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Integrate the nation’s defenders, don’t alienate them

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An Indian Army Parachute Regiment contingent marches past during Army Day parade in New Delhi, India, Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009. (AP Photo/Gurinder Osan)
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  Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi flies from one public-relations triumph to the next in foreign capitals, discerning people back home have an uneasy feeling that they are in a schizophrenic trap. For a nation so resistant to change, India seems to be prematurely donning a mantle that, in reality, remains a distant vision.

Our cities, including the capital, are still choked with slums, garbage, debris and pollution. As industry lags, skilling of youth and job creation remain a chimera. The ‘unorganized sector’ reigns supreme: with hawkers, casual labourers, beggars and the unemployed thronging our streets, seeking a living. Venality and corruption are still rampant – albeit in newer formats – and the powerful cling to their privileges, protected by Teflon-coated skins.

Many pundits say that the NDA government is in its early days and still has 43 months to fulfill its grand promises. Given India’s huge potential as a market and Modi’s assiduous international efforts to garner FDI, one should, perhaps, withhold judgment on the NDA, for now.

However, such indulgence may not be appropriate in the critical realm of the nation’s defence, which brooks no impediments or prevarication. It is here that the NDA government has scored several ‘self-goals’ that are bound to have a deleterious impact on India’s national security.

The first instance relates to the clumsy handling of the military veterans’ demand for restoration of One Rank One Pension or OROP – arbitrarily taken away in 1973. Adopting an ostrich-like attitude, the NDA misjudged the motivation, endurance and campaigning skills of the nation’s military veterans. The prolonged stand-off has embarrassed the nation and hurt the pride of the soldier. Having allowed this sensitive issue to fester, the NDA government has itself to blame if the canker of politicization has irretrievably entered our military.

On September 5, everyone heaved a collective sigh of relief when the Defence Minister Manohar Parikkar, flanked by the three service chiefs, ceremoniously read out a prepared statement meant to provide closure to the OROP imbroglio. However, as soon as he had finished reading, the veterans realized that the government had unilaterally reneged on several issues – diluting the OROP concept.

Moreover, in his statement, Parikkar made a mention of VRS or Voluntary Retirement Scheme, a concept that has never existed in the Indian military. Obviously, a ‘red-herring’ inserted by a mischievous bureaucrat, this rang alarm bells throughout the armed forces; not only because it would affect many serving officers, but because it suggested that the service chiefs had concurred.

Since no government letter or clarification has followed this fiasco, the veterans are convinced that a ‘confidence trick’ was played upon them and the Jantar Mantar agitation continues into its fourth month. The veterans have alleged that a ‘gag-order’ has been placed on media reportage from Jantar Mantar. If true, it adds yet another unsavoury dimension to this confrontation.

The second issue of concern is the fallout of this unending ‘tamasha’ on serving military personnel, as is clearly evident in social media discussions. Mention of VRS is being interpreted as a warning that servicemen seeking ‘premature retirement’ or PR, an entirely different concept, will be denied the benefits of OROP. This retrograde step will affect many in uniform today and demolish all efforts to keep the armed forces youthful and motivated.

Justified or not, a sense of frustration is palpable amongst the younger generation of Internet-savvy servicemen. They are bewildered why the senior military leadership is so helpless in countering the bureaucracy’s malevolent ploys. A frequently cited example is that of ‘non-functional upgradation’ (NFU). This bounty, bestowed by the bureaucracy upon itself, but denied to the military, has led to awkward situations, wherein personnel of support organizations like Border Roads, Military Engineering and Naval Armament Services have overtaken their military superiors in terms of pay-grades.

Which brings us to the third issue of concern: the long-standing, civil-military dissonance that is undermining our national security. The root of this problem lies in the deliberate creation of an asymmetry to ensure that ‘civilian supremacy’, meant to be exercised by the political leadership, is replaced by bureaucratic control of the armed forces. Successive pay commissions, all of which excluded military representation, have been used to reinforce this asymmetry with the politician’s blessings.

Nations worldwide have de-fused civil-military tensions and retained firm ‘civilian control’ over their armed forces, by subsuming them within the edifice of the government. Given the reputation of the BJP as a ‘nationalist’ party, there were fond hopes that it would bring about a dramatic shift from the Nehruvian tradition of disparaging the military and neglecting national security. This government’s inertia, however, conveys an impression that it is either hostage to the bureaucracy or colluding with it, to ‘keep the soldier in his place’.

Whether it is Swachh Bharat, Make in India or Digital India, such dreams can prosper only within the paradigm of a ‘Secure India’ guaranteed by our patriotic and motivated armed forces. A sagacious leadership can kill many birds by grasping this opportunity to launch a bold initiative of undertaking national security reforms, as promised in the BJP’S election manifesto.

However, events of the recent past dictate the immediate implementation of two vital measures: (a) like other democracies, the adoption of an Armed Forces Covenant that recognizes the nation’s moral obligation to the armed forces, and establishes how they should be treated by the government; and (b) integration of civilian bureaucracy and military professionals so that the MoD functions harmoniously to promote national security, rather than working at cross-purposes with the armed forces.

