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    Good old Shimla a thing of the past

    Good old Shimla a thing of the past

    Col Mahesh Chadha (retd)

    Walking for miles to school across Shimla dales, drinking water at a flowing spring; pelting stones at some pear, apple, plum, fig tree and savouring the raw fruit; plucking a berry or some wild flower; admiring a farmer ploughing his terraced fields with a pair of oxen; giving a helping hand to a whistling shepherd to mentor his sheep and caressing his lamb are unconvincing stories for my grandchildren. It is no surprise, brought up as they are in modern cities, devoid of such heavenly benevolence. They go to school by car or bus, nor do they come across blossoming fruit trees. For them, fruits and flowers are only purchased from vendors; milk from a machine or a carton.

    They wonder at my confidence when I tell them that on the very first day of my school, in 1952, I walked back home to my mother’s utter surprise as she failed to pick me up. Appreciating my initiative, she showed no signs of worry. Shimla was a peaceful, walker’s paradise, then — no traffic hazards; people along the way knew us and children were considered safe everywhere. Today, children wear identity cards, carry mobiles and are collected from school by guardians as a ritual.

    They do not believe that I used to venture out in severe winter, wearing heavy woollens knit by my mother, to enjoy the soft snowflakes on my face; making a snowman and snowballs to hit friends and siblings with! For them, snow may be fun, but shortlived — only during holidays, that too if luck favours it.

    They go to sleep while watching cartoons on TV, whereas for me it was the melodious ringing bells of the mules passing by our house or, at times, the deafening growl of a leopard or a barking deer not far away in the jungle. Sundays meant a picnic, walking to Glen, Annadale, Naldhera or Mashobra for juicy apples and peaches etc. The ‘Big Ben’, mall road, Ridge, ‘Scandal Point’, and Gaiety Theatre were where we would cross path with dignitaries like Dr Rajendra Prasad and Marshal Tito. After a tiring walk, there would be a feast of bhutta, doodh-jalebi or puri-bhaji at Mehru and Nathu halwai. For the kids now, it is malls, pizzas and burgers.

    The heart laments — koi lautade mere beete hue din, that often lure me to the now-flattened hills of my childhood — sans pristine beauty. All that one sees now is dying pines and deodars; drying chashmas, concrete jungles, noisy traffic, pollution, growing population and nobody shaking hands with a tourist.

    Shimla is as bad as other cities where grandchildren live, rendering it worthy of their taunt and unworthy of a melodious story anymore.

    ‘Horses for courses’ lesson for Pakistan by Vikash Narain Rai

    Vikash Narain Rai

    The significance of the Balakot airstrike will wane if the gains do not lead to stabilisation of the turbulent internal security scenario in Kashmir. The stress and strain on national security from LoC intrusions or airspace violations are not as complex to deal with as the internal security stress arising from tackling the Kashmir unrest.

    ‘Horses for courses’ lesson for Pakistan

    Flawed: The Balakot episode has confirmed that the predominantly national security approach to the Kashmir issue is fraught with the danger of war with Pakistan.

    Vikash Narain Rai
    Former Director, National Police Academy, Hyderabad

    NEED we view separately the Pulwama and Balakot incidents? The two seem cause and consequence; the sheer magnitude of the Pulwama attack shocked the nation and culminated in the Balakot bombing; the expanse of India’s political and diplomatic response against Pakistan was extended to include economic sanctions and military strikes. However, there is no denying that keeping the peace in Kashmir has continued to be as arduous after Balakot as it was before Pulwama. Simply put, the internal security dimensions need a fact check independently too.

    According to an old aphorism, a specific racehorse may perform differently depending on the course on which the race is held. The laws of operational surprise are supportive of a small and swift profile. These could be seen, on the fateful day in Pulwama, arraigned against the vast target of slow-moving CRPF convoy of vehicles. ‘Horses for courses’, or lack of clarity thereon has again proved to be the nemesis of our internal security policy-makers. Both the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) have so far refrained from making any exclusive statement explaining the Pulwama attack. Both are operating without the services of credible advisers in the field of internal security.

