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Archive for September, 1996

South Asia Peace and security

Great rivers emanate from the Hindu-Kush, Karakoram and Himalayan ranges as well as the Naga Hills that binds South Asia as a homogeneous region, making for a vast fertile delta land where crops grow easily but are inordinately susceptible to natural and man-made disasters. Various delta regions, all economically compatible, are divided into identifiable nation units on cultural, religious and political lines all of which show a significant divergence from each other. India shares common borders with almost all the other States, this largest State of South Asia having a history of confrontation and conflict with all its smaller neighbours, none of whom have any problems with each other.

India is clearly expansionist, the only country after World War II to have increased its territory by one-third by force and/or subterfuge, the world having shown a remarkable and unquestioning indifference to the blatant aggressions of the world’s “largest democracy”. India’s list of real-estate acquisitions start with Hyderabad, Junagarh and Manawadar, Kashmir, Goa and Pondicherry, etc. This expansionist mode came to an abrupt halt in 1962, when flush with having run the Portuguese ceremonial guard out of Goa, Defence Minister Krishna Menon and his favourite soldier, Lt Gen Kaul, another general who had not heard a shot being fired in anger (“War hath no fury like a non-combatant”), convinced Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru that India’s date with destiny as a Superpower had arrived and the Chinese could be easily dispatched further north of the McMohan Line. Nehru duly ordered “Jawans to throw the Chinese out”, to quote “The Statesmen” and a host of other newspapers in their issues during September 1962. The Indians concentrated troops near the McMohan Line prior to carrying out their PM’s bidding, were badly mauled and soon in full retreat barely two months later, yelling to high heaven that the Chinese had staged a surprise attack. Since it suited the US to (1) open another proxy front with China and (2) to try and wean the Indians away from the Russian camp, massive aid in the form of mountain warfare equipment was pumped in by air and sea to shore up the Indians. The Americans were a little embarrassed, if not perplexed at the Indian request for submarines to contain “the Chinese drive south of the Himalayas”. Much before the arms and equipment actually started to land, the Chinese unilaterally packed up and withdrew to the McMohan Line on which they remain even today, signalling that they had no territorial ambitions in the sub-continent, three decades have seen no change in their stance. Despite our gravest apprehension during the height of the Afghan War that the Russians would move south to seize a corridor to Gwadar and the “warm waters of the Indian Ocean”, we now know that this Czarist dream was never a serious Soviet option. Except for the odd rantings of “clown prince” Zhirinovsky, there is no real threat to the South Asian sub-continent from beyond its frontiers, either by land or by sea. In sum, vast armies are maintained as a defence against each other or as in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, to contain the mischief planted by India. Certainly the Indian blue water navy has no other reasonable objective than gunboat diplomacy, to blockade countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.


The Siachen battleground Withering heights

Desolate but beautiful, not God-forsaken, that is the first impression of the craggy, snow-lined mountains in the proximity of the Siachen Glacier. Can any place on Earth, however bleak, where there is both life and death, be without God? And what a life! In lonely synthetic-igloo eyries atop nameless mountain peaks, living in cold isolation for weeks at a stretch, survival against the vagaries and extremes of nature and the environment is all that those who have to endure this ask for, man-made modes of death and destruction are a secondary consideration. The sheer magnificence and enormity of the tremendous landscape puts one in a state of trance for any number of reasons. In awe of the stupendous beauty, in awe of the incessant danger, in awe of a seemingly impossible undertaking and above all, in awe of the men who have chosen to live, and maybe, die here. No words can adequately describe “God’s little acre” that comprises the highest mountains and glaciers in the world. No justice can be done in print to the courage and endurance of man in this environment.


Six options on Governance

The state of continuing crisis requires serious consideration by concerned citizens of various options of governance on Chester Bowles theory that “Government is too big and important to be left to the politicians” unquote. The major problem facing the Bhutto regime among a host of others being economic, to raise revenues to the satisfaction of the IMF, Bernard Berenson’s quote “Governments last as long as the under-taxed can defend themselves against the over-taxed”, would be very appropriate.


