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    Steadier hands at the wheel

    By rescheduling the foreign secretary-level talks, the government seems to have worked out that ‘drawing of red lines’ can be unsustainable

    Observing the India-Pakistan relationship over the last two decades has been like watching a film where some of the actors change but the storyline remains hackneyed, predictable and stale. In a relationship that has been typically defined by déjà vu — the attempt at dialogue, the terror strike that is virtually written into the script, the standard condemnation and then the denials and the dithering — for the first time one can finally see a shift in approach.

    AP FILENot once in all these years has Masood Azhar been probed for the hijacking of IC-814, which delivered him his freedom from an Indian prison in 1999. The sense of hope that was raised by the Pakistan media which reported his detention has already been belied

    At the Pakistan end, there has been none of the usual nay-saying. Instead, there has been a near-admission that the Jaish-e-Mohammed was responsible for the Pathankot air-base strike. On our side, India has wisely ignored the high-decibel pressure of television shows that believe the angry hashtag is War by other means. The biggest shift is in fact the move away from the needless histrionics we saw when the meeting of the two National Security Advisors in Delhi was cancelled over the Pakistanis wanting to meet with Kashmiri separatists. At the time an elaborate game of shadow-boxing reduced the diplomatic process to a ball-by-ball commentary on prime-time. Sushma Swaraj eventually saved the day and masterfully covered for the inconsistencies in the government’s approach with a pitch-perfect press conference. But by then the familiar and puerile melodrama of the India-Pakistan conundrum had done the damage.

    This time notwithstanding a much graver transgression — targeting an Indian military base is effectively an act of war — the hand at the wheel, on both sides, has been much steadier. Both countries have quietly agreed to reschedule the foreign secretary-level talks for another day in the near future, while the National Security Advisors continue to talk. This makes sense because the immediate aftermath of any terrorist violence is hardly the most opportune moment to talk about resuming the composite dialogue which would bring to the table a host of other issues, including the stand-offs over Sir Creek and the Siachen Glacier. The government seems to have finally worked out that the ‘drawing of red lines’ — a phrase we heard a lot of when the Pakistan-Hurriyat Conference nexus became the basis to scrap the NSA dialogue — may well have a nice, macho ring to it, but in the end it was quite simply unsustainable.

    But despite the greater maturity there is still a big challenge that could yet trip the government’s next moves on Pakistan. By asking for “prompt and decisive action” against the perpetrators of Pathankot, the foreign ministry has created, and rightly so, the expectation among Indian citizens that the Pakistani probe must go well beyond ambiguous raids and non-specific crackdowns. Indian diplomats may well argue that long-term policy cannot hinge on an individual and that the future of talks cannot depend on whether Masood Azhar, in this case, or Hafiz Saeed (for 26/11) is put away or not. But there is already exasperation and cynicism among people at the fact that the terrorist responsible for the attack on India’s Parliament as well as the assault on the Jammu and Kashmir assembly has only been taken into ‘protective custody’. Not once in all these years has he been probed for the hijacking of IC-814 which delivered him his freedom from an Indian prison in 1999. The sense of hope that was raised by the Pakistan media which reported (it turns out incorrectly or at least prematurely) his detention has already been belied. Now imagine if four days before or after the foreign secretary’s arrival in Islamabad, Azhar is released from the house in Islamabad where he has been questioned. Such a scenario is entirely plausible after all he has never been formally charged with terrorism. Despite the government’s efforts to delink the next round of talks from Azhar’s arrest, the question will inevitably surface — with Azhar free, what precisely would qualify as the ‘definitive’ action India had

    If it is true, as is often suggested, that the Jaish is not what the Lashkar is to the Pakistani military. The LeT has been used as a strategic weapon against India by Pakistan’s security agencies and the Jaish has on occasion turned on its own, most famously with the attempted assassination attempt on Pervez Musharraf — then the inability to put Azhar away or to even name him in press releases is inexplicable.

    Let’s not forget that while the Jaish has been diminished today by counter-terror operations in Kashmir Valley it was Masood Azhar who was responsible for the very first suicide squad attack in Srinagar. Four months after he was freed in exchange for the passengers on board IC-814, a 17-year-old student and son of a teacher rammed a stolen car laden with explosives into the entry gate of the Army’s cantonment area in Badami Bagh. Azhar, who had recently launched Jaish-e-Mohammed (it did not exist before the IC-814 hijacking) and was now settled securely in Pakistan, claimed responsibility. Up until then the Lashkar-e-Taiba, by contrast did not endorse suicide because of strictures against it in Islam. Now the Jaish forced a shift in battle tactics. When the second suicide attack took place on Christmas that same year the Zarb-i-Momin — a mouthpiece for the Jaish called the 24-year-old bomber from Birmingham a “martyr”. So began the attempt to locate Kashmir within the larger global ‘jihad’ and try and transform a political insurgency into a religious one.

