Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Rafale in storm clouds, Parrikar says IAF can make do with Sukhoi-30s

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 1st Jan 2015

For the first time since January 31, 2012, when the French Rafale fighter was chosen as the future medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) for the Indian Air Force (IAF), a top Indian official has admitted serious problems in negotiating the purchase with French vendor, Dassault.

Speaking to the media on Tuesday evening, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said there were “complications” in the negotiations that have already dragged on for almost three years, with the French side reluctant to meet commitments that the IAF had specified in the tender.

Parrikar did not reveal details. Business Standard has reported earlier on Dassault’s unwillingness to assume responsibility for the production of Rafales by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, which the tender mandated. HAL is to build 108 Rafales in India with technology transferred from Dassault and its sub-vendors.

Ominously for Dassault, Parrikar said that additional Sukhoi-30MKI fighters, which HAL builds in Nashik, were adequate for the IAF in case it was decided not to procure the Rafale.

The IAF currently plans to have 272 Su-30MKI fighters by about 2018. HAL’s Nashik production line is building the fighter at Rs 358 crore each, less than half the estimated cost of buying the Rafale.

“The Su-30MKI is an adequate aircraft for meeting the air force’s needs”, said Parrikar.

Earlier this month, Parrikar had assured his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, during the latter’s visit to New Delhi on December 1, that Rafale negotiations would be placed on a “fast track”, according to MoD officials.

The defence minister revealed on Tuesday that the French defence minister “has (committed) to send an empowered person to negotiate after New Year.”

According to the terms of the MMRCA tender, 18 of the 126 fighters being bought would be supplied fully built abroad, with the remaining 108 manufactured by HAL. The cost of the project, originally sanctioned at Rs 42,000 crore, has now crossed Rs 100,000 crore, according to expert estimates.

Border infrastructure

Signalling a major thrust on building roads along the 4,057-kilometre Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China, the defence minister announced that the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), which has been plagued by infighting between its civil and military personnel, would come directly under the MoD.

“BRO is being delinked from the Ministry of Surface Transport. It will be entirely defence controlled and defence financed. We are (also) considering transferring of more than 6,000-7,000 kilometres of roads, which are not in sensitive areas, to the National Highways (Authority of India)”, said Parrikar.

Weighing in against the principle of “dual command”, the defence minister said: “Ministry of Surface Transport was their (BRO’s) administrative department and defence was their [operational department]. So obviously there was confusion, when you have two masters, you don’t get work output.”

Parrikar confirmed that the proposal had been discussed with Minister for Surface Transport, Nitin Gadkari, and both had agreed that, from the next budget onwards, BRO would come under the MoD.

The BRO was charged with building 61 Indo-China Border Roads (ICBRs), of total length 3410 kilometres, by 2012.  Of these, it has completed only 17 roads, of length 590 kilometres, the defence minister told parliament on December 12.

Parrikar explained that high technology, especially the practice of tunnelling with rock boring machines, was essential for building roads in difficult terrain, for which the private sector needed to be involved. “The way it is being cut today, I don’t think we will complete (our target) even in 15 years. If the target is 5 years, we will have to use technology”, he said.

The defence minister also revealed that he was working with the railways minister, Suresh Prabhu, to expand rail connectivity across Arunachal Pradesh. “We have decided to improve the railway connectivity as well as the road connectivity. We will finalise things in the days ahead”, he said.

The defence minister told parliament on December 12 that four strategic railway lines have been prioritised for survey.

Arms agents permitted

Parrikar reiterated his intention to permit foreign arms companies to station “representatives or technical consultants” in India, reversing a ban on “agents” that had been imposed after the Bofors gun scandal of 1987-88. This had been reported earlier by Business Standard (December 13, “Parrikar likely to allow arms agents, impose steep fines for wrongdoing”).

The defence minister downplayed reports of increased Pakistani firing on the Line of Control (LoC), stating, “Across the LoC, (firing) incidents have reduced during 2014. There were increasing incidents on the International Border, but they have also fallen during the last two months compared to this time last year.”

Even so, Parrikar emphasised the army’s muscular posture, saying his orders were” “Don’t hesitate; react appropriately and without holding yourself back. We don’t (start firing). But if there is something going on from the other side we retaliate with double the energy.”