(By Admiral Arun Prakash, IANS)

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Did the hijack of flight IC-814 bring India to its knees?

The flight number IC-814 of the Indian Airlines, travelling from Kathmandu to New Delhi was hijacked mid-air.

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The ill-fated flight IC-814 was destined to fly from Kathmandu to Delhi
The ill-fated flight IC-814 was destined to fly from Kathmandu to Delhi

NEW DELHI: The Christmas Eve of 1999 doesn’t go well into the books of Indian history. The whole global community was hit with the hell of a jerk when the news of a plane hijack was set out by the Indian media channels. The flight number IC-814 of the Indian Airlines, travelling from Kathmandu to New Delhi was hijacked mid-air. At the time of the hijack, the airline was carrying 178 passengers and 11 crew members on board, after it took-off from the Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu.

This incident shattered the whole Indian Intelligence wing and questions were already raised on the credibility of R&AW agency. R&AW (Research & Analysis Wing) is the external intelligence unit of India and looks up for the foreign threat counts. But after the hijack of IC-814, every available resource was scrambled to contain the situation which was already out of hand.

Till date, there are a lot of unanswered questions as to why there was no show up of NSG commandos when the aircraft landed at Amritsar and the time was ripe enough to launch a counter-attack on the hijackers.

An article by a profound writer and columnist, Kanchan Gupta has rightly concluded in one of his articles on Kandahar hijack that India standout to be a nation of cowards. When it mattered the most, Indian people turned out in their true colours and let the nation down by surrendering in front of the hijackers.

Prime Minister Atal Beharai Vajpayee thoroughly counted every possible option at his disposal
Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee thoroughly checked all the possible options at his disposal

The initial impact

During this mishappening, NDA government was in the centre and till date is held responsible for such a huge goof-up. The then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was in mid-air at the time of the hijack and from the time of the hijack incident, he was informed almost after two hours. The lag in the communication is blamed on the lack of satellite phones at that time.

The moment Vajpayee landed at the Palam Air Base, National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra broke the news of plane hijack.

Vajpayee was taken aback by it and called for an emergency meeting with his security advisor and cabinet ministers. He also called off his birthday and Christmas celebrations, scheduled for that evening.

Later, the five hijackers were identified as Ibrahim Athar, Shahid Akhtar Sayed, Gulshan Iqbal, Sunny Ahmed Qazi, Mistri Zahoor Ibrahim, and Shakir. All of them were found to be the residents of Pakistan and belonged to a dreaded militant organization.

Hijacking ordeal

Just after few moments of the takeoff of flight IC-814, militants hijacked the plane and diverted it to Lahore airport but they were denied permission to land at the airport. Then they head towards Amritsar after realizing that the flight was running low on fuel. The Amritsar’s airport, Raja Sansi Airport was immediately alerted about the hijack and directed to prevent the plane from taking off after the planes landing.

The hijackers demanded the refueling of the plane but it was blatantly rejected by the Indian officials and the aircraft stayed there for another forty-five minutes. Soon hijackers got suspicious and expected a commando attack, so they stabbed a passenger and forced the flight to take off with an almost empty tank. Then the under pressure pilots took off from there and attempted another landing at Lahore airport, even after the denial of permission from Pakistan’s airport authority. But with sheer courage and skill, both the flight pilots of IC-814 landed the plane safely at the landing strip and parked it in the airport’s bay area.

After the refueling of the aircraft by the Pakistani authority, hijackers took off from there and flew to Dubai airport. Dubai officials permitted them to land there and in return, successfully negotiated the release of 13 women and 11 children. The next morning, the plane took off for Afghanistan and landed at Kandahar Airport, at that time which was under the direct control of the terrorist organization.

Demand for ransom

On holding their fort at Kandahar airport, the hijackers demanded the release of 36 terrorists held in Indian prisons in return for safe passage for the people onboard. After hours of herculean negotiations by the security officials, Indian government stumbled upon a deal with them and finally agreed to release three terrorists in exchange for all the hostages. The name of terrorist to be freed included Maulana Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar, and Ahmed Omar Sheikh.

Within no time, the paperwork was done in order to release the terrorists and they were flown to Kandahar airport.

Finally, after suffering of five stressful day, people were relieved from the captivity of the hijackers
Finally, after suffering for five stressful days, people were relieved from the captivity of the hijackers

Moment of sigh

After that, two aircrafts left for Kandahar airport and Indian officials made the exchange. On the evening of 31st December, hostages of flight IC-814 were flown back to Delhi and a sense of relief prevailed in the Indian government and its people. But, soon the NDA government came under intense fire from various political parties.

Following this incident, India didn’t take much time to learn from this blunder and till date, it is made sure that nothing sort of that magnitude occurs ever. Although, there are still many unresolved mysteries going around in the minds of the people, but no one is up to take the responsibility for such a gaffe. Even the presence of an R&AW agent in the hijacked plane is a matter of contention. Reports suggest that R&AW officials were tipped prior to the hijack but were rashly rebuffed.

Irrespective of all the fuss, the unchallenged credit goes to the people involved in this whole incident and we salute to the bravery and courage put up by the flight pilots and the people on board.