    The Jaish may have gone off-script over the years but it has definitely been a part of the Pakistani Deep State’s Great Game in Kashmir. Acting against Azhar won’t be simple; no wonder a statement purportedly from the Jaish tauntingly declares that no arrest has happened.

    Now, the difficulty for India is how to keep the process of engagement with Pakistan alive without seeming to renege on its own demand for “prompt and decisive action”. It’s a razor thin line that the Prime Minister must find the courage to walk on.









    The Indian and Chinese diasporas were shaped by the differences in their migration patterns

    In the beginning, there was slavery. With its abolition, the British imperium constructed a globespanning system of labour movement. Coolies, both Indians and Chinese, were a product as were the Gujarati and Chettiar middlemen who helped ship their less fortunate countrymen around. Just feeding this system led to the creation of today’s rice bowls of the Irrawaddy and Mekong deltas. It also led to millions of Indians and Chinese migrants pouring into Southeast Asia during the 19th and early 20th century. Smaller numbers settled in each other’s countries. The story of this migration, the communities thus produced and cultural peculiarities that evolved, is the theme of this collection of academic essays.

    The place where these two migratory flows found maximum confluence was the Malay peninsula. Between 1840 and 1940, eleven million Chinese settled there. They were joined by four million Indians. Indians came through a tightly controlled imperial contract system. The Chinese largely arrived to work in Chinese-owned enterprises. The Chinese were allowed more self-government and had more opportunities for social uplift. Mahatma Gandhi, on a visit to Singapore in 1908, noticed the gulf between the two. Contemporary observers found racial or cultural reasons for the disparity, but much of this book is about how circumstances — legal, political, economic and even historical accidents — shaped the future trajectory of, say, Indians in Burma or Chinese in Thailand.

    Once they had finished their labour contracts, many Indian migrants in the colonial period did not stick around. “As much as 90 per cent of the Indians who went abroad in the colonial era eventually returned home,” writes Madhavi Thampi. Many Chinese who went overseas, however, were simply unable to return as their homeland disintegrated into civil war and then found stability in an oppressive one-party dictatorship. There are some excellent detailed studies on micro-issues like how the Chinese legal system treated its diaspora, why it’s a myth to talk of a trust-based and community-driven “Chinese capitalism” among its diaspora, and the almost comical problems British colonial judges had grappling with traditional Asian charitable concepts like ‘sinchew’ and the waqf.

    Inevitably, given present geopolitical realities, there will be curiosity to know how Indians and Chinese compete or cooperate with each other when face-toface. On the one side there is the enthusiastic Chinese participation in Thaipusam celebrations by Singaporean Tamils or Kali-worshipping Chinese in Kolkata — in one case supposedly because a Chinese-Indian was granted a Canadian visa, after two rejections, after he prayed before the goddess. On the other is the persecution and harassment Chinese migrants faced at Indian hands during and after the 1962 war. Thousands were transported in guarded railcars to a concentration camp in Rajasthan in an episode most Indians have conveniently forgotten.

    One essay describes how a tradition of Indian gold jewellery has slowly become Sinicized — in ownership, not design — in Singapore. Another describes the travails diaspora of both ethnicities have had in Myanmar thanks to the racism and xenophobia of the dominant Burmans. A new development are the thousands of Indians who have settled in Guangzhou to pursue “the China Dream”, often marrying locals, setting up flourishing businesses and all praise for Beijing’s leadership. Example: Sagnik Roy, an exchange student to China from Kolkata, who married a Chinese business professional and made $ 600 million fortune in pharma.

    At times, one wishes deeper explanations were provided for the Indian and Chinese diaspora experiences. One study, comparing how local movies portrayed their respective migrant experiences, notes “Indian films depict Indians overseas as mainly living very affluent lives, and this element of struggle to achieve as depicted in Chinese films is hardly ever a factor in Indian ones.” How or why this interesting difference developed is never explained.

