Military leadership and trial by media


Health of democracies is directly proportional to the degree of independence enjoyed by their media. If India thrives as a vibrant democracy, a great deal of credit goes to its media, both electronic and print. It has been highly active in exposing weaknesses in governance and decay in societal standards. Even India military has not escaped its inquisition. Being a vital instrument of the government that consumes considerable resources, the military is as answerable to countrymen as any other public institution. Therefore, there can be no two opinions about subjecting military to public scrutiny.

Media coverage of any episode can be broadly divided into three phases. As the phases invariably overlap, they cannot be distinctly delineated. However, their distinctiveness can be easily discernible by their dissimilar attributes.

They are as follows:-

  • Breaking News Phase: It is the phase in which the opening salvo is fired. As limited facts are available in public domain, conjectures are flashed as news from ‘reliable sources’. Every media house tries to sensationalise the issue by inventing imaginative and sometimes totally unrelated headlines to outdo others in TRP ratings. Though unfair to the affected people, media can be pardoned for such misdemeanors to some extent as it becomes a professional compulsion for them to make an impact. Thus this phase is characterised by half-truths and speculation.
  • Detailed Coverage Phase: This is generally a much longer phase during which the events/issues are analysed repeatedly by inviting ‘experts’. Some media houses do try to moderate their stance as more facts get revealed and they become aware of the truth. In a subtle manner, they accept their earlier mistake and try to make amends. However, their number is highly limited. Most media houses find it undignified to change track and continue to harp on half-truths to justify their earlier stand and coverage. They continue with the vilification of hapless victims, despite availability of newer information to the contrary. Ego ruling over ethics is the hall mark of this phase.
  • Closure Phase: No media entity has ever bothered to analyse an issue/occurrence in retrospect to correct its earlier coverage and communicate truth to the environment. Such introspection can help media become aware of pitfalls of unsubstantiated reporting and thereby protect its credibility. It will also help redeem the reputation and provide solace to victims of its smear campaign to some extent. To admit mistakes requires a great deal of sensitivity for others and Indian media has yet to attain that state of maturity. Unfortunately, this phase is conspicuous by its absence.

As there is a very thin line that separates investigative coverage from unfounded vilification, media houses readily sacrifice truth and objectivity to grab maximum publicity and viewership. In many cases, need for sensationalism forces media to create media hype by coining highly outrageous and absurd slogans. Terms like ‘Ketchup Colonel,’ ‘Booze Brigadier’ and ‘Frisky General’ are decidedly unfair and derogatory.

As soldiers are very conscious of their public image, unfair media coverage causes immense pain to them. Two cases (the Sukhna land case and the Adarsh Society case) in recent times have dented the image of the army officers and shown them as unethical and scheming persons for monetary gains. As reasonable time has passed and considerable specifics of the cases are available in the public domain, it will be educative to review them with respect to the above mentioned three phases.

Sukhna Land Case

The whole case revolves around issuance of ‘No Objection Certificate’ (NOC) by a Corps Commander for the construction of a residential school for girls on a nearby privately owned piece of land by a civil entrepreneur. He did not consider the proposed girls school to be a security threat and issued the said NOC.

During the ‘breaking-news’ phase, every media house tried to out-score others by calling it by various names. They were unanimous in terming it to be a scam of monumental proportions. Some channels went to the ridiculous extent of estimating the value of land involved to further sensationalise the issue. Rational thinking was sacrificed to garner more publicity. The Army Headquarters (AHQ) added to the graveness of the case by stating that the case had brought disgrace to the Army, thereby obliquely accepting transgression and misconduct.

During the ‘coverage phase’, truth started trickling out and many media units softened their criticism. There were others who continued to question the integrity of the commanders involved and virtually ran a campaign for their conviction. AHQ chose to go along and failed to put the whole case in the correct perspective to the nation. In a first of its kind, the Corps Commander was ordered to be court-martialled on seven charges including ‘intent to defraud’. The General Court Martial (GCM), while dropping all the four charges relating to ‘intent to defraud’, found him guilty on three counts – issuance of NOC, signing of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the entrepreneur and not keeping the superior Headquarters informed.

As per the media reports, words of the Presiding Officer of the Court while pronouncing verdict were very revealing. He stated, “There is no evidence that the accused could have gained anything or caused injury to anyone… There was no deceit or secrecy in the signing of the MoU.” On the contrary, the Court noted the fact that efforts had been made to safeguard the interests of the army by ensuring that the security was not compromised and by seeking reservations for the students and families of the army men in the proposed educational institution. However, the Court found his failure to seek approval of Headquarters Eastern Command to be an act ‘prejudicial to good order and military discipline’.

