Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Camp Fire

FORCE had gone to Chhattisgarh in 2006 and met Mahendra Karma who was the strength behind Salva Judum. At that time, FORCE had criticised the movement and had called it disastrous for long term peace. The article is reproduced here, along with the interview with Mahendra Karma.

Salva Judum members may end up being nowhere people

Variously called the Peace March, Fight from Freedom and Purification Hunt, Salva Judum — a group of people in Chhattisgarh who have risen against the Maoists — has managed to attract both admiration and criticism from various quarters. The story of how it came into existence in June 2005 is now part of Bastar folklore. Depending upon who the narrator is, the tale swings between heroic and exploitative. Though there aren’t many contradictions about its origin, the difference lies in the nuances and interpretation.

It is quite simple actually. In June 2005, a tractor carrying police ration was driving from Kutru to Bedre police station in west Bastar. Members of the Maoist Sangham (People’s Militia), who primarily were the local tribals, looted the tractor and disappeared in the jungle. When the police found out, it swooped upon the village where the actual looting took place, caught a few tribals, including senior, respectable members of the community and beat them up. A few were put behind bars. This angered the tribals no end. Curiously, this anger was not directed against the police who had beaten the senior members of the tribe, but against the Sangham who looted the police tractor, thereby forced the police to beat them up. Anyway, the narrative goes that seeing the resentment of the tribals, the police let them off with the challenge that if indeed they had not looted the police ration then they must bring the culprits to the police. To prove their innocence, the tribal seniors caught hold of the Sangham members and handed them over to the police. This angered Naxals. They attacked the village and killed a few tribals. The tribal anger against the Naxals boiled over. They decided to take matters in their hands. Forming groups, they started having meetings to work out a plan against the Naxals. One meeting was held in Tarmendri in June 2005, where Maoists attacked and killed 10-15 villagers. Next meeting was held in Matwara on June 18. Following this, a group comprising 10,000-12,000 tribals went to Kotrapal village for another meeting. Maoists struck again, kidnapping 10-15 villagers and killing five of them. By now the tribals were raging. A few days later, another meeting was held in Bijapur which was attended by 25,000 people. Even as the people were constantly travelling across villages and mobilising support, Congress leader and the head of the Congress Legislative Party in Chhattisgarh, Mahendra Karma, who belongs to the same tribe which spearheaded the campaign saw an opportunity here and extended his leadership to the movement. He christened it Salva Judum.

Another version says that the local tribals got angry with the Maoists because being atheist they showed no respect to their gods and other religious practices. The repeated insults of their totems, religio-socio practices and the corrosion of their social structures led them to protest. A senior police official says that since Maoists’ sway was slightly weak in this area, south of river Indrawati (Abujmarh is north of river Indrawati) they were in a hurry to establish their control and did not take the sensibilities of these tribals into account. The tribal protests were met with violence by some trigger-happy Maoists and gradually resentment started building up.

Yet, it appears improbable that illiterate tribals could have mobilised in such huge numbers without somebody urging them to do so. It also seems improbable that Maoists would have deliberately been committing excesses against the very people who form their cadre. What seems more likely is that, when some tribals handed over a few Sangham members to the police, probably out of fear of the police, they had not bargained for the retribution from the Naxals. Once that happened, local political workers, including Karma’s brother who is one of the tribal leaders, must have seen the political advantage of fanning anti-Naxal feeling among the tribals. The fact that a large number of these people belong to Karma’s tribe and almost all of them form his constituency reinforce the idea that it was perhaps a move to consolidate his base and increase his leverage vis a vis the state government.

Whatever may have been the motive, today Salva Judum includes such tribes as Gond, Dorla, Halba and some OBC groups. Karma convinced the state government that support and security must be given to this group as it is standing up against the Naxal terrorism. Since, the villagers had risen against the Maoists it was no longer possible for them to continue living in their villages. Consequently, the villagers were moved to camps outside their villages. In two years, the number of camps has increased to 25 with the total people living in them being around 45,000. Dornapal, south of Jagdalpur, is the largest camp with 15,000 refugees and now almost looks like a village, with houses, a community centre, solar lights and a school. The women undergo some vocational training in handicrafts and so on inside the camp and some international non-governmental organisations run periodic health camps. The government officials take pride in these camps and frequently quote visiting UN officials who compared the camps with those run by the UN. For their own security, camp residents are not allowed to go out of the camp periphery, lest they are targeted by the Maoists.

Of these 45,000 people, the police have recruited nearly 4,000 young men and women as Special Police Officers with the salary of Rs 1,500 per month. Some have been trained to use 303 rifles. The DGP, Chattisgarh feels confident that once they master 303s they can graduate to better weapons. Each camp is guarded by a company of the police or the Para-military along with the SPOs. The SPOs also work as the eyes and ears of the security forces and most often accompany them in their operations against the Maoists as they know the area well. Encouraged by the exemplary courage shown by many SPOs against the Maoists, the state government has sanctioned the raising of two SPO battalions.

While it is true that SPOs are proving to be useful to the security forces in their anti-Maoists operations, Salva Judum by itself is turning out to be an exploitative movement. Human rights activists have been voicing their concern about the consequences of militarisation of the tribals. The Independent Citizen’s Initiative group comprising Ramachandra Guha and B.G. Verghese among others had gone on a fact-finding mission to Chhattisgarh. In their report titled, ‘War in the Heart of India’ they fear that the situation may spiral out of control with some kind of a civil war breaking out among the various tribes. “The creation and support of the Salva Judum has divided entire villages and families, perhaps irreversibly. They are forced to either choose the Maoists or the Salva Judum… A cycle of retribution and revenge has been set in motion, with the Salva Judum targeting villagers believed to be sympathetic to the Maoists and the Maoists in turn killing those active in Salva Judum,” says the report.

The spiral of violence was only to be expected once Salva Judum got the government and police patronage. As violence escalated from both sides, the Central government was forced to focus on Salva Judum and Mahendra Karma who leads it was asked to slow down the Judum activities. In a note sent to the Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Karma admits that, “It may be mentioned that Salva Judum activists are too much angry against Naxalites and their supporters (Sangham members) because of killing of Salva Judum activists, burning their houses, looting of their belongings, etc… At times, the overzealous Salva Judum activists act in vengeance against Sangham members.” Elsewhere in the same note he writes, “It is quite likely that over-enthusiastic Salva Judum activists might have burnt some houses of known Sangham members or regular supporters of CPI (Maoist). But then, the CPI (Maoist) cadre also burnt/looted houses of many Salva Judum activists. Such violent incidents are many more committed by Naxalites than by the Salva Judum activists.”

Clearly, for the state government, Salva Judum is a handy tool to discredit the Maoists’ as mere terrorists who do not enjoy the support of the local people. The consequences of this line of propaganda are very clear: The government need not work towards alleviating the socio-economic grievances of the people because there are none. The only grievance is terrorism unleashed by the Maoists for which strong action by the police and the Para-military is required. The Salva Judum also enables the state government earn brownie points with other states. As both Netam and Karma repeatedly told FORCE, “In no other state have people risen against the Naxalites as they have done in Chhattisgarh. This is a historic movement and not only shows the courage of the local people, but also their urge to become part of the Indian democratic process.” Given that traditionally there has been very little presence of the government in these areas and the majority of tribals do not even know what government means beyond their tribal customs, it is remarkable that both the ruling as well as the opposition party can speak the same language.

None realise that in their short-sightedness they have forced nearly 45,000 people to become refugees in their own state with an uncertain future. Karma thunders at this suggestion, “Throughout the history, whenever people have fought a just war they have had to make sacrifices. Displacement of people always takes place in a conflict situation.” Usually people chose the refugee-like existence to avoid violence. They move out to what they think are safe places, even if they end up living in camps with bare minimum facilities. The Salva Judum case is completely different though. The displaced people continue to live in the war zone, albeit not in their villages but inside the camps which are guarded. They are easy targets for the Maoists who have been attacking the camps with regular periodicity. The government claim that villagers want to live in the camps because they fear going to their villages is belied by the fact that male tribals frequently slip out of the camps to till their fields even at the cost of getting killed by the Naxals. Even while the FORCE team was in Jagdalpur, five farmers living in Salva Judum camps were killed in one day in different instances and parts of Bastar.