    The governments of India and China also treat their diasporas differently. “Independent India took time to review its policies towards non-resident Indians… governments of republican China after 1911 found value in the overseas communities.” Both republican and communist China maintained large offices in their major cities to manage and strengthen family and locality bonds. New Delhi has only begun to awaken to the merits of its diaspora in the past decade — and largely only its most successful overseas brethren. Given that India inherited a welloiled migrant apparatus from the British while the Qing empire treated overseas Chinese as near-traitors, New Delhi’s seeming indifference deserved greater scrutiny. But in the authors’ defence it’s likely that a full account of two of the world’s largest and most successful ethnic migrants would fill a library — and their interactions an annexe.

    Award for Pathankot martyr

    Tribune News Service,Chandigarh, January 15


    Lt Col Niranjan E Kumar, head of the Bomb Disposal Unit of the National Security Guards who was killed in the recent terror attack at Pathankot airbase, has been awarded the Chief of Army Staff’s Commendation on the occcasion of Army Day 2016. The officer had reportedly been killed in a blast while handling a body of a terrorist that was booby trapped, during the sanitising operations. He was an officer from the Corps of Engineers and went on deputation to the NSG in 2014.The list of commendation cards issued by the Army shows his rank as Major, but mentions his posting with the NSG. A total of 503 persons across all arms and services, including a handful of civilians, have been given commendations this year.The list of martyrs for the past year released by the Army does not mention Lt Col Kumar’s name.

    Bravehearts honoured at Army Day celebrations

    Army Day is celebrated on 15 January every year in India, in recognition of Lieutenant General (later Field Marshal) K. M. Cariappa‘s taking over as the first Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army from General Sir Francis Butcher, the last British Commander-in-Chief of India, on 15 January 1949. The day is celebrated in the form of parades and other military shows in the national capital New Delhi as well as all headquarters. On 15 January 2015 India celebrated 67th Indian Army day in New Delhi. Army Day marks a day to salute the valiant soldiers who sacrificed their lives to protect the country and the people living in it. [1]

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    Home, Defence ministers review security, Pathankot

    Mukesh Ranjan,Tribune News Service.New Delhi, January 15
    Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar met in the national capital on Friday to discuss progress on investigations into the recent attack on an Air Force base in Pathankot, review security and analyse intelligence reports ahead of Republic Day.(Also read: Foreign secys to talk, not now)NSA Ajit Doval and secretaries of Home and Defence were also present at the meeting.”In view of the continuing threats from hostile elements from across the border, the need to further upgrade both intelligence and preventive abilities specially in terms of technology was stressed.It was decided that the security audit of all vulnerable stations, of armed forces, para-military forces and police would be carried out within a given timeframe,” official sources said.French President Francois Hollande will be chief guest at the main function for Republic Day.Intelligence reports suggest that 6–10 Jaish-e-Mohammad militants had crossed over into India through Punjab recently. Six suspected JeM terrorists were killed in the Pathankot air base after three days of fierce gun battle but sources suggest some may still be at large.Besides, according to an intelligence report by the Punjab Police, 15 militants may have crossed over into India from Pakistan.An additional 10,000 paramilitary soldiers have already been stationed at Delhi. Security has been also been steeped up at Delhi’s IGI airport after another intelligence input suggested a possible hostage situation. Both domestic and international flights have been asked to upgrade security, with some passengers even being made to undergo ‘secondary ladder checking’ in some flights, conducted while entering the aircraft.Friday’s meeting came a day after India and Pakistan deferred talks between foreign secretaries of the two countries and India gave a joint team from Pakistan permission to visit to investigate the Pathankot attack.Army chief General Dalbir Singh Suhag had said on Wednesday that the security environment facing the nation was becoming more “complex and dynamic” and that at least 17 militant training camps remained active in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, up from the 42 earlier. — (With inputs from PTI)

