Sunday, June 28, 2015

Court rescues senior IPS officer from open political vendetta in Odisha

Prakash Mishra
Often, cases of corrupt and unscrupulous government officials who make disproportionate money make instant headlines. By comparison, there is less coverage of cases where honest and upright officers get unfairly targeted by political personalities and those in power. One such instance has recently come to my notice. It involves one of the most experienced and currently perhaps the senior-most IPS officer in the country, Prakash Mishra, presently Director General of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). Fortunately, the judiciary in this country is still largely fiercely independent and thus ensures that political vendetta does not ruin the reputation and careers of upright officers.

A blatantly false and malafide criminal case against Prakash Mishra filed by the Odisha Vigilance Department which directly works under Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has quashed recently by the Orissa High Court, is a prime example of how political and personal biases can dictate State Government decisions.

The so-called case dates back to a period between 2006-2009 when Prakash Mishra, an IPS Officer of the 1977 batch was Chairman-cum-Managing Director of Odisha State Police Housing and Welfare Corporation (OSPH &WC). The State government instituted an inquiry into what it called an irregular purchase of cement and steel and payment of full amount to suppliers in advance. The State government alleged that Prakash Mishra and another officer had entered into a criminal conspiracy to derive pecuniary advantage. An FIR was registered in Bhubaneshwar in September 2014 against Mishra, five years after he had ceased to be the CMD of OSPH &WC!

Why did the State government wake up after almost half-a-decade? According to Mishra’s writ petition (based on which the High Court dismissed the case against him) the State government headed by Naveen Patnaik wasn’t very happy with his “strict and upright” way of functioning during his tenure as the Director General of Police in Odisha. Mishra, it must be noted here, went back to the state as DGP at the request of the State Government in 2012. During his tenure, the Odisha Police notched up several successes in their drive against the Maoists who were running amok in some districts of the state. But by December 2013 Mishra realised he was not in tune with the political discourse in the state and therefore asked to be sent back for Central deputation. Initially the State Government agreed to his request but subsequently withdrew its permission for Mishra to be sent to the Centre citing shortage of IPS officers in the state but betrayed its own bias against Mishra by posting him as CMD of Orissa State Transport Corporation which clearly is not under the police department!

When the Ministry of Home Affairs inquired about Mishra’s availability for central deputation in July 2014, the State Government said Mishra’s name has been removed from the list of officers eligible for Central deputation because there is a vigilance inquiry pending against him. Aware of the flimsy and obviously politically-motivated move against him, the Centre nevertheless brought Mishra back to Delhi and posted him as Special Secretary (Internal Security) before posting him as DG, CRPF.

Meanwhile, Prakash Mishra had also filed a writ petition in the Orissa High Court challenging the case against him. In a significant judgement quashing the FIR against Mishra, Justice SC Parija of the Orissa High Court has made some stinging observations against the Odisha Government.

One observation said: “It is not very uncommon in our country that honest and upright public servants with unimpeachable integrity and having impeccable track record are often hounded by the ruling political establishment for extraneous consideration. In the present case, what is more disturbing is that that the Director, Vigilance, to whom the file was marked by the Chief Minister for conducting an enquiry, has abdicated his duty and responsibility...the action or rather the wilful inaction of the Director, Vigilance, in not ensuring free, fair and proper enquiry into the matter and allowing the report of a sham enquiry to be accepted and giving his consent for seeking approval of the state government for registration of criminal case against the petitioners (Mishra and one more official) clearly shows that he was more concerned in exhibiting his loyalty to the ruling political establishment, akin to the old British adage of ‘more loyal than the King’.”

The Court said: “...The conclusion is irresistible that the allegations made in the impugned FIR and the materials available in the case not constitute or disclose commission of any cognisible offence and therefore, allowing continuance of the criminal proceeding against the present petitioners would be an abuse of the process of Court and result in serious miscarriage of justice...(therefore) all consequential criminal proceedings are hereby quashed.”

The Court’s harsh language is proof enough that the State government was acting out of personal prejudice and possibly even vendetta against one of the senior-most police officers in the country.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Why OROP is imminently affordable

As veterans take turns to go on a relay hunger strike across India and mainly at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar over the non-implementation of the ‘One Rank One Pension’ demand, I went looking for the so-called complicated and tedious formula that has apparently kept the government tied up in knots.

After talking to experts and pouring over many documents—not my cup of tea really, but I thought I owed it to my father who retired in May 1982 as a Subedar Major and who checks with me every week whether OROP will ever be implemented—I have managed to conclude that all arguments about burgeoning defence pension bill being un-affordable to the government is nothing but a myth.