Indian defence budget

Allocations for Defence Services got only a brief mention in the Indian Finance Minister’s Budget speech. Harvard-educated Mr Chidambaram gave only out an overall figure, promising Indian legislators that “if required, more funds will be made available in order to equip our (sic Indian) armed forces in “fighting fit” condition”, unquote. Indian Prime Minister, Mr Deve Gowda, added to the Treasury’s pledge by reiterating that “additional allocation will be made from the point of view of strengthening our forces to take care of the security of the nation”. Despite these promises (and additionalities thereof) the Indian defence budget is being criticised by politicians and political analysts as well as serving and retired Indian armed forces officers since they expected much more up front for force modernisation needs, adjustments for inflation, rise in oil prices, currency fluctuation and increase in salaries. Former PM Vajpayee has accused the government of “not paying adequate attention to the defence sector”, in reply Defence Minister Mulayam Singh has promised the Armed Forces “the best equipment for them”.

This drumbeat of criticism within India is far removed from the reality that the allocations represent a 9.5% increase over the 1995-96 budget estimates, not including an additional Rs.1300 crore provided in the previous budget for defence production and acquisition of new equipment. More importantly, the defence budget cannot be taken at face value because of allocations in other sectors, eg. pensions of ex-servicemen amounting to Rs.3300 crore is not catered for under the defence estimates head. In fact other than pensions, provisions for research and development, para-military forces like Border Security Force (BSF), Indo-Tibet Border Police (ITBP), Assam Rifles and Rashtriya Rifles, nuclear and missile development, border roads, etc are made against other ministries. For public consumption, the Indian defence budget for 1996-97 is supposedly Rs.277.980 billion, which amounts to 2.4% of the GDP and 19.2% of the overall budget. But if we take into account the funding hidden under other heads, the figure shoots up more than 30% upto Rs.400 billion (or 3.5% of the GDP and 27.63% of the Budget) — and these are pledged to be further revised. This camouflage is necessary to maintain the propaganda with the international media that the declared budget is a “soft one” and “development oriented”, meant to carry forward economic and structural reforms, liberalisation, etc as well as catering for social inequity and poverty alleviation. The increase in real terms (ie. if declared inflation of 4.4% is taken into account) is about 5%, overall this percentage is also maintained in the hidden allocations. The “criticism” of the declared budget is motivated and sponsored, meant to give credibility to Indian claims that already scarce funds are not being diverted for defence needs, meant to satisfy IMF/World Bank concerns. India’s propaganda machine is well served by non-government sources, on the other hand in Pakistan seems fashionable for everybody and his uncle to become arm-chair defence experts in analysing the drawbacks of increasing financial allocations for defence relative to socio-economic uplift.


Army’s role in nation building

Third World countries that perforce have to have large standing armies in order to safeguard their security and integrity as nations pay a high economic price for this luxury. For developing countries, with a constant need for infusion of fresh capital to ameliorate the misery and privation of their masses, the non-development expenditure incurred in defence is a sacrifice that can only be justified because of a very visible threat to their sovereignty and independence. Faced with an implacable foe never fully reconciled to the division of South Asia into areas of Muslim and Hindu majority, Pakistan (and Bangladesh) have to divert precious foreign exchange to their defence needs. Even Sri Lanka, once an island paradise of peace and harmony has had to multiply its military strength many times after India’s Research and Analytical Wing (RAW) provoked the Tamils into violent revolt, the tragedy is still unfolding in bloody detail.