The war against the Maoists has to be fought by the security forces and other organs of the government machinery. It is always unfortunate that some innocent people get caught in bad situations. But the government in Chhattisgarh has actually collected innocent people as fodder between the security forces and the Maoists. This, more than civilians rising against Naxalites, is unprecedented. In any conflict area, be it Kashmir or the Northeast, innocent people always find a way around surviving in such situations, whether by paying security money to the terrorists or by spying for the security forces. They do not leave their homes and hearths with their wives and children to live in camps in a signal to the terrorists that they are waging an unarmed war against them.

As of now, future does not seem to hold very much for the inhabitants of the Salva Judum camps. The government has no policy for their rehabilitation except that more money from the state/Central welfare funds would be pumped in the camps as majority of inhabitants have no means of earning. Home minister Netam says, “We have not yet thought of a plan to rehabilitate the Salva Judum tribals. They will go back to their villages once the crisis is resolved and it is safe for them to live there.” How many years, does the minister think it may be before they can go back home? “That will depend upon how serious the Centre is about resolving the problem,” he says. Considering that Chhattisgarh is not exactly flushed with funds and has a huge shortfall in the police ranks one wonders how long the state government can sustain the Salva Judum camps, let alone provide security to them.


‘Whenever Common People are Faced with Political Terrorism they are Always Forced to Flee’

Mahendra Karma, leader of opposition, Chhattisgarh State Assembly

Why is there so much Naxal violence in your state than in others?

The objective of Naxalites is usurpation of power by any means. They have nothing to do with the common people. Earlier Naxalites did speak of issues like development which concerned ordinary citizens, but not any longer. With the help of clever sloganeering, they mobilised people and quickly armed them. While many states of India have suffered from Naxal violence, the situation in Chhattisgarh worsened because here the people decided to fight them.

Why did the people of Bastar decide to fight the Naxalites?

Nobody has been able to enslave the tribal people. I know this, because I am also a tribal. Independence of spirit is second nature to us, which is why we do not adhere to any ‘isms’. We believe in our traditions and customs that have been handed down to us through generations. We are governed by our own rules and religious practices. But Naxals did not respect our tribal customs. Even when the Panchayati Raj was introduced in the tribal belts, it happened gradually and did not disturb our traditional form of administration, but with Naxals that was not the case. They tried to subvert our socio-religious institutions.

Naxals first entered Bastar in the early Eighties. Why did it take so long for the tribals to get angry? Why did Salva Judum start only in 2005?

The tribals never supported the Naxals. In the early Nineties also, there was a Jan Jagran Abhiyaan. I had started that and the Naxals were forced to leave Bastar. They came back once the movement died down. (According to the police, it was a small rebellion which was crushed by the Maoists) But yes, Salva Judum started in 2005 and the main reason for that was that the tribals got tired of atrocities by both the police and the Naxals. So they decided to oppose the Naxals in a peaceful manner. Salva Judum means peace march.

What role did you play in the creation of Salva Judum?

I was in Delhi when the first meetings of the tribals were held in June 2005. When I learnt that more and more people are joining the movement, I feared that they may go astray. I returned to Raipur on 23 June 2005 and met with the home minister. I told him that the government must support the people who are raising their voice against the Naxals. I reached Kanker on June 25 and addressed my first meeting in Kotrapal on June 26.

If indeed it is a peace march then why are you giving weapons to the tribals and making them Special Police Officers?

This was a government’s decision. But what is wrong in that? The weapons are for self-defence. Moreover, through this scheme they are also getting employment and are now part of the police force.

What about the displacement of so many people who are now forced to live in the camps?

Whenever common people are faced with political terrorism they are always forced to flee. Take the case of Afghanistan, Bangladesh or closer home Kashmir. This is a very natural process. Instead of using displacement of the people as an excuse to criticise Salva Judum, people should appreciate the fact that these tribals are fighting the Naxalites. And for this reason, the government has to stand guarantee for their security. Besides, those who are not living in the Salva Judum camps today are living the Naxal camps. It is amazing that instead of everybody putting their heads together to think of ways to overcome the problem of Naxalism, critics of Salva Judum are talking about the displacement of the people.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Osama Bin Laden and Beyond

With Afghanistan in his pocket, Kayani agreed to bin Laden’s dramatic killing

By Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab

To look forward beyond Osama bin Laden, it is essential that the present be known. This is the hard part, as both the United States and Pakistan, equally complicit in the bin Laden killing plot, are hiding more than revealing. While stakes for both are high, the Pakistanis hold better cards in the aftermath of bin Laden exit. For the US, it was important to kill bin Laden in as spectacular fashion as he did the 9/11. This would boost US’ chances of getting its boys home from Afghanistan earlier than expected. However, the condition was that the Pakistan Army could not be trampled upon. This is the reason for the song and dance by US President Barack Obama and his key advisors absolving its dubious partner of insincerity.

In his opening announcement on bin Laden killing, Obama did not forget to mention Pakistan’s cooperation in counter-terrorism. His chief counter-terrorism advisor, John Brennan, while standing before cameras within 48 hours of bin Laden killing, refused to accuse Pakistan of anything; much out of context, he noted that Pakistan, since 9/11 had captured and killed more terrorists than any country. Once the domestic heat built upon the Pakistan Army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani and his ISI buddy, Lt. General Shuja Pasha for complicity or incompetence, the US National Security Advisor, Tom Donilon decided to forego his Sunday holiday on May 8 and appeared on five of six US talk shows. He hammered the single point that the US had no information to suggest that Pakistani security establishment knew of bin Laden’s whereabouts in their midst.

Regarding incompetence, the US has put out stories of their radar-evading helicopters and brilliant human-intelligence that led to bin Laden. This theory has been seconded by former Pakistan Army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, who disclosed that Pakistani air defence systems on the Afghanistan front are weak if not non-existent. Contrary to the Abraham Lincoln wisdom that you cannot fool all people all the time, the US and Pakistan seems to have pulled the feat, at least for now. However, FORCE, which has followed the story, has a different view of what happened. With minor variations on details, we believe that the Pakistan Army (ISI is a part of it, and not an independent entity) has sold a stone for a precious diamond; Osama bin Laden had not only outlived his usefulness, but was an impediment in the follow-on plot of reconciliation with the Taliban in Afghanistan. He had to be dispensed with.

While it may be true that the US got a vague lead on bin Laden six months ago through a Guantanamo detainee, it could not have zeroed-in on to bi Laden’s house in Abbottabad without Kayani’s complicity. The story about CIA hiring a neighbourhood house to watch bin Laden’s activities is simply incredible. It would also be wrong to suggest that Kayani succumbed to the US pressure to confirm bin Laden’s abode; had he wanted he could have moved bin Laden and his entourage to another place. Osama bin Laden was moved to the military cantonment under Kayani’s (then, ISI chief) watch six years ago, to be used as a triumph card subsequently against the US. Another reason was to maintain a watch and hold on the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, the leader of the Quetta Shura, who had sacrificed Afghanistan for bin Laden’s friendship. During the protracted banishment, once friends, bin Laden and Mullah Omar drifted apart ideologically. Osama bin Laden propagated global Jihad while Mullah Omar was fighting to regain Afghanistan from the US (reports emerging after bin Laden’s killing clearly suggest that the two had not communicated since years).

Washington, with overstretched military capabilities amidst a recession, and with NATO allies threatening to quit the war, wanted an honourable exit from Afghanistan. The way out for the US was to have a reconciliation government (Hamid Karzai and Taliban) in Afghanistan, an invisible US military presence to keep the Taliban and Pakistani misadventures in check, and to be part of a regional assistance effort for Afghanistan. While Pakistan has an essential role in the formation of the reconciliation Afghanistan government, the CIA with proven predator capability and in cooperation (whatever possible) with the ISI would maintain US intelligence footprint in Pakistan. It is not a coincidence that the US overall forces commander, General David Petraeus will be the new CIA chief.

Four recent events settled the Afghanistan chessboard with the US, Pakistan, Taliban and Karzai as key players. The first was the unprecedented April 16 meeting in Kabul in which Kayani and Shuja Pasha took Premier Yusuf Raza Gilani to meet President Karzai. Until now the two sides were talking separately with the US; it was time to settle Afghanistan, politically and from security perspective, face-to-face. Once the future of Afghanistan was agreed in which both Karzai and Mullah Omar would have prominent roles, it was time to free senior Taliban leaders from captivity. Within days, news came of the Kandahar jail break-out where 450 Talibans helped themselves to freedom. This was assurance for Mullah Omar that he was onboard. These developments pleased Kayani so much that the usually reticent Pakistan Army chief could not suppress his glee during his April 23 visit to Kakul Military Academy; stone throw from bin Laden’s house. His remarks that Pakistan had broken the back of terrorism sounded out of context on that day. The final event was curtains for bin Laden. To make it dramatic, the US insisted that bin Laden had to die in his present house; he could not be shifted elsewhere. With so much in his pocket, Kayani agreed. He could not be unaware of the risks he was taking; his own and his army’s reputation was at stake. After all, he would have delivered Afghanistan to Pakistan.

