As the tug of war in Galwan Valley continues, the adventurism of China in Ladakh and other places along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and the resultant standoff between Chinese and Indian forces has highlighted the complexity of the border issue between the two countries. The fact that 22 rounds of talks have taken place and the resolution of the border issue is nowhere in sight, speaks of the magnitude of the problem. LAC irrespective of differing perceptions continues to be a compromise formula, pending the border resolution, which has its own pitfalls, because perceptions can be repeatedly stretched beyond limits, if the intentions change, as has been the case with Chinese so many times. The idea of managing peace and tranquillity through agreements and CBMs has not been effective enough, after 15 June deadly scuffle by premeditated ambush of Indian troops by Chinese, using barbaric methods like nail pinned rods to cause casualties, resulting in hand to hand fights, strong response by Indians, ending up with even more casualties on their side, and embarrassment to avoid declaring them.
Defining the complexity of issue
Few landmarks need to be flagged out of voluminous history on the subject to pinpoint the problem. People’s Republic of China (PRC) refused to ratify the Simla Agreement of 1914, signed between British India and Tibet, initialled by Chinese representative. The Indian stance on Border generally follows Johnson Line (1865) in Ladakh and McMohan Line in East. When Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession, Aksai Chin was part of it; hence rightfully belongs to India. There is therefore no mutually agreed border treaty between Independent India and PRC, and China refuses to accept any treaty signed with Tibet or earlier than annexation, when it does not suit it and selectively refers to them when it suits it’s interest, like it referred to a Treaty of 1890 during Doklam Crisis, despite the fact that it was superseded by many other treaties later.
It is often mentioned that it has resolved its border dispute with 12 out of 14 countries, however Chinese argue that it was done on a give-and-take principle. In the China-India equation, giving anything has a heavy political cost, as both sides interpret history as it suits them, having dug their heels into their respective positions, which is unlikely to change easily. Expecting India to give Tawang or China to give back Akshaichin is unlikely to be accepted by domestic constituencies on both sides. It is one of the main reasons for talks on border resolution not being successful.
Why graceful disengagement difficult
LAC term was used by Zhou Enlai in his note to Indian PM in 1959 (Not accepted by India, which resorted to Forward Policy), followed by respective positions in 1960, post 1962 conflict, with some unheld areas in between. LAC was later referred for negotiations since 1993, with a provision that it will not impact respective positions adopted by both countries on unresolved Border Issue. Both countries therefore have their own perception of LAC and in certain areas these perceptions overlap (Pangong Tso). As LAC is not demarcated, Chinese, with scant regards to international agreements and obligations, use non demarcation as an opportunity to pursue their ‘Strategy of Incremental Encroachment’ by laying fresh claims (Galwan Valley) and following it up with troops buildup/ infrastructure development till resisted and stop just short of conflict. An opposing build up by Indian Forces leads to ‘Standoff” each time.
The problem in resolution of standoff is that a graceful retreat becomes extremely difficult due to rising sentiments/ nationalism in respective countries, and media glare, thus increasing the political cost of any compromise by either side. Galwan/Pangong Tso is neither the first nor the last standoff, which will continue to happen, unless the LAC is demarcated. It is doable, provided both sides “Agree to Agree”. Chinese, however, continue to drag their feet in doing so, as they fear that it will become a de facto border, forcing them to forego their claims made in 1959, including Tawang and take away an opportunity to needle India, whenever it has any major divergence in strategic interests. Having developed their infrastructure up to LAC earlier than India, China does not want to let go this comparative strategic advantage, by denying infrastructure development to India.
When can the LAC demarcation occur?
In my opinion, the demarcation of LAC will happen only, when the political/ strategic cost of not doing so will increase for China, in comparison to doing so. The scenario when it could happen is, when China faces insurmountable military pressure on South-eastern seaboard from a group of countries, in response to Chinese adventurism in Indo-Pacific, forcing it to reduce one front for engagement. China, having recovered early from Covid-19, has unfairly used it as an opportunity to make quick gains in claimed areas amidst the pandemic, and unfair profiteering from ‘Health Silk Road’, igniting global anger. Chinese aggressiveness in South and East China Sea, possible blocking of global sea-lane of communication, freedom of flights, coupled with declaration of independence by Taiwan and heightened rivalry with US with accidental triggers, can create such conditions, along with economic decoupling, resulting in internal dissent in mainland and Hong Kong. The geo-political environment is yet to be shaped to that level, which will require global effort.
