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Thousands flee as cross-border firing continues

JAMMU, Jan 6: Pakistan fired mortar shells and gunshots at over 60 villages and scores of forward posts in Kathua and Samba districts in Jammu and Kashmir in continuing ceasefire violations.

India had tried handing over a protest note regarding the ceasefire violation, but Pakistan allegedly refused to accept it.

Nearly 10,000 people have fled from the border areas with 7,500 taking shelter in camps set up by the government in safer areas in Kathua and Samba districts since the latest round of ceasefire violations by Pakistan started on New Year Eve, officials said on Tuesday.

"Pakistan Rangers started shelling and firing on the Border Security Force border outpost at Chandrachek near the international border in Kathua district,” a senior police officer.

As tensions on the Indo-Pak border escalated, Border Security Force (BSF) Director General DK Pathak asserted that India wants peace along the border but will retaliate strongly if fired upon. “India will not do anything to disturb peace along the border but will retaliate befittingly if the situation demands,” Pathak told the media.

He had visited the affected regions on Tuesday to take stock of the situation.

Pak boat occupants were not smugglers: Parrikar

Manohar ParrirkarNEW DELHI, Jan 5: Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has debunked the suggestion that the Pakistani "terror boat" was a smugglers' vessel and those on board were not terrorists.

“I think they were suspected terrorists as they committed suicide; a normal boat even carrying drugs can surrender,” said Parrikar.

“Why would smugglers stay in touch with Pakistani maritime authorities? Furthermore, why would they commit suicide?” he asked.

Lauding the Coast Guard for doing the “right job at right time based on intelligence inputs”, Parrikar said the boat had been on surveillance for 12 hours and it was intercepted as soon as possible.

Parrikar said since the boat was laden with explosives, it could even have inflicted damage to Coast Guard ship and chopper.

“The location (of the boat) was not normal sea route. The smugglers normally take the busy route so that they can mingle with other boats (and avoid detection),” the minister said. “I am not speculating that there were explosives, but their (crew's) activities to my mind don't fit the description of smugglers,” he added.

The minister revealed that the Coast Guard had spotted another boat, but the same was in international waters.

Pak boat carrying explosives blows up near Gujarat

NEW DELHI, Jan 2: An explosives-laden Pakistani trawler blew itself up late on December 31 night after being intercepted by the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) in the Arabian Sea off Porbandar, Gujarat.

All four people on board the vessel from near the Pakistani port city of Karachi are believed to have been killed in the dramatic episode, according to the defence ministry.

The suspicious behaviour of the boat's crew brought back memories of the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai six years ago. Then, 10 gunmen had travelled from Karachi in a boat, hijacked an Indian fishing vessel and steered it to Mumbai to go on a three-day rampage during which they killed 166 people.

A defence ministry official said the trawler stopped only after the ICG fired shots, but the crew had by then set it on fire, triggering a major explosion that sank the vessel. Neither the boat nor its crew could be "recovered" due to rough weather.

The ICG ruled out the explosion being an accident, saying the men on the boat sped away because they were hiding "something really serious".

"If they weren't doing anything wrong, then they had no reason to run, to set the boat on fire. Why would anyone set (themselves) on fire?" said KR Nautiyal, deputy inspector general of the ICG.

A top government source said it all began around 9am on December 31, after the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) issued an intelligence alert to the ICG that a suspicious Pakistani fishing boat from Keti Bunder near Karachi was headed towards India.

The conversations between the crew and their handlers in Pakistan were intercepted and intelligence authorities suspected that a terror strike was being planned.

With the NTRO providing the exact coordinates of the trawler, the ICG scrambled a Dornier plane at 11am to locate it. The Dornier captain was categorically asked not to fly too low as it would have alerted the crew. The plane spotted the boat at the exact location given by the NTRO.

It undertook a second sortie at 2pm and found that the rogue boat was still sailing towards India. The aircraft was launched for the third time at 5.30pm. It found no change in the boat's course. By now, the ICG was pretty clear that the Pakistani vessel was up to some serious mischief --- perhaps a 26/11-type terror strike or a suicide attack on an Indian warship.

It immediately ordered two warships patrolling the area to intercept the boat and interrogate the crew. ICG's in-shore patrol vessel Rajratan made contact with the boat around 11pm.

The warship warned the unlit vessel to stop for investigation but it swiftly changed course and attempted to speed away, taking advantage of the "darkness, bad weather and strong winds". This led to a hot pursuit that lasted for more than an hour before the four-man crew hid below the deck and exploded the boat.

