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A HAMBANTOTA IN THE HIMALAYAS

The Trans-Himalayan Belt and Road Initiative in Nepal is a financial trap and, like Hambantota in Sri Lanka, vital estate could be accessed by China—much to detriment of India’s security interests.

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The impressive Guard of Honour laid out at Tribhuvan International Airport for Chinese Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe, who visited Kathmandu, turned many heads. On arrival, protocol meetings with both the President and Prime Minister were held in a crisp manner followed by a single round of 15-member delegation-level meeting with Nepal Army Chief and his staff. The team departed for Islamabad the very next day. While on the surface the delegation level meeting appeared as crisp and as Pine Green as the PLA uniforms, one of the topline Indian news channels claimed that the team had ‘curtailed’ their visit and also skipped Bangladesh due to unforeseen developments. This has left many Indian thinkers fishing in murky waters.

General Wei is said to have come with an aim of implementing the bilateral understandings reached by both countries in the past, however, he also stated that the visit will promote bilateral military cooperation between Nepal and China, and take the existing friendly relations between the two neighbours to a new height. While the former could be in concert with FDI investments and the ubiquitous Belt Road Initiative, the latter is probably contextual to the recent border issues that Nepal raised with India. Are they somehow linked in the Han scheme of things?

Given that the Media Jedi may be rightfully in the ring, it is worthwhile to crystal gaze into the Himalayas for ripples of Chinese intentions. Not surprisingly, this visit comes close on the heels of Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s first visit to Nepal.

Though predictability is not a facet of the Chinese establishment, the stupendous Chinese 56 Billion Nepali Rupees financial assistance promised by President Xi at Kathmandu in October 2019 could be a debt trap. Instead of bringing forth a Shangri la to Nepal, the rising public debt could lead to China garnering vital real estate, yet another Hambantota, albeit this time, in the Himalayas.

Hambantota. For those who came in late, in June this year the New York Times published an article: “How China Got Sri Lanka to ‘Cough up’ a port”. Hambantota is a man-made port just 240 km from Colombo built into an obscure coastal town by a Chinese state-run company on the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Notably, it showcases 17m depth, capable of berthing VLCC vessels. Very large Crude/LNG or Container carrier vessels are the modern day behemoths of the high seas driving international commerce. But sadly, on completion in 2012, with tens of thousands of ships passing by along one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, Hambantota port drew only 34 ships. Conceptualised hurriedly, foregoing basic Bathymetric survey and ‘viable hinterland identification for cargo potential’ it was commercially a dud.

The port, which was touted as a great step up in Sino-Sri Lankan cooperation by the ruling elite of the Emerald Isle, is instead a glaring example of Chinese neo-colonial design and intent. The modus operandi, as in all Chinese financial ventures, is literally theatrical: Gentle loans are extended initially with a caveat of contractual bids exclusively from Chinese companies. Then using Chinese expatriate labour, the project moves forward with minimal transparency. As the project costs slowly exceed the planned outlay, fresh loans are extended coupled with renegotiation of old loans at very steep interest rates. The host nation now is in a quandary, by then the whale is already harpooned. As the public debt soars the renegotiated loan became unmanageable, the lender settles for a Quid Pro Quo and the asset is taken over.

Today Hambantota port and 15,000 acres of prime land are Chinese assets within Sri Lanka. The Port may be commercially unviable but is of great strategic value, a perfect linchpin in the HAN ‘String of pearls’ that rims the Indian Ocean. The once obscure ‘Hambantota’ rings a whole new concept in contemporary geopolitics.

Power in the comity of nations is showcased to demonstrate the pitch of intentions. In September 2014 a Chinese submarine surfaced at a privately owned berth in Colombo Port on the very day that Japanese PM Shinzo Abe arrived on a State visit to Sri Lanka. Mr. Abe was to inaugurate the Colombo Passenger terminal built with Japanese assistance. Déjà vu’ Don Corleone and the ‘Khartoum’ trick. Welcome to the Han way of calling the shots in the 21st century.

Back to Nepal, the message was evidently not lost out on the Himalayan map; as the high-powered Chinese delegation departs for Pakistan, the polity of Nepal seems to be experiencing considerable relief. Has the $2.7 billion trans-Himalayan infrastructure financing as a part of Belt Road Initiative become a formidable burden looming large?

Political rift is reverberating in Nepal. The ruling duo of Nepal, the PM Oli and ‘Prachanda’ now seem to be at political distancing along with social distancing on many issues. Has the chocolate candy coating worn off the bitter financial pills decorating the Chinese Christmas tree? Like the fragile Himalayan eco system that is on the brink, this burden is soon going to heavily erode the fragile hill economy of Nepal.