Let me explain.

Before proceeding further however, it must be clarified that the current defence pension expenditure of Rs 54,500 crores (2015-16) also includes defence civilians who approximately number 400,000.

Now, the perceived exponential rise in pension bill needs to be put in the correct perspective. The figure would rise in absolute numbers of course but when viewed as a percentage of the nation’s GDP, the expenditure on defence pension shows an overall declining trend as the table below will illustrate:

The defence pensions as a percentage of GDP thus shows a clear long term declining trend despite an absolute rise in numbers (the spike in 2009-10 was due to payment of arrears for years 2006, 2007 and 2008 after the award of the 6th pay commission).

Now why does the military have higher number of pensioners as compared to their civilian counterparts? Simple. The nation needs a young army and therefore soldiers are recruited young and retired early (most of them between 34-37 years). On the contrary, all non-military government employees (including jawans of the Central Armed Police Forces—CAPFs) have the luxury of serving till the age of 60. The ratio of pensioners to serving personnel in the military is thus 1.7:1 as against 0.56:1 among the civilians. But that’s the price the nation needs to pay for maintaining a standing army.

Had the long-standing recommendations for lateral absorption of this vast, disciplined and ready made pool of manpower in various non-military organisations been implemented, perhaps the pension bill could have been reduced but that has not happened because of lack of political will and bureaucratic resistance.

There is one more reason why the military pension bill will further reduce in terms of percentage of the GDP: All civilians in defence ministry who joined service on or after 1 January 2004, have now come under the ambit of the contributory National Pension Scheme (NPS). Soldiers unfortunately cannot be brought under the ambit of the NPS because of their short service span. The benefit of NPS, it should be noted, accrues over a long span of time (30 years or more) deriving the benefit from the power of compounding the accrued amount!

Now to the second part of the entire issue: the complexity of calculations.

The format of the existing pension tables issued by the government gives pension of a soldier based on two variables – his rank and length of service. The pension for a given rank for higher length of service will be higher.  Hence, if a Sepoy gets Rs 5,480 as pension on retiring at 17 years of service, a Sepoy retiring at 18 years of service would be getting pension higher than Rs 5,480.  Ideally, the pension of a Sepoy retiring at 18 years of service should be 3 per cent higher, i.e Rs 5,614.  But due to various reasons the difference is invariably not three per cent.  It is due to this anomalous situation that annual reviews are required for OROP which will have additional financial implication. However, the outgo for government will decline with each subsequent annual review and in steady state will be almost zero, when for a particular rank, pensions for each year of service will be approx three per cent higher than preceding year of service.

How pension Bill will actually decline

Bunching Effect Will Peter Out.    Bunching of salaries, and hence pensions, for a particular rank happens for a number of reasons.  Bunching implies same salary, and hence pension, for a particular rank even with different years of service, despite the Running Pay Band System introduced by 6th Central Pay Commission—CPC--(salary increases automatically with three per cent annual increment in Running Pay Band System; hence higher salary for higher number of years of service). 

For example, take the case of Majors, with 13, 14, 15, 16 years of service in December 2004.  When Lt Col was made a non-selection grade rank (earlier selection grade rank around 16-18 years of service) in 13 years of service, all Majors with service higher than 13 years were made Lt Cols together on the same date and fixed into the same 5th CPC pay scale of Lt Col.  Their replacement scales in 6th CPC, hence, were also same.  Now these Lt Cols (if not promoted to Col subsequently) of different years of service will keep getting same pay of Lt Col/ Col (Timescale--TS) till they retire; they will get same pension on retirement also.  Once OROP is implemented, pension figures of the rank of Col (TS) for years 30, 31, 32, 33 years (they may reach retirement age of 54 in different years) may be same instead of being separated by approx three per cent annual difference.  Now if, annual review of OROP tables is carried out, using these ‘Bunched Up’ pension figures, the pension for Col (TS) of 33 years will be higher than Col (TS) of 33 years of previous year’s OROP table by approximately three per cent since the erstwhile year’s serving Col of 32 years will get three per cent increment and may retire with three per cent higher pension in 33 years. 

