Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Rafale Deal Better Than One Negotiated Earlier: Air Force Deputy Chief Raghunath Nambiar

Raghunath Nambiar also flew a Rafale fighter jet manufactured by Dassault Aviation for India

The remarks came in the backdrop of a mounting multi-pronged attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government by the Congress, with the party on Monday moving the Central Vigilance Commissioner seeking an FIR and seizure of documents pertaining to the Rafale deal

New Delhi: Air Force Deputy Chief Air Marshal R. Nambiar on Tuesday asserted that the deal for 36 Rafale aircraft by the PM Modi government was "much better" than the one negotiated earlier for 126 planes, contending that "people are misinformed" about the issue.

The remarks came in the backdrop of a mounting multi-pronged attack on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government by the Congress, with the party on Monday moving the Central Vigilance Commissioner seeking an FIR and seizure of documents pertaining to the Rafale deal. 

Asked about the row over the offset partners chosen by Dassault Aviation, he said: "I believe people are misinformed. There is nothing like Rs. 30,000 crore to any one party. Dassault alone has offsets to the tune of over Rs. 6,500 crore. Nothing more than that.

"We have evaluated all the aircraft available to us in the past," R. Nambiar, who recently flew the Rafale in France, told the media.

"All and all it was a very good deal, much better than what was obtained in 2008," the Deputy Chief Air Marshal said.

"We have looked at six platforms and Rafale has met all our requirements. It has been found the most technically capable as well as commercially viable from our point of view. That is how it has been selected."

Asked about a French media report that there was a push by the Indian government to include Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence in the deal, Nambiar said: "The commercial negotiations were headed by the Deputy Chief of Air Staff and he was responsible for completing the negotiations."

The official said the negotiations continued for "almost 14 months". "We believe we met all the directions of our leadership -- that was to get a better price, better maintenance terms, better delivery schedule and better performance logistic package."

Asked about his experience of flying the Rafale, he said: "It was an opportunity to... look at... the new capabilities on offer for the Indian Air Force. I think the aircraft is shaping up quite well... quite satisfied with the performance of all the systems on the aircraft."

Rafale Contract Or Not, HAL Has Its Own Issues

After years in development HAL's Light Combat Helicopter not inducted as yet

High inventories and stretched working capital cycle are weighing on the company’s earnings quality

That the Rafale aircraft contract wasn’t awarded to Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) has led to much political mud-slinging. But it’s not just missing that contract that’s plaguing the company. HAL is beset by execution delays. Despite a gigantic order book, its revenue in the previous five fiscal years increased just 4.3% perannum on average. Profits decelerated from ₹2,997 crore in FY13 to ₹2,070 crore in FY18.

The company is only partly to be blamed. A significant amount of time is spent awaiting clearances. As analysts at IndiaNivesh Institutional Equities explain in a note, a mere receipt of an order does not trigger execution.

For bulk production to begin, the clearance for an aircraft/helicopter takes at least three-four years. “After ~12 years of awarding, HAL is still executing its first order of 20 aircraft (Tejas light combat aircraft). Work on the second order of 20 aircraft has not started for more than seven years, as final operational clearance is awaited,” analysts at IndiaNivesh said in a note.

Of course HAL goes through learning cycles, especially if it has to build an aircraft from scratch (such as Tejas). Certain products do take a longer time. Even so the company has consistently displayed poor operating metrics.

The IndiaNivesh analysis shows HAL has the most stretched working capital cycle vis-à-vis its global peers. HAL’s outstanding inventories exceeded revenues for most of the past decade.

“After a new order is won, HAL tends to receive 5-15% of the contract value as customer advances, and almost 50-60% of it is spent on inventories. With delays in the ramp-up of flagship projects, almost 50% of the current inventory is in the work-in-progress stage,” add analysts at IndiaNivesh.

High inventories and stretched working capital cycle are weighing on the company’s earnings quality.

As large platform orders (Sukhoi 30 and advanced light helicopters) near completion and Tejas light combat aircraft orders face execution delays weighing on revenue momentum, IndiaNivesh warns HAL’s earnings and return ratios will come under pressure in FY21.