Monday, 29 December 2014

Parrikar engages private defence industry to boost indigenous arms

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th Dec 14

For the first time since the private sector was allowed into defence production in 2001, a defence minister has met face-to-face with private sector defence CEOs to discuss the role they could play in boosting defence production in India.

On Saturday, at the Taj Vivanta Hotel in Goa, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar --- alone except for a personal secretary --- met for three hours with captains of private defence industry. Not one of his ministry’s five secretary-level officers was in attendance. Nor was anyone from the public sector invited.

Major issues discussed included the “Make” category of procurement; ways of harnessing Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs); and boosting defence exports.

The industrialists who flew down to Goa for the meeting included Baba Kalyani from the Kalyani Group, and the defence vertical chiefs of Bharat Forge; Larsen & Toubro; Tata Advanced Systems; Godrej & Boyce; Ashok Leyland; Punj Lloyd, Alpha Design Technologies; Zen Technologies; Data Patterns and Pipavav Shipyard. Local Goa group, Dempo, also sent a representative. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) organised the meeting.

Business Standard has been briefed on the meeting by three CEOs who attended. All of them agree that, after thirteen years of operating from the sidelines under three successive defence ministers --- George Fernandes of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA); and Pranab Mukherjee and AK Antony of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) --- Parrikar’s readiness to interact face-to-face is an encouraging indicator of change.

“We spoke frankly and Mr Parrikar listened carefully, interjected frequently and took notes during the meeting. For the first time in a decade, we (private sector defence companies) believe we will be allowed to use our capabilities in the defence of India”, says HS Shankar, who attended the meeting as chief of defence electronics company Alpha Design Technologies.

A central issue discussed was the “Make” procedure, which was devised to allow private companies a larger role in designing and building defence equipment, with the ministry of defence (MoD) reimbursing 80 per cent of the development cost. However, since the “Make” procedure was instituted in 2008, not a single project in this category has been successfully floated by the MoD.

A new “Make” procedure has been in the pipeline for years, but there is little consensus on its form, even amongst private industry. Parrikar indicated the new procedure would be finalised by end-January.

Industry representatives suggested that no programmes be tendered under the “Make” procedure until there was clarity on its final form. They cautioned that it was very different from the prime minister’s (PM’s) “Make in India” initiative, which is about boosting manufacture. The “Make” procedure, in contrast, is about developing design capability and intellectual property (IP) in the country.

Parrikar requested CII for a note that explained IP issues, including the critical issue of who should own the IP generated through the “Make” procedure --- the company that generated it, or the MoD which paid for it.

Zen Technologies proposed that the MoD not accept low indigenous content of 30-50 per cent, which the current Defence Procurement Procedure mandates in certain categories of procurement. Instead, 90 per cent indigenisation should be aimed at. Parrikar requested for a paper on a new procurement category, called “Pure Indian”, which would demand near-total indigenisation.

Parrikar proposed an assured R&D work share for MSMEs under the new “Make” procedure. He mooted a national registry of defence MSMEs, based on capability criteria. Once registered, an MSME should be supported with exemptions from burdens like Earnest Money for defence tendering.

Parrikar highlighted the need to boost defence exports, a requirement the PM has also stressed. He proposed issuing a negative list and positive defence export list. While no exports would be permitted to countries on the negative list, those on the latter would require no export clearances.

Also discussed was the relative success of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) compared to the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO). Many ascribed ISRO’s success to the autonomy that came with being directly under the PM. The defence minister revealed that he had ordered greater financial powers to the DRDO’s departmental heads. Each of these Director Generals, who oversee specific technology areas like aerospace, missiles and underwater systems, will now be empowered to spend up to Rs 150 crore. The onus of delivering usable defence equipment would be squarely on their shoulders.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Air force modernisation: Parliament panel slams MoD’s “lackadaisical approach”

A Tejas light fighter comes in to land at Uttarlai air base, Rajasthan

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th Dec 14

Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence has sharply criticised the meagre allocations of funds to the Indian Air Force (IAF), given its long shopping list of aircraft needed for boosting air power.

The government has allocated the IAF less than half the capital budget the service had requested for this year, with no funding for purchases like the Rafale fighter and modernisation of Jaguar fighters and IAF bases.