Here is another example. In the 5th pay commission, a Naik used to get an annual increase of Rs 85.  However, post the 6th Pay Commission, the annual increment is three per cent of Basic Pay plus Grade Pay which is much higher i.e, approximately Rs 300.  Thus, a Naik with 19 years of service who was enrolled in year 1996 (5th Pay Commission regime) would have got 10 annual increments at lower 5th Pay Commission rate and nine higher increments in 6th Pay Commission scale. On the other hand, a Naik who was enrolled much later say in the year 2000, has just 6 lower rate annual increments in his salary and nine higher rate annual increments.  Thus, rate of salary progression for this Naik (2000 entry) is higher; when these two Naiks retire (in different years) after completing 24 years of service, the pay and pension figure of Naik (2000 entry) will be higher.  Thus annual revision of OROP table will lead to a higher pension figure for a Naik of 24 years of service when Naik (2000 entry) retires.  This effect will get ‘damped’, as time progresses in the regime of any pay commission.

There are many other reasons for declining additional financial implication for annual review of OROP tables, but the two major reasons are listed above.  Theoretically, if there are 300 Cells in the OROP table (10 Ranks as Column Heads, 30 Qualifying Service as Row Heads) and all 300 Cells are to be enhanced by three per cent next year, the additional financial implication will still be capped at three per cent.  However, actually only few Cells may change through annual review of OROP tables and additional financial implication of each Cell may range from 0 to three per cent approximately.  Hence, overall additional financial implications will be much lower than three per cent.  It was actually mathematically computed as 0.85 per cent using CGDA (Comptroller General, Defence Accounts) data for JCOs/OR.

Experts say another way to comprehend the declining financial implication of annual review is to draw an analogy from the ‘Damping Out’ of a Sinusoidal Wave.  Unless there is an external impulse, the sinusoidal wave gets damped out.  Similarly, as Bunching Effect and other anomalies exit the system of pay and pensions, with no external impulse (i.e, change in terms and conditions of service), the additional financial implications of annual review of OROP will continuously reduce and in steady state will be almost zero.  

So, all the arguments that the nation cannot afford the steadily increasing defence pension bill in the long run, is specious to say the least. If India wants to be strong, it needs a powerful military which acts as a deterrent against all adversaries. And if the nation needs a strong military, it is the obligation of the state to look after its soldiers—both serving and retired-- reasonably well. 

The Narendra Modi government will do well to remember that if it wants to be seen to be a friend of the soldier, there is no alternative but take a quick decision on OROP implementation. In a lighter vein, if that does not happen, my weekly call to my parents will invariably continue to begin with a question: What's happening to OROP?

Monday, June 22, 2015

From the Special Forces Operation to a look back at the 1965 War, 50 years on: All the articles in one place