The concerns are weighing on the stock, which has lost more than a fifth of its value since listing in March this year. Rafale contracts may have helped offset the revenue cycle slowdown HAL is projected to face in the coming year. But the key problem of inefficient execution remains.

A significant portion of the problem lies in the prolonged approval processes for which the government and Armed Forces are to be partly blamed. Instead of trading barbs, policymakers would do well to address this.

HAL will be better prepared when the next big opportunity arises.

Rahul's Tweets Hint At ‘Collusion’ Between Him And Ex-French President Francois Hollande, Says BJP

The BJP on Monday accused Congress president Rahul Gandhi of being part of an ‘international conspiracy’ against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and that he was trying to sabotage the Rafale deal at the behest of his brother-in-law Robert Vadra.

“We recognise that there is a perception war. I will go around the country and patiently answer each and every question. We will certainly not take all of this false propaganda lying down,” Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said.

She claimed that Mr. Gandhi’s tweets from August 31 — which said, “..this Rafale aircraft really does fly far and fast! It’s also going to drop some big bunker buster bombs in the next couple of weeks” — hinted at a ‘collusion’ between him and former French President Francois Hollande.

Mr. Hollande had said India had suggested the offset partner.

“The tweet and his [Mr. Hollande] comment soon after can’t be a coincidence after all. Now you see, there is an international dimension too,” she said.

Minister of State (Agriculture) Gajendra Shekhawat accused the Congress of hatching an “international conspiracy”.

“How Rahul Gandhi and he [Mr. Hollande] are linked as a part of nexus and are trying to sabotage the deal needs to be understood.”

‘Deal called off after firm linked to Vadra not chosen as broker’

Mr. Shekhawat alleged that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had called off the deal after a private company linked to Mr. Vadra was not chosen as a broker. “The friendship between Mr. [Sanjay] Bhandari and Mr. Vadra is well known. Mr. Bhandari was pushing for Mr. Vadra’s firm to be the broker,” he said.

The Congress had built up a campaign to mislead the nation on the deal because they wanted to get back at French manufacturer Dassault. “Since Dassault did not listen to them even when the UPA was in power, the Congress wants to ensure that the deal now too gets cancelled,” he said.

The government is in no mood to accept the Opposition’s demand for a joint parliamentary committee to probe the Rafale deal.

Ms. Sitharaman said a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe would only end up in a “slandering match.” The facts about the deal were already in the public domain.

“Why is the Opposition demanding a JPC? Such a JPC would expose our defence preparedness, our capacity and calibre. They want to weaken the security of our country,” Mr. Shekhawat said.

Major Reshuffle At Army And Air Force Top Brass, New Appointments At Key Commands

NEW DELHI: A major reshuffle with fresh appointments among the top brass of the army and air force have taken place, including at two key commands that are tasked with guarding India’s frontier with China.

Sources said that orders on the new appointment of the new Eastern Army Commander based in Kolkata and the Eastern Air Force Commander based in Shillong have been issued. These are the two commands that are responsible for defensive and offensive operations along the China frontier. The importance of the Eastern Army Command can be seen from the fact that the Indian troops who were engaged in the standoff against Chinese soldiers in Doklam last year, were part of the army’s 33 Corps under this command.

Even appointments of a new Vice Chief and Deputy Chief in the Indian Air Force have taken place. Air Marshal R Nambiar who is currently the Deputy Chief has been appointed as the head of the Shillong based Eastern Air Command. Air Marshal Anil Khosla who is currently the Eastern Air Force Commander has been appointed as the Vice Chief, replacing Air Marshal S B Deo who retires on September 30. Air Vice Marshal V R Chaudhuri has been promoted to Air Marshal and appointed as the new Deputy Chief. The Vice Chief and Deputy Chief are important appointments, with the former responsible for air operations and the latter for procurement and planning.

Air Marshal H S Arora, who is currently DG Air Operations under the Vice Chief, has been appointed as the head of the South Western Air Command based in Gandhinagar.

In the army, Lt Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane, who is currently heading the Shimla-based Army Training Command (ARTRAC) has been posted as the new Eastern Army Commander. Naravane will be the senior most officer in the army after the current army chief, General Bipin Rawat, retires in December next year. This would make Naravane the next in line to become chief, if the principle of seniority is followed. While the seniority principle has been followed in appointing army chiefs in the past, the BJP government selected Rawat to the top post in 2016 after bypassing two officers.