China on its part will try to stop its adventurism just short of war, in consonance with Sun Tzu’s principle of ‘winning without fighting’. India will have to walk an extra mile in Indo-Pacific engagements like Quad, and target all vulnerabilities of China with likeminded countries, including economic distancing to the extent possible. Till then China and India will continue with tug of war on LAC with tents vanishing and appearing on points like Patrol Point 14 in Galwan Valley. The troops on ground will continue facing the problem of guarding un-demarcated LAC with changed rules of engagement with Chinese, amidst total mistrust. Indian Military is on firm ground, with free hand to local commanders, ready for all contingencies to protect its country despite rhetoric, Chinese “Three Warfare” strategy, coercion and information warfare. India also has to counter Chinese ‘Strategy of Frontline States’ adding Nepal to erstwhile Sino-Pakistani nexus, as a proxy against India, with some smart diplomacy in global platforms.
Major General S.B. Asthana, SM, VSM, is a strategic and security analyst, a veteran Infantry General with 40 years experience in national and international fields and the UN. A globally acknowledged strategic and military writer/ analyst authored over 350 publications. He is currently Chief Instructor, USI of India, the oldest Indian think tank in the country.
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LET TERRORIST TALIB HUSSAIN NOT A MEMBER OF BJP: J&K BJP CHIEF
Jammu and Kashmir BJP chief Ravinder Raina on Monday said the most wanted Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) terrorist Talib Hussain who was apprehended from Reasi district is neither an “active member of the BJP nor a primary member”.
Speaking to ANI, Raina said, “Hussain is neither an active member of the BJP nor a primary member. There was a letter circular, on the basis of which it is believed that Sheikh Bashir, who is the President of BJP Minority Front of Jammu and Kashmir had appointed Hussain on 9 May.” He termed the reports fake which claimed that one of the two most-wanted LeT terrorists, who were overpowered by locals and handed over to the police, was in charge of the party’s IT cell.
The BJP leader further said after that Hussain had circulated a letter himself and resigned from the membership of the party on 18 May. “A couple of years ago, Hussain along with with his three colleagues used to come to the BJP office as a media person. He had also interviewed me many times, he used to call himself a reporter for a YouTube channel named ‘New Sehar India’,” Raina said.
“As a journalist, Hussain clicked photos with us many times in the BJP office. Pakistan terror outfit wanted to target the head office of the BJP of Jammu and Kashmir. It has been done through the targeted medium and carried out such incidents,” he said. “It is too soon to say more on this matter as the investigation is going on. Not only the BJP, but all the offices of other political parties need to be more alert now,” Raina added.
INDIAN NAVAL SHIPS SAHYADRI, KADMATT VISIT SINGAPORE
Indian Naval Ships Sahyadri and Kadmatt, under the Command of Rear Admiral Sanjay Bhalla, Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet, visited Singapore from 1 to 3 July as part of the deployment to South East Asia. The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) and the Indian Navy personnel engaged in social and informal exchanges as part of a cross-visit to improve mutual cooperation. The visit was aimed at consolidating ties and enhancing mutual understanding.The visit of Indian ships helped enhance maritime co-operation and bolster India’s strong bonds of friendship with Singapore that would further contribute towards security and stability in the region. The ships’ visit coincided with Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Day on 1 July. “Indian Navy’s South East Asia deployment INS Sahyadri and INS Kadmatt under Command of Rear Admiral Sanjay Bhalla, FOCEF in Singapore from 1 to 3 July. Professional and social interactions with Singapore Navy to enhance mutual cooperation and understanding and consolidate interoperability” read a tweet shared by the Indian Navy. It added, “Coinciding with Singapore Armed Forces SAF Day, 01 Jul 22, the ships’ visit strengthens maritime cooperation, bolstering India-Singapore bonds of friendship – contributing towards security and stability in the region.”