Why it's important to remember the 1965 war between India and Pakistan

Saturday, 20 June 2015 - 4:00pm IST | Agency: dna webdesk
Although the period of June-July every year is normally regarded as the time when the 1999 Kargil conflict between India and Pakistan is remembered and discussed, 2015 is perhaps the right time to understand the genesis of the war that Pakistan initiated and lost half a century ago.
Several factors, not the least the belief among some of Ayub Khan’s hawkish advisers that the general population in Kashmir valley was ready to rise in revolt against India, led Ayub to go along with, what later turned out to be a militarily unsound operational plan. Pakistan’s Military Intelligence and the Foreign Ministry (headed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) were of the view that from late 1964 onward, there was a surge in anti-India feelings in the Kashmir valley and the people would be more than willing to welcome Pakistani intervention.
Newspaper reports of the time suggest that the shelling and firing across the CFL (Ceasefire Line, as the Line of Control or LoC was then known), intrusions and other provocative activities increased manifold between January and July 1965. The Army recorded some 1800 such activities in that period as compared to just about 522 in the same period in 1964. In June and July 1965, there were at least half a dozen firing incidents daily across the CFL. The ceasefire violations preceded what was to be one of the largest infiltration planned and executed by Pakistan — much larger in scope than that in Kargil in 1999.
There is consensus among various personal accounts of the 1965 war and newspaper reports of that period that the scheme of infiltration was planned in Pak-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) under the overall command of Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik, the then GoC of Pakistan’s 12 Division. All the four sector commanders under Major General Malik were made responsible for organising, training and launching of infiltrators groups from their areas of responsibility. These groups, numbering some 30,000 men, were named the Gibraltar Force. The aim of Operation Gibraltar was clearly laid down - to ‘create large-scale disturbances in Indian-held Kashmir which would force India to take major political and military steps to meet the situation..’
However, the Pakistan army’s Commander-in-Chief Mohammad Musa was not entirely convinced about Operation Gibraltar. In a telling comment, General Musa wrote: “The policy-makers thwarted the professional assessment and advice on matters having grave military implications because of their miscalculation of the politico-strategic situation and the over-ambitiousness of a few individuals involved in decision-making who were prompted by their desire to achieve some quick and spectacular results in Kashmir by clandestine operations.” Musa was mainly talking about Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who had prevailed upon President Mohammad Ayub, that the time was ripe to wrest Kashmir from India once and for all. Fifty years on, it is difficult to believe that the Pakistani Army — currently considered as the ‘deep state’ and perhaps the final arbiter of the nation’s destiny — could have been overruled by a politician like Bhutto.
There were other factors too that contributed to Pakistan’s swagger that time. One, Pakistan was confident that China, its new found ally and friend would make a threatening move against India, if only to keep some of its newly raised formations in the East from being moved into Kashmir. Two, Pakistan’s army was convinced that the modern arms and platforms supplied by the United States were far superior to the Indian army’s World War II vintage armoury, giving it a distinct advantage in any possible conflict.
In 1954, America agreed to arm up to five divisions of the Pakistani Army with the latest weapons and supply modern fighter jets. A Pakistani author has cited how the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) received a massive boost from America. According to one estimate, between 1956 and 1964 Pakistan was supplied with 100 F-86 Sabre jets, one squadron of F-104 Star Fighters, 30 B-57 bombers and four C-130 transport aircrafts, allowing it to narrow the gap with India. In 1965, the Pakistani Army’s armour strength was superior to that of the Indian Army.
The London-based IISS handbook on Military Balance (1965) revealed that Pakistan had 765 tanks in all, against India’s 720 in 1965. Pakistan had nine regiments of the latest Patton tanks supplied by the US, nine regiments of Shermans and three Regiments of Chaffees. India, on the other hand was saddled with right regiments of Shermans, four regiments of Centurians and two regiments of AMX-XIIIs. Pakistan’s artillery too was far superior in quality compared to India’s. While it had one heavy regiment of 155 mm guns and eight-inch Howitzers, India was mostly doing with 120 mm mortars and one heavy regiment of 7.2 inch guns.
Meanwhile, even as China-Pakistan ties were growing stronger, the American military aid continued unabated. Alarmed at the developments, India under Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and his defence minister YB Chavan (appointed by Jawaharlal Nehru in November 1962) took counter-measures to re-arm, expand and modernise the Indian military. Arms assistance from the Soviet Union was gratefully accepted. Yet, India was in no position to wage another war in 1965, having suffered a morale-shattering defeat in 1962. The three services were in the middle of a modernisation and expansion phase and therefore not fully trained or battle ready.
This was indeed one of the reasons why Ayub Khan and his ambitious Foreign Minister Bhutto were keen to press home the advantage that Pakistan seemed to enjoy in that particular period by launching an action that would free Kashmir from India’s ‘clutches.’
Moreover, the Pakistani leadership was not overly impressed by Nehru’s successor, Shastri and assessed that he was a pushover.
Economically too, Pakistan in that period was doing better than India. Politically, Sheikh Abdullah’s falling out with India was seen as an opportune moment by Pakistan, who felt that the Kashmiri population would support an instigated rebellion against India.
That Bhutto and Ayub were proved wrong, both in their assessment about the ‘loyalties’ of the Kashmiris and underestimating the strength and resilience of the Indian military, is a matter of history. After initial setbacks, the Indian Army not only thwarted the Pakistani offensive but also in September 1965, marched right into the heart of Pakistan: Lahore.
Only an UN intervention saved Pakistan the blushes. As India gears up to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1965 victory a couple of months from now, it is important to remember Pakistan’s perfidy half a century ago.
The author is currently writing a book on the 1965 war between India and Pakistan.

Reclaiming the North-east

A day after the 4 June ambush on the Indian Army's 6 Dogra Battalion in Manipur's Chandel district that killed 18 soldiers, I was in Guwahati at a Rotary Club function, coincidentally kicking off a discussion on why the media in general ignores the North-east or more precisely why is the media coverage of the north-east always trapped in stereotype?

Many media stalwarts from Delhi—all of them from print and in some ways people with fondness for the north-east—as well media practitioners from the region were in attendance. At the same time, many ‘celebrity’ anchors and big names on TV news had either declined or had simply ignored the invite from the organisers. It was as if they were afraid of exposing their own lack of knowldge about the region. Which is not surprising, given the overall ‘illiteracy’ that prevails in rest of India not just in media, but in almost all walks of life.

As the conference got underway, my mind travelled back to the 1980s when I first went to the region as a callow young man and became a journalist. The ignorance about the region was staggering in those years. 