It will be a while before frayed nerves in the US and Pakistan calm down. The US Congress needs to know why an unreliable ally should be rewarded, just as Pakistanis are asking hard questions about the holy cow, its army. The coming months will see a lot. The formation of the Afghanistan reconciliation government, the announcement of a quick US drawdown of troops from the war zone, financial and military assistance for Pakistan, and release of US armed drones for the Pakistan Army to name a few. Where does this leave India which has invested over USD1.3 billion in development in Afghanistan and had hoped that the US military presence would remain in the war torn country long enough for a regional effort to emerge. The latter will still happen, but having been fence-sitters, India will be sidelined by Pakistan, China and Iran for the regional role in Afghanistan.

Friday, April 29, 2011

US Fighters out of MMRCA Race

By Pravin Sawhney

With both United States aircraft, Boeing’s Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin’s Super Viper IN (F-16) out of the race for the over USD 10billion Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) deal, relations between India and the US are headed for a nosedive, requiring a major holistic review by both sides. more

By timing his resignation announcement on 28 April 2011 within hours of the Indian defence ministry rejecting the US aircraft, US ambassador to India, Timothy J. Roemer has on behalf of his government made known the displeasure.

There is little gainsaying that it was the US defence industry that gave the needed push to see the Indo-US nuclear agreement through in the US Congress. This was because the George W. Bush administration had made it clear that the bilateral 10-years Defence Framework signed on 28 June 2005 was the centre-piece of the civil nuclear agreement penned three weeks later on 18 July 2005. The new bilateral cosiness had sprung from the sudden announcement made by US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice in Delhi on 16 March 2005 that the US would help India become a major power. While the US never publicly spelt out what it meant, comfort was drawn from Rice’s article written in Foreign Affairs magazine (January-February 2000) that: ‘There is a strong tendency conceptually to connect India and Pakistan and to think only of Kashmir or the nuclear competition between the two states. But India is an element in China’s calculation, and should be in America’s too.’ Neither side gave much thought to the fundamental issue that a strategic relationship between the US and India would be unequal: the US mantra was non-proliferation, while India harped on civil nuclear energy. Regarding defence, India wanted high technology, while the US desired a tighter embrace. The US wanted deeper bilateral military ties leading to commonality of equipment, implying majority Indian combat equipment be of US origin. Mutual frustration was writ large in the partnership.

Specific to the MMRCA, there are two issues, operational and strategic. From the IAF’s viewpoint, while the US aircraft may have fulfilled all desired mission requirements, both US entries have vintage designs. Thus, it is unrealistic to expect them to have superb aerodynamics flexibility for the entire 40-years life of MMRCA. Both short-listed finalists, Eurofighter and Rafale are new designs. But India knew this all along, then why was this not said earliest, is the question the US will ask. Reacting to the news of down selection, Boeing has said that it will seek a de-brief from the IAF and then decide its options. This matter, thus, will not settle amicably; the Original Equipment Manufacturer’s (OEM) grudge will be that it spent over USD 500,000 for technical evaluations. The other issue that the IAF will not say openly, but would have impressed upon the defence ministry is the reliability factor. Who would stand guaranty for assured product support of US combat aircraft in case of a war with either Pakistan or China? Then, there will be issues of OEM inspection (specific to the US) of its sold aircraft to India, and the fact that India has not signed certain critical US agreements (Logistics Supply Agreement, Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreement, and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation) for sale of high technology. What happens when the IAF would want to upgrade US combat aircraft with state-of-art technology are questions for which the government will have few answers.

At the strategic level, New Delhi feels repeatedly let-down by the US. On the one hand, the US is asking much more than India can give on the implementation of the civil nuclear deal. On the other hand, the US has conveniently blinked on the illegal gifting of two more nuclear reactors to Pakistan by China. It is known that Pakistan’s nuclear programme is for building nuclear weapons alone, and US Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Admiral Mike Mullen has admitted that Pakistan’s fissile material stocks are growing exponentially. Then, there are terrorism and Afghanistan issues, where the US has often snubbed India in favour of an unreliable ally. Is the MMRCA pay-back time for India? Ironically, what the US aircraft OEMs do in the coming months will have a definitive impact on the Indian indigenous industry. After all, it is the US defence industry’s arrival in India that has seen awakening of the indigenous defence industry.

Battle of the Pulpit

By Ghazala Wahab

A new breed of puritan Muslims are emerging in Kashmir. They are young, often educated, wear regular clothes (not ankle revealing trousers), no skull caps and hardly wear beard. They stand apart from the regular Salafis in terms of both appearance as well as conduct. They rarely proselytise openly and detest drawing attention to themselves. A retired police officer of the J&K cadre calls them ‘ultra radicals’ or the ‘secret radicals’.

“They are more Wahhabi than the Wahhabis,” he says. While a large number of them are members of Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadis, what makes them a reason to worry is that they do not believe in the separation of religion and politics to the extent that they are convinced that as faithful Muslims, it is their job to work towards the creation of a land for the Muslims. Given Maulana Shaukat’s — the recently assassinated president of Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadis — tentative forays in politics, which he frequently tempered with his all-placating, moderate beliefs, a large number of young members were getting impatient with him. “At one time, the Maulana was very popular in his organisation, both in Kashmir as well as the rest of the country,” says the unnamed bureaucrat. “But once he started hobnobbing with the Hurriyat a few years ago, he was ticked off by the national executive of Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadis in Delhi, which did not want the organisation, otherwise focussed on religion and education, to be dragged into politics.”

In Kashmir, while a segment within Ahl-e-Hadis wanted the organisation to show more commitment to the cause of Kashmir, another group wanted it to retain its core competency. For a long while, Maulana Shaukat struggled to strike a balance between the two. Distancing himself gradually from politics, despite his close association with JKLF’s Yasin Malik, Maulana Shaukat was focussing on building an Islamic university in Kashmir for which he had got funding from Saudi Arabia. The university itself was going to be affiliated with the Medina university of Saudi, which specialises in Islamic studies offering Bachelor’s and Master’s degree courses. Though talking to FORCE on 10 October 2010, Maulana Shaukat said, “Our Islamic university will also teach secular subjects like science and mathematics. Our focus will not be religion alone. We want to give quality education to our children so that they are able to compete with the best in the world.” Maulana Shaukat also claimed that he was already in talks with several educationists in Delhi for creating a superior faculty for the Islamic university. Interestingly, the Kashmir chapter of Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadis claims to have a cadre base of 15 lakh and runs 150 schools all over the state. It also does charity work.

According to a senior government official, most of this consolidation of assets and creation of a network of educational institutions happened during Maulana Shaukat’s tenure, who became the president in 2001. “In the beginning, Maulana was very popular and he won the elections for the president thrice by overwhelming majority. But in the last elections, he just about managed to get enough votes,” says the government official. “The younger lot within the Jamiat were not happy with him. Moreover, he controlled lot of funds, ostensibly for the religious and educational purposes.”

Without casting aspersions on the work that late Maulana Shaukat did in Kashmir, it is important to place Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadis in context to understand its role in Kashmir and the future potential of the organisation. Despite its professed religious and educational character, the organisation, from time to time flirted with militant groups like (according to Kashmir police) Tehreek-ul-Mujahideen, which was once affiliated with Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadees. In a press conference after the police claimed to arrest the killers of Maulana Shaukat, IGP, S.M. Sahai said that a radical religious organisation, Saut-ul-Haq hatched the conspiracy to kill the Maulana. Subsequently, a Kashmiri journalist familiar with both Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadees and Saut-ul-Haq told FORCE that the latter was the ultra radical offshoot of the former and several young people were members of both organisations.

It is not difficult to presume why Ahl-e-Hadees flirted with politics. One of the earliest orthodox groups to find its way in Kashmir was Jamaat-e-Islami founded in 1941 by Aurangabad-born Maulana Maududi who in those days was opposed to the idea of Partition. He dreamt of a Muslim India. However, once Pakistan became a reality, he moved en masse to Pakistan and Jamaat-e-Islami shrunk in India. A chapter was formed in Kashmir instead, even though there were not many takers in the early days. The syncretic Islam that Kashmiris followed was an amalgamation of Islamic and pre-Islamic traditions and culture, including visiting shrines and adhering to tenets of Sufism; hence the puritan nature of Jamaat-e-Islami’s Wahhabi- or Salafi-inspired Islam did not appeal to them much. It was far too dry.