Naravane’s posting to ARTRAC last year came as a surprise, as an officer ideally should have led an operational command before being appointed as the army chief. His junior, Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, who was the Director General of Military Operations during the surgical strikes in 2016, was posted as the Northern Army Commander in May this year. But, the order issued on Tuesday to appoint Naravane as the Eastern Army Commander will ensure that he acquires the required operational experience.

Lt Gen Abhay Krishna, the officer whom Naravane is replacing, has been transferred to the Central Command, based in Lucknow. The command is responsible for the Line of Actual Control with China in Uttarakhand, which has witnessed incursions in the past. Krishna has been shifted as an army commander a few times since the past year- from the South Western Command to the Eastern Command and now the Central Command. This shuffling is unusual at this level, because an army commander needs adequate time to fully lead his command.

At the Central Command, he will be replacing Lt Gen B S Negi, who is retiring at the end of this month. Even Southern Army Commander, Lt Gen Dewan Rabindranath Soni, is retiring. Lt Gens Sanjiv Chopra and PS Rajeshwar are being elevated to the position of Army Commanders to take up the vacant positions in the South and at the training command.

40 Kashmir Cops Quit In 4 Days Amid Hizbul's 'Resign Or Die' Threat

The resignations started after the killing of three cops in Shopian

Srinagar: Days after the centre rejected resignation videos of Special Police Officers (SPO) as "false propaganda" by terrorists, the Jammu and Kashmir government today admitted the quitting spree in south Kashmir, but played it down by saying that the number is negligible.

"The state has over 30,000 SPOs. If you compare the number of people who have resigned, it's negligible," said BVR Subramanium, Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir.

The resignation videos of policemen surfaced following the kidnapping and killing of three cops in Jammu and Kashmir, just days after Hizbul Mujahideen terrorists had put out a "resign or die" threat. Sources say more than 40 SPOs and policemen have resigned since Friday.

The three policemen, all SPOs, were dragged out of their homes in Shopian in south Kashmir before daybreak and killed by terrorists. Their bodies with multiple bullet wounds were found later in an orchard near their village.

Resignation videos and reports that terrorists were raiding homes and forcing policemen to resign followed.

The home ministry rubbished the videos, with some officials claiming these were from people who were not SPOs anymore. "Reports have appeared in a section of media that some Special Police Officers (SPOs) in #JammuAndKashmir have resigned. J&K Police have confirmed that these reports are untrue and motivated. These reports are based on false propaganda by mischievous elements," said the ministry in a statement.

To prevent cops from uploading such videos on social media, as had been directed by the Hizbul in its threat video, the government has blocked internet services in south Kashmir. The worst-hit are Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam districts.

At Kachdora village in Shopian, constable Mukhtar Ahmad said his family has requested him to resign. The brutal murder of three cops scared them, he said.

"I am facing threats. The situation is grim here. My wife and parents asked me to resign as they are worried for their safety. I have got this affidavit and this resignation form as well," said Mukhtar Ahmad.

Police sources say there are more than 3,000 SPOs from south Kashmir and the government is relocating many policemen and their families to safer places. The police and other security agencies have also issued advisories to their personnel not visit their homes in the troubled region.

In its effort to prevent more resignations and reverse the dangerous trend, the government is contemplating sops for the SPOs. Their salary of Rs. 6,000 is expected to see a jump of Rs. 10,000.

"All the SPOs have been instructed about their personal security. The salaries of SPOs are going to see substantial jump in the next few days,'' said Mr Subramanyam.

Last week, the Hizbul Mujahideen had put out a video threatening to kill security personnel, mainly SPOs, if they didn't resign.

"Upload your resignations on the internet or face the consequences," the local head of Umar Majeed group, an offshoot of Hizbul Mujahideen, said. Security officials said posters carrying threats had also come up in many villages.

The threats were directed mainly at SPOs who are an important source of intelligence against terrorists for security agencies. Such policemen are mostly locals who work with security agencies.

For a policeman in south Kashmir, cops say the situation cannot get worse than this. He can't go to his home and live with his family. Those who want to live with their families consider their resignations as the only option.

