Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Iran threatens U.S. Navy as sanctions hit economy

(Reuters) - Iran threatened on Tuesday to take action if the U.S. Navy moves an aircraft carrier into the Gulf, Tehran's most aggressive statement yet after weeks of saber-rattling as new U.S. and EU financial sanctions take a toll on its economy.

The United States dismissed the Iranian threat, saying it was proof that sanctions imposed over Iran's nuclear program were working. The Pentagon said it would keep sending carrier strike groups through the Gulf regardless.

The prospect of sanctions targeting the oil sector in a serious way for the first time has hit Iran's rial currency, which reached a record low on Tuesday and has fallen by 40 percent against the dollar in the past month.

Queues formed at Tehran banks and some currency exchange offices shut their doors as Iranians scrambled to buy dollars to protect their savings. World oil prices jumped more than 4 percent.

Army chief Ataollah Salehi said the United States had moved an aircraft carrier out of the Gulf because of Iran's naval exercises, and Iran would take action if the ship returned.

"Iran will not repeat its warning ... the enemy's carrier has been moved to the Sea of Oman because of our drill. I recommend and emphasize to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf....we are not in the habit of warning more than once," he said.

The Pentagon appeared to walk a delicate line, assuring more "regularly scheduled movements" of aircraft carrier strike groups into the Gulf, but stopping short of announcing any special activity in response to the Iranian threat.

"The deployment of U.S. military assets in the Persian Gulf region will continue as it has for decades," the Pentagon said.

The aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis leads a U.S. Navy task force in the region. It is now outside the Gulf in the Arabian Sea, providing air support for the war in Afghanistan, said Lieutenant Rebecca Rebarich, spokeswoman for the 5th Fleet.

The carrier left the Gulf on December 27 on a planned routine transit through the Strait of Hormuz, she said.

Forty percent of the world's traded oil flows through that narrow straight - which Iran threatened last month to shut if sanctions halted its oil exports.

Brent crude futures were up more than $4 in late Tuesday afternoon trade in London, pushing above $111 a barrel.

Asked at the Pentagon whether there was any U.S. military plan to bolster its presence in the Gulf or test the Iranian threat, spokesman George Little said: "No one in this government seeks confrontation over the Strait of Hormuz."

"It is important to lower the temperature," he said.

Tehran's latest threat comes at a time when sanctions are having an impact on its economy, and the country faces political uncertainty with an election in March, its first since a 2009 vote that triggered countrywide demonstrations.

The West has imposed the increasingly tight sanctions over Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran says is strictly peaceful but Western countries believe aims to build an atomic bomb.

After years of measures that had little impact, the new sanctions are the first that could have a serious effect on Iran's oil trade, which is 60 percent of its economy.

Sanctions signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama on New Year's Eve would cut financial institutions that work with Iran's central bank off from the U.S. financial system, blocking the main path for Iran to receive payments for its crude.

The EU is expected to impose new sanctions by the end of this month, possibly including a ban on oil imports and a freeze of central bank assets.

Even Iran's top trading partner China - which has refused to back new global sanctions against Iran - is demanding discounts to buy Iranian oil as Tehran's options narrow. Beijing has cut its imports of Iranian crude by more than half for January.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the latest Iranian threat "reflects the fact that Iran is in a position of weakness." State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said it showed international pressure was "beginning to bite."

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will visit his counterpart in Tehran on Wednesday to discuss Iran's nuclear program and developments in Iraq and Syria.

Iran has responded to the tighter measures with belligerent rhetoric, spooking oil markets briefly when it announced last month it could prevent shipping through the Strait of Hormuz.

It then held 10 days of naval exercises in the Gulf, test firing missiles that could hit U.S. bases in the Middle East. Tuesday's apparent threat to take action against the U.S. Navy in international waters takes the rhetoric to a new level.

Experts still say they do not expect Tehran to charge headlong into an act of war - the U.S. Navy is overwhelmingly more powerful than Iran's sea forces - but Iran is running out of diplomatic room to avert a confrontation.

