baramulla, who are active members of militant group Tehreek-i-Jehad-i-Islami (TJI) based in Pakistan,” a police spokesman said.

He said the duo had visited Pakistan during the ongoing unrest in the Valley.

“During their questioning, names of two more persons Showkat Ali Gazi and Zahoor Ahmed Shagoo, both residents of Sopore, surfaced. Incriminating documents were recovered from their possession,” the spokesman said.

He said during questioning, the duo revealed that during their visit to Pakistan, they received Rs 50000 each and were promised more funds for fueling the current unrest.

“Both of them have been arrested and further investigations are going on,” the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, shutdown continued for the 110th consecutive day in Valley today.

All shops, business establishments and educational institutions remained closed while public transport was off the roads.

Kashmir has been observing shutdown and witnessing unrest after the killing of 21-year-old Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani on July 8. At least 92 people including two policemen have been killed and over 13000 civilians injured and more than 8000 including separatist leaders, youth and government employees arrested in over three month long unrest in the Valley.

At Hari Singh High street in city center, some youth pelted stones on some vehicles and also tried to ransack some vendors.

A police official said adequate deployment of police and security forces was made at vulnerable points in Srinagar city and other towns.

BSF officer injured in Pakistan firing

A BSF spokesman told Express that Pakistani troops fired from automatic weapons and mortar shells towards their posts in Arnia, R S Pura and Akhnoor sector along IB in Jammu district.

He said the firing started last evening and continued till 8.30 am.

“Our men also effectively returned the fire and targeted the Pakistani troop positions and posts,” the spokesman said.

He said BSF ASI A K Upadhayay sustained minor injuries when a shell exploded near him in RS Pura sector. “He sustained splinter injures in the hand and has been hospitalized”.

The official said border guards are on highest mode of alertness along the IB to foil any misadventure by Pakistani troops or infiltration attempts by militants.

The Pentagon’s ‘Terminator Conundrum’: Robots That Could Kill On Their Own

Massachusetts Institute of Technology's swarming drone that can float on water

As the drone descended slightly, a purple rectangle flickered on a video feed that was being relayed to engineers monitoring the test.

by Matthew Rosenberg and John Markoff 

CAMP EDWARDS, MASSACHUSETTS: The small drone, with its six whirring rotors, swept past the replica of a Middle Eastern village and closed in on a mosque-like structure, its camera scanning for targets.

No humans were remotely piloting the drone, which was nothing more than a machine that could be bought on Amazon. But armed with advanced artificial intelligence software, it had been transformed into a robot that could find and identify the half-dozen men carrying replicas of AK-47s around the village and pretending to be insurgents.

As the drone descended slightly, a purple rectangle flickered on a video feed that was being relayed to engineers monitoring the test. The drone had locked onto a man obscured in the shadows, a display of hunting prowess that offered an eerie preview of how the Pentagon plans to transform warfare.

Almost unnoticed outside defense circles, the Pentagon has put artificial intelligence at the center of its strategy to maintain the United States’ position as the world’s dominant military power. It is spending billions of dollars to develop what it calls autonomous and semiautonomous weapons and to build an arsenal stocked with the kind of weaponry that until now has existed only in Hollywood movies and science fiction, raising alarm among scientists and activists concerned by the implications of a robot arms race.

The Defense Department is designing robotic fighter jets that would fly into combat alongside manned aircraft. It has tested missiles that can decide what to attack, and it has built ships that can hunt for enemy submarines, stalking those it finds over thousands of miles, without any help from humans.

“If Stanley Kubrick directed ‘Dr. Strangelove’ again, it would be about the issue of autonomous weapons,” said Michael Schrage, a research fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management.

Defense officials say the weapons are needed for the United States to maintain its military edge over China, Russia and other rivals, who are also pouring money into similar research (as are allies, such as Britain and Israel). The Pentagon’s latest budget outlined $18 billion to be spent over three years on technologies that included those needed for autonomous weapons.