The committee notes that “…as per (Defence) Ministry’s own submission the impact of shortfall in Capital Budget will lead to slowdown of modernization, delay in induction of new capabilities and resultant asymmetry in capability with respect to threat perception… This appears to demonstrate a lackadaisical approach of the Ministry.”

The parliamentary panel reveals in its “Fourth Report on Demands for Grants (2014-15)”, which was tabled on December 22, that the IAF had projected a requirement of Rs 62,408 crore for capital purchases this year. Against that, it was allocated only Rs 33,711 crore, half its request.

“The Committee are baffled at such a meagre allocation as Air Force has a long list of projects planned for induction during the year 2014-15…” the committee notes, listing out the Rafale fighter; the planned fitment of high-power engines into the fleet of 100-plus Jaguar fighters; a range of new helicopters, and an on-going project to modernise all the IAF’s air bases.

While the IAF’s capital allocation of Rs 33,711 crore amounts to over one-third of the total defence capital budget, most of this --- Rs 31,056 crore --- is pre-committed for “Committed Liabilities”, i.e. instalments due on purchases made in earlier years (many defence buys are paid over a duration of 7-10 years).

For “New Schemes”, the IAF has been allocated just Rs 2,645 crore, barely one-fifth of the Rs 12,395 crore that the air force said was required.

The first instalment of a fresh defence contract, payable at the time of signing, is usually 15 per cent of the contract value. In projecting a demand of Rs 12,395 crore for “New Schemes”, the IAF was effectively demanding the wherewithal to sign fresh contracts worth Rs 82,633 crore. That means, with Rs 12,395 crore paid out this year as the signing amount, liabilities worth Rs 70,238 crore would be carried forward as “Committed Liabilities” payable from future budgets.

Instead, by allocating Rs 2,645 crore for “New Schemes”, the government has allocated the IAF the funds to sign fresh contracts worth about Rs 17,633 crore. After the down payment this year, about Rs 15,000 crore would be carried forward to the coming years.

The committee is as scathing about the slashing of the IAF’s revenue budget. Against the IAF’s projection of Rs 27,073 crore, the government allocated just Rs 20,507 crore, a shortfall of Rs 6,566 crore. Since the government could only marginally bring down the IAF’s projected payroll of Rs 11,032 crore (by Rs 702 crore), deep cuts came in the non-salary expenditure, which includes cost of fuel, transport and training. Under this head, the IAF’s request for Rs 16,642 crore was pared by Rs 5,765 crore to Rs 10,877 crore.

Terming the scenario “dismal”, the Committee recommends that additional revenue funding be provided, especially for aviation fuel, “since scarcity for fuel will adversely impact training facilities and the Committee are apprehensive that any compromise in training will be detrimental for the safety of our pilots. The Committee wants to be intimated about the same.”

The Committee has also strongly backed the IAF’s repeated pleas to boost its strength of fighter squadrons. The IAF has told the panel that, against its sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons (each is authorised 21 fighter aircraft), there are just 25 squadrons available today, with another 14 squadrons of MiG-21s and MiG-27s retiring by 2024.

The report says the “country’s security requirements are being compromised by ignoring consistently widening gap between sanctioned and existing strengths. The Committee desire that concrete and prompt steps be initiated expeditiously to induct sufficient number of functional platforms and a status report in this regard be submitted to the Committee.”

The committee is headed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member and former Uttarakhand chief minister, Major General BC Khanduri (Retired). In the committee is an unusually heavyweight set of 21 Lok Sabha and 10 Rajya Sabha members. These include prominent BJP MPs like Murli Manohar Joshi; Hindutva champions Vinay Katiyar and Tarun Vijay; pro-military activist, Rajeev Chandrashekhar; former prime minister HD Deve Gowda; former Congress chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and cabinet minister Ambika Soni.

Capital allocations to military (2014-15)
(all figures in Rs crore)

Committed Liability
New Schemes

Not known
Not known


Air Force

Friday, 26 December 2014

Parliamentary panel orders more funding for navy

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Dec 2014

A major trend in India’s defence spending has been the navy’s growing share, which has risen from 4 per cent of the defence allocation in the early 1960s to a high of 18.12 per cent in 2012-13.

This is seen worldwide as evidence of an increasingly muscular profile in the Indian Ocean region, where India will not just protect its 7,517 kilometres of coastline and 1,197 islands, but function as the premier maritime power that secures freedom of navigation over 6,000 kilometres of international sea lines of communication (SLOCs) in its vicinity.

Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence fears this signal is being diluted. This year, the navy was allocated just 15.72 per cent of the defence budget, down from 16.79 per cent last year. That amounts to Rs 37,808 crore (USD 5.95 billion).

Unprecedentedly, the parliament committee has ordered the government to allocate more funds to the navy.

The committee says the alarming rise in accidents, including the 2013 sinking of INS Sindhurakshak --- a frontline Russian Kilo-class submarine --- indicates the navy needs more money for purchasing modern equipment, maintaining it properly and training seamen to the required level of skill.

Citing the “spurt in accidents”, the committee notes: “in most of the cases of accidents, the cause is either material failure or human error. This implies that either the equipment and machinery acquired are substandard or there are inadequacies in training. The Committee feel that the inadequate funding will further aggravate the condition of Indian Navy and lead to compromises in operational preparedness. Therefore, it is the absolute necessity to allocate ample funds to Navy under intimation to this Committee (sic).”

The panel reveals that the navy is significantly understrength. The report says: “In 2012, [the defence ministry] approved 198 ships and submarines for Indian Navy. The present force level is 127 ships, 15 submarines and 236 aircraft. There are presently 14 conventional submarines (including Sindhurakshak) in the Indian Navy. Most conventional submarines are over 20 years old and are reaching the end of their service life.”

Worryingly, this year’s capital allocations, i.e. the funding for new equipment purchases, will be mostly expended on “Committed Liabilities”, i.e. on annual instalments for equipment procured during previous years. Of the total capital allocation of Rs 23,832 crore, about Rs 17,313 will be expended on committed liabilities, leaving just Rs 4,599 crore for new purchases.

The committee sharply criticises large cost overruns on major warship projects. It notes that Project 15A, for building three Kolkata-class destroyers, was sanctioned at Rs 3,580 crore, but eventually cost Rs 11,662 crore, more than thrice what was initially envisaged. In Project 28, which involves building four Kamorta-class anti-submarine corvettes, the sanctioned cost of Rs 3,051 crore rose to Rs 7,852 crore. The largest overrun was for the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier, INS Vikrant, which went up almost six-fold from the sanctioned Rs 3,261 crore to Rs 19,341 crore.

A key cause of these large overruns has been the MoD’s budgeting methodology, which involves sanctioning a project at a notional (invariably undervalued) cost and then arriving at a more realistic figure once the first ship of that project is physically built.

The committee has noted that the project cost for INS Vikrant was grossly underestimated in 2002. In somewhat garbled prose, the report says: “Cost overrun was mainly due to reasons of cost estimation for [cabinet] sanction in 2002 at a time when (the vessel’s) ‘form & fit’ was still emerging; limited information on many Aircraft Carrier specific equipment & material due to inadequate domain knowledge; Equipment costs, emerging technological advances and new generation equipments in IAC (sic).”

The MoD has been asked to resolve this issue and apprise the committee.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Parliamentary panel raps defence ministry for lapses; names China as key threat

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th Dec 14

Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence has lambasted the government for having failed to provide the army with funds and badly needed equipment. There is also sharp criticism at the ministry of defence (MoD) for having refused to provide the committee with information it has requested.

In a report entitled “Demands for Grants (2014-15) --- Army”, one of five it presented in the Lok Sabha on Monday, the Committee paints a bleak picture of an army without adequate artillery guns, tanks, missiles and basic combat essentials like bullet-proof jackets and ammunition.

The committee, headed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member and former Uttarakhand chief minister, Major General BC Khanduri (Retired), notes: “The Committee find the entire scenario very discouraging and do not find any reason with the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Finance for curtailment in the budget of the Army… Therefore, the Committee recommend that the Ministry of Defence should allocate the amount to the Army as per its projections to buy new weapon system and creating infrastructure for the Army so as to keep its fighting spirit high and ready to move in any eventuality (sic).”

Working under General Khanduri in the committee is an unusually heavyweight set of 21 Lok Sabha and 10 Rajya Sabha members. These include prominent BJP MPs like Murli Manohar Joshi; Hindutva champions Vinay Katiyar and Tarun Vijay; pro-military activist, Rajeev Chandrashekhar; former prime minister HD Deve Gowda; former Congress chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and cabinet minister Ambika Soni.