INS Sahyadri is an indigenously built multi-role stealth Frigate and INS Kadmatt is an indigenously built Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Corvette. The Indo-Pacific vision of a free, open, inclusive and rules-based region as articulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in 2018 is the driving force behind India’s engagement in the region continued to be directed by the Indo-Pacific vision of a free, open, inclusive and rules-based region as articulated by PM Modi at Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in 2018.In 2021, Singapore Minister of Defence Ng Eng Hen participated in the inaugural India Ocean Region Defence Ministers’ Conclave (DMC), wherein he conveyed Singapore’s support to India’s leadership to foster a rules-based maritime order in the Indian Ocean region. This was followed by the annual Singapore-India Maritime Bilateral Exercise (SIMBEX), conducted by Singapore Navy and Indian Navy. The exercise involved a virtual planning phase followed by a ‘contactless’ sea phase in the southern reaches of the South China Sea within international waters.During the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, Singapore’s position as a logistic hub enabled both the public and private sector to source emergency relief supplies such as oxygen- tanks, cylinders, concentrators, ventilators etc. from Singapore to India.
26 Indian Air Force sorties and four Indian Navy Ships transported substantial quantities of these items from Singapore to India till the end of June 2021.
This was followed by the 5th India-Singapore Defence Minister’s dialogue, which was held via virtual conference on 20 January 2021. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh discussed furthering cooperation and engagement with Singapore’s Defence Minister.
200 TERRORISTS WAITING TO CROSS, SECURITY FORCES IN J&K ON HIGH ALERT
The BSF and Army have increased patrolling along the LoC to foil infiltration bids.
Amid intelligence reports suggesting 200 terrorists waiting to cross the border into the Valley, security forces have been put on high alert in Jammu and Kashmir in order to foil infiltration bids. Speaking to The Daily Guardian Review, top sources in the Intelligence Bureau (IB) told that over a dozen launching pads across the Line of Control (LoC) have been found activate by the agency, even as 200 terrorists are waiting to infiltrate from the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK).
After receiving the intelligence input, the Border Security Force and the Army have increased patrolling along the LoC to foil infiltration bids.
According to the IB report accessed by The Daily Guardian Review, terrorists, affiliated with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) and Hizbul Mujahideen (HM),
may use “tunnel and riverine” routes to infiltrate into Jammu and Kashmir.
The IB report has also identified more than a dozen terrorist launch pads across the LoC. These include three in Sonar, Taubat and Losar areas in Gurez sector, four in Machil sector and three in Mandakuli, Jamua and Kharhajna areas in Tangdhar sector. In addition, four–five launch pads in Gabdoni, Lipa and Bandi areas in Uri and Navgaon sectors have been identified.
Terrorists are also trying to infiltrate through Rajouri–Poonch routes, areas south of Pir Panjal. “The focus of infiltration has largely now shifted to the south of Pir Panjal,” said intelligence sources.
The intelligence input assumes significance in view of the 43-day-long Amarnath Yatra. The annual pilgrimage began on June 30 after a gap of two years.
Though there have been few successful infiltration bids this year, a downward trend is noticeable in comparison to previous years. According to top security officials, there were 130 infiltration bids in 2019.
The number came down to 36 bids in 2020 and 31 in 2021. Security forces have killed 121 terrorists, linked to LeT, JeM and HM, this year till June 28.
CENTRE MAKES INTENT CLEAR, NO ROLL BACK OF AGNIPATH
The Union Home Ministry bans 35 WhatsApp group for spreading fake news. At least ten people have been arrested for organising protests.
The Central government on Sunday made it clear that Agnipath, the newly unveiled policy of recruitment to all three armed forces “will not be rolled back”. “Coming to the rollback of the scheme, no. Why should it be rolled back? It is the only progressive step to making the country young.” Lt Gen Anil Puri, Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Defence announced here in a joint press conference. The announcement came after Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had a meeting with all three services chiefs for the second consecutive day.
Explaining the rationale behind the ‘Agnipath’ scheme, Lt Gen Puri told the media persons that there were many casualties in high-altitude battle fields owing to health reasons. “Do you know how many casualties are reported just for health purposes from high-altitude areas? Do read about it, then you would come to know why young is important,” Puri said. Officers from Indian Air Force (IAF) and Indian Navy were also present in the joint briefing.