Three decades since then, the divide between “north-east” and the mainland has lessened with more exchange of people and ideas between the two. Actually, North-east exists only in the minds of those who are far away from it--physically and mentally. In my view, every state, in fact every district, in the region has a distinct identity.
And yet, generally, the attitude of the people in rest of India towards the North-east is like our treatment of a distant relative who exists in the mind but about whom we know precious little. Our knowledge about this relative is often based on misinformation, half truths and innuendos. That's exactly how rest of the country largely treats the eight states in the North East! 

The Centre too looks at the north-east from the prism of law and order and security. The metropolitan media follows suit and gives place to coverage of the north-east only when there is large-scale violence or an incident like the cross-border raid by the Indian Army’s Special Forces into a neighbouring country.

So how should one look at the north-east? There is one view that there is too much money floating around in the region while others hold the view that the region needs much more assistance to bring it at par with rest of the country in terms of infrastructure and development.

The truth lies somewhere in between. The amount of money that is granted to and spent on the North East is mind boggling. Funds are not a problem, their disbursement is. Loads of money has indeed created a class of corrupt, rich people in the region, who consider themselves immune from law.

So, have we lost the North-east forever? Many optimists, like me, are convinced that the North-east has several things going for itself to catch up with the rest of the country. Unlike most other states, the North-east has a very high percentage of literacy. This itself should be a major strength. All that this pool of manpower resources needs is proper direction. Take the natural resources available with the region. Arunachal Pradesh has so much of water resources available that it can produce about 30,000 MW of electricity through hydel projects. This energy is not only sufficient to feed the region’s states but also to export to the neighbouring countries as well. Another point that the North-east has in its favour is the proximity to South-east Asia. 

Identified by economic experts as the boom area of the 21st century, South-east Asia is best accessed from North-east India. The big question however is, who will do this? Not retired mandarins. Not people from MHA. Not people from rest of India. Ultimately, it is the civil society, well-meaning politicians and committed bureaucrats, who will have to take up the lost cause and bring the North-east out of its current mess. Only then rest of India will start looking at the North-east more seriously. Only then others will start treating the North-east not as an exotic faraway entity but as an integral part of the idea that is India.


An Excellent Indian Army Operation Overshadowed by Poor Communications

Full marks to political will and military acumen, but the government should work on its strategic communication skills.
By Nitin Gokhale  Jun 12,20153 Comments

As it usually happens in India, a precise, excellent special operation by the Indian Army against a group of north-east insurgents hiding in camps located within the geographical boundaries of Myanmar last Tuesday, has got overshadowed by some ill-advised pronouncements by ministers and an even sillier questions posed by ill-informed television anchors.

While junior ministers went a little overboard in claiming the successful raid as a warning to all of India’s neighbours, multiple voices diluted the impact of the cross-border raid. The TV debates—focusing mostly on the question: can the operation in Myanmar be replicated elsewhere (read, Pakistan)--further vitiated the atmosphere.

In all the shrill noises, three standout aspects of the operation have been more or less forgotten. One, the swift response by the top political leadership in giving a go-ahead for a counter-offensive inside Myanmar. Two, the skills and effectiveness of India’s Special Forces and three, the India-Myanmar military cooperation that allowed the forces to cross over and raid militant camps inside that country.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his National security Adviser Ajit Doval, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Home Minister Rajnath Singh were quick to seek action against the perpetrators of the June 4 ambush on an army unit in Manipur that killed 18 soldiers. Once the political backing was forthcoming, the Army chose its best force trained for counter-insurgency and jungle warfare, the 21 Para (Special Forces), based in Jorhat and directly reporting to the Eastern Command. Nicknamed Waghnkh (Tiger’s Claw)--the unit was originally 21 Maratha Light Infantry battalion before being fully converted into a Para (SF) battalion—after Chattrapati Shivaji’s famous act of killing Afzal Khan by using the waghnakh, the 21 Para (SF) were tasked to hit the two camps located not very far from the border.

Detailed appreciation of the camps was made based on both HUMINT (human intelligence) and TechInt (technical intelligence) which had confirmed presence of a substantial number of insurgents in these camps. They troops also had a fair idea about the firepower the occupants of the camp possessed. At dawn on June 9, in less than a week after the ambush on 6 Dogras, the Special Forces had walked about six km inside Myanmar, the camps in their cross hairs. Soon, the assault was on. A firefight between an assortment of insurgents (those belonging to the NSCN-Khaplang group, Paresh Baruah's ULFA boys, members of UNLF, KYKL and PREPAK) and the army troops ensued. Many were killed, several injured. As the remaining insurgents fled, the troops started their return march. Incredibly, the Army's Special Forces had suffered no casualty. Months of hard training had paid off.