    Based on national interest perceptions, the profile of a border between two countries may be offensive, defensive, restrictive, facilitative, neutral or a combination of such orientations. Or, like the Indo-Pak border, the picture may be an amalgamation of all possible shades. From the adrenaline-pumping Retreat ceremony at Attari-Wagah to surgical strikes in terrorist-infested stretches, from the Lahore bus and Samjhauta Express friendship journeys to the smuggling of jihadis and armament under intensive fire cover, from trade and religious corridors to hi-tech barriers, it is a strategic map drawn along the contours of peace talks and war histories. The story has gone on too long, inconclusive and uninterrupted. 

    From the national security angle, it was only waiting to be announced that India, too, had added a third-dimension border perspective to the conflict over the Kashmir issue. The highly publicised Balakot airstrike in response to the Pulwama terror attack was exactly that. Since the Simla Agreement, the two countries officially acknowledged the existence of a two-character border in Kashmir: International Border (IB) in the settled area and the Line of Control (LoC) in the claimed area. Pakistan, or rather the Pakistan army, in due course, managed to push terrorism wider and deeper into Indian territory and supported it as the third character of the hostile border. India paid them back regularly through its intelligence and security operations, and now with the Balakot strike, the third dimension in its border response has been formally unleashed.

    The significance of the Balakot strike, however, will wane if the gains do not lead to stabilisation of the turbulent internal security scenario in Kashmir. The stress and strain on national security from LoC intrusions or airspace violations are not as complex to deal with as the internal security stress arising from tackling the Kashmir unrest. While the Balakot air response is a typical ‘horses for courses’ lesson for Pakistan, the Pulwama attack is to be bracketed as a suicidal setback, the result of a long-term faltering of political will to apply this time-tested strategic doctrine in limiting Kashmir militancy. Here the familiar sequence of events cannot be lost sight of: Pulwama preceded Balakot, the internal security catastrophe leading to a national security situation. It was made to look like a compelling threat of war between nuclear neighbours over an operationally avoidable tragedy!

    Let us count the types of hostile borders and lines of control that presently divide Kashmir from the rest of India. The status of Masood Azhar as a global terrorist is one of the foremost issues on the mind of a nation kept obsessed with the national security threat from Pakistan. Either way, though, it would resolve nothing in Kashmir. In contrast, lying uncertain is the relevance of Kashmiri nationalism, which is based on a special status under Article 370 of the Constitution and is equated with deshdroh under the compulsion of supremacist majoritarianism. Simultaneously, it seems Kashmir is destined to be policed differently from the rest of India, by the Army and CRPF. Instead of integrating the trust of a civil police system in day-to-day affairs in Kashmir and using the CRPF as a subsidiary armed support against militants, there is an offensive reliance on strengthening the boastful presence of the Army and the CRPF. There exists, therefore, a visible ‘LoC’ between the Indian Army and the Kashmiri people.

    The Balakot episode has confirmed what the Kargil conflict, coming months after the Lahore peace declaration, had warned about, that the predominantly national security approach to the Kashmir imbroglio is fraught with the danger of war with Pakistan. Irrespective of India’s insistence on bilateralism, this approach can at best hope to bag a geo-political solution in the long run. It presupposes strong diplomacy and a capable military — and India boasts of both. A predominantly internal security approach will require bipartisan politics and statesman-like leadership; India has none at present.

    It is perceived that Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf had almost resolved the Kashmir dispute at the Agra summit in 2001. I was a witness to both leaders looking disappointed at not signing the prepared draft. However, the fragility of such a document could never have been in doubt. Parliament was attacked in December that year by Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, two Pakistan-based terrorist organisations, resulting in a prolonged standoff. Even the much-referred Vajpayee peace doctrine of Kashmiriyat-Jamhooriyat-Insaniyat, testimony to his statesmanship, will have no chance to grow in soil kept infertile by the manure of outdated internal security.


    IAF is grossly under-equipped by Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd)

    Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd)

    Lack of empathy and understanding of an operational requirement due to bureaucratic procedures and attitudes is a cause for concern. In any other country, where the political and bureaucratic climate is cognisant of military urgencies, many heads would have rolled.

    IAF is grossly under-equipped

    Imperative: Hard power, in quality as well as quantity, is the key to building deterrence to avert future Pulwamas.

    Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd)
    Addl Director General, Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi

    THE Pulwama and Balakot incidents have pushed into the background the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on the Indian Air Force (IAF) acquisitions, of which the Rafale deal hogged the limelight. Despite the favourable Pulwama end state being achieved, albeit temporary, there is an imperative that needs urgent government attention. Tucked away in the CAG report is a cry beseeching a look into what one may call ‘defence distress’, paraphrasing the term from the agrarian and farmers’ distress that every politician is talking about. The last two are vote banks which no politician can be reticent about, as they are leveraged through morchas, hartals and strikes. Unfortunately, when defence distress strikes, it is deadly, and often ‘fatal’ in a way. The Balakot incident demonstrated resoundingly that India has had enough of Pakistan’s support to terrorism; however, it should not divert our attention from the fact that defence pangs are a reality and the tell-tale signs should be recognised and acted upon. There are three pointers that need elaboration; though IAF examples are discussed, the issues are valid for other defence forces too.

    Critiquing sub-optimal defence procurement procedures, CAG has commented that the non-conclusion of a usage contract precluded the use of the flight simulator for the C-130 Hercules aircraft till 2016, despite it being ready four years earlier. In the interim, India lost five air warriors and a multi-million-dollar aircraft in 2014, attributed to a training issue. This is the first pointer — lack of empathy and understanding of an operational requirement  due to bureaucratic procedures and attitudes (remember, the simulator was fully ready). In any other country, where the political and bureaucratic climate is cognisant of military urgencies, many heads would have rolled.

    The second pointer is of an intangible kind, which, if neglected, shows up with deadly results later. The HAL-built HPT-32 trainer was grounded in 2009 after many accidents, 13 of which were fatal. Many red flags had been raised about the stone-like gliding quality of the HPT after an engine failure (a frequent occurrence). The IAF had pulled along till the proverbial straw fell on the camel’s back and we lost two flying instructors at the Air Force Academy (AFA). The HPT was grounded, throwing the training profiles of rookie pilots into bedlam, and for the next few years a sub-optimal training pattern on the HJT-16 Kiran was followed. The emergency purchase of the Pilatus aircraft revolutionised training; AFA’s flight line was chock-a-block with the gleaming new trainers till 2017 or so when, due to non-finalisation of maintenance contracts, a severe lack of spares ensued. This is the situation even now, as per media reports. However, training has to continue to ensure a regular pilot feed for frontline squadrons and one is sure that cannibalisation (shifting) of spares among aircraft is being done and extension given to parts whose life is expiring. The situation must be similar for some other fleets, too, as many acquisition and upgrade programmes have been inordinately delayed, a fact stated by the Air Chief last month. This unacceptable situation is the second indicator of a serious problem, where lack of funds could be pushing reliability of war- fighting equipment towards an unsafe zone, which may translate into tragic results later.

    The third warning is where op-preparedness starts getting affected. Under-equipping of the Indian Army was one of the major causes of the 1962 China debacle. At a recent conference, tears welled up in a retired Lt General’s eyes while narrating the humiliation the armed forces had felt then. “Thank God for the subsequent 1965 Indo-Pak war that brought back some self-respect,” remarked the General. After 1962, the government funded an accelerated re-equipping plan and the victory in the 1971 war bears witness to that effort. However, as per recent media reports, we are on the downslide again with a shortage of fighter squadrons and many critical items; soldiers’ rifles are having to be imported by the fast-track route, ammunition is in short supply, and sniper rifles, Naval helicopters and MiG-29 fighters for the IAF are planned to be imported too. But will these just remain plans, as this year’s defence acquisition budget is insufficient even for previously concluded contracts? Answers to these pointers have a bearing on what happens hereafter.

    Will the post-Pulwama happenings deter Pakistan? The answer is an emphatic no. It is time to remember Bernard Brodie, the doyen of strategic thought, who said, “Avoidance of blackmail can be achieved only by demonstrating that our readiness to accept risks need not be and is not less than the blackmailer’s.” 