    Pak conducts raids, probe team has ISI

    Simran Sodhi,Tribune News Service,New Delhi, January 11


    Even as India maintained its position that Foreign Secretary-level talks could not be held till Pakistan took ‘action’ against perpetrators of the Pathankot attack, the government of the neighbouring nation today took a series of steps in that direction. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif constituted a joint investigation team (JIT) comprising officials of the Military Intelligence, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Intelligence Bureau to investigate the leads provided by India and to take action against the perpetrators. Raids were conducted in Gujranwala, Jhelum and Bahawalpur districts, leading to some arrests. With the Foreign Secretaries scheduled to meet in Islamabad on January 15, it is clear Pakistan is making an effort to redeem the dialogue process. However, sources within the government maintained that talks could not happen unless Pakistan took action. Today’s developments notwithstanding, the sources said that India wanted to see action against Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) leader Masood Azhar, who is believed to have masterminded the Pathankot attack. Sources said India would be closely watching the developments over the next few days. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today went to Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s residence and is understood to have discussed the issue. However, there was no official word on the meeting that lasted 20 minutes. It is reliably learnt that the National Security Advisers of the two countries continue to be in touch.       The meeting chaired by the Pakistan PM to form the JIT was attended by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, National Security Adviser Lt-Gen (retd) Nasser Khan Janjua, Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Tariq Fatemi and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar. Sources confirmed that Army Chief Raheel Sharif had also been kept in the loop by the Nawaz Sharif government.  Meanwhile, Rajindar Sachar, Chief Justice (retd), today said the India-Pakistan talks should go ahead despite the Pathankot attack. “Pathankot must not be allowed to postpone Foreign Secretary-level meetings between India and Pakistan. The open public trust between India and Pakistan, spoken of both by Modi and Nawaz Sharif meeting at Lahore, should not be allowed to go waste, notwithstanding the provocative Pathankot incident by terrorists coming from across the border,” said Sachar.

    Pilgrims denied visa

    • In a move that is likely to further strain India-Pakistan ties, India has denied visa to 75 Pakistani pilgrims. Officials in the Pakistan High Commission here said the action was inconsistent with the vision of the leadership of both countries and against the principles of ‘Protocol on Visits to the Religious Shrines, 1974’. India maintained that the visas were denied on purely procedural grounds, and that under the protocol on visits to religious shrines, an organising committee or the local authorities were required to extend logistical support to the visa applicants. However, in this case this had not been done.

    पाक जांच टीम में आईएसआई भी

    Posted On January – 11 – 2016

    सिमरन सोढी/ ट्रिन्यू
    नयी दिल्ली, 11 जनवरी

    भारत इस रुख पर कायम है कि पठानकोट हमले की साजिश रचने वालों पर कार्रवाई के बगैर पाकिस्तान के साथ विदेश सचिव स्तर की बातचीत आगे नहीं बढ़ सकती। इसे देखते हुए सोमवार को पाकिस्तान ने इस दिशा में कुछ कदम बढ़ाये हैं।
    पाकिस्तान के प्रधानमंत्री नवाज शरीफ ने संयुक्त जांच टीम (जेआईटी) गठित करने का आदेश दिया है। इसमें इंटेलीजेंस ब्यूरो, आईएसआई और मिलिट्री इंटेलीजेंस के अधिकारी शामिल होंगे। यह टीम भारत की ओर से सौंपे गये सबूतों के आधार पर जांच करेगी।
    उधर, गुजरांवाला, झेलम और बहावलपुर जिलों में कई जगह छापे मारकर कुछ संदिग्धों को गिरफ्तार किया गया। यह स्पष्ट नहीं है कितने लोगों की गिरफ्तारी हुई है।
    विदेश सचिव स्तर की 15 जनवरी को इस्लामाबाद में प्रस्तावित बैठक से पहले पाकिस्तान इस कार्रवाई से यह संकेत दे रहा है कि वह बातचीत जारी रखने की कोशिश कर रहा है। हालांकि, नयी दिल्ली में सरकार से जुड़े सूत्रों ने कहा कि भारत का रुख स्पष्ट है कि जब तक पाकिस्तान कार्रवाई नहीं करता, बातचीत नहीं हो सकती। सूत्रों के मुताबिक भारत इस हमले की साजिश रचने वाले जैश-ए-मोहम्मद के नेता मसूद अजहर के खिलाफ कार्रवाई देखना चाहता है। वहीं, भरोसेमंद सूत्रों से पता चला है कि दोनों देशों के एनएसए एक-दूसरे के संपर्क में हैं।

    ब्लैक कॉर्नर नोटिस जारी कर सकती है इंटरपोल
    नयी दिल्ली (एजेंसी) : पठानकोट एयरबेस पर हमले के मामले में भारत अब इंटरपोल के जरिये भी पाकिस्तान पर दबाव बनाएगा। नयी दिल्ली में गृह मंत्रालय के एक वरिष्ठ अधिकारी ने बताया कि एयरबेस हमले में मारे गये आतंकियों की पहचान के लिए इंटरपोल मंगलवार को ‘ब्लैक कॉर्नर’ नोटिस जारी कर सकती है। इस नोटिस में अज्ञात मृत व्यक्तियों की पहचान से संबंधित जानकारी साझा की जाती है।