The MoD has long regarded meetings of the Standing Committee as a chore, keeping senior bureaucrats away from their desks. Unlike standing committees in, say, the United States, which are sworn to secrecy and presented with classified information, the MoD routinely up-ends the notion of parliamentary oversight and cites “national security” to avoid answering awkward questions.

The current Committee tersely states that it is “dismayed over the fact that while replying the Ministry tried to conceal even the overt information, which is unacceptable to them (the MPs).”

On the continuing shortfall of 186,138 bullet proof jackets that were sanctioned in 2009, the report notes: “The Committee are perturbed over the fact that such an important life saving device has not been purchased by the Ministry jeopardizing the lives of thousands of soldiers… They are not happy over the state of affairs in the Ministry where such an important purchase could not be materialized even after a lapse of five years.”

While India has fought shy of officially naming China as the reason for raising a new army Mountain Strike Corps (MSC) of 60,000 soldiers, the Committee leaves little to doubt. The report disguises China as “@@@”, but the context makes things clear.

It quotes the Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCAS), who briefed the Committee that the decision to raise an MSC “started with our analysis of the threat perception after 15 years and in that analysis it was predicted that the way @@@ has been getting more aggressive in resolving its disputes with neighbours, especially, in view of what we have seen with its maritime disputes in the South China Sea, it was our attempt to make sure that we are fully prepared to deal with this threat if at any time @@@ decides to raise the ante and get more aggressive (sic)”.

The report reveals that two mountain divisions (about 35,000 soldiers) were raised in the 11th Plan to plug gaps in our defences; while the MSC will now be raised.

The committee sharply criticises the defence ministry for making neither funds nor equipment available for the new MSC. The VCAS is quoted saying: “we have dipped into our War Wastage Reserves (WWR)”, which is actually equipment kept in reserve for wartime.

While the MSC will cost Rs 67,000 crore over a period of seven years, the VCAS has told the Standing Committee that no additional money has been allocated for this. He says: “We are not getting additional budget. A certain amount of about Rs. 5,000 crore has been set aside saying that this is meant for the Mountain Corps. But this is not over and above the budget. So, we need money over and above the budget if we are able to make up all the stores and weapons which we have pulled out from the War Wastage Reserves for the initial raisings”.

Criticising this, the Committee notes: “It seems very impractical and incongruous that a new Corps is being raised with war wastage reserves. The Committee feel that the Ministry should do away with its proclivity of ad-hoc planning and provide adequate budgetary support commensurate with the requirement of Mountain Strike Corps (sic). 

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Of dogs’ tails and leopards’ spots

Major General Rizwan Akhtar, the chief of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Dec 2014

After the sickening murder of over 130 schoolchildren in Peshawar last Tuesday by Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists, India has sceptically noted Pakistani declarations that terrorism must be fought without discriminating between “good terrorists” and “bad terrorists”. The crucial question is: will Pakistani anger be visited only on the TTP? Or on all groups in the lawless Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) along the Afghanistan border, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, which the Pakistani military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has long supported? Or will the crackdown eventually encompass Punjab-based jihadis like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) that are “strategic assets” of the Pakistan Army, meant to bleed India. In other words, will only “anti-Pakistan” groups be in the cross hairs, or will “anti-India” groups be targeted too?

Few Indians believe that Pakistan is about to shut down its long-running sub-conventional war against India. Even so, it would be strategically unwise to entirely rule out that the Pakistan army might gradually realise what the world already sees: that growing operational, intelligence and ideological linkages between radical Islamist groups make it impossible for Pakistan to defeat terrorism in FATA without simultaneously addressing it in Punjab.

Without doubt, the sceptics have powerful arguments, which are centred on the sub-continental colloquialism: a dog’s tail can never be straightened. Yet, while Indian TV anchors and analysts gracelessly repeated Hilary Clinton’s 2011 adage --- “you can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them only to bite your neighbours” --- Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s compassionate statement of solidarity to Pakistan left the door open for cooperation, should the Pakistani establishment choose to correct course.

So far, the naysayers are being proven right. The Pakistani military has targeted only anti-Pakistan militants in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and FATA. Visiting frontline units in Khyber on Friday, Pakistan’s army chief, General Raheel Sharif, exhorted them to finish off “the rebels”, clearly distinguishing between the rebel TTP and the obedient, pro-Pakistan LeT.