    History shows that adversaries cannot be reformed as per one’s wish but have to be coped with through management strategies in which hard power is vital to prevent blackmail. Addressing defence concerns (though not a vote catcher) is an imperative first step to ‘manage’ Pakistan and simultaneously weigh against China. While short-term responses after the Pulwama attack will be implemented, long-term solutions require tons of money and decades of time spread over many governments. Of the three attributes that determine deterrence to prevent blackmail — resolve, capability and capacity — the Balakot incident demonstrated the first two; the third, dependent on an indigenous arms base, is in short supply. Politicians of all hues need to put their shoulders to the wheel and address defence preparedness in a bi-partisan manner — indigenous defence R&D and manufacture must be kickstarted. Hard power, in quality and quantity, is the key to building deterrence to avert future Pulwamas. Can every political party elaborate, in its election manifesto, what it would do to address defence preparedness? That would indeed be welcome.

    Views are personal


    Air Cdre Pathania is Jammu station AOC

    Tribune News Service

    Jammu, March 20

    Air Commodore Ajay Singh Pathania took over the command of the Jammu Air Force Station as the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) from Air Commodore SK Mishra today.

    On this occasion, an impressive ceremonial parade by the Air Warriors was held at the Air Force Station in Jammu.

    Air Commodore Pathania was commissioned in the Indian Air Force in 1986. An experienced flying instructor and a graduate of Defence Service Staff College, the officer has flying experience of about 6,000 hours on helicopter and trainer aircraft in India and abroad to his credit.

    He has been the Flight Commander of three types of helicopters and commanded two types of helicopter units, which includes Chetak/Cheetah in the eastern sector of India and MI-25 in UN mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

    He has been the Chief Operational Officer of a premier IAF base and also commanded a Tactical Air Command in the eastern sector. The officer has also served as personal and operational staff at Air Headquarters. He was directly involved in major humanitarian assistance and disaster relief helicopter operations between 2012 and 2015, including in the Kashmir valley, Jammu and Uttarakhand, etc.

    He was instrumental during the rescue and relief operations after the Nepal earthquake as well as the Yemen evacuation in April 2015. He has been the AOC and President of the Air Force Selection Board at Kolkata (Kanchrapara) and Dehradun.

    He was awarded the Chief of the Air Staff commendation in 1995, AOC-in-C HQ Training Command commendation in 1997 and the Vishisht Seva Medal in January 2015.

    Rifleman cremated with honours

    Rifleman cremated with honours

    Armymen pay tributes to martyr Karamjit Singh at Janer village in Moga on Tuesday. Tribune Photo

    Tribune News Service
    Moga, March 19

    Rifleman Karamjit Singh (24), who was killed in a ceasefire violation along the LoC in Rajouri district of Jammu and Kashmir, was cremated with state honours at his native Janer village in Dharamkot on Tuesday.

    District Magistrate Sandeep Hans accompanied by SSP AS Bajwa laid a wreath on the behalf of Punjab government, while Captain Gokul Ashok from the martyr’s 18 JAK RIF regiment paid tributes on the behalf of the Army.

    Hundreds of people, who came from different parts of the district, gave a tearful adieu to the martyr. Karamjit’s coffin, draped in Tricolour was brought to his home in the presence of senior Army officials.

    As Karamjit’s father Avtar Singh and elder brother Swaran Singh lit the pyre, a contingent of the Army gave a gun salute to the martyr.

    Local MP Prof Sadhu Singh of AAP, local MLAs Kaka Sukhjit Singh Lohgarh and Dr Harjot Kamal and senior Akali leader Jathedar Tota Singh were also present.

    IAF flooded with requests by veterans to ‘fight’

    Surge in mails after Balakot strike, most willing to quit jobs for Air Force stint again

    IAF flooded with requests by veterans to ‘fight’

    Ajay Banerjee
    Tribune News Service
    New Delhi, March 20

    The Indian Air Force (IAF) is lately dealing with a new surge of emotions, from its own retired personnel who wish to fight for the nation.

    The IAF mailbox — email and normal mail — is flooded with requests from retired officers and airmen offering their services to the IAF, fearing the country may face some “exigency”.