A corps commander is the second highest field commander in the hierarchy of the Indian army, commands over 50,000 troops and is assigned responsibility to ensure defence of a large tract of national territory. GCM of a corps commander is no trivial matter. It is certainly justified for acts of treason, cowardice or moral turpitude but not for failure to keep higher authorities informed of an administrative decision apparently taken ‘in good faith’. He may deserve a reprimand but no country court-martials such a high ranking military officer for an act of indiscretion and misplaced initiative.

Regrettably, not a single media house has considered it to be its moral duty to carry out an honest closure of the issue by apprising its viewers of the final developments. They should have called involved authorities in their discussion programmes and grilled them. Was a Court of Inquiry (C of I) warranted for this lapse and on what basis did it recommend disciplinary action? Who suggested Summary of Evidence (S of E) and who advised a GCM? On what evidence was the officer accused of intent to defraud, a very serious allegation? Are the concerned officers being held accountable for subjecting a senior military commander to unwarranted humiliation and for unnecessarily bringing disrepute to the army?

Adarsh Society Case

No other case has besmirched the image of the army as much as the Adarsh case. During the ‘breaking news’, media went berserk tarnishing the character and military reputation of retired service chiefs and other senior commanders. The complete officer cadre of the services was projected a bunch of unscrupulous and greedy characters. It was alleged that a piece of defence land meant to rehabilitate Kargil-widows had been misappropriated by a few service and defence estate officers through falsification of records in order to construct a residential building.

Although it was a simple case of a few officers forming a society to seek allotment of land from the state government, the media chose to call it ‘Kargil for Profit’ scam and insisted that Kargil-widows had been swindled out of their entitlement by devious officers. Worse, the Defence Minister and the Chief of the Army Staff repeatedly asserted that the land belonged to the defence ministry and vowed to take action against the wrongdoers. It amounted to an implied admission of culpability of the officers involved. The media attack was so vicious and unrelenting that every serving and retired officer felt hurt, slighted and let down.

Some sane voices were heard during the follow up ‘coverage phase’. However, many channels decided to continue with their misplaced tirade against the service officers. Every group discussion castigated the army leadership for falling standards. Retired service chiefs were called land sharks and equated with land mafia. As is its wont, AHQ failed to clarify matters to let the truth be known.

Multiple enquiries and the court case have revealed many astonishing facts. The defence ministry has admitted in an affidavit submitted to Mumbai High Court that it has no record of the land in question to prove ownership. It has also accepted receipt of a letter from the state government in 1964 declining transfer of Block VI Backbay Reclamation to the defence ministry. In addition, state government has repeatedly claimed ownership of the land in the state assembly and justified its sale to Adarsh society.

Where does the case stand now? If the defence ministry has no records to prove ownership of the land, why were the top defence officials misleading the country? On what grounds has the army ordered enquiries? What is its locus standi to question purchase of land by a society from the state government? As regards grant of environmental clearance and other sanctions, it is purely a matter related to civilian governance and is being investigated by the civil agencies. It is time media initiates ‘closure phase’ and hauls every single authority that alleged misappropriation of defence land before its viewers. They should be asked to explain reasons for making false claims and denigrating the officer cadre.


Military leadership is very conscious of its public standing and highly sensitive to unfair character-assassination. Undoubtedly, there are some black sheep and they must be given exemplary punishment.

However, three suggestions are offered here.

One, it should be obligatory for the media to carry out an introspection through the ‘closure phase’. It should have the moral courage to correct itself. In the process it will gain credibility for itself.

Two, retired service officers, who are called by the electronic media as ‘experts’ for discussions should apprise themselves of the rules and facts of the case beforehand. They should advice restraint till enquiries unearth the truth. Tendency to pass condemnatory comments without adequate knowledge must be curbed. AHQ must keep the environment informed of true facts of the case. It must realise that unwarranted media attack on serving and retired officers dents the image of the army as an upright institution.

Finally, media coverage of Sukhna and Adarsh cases over the last two years have caused immense pain to all serving and retired officers. Both the media and AHQ have let them down. They have been made to feel small in front of other segments of the society. It is unfair to look for scams where none exists. Reputations once lost are very difficult to redeem.

(Maj Gen Mrinal Suman is India’s foremost expert in defence procurement procedures and offsets. He heads Defence Technical Assessment and Advisory Services Group of CII. This article, written by him, first appeared in the Indian Defence Review)

Europe helps create 'Jihad' next door


Have Prime Minister David Cameron and President Nicolas Sarkozy ever paused to consider how the 20 million Muslims in Europe might react to their military action in Libya? I doubt if the rest of their countrymen will ever place them with Churchill or de Gaulle.