“China and Russia are developing battle networks that are as good as our own. They can see as far as ours can see; they can throw guided munitions as far as we can,” said Robert O. Work, the deputy defense secretary, who has been a driving force for the development of autonomous weapons. “What we want to do is just make sure that we would be able to win as quickly as we have been able to do in the past.”

Just as the Industrial Revolution spurred the creation of powerful and destructive machines like airplanes and tanks that diminished the role of individual soldiers, artificial intelligence technology is enabling the Pentagon to reorder the places of man and machine on the battlefield the same way it is transforming ordinary life with computers that can see, hear and speak and cars that can drive themselves.

The new weapons would offer speed and precision unmatched by any human while reducing the number — and cost — of soldiers and pilots exposed to potential death and dismemberment in battle. The challenge for the Pentagon is to ensure that the weapons are reliable partners for humans and not potential threats to them.

At the core of the strategic shift envisioned by the Pentagon is a concept that officials call centaur warfighting. Named for the half-man and half-horse in Greek mythology, the strategy emphasizes human control and autonomous weapons as ways to augment and magnify the creativity and problem-solving skills of soldiers, pilots and sailors, not replace them.

The weapons, in the Pentagon’s vision, would be less like the Terminator and more like the comic-book superhero Iron Man, Work said in an interview.

“There’s so much fear out there about killer robots and Skynet,” the murderous artificial intelligence network of the “Terminator” movies, Work said. “That’s not the way we envision it at all.”

When it comes to decisions over life and death, “there will always be a man in the loop,” he said.

Beyond the Pentagon, though, there is deep skepticism that such limits will remain in place once the technologies to create thinking weapons are perfected. Hundreds of scientists and experts warned in an open letter last year that developing even the dumbest of intelligent weapons risked setting off a global arms race. The result, the letter warned, would be fully independent robots that can kill, and are cheap and as readily available to rogue states and violent extremists as they are to great powers.

“Autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow,” the letter said.

The debate within the military is no longer about whether to build autonomous weapons but how much independence to give them. Gen. Paul J. Selva of the Air Force, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said recently that the United States was about a decade away from having the technology to build a fully independent robot that could decide on its own whom and when to kill, though it had no intention of building one.

Other countries were not far behind, and it was very likely that someone would eventually try to unleash “something like a Terminator,” Selva said, invoking what seems to be a common reference in any discussion on autonomous weapons.

Yet U.S. officials are only just beginning to contend with the implications of weapons that could someday operate independently, beyond the control of their developers. Inside the Pentagon, the quandary is known as the Terminator conundrum, and there is no consensus about whether the United States should seek international treaties to try to ban the creation of those weapons, or build its own to match those its enemies might create.

For now, though, the current state of the art is decidedly less frightening. Exhibit A: the small, unarmed drone tested this summer on Cape Cod.

It could not turn itself on and just fly off. It had to be told by humans where to go and what to look for. But once aloft, it decided on its own how to execute its orders.

The software powering the drone has been in development for about a year, and it was far from flawless during the day of trials. In one pass over the mosque, the drone struggled to decide whether a minaret was an architectural feature or an armed man, living up to its namesake, Bender, the bumbling robot in the animated television series “Futurama.” 

At other moments, though, the drone showed a spooky ability to discern soldier from civilian, and to fluidly shift course and move in on objects it could not quickly identify.

Armed with a variation of human and facial recognition software used by U.S. intelligence agencies, the drone adroitly tracked moving cars and picked out enemies hiding along walls. It even correctly figured out that no threat was posed by a photographer who was crouching, camera raised to eye level and pointed at the drone, a situation that has confused human soldiers with fatal results.

The project is run by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA, which is developing the software needed for machines that could work with small units of soldiers or Marines as scouts or in other roles.

Unlike the drones currently used by the military, all of which require someone at a remote control, “this one doesn’t,” said Maj. Christopher Orlowski of the Army, a program manager at DARPA. “It works with you. It’s like having another head in the fight.”