With the announcement made in the briefing it is clear that the contractual recruitment policy for armed forces is here to say notwithstanding the widespread protests against it. In view of the mounting protests, which have left Railways property worth Rs. 200 crore damaged and led to the cancellation of 300 trains, the government has, though, reached out the protesting youth to mollify them. In a slew of measures, the Centre first announced 2-year relaxation in age for 2022 and then extended 10 per cent reservation in Central Armed Police Forces and Assam Rifles to Agniveers whose contract would come to an end after a 4-year stint. The government also extended age relaxation of 5 years to Agniveers in government jobs.
Lt Gen Puri further told
the media persons that initially 46,000 Army aspirants would be recruited in order to ‘analyse’ the scheme “and to build up infra capacity”. Unveiling the numbers the government intends to hire, Puri said, “In the next 4–5 years, our intake (of recruits) will be 50,000–60,000 and will increase to 90,000–1 lakh subsequently.” The number of ‘Agniveers’ would go up to 1.25 lakh eventually, he added.
However, the recruitment to armed forces comes with a caveat. Every Agniveer aspirant would have to furnish a certificate, duly verified by the police, declaring that they were not part of the protests or vandalism. Emphasizing that Indian Army’s foundation was discipline and there was no space for arson or vandalism, Lt Gen Puri said, “Every individual will give a certificate that they were not part of the protest or vandalism. Police verification is 100 per cent, no one can join without that.” Individuals against whom FIRs have been lodged would not be allowed to join the forces.
The Centre also banned 35 WhatsApp groups for spreading fake news on Agnipath scheme and Agniveers, the ministry of home affairs said. At least ten people have been arrested on charges of rumour-mongering and organising protests.
Around 17,600 people take premature retirement from the armed forces, he told the reporters. “No one ever tried to ask them what they will do after retirement?” said Lt Gen Puri. Agniveers would get the same allowance in areas like Siachen and other areas which are applicable to the regular soldiers serving at present, he informed the reporters. The Additional Secretary also said that an Agniveer would get a compensation of Rs 1 crore if he sacrifices his life in service of the nation.
The centre had on June 14 announced the new recruitment policy which seeks to casualise jobs in the armed forces causing huge resentment among army aspirants. Barely two days after the ‘Agnipath’ scheme was unveiled, youth hit the streets across several states leading to violence, arson and vandalism.
In the meanwhile, opposition parties continued slam the ‘Agnipath’ scheme, demanding its withdrawal. Giving a call to the youth of the country to topple the BJP-led government at the Centre, “through democratic, peaceful and non-violent means”, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi on Sunday said, “I urge you to protest peacefully, but don’t stop. These are your rights, this is your country and it is your duty to protect it. Every leader and worker of the Congress is with you.” Priyanka was addressing a ‘Satyagrah’ protest against the schemed held by the Congress Party at the Jantar Mantar in Delhi. Among the top leaders, who took part in the protest, were Jairam Ramesh, Rajiv Shukla, Sachin Pilot, Salman Khurshid and Alka Lamba.
Her brother Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, who turned 52 on Sunday, asked his party workers to refrain from organizing celebrations on his birthday. “We are concerned with the situation in the country. Crores of youths are anguished. We should share the pain of the youth and their families and stand with them,” Rahul said in a statement.
Slamming the Centre, BSP leader Mayawati on Sunday said that the scheme had left the country’s youth “disappointed and frustrated”.
In a related development, the Rajasthan Cabinet passed a resolution on Sunday demanding the Centre to withdraw the scheme keeping in mind the “larger public interest and the sentiments of the youths”.
‘Agnipath’ a trial by fire or an opportunity?
The scheme has possibly been launched with an aim to reduce the ballooning financial burden on the government and also to make the Armed Forces more competitive. However, the plan has its own pitfalls.