"I think we should be very worried because the diplomacy that should accompany this rise in tension seems to be lacking on both sides," said Richard Dalton, former British ambassador to Iran and now an associate fellow at Chatham House think tank.
Iran threatens U.S. Navy as sanctions hit economy

Line of Succession trumps all logic

Date of Birth Row: Article in HT
This here is a very well researched (link given below) and logical article that appeared in HT on the Chief of Army Staff's Date of Birth controversy maliciously created by the "Establishment"- read Bureaucracy. It very well explains 'All that Needs to be known' of the way MOD and GOI function. All to make the COAS exit prematurely. All to make him look a villain, when he is the victim!!
If this is not high handedness, what is? Typical too of the way our Government has been functioning in recent times in many areas.
With Warm Regards,
Col RP Chaturvedi,
Date of birth row: ‘Line of succession trumps all logic.’

Defence Ministry forms panel to select next Army Chief
PTI | 09:01 PM,Jan 04,2012
New Delhi, Jan 4 (PTI) After rejecting army chief General V K Singh's plea on his age issue, Defence Ministry seems to have moved on from the controversy as it formed a panel of officers for appointment of his successor. The Defence Ministry has formed a panel of officers including senior-most Lieutenant Generals for selecting the next army chief, sources said here. The three senior-most officers are Eastern Army Commander Lt Gen Bikram Singh, Northern Army Commander Lt Gen K T Parnaik and present Vice Chief of Army Lt Gen Shri Krishna Singh. The sources said Western Army Commander Lt Gen Shankar Rajan Ghosh, who will retire on May 31 when the tenure of the current army chief ends, is not being considered for the appointment. Traditionally, the senior-most officer from the panel is appointed as the army chief. In this case, Lt Gen Bikram Singh is the senior-most and most-likely to be appointed for the top post. Of the remaining two officers, Lt Gen Parnaik is senior to Lt Gen Shri Krishna. The sources said there is a possibility that Defence Ministry may declare Singh's successor much in advance to meet "any eventuality". Under normal circumstances also, government announces names of successors of defence chiefs two to three months in advance. On December 30, Defence Minister A K Antony rejected Gen Singh's statutory complaint for accepting May 10, 1951 as his date of birth, which would have given him an extra ten months in office. If the plea had been accepted, Lt Gen Parnaik would have become the Army Chief after Gen Singh's retirement on March 31 next year.
Defence Ministry forms panel to select next Army Chief

Reflections of an ex Pakistani Army Officer

I joined the Pakistan army as a junior cadet in 1981 and graduated as a second lieutenant in September 1985. The graduation followed ten years of service in infantry that involved tours of duty in Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab, the Siachin Glacier, deployment to the first Gulf War, and two tours of duty at the School of Infantry and Tactics. Until I resigned my commission in 1996, I was the most die-hard infantry officer: trained to be a leader of men, highly disdainful of all things civilian, and a strong believer in the absolute superiority of the Armed forces as compared to their civilian counterparts.

This brief article, thus, is based on my personal experiences of being an officer and also a reflective inquiry into the structuring of an army officer’s subjectivity. My account, however, is in no way exhaustive and cannot possibility be read as an all-encompassing explanation for the actions and beliefs of all Pakistan army officers.

The way we were trained had a crucial impact on our worldview and on our self-perception within the national space of Pakistan . I graduated at the height of Zia-ul-Haq’s regime. And though I took an oath to protect and safeguard the ideological and material borders of Pakistan , in my four years of training I was never trained to be a servant of my people. In fact, all formal and informal training was meant to solidify a sense of being above and superior to all Pakistanis who did not have the privilege of wearing a uniform. To be honest, this kind of mindset is not only germane to the army; it also permeates the civil services of Pakistan, but in case of the army the civilians are imperceptibly treated as suspect and not worthy of an officer’s trust.This distrust of the civilian populations was one of the strategies employed by the British to train their officers and men and seems to have been incorporated within the Pakistan army seamlessly. Thus, in a way, the old imperial attitude lives on in the rank and file of Pakistani sahibs, long after the empire has ceased to be.