It could also easily be armed. The tricky part is developing machines whose behavior is predictable enough that they can be safely deployed, yet flexible enough that they can handle fluid situations. Once that is mastered, telling it whom or what to shoot is easy; weapons programmed to hit only certain kinds of targets already exist.

Yet the behavioral technology, if successfully developed, is unlikely to remain solely in American hands. Technologies developed at DARPA do not typically remain secret, and many are now ubiquitous, powering everything from self-driving cars to the internet.

Since the 1950s, U.S. military strategy has been based on overwhelming technological advantages. A superior nuclear arsenal provided the American edge in the early days of the Cold War, and guided munitions — the so-called smart bombs of the late 20th century — did the same in the conflict’s final decade.

Those advantages have now evaporated, and of all the new technologies that have emerged in recent decades, such as genomics or miniaturization, “the one thing that has the widest application to the widest number of DOD missions is artificial intelligence and autonomy,” Work said.

Today’s software has its limits, though. Computers spot patterns far faster than any human can. But the ability to handle uncertainty and unpredictability remain uniquely human virtues, for now.

Bringing the two complementary skill sets together is the Pentagon’s goal with centaur warfighting.

Work, 63, first proposed the concept when he led a Washington think tank, the Center for a New American Security. His inspiration, he said, was not found in typical sources of military strategy — Sun Tzu or Clausewitz, for instance — but in the work of Tyler Cowen, a blogger and economist at George Mason University.

In his 2013 book, “Average Is Over,” Cowen briefly mentioned how two average human chess players, working with three regular computers, were able to beat both human chess champions and chess-playing supercomputers.

It was a revelation for Work. You could “use the tactical ingenuity of the computer to improve the strategic ingenuity of the human,” he said.

Work believes a lesson learned in chess can be applied to the battlefield, and he envisions a military supercharged by artificial intelligence. Brilliant computers would transform ordinary commanders into master tacticians. American soldiers would effectively become superhuman, fighting alongside — or even inside — robots.

Of the $18 billion the Pentagon is spending on new technologies, $3 billion has been set aside specifically for “human-machine combat teaming” over the next five years. It is a relatively small sum by Pentagon standards — its annual budget is more than $500 billion — but still a significant bet on technologies and a strategic concept that have yet to be proved in battle.

At the same time, Pentagon officials say that the United States is unlikely to gain an absolute technological advantage over its competitors.

“A lot of the AI and autonomy is happening in the commercial world, so all sorts of competitors are going to be able to use it in ways that surprise us,” Work said.

The American advantage, he said, will ultimately come from a mix of technological prowess and the critical thinking and decision-making powers that the U.S. military prioritizes. The U.S. military delegates significant decisions down its chain of command, in contrast to the more centralized Chinese and Russian armed forces, though that is changing.

“We’re pretty confident that we have an advantage as we start the competition,” Work said. “But how it goes over time, we’re not going to make any assumptions.”

Experts outside the Pentagon are far less convinced that the United States will be able to maintain its dominance by using artificial intelligence. The defense industry no longer drives research the way it did during the Cold War, and the Pentagon does not have a monopoly on the cutting-edge machine-learning technologies coming from startups in Silicon Valley, and in Europe and Asia.

Unlike the technologies and material needed for nuclear weapons or guided missiles, artificial intelligence as powerful as what the Pentagon seeks to harness is already deeply woven into everyday life. Military technology is often years behind what can be picked up at Best Buy.

“Let’s be honest, American defense contractors can be really cutting edge on some things and really behind the curve on others,” said Maj. Brian Healy, 38, an F-35 pilot. The F-35, America’s newest and most technologically advanced fighter jet, is equipped with a voice command system that is good for changing channels on the radio, and not much else.

“It would be great to get Apple or Google on board with some of the software development,” he added.