    Sources say retired fighter pilots, helicopter pilots, engineers and airmen (IAF nomenclature for jawans and JCOs) have sent in mails detailing their expertise along with rank, name and number held during service. All of them have offered to leave their existing jobs and enterprises and work for the Indian Air Force.

    The mails have been trickling in since the air strike at Jaish-e-Mohammed’s Balakot terror camp in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on February 26 and subsequent air battle over Nowshera/Rajouri in Jammu and Kashmir on February 27 when Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman ejected in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

    While the IAF has not accepted any such request, retired personnel are all in, apparently feeling that the Air Force may need manpower to monitor ground stations, radars, sensors and warplanes would need to be “hot-serviced” for a quick turnaround. All of them are trained men.

    Normally, if an exigency arises, the duties would entail ground operations, managing logistics and back-end administration.

    Old-timers recollect a similar surge in emotions during the Kargil conflict of 1999.

    The IAF, on its part, has war-gamed its manpower needs in case of an emergency and conducted a pan-India exercise “Gagan Shakti-2018” from April 8-22, 2018, to validate it. The exercise was real-time coordination, deployment and employment of air power in a short and intense battle scenario.

    During the exercise, more than 11,000 sorties were flown.

    Rules for ‘reserves’

    • Under the IAF Act, 1950, those who retire from the IAF are deemed to be on ‘reserve’ for a period of two years after retirement
    • This means, if a war breaks out and the IAF suffers losses, medically-fit ‘reserves’ can be called back to duty
    • The clause of ‘reserves’ does not apply to higher ranks where officers retire at 60 years of age

    6 militants, boy killed in 3 encounters in Jammu and Kashmir

    6 militants, boy killed in 3 encounters in Jammu and Kashmir

    In Shopian district’s Imam Sahib area, security forces killed two militants following a gunfight. Tribune file

    Srinagar, March 22

    Six militants and a 12-year-old boy were killed on Friday in three separate gunfights in Jammu and Kashmir, police said.

    Two militants and a boy, who was taken hostage, were killed in an encounter in Bandipora district’s Mir Mohalla area.

    “One Lashkar-e-Taiba commander is among the two militant victims,” the police said.

    In Shopian district’s Imam Sahib area, security forces killed two militants following a gunfight.

    In another gun battle in Sopore’s Warpora area, two militants were killed in the same site of an encounter on Thursday where two policemen were injured.

    The police said the gunfight in Bandipora had ended but the two others were still going on.

    All educational institutes in Sopore were closed and mobile Internet services suspended as a precautionary measure.

    On Thursday, three militants were killed while seven securitymen and three civilians injured in three different gun battles in the Kashmir Valley. IANS


    There’s always an alternative by Avijit Pathak

    There’s always an alternative

    More than one: In a democracy, the idea of experimentation, possibilities and changes must be celebrated.

    Avijit Pathak 
    Professor of Sociology, JNU

    As the elections approach, the ruling regime wants to make us believe that there is no alternative, and hence it is wise to reject the Opposition that can only cause ‘anarchy’. Yes, the propaganda machinery that the establishment has succeeded in creating through noisy TV channels and the toxic social media manufactures this ‘truth’ — Modi with his macho-nationalism is the best choice, and the BJP with its Amit Shah and Arun Jaitley knows how to emancipate the country from all the ‘mistakes’ Nehru and his ‘dynasty’ committed.

    As awakened voters and self-reflexive political subjects, we need to understand the implications of this discourse. Agreed, at a deeper level, the structure of ‘representative democracy’ and the electoral process associated with money/muscle power, as Gandhi’s vision of decentralised ‘oceanic circles’ and MN Roy’s ‘radical humanism’ with party-less participatory democracy would suggest, tend to impose some sort of passivity on us. We are compelled to believe that we can’t do much except ‘choosing’ the ‘lesser evil’; and we have no control over the quality of candidates the gigantic political parties impose on us. In a way, it generates some sort of cynicism and helplessness: everyone is corrupt, and hence it makes no sense to think of an alternative possibility! Is it that after every five years we only ‘select’ our masters?