Why The Modi Government's Defence Pricing Policy Is Not As Bad As It Looks

At first blush, the new defence pricing policy announced by the government earlier this month seems to discourage production. The policy, which proposed margin cuts, seems to be at odd with government rhetoric

by Shishir Asthana

At first blush, the new defence pricing policy announced by the government earlier this month seems to discourage production. The policy, which proposed margin cuts, seems to be at odd with government rhetoric.

For instance, not long ago, finance minister Arun Jaitley, who had also held the defence portfolio earlier, wrote in a blog: “Indigenous defence production or defence industrial base are the essential components of the long-term strategic planning of a country.”

The new defence pricing policy has proposed to cut profit before tax margins for all defence public sector undertakings for all new orders. The margin would reduce to 7.5 percent on manufactured equipment compared to 12.5 percent now. For spare & services, profitability margins remain unchanged at 10 percent. The rationale given for the new defence pricing policy was to bring uniformity among state-owned units.

Defence companies trading on the bourses, especially Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), took a beating after the announcement. BEL has lost nearly 30 percent, or about Rs 8,000 crore of its market capitalization since September 4.

BEL’s management tried to pacify the market saying that the impact will be small and not affect current business, but that hasn’t worked. Now that the dust has settled, there seems to be a consensus among analysts that the impact will be lower than feared.

A Citi report points out that the profit margin allowed under the old policy was a maximum of 12.5 percent, which was not always achieved. Further, the treatment of overheads between the old and new policies gives enough room for BEL to hang on to its margins.

A positive that is being ignored by the market is that under the new regime, the company earns 7.5 percent margins on bought out components and value added, while earlier margins were only on the value added. Bought out components are those parts which are produced by suppliers and there is no value addition at BEL’s end. These are essentially traded goods on which a 7.5 percent margin is pretty high.

Though the overall impact of the new policy on companies such as BEL seems to be neutral at best and marginally negative at worst, the fact that the government decided to cut margins gives the impression that the move is done to cut down cost. This, in turn, suggests that companies would not be making enough money to research newer state-of-the-art products.

In effect, the government’s stress seems to be on ‘Make in India’ and not on ‘Innovate in India’ which would not augur well on the long run. But this is not the case.

A look at the way Indian defence production is structured brings clarity. Presently there are 41 ordnance factories across the country, nine defence PSUs, at least 200 private sector license holder companies and a few thousand small and medium enterprises that support the bigger companies. This is where the manufacturing takes place. The government policy is meant only for PSUs.

These manufacturing companies work on the products that are researched and developed by more than 50 defence laboratories of DRDO, the only government-supported R&D agency in the country. DRDO’s efforts are both towards indigenisation as well as developing new products. Its skill set has increased with time.

Jaitley in his blog highlights the evolution of the defense industry in the country. At the turn of the century the country largely depended on imports but now 40 percent is indigenously produced. In some cases, indigenization is more than 70 percent as in case of T-90 tank, Infantry Combat Vehicle (BMP III) and some missiles.

But more than indigenisation, the bigger story in defence is the work DRDO has done in developing own systems like Akash missile, Advanced Light Helicopters, Light Combat Aircraft, Pinaka missiles, various radars among others. While the hard work in developing these products has been done, the government’s intention of mass producing these goods has to be done at the lowest possible cost.

A cost-plus basis with a thin margin that would cover overheads and leaves some profit on the table is the thinking behind the government’s current policy. This, however, does not mean that research on new products will stop. DRDO also benefits from this production as it generally receives 4 percent royalty for domestic sales and 6 percent for exports.

While the move of bringing down cost is credible as the bill to the exchequer would be lower, government’s decision also creates an opportunity for exporting arms to other countries. The government had announced earlier that it wanted to start exporting missiles by 2022, low-cost manufacturing bases would goal.

India, China Military Exchanges Grew Rapidly After Wuhan Summit: Envoy

India is making a pitch for tourists as only 300,000 of over 144 million Chinese tourists who travelled abroad visited India last year whereas over 1.4 million Indians travelled to China

Sino-Indian military exchanges grew rapidly after this year's informal summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping at Wuhan, Indian envoy to China Gautam Bambawale said on Tuesday.