Beyond the practical concerns, the pairing of increasingly capable automation with weapons has prompted an intensifying debate among legal scholars and ethicists. The questions are numerous, and the answers contentious: Can a machine be trusted with lethal force? Who is at fault if a robot attacks a hospital or a school? Is being killed by a machine a greater violation of human dignity than if the fatal blow is delivered by a human?

A Pentagon directive says that autonomous weapons must employ “appropriate levels of human judgment.” Scientists and human rights experts say the standard is far too broad and have urged that such weapons be subject to “meaningful human control.”

How Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s Anti-Shia Crusade Became A War On Pak State

by Praveen Swami

Quetta attack shows the killing of the group’s top leaders last year was just a punctuation in its bloody history.

Everyone watched as it happened, some cheering, others silent. The mob, spearheaded by some 50 men with weapons, dragged the three women out of their home, tore off their clothes, shaved their hair, and blacked their faces. The women were then marched naked to the local police station, with officers providing an escort. Intizar-ul-Haq Muaviah, the politician who led the mob, said the women were prostitutes; and the Shia community, to which they belonged, was polluting the country. He was not punished for the crime; it was a small one compared to the others he had committed as a member of an anti-Shia militia.

Few any longer remember the story of Shahnaz Bibi, the woman marched through the streets of Phool Nagar, near Lahore, on September 29, 2009: one outrage displaced another, while the legal process dragged on.

The story, though, is key to understanding the real significance of Monday night’s terrorist attack on police cadets in Quetta, which left at least 61 dead and over 100 injured. The perpetrators were the military vanguard of the mob in Phool Nagar, fighting to remake Pakistan in their image of an Islamic state. From a campaign against an infidel sect, their war has morphed into one against an ‘apostate’ state.

The history of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is one of hatred for the Shi’a, which has seen it carry out a series of deadly attacks such as in Quetta, 2013 (Source: Reuters)

Intercepted phone calls, the Inspector-General of the army-officered Frontier Corps in Balochistan said on Tuesday, link the Quetta attackers to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s Al-Alami faction — one of the several anti-Shia groups responsible for hundreds of killings directed both at the religious minority and the state. The Islamic State, though, has claimed responsibility for the killings, too, releasing photographs of men it says were the three attackers who carried out the attack.

Though the apparent contradiction has left many confused, the two claims aren’t really contradictory at all: the Islamic State in South Asia is more a flag than an organization, flown by a disparate coalition of jihadist organizations brought together by shared ideology and circumstance.

In 1984, an obscure cleric called Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi founded the Anjuman-e-Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan in the Punjab town of Jhang. Fired by General Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamising project, he saw his organization as the vanguard of Sunni orthodoxy against Iranian radicalism, and a force that would help in the transformation of Pakistan into a militarist theological state. Maulana Jhangvi was among a new generation of Pakistani clerics who emerged around the time, graduating from seminaries that owed their thinking to the Deobandi tradition, and their politics to the ultra-right Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam.

The attack on police cadets on Monday demonstrates that the Sunni extremist group’s campaign against an ‘infidel’ sect has now morphed into a war against what it sees as an ‘apostate’ state

For years, the Sipah-e-Sahaba, as it called itself after dropping the word Anjuman from its name in 1985, did little other than lobby the state and Saudi Arabia for money. Its cadre plastered walls in Jhang with graffiti: “Kaffir, kaffir — Shia kaffir” was one particularly unimaginative slogan.

In December 1990, though, the SSP assassinated Iranian diplomat Sadiq Ganji, laying the foundations for what would prove to be a long and murderous campaign. Maulana Alam Tariq, Riaz Basra, Akram Lahori and Malik Ishaq would become key players in the jihadist landscape — and in Punjab’s politics.

Malik Ishaq was the leader of globally designated terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Malik Ishaq was killed in Muzaffargarh, Punjab, in a police encounter 

Like other Deobandi groups, the Sipah-e-Sahaba suckled on the udders of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami, the largest of the Deobandi jihadist groups set up to fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The Sipah-e-Sahaba’s cadre trained at its camps, and shared the same world view, with one key difference — where other groups in the 1990s turned outwards, to fight in Kashmir, its war was focussed on the enemies of Islam within.

