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Surya Gangadharan
Monday , August 05, 2013

10 railway lines planned along India's borders: better late than never


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Four years of labour at heights of more than 16,600 feet over a distance of 1,142 km...little wonder the Tibet railway made it to the record books. Could India's own Rs-80,000-crore strategic railway network chalk up similar benchmarks? As with many such projects in India, the catchwords are wait and watch. Not that the Indian project lacks in scale or engineering challenge. The proposed Srinagar-Kargil-Leh railway line will traverse heights ranging from 6,000 feet to 13,000 feet with night time temperatures in winter going as low as -30 degrees Celsius. There are also areas prone to mudslides (passi is the local term I believe). But with so much work already done (including roads over the 13,000+ feet Rohtang Pass), the railways probably have enough expertise to attempt the Leh segment with a degree of confidence. To the east, the Misamari to Tawang line will rise from....


Friday , July 26, 2013

Big Takeaways from the India-China border talks?


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The Big Takeaway from the India-China Joint Mechanism that ended two days of talks on Wednesday? We have some carefully crafted language from the MEA calculated to leave you none the wiser. Which also raises the point whether Big Takeaways are appropriate usage in the India-China context where progress has always been incremental. Sources tell us that it was conveyed to the Chinese that the uncertainty on the LAC could impact on the larger bilateral relationship. India's proposal made earlier during the Li Keqiang visit, that the Chinese get their stakeholders (on a border resolution) together and hammer out an internal consensus, remains on the table but it's not clear how seriously the Chinese are taking it. Let's look at what people on the ground (the Army obviously) would like to see. Certainly more meeting points along the Line of Actual Control, said a senior officer (which....


Thursday , July 18, 2013

What raising a new mountain strike corps means for India


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There's a certain delicacy evident in the Army's approach to last night's breaking news on the Cabinet clearing the 64,000 crore proposal for a mountain strike corps. The Army doesn't refer to it as such, the preferred usage is "Accretion Forces" which has the beauty of being vague, not region or area specific and therefore not country specific. The new corps has been delayed but there's no doubt it will plug a vital capability gap on the eastern frontier with China. In about seven years, the corps will significantly boost the Army's ability to deter China along a theatre stretching from Nepal to Bhutan, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Once raising is complete, elements of the corps (of about brigade strength) can be pulled out for service elsewhere, perhaps in Ladakh. It will add about 50,000 troops to the existing one lakh presently deployed in the east. This will be....


Tuesday , July 16, 2013

How accidental was the PLA's Raki Nulla adventure?


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The Raki Nulla face off in April between Indian and Chinese troops was "accidental, not deliberately staged", is the word from the men in green in Beijing. That makes it official enough although it begs the question: How on earth does something "accidental" last all of 20 days? High level briefings in Delhi over the course of the last week clearly indicate that there was nothing accidental about the face off. India has been told in clear terms by China's top political leadership that the PLA is seeking a role for itself in the negotiations with India on the disputed border. The PLA could probably be incorporated into the joint secretary level mechanism set up last year by both sides to resolve border incidents. It's expected to mollify the PLA brass suspected to have triggered the Raki Nulla face off after President Xi Jinping called for early....


Monday , July 08, 2013

On India-Bhutan relations and the China factor


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India has cut the subsidy in the cooking gas it supplies to Bhutan. Prices have spiralled there and people are in difficulty. The MEA says the problem is only in the short term and that it will be sorted out once Bhutan installs a government after polls later this week and a new agreement is signed. But it's never that simple. Talking to a cross section of diplomats, Bhutan watchers and journalists, it appears that Thimphu may have crossed some of India's red lines notably in relation to China. It's well known that Bhutan and Beijing have a border dispute and the latter has suggested a trade off: Bhutan will be given territory on its border with Tibet in the north in return for conceding territory along Bhutan's western border with Tibet, along the Chumbi Valley. As the Chumbi Valley overlooks India's Siliguri corridor, it's clear that India....