India, on the contrary, has been an eternal friend. It is indeed true that much of cultural and military link of Nepal lies with India. Socially the Madhesis of Terai region have cultural affinity with people of the North Indian plains and militarily ‘The Gurkhas’ form an inseparable complement of the Indian Army. Way back in 2012 Nepal’s Baburam Bhattarai government wanted to ban Nepali Gurkhas from joining Indian Army but back-tracked when the reality slowly dawned upon the hill nation. Besides 25000 serving Gurkha soldiers on a handsome Indian Army Salary by Nepal Standards, there are more than 70,000 Gorkha Rifles retirees, 17,000 Assam Rifle retirees and 11,000 widows in Nepal are paid pension every month by India; a welcome source of remuneration in a largely unemployed Nepal.

On the world economic stage if any nation has deftly followed up Adam Smith’s summation on public debt as enunciated in Wealth of Nations, it is the People’s Republic of China. They seem to be committed to experimenting with the idea: If a state can be conquered with debt; you might as well avoid using military power.

Learning from the Doklam issue of Bhutan, India needs to act fast diplomatically, economically and militarily. After opening with ‘Kings Indian Defense’ on the Himalayan chessboard and letting the Han control the center squares, India should now be turning proactive with a Victor Kramnik 2012 foray onto the flanks to return a stronger position.

The ‘Belt Road Initiative’ in the erstwhile Himalayan Kingdom it could well prophecy a repeat of the Sri Lankan ‘Hambantota’. The contentious India-Nepal border issues if left to simmer, would present PLA a perfect opportunity to posture militarily in the region. Going by the adage, a stitch in time saves nine.

The author is a veteran of the armed forces having served all along the frontier with China. As an aviator he has carried out extensive operational flying in Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal and Ladakh. Familiar with PLA border meetings in Sikkim, he has pursued South Asian geopolitics in depth.

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Defence

‘ARMY CAN MEET ANY CHALLENGE TO SAFEGUARD COUNTRY’

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The Army is fully prepared to meet any challenge like the use of drones and social media by adversaries to safeguard the country, said Commandant of Chennai-based Officers Training Academy (OTA) Lieutenant General M K Das. Lt Gen Das, who is also the colonel of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry (JAKLI) regiment, said the situation in J&K is getting better with the Army and other security agencies working together to stamp out terrorism. Speaking to media on the sidelines of the maiden attestation parade of 460 new recruits of the 126th batch after a successful 40-week training period at Dansal here, he said the Indian Army is aware of the challenges and prepared to give a befitting response to the enemies of the nation.

Talking about the need to introduce special training courses for soldiers in the aftermath of the developments in Afghanistan, he said, “Our training is very contemporary as it caters for all the contingencies and unforeseen situations. My young soldiers, who have taken the oath to defend the constitution and the country, will live up to all the challenges. One of the unique things of this regiment (JAKLI) is all our troops hail from J&K and Ladakh. They have ingrained quality to be security conscious much more than others.” Lt Gen Das said, “All the situations unfolding in the country or in our neighbourhood, the JAKLI regiment will continue to excel and be the lead agency in the fight against terrorism.” Asked about the challenges posed by the use of drones to hit targets and deliver weapons and narcotics from across the LoC and International Border, he said a capsule course on anti-drone measures has been introduced. “On Army Day on 15 January, our chief took the threat seriously and our soldiers are being prepared to deal with the challenge in a better way.” During recruitment training, Lt Gen Das said that besides the arms handing and exercises, thrust is also given on science and technology, cybersecurity and other new challenges. He said the misuse of social media by “anti-national” elements is a reality and the new recruits are being trained in cybersecurity during their basic and orientation courses.

On attempts by Pakistan to mislead the youth of J&K, Lt Gen Das said, “The youth of J&K is showing keenness to be a part of the regiment which is a message to those who think they can mislead our youth. Joining the regiment is the best way to serve the nation, the youth live like a family and there is complete communal harmony.” He said the regiment is increasing the number of local youth from Ladakh and would also go for recruitment in J&K to provide an opportunity to the local youth to become part of this regiment. Asked about his message to the misguided youth, he said, “J&K is the crown of India but if I focus as a soldier, I feel they (misguided youth) have not understood their country… the situation has not gone out of hand and the Army has kept its window open to allow them to surrender and join the national mainstream.”