Arabs, like people anywhere, do not like dictators. But Western military intervention amplified on global media, stokes nationalism, localism. A dictator then becomes “our son-of-a-bitch” against an even more despised Western “outsider”, particularly when this “outsider’s” successive interventions over decades have been devoid of any altruism.

Where there has been any demonstrable sympathy (by Americans not Europeans) for the people of Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Muslims have worn their “thank you” on their sleeves. The image is so etched on my mind that I never tire of repeating it: avenues and squares in the name of Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright in Kosovo! A pity there will never be a street in Benghazi named after Hillary Clinton or Cameron and Sarkozy.

Not only has the West halted the Arab spring, it may have done something much more dangerous. Countries with a majority of their populations in the 20s, the youth bulge, who had come out on the streets waving their flags of freedom, where will they turn now?

Cavernous staircases from the Arab street lead to the basements where extremist recruitment centers are looking for custom.

Since, on current showing, Western leaders have eased to see things beyond their nose, it may be useful to din it into their senses that Muslims, like the rest of the world, have watched Operation Desert Storm, occupation of Iraq, the two Intefadas, a four year long brutalization of Bosnia, occupation of the West Bank, invasion of Afghanistan, civilian deaths in drone attacks in Pakistan – and now, just when the mood in the Arab street was softening towards the West and Israel, come these images of Western action in Libya and rank hypocrisy in Bahrain and Yemen.

A straightforward lesson should have been learnt from Afghanistan where Islamic Madrasas to train Mujahideen against Soviet occupation in 1980 continues to plague the region to this day. How helpless can the Americans be? They have allowed a quarrelling Europe to drag them into their third war with a Muslim country in eight years.

Incidentally, Yemen’s direct link with the Afghan project is generally not understood. Prince Naif bin Abdel Aziz, Saudi Interior Minister, while helping set up training centers for Islamic militancy in Afghanistan, thought of manufacturing thoroughbred Arab Jehadis next door in Yemen. President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s half brother, Ali Mohsin Al Ahmar was given charge of the training camps. Just as the Afghan Jehadis were motivated to evict the Soviets from Afghanistan, so were the Yemenis trained to fight the then pro Soviet regime in the South, with Aden as the capital. Unification of Yemen took place only in the 90s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Afghan Jehadis (Taleban leavened with Al Qaeda) are plaguing the US in Af-Pak; the Arab Jehadis in Yemen are a thorn in the US-Saudi flesh. Hence, drone attacks on Al Qaeda positions in parts of Yemen, every attack breeding more Al Qaeda.

For the Saudis the matters are a trifle more complicated with Yemen’s Zaidi Shias in Saada, abutting Saudi Arabia, making common cause with the Socialists in the South against the House of Saud.

It obviously suits President Saleh to play the Saudi card to protect himself from the mounting unrest which has taken a toll in lives. How long can the Saudis ward off multiple pressures – from Bahrain, Yemen, Shia dominated Iraq contiguous with its own the oil bearing Shia dominated Eastern Province?

As if all this was not enough, Messrs Sarkozy and Cameron have committed themselves to Benghazi which was rocked by the Danish cartoon controversy and from where Jehadis have participated in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Libyan revolt was led by a group called the National Conference of the Libyan opposition, founded in London in 2005. Can overseas Libyans make a revolution? If Qaddafi survives, will not opposition to his soft Islam be the harder version of the faith? Remember the Danish cartoon protests in Benghazi in 2006 eventually turned upon Qaddafi.

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)

Indian built Zaranj-Delaram highway under Taliban control


The Zaranj-Delaram highway in Afghanistan built by India and handed over to the Afghan government on January 22, 2009 is now under Taliban control. Within two years of the commissioning of this strategic highway, Taliban effectively dominates this road link, which has in turn allowed it to take control of the Nimroz province.

The Zaranj-Delarm road, on the main Herat-Kandahar Highway, constructed by thousands of Indian nationals in the face of stiff resistance from Taliban was meant to be one of most long lasting and visible symbols of India’s commitment to Afghanistan’s reconstruction and rebuilding of its nationhood.

But the unwillingness of the ISAF to provide security cover to this strategic highway and the inability of the Afghan National Army to secure Indian investments and projects has led to a colossal waste of Indian funds earmarked for Afghanistan’s development. India’s reluctance to commit troops on the ground to secure Indian development projects has led to the winding down of several projects that were received with tremendous enthusiasm by Afghans.