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Air rescue at high altitudes is not a joke


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Did you know that after six hours of flying, pilot fatigue sets in? Or that the 30-year-old vintage Chetak/Cheetah helicopters maintain 60 per cent serviceability despite their age? It's a little less for the home grown Dhruv ALH but as a young Army pilot pointed out, "All helicopters take time to mature and the Dhruv is only 10 years old". The Chetak/Cheetahs and the Dhruvs are providing critical heli support as the Army/Air Force-led Uttarakhand rescue/relief operation moves forward despite bad weather. The risks are becoming increasingly apparent with the crash of an Mi-17V5, one of the IAF's most recent acquisitions from Russia. More accidents could happen given the conditions in which the pilots are operating. Flying only stops when visibility is down to one kilometre. The risk is acute for pilots flying through narrow valleys where in many cases, collapsed and sundered electricity cables could get entangled....


Tuesday , May 28, 2013

Serious deficiencies hinder counter-insurgency operations in the Maoist heartland


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The Maoist attack on a Congress party election convoy in Chhattisgarh has again underscored the apparently casual approach to security. Sources said the road used by the convoy did not appear to have been properly sanitised, it's not clear if there was any intelligence about the possibility of a Maoist attack or if it was ignored (not for the first time by our politicians). Leaving that aside, despite over a decade of training of the CRPF and Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand Police (79,000 men) by the Army in counter-insurgency tactics, it's not clear if lessons have been learnt. "It's hard to expect them (CRPF/police) to be effective when the training capsule lasts a few weeks," said an Army officer with long experience of CI operations. "Then the CRPF and state police personnel don't train with their officers." This revelation comes when the Army has been training close....


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sino-Indian border dispute: a reality check


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Around the time Manmohan Singh was telling off Li Keqiang about Chinese shenanigans on the LAC, AK Antony was chairing a meeting in the MoD reviewing progress on border infrastructure. Sources indicated the minister seemed less than happy. Like it or not, there doesn't seem to be any sense of urgency in India when it comes to building roads along sensitive frontiers. That complicates Antony's agenda when he heads to Beijing for talks with his counterpart. He knows and the Chinese know that along much of the western and eastern sectors, there are gaps where the Chinese can walk in, perhaps effect another face-off. There's nothing in the India China joint statement to suggest the Chinese won't do a repeat. The betting is they will but not immediately. The gaps need to be closed, the forces on the ground beefed up but the pace at which India moves....


Tuesday , May 07, 2013

India-China face-off in Ladakh: reading between the lines of actual control


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With the status quo ante restored at Raki Nulla, it would seem India has had the better of China in the 20-day-long face-off. Going by the government's spin masters, India conceded little other than agreeing to discuss border infrastructure and troop build-up during official level talks with Beijing. But is it that simple? Like it or not, Chinese troops were camped on Indian soil for 20 days and India held back from throwing them out physically because of the asymmetry in force levels and logistics. Not that China is stronger than India in the Raki Nulla area but as senior officers admitted, China could mobilise troops and equipment quickly over long distances by road and rail. China has the power to escalate, open up more fronts to incursions, an unwelcome prospect for India. Perhaps if India had seized the initiative early on, this could have been....


Monday , April 22, 2013

Pros and cons of a two-front war


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Fresh from three weeks of gruelling drills that involved all operational commands, the Air Force says it's ready for a two-front war (the brass prefers to call it contingency). In these three weeks the brass says they moved aircraft across commands, simulated every wartime scenario, accounted for aircraft and pilots lost in enemy action etc. Air Marshal AK Singh, former chief of Western Air Command, says the military always plans for a two-front war. It's been factored into war planning even before 2009 when the government woke up to the possibility of having to fight on two fronts simultaneously. While the exercise appears to have gone on off well, AK Singh is less optimistic says fighting on two fronts will be a tough call. "If you talk of a China going along with Pakistan then we will certainly be hard pushed to contain on both fronts and....


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More about Surya Gangadharan

Surya Gangadharan is International Affairs Editor at CNN IBN and was in Egypt to cover the anti-government movement. He has covered wars in Afghanistan, the UN intervention in Somalia and Rwanda, elections in Pakistan and the civil conflict in Sri Lanka where he interviewed the top leadership of that time. He has worked for the Straits Times Group in Singapore and also for PTI, the Indian Express and India Today in India.
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