He added, “We have a unit of 162 Infantry Territorial Army who are former militants but have become upright soldiers.” Lt Gen Das said the Army and other security agencies are working in close coordination and the situation in J&K is getting better and the “day is not far when this region will make our country proud.”

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Defence

SOUTHERN NAVAL COMMAND OBSERVES INTERNATIONAL COASTAL CLEAN-UP DAY IN KOCHI

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The Southern Naval Command observed International Coastal Clean-up Day on Saturday with a focus on mangrove plantation and clearance of plastic/non-biodegradable waste along with waterfront areas in and around Kochi, said a press release from the Ministry of Defence.

Pursuant to the global campaign of keeping coastlines clean, more than 600 Naval personnel and the families of Southern Naval Command undertook clearance of plastic and non-biodegradable waste at different locations spread across the city, coastal areas such as Fort Kochi beach, Thevara waterfront, Willingdon Island, Cherai beach, Bolgatty and around 2 km stretch of the Venduruthy channel while restoring around 1 lakh sqm of mangroves to the pristine condition. In addition, 80 mangrove saplings were also planted along the Venduruthy channel. Similar coastal cleanup drives and lectures/webinars/competitions emphasising protection of the coastal and marine environment were undertaken with the enthusiastic participation of the Naval community at other outstation Naval units located at Lonavala, Jamnagar, Chilka, Coimbatore, Goa, Ezhimala and Mumbai.

Being the Training Command of the Indian Navy, the Southern Naval Command has always been at the vanguard in promoting environmental conservation activities both at the Command Headquarters, Kochi as well as at Naval stations spread across the country.

Mandated to oversee naval training, the Southern Naval Command has conceptualised and implemented a variety of green initiatives. Keeping environmental preservation as one of the Key Result Areas, the Command has constantly endeavoured to motivate young officer and sailor trainees of the Indian Navy to imbibe the habit of protecting mother nature as part of their grooming efforts in preparing them to become responsible future Naval leaders and dependable citizens of India.

Particular attention has also been given to create more awareness among the families and more importantly the children.

During the last three years, the Command has adopted a multi-dimensional approach towards conservation of the environment and implementation of energy conservation methods.

To highlight a few, the personnel of the Command were actively involved in the rejuvenation of 4.5-km-long Venduruthy Channel near Kochi Naval base, creating awareness in and around Naval establishments.

Efforts were undertaken to enhance green cover by conducting mass plantation drives which included planting more than 75,000 trees, using the fast-growing Miyawaki forestation method. In addition, regular coastal clean-up drives, mangrove plantation drives, in-house handling and recycling of bio and non-biodegradable waste, adopting efficient energy and water-saving methods etc were also undertaken. The Command has also earnestly endeavoured to continue all the efforts for protecting and conserving the environment and natural resources. Towards achieving the same, the Command has implemented a Green Initiative and Environment Conservation Roadmap with a prime focus on Carbon footprint reduction.

With the personal involvement of Vice Admiral Anil Kumar Chawla, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command is committed to creating a clean, green and healthy environment in line with the visionary environment conservation policies of the Govt of India. On the occasion, Adv M Anilkumar, Mayor, Kochi Municipal Corporation and staff also participated in Kochi.

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IAF TO HOLD AIR SHOW OVER DAL LAKE IN SRINAGAR ON 26 SEPT

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An air show will be held here on 26 September where IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga and Suryakiran Aerobatic and Display Team and paramotor flying will manoeuvre the skies over the famous Dal Lake, officials informed on Saturday.

The air show will be organised by the Air Force Station Srinagar and the Jammu and Kashmir administration as part of the ongoing celebrations commemorating ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, they said. The main aim of the exercise—under the theme ‘Give Wings to Your Dream’—is to motivate the youth of the valley to join the Indian Air Force (IAF) and to promote tourism in the region, the officials said.

The event will be flagged off Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha at the Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) overlooking Dal Lake.

More than 3,000 college and school students are expected to participate in the programme to witness the impressive manoeuvres of the IAF, which will motivate them to dream about a career in the force and in the aviation sector, the officials said. “The show will also develop passion among the students to give wings to their dreams. Along with the students, 700 teachers will also be present at the venue,” they added.

During the demonstration, students will also be familiarised with the new technological advancements achieved and incorporated by the IAF while flying aircraft in the sky over the world-famous Dal Lake, the officials said. Stalls will be established at SKICC where students will be familiarised with the achievements of the Air Force, employment opportunities in the IAF, recruitment rules and eligibility criteria, they added.