As the details begun to emerge, Myanmar acknowledged India’s operation: Zaw Htay, director of the office of Myanmar President Thein Sein, confirmed to The Wall Street Journal a day after the raid that Indian troops had entered his country. He said that there was “coordination and cooperation” between the Indian troops and Myanmar’s armed forces based in the area of the raids, but added that no Myanmar soldiers were directly involved. “We will never allow or support insurgents, whether [they are] against Myanmar or against our neighbouring countries,” Mr. Zaw Htay added. However, some ill-considered statements by ministers not directly involved in planning or decision-making and the breathless media narrative which started extrapolating and speculating about the possibility of a similar action on the Pakistan border, forced the Myanmarese to back off and deny that the raid took place inside their country.

As the government began assessing the aftermath of the clinical operation, it had to take note of one major shortcoming: Its strategic communication during a development such as a special operation of this kind, needed to be fine-tuned and brought in sync with the requirement of today’s media landscape which abhors information vacuum. In coming months, top decision-makers will surely find ways to overcome this lacuna.

The sometime silly, many times farcical debates on some of the TV channels notwithstanding, the fact is the 4 June ambush and the subsequent cross-border raid by Indian Special Forces has brought the focus right back on the north-east and China's renewed attempts to stir trouble in the region


For over 15 years since 2000, news from the region had been marked with good tidings: peace engagement with various rebel groups, improved security cooperation with Myanmar and Bangladesh, fragmentation of bigger outfits like the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA).

The region's biggest insurgent group--the Issac-Muivah group of the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland or NSCN-IM--has been in a ceasefire mode with the Government of India since 1997. Its rival group, the Khaplang faction of the NSCN or NSCN-K, led by SS Khaplang, a Burmese Naga, also agreed to a truce three years later only to walk out of it earlier this year after the Indian government objected to the group coming to an arrangement with the Myanmar government.

Since then, in a series of attacks on the security forces and especially on troops of the Indian army and the Assam Rifles, the NSCN-K has upped the ante. By launching big, spectacular attacks in collaboration with other outfits the Khaplang group is hoping to establish its leadership among many other insurgent groups in the region. That it has recently managed to bring together disparate groups spread across different states in the region, is a fact that has not gone unnoticed. A new front calling itself National Liberation Front of West South-east Asia, has been announced in recent months after a meeting convened by the NSCN-K somewhere in the Sagiang Division of Western Myanmar.

That's where the covert Chinese hand is now slowly becoming evident. For nearly eight years now there have been stray incidents pointing to increased Chinese focus on the north-east. In October 2007, on the invitation of the Chinese authorities, Anthony Shimray, in charge of the NSCN(IM)’s foreign affairs had visited China. He handed over to the Chinese a letter from Muivah, self-styled “prime minister” of NSCN(IM), naming Kholose Swu Sumi, a Sema Naga from Zunheboto, their “permanent representative” in China. The Chinese welcomed this and wanted Kholose to keep them updated on the movements of the Indian army, particularly in Arunachal, the activities of the Dalai Lama and Tibetans and on the NSCN(IM)’s peace talks with the Indian government.

In 2008, a north-east militant who chose to surrender to authorities had revealed how groups of insurgents from the region were travelling to the Yunnan province to receive training and then return with arms. In April 2009, it was the turn of Isak Chisi Swu, the NSCN(IM) president involved in talks with New Delhi, to visit China. Paresh Baruah of ULFA, too, visited China in 2010. Reports say he led a group of 80 cadres which received training and weapons in Yunnan province that year.

But it was in 2011 and 2012 that the renewed Chinese interest in insurgencies in the northeastern states became more pronounced. Two major conclaves of north-eastern insurgent leaders were organised by the Chinese at Taga in Western Myanmar. The Khaplang group incidentally has major presence in the area.

Chinese involvement in the north-east is not new. In the 1960s, it had backed the Naga rebels allowing them to travel to China and giving some arms. Subsequently however between the 1970s and 2000s, China lowered its focus only to re-engage the north-eastern rebels in a big way since the beginning of this decade. Past week’s developments in Nagaland and Manipur will prod security managers of the country to refocus on securing the north-east if India wants to realise the true potential of its 'Act East' policy.

(The author is a national security analyst and a long-time north-east watcher, having spent 23 years living and reporting from that region between 1983 and 2006. He has also had the opportunity to walk across into Myanmar with rebel groups and visit their camps in those years)

Will Nay Pyi Taw dance to Delhi’s tune?