Gradually, however, Jamaat’s influence started to grow in areas where Jamaatis managed to lure educationists and local politicians. Educational and political patronage helped in establishing its own mosques and madrassas in the state. Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadees followed by registering itself in 1953. It also started building its own mosques and madrassas. Incidentally, prayer (namaz) can be offered anywhere. The only reason, various sects build their own mosques is to keep their flock together and also to constantly indoctrinate them through sermons which follow the Friday afternoon prayers. Sermons are seldom purely religious. Even in a place like Delhi, Imam Bukhari of the Jama Masjid was once infamous for his hugely political and religiously rousing oratory. Today, in Kashmir, people prefer going to their sect-specific mosques, which completely negates the spirit of Islam, which envisioned a class and sect-less society.

In the early years, the advantage that Jamaat-e-Islami had was its close ties with Pakistan, which gave it a better political leverage, especially among the Separatist elements in J&K, with SAS Geelani being its more recognisable face. Once violence rebellion broke out in Kashmir, Jamaat-e-Islami supported and funded the creation of religiously radical pro-Pakistan Hizbul Mujahideen to arrest the rise of secular, pro-independence JKLF. However, once the democratic political process started in the late Nineties, Jamaat-e-Islami started playing both sides of the fence. It leaned over towards Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s People’s Democratic Party, so much so, that in the last assembly elections Jamaat-e-Islami instructed its cadre to collectively vote for the PDP.

Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadees lost this early advantage because of lack of political patronage. However, during Maulana Shaukat’s tenure it tried to do a similar balancing act by cultivating JKLF’s Yasin Malik on the one hand and befriending Congress’ Ghulam Nabi Azad on the other. One of the biggest Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadees’ mosque in Srinagar is located in Maisuma, which is where Yasin Malik lives and wields influence. Maulana Shaukat died at the steps of this mosque. On the other hand, Maulana Shaukat’s closeness with Azad got him government land for the proposed Islamic university. Congress, which has a history of tangoing with religious groups (in Punjab, it first cultivated Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and later Sant Longowal) for political gains, probably had its eyes on the 15 lakh cadre of Jamiat-e-Ahl-e-Hadees, which is not a measly number.

From the perspective of the religious organisations, their interest lies in increasing their numbers and influence. “It’s a battle of pulpit,” says the retired police officer. And the games that political parties play only add to their clout. However, all this is happening at the cost of a society which is increasingly getting radicalised and aligning itself with the larger Muslim world outside Kashmir. “The younger generation today does not believe in shrines or Kashmiriyat any longer,” says the officer.

A young superintendent of police in Sopore, Altaf Ahmed Khan, reinforces this when he says, “A lot of young people in Kashmir are kicked about the idea of global jihad. A very systematic process of indoctrination has been going on in the state. Altaf is one of those rare police officers who have been observing these trends very closely. According to him, “Rampant religious radicalisation is happening in Kashmir which is dangerous for our future. Unless we address it seriously now, time will run out.” Altaf has been brushing up his knowledge of Islam and Islamic traditions because as he says, “One has to counter religious arguments in favour of Jihad through religion. People do not realise that there are 35 verses on Jihad in Quran, out of which 31 have nothing to do with violence. Young impressionable people do not understand the difference between state of Islam and Islamic state.”

The biggest threat of radicalisation is that it creates a sense of religious exclusivism and superiority. While not all radicals turn to terrorism, their world view makes them susceptible to recruitment by terrorist groups. Altaf admits that in his area of operation he has come across several instances of young radical boys being lured by terrorists outfit. “Last year 22 boys from Sopore, mainly Jamaat-e-Islami followers, went missing. I believe at least 16 of them are already terrorists.”

Old Kashmiris are still nostalgic about their Kashmiri Pandit brothers and the old way of life. But those who were born in the Nineties have no connection with that part of their heritage, which is increasingly being laid to waste. Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi (of the famous Azamgarh district) used to say that if each Muslim boy had three-four non-Muslim friends and each Hindu boy had at least one Muslim friend, the problem of religious extremism would disappear from India. A new generation of Kashmiris no longer have this advantage. They find themselves closer to the mujahideens in Afghanistan and Pakistan than their Pandit brothers. If the Kashmiri culture of tolerance and syncretism is lost completely it will be a tragedy for Kashmir, and a threat for India.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Flying the F-16

By Ghazala Wahab

When the call from the doctor didn’t come it was clear that clinically I have been declared fit to fly Lockheed Martin’s flagship fighter F-16. The only thing left to do now was adequate psyching up to take the pressure off. So, when a colleague expressed envy at ‘my chance of the lifetime’ to fly the fighter during Aero India 2011, I shrugged. After all, despite the choice of words, I wouldn’t really be flying, I reasoned. I would be a mere passenger. “All you know,” I joked frequently over the next few days, “I would doze off in the backseat.” This was a good strategy. It settled my nerves and gave me an air of nonchalance.

On the third day of Aero India, at three in the afternoon, I sauntered inside the Lockheed Martin stand with the feeling of semi-detachment. My flight was scheduled to take-off at five in the evening and touch down at 6.18pm. There was much bonhomie at the Lockheed stand, a bit of locker-room spirit, cheers and some back-slapping. Without much fuss, I was ushered into the small room with the flight simulator for preliminary familiarisation.

Jeff Paulk, tasked for the job, was the person I had met a year ago in Delhi. With him at the helm, I had done simulator flying for fun at that time. However, now there was purposefulness in his manner. “We have done this before,” he said in a business-like voice. “I hope you remember some of this,” he continued helping me clamber onto the simulator. My smile, which I am told by many is reasonably winsome, didn’t help as Jeff expected an answer. Sure, the simulator looked extremely familiar, but what’s with remembering commands after a year!

Anyhow, he gave me a quick rundown of the layout of the cockpit: stick on my right, throttle on my left, multi-function displays in the front. “You better pay attention,” he said. “You would be doing some amount of flying.” He can’t be serious. A few minutes of cockpit familiarisation and I would be trusted with a fighter? He thought it was a lame joke and continued explaining various aspects of the flight, target acquisition, dropping bombs, dog-fight, ground-mapping and so on. “There will be a lot of commands that will be with you,” he warned, even as he urged me to push forward the throttle. Talk of pressure. With much trepidation, I clutched the throttle and pushed. Full after-burners and the fighter took-off. I regained some of my composure. After all, what is the worst that can happen inside a simulator? But Jeff had other ideas. No sooner had I started to enjoy simulated cruising, he drew my attention to an unfriendly aircraft close by. I also had to take care of some targets on the ground.

I blinked at the series of buttons in front of me and looked at Jeff nervously. He rapidly issued instructions, most of which I pretended to understand. It didn’t help that my photographer was busy taking pictures reinforcing the idea that I was on a picnic. Since I could not shoot the enemy aircraft, I shot at my photographer instead. Subdued, he retired to one corner as I awaited further annihilation. Finally, it was over and Jeff smiled. “You did not do so badly,” he pronounced pushing me out of the room. “You will be fine,” he said as we walked towards the golf cart that was to take us to the flight line. “Everyone comes back from the flight smiling,” he said. I felt better.

My relief, however, was short-lived. The crew room at the flight line was a friendly place. There were several Lockheed Martin executives and former USAF pilots lounging around. Jeff quickly introduced me to the pilot in whose hands my life was going to be entrusted: Jim ‘Benson’ Hedges. Nothing to do with cigarettes, he assured me. With a surname like ‘Hedges’, it was only natural that he would end up with ‘Benson’ as his call sign. Jim Hedges quit the USAF a few years ago and now works with Lockheed as chief of F-16 Block 60 Pilot Training Development based in Abu Dhabi, UAE. He basically instructs the Arab pilots on F-16 Block 60. Since the F-16IN Super Viper, which the Lockheed is offering to the Indian Air Force is based on the Block 60, Jim hopes to shift base to India if F-16 is selected.

Jim was warm and particular about putting me at ease. “You can call me either Jim or Benson,” he said with an engaging smile. “Let me tell you, I am not just a pilot, I am a photographer too and I will be taking my camera with me on the flight,” he said glancing at the FORCE photographers who had by now got into a competitive mood as to who will take how many photos. But nothing dissuaded determined photographers and they stood their ground; which was more than what I was doing. Despite the general bonhomie and efforts at making me feel comfortable, I could sense pressure mounting. And it was not in my mind alone.