Srinagar-based PRO Defence Col Emron Musavi said the display will include flypast by various aircraft of the IAF. The spectators would also get to witness paramotor flying and IAF’s skydiving team Akash Ganga in action. ‘Ambassadors of IAF’, Suryakiran Aerobatic Display Team, will be performing in the valley after a gap of 14 years, he said. Col Musavi said the symphony orchestra of the IAF would also be performing at the event. The event would also consist of a photo exhibition depicting the history of the

IAF, he said. 

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ARMY ORGANISES EXHIBITION IN JAIPUR TO COMMEMORATE INDIA’S VICTORY IN 1971 WAR

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JAIPUR : South Western Command of the Indian Army on Saturday organised an exhibition showcasing defence equipment at Chitrakoot Stadium in Jaipur to mark the 50th anniversary of India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war.

Speaking to ANI, an Indian army official said, “We have displayed the defence equipment in this exhibition to make people aware of the Indian army achievements. We want to motivate the youth by showcasing these types of equipment.” “Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, these events had been started to make people aware of Indian Arm Forces. So, we are also continuing the move by organising these kinds of events,” he added.

Further, he said that India’s victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war is memorable for all the Indians, so, every citizen should be aware of this war.  

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Defence

BRO makes history, appoints woman Army officer in-charge of road construction unit

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The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) has appointed a woman Army officer for the first as the Officer Commanding of its 75 road construction company (RCC) in Uttarakhand, the Defence Ministry said on Sunday.

The three platoon commanders under Major Aaina, Captain Anjana, AEE (Civ) Bhawana Joshi and AEE (Civ) Vishnumaya K became the first women RCC. The appointments were made on August 30.

BRO on Sunday recalled the list of women officers who were assigned higher leadership roles in the organisation in the current year.

According to a statement issued by the Defence Ministry, BRO has inducted a large number of women into its workforce over the years, right from officers to the level of commercial pilot license holders. “In this regard, a General Reserve Engineer Force (GREF) officer EE (Civ) Vaishali S Hiwase took over the reins of 83 Road Construction Company on April 28, employed on an important Indo-China road connecting Munisairi-Bughdiar-Milam, in an area full of adversity and challenges. The lady officer has taken control and is leading the charge with meticulous execution of her tasks,” the statement said.

“The BRO created history again on 30 August when Major Aaina of Project Shivalik took charged as Officer Commanding, 75 Road Construction Companies (RCC) at Pipalkoti in Chamoli district in Uttarakhand. She is the first Indian Army Engineer Officer to command a road construction company. Not only this, all three platoon commanders under her, Captain Anjana, AEE (Civ) Bhawana Joshi and AEE (Civ) Vishnumaya K are lady officers and they have together created a first-ever women RCC. The Border Roads plans to make four such all women-led RCCs, two each in North Eastern and Western Sectors.”

As India celebrates 75 Years of Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, it also celebrates the ongoing efforts of our Nation towards women empowerment. Women today have started assuming their rightful, equal place as the frontrunners in nation-building and representatives of our strong national character, the statement read.

Over the last six decades, in a graduated and steady manner, the BRO has increased the number of women employed in various roles and duties of road construction. A consolidated effort is being made to empower them by giving them authority and responsibilities to undertake work independently. These women have become symbols of Nari Shakti in their respective areas.

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IN FIRST FOREIGN VISIT AFTER TAKING OVER AS CDS, GEN BIPIN RAWAT TO VISIT RUSSIA, US

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In his first visit abroad after taking over as the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat will be visiting Russia and the US.

Rawat took over his new office as CDS on 31 December 2019, and since then has been declining foreign invitations for focusing on the new assignment of integrating the defence forces as a combined fighting force. “There is a conference of the CDS-rank officers of the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement member countries. China and Pakistan are also part of this grouping,” senior defence officials said.

The CDS conference would be focusing on addressing the regional security issues and Afghanistan is also likely to come up for discussion, they said.

The CDS would also witness the activities of the respective armed forces taking part in the SCO peace mission drills being held in Russia. Indian Army and Air Force are also taking part in the exercise there.

The visit will take place in the coming week and soon after return from Russia, Rawat would be leaving for the US for meeting his counterpart and other American military leadership at the Pentagon.

The two countries have been coming closer militarily in the last few years and have been holding multiple military exercises and hardware cooperation.

The Indian military saw a major change in senior-level structures under the Narendra Modi government as the focus is now on the theatrisation of the fighting forces and bringing in more capabilities and jointness among the three services. 

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