"This is a good development as we cannot solve the issues between us if we are not direct and frank with each other. Strategic communication is important not merely between the top leadership of our countries but also between our diplomats, our military officers and our trade negotiators," Bambawale said.

"After Wuhan, our military exchanges have not merely resumed but grown rapidly. Our military commanders are now talking to each other more frankly and more candidly than ever before," he said, while speaking at the fifth dialogue between the Indian Council of World Affairs and the Chinese People's Institute for Foreign Affairs.

Director General of the Indian Council for World Affairs T C A Raghavan and Director of the Institute for China Studies, Delhi Ashok Kantha also took part in the dialogue. Raghavan was former Indian envoy to Pakistan and Kantha was ex-Indian envoy to China.

Bambawale also invited China to join the international solar alliance (ISA) and announced plans to launch an 'Incredible India' advertisement campaign in the Chinese media to attract more Chinese tourists to India.

He said India has recently launched the International Solar Alliance with a view to expand the use of solar energy by providing developing countries with technology, expertise and finance.

"China herself is a leading player in the development and spread of solar energy. India has invited China to join the International Solar Alliance. We hope China will do so soon," Bambawale said.

Referring to recent campaigns launched by Minister of State for Tourism, K J Alphons in different Chinese cities to attract more tourists, he said "China will soon witness the famous 'Incredible India' advertisements on their TV channels, in shopping malls and on city buses".

India is making a pitch for tourists as only 300,000 of over 144 million Chinese tourists who travelled abroad visited India last year whereas over 1.4 million Indians travelled to China.

Nirmala Sitharaman Likely To Meet French Defence Minister Next Month

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s visit to France comes in the backdrop of statements by former French president Francois Hollande which added to the Rafale controversy

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman is expected to travel to France next month for a defence ministers dialogue with her French counterpart Florence Parly as the two countries seek to expand their ties beyond bilateral joint exercises, with a focus on West Asia and the Indo-Pacific.

Undeterred by the unseemly controversy over the statements of former French president Francois Hollande on offsets related to Rafale fighter deal between India and France, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman is expected to travel to France next month for the first annual defence ministers dialogue with her counterpart Florence Parly as the two countries seek to expand their strategic ties beyond bilateral joint exercises, with a focus on West Asia and the Indo-Pacific.

Sitharaman will be in Paris on October 12 and 13 and will also meet President Emmanuel Macron during her visit. She will attend the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM plus) in Singapore the following week.

Sitharaman’s visit is for the annual defence minister dialogue decided during French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to India in March, and it is also in reciprocation to Parly’s visit to India in October 2017.

“Former president Hollande’s statement was aimed at defending himself against allegations surrounding his partner. India and France are strategic partners and will continue to be so,” said a senior defence ministry official seeking anonymity.

While France is keen to sell more Rafale fighters to India beyond the contracted 36 fully loaded platforms, India is looking at the country as a close strategic partner with whom it has convergence -- from the Reunion Islands in far Pacific to the Persian Gulf in West Asia.

India and France are partnering with UAE in the Persian Gulf and Australia in the Indo-Pacific for a political alliance to ensure that sea lanes of communication are free from dominance of any aspiring global power.

“Maritime security in the Indian Ocean has become a prime area of Indo-French strategic cooperation. The western Indian Ocean is outside the jurisdiction of the US Indo-Pacific Command which is responsible for implementing the Indo-US joint strategic vision for the Indo-Pacific region. This strategic gap is being filled in by Indo-French joint strategic vision for the Indian Ocean region and the logistics agreement signed between the two countries on the pattern of LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement) with the US. France is an Indian Ocean power with permanent naval presence in the western Indian Ocean and keeps an eye on maritime security in the Madagascar channel. China’s inroads into Africa is a subject of concern to both countries. France is therefore a credible partner. Very specific and detailed understandings have been reached between the two countries on what the responsibilities of each of them will be in the area of maritime security,” said Kanwal Sibal, former foreign secretary and former Ambassador to France.