After a brief banter, Jim handed me over to Ricky, who was to help with fighter pilot’s gear, overalls, boots, ‘G’-suit, helmet, oxygen mask and the works. Ricky was almost paternal in his demeanour and he set about his job in a very concerned manner. Once I was kitted in and ready to go, Ricky gestured me towards the closest chair. Very patiently, he started to explain things that can go wrong during the flight and various rescue routines. “There could be a problem with the aircraft on the runway itself,” he said sombrely, “the engine could be on fire and you would have to abort the flight. If this happens, you will hear Jim’s voice in your headphones, saying egress, egress, egress. On the third call, remember the 2-1-2 routine,” he said matter-of-factly. The routine basically involved unhooking two shoulder plugs, one seat belt and two side hooks, all of which collectively pin you down to your seat.

Jim, who was passing through, piped in with his advice. “I’ll probably be able to unhook myself faster so I will be able to help you,” he said, adding, “Nevertheless, you will have to leap onto the fuel tank and jump off the aircraft.” Jump? Without the ladder? “Of course,” he said. “There will be no time for the ladder. And you will have to get off the runway as fast as you can. More pilots have been hurt by the rushing fire-tankers than jumping off the aircraft.” Having made his point, Jim carried on as Ricky gave me a sympathetic look.

Patting my knee, he continued. “There can be an emergency during the flight where you will be required to eject. You will hear Jim’s voice saying eject, eject, eject. On the third call, the canopy will fly open and before you can even blink, you will be in the air, merrily cruising towards the ground with your parachute.” Jim returned. “However, your worse nightmare would be a bird-hit that knocks me off,” Jim said. “You’ll know it because you will see feathers all over the cockpit.” Sure, I wouldn’t have noticed that we were going to crash. “In such a situation, you will have to eject us both. Once you are in the aircraft you will notice the ejection cord between your legs.”

Ricky patted both my knees. “Whatever happens, you must remember the most important thing,” he said gently. “You must have fun.” Yeah, between emergencies on the ground and emergencies in the air, I will certainly have fun. Time for the ‘G’ suit, Ricky announced and produced a contraption that looked more like a manacle. It fitted snugly around my waist, thighs and calves with a loop at the back to provide seat in case I return to earth on a parachute. Walking with the ‘G’ suit was odd, forget about the added weight. By now I had internalised all the emergencies routines and was actually looking forward to the flight. Or maybe I wanted to get it over with fast.

Walking towards the aircraft, I asked Jim, “Is it necessary to fly for an hour and 18 minutes?” “We can do less if you want,” he said quickly. As I weighed my answer, he added, “I have kept an hour and 18 minutes for you. Let me know how you feel during the flight and we will decide then.” Ricky accompanied us to the aircraft, primarily to ensure that I was fitted in snugly. I was given tiny ear muffs to ward off the noise over which I pushed down the helmet which plastered my hair to my scalp. Then came the oxygen mask which pressed so hard against my cheek bones that I had to constantly hold it down. Watching me do this, Ricky got anxious. “Are you claustrophobic, he enquired. “Not at all,” I said firmly putting the mask back, cheekbones be damned.

“Though you won’t be flying at altitudes where you will require oxygen,” Ricky explained, “you need to wear the mask to speak with Jim during the flight because the mouth-piece is fitted in inside.” By this time Jim had settled down in the front seat and we quickly went over all the commands and instructions once again.

As we waited for the ATC clearance, Jim ran me through the stuff we were going to do in the air. There would be some basic manoeuvres, like rolls and loops, target acquisition and so on. Jim also assured me that he will create a few emergencies for me to respond to. For instance, at some stage during the flight he will pretend to be a rookie pilot who has got disoriented after a couple of loops. He will allow the aircraft to free fall and call out to me for help. All I’ll have to do is remove my hand from the stick and push a button called PARS on the right-hand side panel. PARS stands for Pilot Activated Recovery System, and according to Jim is unique to F-16 Block 60.

However, the most important aspect of this flight was going to be the AESA radar. Jim said, “The F-16 Block 60 is the only fighter in the MMRCA competition that has operational AESA radar. This is the reason we have brought the leased the aircraft from the UAE Air Force with the AESA radar. No other aircraft at Aero India is flying with AESA radar.” Hence, a good portion of the flight would focus on demonstrating the capabilities of Northrop Grumman’s APG-80 AESA radar.

Finally, we got the green signal, the canopy closed and we started to taxi. As Jim kept up the chatter it took him a few minutes to realise that he could not hear me. Take-off was aborted, canopy was raised and Ricky came running with a new mask. This one worked and we resumed taxiing. However, having lost a few minutes, we missed our take-off window and had to wait for a couple of landings and a take-off before we could take off. While we were waiting, Jim got IAF’s An-32 on the radar screen much before we could see it in the sky against the setting sun. We kept tracking the aircraft on the MFD till it landed. Jim said that we could lock on to the aircraft much before it became aware of our presence.

After a wait of nearly 20 minutes we were cleared to fly. As the fighter accelerated on the runway and I was pinned against by back-rest, Jim asked me to arm my seat which basically means making it ejection-ready by hooking it onto the parachute. No sooner had I pushed the lever, F-16 left the ground in one smooth swoop. Whoops! I nearly screamed looking down the glass cockpit. Sweeping at an angle, the aircraft continued to rise with the sun behind us. Jim first rolled to the right and without giving me a chance to recover rolled to the left. It was exhilarating. When I told Jim that it was fun, he urged me to wield the stick and do the barrel roll on my own. “And keep your eyes on the central display,” he said. “That is where you track the ‘G’s”. The stick operates almost on suggestions. A gentle tug to the right and the aircraft started to roll. “Faster, faster,” yelled Jim. “Now pull the stick,” he said and the aircraft went nose up in air. On the central display, the figures went from 2G to 3G. I felt my g-suit inflate a bit pushing against my stomach and thighs, blood draining from my hands momentarily, but it was over quickly.

“How do you feel?” asked Jim. I was alright. Encouraged, Jim said that I seemed ready for 5G. I didn’t want to commit myself to 5G, so I let Jim interpret my silence. He interpreted it as an affirmative. And once again we went nose up. The G-suit inflated, pushing the air out of my lungs. I remembered what Ricky told me about breathing. I clenched my thighs and abdomen and started to suck in and push the air out fiercely. Goggle-eyed I stared at the MFD: 2G... 3G... 4G... 5G... “We have done five,” I screamed in the mouthpiece. ...6G “Are we doing more than five?” I screamed again. My hands barely had any sensation. Equally suddenly the fighter nose-dived straight towards the ground.

We had completed the loop. Before I could savour the sensation of having done over 5G, Jim’s voice crackled, “I am disoriented, you will have to set the aircraft right. You know what to do, don’t you.” Oh yes, I smiled to myself as I caught sight of the PARS button. But my hand refused to go there. My body cannot give up on me just when my spirit was soaring. Using my left hand to give the right one a shove, I pushed the PARS button just in time. In one swing movement, the fighter rose again till it was flying parallel to the ground.

We were now flying directly towards the sun; though the sun-visor on the helmet protected the eyes, the visibility was pretty hazy. Jim turned the radar on. Among various other things, APG-80 AESA radar can perform three functions simultaneously: it can search and acquire air to air targets, it can acquire air to ground targets and it can map the terrain at the same time. Jim tracked one aircraft and zoomed in for my benefit. At the same time, on the other screen I could see a cluster of buildings in which Jim searched for the purported target. The third screen was mapping the terrain, comprising a hillock and what looked like mines.

I had practised target acquisition and bomb-dropping in the simulator but doing this while in the air gave a completely different meaning to fighter flying. It was a good thing we were flying without weapons. After a few more twists and turns we dived again to land. Just as quickly as we had taken off we landed. Despite the speed, there was no thud. It was the gentlest ever touch-down. Putting the seat back in the safe mode, I finally took off the oxygen mask and the helmet. The canopy opened and I was happy to feel the cool evening breeze on my face. The sun had set, leaving a red stain in the sky.

In the fading lights of the day, Jim and I walked towards the crew room. “I believe,” he said, “the F-16 that we are offering to India is the best for its needs.” I wanted to sit down for a moment, maybe rest awhile. Jim nodded. “You must be feeling tired,” he said gently. “It happens when you fly for the first time. I smiled at him. He was ready for another flight.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


By Ghazala Wahab

The Libyan supreme commander Col Muammar Gaddafi has turned out to be more obdurate than what the world imagined. Perhaps, there should have been no surprise in this. Gaddafi, who has ruled Libya with a messianic fervour, believes that he is God’s chosen one; which is why he rules without holding any office. Offices, with their attendant powers and responsibilities are for the ordinary, not for the one who rules by divine sanction. Hence, anyone who opposes Gaddafi opposes the will of God and must be silenced with whichever means possible.