    दावा- शुरुआती जांच में फोन नंबर पाकिस्तान के नहीं
    इस्लामाबाद (एजेंसी) : पाकिस्तान के अखबार द न्यूज ने दावा किया है कि पठानकोट एयरबेस पर आतंकी हमले को लेकर पाक सरकार ने अपनी शुरुआती जांच रिपोर्ट भारत को सौंप दी है। अखबार ने सूत्रों के हवाले से कहा है भारत ने सबूत के तौर पर जो फोन नंबर सौंपे थे, वह रिपोर्ट के मुताबिक पाकिस्तान के नहीं हैं।

    सलविंदर के बयान पर शक, आज भी होगी पूछताछ
    नयी दिल्ली (ट्रिन्यू) : पठानकोट हमले को लेकर संदेह के घेरे में आए पुलिस अधीक्षक सलविंदर सिंह से राष्ट्रीय जांच एजेंसी (एनआईए) ने सोमवार को दिल्ली में गहन पूछताछ की। सूत्रों के अनुसार सलविंदर को फिलहाल क्लीन चिट नहीं मिली है। उनके बयान पर एनआईए को शक है। उनसे मंगलवार को भी पूछताछ की जाएगी। उनके रसोइये मदन गोपाल को भी तलब किया जाएगा और दोनों के बयानों में किसी तरह के विरोधाभास की पड़ताल की जाएगी। उनके रसोइये और दोस्त राजेश वर्मा से पंजाब में अलग से पूछताछ की जा रही है।

    Special forces fan out in J&K

    PATHANKOT EFFECT Nine teams of 100 commandos each ready to counter terrorist attacks as Republic Day nears

    NEW DELHI: Nine combat teams comprising India’s best fighting men have been placed at the highest alert level in Jammu and Kashmir following the Pathankot fidayeen attack and fresh intelligence inputs warning of strikes against high-value military targets ahead of Republic Day, a top army official has said.

    AP FILE PHOTOFollowing the Pathankot attack, combat teams have been placed on highest alert in Jammu and Kashmir.Scattered across terrorism hotspots in the state, three Special Forces (SF) teams are based in the Kashmir valley, two in the Jammu region and three reserve teams are stationed in Udhampur to mount a swift response to terror strikes.

    “Security measures have been tightened and response plans to military-style terror strikes have been worked out by the teams following the Pathankot attack,” Northern Army Commander Lieutenant General DS Hooda said.

    “We have carried out a comprehensive security audit of vital installations such as airbases, ammunition dumps and key administrative facilities.”

    Each team consists of close to 100 elite commandos. The state is home to two battle-hardened commando battalions – the 4 Para (SF) and 9 Para (SF).

    Hooda said the reserve SF elements located at Udhampur could be flown out for any antiterror mission on short notice.

    “Intelligence warnings are not 100% specific but we are leaving nothing to chance,” he added.

    The Udhampur-based Northern Command is the nerve centre for counter-terrorism operations in the state where military bases and soldiers have been regularly targeted by terrorists. The security of soft targets such as schools and hospitals, tightened after the 2014 Peshawar army school massacre, has also been reviewed.

    The SF units are better trained and equipped than regular infantry battalions to respond to Pathankot-style attacks. The SF specialises in covert operations, warfare in jungles, mountains and deserts, low-intensity conflict and hostage rescue.

    The SF is armed with Israeli TAR-21 assault rifles, US-made Colt M4 carbines and a mix of Israeli Galil and Russian Dragunov sniper rifles. It was an SF unit that carried out a rare cross-border assault into Myanmar last June after 18 Indian soldiers were killed in an ambush in Manipur and the insurgents escaped to the neighbouring country. The SF units account for more than 5,000 commandos.

    India’s response to the Pathankot terror attack — the second major strike outside J&K after last year’s attack in Gurdaspur — has set off a fierce debate over whether the operations should have been assigned to the National Security Guard or should SF units have been rushed there.