India and France have traditionally been close defence allies with Indian military training on high tech drones with their French counterparts in Africa as well as navies of the two countries exercising in anti-submarine warfare in Reunion Islands between May 1-7 in 2017 as part of the second leg of the Varuna bilateral naval exercise. While India signed the logistics agreement with France during President Macron visit, ratification from Paris is still awaited to operationalise the agreement.

Defence minister Sitharaman will also discuss military collaboration with Indian Defence PSUs with her counterpart as France is at the core of “Make in India” initiative. For instance, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is working with Dassault Aviation for upgrades of Mirage-2000 fighters for the Indian Air Force (IAF), MDL is working with DCNS for Scorpene independent air propulsion submarines for the Indian Navy and Turbomeca engines are at the heart of indigenous Advanced Light Helicopter (ALF) project India is looking towards acquiring Fench Safran jet engines for its Light Combat Aircraft project but the deal is still work under progress and the two defence ministers will be discussing the way forward.

Over the years France has emerged a key defence supplier to India. From 2013- 2017, 8.5 per cent of total French defence exports were for India with an annual ballpark figure of more than 600 million Euros before the Rafale contract payouts.

COMCASA Indication of Growing Trust Between US, India: Mattis

WASHINGTON: A communications compatibility and security agreement signed between India and the US is an indication of growing trust between the two countries, Defence Secretary James Mattis said Monday.

The Communication and Information on Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA), which paves the way for transfer of communication security equipment from the US to India was inked after the first 2+2 dialogue between the two countries in New Delhi earlier this month when External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman met Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Secretary of Defence Mattis.

Mattis said 2+2 dialogue had a "Very Positive" outcome.

"We've signed some enabling document to what I would call them, enabling a closer military relationship, additional sharing of information we need to keep secure; that we would share with a country that we trust," Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon.

"So is an indication of growing trust, growing partnership and have a mutually beneficial efforts on the part of both of us," he said.

Mattis said there will be additional documents that the two countries would sign as the two countries "mature the relationship", and "its all going according to plan".

India and the US continues to work together on everything from exercises to exchange of officers, he said.

Rafale Deal: No Room For Doubt After Hollande ‘Clarification,’ Says Rajnath

The Centre on Saturday had asserted that it did not have any role in the selection of Reliance Defence as a partner for Dassault.

Under attack from the Congress on Rafale fighter aircraft deal, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday said that following “clarifications” from former French president Francois Hollande, there is no room for any doubt in the matter.

He also accused the Congress of trying to gain political mileage over the issue with an eye on the Lok Sabha elections next year.

“The opposition does not have any issue left so it is raking up Rafale deal issue,” the Home Minister told reporters after a meeting of the Central Zonal Council here.

“After clarifications from Hollande there is no room for any doubt about the deal. The Congress is making it an issue to gain political mileage in 2019 Lok Sabha polls,” Singh said.

Mr. Hollande, who was French President when the ₹58,000 crore deal was announced, was quoted as saying by French publication Mediapart that France was given “no choice” on the selection of the Indian partner for Dassault and the Indian government proposed the name of Reliance as offset partner for the French aerospace giant.

AFP reported that Mr. Hollande told it on the sidelines of a meeting in Canada on Friday that France “did not choose Reliance in any way.” When asked whether India had put pressure on Reliance and Dassault to work together, Mr. Hollande said he was unaware and “only Dassault can comment on this.”

The Centre on Saturday had asserted that it did not have any role in the selection of Reliance Defence as a partner for Dassault while France said it was in “no manner” involved in the choice of any Indian industrial associate for the contract.

On the Kashmir issue, Mr. Singh said, “I think the matter will be resolved. The problem is not increasing. We are ready to talk to everyone. As far as terrorism is concerned, all security agencies are working in coordination.”

“Terrorism in Kashmir is Pakistan-sponsored,” he said.

Besides Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand Chief Ministers Yogi Adityanath and Trivendra Singh Rawat respectively, the meeting was attended by representatives from Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh as well.

The Central Zonal Council comprises Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand. The council’s meeting aims at addressing common concerns of the participating states and settling cross-border concerns, if any.

Five Zonal Councils -- central, western, northern, southern and eastern -- were established under the States Reorganisation Act, 1956.