"The consequences would have been disastrous had the boat slipped past our defences. It was on a suicide mission," the source said. Top security officials were at their desks, monitoring the entire operation till 4.30am on January 1.

Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao told NDTV, "The coast guard has foiled attempts of a suspected terror boat that was actually spotted near the Indo-Pak maritime border."

"Possibly this was yet another attempt to sneak terrorists into the Indian territory."

The incident was also a chilling reminder of the terror threat on the high seas and the deadly bombing of the USS Cole 14 years ago. In October 2000, suicide bombers exploded a small boat alongside the US Navy destroyer in the Yemeni port of Aden, killing 17 American sailors and injuring another 39.

The drama came barely a month after navy chief Admiral Robin Dhowan said his force would observe no niceties if it came across Pakistani vessels due to a possible threat -- against the backdrop of militants attempting to hijack a Pakistan frigate in September.

Pak doesn't seem to learn any lesson: Defence Minister Parrikar

BENGALURU, Jan 1: As ceasefire violations by Pakistan continued unabated, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar on Thursday said Islamabad does not seem to learn any lesson.

"Pakistan does not like to stay quiet even on New Year day. They started (cross-border) firing at 12.30 pm and don't seem to learn (any) lesson," Parrikar said at an event here.

In an obvious reference to Pakistan and China, he also said, "We are surrounded in northern boundaries by two neighbours who are not very comfortable with us."

In fresh ceasefire violation, Pakistan Rangers today targeted 13 border outposts in Samba sector, a day after an Indian jawan and four Pakistani soldiers were killed in exchange of fire.

India said it will lodge a strong protest with Pakistan over the ceasefire violations, the third along the International Border in the past three days and seventh in last eight days.

Responding to Pakistan's ceasefire violations, Parrikar had said yesterday that the Indian security forces should not hold back in the face of firing and must retaliate with "double the force".

Parrikar who was here to attend a function also described Bengaluru as "the brain of India" in Space research. "We are thankful to Bangalore."

"Our culture.... Our scientists take part in space missions but will not forget to offer pooja because this is our culture. We are proud of our culture. Our culture teaches us how to behave in the society. It teaches how to behave with elders."

Parrikar was speaking at an event organised by "Adamya Chetana", an NGO working in the field of social development managed by Union Minister Ananth Kumar's wife Tejaswini.

Pakistan should be ready for collateral damages if they fire: BSF

JAMMU, Jan 1: Asserting that BSF never fires "first" towards the Pakistan side along the International Border, the force today said the neighbouring country should be ready to suffer collateral damages if the Indian side retaliates.

"If Pakistan rangers fire on us, we will also fire on them. If they suffer collateral damages (in our action), they (Pakistan) should be ready for that," Inspector General (IG) of BSF, Jammu Frontier, Rakesh Sharma told reporters here today.

Sharma was speaking to media persons at a function held to pay homage to constable Shri Ram Gawaria who died yesterday when Pakistan violated ceasefire along International Border (IB) in Samba sector by firing on a BSF patrol party. Four Pakistan rangers were killed in retaliatory firing by BSF.

Asked whether there were instructions from the Centre to give befitting reply to Pakistan, the IG said, "There were already clear instructions in the past as also this time and will continue in future too. But we never open fire on Pakistan first. You have seen that we have never fired first on the Pakistan on IB. If we are being fired upon, we will not sit silent...we will retaliate," the IG said.

The IG termed yesterday's firing by Pakistan as an act of frustration.

"See how Pakistan rangers have snipped the patrol party of BSF. This is utter frustration of Pakistan as they are not getting an opportunity to infiltrate into this side."

Asked about the reason behind the continuance of the firing incidents from across the border, Sharma said, "Whenever there is an internal problem in Pakistan, they try to engineer ceasefire violations in a bid to divert attention of its general public there-- both on LoC and International Border. This is their deliberate conspiracy."

"It is beyond our comprehension why Pakistan is resorting to firing on our borders. One reason is that their internal disturbances as their internal situation is very bad in wake of terror attacks there and may be to divert the attention of the public," he added.

On the issue of terror infrastructure across IB, the IG said it was difficult to tell the exact number of militants ready to infiltrate to this side. He said there could be 50-60 militants waiting for opportunities to infiltrate into this side.

"We have increased the deployment for area dominations. As far as the winter strategy is concerned, our security grid is strong on the borders," he said.

"There are various smaller militant groups waiting for opportunity to infiltrate into this side of the border and carry out some terror attacks. But there is a high degree of vigilance on the borders and despite the adverse weather conditions, BSF men are dominating and patrolling areas round the clock," he added.