In this spring of freedom, the biggest dictators have bowed down to the domestic will coupled with international pressure. Sure, they did not go easily. Both Zine El Abidine of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt tried to suppress the uprising in the initial days. And those who did not go have made promises of civil liberties and better life to their people, whether they will be kept or not is another story. But none deployed the air force or heavy armoury against their own people, except of course Gaddafi.

But I shouldn’t have been surprised. In 1996, I had an opportunity to visit Libya. One dubious Delhi-based non-government organisation put together a delegation comprising relatives and friends to give a peace award to Gaddafi. To give this delegation a degree of credibility and professionalism, a few journalists were invited to jump on the bandwagon. Clearly, both the award and the delegation were sponsored by Libya. I presume, most respectable journalists would have declined to become part of this racket. Hence, my editor asked me, a newcomer to the profession, to go on this five-day jamboree, during which we were supposed to meet Gaddafi. Because of the sanctions, no international flights were allowed into Libya. Hence, from India we flew to Paris, spent the night there, took a flight to Tunis City in Tunisia the following day, yet another flight to the beach town of Djerba and finally from Djerba we drove to Libya at night.

Even in darkness, we knew the moment we crossed into Libya. Giant posters of Gaddafi, lit up at night welcomed us at the border where our passports were confiscated by the border security. Since we reached our hotel in Tripoli in the early hours, we were encouraged to sleep in. Later that day, an escort team came to show us around Tripoli. The first stop was the war museum, the old Presidential palace which was bombed 10 years ago by the US. Each broken column and shrapnel was preserved. It was a fascinating walk till we reached what used to be the private quarters of Qaddafi. In the middle of the room was a baby cot, complete with duvet and mosquito net.

“This is where His Excellency’s adopted daughter Hanna was asleep when the American bomb killed her,” said the escort in hushed tone, in obvious deference to dead. Wasn’t it strange, I asked him, when everyone, Gaddafi and each of his children had the opportunity to run away before the bombing (they were warned about the impending bombing either by the Italian or the Maltese government), how come no one remembered to pick up the infant? The escort ignored the question and we moved into the next room. I whispered to my accompanist, “Obviously, the girl was not picked up because she was an adopted child and good propaganda material.” He looked at me with horror. The escort was looking directly at us.

That evening I had visitors in my room: Our day escort came with a woman who he introduced as his wife. “You are an enthusiastic journalist. I am sure you want to know more about Libya. You can ask us anything.” His ‘wife’ did not speak a word of English. She gave a sort of oral presentation in rapid Arabic, which the escort duly translated. There was no room for any questions. In any case, neither of us knew what the other was saying and had to depend completely on the escort. After a few minutes, I realised that I was being tutored on how great the supreme commander is and what sacrifices he has made for the people of Libya. Before leaving he gave me a copy of the ‘Green Book’, Gaddafi’s gospel, with the instructions that I must read it before I ask more questions.

We were supposed to meet Gaddafi the next day, but he suddenly decided to retreat to his desert camp for a few days. We were told by our escort that we should use this time to get to know Libya better. In any case, there wasn’t much to do. There was no television, no international calling in our rooms and we were not allowed to go out of the hotel on our own. In the day time we used to do sight-seeing and in the evening, I was singled out for further education. Every evening our escort used to bring a different person to my room to give me a lecture on Libya. One evening, he brought along a poet who was declared the national poet of Libya by the supreme commander himself. Needless to say, his collection of work included several paeans to Gaddafi.

After five days, I was tired and homesick. I requested the head of the delegation if I could return to India. He first tried to persuade me to stay on, but when I told him that I was missing my family far too much as I had not been able to even talk with them, he assured me that he would do his best to help me. That evening nobody came to my room. But after midnight, somebody knocked on my door. There were two men, looking reasonably menacing. They warned me that if I insist on returning before the completion of the tour they would put me on a ship to Malta. I was truly shaken up. As part of the delegation was an elderly journalist, who knew the Indian ambassador in Tripoli. Next morning, at breakfast I narrated the incident to him. He promised to get a word across to the Indian ambassador. The biggest hurdle was that we did not have our passports. That night, there were knocks on my door again. The following morning the escort came to see me. He told me to reconsider my decision, failing which he shrugged, “Very well,” he said. “This is a free country. If you want to go we cannot stop you.” I got my passport back during the day and was told to prepare to leave the next morning. I slept fitfully that night.

It was still dark when I was woken up by forceful thumping on my door. It was the escort who came to accompany me till Djerba. As I came down with my luggage, I realised that I would be alone with him and the chauffeur all through the journey. All sorts of dreadful possibilities raced through my mind as we drove in silence for a few hours. Finally, just as the day broke, we reached Djerba airport. The escort gave me my return tickets and drove off. Finally, I could breathe again.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Games DRDO Plays

By Pravin Sawhney

Tall claims and empty boasts seem to have become the hallmark of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The proclivity of the Director General, DRDO, Dr V.K. Saraswat and his team to exaggerate its achievements would be amusing to discerning people. Unfortunately, this amusement has grave national security implications and Dr Saraswat, a ballistic missile expert with the indigenous Prithvi ballistic missile being his crowning glory, should know this better than most.

As the director general, DRDO, he is leading the nation’s home-grown Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) programme. The claims made by him about the recently tested-fired Dhanush and Prithvi II ballistic missiles on March 11 and the BMD Endo-atmospheric interceptor test on March 6 are exaggerated beyond imagination. These should have been put into perspective by the Indian defence correspondents and experts, not only for domestic but international consumption as well, because the Pakistani establishment, while ignoring DRDO’s claims on Prithvi, utilises the boasts about the BMD to its strategic advantage.

Making use of Saraswat’s chest-thumping, Pakistan is going ahead full throttle to more than match India’s humble BMD technological achievements; if at all, the programme is decades away from fruition. According to US intelligence, while ahead of India in ballistic missiles capabilities since 2001, General Headquarters, Rawalpindi continues to increase its inventory of nuclear weapons’ land vector by citing India’s BMD claims as a destabilising factor. This writer had first-hand experience of this a few months ago. During the alumni meet at the Cooperative Monitoring Centre (Sandia National Laboratory) at Albuquerque, US in October 2010, a former director of Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division, Brigadier Feroz Khan argued that India’s growing BMD capability had forced Pakistan to build more ballistic missiles.

Given its unbridled inventory, it is a matter of time before the Pakistan Army will alter its war-fighting doctrine to align it with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army thinking. While supplementing air power, the difference between combat aircraft and ballistic missiles will narrow down to tighter control of the latter. This will upset the Indian Air Force combat numbers superiority over the Pakistan Air Force and force the Indian Army to review its operational level pro-active strategy, referred to as the Cold Start doctrine in the media, against the Pakistan Army. Given such implications, the defence minister needs to restrain Saraswat and the DRDO from making irresponsible statements. Apparently after the recent claims on the BMD project, defence minister A.K. Antony has expressed his displeasure to Saraswat.

Prithvi and Dhanush

A brief history and technological limitations of the indigenous Prithvi ballistic missile are in order. The development of surface-to-surface Prithvi ballistic missile was sanctioned by the government in 1983 under the Integrated Guided Missiles Development Programme. As Prithvi was an offshoot of ISRO’s civilian Space Launch Vehicle (SLV), its development commenced without the General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQR) — technical requirements given by the user, that is, defence services, to the research organisation — implying that the defence services were neither consulted nor were they interested (ballistic missiles were still unknown to them) in the programme. As happens with most indigenous programmes, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi personally goaded the army in 1988 to accept Prithvi in order to encourage the indigenous product. Considering the Prime Minister had intervened regarding a weapon system, it was easy for the DRDO to arm-twist the other two services, the navy and the air force to seek the missile with a few minor and not design changes to suit its medium of operations.

Thus, three versions of the same missile were created. The army’s Prithvi has a range of 150km with a 1,000kg payload. Working on the trade-off between weight of the warhead and the missile range, the IAF was offered the Prithvi (Prithvi II) with 250km range and 500kg payload. The IAF argued that it had little use for this missile, after all what was the point of a ballistic missile (with dubious accuracy) knocking off a few of enemy building (in a 500kg payload, 30 per cent space by volume would be occupied by the arming and fusing mechanisms, and onboard digital autopilot) and causing collateral damage.