As one grows in the profession and gets promoted the sense of entitlement and privilege grows exponentially. It is this deeply seated sense of entitlement coupled with a normative suspicion of all things civilians that underwrites the excesses of the army elite. I am not suggesting here that all army officers are corrupt and morally deficient: No, in fact, majority of Pakistan army officers that I knew and befriended during my career were upright straight-shooting men, and our soldiers (Or ORs as our officers call them) are without a doubt the best soldiers a nation can hope for. But, as I have also written elsewhere, most of the corruptions of the army are normalized in such a way that they are accepted as rights and privileges rather than corruptions. And some of these corruptions are institutional and not personal at all and thus simply more palatable. For example, each battalion has something called a battalion fund. Meant to be used for the welfare of troops, this fund is generated by the battalion itself and does not draw on the national military budget directly. In utilitarian terms, this is perfectly fine as the fund IS meant for the welfare of troops. But since these funds are neither audited by an outside authority nor exist officially in a battalion’s public record, they form a sort of hidden economy at a micro level. The ways in which these funds are raised are also highly irregular but are never seen to be so. Some battalions run shops, own rental properties, or own agricultural lands. Those that do not have any such resources rely on other interesting means: coaxing money out of contractors, no not as bribes but as money in lieu of goods. Here is a hypothetical example: If you are deployed in the northern areas, your quartermaster usually deals with more than three contractors directly: the fuel or wood contractor, the fresh rations contractor, and the contractor who dumps rations on your posts. In order to raise money, you can do various things: you can ask the contactor to supply certain things only on paper and ask him to give you a certain percentage of the cost of other things in cash; for your fuel and wood contractor, you can ask him to supply only a prescribed amount of wood/fuel and get the rest in cash; you can do the same with your fresh rations contractors. As I said earlier, none of this money lines the pockets of the officers; it usually ends up in a battalion fund, but since these are black funds, they contribute nothing to the national economy but rather exist in the black hole of a parallel economy.

The case becomes even more interesting if you are in the services: the services deal with large contracts directly and it is there in those large contracts, civilian and military, that huge sums of money are exchanged again without any public record or accounting. Aisha Siddiqua covered this on a macro level; I am only providing some details at the micro level, because it is the moral elasticity of the functioning of the army at micro level that happens to be my concern.
As the officers move through the system of promotions, the degree of their sense of entitlement and their aversion to any kind of civilian oversight increases exponentially. This happens in pretty much all the cases: even for principled officers whom I had admired as a young officer. Obviously, a whole life being protected from the common vagaries of life and lifetime of indoctrination in self worth ought to produce such subjectivities.

What I found especially interesting in my career, as an officer was the unofficial dual layering of the military law. The Pakistan army is governed by two major books of law: The Army Regulations (ARR) and the Army Rules and Instructions (ARI). There is no distinction in the law about how it would be applied to junior or senior officers: all military personnel, in fact, are equal in the rules and regulations. But just as we were being told to avoid talking politics in the dining hall, as it was against the spirit of the army rules, General Zia, our then dictator, was canvassing the nation to gain support for his sham referendum. Of course, we did not have the right to question his authority, but it always made me wonder as to how is it possible for a serving general to act as a politician while his junior officers were not even permitted to speak on the subject of politics.

Similarly, this above-the-board attitude has so deeply permeated the Army elite, that in 1999 General Pervez Musharraf, the then COAS, was actually able to launch a border war—the Kargil debacle—without even informing his own government. It is rumored that when the Indian prime minister called Nawaz Sharif to ask about why Pakistan had started a border war, Mr. Sharif had to tell him that he would have to get back to him after he had talked to his generals. Upon hearing this, it is also rumored, the Indian prime minister had said: “That is the difference between you and us Mian sahib, our generals ask us what they are attempting to do and not otherwise.”