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    Arms, ammunition recovered in Reasi

    Tribune News Service,Jammu, January 8


    Security forces today recovered a rich haul of arms and ammunition from Reasi district.“Based on specific information received from reliable sources, the Rashtriya Rifles battalion at Samote and police personnel from the Chasana police station recovered a cache of arms and ammunition from a natural hideout in Kuliwala Forest in Chasana tehsil of Reasi district today,” said a Defence spokesperson.The cache included one AK-56 rifle, one 7.63 mm pistol, one 303 rifle, one sniper rifle Dragunov, five magazines of AK-56 rifle, one magazine of pistol, 75 rounds of AK-56 rifle, 55 rounds of Pika, two rounds of pistol, six rounds of sniper rifle, one grenade UBGL, one rotating bolt of AK 56 rifle, 11 fired cases of AK-56 and two fired cases of sniper rifles.The recovery of the cache had prevented any untoward incident in the area and thwarted evil designs of terrorists, he said.


    IAF BASE ATTACKED Drug smugglers helped cross over

    More BSF men to guard sensitive points as assessment lists gaping holes

    Ajay Banerjee,Tribune News Service,New Delhi, January 7


    After a comprehensive assessment of the Pathankot terror attack, the  Indian security establishment has found that conduits for smuggling drugs on either side of the border were used  by terrorists to cross over to India with arms, including mortars.Most of these drug conduits on the Pakistani side are controlled by the ISI and have in the past been used to push arms and terrorists inside the Indian territory.Top sources said it was clear that the six terrorists, who attacked the Indian Air Force (IAF) base at Pathankot at 3.30 am on January 2, entered India in two groups.The group carrying bigger weapons arrived before the second group of four militants who killed taxi driver Ikagar Singh and “abducted” SP Salwinder Singh. The complicity of BS Force officials in allowing the drug carriers to pass through unfenced portions of the border and also middle-level politicians in Punjab is not ruled out. After the assessment, three key steps have been initiated. First, Punjab will get additional BSF companies to guard sensitive segments, especially the riverine stretch that is not fenced. Second, a way has been found for foolproof security in the area where the Ravi and its tributaries criss-cross  the border. Third, security on the periphery of military bases  will be strengthened. A new method will be devised for the job.After an alert was received, the first priority before Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha was to secure the assets. The MiG 21 fighter jets were moved out while the Army hiked security around missiles, ATC, ammunition and fuel dumps. Some 500 armed soldiers were stationed in Pathankot on January 1, hours before the attack. The immediate task at hand was to protect the 3,000 families inside the air base.  IG Operations of the National Security Guard (NSG) Maj Gen Dushyant Singh was made the commander of the operations in consultation with the Army.

    Finding the gaps

    • Most drug conduits on the Pakistani side are controlled by the ISI and have in the past helped push arms and terrorists into India
    • It is now clear that the six Pathankot air base attackers entered India in two groups
    • The group carrying bigger weapons arrived before the second group of four militants
    • The second group killed taxi driver Ikagar Singh and also ‘abducted’Salwinder Singh, SP

    China creates three new military units in push to modernise army


    BEIJING: China has created three new military units and will update equipment as well as modernising its command structure as part of a major overhaul of the armed forces announced by President Xi Jinping in November, state media said on Friday.

    REUTERS FILEChina has been upgrading its military hardware, but integration of complex systems has been a major challenge.Xi’s push to reform the military coincides with China becoming more assertive in its territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas. China’s navy is investing in submarines and aircraft carriers and its air force is developing stealth fighters.

    At a ceremony on Thursday, Xi inaugurated a new general command unit for the army, a missile force and a strategic support force for People’s Liberation Army (PLA), state news agency Xinhua said.

    State television showed Xi handing over a large red flag to Li Zuocheng, the new head of the land command force. Li was previously commander of the key Chengdu military region, which includes restless and strategically vital Tibet.

    The missile force is taking over from the Second Artillery Corps to control the country’s nuclear arsenal but keeping the same commander, Wei Fenghe.

    Xi urged the new unit to “enhance nuclear deterrence and counter-strike capacity, mediumand long-range precision strike ability, as well as strategic checkand-balance capacity to build a strong and modern Rocket Force”.

    His reforms include establishing a joint operational command structure by 2020 and rejigging existing military regions, as well as cutting troop numbers by 300,000, a surprise announcement he made in September.

    In a separate report listing the powerful Central Military Commission’s recommendations on the reform process, Xinhua said the troop cuts will focus on non-combat personnel.

    China has been moving rapidly to upgrade its military hardware, but integration of complex systems across a regionalised command structure has been a major challenge.

    Xi has also made rooting out deeply entrenched corruption in the military a top priority, and dozens of senior officers have been investigated and jailed.