Deccan Chronicle | Nitin Gokhale | June 14, 2015, 04.06 am IST
A view of the new parliament building complex under construction in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar (Photo: AP)
A view of the new parliament building complex under construction in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar (Photo: AP)
The closest South Asia version of Wild West is perhaps the jungles that make for a porous border between India’s Northeast and Myanmar. It is unguarded, is dotted with thick forests and untamed rivers, and is enveloped in energy-sapping heat and humidity most of the time in a year. It was here that the Japanese met their Waterloo in World War II beaten as they were by better-acclimatised Indian soldiers in the British 14th Army led by the irrepressible General William Slims. The Japanese, on a winning spree till then, were thrown back into the sea as the British army pushed them back all the way from Kohima and Imphal.
And it is in this area that the contemporary Indian Army’s crack Parachute unit, the 21 Special Forces, launched a limited cross-border raid on two insurgent camps located about 7 km inside the Myanmar territory on June 9. The ‘guesstimate’ of the number of killed and wounded has varied from 7 to 100. Officially, the Indian army has only chosen to say ‘significant casualties were inflicted on them.’ Sources in the know have put the figure of dead between 35 and 40.
Whatever the number, the fact is, the Indian establishment broke away from its usual hesitation in launching a pre-emptive strike against a group of Northeast insurgents who have recently come together to form an anti-India front with support from elements within the Chinese establishment.
An assortment of Northeast insurgent groups (a veritable alphabet soup-NSCN-K, PLA, UNLF, KYKL, KCP, ULFA, NDFB-S) have once again come together to form a front ostensibly to create a separate homeland for ethnic tribes in the region. It goes by a rather unwieldy name-United Liberation Front of West South East Asia. Helped by friendly Chinese ex-soldiers and Intelligence operatives and a safe haven in the Sagiang division of Western Myanmar these groups are led by Shangwang Shangyung Khaplang, a Hemi Naga from Myanmar as its chairman.
In his mid-70s, Khaplang has been heading a faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) named after him since 1988 when he split from his erstwhile comrades Thuingaleng Muivah and Issac Chisi Swu, leaders of the I-M (Issac-Muivah) faction of NSCN.
Currently being treated for an unspecified ailment in a Yangon hospital, Khaplang has always played second fiddle to the I-M faction after their break up in 1988. All three were followers of the original Naga rebel Angami Zaphu Phizo, the man who launched the Naga insurgency in the 1950s only to fade away into oblivion in the 1970s. Khaplang and Muivah were among the few top insurgent leaders who had travelled to China in the mid-1960s to seek the Communist leadership’s support for their objectives. From the 1970s, China, busy with its own economic development, has been rather lukewarm to the Northeast insurgents. Of late — for the past six-seven years at least — the Chinese have however started showing greater interest in keeping the pot boiling in the Northeast.
In 2008, a Northeast militant who chose to surrender to authorities had revealed how groups of insurgents from the region were travelling to the Yunnan province to receive training and then return with arms. In April 2009, it was the turn of Isak Chisi Swu, the NSCN (IM) president involved in talks with New Delhi, to visit China. Paresh Baruah of ULFA, too, visited China in 2010 after he was forced to flee from Bangladesh in the wake of a major crackdown against the Northeast militants by the Sheikh Hasina government in Dhaka. Now Baruah, younger than Khaplang, is the key unifier in the new arrangement. In 2011 and 2012 the renewed Chinese interest in insurgencies in the north-eastern states became more pronounced. Two major conclaves of Northeastern insurgent leaders were organised by the Chinese at Taga in Western Myanmar.
Thin on the ground in western Myanmar and busy battling major insurgencies in the east and north of the country, the Myanmarese army has very little control in the areas bordering India’s Northeast. The Indian insurgents groups therefore find it convenient to operate from these areas.
Last Tuesday’s strike on the camps will however force the grouping to re-evaluate its policy and move further inward into Myanmar. The key question is: Will Nay Pyi Taw cooperate and crack down after a minor wrinkle that has appeared in its dealings with New Delhi?
Some ill-considered statements by junior Indian ministers not directly involved in planning or decision-making in the Special Operation and the breathless media narrative which started extrapolating and speculating about the possibility of a similar action on the Pakistan border, forced the Myanmarese to back off and deny that the raid took place inside their country after  Zaw Htay, director of the office of Myanmar President Thein Sein, confirmed to The Wall Street Journal a day after the raid that Indian troops had entered his country.
He was quoted by WSJ saying that there was “coordination and cooperation” between the Indian troops and Myanmar’s armed forces based in the area of the raids, but added that no Myanmar soldiers were directly involved. “We will never allow or support insurgents, whether (they are) against Myanmar or against our neighbouring countries,” Mr. Zaw Htay had said.
India’s National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval is likely to be in Myanmar on Monday and Tuesday to re-tweak the Indo-Myanmar security cooperation. The outcome of his visit will largely determine the trajectory of future operations in the border areas.