Obviously, there is something broken within the army’s system of subjectivization that creates figures like Ayub, Zia, and Musharraf: I mean how is it possible that all these jokers were able to muster the support of their entire officer corps while obviously violating the very constitution that the army was meant to protect?

Obviously, this subjectivity arises through the systems of training employed by the army: almost all officers are trained to be suspicious of their civilian counterparts and internalize a feeling of systemic superiority over what they consider the corrupt and inefficient civilian-run systems. Naturally, this attitude also plays a role in their view of the popularly elected governments and is further accentuated in case of senior officers who are only accountable to their superiors in uniform.

The myth-making industry—the media and the conservative newspapers—also play a major role in buttressing army’s reputation in opposition to the ineffectual civilian governments. That is why, when going gets rough, our media start imploring the army to takeover and when the take over occurs, the turncoat politicians, the bought judges, and compliant civil servants become a part of a hybrid military-civilian system of power that has nothing to offer to the people except empty slogans. One serious audit of the wealth amassed by all the loyal corps commanders of our former dictators will be sufficient to prove my point. A COAS who takes over the civilian government works through various channels of idealization and appeasement. The first group to be appeased is the corps commanders, who are rewarded heavily for their loyalty. The next group is the politicians who break away from their parties and then sell themselves to the dictators: The chaudries of Gujarat and Shaikh Rashid from my home district are some examples of this bunch.

On lower levels, steps are also taken to keep the lower ranks loyal by introducing various “welfare” schemes that involve cheaply available plots, salary and pension increases, foreign assignments, and civilian appointments of retired officers. This entire system of appeasements, corrupt to the core, enables a dictator to sustain power and where all else fails, the same army can also be deployed to crush any uprising and, interestingly, while the army is deployed to suppress civilian uprisings, they are also paid a daily allowance that comes out of the non-military budget.

I am not opposed to the troops welfare projects; I believe that it is necessary for a nation to provide care for all those who put their lives at risk for the welfare of their nation. But I am, of course, vehemently opposed to spending indiscriminately on the armed forces and its upper crust, while millions of our children go hungry, have no access to healthcare, or a good education.

I hope Pakistan army has probably changed for the better since I left it; but I am also certain that the ingrained sense of entitlement of army officers has also increased. And unless the way we train our officers is altered, this gulf between the army and people they are supposed to protect will continue to widen.

The recent debacle of Osama bin Laden’s long, comfortable tenancy in a house close to the Pakistan Military Academy and what followed after his death is a good example of the army’s holier-than-thou attitude even when their leadership has failed.

While the media, by and large, have done a good job of asking some really pertinent and hard questions of the army and ISI, the civilian government, it seems, has again buckled down and given in to the pressure employed by the military elite.

Looked at differently, this latest failure of Pakistan army and its intelligence agencies is very simple to understand. Here are the facts: The most powerful institution in Pakistan which claims the bulk of our national budget every year failed to notice that the world’s most wanted terrorists was living right next to the home of Amy Officers for FIVE years. What other proof of leadership incompetence do we need? There has to be some accountability for this. But as far as I know, no general has left the service or accepted responsibility. But then, our generals are known for losing half a country without feeling any remorse. And unless our officers are trained as the servants and not the masters of their people, we will continue producing these Muhammad Shah Rangeelas of modern times.

Author of Constructing Pakistan (Oxford UP, 2010) Masood Ashraf Raja is an Assistant Professor of Postcolonial Literature and Theory at the University of North Texas, United States and the editor of Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies. His critical essays have been published in journals including South Asian Review, Digest of Middle East Studies, Caribbean Studies, Muslim Public Affairs Journal, and Mosaic. He is currently working on his second book, entitled Secular Fundamentalism: Poetics of Incitement and the Muslim Sacred.
Reflections by an ex-army officer by Masood Raja