The Ministry of Defence finally announced Agnipath (Tour of Duty), the new scheme of recruitment to Armed Forces. Arguably a more suitable name may have been considered, because of the insinuation – is it a trial by fire or an opportunity? As expected, the scheme has been met with widespread criticism, especially from the veterans and armed forces aspirants. It is not surprising because the new scheme which has been in news since 2020 did not generate enough public debate at the time, which left people only with a vague idea about what it entails. Many did not take it seriously given that the armed forces already have a time-tested recruitment method. But now that the scheme details have been made clear, at least a part of it, it seems the criticism was justified.
The new recruitment scheme is not just radical, in that over a period it will change the composition of the Army, but that once in force it will release three-fourth of the recruits back to civilian life, albeit with some uncertainty about their future. In a country where government jobs are considered attractive, not just because of salary but also for hefty pension, a career in armed forces is preferred especially by youths from rural India. It is only likely that the recruits released after four years of service will knock the door of courts for better benefits.
This is not to say that there were no problems with the existing system. This scheme perhaps has envisaged by the government as a way of reducing the ballooning pay and pension bills. The nature of conflict is also changing, so the maintenance of a large standing army itself has been questioned. But despite expectation of stiff opposition to the new scheme, the government had not made adequate preparation for taking the youth – the primary stakeholder – into confidence. The resultant surprise announcement, after virtually no recruitments in two years, has backfired. Will it solve the problem for which it is being touted as the solution? Are the armed forces leadership completely on board? There are no clear answers as yet.
Therefore, before getting into the pros and cons of the scheme, it is important to understand why government has felt the need to bring this radical reform, when it is strongly being argued that the existing system is working fine. Specifically, it is pertinent to explore the issues government is attempting to resolve with this move.
The Problem – what is it trying to solve
It is argued, rhetorically, that no price is too high to be paid for the safety and security of the state. It may be true when the state is at war, but during peacetime it is a whole another issue. A developing country, like India, has limited resources and financial capacity. The government has to look after the needs of the humongous population and carry out the economic development through these limited resources. Excessive spending on any particular sector means diversion of funds from other sectors, even if it’s done for the state’s defence. The USSR eventually ended up getting disintegrated because, among other reasons, the government prioritised competing in arms race with the U.S., over providing basic needs to its population. Pakistan is another good example of this lopsided budgeting. The Army’s share in national budget is much more than what the state can afford. Pakistan’s defence budget accounts for 4 percent of GDP, compared to 2.9 percent of India’s. But since the Army is the ultimate authority in Pakistan, all governments are forced to keep the Army in good humour by approving their budgetary requisition. Result is that Pakistani economy is in doldrums and people are being asked to give up drinking tea.
Specific to India, the problem that the government is facing is meeting its obligations towards pay and pensions of soldiers and at the same time also undertaking the modernisation of the armed forces. Given the size of the armed forces, especially the Army, the pays and pensions take out a significant chunk out of the overall defence budget, leaving inadequate amount for force modernisation. Salaries and pensions account for nearly 60 percent of total defence budget, leaving a meagre 27 percent for capital acquisition. There is no separate budget for meeting payments obligations and acquiring weapons for modernization. The inflationary factors make capital acquisition (weapons & other materiel) more expensive every passing year. Similarly, the size of pays and pensions is also rising with more retirements every year. This is simply unsustainable and has been raised several times. The pensioners outnumber those in service by significant margin. That is why government has felt it necessary to reform the system that will bring down its commitments on pension.
However, it is easier said than done. Pension is an emotive issue in the country. It is seen as the guarantee of a secure retired life. Already several organisations are pressing for reinstatement of the old pension system which was replaced by the contributory National Pension System (NPS). For most, this is their only source of income in post-retirement civilian life. Only a few manage to obtain well-paying jobs.
The other issue is that of trimming the size of the Army. The Army leadership has time and again emphasised about the need to create a lean and mean fighting force which is more suitable for theatre battle groups. In fact, the proposal for reduction in size of the Army came from their leadership and studies. This means that the recruitment to the armed forces was set to be reduced regardless. However, it is the manner in which the new scheme of recruitment has been announced, as a complete surprise, to the aspirants that has created much discontent.
The Solution – how it is trying to solve it
As per the details released by the government, the old system of recruitment has been abolished. The new recruits will be selected solely through all-India merit Tour of Duty scheme. The scheme seems to be modelled closely to the recruitment system of the U.S. The hope is that since the system has worked well for the U.S., it should work fine for Indian security needs too. But the battle requirements of the U.S., primarily an expeditionary force, are much different than India.