Rafale Deal: Congress Crying Foul As Robert Vadra Didn’t Get Stake In Offset, Says BJP

The ruling party is planning an offensive to counter the opposition “false propaganda” in the perception battle on the matter

NEW DELHI: With the Congress upping the ante on the Rafale jet deal, BJP dragged Rahul Gandhi’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra into the picture, alleging that his firm was keen on getting a share in the offset and failure to do so has prompted the principal opposition to cry foul on the issue. The ruling party is also planning an offensive to counter the opposition “false propaganda” in the perception battle on the matter.

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters that there is an “international dimension” as well to Gandhi levelling these charges, taking further the stand taken by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley that Gandhi and former French President Francois Hollande were in cohorts with each other.

“There is an international Gatbandhan (alliance) at work...,” Sitharaman said. He mentioned the tweet by Gandhi anticipating a “Rafale bomb” from France and Hollande’s remarks that there was pressure from India to choose Reliance as the offset partner in the Rafale deal came a few days later.

BJP also undertook a counter offensive, with union minister Gajendra Shekhawat alleging at a press interaction that Vadra and his close business associate Sanjay Bhandari had tried to get a share in the offset in Rafale deal with Dassault when the Congress-led UPA was in power.

“Sanjay Bhandari, who would book plane tickets for Vadra, get the interiors of Vadra’s London flat done, and handle his real estate deals, was seen with him at the Dubai Defence Expo. The Gandhi family wanted that the deal should be through Vadra’s company,” Shekhawat said.

Since this attempt failed after the UPA was voted out in 2014, Congress is now levelling these allegations about the deal. Congress kept the Rafale contract hanging and thus compromised the defence preparedness of the nation and lowered the morale of the Indian Air Force, BJP said.

As reported by ET earlier, Bhandari’s company Offsets India Solutions had tried to enter the fray and applied “considerable pressure” for a slice of the work.

OIS virtually shut down after Bhandari fled to London in February 2017 after a probe into his business functions by ED.

OIS had approached Dassault for a partnership but the French company decided against it after a few rounds of talks. Bhandari’s perceived proximity to Vadra was said to be a strong factor. In May 2016, Bhandari’s offices in New Delhi were raided by ED which was probing charges of wrongly influencing defence deals. Bhandari was also booked under Official Secrets Act.

India Opens Its 100th Airport Just 40 Miles Away From Doklam

Apart from improving the connectivity of the landlocked state of Sikkim on the eastern frontier, the airport also holds immense strategic significance as it lies just 40 miles away from Doklam, a tiny plateau sandwiched between India, China and Bhutan, which witnessed a military standoff between India and China last year.

Perched on a crag in the Himalayan mountain range, India's 100th airport was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday. Considered an engineering marvel, erected at the height of 4,500 ft above sea level and rugged terrain, the spectacular natural backdrop gives the Pakyong airport a picture-perfect finish.
"The Indian Air Force (IAF) will also find this airport convenient for the landing and taking off of its aircraft," Junior Minister Dr. Jitendra Singh in India's Prime Minister Office said.

An official of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) said that state-of-the-art Geotechnical engineering, including soil reinforcement and slope stabilisation techniques, was used in the construction of the airport.

The airport is expected to lend a major fillip to the economy of Sikkim that was otherwise connected to the mainland with a single lane highway.

The air connectivity is also bound to prove a major boon to the armed forces, which had to otherwise rely on the single-lane highway to transport weapons and tanks to the border with China. Transport of heavy equipment and weapons systems took days at a time. Moreover, the highway remained disrupted through most of the rainy season, with landslides occurring frequently. The unavailability of a nearby airport during last year's military standoff exposed the vulnerabilities of Indian forces.


Hafiz Saeed Denies Surgical Strike...Again

Jamaat-ud-Dawah (JuD) chief and the 2008 Mumbai attacks terror mastermind, Hafiz Saeed has once again said, India’s surgical strikes on Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) in September 2016 “never happened”.

In a video footage accessed by News18 Hindi, Saeed was seen speaking at a gathering.

The JuD chief went on to say India does not have the ‘courage to carry a surgical strike’.

I want to tell (PM) Modi one thing that I have told him in the past as well. He says he has carried out surgical strikes (on the terror launch pads in PoK). Neither did the surgical strikes happen...nor does India have the courage to do it.