In the years that followed, the various constituent factions splintered, splintered again, and re-formed. The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was set up in 1996, for example, after rebels believed the leadership had lost sight of the Sipah-e-Sahaba’s true objectives, and become mired in politics. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al-Alami was a branch of this new group, responsible for operations of international significance.

Following General Pervez Musharraf’s rise to power, the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate helped engineer Sipah-e-Sahaba chief Maulana Azam Tariq’s election to the National Assembly, seeing him as a counterweight both to democrats and jihadists. He repaid the favor by voting for the military ruler’s proxy Prime Minister, Mir Zafarullah Jamali, who won by one vote.

But in the years after the India-Pakistan military crisis of 2001-2002, General Musharraf’s regime began choking jihadist groups in Pakistan. Riaz Basra, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s chief, was killed. The Sipah-e-Sahaba turned to now-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz for help. The PML (N)’s Rana Sanaullah and Sardar Zulfiqar Khan gave supporters of the Sipah-e-Sahaba a home inside the party, in return for the use of its networks against the Pakistan People’s Party and the army.

After the 2008 general elections in Punjab, analyst Mujahid Husain has written, several PML(N) candidates “indirectly accepted the fact that their electoral victory was not possible without the help of sectarian and extremist religious outfits”. It was these forces that created the climate for events like that in Phool Nagar — and a series of gruesome terrorist massacres of the Shia that came to dot Pakistan’s history.

The deal saw the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, still closely allied with the Sipah-e-Sahaba, wield unprecedented power. In a 2011 pamphlet, it proclaimed “All Shias are worthy of killing. We will rid Pakistan of [these] unclean people. Pakistan means land of the pure, and the Shias have no right to be here.” Malik Ishaq, the chief of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, toured the country giving inflammatory sermons, and was alleged to have ordered the January 10, 2013, attack on a snooker hall frequented by young ethnic Hazaras that killed 92.

Last year, though, the state finally hit back, fearing the jihadists were drifting irrevocably into the Islamic State’s arms. Intelligence services warned that meetings had been held between Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leaders and top Islamic State functionaries, at which plans were made that would threaten the Pakistani military itself.

Ishaq and his two sons, Usman and Haq Nawaz, were taken into custody — and days later, all three, and eleven other cadres were killed in a mysterious police encounter.

Elements of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi responded by retreating into the protective embrace of pro-Islamic State jihadists inside Pakistan, like Jundullah and factions of the Tehreek-e-Taliban. Little is known of who leads these new networks, but attacks like that on Monday have demonstrated beyond doubt their lethality.

Farhan Zaidi and Muhammad Ismail Khan, who analyzed these new networks in a recent essay, noted that although the Islamic State “may find it hard to extend its control to Pakistan, it may be able to cobble together enough adherents — fighters and polemicists — to cause turmoil in Pakistan for years to come”.

The killing of its top leaders last year, it would seem, was just a punctuation in the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s story.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Afghan Authorities Say They Foiled Plot To Attack Indian Consulate

The arrests come at a time of heightened tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir and after an attack on a police academy in the Pakistani city of Quetta this week in which around 60 people were killed.

KABUL: Afghan authorities have arrested two men who were planning to attack the Indian consulate in the city of Jalalabad and seized bomb-making equipment, the National Directorate for Security said on Wednesday.

The arrests come at a time of heightened tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir and after an attack on a police academy in the Pakistani city of Quetta this week in which around 60 people were killed.

The consulate, in the eastern region bordering Pakistan, has been attacked before.

Russia, India Make Progress in S-400 Systems, BrahMos Missiles, Ka-226 Choppers

The Russian and Indian defense ministries have been tasked with developing cooperation in the military-technical field, and have already made progress in talks on joint projects, including on S-400 air defense systems, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday.