    Even though we have to acknowledge the inherent limitations of the form of democracy we have institutionalised, we should try to see some possibilities in it by exercising our agency, critical thinking and ethically nuanced political praxis. And it is in this context that we can see the dangers of the no-alternative discourse, which emanates from the cult of ‘absolute certainty’ through which all authoritarian regimes seek to define themselves. ‘We are infallible. We are true nationalists. And all those who oppose us are dangerous’ — Indira (recall the dark days of Emergency) thought like this; and today the assertive noise that the ruling regime makes manifests itself in Amit Shah’s body language filled with inflated confidence, Mr Modi’s melodramatic and aggressive speeches, Arun Jaitley’s one-dimensional blog,  Ravi Shankar Prasad’s ‘legalistic’ press conference and Sambit Patra’s toxic words on TV channels known for deciding the fate of the ‘republic’ in our ‘times’. To cherish democracy, however, is to celebrate the idea of experimentation, possibilities and changes. Hence, the popularisation of the no-alternative discourse is inherently anti-democratic.

    Another danger of this discourse is that it seeks to transform us as mere consumers guided by ‘brand consciousness’. Hence, politics, too, is being projected as a ‘product’, and a political personality becomes a ‘brand’. Let us understand it through an analogy. Salman Khan as a ‘brand’ promotes, say, a specific soft drink product; and his ‘magical performance’ aims at seducing the consumers. Likewise, in our times — driven by the management discourse of selling politics as a product, we see Modi as a ‘brand’ (‘energetic’, ‘efficient’, ‘dashing’ and ‘brave’) selling the politics as a ‘product’ — the gospel of hyper-masculine nationalism that gives a tough lesson to the ‘enemy’ — internal as well as external; the project of techno-development that promises bullet trains and smart cities; and the psychology of ‘Hindu pride’ aiming at reclaiming the ‘heritage’ the ‘Muslim invaders’ destroyed. With the 24×7 ‘live coverage’ of the ‘presentation of self’, the hyper-real spectacles of the ‘surgical strike’ and ‘surveys’ indicating his ‘mass appeal’, Modi as a ‘brand’ looks gorgeous. And hence, as the argument goes, there is no alternative because an ‘immature’ Rahul, a ‘pro-Muslim’ Mamata and an ‘eccentric’ Mayawati look so ‘dull’. It is like saying that Pepsi is so gorgeous that a glass of lemon water can never be an alternative! The danger is that as passive consumers of politics with ‘brand consciousness’, we lose our democratic spirit — the ability to think clearly and critically, and the creativity to nurture our own politics.

    Another point needs to be understood. ‘Alternatives’ are not like fancy products that one can buy as a consumer. Our alternative political culture or our alternative mode of governance ought to emerge out of a sustained search and practice. We will make mistakes, and even enter a domain of chaos or uncertainty. Yet, history teaches us that without creative practice, temporary upheaval, and experimentation nothing innovative takes place. Gandhi made experiments with satyagraha; Ambedkar interrogated patriarchal Brahminism; and Marx dared to see beyond the exploitative character of capitalism. They were working on alternatives. 

    We need to see beyond what the ruling regime symbolises — the culture of narcissism leading to the mass psychology of authoritarianism, the aggression of militaristic nationalism, the reduction of religion into a mere identity-marker, the close affinity with the corporate elite causing further marginalisation of the downtrodden, and the normalisation of aggression and hatred. If we begin to think that there cannot be or should not be any alternative, we accept the rejection of our reflexivity and agency.

    Well, it is possible to say that the ‘opposition’ parties — given the history of their opportunism and instrumental politics — are incapable of doing things differently. Yet, we should not stop our quest for an alternative political culture, even if we do not get a perfect result. Modi, too, emerged as an alternative to the corrupt UPA-II. So, this time why should we deprive ourselves of striving for an alternative to the present regime known for devastating consequences that measures like demonetisation, and the culture of mob lynching, cow vigilantism and war-mongering psychology have led to?


    Punjab jawan killed, 4 injured in Pak firing on LoC in Rajouri district Karamjeet Singh belonged to Moga

    Punjab jawan killed, 4 injured in Pak firing on LoC in Rajouri district

    Rifleman Karamjeet Singh.