"Winter strategy is in place on the borders. We have tight security on the borders. Our manpower on the borders and jawans are very alert and vigilant, whether it is day or night," he said.

The IG ruled out firing by Pakistan in civilian areas yesterday.

About reports that some 'fidayeens' also carry out firing from across the border, the IG said, "There are reports, but the (yesterday's) firing was carried out by Pak rangers."

India to retaliate against Pak ceasefire violations with double force: Manohar Parrikar

NEW DELHI With Pakistan continuing to violate the ceasefire, defence minister Manohar Parrikar has directed the security forces not to hold back and retaliate with "double the force".

His comments came after an Army jawan was yesterday injured as Pakistani troops violated the ceasefire along the LoC in Pallanwala sector of Jammu district.

This was the fifth ceasefire violation in the past one week.

Underlining that the the number of ceasefire violations across the LoC have reduced as compared to last year, Parrikar, however, noted that the violations have increased across the International Border.

Asked what has been his direction to the security forces, Parrikar, who was interacting with defence journalists last night, said, "Our (NDA government) response is don't hesitate. React appropriately without holding yourself back".

He said that if there are any ceasefire violations, the Indian forces should retaliate "with double the force" and if there is an attack on Army posts, the terrorists need to be neutralised.

He stressed that the Indian forces don't violate ceasefire agreement but only respond to violations by Pakistani troops.

On the attack by Bodo militants in Assam, Parrikar dismissed suggestions that the army was late in reacting to the attack and said they had to wait for a request from the local administration.

"We were alert about the attack even before the news was flashed in the media. The armed forces stationed there were ready, but we had to wait for request from local administration," Parrikar said.

"As soon as the local administration requested, we deployed the forces," he said.

Parrikar said 73 columns of the army were now deployed in Assam, where Bodo militants massacred dozens of tribals last week.

Defence agents to be legalised by mid-February: Parrikar

NEW DELHI, Dec 31: Changes in the Defence Procurement Policy to legalise representatives from foreign defence firms will be done in another month and a half, defence minister Manohar Parrikar said.

In an interaction with journalists on Tuesday night, he also said that the ministry is thinking of giving conditioned and limited approval to dealing with banned firms, and a ban has been lifted to get spare parts for Tatra trucks.

"Representatives from defence firms are already allowed in the Defence Procurement Policy... the problem is it does not say what is not acceptable," Parrikar said.

"Changes will be made to the DPP, representatives will be allowed but commission, or percentage of profit for the deals will not be allowed. The representative's remuneration shall be declared by the company," he said.

Parrikar added that a draft of the changed policy is ready and a final draft will be ready in another 8-10 days. It will then go through further procedures before going to the Union cabinet.

"The process shall be completed in another one and a half months," said Parrikar, but noted that those agents who have been banned by the ministry will not be permitted under the new arrangement.

He also said that banned firms can be conditionally allowed.

"Based on merit and necessity, one can think of lifting the ban to a reasonable level," he said.

Parrikar said the state-run Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML) has been allowed to supplying spare parts for Tatra trucks, as long as it does not deal with the British subsidiary of the company, which was banned following irregularities in its deal with BEML.

"Limited NoC (no objection certificate) has been given to BEML because we need Tatra trucks," he said.

Force level of IAF down to 25 fighter squadrons

NEW DELHI, Dec 22: Painting a grim picture of India’s combat readiness, a Parliamentary panel on Monday dropped a bombshell by revealing that the force levels of the Indian Air Force are down to a mere 25 fighter squadrons. The IAF till recently had maintained it had 32-34 squadrons with about 18 planes each.

But the revelation by the standing committee on defence in a report tabled in Parliament indicates the IAF's traditional air superiority over Pakistan may have been severely diluted.

India requires 45 fighter squadrons to counter a “two-front collusive threat,” but the panel found that the air force has only 25 active fighter units.

"Moreover, 14 of these squadrons are equipped with MiG-21 and MiG – 27 which will retire between 2015- 2024. Thus the strength will be reduced to just 11 squadrons by 2024..our capability has already come down,” the panel said.

It flagged concerns about India’s depleting military capability in the context of tackling a two-front challenge – euphemism for a combined threat from China and Pakistan.

The committee slammed the government for its failure to modernise the armed forces and asked it to take prompt measures to plug crucial gaps.

The panel noted crippling deficiencies in military equipment was fast-eroding India’s capability vis-à-vis its neighbours. The reports enumerated challenges being faced by the military ranging from inadequate number of fighter planes to shortfall of warships, missiles, tanks and even bullet proof jackets.