The DRDO then took two steps. It announced to the media that Prithvi would be nuclear capable as well — this statement took care of the accuracy issue as with nuclear warheads accuracy becomes less important — and it decided to increase the warhead by making the payload weight 750kg instead of 500kg. This was sought to be achieved by using boosted liquid propellant to generate greater thrust-to-weight ratio. Technically, if there is a 20 per cent change in the warhead weight or range, a ballistic missile requires a series of fresh testing. Then Prithvi project director, Saraswat, the present DG, DRDO, ruled out extensive testing saying that the air force variant will not be a new design. What is more, he claimed a Circular Error Probability, a measure of accuracy and consistency, of 25metres at full range (‘Boosting the Arsenal’ India Today, 29 February 1996), which is untrue even today. This labelled Prithvi a dual-use missile, which could be used with both conventional and nuclear warheads.

Enormous pressure was put on successive air force chiefs to accept the Prithvi II, so much so that the air force chief in 2006, when asked in a press conference (by me), was prompted to say that the IAF would get a squadron of Prithvi II missiles. Contrary to popular understanding, the reality is that the IAF does not have Prithvi II missiles, and to fast-forward the story, will never get them as Prithvi’s production has stopped. The few Prithvi II made by the DRDO are held by DRDO on behalf of the Strategic Forces Command (SFC), which was created on 4 January, 2003. The much publicised Prithvi II test-firing by the SFC on 11 March, 2011 was from these holdings.

To digress a bit, there is ambiguity about the SFC as well. Being a strategic command, the SFC should have under its command only those ballistic missiles (Agni series) which will be used with nuclear warheads. For example, the status of Army’s Prithvi missiles is unclear: two Prithvi missile units are held by the two artillery divisions suggesting they will be used with conventional warheads. However, their annual firing practice is under the aegis of SFC, which should mean they will have nuclear warheads. A dangerous situation has thus been created where the adversary (Pakistan) is uncertain whether Prithvi is indeed a dual-use missile. Moreover, as India does not have an understanding or agreement with Pakistan on the usage of various ballistic missiles (it was bilaterally sought under the Memorandum of Understanding signed as part of the 1999 Lahore Declaration), a misreading or a miscalculation about the warhead would have grave consequences.

Meanwhile, learning from the IAF’s doggedness, the DRDO agreed to do a number of test-firings for the naval version, Dhanush, with a purported range of 300km carrying a 1,000kg payload. It is worth noting that the first test of Dhanush done atop a surface ship on 11 April 2000 was a failure. This validated the IAF’s point that a new design requires extensive test-firings. Given the operational limitations of the missile (discussed later), the navy, like the IAF, has never been enthusiastic about Dhanush. The 11 March 2011 Dhanush test done from INS Suvarna is part of the validation process. Commenting on the recent tests of Prithvi II and Dhanush, Saraswat reportedly claimed that the missile had a CEP of less than 10 metres, implying that if the missile is fired at its full range, 82 per cent of the hits will be within a radius of 10 metres drawn around the bulls-eye. Not to be left behind, DRDO chief controller for life sciences (who has little to do with ballistic missiles), W. Selvamurthy claimed that the SFC, according to its strategy, can now attack a target from land and sea simultaneously. Considering that the land-based Prithvi version, given Pakistan’s elongated geography, can hit almost all valuable targets, what is the need for the navy to fire Dhanush? If indeed Dhanush was a successful nuclear weapon vector, what was the need for India to spend billion of rupees on developing the sea-based deterrence INS Arihant and its follow-on vessels?

Coming back to the army’s Prithvi, it has, at least, four major technical and operational limitations. One, when all countries with ballistic missiles use solid propellants, Prithvi uses liquid propellant, which is difficult to handle in the field and during tactical movements. While pre-filled Prithvi has shelf-life limitation (once filled, the liquid propellant cannot be emptied out and the missile will need to be destroyed), topping the missile in the field requires large preparatory time and utmost care (as the liquid propellant is highly corrosive to human skin), a luxury unavailable in the din of war. Two, the terminal velocity of the Prithvi is low, and hence high explosive monolith conventional warhead will not be able to penetrate the hardened fortifications on the international border between India and Pakistan. The reason for Prithvi’s low terminal velocity is that unlike the Chinese M-11 (which Pakistan has), the body of the Prithvi does not separate from the warhead. The pre-fragmented warhead will be effective against ‘soft targets’, but compared with the multi-barrel rocket launchers like Smerch and Pinaka, which the artillery has, the Prithvi fire will not be cost-effective and flexible. For this reason, the DRDO never developed the other advertised conventional warheads like pre-fragmented monolith, bomblet sub-munitions, and blast cum earth-shock munitions for Prithvi. Three, as Prithvi lacks a proven terminal guidance system, its accuracy and consistency for use with conventional warheads is unacceptable. As a general guideline, Prithvi’s CEP is 100m for 150km. All Prithvi tests have been done from pre-surveyed sites and hence are stage-managed. It can be argued that even in war, Prithvi could be fired from pre-surveyed sites, but this will be at the cost of battlefield flexibility. Considering that the BrahMos Land Attack Cruise Missile (LACM) gives a less than 10m CEP at full advertised range of 290km (its range is much more, but has been kept suppressed to adhere to Missile Technology Control Regime limits) with supersonic speed, the army has found it a far better option that Prithvi for depth and strategic targeting. And lastly, the Prithvi missile signature is huge as it rises upon firing; the enemy will find its general location with ease for counter bombardment.

Once the army acquired the BrahMos LACM, Smerch and Pinaka MBRLs, the future of Prithvi in its present design, with all its shortcomings, was sealed and its production stopped. As an aside, the IAF, which did not accept the Prithvi II, has acquired a regiment of BrahMos LACM. The government has decreed that the existing two regiments of Prithvi with the Indian artillery will eventually be replaced by Agni missiles (Agni-V whenever it enters service) and will be given to the SFC. Prithvi in all its manifestations is a dead dog that continues to be flogged by the DRDO for meaningless glory.

Ballistic Missile Defence

To place the 6 March 2011 Endo-atmospheric interception test at 15km altitude into perspective, a brief backgrounder on BMD is necessary. Any BMD has six essential elements. The first is the early warning system that is capable of signalling the launch of enemy’s ballistic missile as early as possible. Earliest detections are best done by satellite and by aircraft (AWACS and AEW&C), capabilities which India presently does not have. It is hoped that AEW&C networked capability should be available by 2015, which then will provide dual-advantage of providing early warning and early cue to the Long Range Tracking Radar (LRTR). The second element is the LRTR, with a range of mere 600km; called Swordfish, this is the DRDO’s name for acquired Israeli Green Pine radars. The third element is the Multi Functional Fire Control Radar (MFFCR), a short range, short wavelength radar which takes over from the LRTR, detects the small cross section of the hostile missile and passes the relevant information to the control centre, where necessary computations are done and hostile missile coordinates are relayed to the interceptor missiles. The DRDO has the Thales MFFCR will a range of 350km capable of detecting radar cross-section of 0.3sqm. The control centre called the battle management and command, control, communication and intelligence (BM/C3I) is the fourth element of the BMD system. The fifth and sixth elements are the two interceptors, one each in the Endo and Exo-atmosphere to simultaneously hit and kill the ballistic missile before its nuclear warhead gets activated.

As a general rule, the nuclear chain reaction, which then cannot be controlled, gets activated about 10km (airburst is achieved with proximity fuse for maximum casualties) above the earth. If the hostile payload that has the nuclear warhead gets a direct hit before the payload drops to this low height, the nuclear core will not get activated and it will not burst. It is evident that interceptor missiles with conventional warhead should be used only if it has 100 per cent accuracy to hit the bull’s eye. Otherwise, the preferred option for interceptor missile warhead is a nuclear warhead which while engaging the hostile missile ideally in Exo-atmosphere detonates its warhead by its blast (it need not be a direct hit), with the nuclear debris then suspended in space. In short, it should be nuclear warhead for nuclear warhead to destroy enemy’s long range missiles.

Moreover, 30km height is the dividing line between the atmosphere and space; below 30km is atmosphere and above 30km is space, two medium with different characteristics. It is evident that both the interceptors should be designed to hit the hostile missile as high as possible so that the destroyed missile’s debris falls as much away as possible from friendly territory. Thus, the Exo-interceptor should be able to engage at heights of 200km plus with hypersonic speeds to hit long range hostile missiles with ranges up to 5,000km coming at high speeds. If this hit is not achieved, the Endo-interceptor should then kill the missile the moment it is at 30km height and enters the atmosphere.