He further said, Mujahideen in Kashmir will “carry out surgical strikes now”.

Generals in your academies will not teach about surgical strikes anymore, now the Mujahideen in Kashmir will teach about surgical strikes. 

This is not the first time Saeed made such remarks about India in his speeches. In July 2018, he warned India of a ‘befitting response’ for the military operations in PoK. In 2016, he threatened India with surgical strikes in Kashmir.

Pakistan Unlikely To Change Its Behaviour Over Terrorism: Haqqani

A file picture of former Pakistani ambassador to the US, Husain Haqqani, from July 2016

WASHINGTON: The Pakistani leadership defines terrorism differently than the US government and is unlikely to act against all terrorist groups as demanded by Washington, Pakistan's former ambassador to America Husain Haqqani has said.

In an article in the journal 'American Interest', Haqqani said that Pakistani leaders' view of their country's interests in Afghanistan, differ vastly from those of the US and that limits the prospects of cooperation in ending the Afghan war.

"Pakistan's leadership defines terrorism differently than the US government and thus is unlikely to act against all terrorist groups, as (Secretary of State) Mike Pompeo demanded," Haqqani, who is now the Director for South and Central Asia at Washington-based Hudson Institute, said.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi is scheduled to meet Pompeo on October 2 to further discussions initiated during the Secretary of State's brief stopover in Islamabad on September 5, while on his way to India.

"US diplomats have spent almost three decades trying to lure Pakistan's decision-makers into seeing things their way," Haqqani observed, adding that this had led to what President Donald Trump recently described as Pakistan's "lies and deceit" on the USD 33 billion in economic and security assistance it has accepted from the US government since 9/11.

At the direction of Trump, the US has frozen all security aid to Pakistan since January this year.

Haqqani warned that the Trump Administration should be prepared for "less cooperation from Pakistan" with respect terrorism.

He noted that less than a week after Secretary Pompeo's stopover, Pakistan's Supreme Court had overruled restrictions imposed by the previous government on Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), a front for the terrorist Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), and its charity arm Falahi Insaniyat Foundation (FIF), both of whom are connected to UN designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed.

This was an indication that Pakistan's new government, backed by the country's military establishment and judiciary, did not intend to respect US or UN terrorism designations, Haqqani alleged.

The former top Pakistani envoy argued that it was important for American diplomats to understand that the other side is unwilling to compromise, given that Pakistan and the US have disagreed over Afghanistan almost consistently since the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989.

Haqqani said that it is "unlikely that Pakistan or the Afghan Taliban will change their calculus at a time when they believe that the US military is eager to leave Afghanistan."

Haqqani believes that the way out for the US would be to "bypass Pakistan and directly negotiate with the Afghan Taliban".

Indian Navy Ships In Myanmar For Joint Patrol

INS Kulish on patrol duty in the Indian Ocean Region

YANGON (MYANMAR): Two Indian Navy ships are on a visit to Myanmar as part of ongoing bilateral mechanisms between the two countries to maintain maritime security and enhance mutual understanding.

INS Kulish and INS Battimalv along with an Indian Navy Dornier aircraft are in Myanmar from September 24-26 for the opening ceremony of the seventh India-Myanmar Coordinated Patrol, the Indian Embassy in Yangon said in a release.

The coordinated patrol is to maintain maritime security within respective sides of the maritime boundary and to enhance mutual understanding between the two navies through operational exchange, it said. 

Commodore Ashutosh Ridhorkar, Naval Component Commander, Port Blair, is the senior officer on board INS Kulish.

INS Kulish is the third of indigenously-manufactured Kora Class guided missile corvettes, commissioned into the Navy in 2001, and presently based at Port Blair.

Equipped with a multitude of weapons and sensors, the ship is also designed to embark indigenously-manufactured Dhruv (ALH) and Chetak helicopters. Cdr Deepak Bali is in command of Kulish and heads a crew of over 120 personnel, the release said.

INS Battimalv is a fast attack craft with a top speed of over 28 knots commissioned into the Indian Navy in 2006. The ship undertakes regular patrolling and surveillance missions in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, and is commanded by Lieutenant Commander M C Chandeep, who heads a crew of over 50.