The panel found the navy had inducted only one submarine during the last 15 years, while it had retired five. “It’s high time that adequate budgetary provisions are made so that deficiencies are mitigated and the country is capable to take on two front challenges,” the panel said.

The panel expressed deep concerns over “critical shortages” of artillery guns and missiles. Dubbing missiles a “very crucial component” in any modern force “with a high deterrent value”, the committee said missiles should be made available to the army in required quantity. The panel was perturbed to learn that bullet-proof vests had not been bought by the defence ministry, “jeopardizing the lives of thousands of soldiers.”

The panel was surprised to note that the government was raising a mountain strike corps but no separate allocation had been made for it. “An amount of Rs. 5000 crore has been earmarked for it but it is not over and above the actual budget allocated and the Army has been asked to raise this Corps out of its own budget,” it said.

Putin to be invited for Make-in-India defence chopper deal

NEW DELHI, Dec 10: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be inviting Russia to take part in a $3 billion light-utility helicopters project — the first big-ticket Make in India initiative in the defence sector — during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday. The choppers are meant for both Indian armed forces and export.

This is the first India-Russia summit after the Modi government came to power.

Speeding up the process for setting up reactors 3 and 4 at Kudankulam without further price escalation, specific energy cooperation measures like tanker-shipments of gas, mid-sea trading will form a major part of the agenda at the summit.

Modi is also expected to take up Russia’s defence cooperation with Pakistan and China.

The deepening of India-Russia energy cooperation comes in the wake of Moscow inking a $400 billion deal with Beijing for supplying gas for 30 years earlier this year, which Putin had termed a “watershed event”.

For the chopper deal, public sector unit Hindustan Aeronautics Limited or an Indian private firm could partner with a foreign firm for production of Kamov-226T helicopters. In India, the bidding for these ‘reconnaissance and surveillance helicopters’ is restricted to Indian firms and their joint venture partner.

In the first phase, the order could be for 384 helicopters, which could later be increased to 600 to replace the ailing Cheetah/Chetak fleet used by the Indian army and air force. officials told HT.

This invite, rather inserted late into the programme, is intended to be a signal that India-Russia ties should go beyond the “ordinary buyer-seller” ties and reflect the true nature of a “growing partnership”. Sources said the two sides are likely to sign around 20 pacts, including two commercial ones, after the summit meeting but that this invite could send a clear “message of intent for closer ties”.

The Modi government scrapped acquisition of 197 light-utility helicopters from foreign firms; the selection process had been married by allegations of corruption in October.

Russian Kamov-226T and Eurocopter and Bell were eying this contract. The tender was cancelled for the second time in seven years.

RSH helicopters can be used for day and night operations. They include reconnaissance and surveillance, evacuation, scout role, and aiding civil authorities to deal with any crisis.

Agni-IV launch successful

NEW DELHI, Dec 2: India on Tuesday successfully test-fired Agni-IV strategic missile for its full strike range of 4,000 km from the Wheeler Island, off the Odisha Coast.

The nuclear weapons capable long range missile in deliverable version was launched for the first time by the Army’s Strategic Forces Command (SFC) around 10.15 am. Carrying a one-tonne dummy warhead, the missile splashed down near its pre-designated target point in the waters of Indian Ocean with high degree of accuracy as two naval ships located nearby recorded the terminal event.

From the start till the end, the trajectory of the missile and its other parameters were tracked and monitored by a network of radar and telemetry stations and electro-optical systems along the East Coast.

The missile’s re-entry vehicle’s heat shield enabled it to withstand searing temperatures of more than 3,000 degrees C when it re-entered the earth’s atmosphere. Highly sophisticated Ring Laser Gyros based navigation system and modern avionics provided reliability in steering the missile to its target point.

The two-stage, solid fuelled Agni-IV along with other missiles in Agni series, would be the mainstay of India’s nuclear deterrence programme.

This was the fourth success in a row for Agni-IV as three previous flight trials carried out by Defence Research and Development Organisation’s missile technologists achieved their respective mission objectives in November 2011, September 2012 and January 2014.

After a few more user trials by SFC personnel, the missile would be inducted into the Army.

Scientific Advisor to Defence Minister Avinash Chander, Top DRDO missile scientists, including Director-General Missiles and Strategic Systems Dr. V,G.Sekaran, project director Tessy Thomas and RCI Director Satheesh Reddy were present.



Pak targets 15 posts in Jammu
India to test N-capable missile on Oct 17



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