Anyway, back to the solution offered. Only about 25 percent would be offered ranks and made permanent by the armed forces. The competition to be among the one-fourth being retained would be very stiff. Those retained would not only get the full salary and benefits but also the pension, the most lucrative part. Talking to people in rural parts of the country would make it clear that assured pension is what makes a government job most sought after. Other factors come later. The in-hand salary offered to the recruits in the new scheme is quite low. Perhaps government feels that school pass outs deserve only a meagre amount as their salary. Most these recruits have a family to support. Would the salary be enough to do that?
The released 75 percent, the numbers could vary depending upon how many are recruited in a year, would have 11 lakh rupees and a degree. That would get them a job is doubtful. Most logical step would be to go for further studies, which means they’ll end up spending their savings. It is not easy to go back into studies after being in a job.
The assurances provided by the Home Ministry and several state governments that these “retirees” would be prioritised in the state police force & central police force is not very exciting. Governments cannot shut the door for those to join police force who do not come out of the Tour of Duty scheme.
From the government’s perspective, the scheme is perhaps a solution to the challenges it is facing. However, it is clear that its announcement and implementation has not been thought through as well as it should have.
First and foremost, it is a decision by the government, so government has to own it completely and take the necessary steps to douse the fire of resentment as the top priority. The government perhaps blundered by announcing the new recruitment scheme as a complete surprise. No thought was spared about the candidates who had been working hard for past few years to qualify. Undoubtedly, the scheme could have been announced well in advance, thus giving future aspirants knowledge of what lays ahead and the time to prepare and adjust.
People may argue that it is not the job of the armed forces to cater to employment generation in the country. However, that is not how people perceive it. A career in armed forces is seen by those coming from rural parts as lifetime employment. Social status is one thing, the pay and perks ensure that their families lead a comfortable life with opportunities for upward mobility. It will not be easy for government to convince this aspirational population about the benefits of the new scheme.
Still, a middle ground must be found. The life for the Agniveers after release from armed forces is not going to be easy. For those unfortunates who get disabled during service, there’s no guarantee that they will be given the benefits government has announced. Ministry of Defence has the infamous track record of fighting almost every soldier’s disability pension claim in court. There’s no reason to believe this attitude will change for Agniveers.
Government needs to deal with the issue with required compassion. For many armed forces aspirants, joining army is their passion. It’s all they dream about. A better deal needs to offered to them. The aspirants must cease the arson and destruction of precious public property. There are ways to protests, arson and rioting is not among them. If anything, it reflects poorly on those seeking to be part of a highly disciplined organisation.
The author is a Research Scholar with the School of National Security Studies in Central University of Gujarat
SOLDIERS’ SUPREME SACRIFICE WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN: RAJNATH SINGH
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday paid homage to the Indian Army soldiers who lost their lives in the Galwan Valley clash two years ago in 2020.Taking to Twitter, Singh, who is on a two-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir, posted, “Remembering the heroes of Galwan who fought valiantly for the honour of the country and laid down their lives on June 15-16, 2020. Their courage, bravery and supreme sacrifice will never be forgotten. I pay homage to those bravehearts.” For the first time in nearly 45 years, a violent skirmish between Indian and Chinese troops broke out in the Galwan Valley on June 15, 2020, resulting in losses on both sides and marking a new sour turn in China-India relations. The violent clashes, which mostly took place in and around Ladakh’s Galwan Valley and Pangong Lake, claimed lives on both sides and strained the bilateral relationship.
Even though two years have passed since the deadliest clash in 45 years between Indian and Chinese troops in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley, the two countries are still engaged in talks for the disengagement process along the Line of Actual Control (LAC). But an early resolution to the standoff is nowhere in sight.
So far, the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have held 14 rounds of talks since the Galwan clashes and one before June 15, 2020, to resolve the standoff but no concrete solution has been arrived at yet.Defence Minister Rajnath Singh today arrived in Srinagar on a two-day visit to the Union Territory. He will be visiting forward areas and interacting with troops during his visit.
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