– The writer is a national security analyst and specialises on the Northeast, having lived and reported from the region between 1983 and 2006

Why Special Forces need more support

It is not in the nature of the Parachute Regiment to be in public glare too often. Worldwide, the Para regiments, also known as Special Forces in some countries, operate below the radar. But when they carry out operations, Special Forces leave behind stories that turn into legends. In recent times the most memorable operation that grabbed the headlines globally was the United States SEAL 6 team which entered Pakistan undetected, killed Osama bin Laden and whisked his body away.

Closer home, the 9 June cross-border raid inside Myanmar by India’s 21 Para (Special Forces) aimed at neutralising north-east insurgents taking shelter in two camps has brought the limelight right back on these elite troops although it is nowhere as big aor risky operation that India's Special Forces have carried out in the past.

Converted into Special Forces from a regular infantry unit (21 Maratha Light Infantry), the 21 Para (Special Forces) is based in Assam’s Jorhat and directly reports to the Eastern Command. Nicknamed Waghnakh (Tiger’s Claw) after Chattrapati Shivaji’s famous act of killing Afzal Khan by using the waghnakh, the 21 Para (SF) were tasked to hit the two camps located not very far from the border because it specialises in such missions. In any case, all Parachute regiment units are mandated to train and carry out covert and direct action in counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency campaigns, subversion and sabotage deep inside enemy territory during war, surgical strikes behind enemy lines, hostage rescue and unconventional warfare. India at the moment has 10 such battalions raised over time.

While many of their missions are of tactical nature, the impact that the action of Para units carry out have a strategic impact. Two main examples come to mind immediately. 

In the 1971 war, the 2 Para Battalion Group hastened the surrender of Pakistani forces in what was then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) after a spectacular airborne assault –was executed on December 11, 197. It is by far one of the best examples of Army-Air Force coordination and the ability of the Indian military leadership to seize the initiative through unusual means. One thousand paratroopers from the 50 Independent Parachute Brigade, under the 2 Para battalion group were airdropped by 50 transport aircraft assembled by the Indian Air Force. The assault in broad day light took the Pakistanis by complete surprise and hastened the end of the war as a retreating Pakistani brigade was decimated at Tangail between 11 and 13 December. 

Again, it was a combination of a bold Indian para-commando Capt TK Ghosh and young, fiery guerrilla leader of the Mukti Bahini, Kader ‘Tiger’ Siddiqui who prepared the DZ (dropping zone) for the commandos. Ghosh, who retired as a brigadier, spent over 10 days behind enemy lines to prepare the ground with Mukti Bahini for what was to become the biggest airborne assault post-WW II! 

The other stunning operation (Operation Cactus) with international ramifications was carried out by the 6 Para Battalion in November 1988 in Maldives. Abdul Gayoom, then President of Maldives was facing a coup engineered by one of rivals Abdul Lutufi, with the help of mercenaries belonging to Tamil secessionist group from Sri Lanka –PLOTE or Peoples Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam. The coup plotters had taken over most of the government buildings, the airport, and the harbour but failed to catch hold of President Gayoom who fled from house to house even as he appealed to India for help. Within nine hours of his appeal elements of India’s 50 Parachute Brigade, spearheaded by 6 Para battalion and 17 Para Field Regiment landed in Male, the capital onboard the IAF’s IL-76 after flying 2000 km from Agra. They secured the airport, commandeered boats and rescued President Gayoom even as the mercenaries fled towards Sri Lanka. They were intercepted by Indian Naval ships. All the three services had displayed quick coordination and swift action that saved President Gayoom’s government. Some of the young officer paratroopers who participated in that operation are now in senior ranks, still serving in the Army. The Indian action earned praised worldwide but also created disquiet in the region, especially in Pakistan just as the latest action inside Myanmar has done.

The usefulness of the Special Forces was also proved in the 1999 Kargil skirmish when 9 of the 10 Para battalions were deployed in different sectors to carry out specialised operations. As for 21 Para (SF), its most celebrated and publicly-known success in recent times was Operation Summer Storm in April 2009 when it neutralised a group of Meitei insurgents using the Loktak Lake near Imphal as a hideout.

Given their spectacular achievements over the years, the Indian government needs to pay more attention to strengthening and equipping the Special Forces so that they can continue to strike fear in the hearts of the country’s adversaries.