Given these facts, let’s examine what has been achieved by the DRDO. The indigenous BMD programme started in 1995, the trigger were reports that Pakistan had acquired M-11 ballistic missiles from China. The M-11 has 400km range, but the advertised range was kept at 280km to meet MTCR limits. In quick time, Pakistan also acquired the Chinese M-9 ballistic missiles with 600km range. Keeping sights low and not bothering for subsequent Pakistani missiles acquisitions with ranges of 2,000km plus (no one thought about Chinese ballistic missiles), the DRDO started its work on the BMD. The Israeli LRTR with 600km and the Thales 350km range radars met the immediate need. The Exo-interceptor is PAD, a derivative of the indigenous Prithvi ballistic missile, and the Endo-interceptor is AAD, inspired by the indigenous medium range surface-to-air Akash missile with a 25km maximum slant range. The PAD, later called PAD-I, is a two stage interceptor missile, a solid propellant second stage rocket is mounted on top of the liquid propellant Prithvi. To achieve high terminal speed, a liquid ‘divert-thruster’ is placed on top of the second stage solid propellant. The ‘divert-thruster’ and the payload are fired simultaneously towards the target once they are within the seeker range (Radio Frequency) of 30 to 40km.

Three technical infirmities in PAD-I are: it can achieve a maximum height of 80km only and hence it cannot intercept missiles with more than 1,000km ranges; it has RF seeker which is unlikely to ‘acquire for hit’ fast speed long range missiles; and it uses a conventional warhead armed with proximity fuse, which while exploding within 20metres of the hostile missile may not hit it. If the hostile missile with nuclear warhead does not get a direct hit, it will continue on its trajectory path and its nuclear warhead will detonate at designated height. The PAD-I has done two successful interceptions at 48km and 80km heights in space. Understanding the severe shortcoming of PAD-I, Saraswat told me a year ago (FORCE, March 2010) that PAD-I would be modified to PAD-II or PDV with two changes: the first stage of PAD-I (Prithvi) which is a liquid motor will be replaced by a solid motor stage with high energy levels. The second stage will also be modified for higher interception accuracy and the RF seeker will be replaced by an Imaging Infra Red (IIR) seeker. He had said that PDV would be test-fired by end of 2010; this crucial test has still not happened.

After the 6 March 2011 Endo-atmospheric test, Saraswat announced that, “one more interception will be done to intercept a 2,000km range incoming missile at an altitude of 150km. With this test, which will be done in 2011, the BMD Phase one will be over.” Saraswat added that, “India’s plans for putting in place the first phase of the two-layered ballistic missile defence shield by 2012 and the second phase by 2016 are on course.” Saraswat was referring to the long overdue PDV test.

The two-phased BMD programme that he talks about is: in Phase I, with one more test of PDV, the two interceptors (Exo and Endo) will be ready for production by 2012. Between 2012 and 2013, the DRDO will put together the required number of interceptors as well as other elements like radars and control centres. Thus, by 2013, Indian BMD will be ready to successfully intercept hostile ballistic missiles armed (with nuclear warheads) with 2,000km ranges. In Phase II, which Saraswat says will be ready by 2016, whose interceptors are to be validated by 2015, the BMD would take on ballistic missiles with 5,000km ranges. Dr Saraswat is kite-flying. His targets are unreal and his BMD achievements are gross exaggerations.

Talking about Phase I meant to hit 2,000km range ballistic missiles, there are five major unresolved issues. First, the choice of Prithvi missile as the target (in all the interceptions done so far) is wrong as the missile (discussed above) has slow speed. It ought to be remembered that Pakistan does not have Prithvi missiles; all its missiles with 2,000km ranges (like the Chinese CSS-5, renamed Ghauri, as even M-11 and M-9) have faster speeds. Saraswat would do well to designate indigenous Agni-I with 700km and Agni-II with 2,000km range as the hostile missiles and then demonstrate successful interceptions. Second, the PAD-I, validated thus far, can attain a maximum height of 80km, which is insufficient to intercept 2,000km range missiles in Exo-atmosphere. Moreover, there is a need to demonstrate high speed interceptor than the present PAD-I intercepting Prithvi missile. The answer is the PDV interceptor demonstration which has been delayed, obviously because it is not ready yet. Therefore, would it not be better for DRDO to hold the claims till PDV is successfully test-fired against Agni-II missile? Let the tests do the talking.

Third, given the fact that the interceptors are armed with conventional warheads, there is the need to demonstrate simultaneous Exo and Endo-atmospheric tests; if one misses the target, the other should be able to kill it. This has not been done. Fourth, the DRDO has not said whether the latest March 6 test and the earlier tests were indeed direct hits. Considering that the interceptors have RF seekers and the IIR seekers have still not been demonstrated, and the proximity fuse on the warhead will explode within 20m of the target, even with a slow target like Prithvi, the interceptions may not have achieved a ‘kill’. And fifth, all interceptor tests have been conducted from known designed sites, and have thus been stage managed. All Prithvi missiles depicting hostile missiles have been fired from the Integrated Test Range (ITR) at Chandipur, Orissa, and the interceptors from the Wheeler’s Island 70km apart. In actual war, such ideal situations will be unavailable. There is thus a need to do further tests in the above suggested configurations for successful interceptions of missiles with 2,000km ranges.

The BMD phase II will obviously be more challenging and it is unreal to now announce its accomplishment date of 2016. To thwart 5,000km range missiles (meant against China), the DRDO will need the following: the present Swordfish LRTR will need to be replaced with minimum 1,500km range radar. This will require foreign collaboration; it is doubtful if Israel will be able to help in this. Ideally, India will need satellite capability for early warning, which it does not have. The interceptors, Exo and Endo, will require higher speed, better seekers, and importantly should be able to attain up to 200km heights, which at present is a tall order. Probably, the biggest challenge will be to consider a nuclear warhead on the Exo-atmospheric interceptor to kill a 5,000km range nuclear missile. Considering the 1998 series of nuclear tests done by India, the question is, can India produce compact nuclear warheads with high yields and assurance for the low-diameter interceptors? It needs to be remembered that even with the best BMD programmes, the assurance level of ‘killing’ all hostile ballistic missiles is never more than 80 per cent.

What has been accomplished so far is nothing more than small baby steps in BMD development. But, Saraswat does not think so. After the March 6 test, he told the media that “Only the US, Russia, France, Israel and India have the capability to put in place a ballistic missile defence shield. China is still developing it.” Alluding to the successful Chinese anti-satellite test done in 2007, he said that, “India now has all the technologies and building blocks which can be used for anti-satellite missions in the low earth and polar orbits.”

He earlier gave me (FORCE, March 2010) a lengthy explanation on the subject. According to him, “Demonstrating satellite interception is not something that is necessary to acquiring this capability. Satellite, as you know, has a predictable path, whether it is in the polar, low earth or any other orbit. To check my interception capability, I can always simulate the satellite path electronically. I will generate an electronic scenario at the launch pad as if I am getting the data from another satellite or ground-based radar and take that as the inputs to my mission-control centre and then launch an interceptor. Since the path is known, I can know if I have accurately hit the target or not, unlike the ballistic missiles, where the path can be unpredictable because of aero-dynamic and many other reasons. So technically, we have concluded that we do not need to check our building blocks to ascertain whether we have satellite interception capability.”

When I asked him, why the Chinese had thought it necessary to demonstrate anti-satellite capability, he replied, “I do not know. Only they can answer this question.” Probably the answer lies in the cold statistics. Satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) are at heights of 300km above the earth, as they will not be stable otherwise. The Polar orbit is at height of 843km. The demonstrated capability of DRDO’s Exo-interceptor is only 80km above the earth. How does this claim square up? Even if the DRDO were able to make an interceptor which could reach the height of 300km, it needs to be remembered that satellites in LEO move at speeds of 28,000km per hour. Thus, to demonstrate assurance, there is a need to do a successful anti-satellite test, which the Chinese did, and got the US anxious about their increasing space capabilities. The US, which has demonstrated capability to kill a satellite in LEO and Polar orbits with laser on aircraft, is already thinking about the inevitability of space militarisation. Both the early warning and interception of satellites and long range missiles (5,000km onwards) by laser beams is best done through space capabilities. China is planning the catch-up with the US. Where does this leave India where the DRDO has happily declared that intercepting satellites and ballistic missiles are the same thing? Worse, no one has questioned the wisdom of the Indian BMD, its implications and future.