    Amit Khajuria

    Tribune News Service

    Jammu, March 18

    An Army jawan was killed and four others were injured when Pakistani troops violated the ceasefire for the second day on Monday, resorting to heavy mortar shelling and firing along the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir’s Rajouri district, officials said.The Pakistan army initiated unprovoked firing around 5.30 am, targeting the LoC area in Sunderbani sector with mortar bombs and small arms, a defence spokesperson said. The Army retaliated effectively, he added.

    The spokesperson said Rifleman Karamjeet Singh (24) was critically injured in the firing and succumbed while being shifted to Jammu for treatment.

    Hailing from Janer village in Dharamkot tehsil of Moga, Karamjeet is survived by his mother Kulwant Kaur. Born on November 15, 1994, he had joined the Army on June 28, 2015. “In Karamjeet Singh, the nation has lost a brave and sincere soldier. The nation will remain indebted to him for his sacrifice,” said the spokesperson.

    His mortal remains would be sent to his native village on Tuesday after a wreath-laying ceremony in Akhnoor.

    The condition of the four other soldiers, undergoing treatment at a military hospital, was stated to be stable.

    The Pakistan army had violated the ceasefire in the same sector on Sunday evening, which stopped following effective retaliation from the Indian side.

    The border skirmishes witnessed a spurt after India’s airstrike on a Jaish terror camp in Balakot on February 26 in response to the February 14 Pulwama terror attack.

    The year 2018 witnessed the highest number of ceasefire violations — numbering 2,936 — by Pakistani troops in the last 15 years along the India-Pakistan border.

    Corridor headway Talks a step in right direction, but trust deficit remains

    Corridor headway

    Exactly a month after the Pulwama massacre, India and Pakistan have agreed to work towards an expeditious launch of the Kartarpur corridor. The terror attack and its aftermath had threatened to derail the project, but the two countries have commendably delinked it from the ongoing hostilities for the sake of a pious occasion — the upcoming 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. India has stuck to its oft-quoted stand that ‘talks and terror’ cannot go hand in hand, making it clear to the Pakistani delegates that the Attari meeting should not be seen as a ‘resumption of bilateral dialogue’.

    Pakistan had initially stated that the proposed corridor would be opened only for Sikh devotees from India, a decision that had exposed the Pak ploy as Sikh places of worship are revered and frequented by Hindus as well. Quick to see through the divisive agenda, India has finally prevailed upon Pakistan to grant access to all Indian citizens, irrespective of their religion. In another positive move on the diplomatic front, India has managed to make the neighbour give the assurance that it would insulate Kartarpur Sahib pilgrims from Khalistani (and anti-India) propaganda. India and the world will watch closely whether Pakistan walks the talk on this contentious matter. Pakistan has repeatedly demonstrated a soft spot for pro-Khalistan terrorists and campaigners. Incidentally, a day before the Attari talks, PM Imran Khan was reported to have met a controversial Sikh leader, who is considered to be a close aide of Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar.

    Such developments should make India wary of Pakistan’s intentions. Misuse of the corridor for the radicalisation of devotees or other nefarious designs will defeat its purpose. The possibility that the passage could be used to push in infiltrators might be slim, considering the high security expected all along the route, but it’s not entirely ruled out. The focus should remain on facilitating hassle-free access to the shrine associated with the first Sikh Guru. Mutual trust is a must to ensure that the project sees the light of day.

    Decoding Kartarpur

    Pravin Sawhney

    Pravin Sawhney
    Decoding Kartarpur
    Why? India can’t quite understand Pakistan’s ‘amenability’ on the corridor.

    Pravin Sawhney
    Strategic Affairs Expert

    That religious sentiments will always triumph over policy prejudice is evident from the just-concluded first round of talks on the Kartarpur corridor. The joint statement issued after the talks said both sides had a ‘detailed and constructive discussion’, which will be followed up in the second round at Wagah, where issues flagged by India are likely to be addressed. These include the number and nature of pilgrims per day. India wants that Overseas Citizens of India should also be able to use the corridor.

    These are small issues, and it is unlikely that under the present circumstances, Pakistan would make these sticking points, especially when it has completely usurped the peace narrative in the subcontinent, despite the recent history of Pulwama attack. As far as India’s larger concern regarding Pakistan misusing this opportunity to peddle Khalistani propaganda goes, this is in the realm of perception. Frankly, India cannot have any control over this. What happens inside Kartarpur, what kind of people will come there and who will interact with whom is something India will just have to accept for the larger issue of deferring to the long-pending request of the Sikhs.