Sharif also read from a well-worn playbook by dashing off to Kabul the day after the Peshawar killings to urge Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to act jointly against militants “operating from Afghanistan”. This perpetuated the Pakistani narrative that foreign countries are responsible for all militancy in Pakistan. Singing chorus was LeT chief, Hafiz Saeed, who told baying crowds that India was masterminding and bankrolling the TTP and was behind the Peshawar killings.

On Sunday, Imran Khan’s jihad-friendly party, the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), spoke out against the jihadis, condemning “the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and all other terror groups that have unleashed their brutality on the people of Pakistan”. The subtext: “Why don’t you stick to unleashing brutality on the people of India? We don’t have a problem with that.”

If this needed unambiguous, official endorsement, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s closest foreign policy advisor, Sartaj Aziz, provided that in an interview with the BBC last month, in which he said Pakistan would not target militant groups that “did not pose a threat to the state”. Islamabad claims he was quoted out of context; most of the world believes Aziz was being unusually truthful.

What of Pakistan’s actions since the Peshawar horror? Press reports suggest that retaliatory air strikes have killed over 120 militants in FATA. Since air strikes are blunt weapons, only a few were probably militants, while the rest were collateral damage --- relatives, even children, and little fish who were with the wrong person, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Islamabad has resumed executing “terrorists” on death row, with six having already been hanged and some 55 in the queue. It has emerged, however, that several of those are violent criminals, not terrorists.

Pakistani commentator Pervez Hoodbhoy argues that the killing of 132 children will hardly shake Pakistan’s conscience. He notes: “nothing changed after Lakki Marwat when 105 spectators of a volleyball match were killed by a suicide bomber in a pickup truck. Or, when 96 Hazaras in a snooker club died in a double suicide attack. The 127 dead in the All Saints Church bombing in Peshawar, or the 90 Ahmadis killed while in prayer, are now dry statistics. In 2012, men in military uniforms stopped four buses bound from Rawalpindi to Gilgit, demanding that all 117 persons alight and show their national identification cards. Those with typical Shia names, like Abbas and Jafri, were separated. Minutes later corpses lay on the ground.”

Indian scepticism is also stoked by numerous broken pledges of action. General Pervez Musharraf promised action after India mobilised its military in response to the December 2001 parliament attack. In a widely reported speech on August 14, 2012, General Ashfaq Kayani announced, “the war against extremism and terrorism is not only the army’s war, but that of the whole nation”. Nothing came of that either.

What will it take to force a crack down on Punjab-based radical groups like the LeT? Pakistani columnist, Cyril Almeida, recounts that previous army chief General Ashfaq Kayani was asked in a closed-door meeting with security experts why Punjab-based terror groups were being spared, even though the Pakistan Army knew that the fight in FATA could not be won without targeting them. Kayani’s response: that would fracture the Pakistan Army and he would not allow that on his watch.

Even so, New Delhi must be alert for signs of change in Pakistan; the associated political difficulty would force change to be slow and stealthy. Note should be taken of the immediate re-arrest of LeT operations chief and alleged 26/11 mastermind, Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, after a court granted him bail. Islamabad’s attitude towards Hafiz Saeed must be similarly monitored. Earlier this month, two special trains from Karachi and Hyderabad conveyed his followers to a two-day congregation in Lahore. Any visible reduction of this government patronage would be a sure sign of change.

On Sunday, an “anti-terrorism working group”, constituted after the Peshawar attack, has finalised recommendations to strengthen Islamabad’s counter-terror mechanisms. These will now be reviewed by an All-Party Conference and the National Security Council, and might indicate changing attitudes.

Can Pakistan’s tiny (but courageous) civil society induce the government to act? Last week they staged a vocal protest outside Islamabad’s infamous Lal Masjid, branding its chief cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz, a “Taliban apologist” for refusing to condemn the Peshawar attack. It would be recalled that the heroic preacher had dressed as a woman to flee the Pakistan Army’s assault on the Lal Masjid in 2007 --- a tactic emulated in 2011 by Baba Ramdev to escape a police crackdown in New Delhi. This time, the Islamabad police quickly broke up the protest. Reform: 0; Status quo: 1.