How can we ensure that the funds diverted to our military needs can be gainfully employed for nation building? At the outset we must recognize that this is already being done both by very visible and invisible means, the sectors being mostly socio-economic. The visible sectors that are being engaged by the defence personnel are education, communications, health, water, sewerage and disaster relief. In education, the large number of private schools that have been organised and opened by the Defence Services mean that a significant portion of school and college going children who do not have parents in the military have access to meaningful education on a uniform basis. Furthermore since army cantonments are in far, outlying places which have no access to quality education, running of cadet-colleges and public schools has been a major plus point for backward areas where parents may not have the requisite funds. In particular the military’s role in uplifting technical education by creating schools of excellence like the Army Medical College, the Army College of Engineering, PAF Aeronautical College, The Navy Engineering College, etc has been of great benefit to the nation. It is now believed that College Entrance Tests, which will be a combination of the pattern of Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), will be organised by National Engineering of Science and Technology (NEST) on a countrywide basis to bring uniformity and merit into those aspirants with merit who want to be inducted into the system. With respect to communications, the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) and National Logistics Cell (NLC) have already done tremendous work in constructing roads and highways at remote places on the pattern of the US Corps of Engineers. One of the greatest feats of road engineering in the world is the Karakoram Highway (the old Silk Route). Since most roads in the public sector development programme only exist on paper, monitoring of public sector programmes could conceivably be placed under a Control Organisation run by the Army. Similarly development of telecommunications in the public sector could at least be monitored by the Army’s Corps of Signals. As regards health, it is no secret that barring a few medical institutions like Aga Khan, Shaukat Khanam, Al-Shifa, etc most hospitals are in deplorable state as compared to Combined Military Hospitals (CMHs) in every cantonment of the country. The Army’s Medical Corps has already done excellent work in many of Pakistan’s backward and remote areas, Field ambulances could be tasked on more permanent basis to take over health processing at the district level so that the common man gets adequate health coverage near his doorstep. As fantastic as it may sound in this high tech age, a considerable portion of our population lives without proper drinking water, the Army has done significant work in this respect, particularly in the country’s deserts and other remote areas. Proper sewerage is also non-existent in many areas because funds are pocketed by those responsible for its development. Inspection of work progress can be done by the Army, it will lessen, if not curtail, corruption that denies this basic civic facility in this day and age. In all the socio-economic uplift projects services of retired personnel should be gainfully utilised.


Defence of Pakistan

In the early hours of 6 September 1965, Indian land forces crossed the international border near Lahore, surprising the Pakistan Armed Forces. If it had not been for some forceful Brigade Commanders of 10 Infantry Division (defending the main approaches to Lahore) who had persuaded their Divisional Commander the night before to allow their units to occupy Forward Defended Localities (FDL) by first light on that fateful day, Gen G.N. Chaudhri, the Indian COAS, would well have been the host to his officers to his boastful invitation to “a chota peg in the Lahore Gymkhana” by the evening of that day. It was a day of surprises, the Indians surprised us, we surprised them by being surprised. Three decades later, given the events of the four months starting in May 1965, starting with the Rann of Katch, Operation Gibraltar (infiltration into Kashmir), Operation Grand Slam (cutting off Kashmir from the rest of India) and the fact that PAF had shot down some Indian aircraft over Chamb/Akhnur in the first week of September, why our defence hierarchy was surprised continues to remain a mystery. Our military leadership through the whole rank spectrum in 1965 and in 1971 were trained to fight the battles of World War I and the early battles of World War II. Luckily for us, despite sorry experience at the hands of the Chinese in 1962, the Indian leadership at the junior combat level was atrocious. The higher ratio of casualties officer to soldier attests to the fact that our junior leaders (today’s Divisional and Corps Commanders) were outstanding. Having learnt no lessons in 1965, but basking in self-created glory at the hierarchical level despite their strategic and tactical blunders covered over by the shedding of blood of our youth in the battlefield, we fought ourselves into abject defeat in 1971. In terms of strategy there can be nothing more amusing in history than the belief of our then strategists that the Defence of East Pakistan lay in West Pakistan. Instead of clearly stating that available forces were really meant for the defence of crucial areas in the West and could not be risked in the East, we were led down a garden path to this “Ripley’s Believe it Not” strategy. Hopefully, future strategy will not adopt Rip Van Winkle techniques of the past.