    From India’s perspective, the niggling question is why must Pakistan be so amenable on the Kartarpur corridor? And why did the Pakistan army chief mention this to the visiting Indian politician Navjot Singh Sidhu? After all, Sidhu had gone to Islamabad on the invitation of his long-standing ‘friend’ PM Imran Khan. Wouldn’t it have been more natural for the ‘friend’ to communicate this?These questions betray a total lack of understanding of how the Pakistan government — a first-ever military-political joint venture — has been repositioning itself in the region as a reasonable and responsible power committed to human values. We tend to laugh at this, because our policy-making is held captive by the twin forces of deep-rooted prejudice and manufactured public opinion.

    Sample the responses from both sides after the first round of talks. An anonymous Indian source told the media that it was disappointed by Pakistan’s recalcitrant attitude during the talks. Whereas, Pakistan High Commissioner to India Sohail Mahmood told me, ‘Since both governments have shown deference to the wishes of the people, this (corridor) has the potential of transformational effect.’ He accepted that there was ‘lack of trust’ between the two sides, but insisted that a number of positives might help mitigate it. According to him, ‘The release of the Indian pilot, resumption of Samjhauta Express train, return of the cross-LoC trade, weekly contact between the two directors general of military operations, return of the high commissioners to work, and the Kartarpur talks are good for the relationship and people-to-people contact.’

    Pakistan’s positivity does not mean that it is anxious for an early meaningful resumption of talks with India. It knows this will not be immediately possible with even the next dispensation in Delhi, which, if different, would need time to re-channel the dislike which has currently shaped the public opinion. Given this, Pakistan could well be working for outside mediation, which India has thus far steadfastly refused, on Kashmir.

    The starting point for Pakistan is the raising of its geopolitical profile, pivoted on three milestones: CPEC announced in 2013 as the flagship of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI); Pakistan’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in 2017 as a member state; and the installation of the Imran Khan government in 2018 with clearly defined division of work between Islamabad and the general headquarters, Rawalpindi. With these, Pakistan’s importance for the US, China and Russia, three geo-strategic nations with capability, capacity and political will to influence events far away, has increased exponentially.

    China needs Pakistan for (a) the success of BRI, (b) entry into the Muslim world by CPEC extensions to Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Central Asian republics, and (c) favourable opinion-building in India’s neighbourhood comprising Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, the Maldives and so on, which would ease China’s entry into SAARC. In return, China, through its official newspaper, The Global Times, recently said China’s primary aim in the region ‘is to develop poor and backward Kashmir’.

    The US needs Pakistan for (a) extrication of its troops from Afghanistan, (b) ensuring that its N-weapons are not accessible to non-state actors, and (c) to maintain some leverage in the subcontinent, which it has assessed as a nuclear flash point. Russia’s interest in Pakistan, which started in 2001, has become prominent. It believes that by strengthening Pakistan’s counter-terror capabilities it can, through proxy, once again have a role in the post-US Afghan dispensation.

    Moreover, the trio of Russia, China and Pakistan is fast emerging as an alternative to US-led security matrix in the Indo-Pacific region. This has been helped by the withdrawal of the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership without a good substitute which caters to both security and prosperity of regional nation states. This explains Russia’s trade cooperation with Pakistan, with a promise of direct arms trade. While this will be a slow process, Pakistan is likely to get Russian military technology through China.

    Unfortunately, India remains oblivious to these dynamics. The predominant narrative of Indian policy-makers, analysts and media is that Pakistan is a failing state, one that is deeply in debt and a hotbed of terrorists. For decades, we have been waiting for Pakistan to implode, but it has been refusing to oblige us.

    Coming back to the Kartarpur corridor, one of the strongest elements of Pakistan’s soft power is its human resource — polite, humble and apparently in love with Indians. As Sikh pilgrims visit Kartarpur, Pakistan is likely to unleash this charm on them, gradually building the constituency for meaningful talks with India.