MOSCOW — At the 16th Russia-India intergovernmental commission on military cooperation, Shoigu said:

“We note progress in our large projects such as the joint construction of Ka-226 helicopters, BrahMos cruise missiles, S-400 Triumph air defense systems.”

"I think today is a good opportunity to summarize the past year and identify the challenges for the next year. We are ready to discuss the most pressing issues, problems, and prospects of our military and military-technical cooperation. Additional tasks assigned during the meeting of the leaders of Russia and India on October 15-16 suggest that we need to expand our sphere of military-technical cooperation," the minister added.

Shoigu also said that the sides had already started discussing and would continue discussing all those issues, in particular, related to the after-sales service of the previously supplied military equipment.

He also agreed with Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar that "it is necessary to prepare a more extensive and more voluminous road map for bilateral military cooperation" between the military departments of the two countries.

Russia has been India’s longtime partner in multifaceted defense cooperation. To date, both countries are implementing several bilateral projects and are developing the BrahMos multipurpose missile system and the Sukhoi/HAL Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). India is also mastering the batch production of Su-30 Flanker-C fighters and T-90 tanks under a Russian license.

How The Anti-Military Constituency Is Preventing India From Becoming Global Defence Player

Main Battle Tank ARJUN
by Prakash Katoch

Alongside the business of exporting terrorism, it seems that Pakistan can also throw up periodic howlers; the latest one being Imran Khan's accusations against Nawaz Sharif, blaming him for “isolating” the army. This comes as no surprise as Imran's constituency is itself a militant stronghold and because two army guys are always seated behind Sharif, trying to obfuscate their assassin countenance.

But, leaving aside the cliché that the Pakistani army owns their country, what can be said about India? A recent article in a national daily lambasted the politicization of the ‘surgical strikes’ and the recent arm-twisting of Bollywood producers, forcing them to donate money to the Army Welfare Fund for hiring Pakistani actors. The article also highlighted some crucial, unsolved and sensitive issues that need to be resolved if India is to become serious about its defense.

Apart from the lack of military modernisation and the need to address welfare problems (pay anomalies, controversy over disability pension), issues like keeping senior military posts vacant; Cabinet’s Appointment Committee ignoring merit; lack of CDS; little military say in strategic security formulation; bureaucratic control over military instead of political control, etc. also need to be looked into. Especially since India is currently facing serious challenges on both the Pakistani and Chinese borders.

The recent row over the Ministry of Defence’s 30 September notification, drastically lowering the disability pension of military personnel by converting the percentage based system (as effective under the sixth Central Pay Commission) to a fixed slab system, has been in the news. The fact that this notification was issued two days after the surgical strikes made it even more cynical, especially when coupled with certain boisterous and comical pronouncements by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar.

The government has since been forced to refer the disability pension case to the Anomalies Committee, but the mere fact that the notification was issued implied that either the defence minister had no idea about it all (as he talked of VRS at the time of the press briefing for One Rank One Pension scheme) or he was party to it indirectly.

Then came the letter was purportedly written by the serving DGAFMS to the defense secretary, that stated that the military generals were misusing the provision of the disability pension. All these accusations were duly trashed and rebutted, though it is still not clear whether this was deliberate mischief.

But lo and behold, an old letter from the Controller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA) to the Chief of Army Staff, written in September 2015, has emerged saying that a large number of army officers belonging to the “non-fighting corps” have been getting the disability medical grading.

The said CGDA should have actually been awarded a Padma series award for making such a path-breaking discovery, even though the CGDA wouldn’t be able to identify which are the “non-fighting corps” in the army. Of course, the CGDA would have no observation about a civilian defense employee of MoD tripping on a banana peel, losing an eye and claiming disability pension. After all, the CGDA, as the MoD employees, can well be categorized as ‘fighting corps’ – for fighting with the military all the time.

Another article published in a national daily cite a government letter that talks about rank “equivalence” between defense officers and “armed forces headquarter civil service officers”. The equivalence defined reportedly implies: A civilian Group B section officer is now equated with an army captain; a civilian joint director, who till now was equated with an army lieutenant colonel, will now be equal to an army full colonel; a civilian director, earlier equated with army full colonel, will now be equated with army brigadier; and a civilian principal director, earlier equated with army brigadier, will now be equated with an army major general.

This letter, signed by a joint secretary, states that the rank equation laid down in it is to be followed in assigning duties/functional responsibilities and for all purposes such as the channel of reporting, detailing of officers for training courses, providing stenographic assistance etc. According to the article, this letter has the approval of the MoD. If this is true, then Parrikar has done more damage to the military than even AK Anthony.

Anthony ensured that the equipping of our military came down to 1962 levels, but Parrikar, together with the present government, appears to be hell bent upon denigrating the soldiers and denying them their dues. Taking cover behind ‘mischievous bureaucrats’ can’t work anymore; responsibilities will have to be taken for such deliberate misdeeds.

Nukkad talk generally has some basis but the following can’t really have any basis: That the prime minister is indifferent to the military, hailing from a state where not many still join the military; that the defence minister has little knowledge of matters military, even though he boasts he made the military realise their capabilities and that the RSS is behind the success of the surgical strikes; the finance minister continues smarting because of the inglorious electoral defeat he suffered at the hands of an army veteran; and, the National Security Advisor is getting back at the army for not promoting his father beyond the rank of major.

Such ludicrous and loose talks would continue to figure in the ‘free speech’ paradigm, but the important question is why is the anti-military constituency prospering in India and who is behind it?

The dual China-Pakistan threat has enlarged as never before, pan the spectrum of conflict, yet the government has made no move to define a cohesive national security strategy, nor has it undertaken a comprehensive defense review. China’s entire border with Myanmar, India and Afghanistan have been placed under its newly constituted Western Theatre Command, backed by the Rocket Force and the Strategic Support Force.

There is no move to synergise our military. Following the Kargil Review Committee Report, the Group of Ministers (GoP) headed by the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister LK Advani had strongly recommended the establishment of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) but this has been ignored.

BR Ambedkar is always praised for drafting the Constitution but his missive to have a reservation in small percentages only for a decade plus has been drastically reversed. While reservations are increasing because of the insatiable hunger for votes, does the government realize that the CDS is vital for the defense of the country? Establishment of the CDS and replacing the MoD with a department of defense (DoD) manned by military professionals should have been the first priority of the Modi government.

The ‘Make in India’ program, ironically, is focused on big ticket projects only, neglecting the cutting edge where the battle is actually being fought. A holistic appraisal of the requirements is missing altogether. The users (military) is deliberately kept away from the defence-industrial complex, whereas they should have been integrated as part of the design, planning, and decision-making levels of these organizations.

The indigenous 5.56mm INSAS assault rifle, with its numerous faults, took 15 years to be produced despite the fact that 17 state-of-the-art rifles from 11 countries were handed over to the DRDO at the very beginning. Army’s attempt to import assault rifles were consistently scuttled, while some CAPF were permitted to do so.

The defense minister announced in 2014 the “emergent” procurement of 50,000 bullet-proof jackets for the army. But, till date, not a single one has been procured, while the army’s deficiency of this item has shot past 3,50,000 already. It is ironic then that the John Hopkins School of Advanced Studies (SAIS), US, is undertaking a project study on ‘why isn't the Indian defense industry a globally competitive defense player’, something that should have been another priority of the defense minister.

The study will include several aspects of the problem, including: How should the Indian defense industry position itself in the market by anticipating the global security environment; and, how ought the Indian defense industry lobby the Government of India to shape foreign policy and defense diplomacy.

The MoD has been referred to as the MaD (ministry against the defence) in military circles for the past several years now, and for good reason as well. But, clearly, the time has come for the prime minister to intervene before the anti-military constituency does even more damage.

The author is veteran Lt Gen of Indian Army.