A Taliban press release dated January 15, 2011 clearly details Taliban’s control of the Nimroz province and, thereby, the Zaranj-Delaram Highway. This dry-desert  province located in south eastern Afghanistan shares its borders with the Balouchistan province of Pakistan in the South and also shares its Western borders with Iran.

The Zaranj-Delaram highway links Nimroz’s provincial capital in Zaranj city to one of its districts, Delaram. The other districts are as follows—Chakhansor, Khashrod, Gank, Charbarjak. Currently, the de facto ruler of this province is Maulavi Abdul Rasheed. The Taliban describes him as the “head Jihadi military leader of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in charge of Nimroz province”.

The Taliban take-over of the ambitious Zaranj-Delaram road project, India’s plan of providing Afghanistan with a shorter route to the sea, via the Iranian port of Chabahar, has been derailed. The strategic importance of this road was to make Afghanistan current access to the sea coast through Pakistan commercially meaningless and irrelevant. On its part Iran is building a new transit route to connect its city of Milak to Zaranj in Afghanistan, and has already completed an important bridge over the Helmand River.

Once finished, the road projects in Iran and Afghanistan would have shortened the transit distance between Chabahar and Delaram by over 600 kilometres giving Afghan goods duty-free access to the Iranian port.

India, too, would have enjoyed similar benefits as Afghanistan at Chabahar port and for transit. But the forty year old Maulavi Rasheed, brought up in a Jihadi/Mujahid household in the Disho district of Helmand province, has successfully grounded the ambitious plans of the Indian policy makers.

The Maulvi studied Jihadi theology in a madrassa and was also trained as a terrorist learning weapon handling, fabricating IEDs and guerrilla warfare. Maulvi Rashid, a Balouch by birth, has taken part in Jihadi operations in Nimroz, Helmand, Kandahar, Kabul, Kapisa, Baghlan, Faryab and Kunduz provinces and has been wounded twice in Kapisa’s Koh-e-Safa and Faryab’s Khwaja Doko districts.

After the killing of his guru Maulavi Mahmood four years ago, Maulvi Rasheed took over as Taliban chief in Nimroz. In his January 2011 press release he described the Jihadi situation in the Nimroz province as follows: “Nimroz provincial capital along with all 5 districts have been covered by our Mujahideen groups who have been able to take complete control of Delaram and Khashrod districts but not the district centers.

Our Mujahideen are also carrying out regular guerilla attacks in Chakhansor and Gank districts and we are hopeful to Allah Almighty that he will also grant us a complete victory there soon.”

According to the Taliban the American troops have virtually vacated Nimroz province and are currently concentrated in the provincial headquarters in Delaram, which also has a small airfield. Besides this the US forces have an outpost in the Dahmazang area and a small contingent in the Zaranj city. They had an outpost in Khashrod’s Ghor Ghori area, which has been abandoned recently.

Ever since the Zaranj-Delaram road was commissioned in 2009, the American forces found it convenient to move men and material along this route. But with the Taliban taking control of this strategic highway, American military operations in Nimroz have been badly hit.

Maulvi Rasheed’s statement on the Taliban’s control of roads in the Nimroz province is as follows: “We have also been successful in closing logistical routes of the enemy (read United States) and in some areas have become an obstacle for them. The main road between Delaram and Khashrod has been closed for a very long time and Mujahideen also control many of the other roads. The Americans only dare to pass in huge convoys and only when accompanied by airpower.”

Taliban’s plan over the last two years seems to have been well thought out. While they withdrew and consolidated, they quietly allowed the reconstruction and rebuilding work to take places, especially in the road building sector. Except for some sporadic attacks on foreign road building crews, including couple of attacks on Indian road-builders, the Taliban seem to have allowed the road building activities to happen unhindered, especially in the south and south-west regions, which have been their traditional areas of strength in terms of their popular support base.

With the completion of the initial spurt of road building activities in the region, the Taliban effortlessly took over control and used these roads to rapidly deploy its guerrilla fighters. In fact, the Taliban has already established an “Islamic Emirate” in Delaram and Khashrod districts of Nimroz province and surrounding area by appointing the following officials–“Governor, District Deputy, Judge, Commission as well as heads for Education and Guidance.”

According to Maulvi Rasheed’s statement: “The people of Nimroz have embraced Mujahideen in recent years even more than before due to understanding the nature and false propaganda of democracy which the enemy spreads. The enemy is often trapped in their headquarters and when they do come out for an operation, they bomb the area and create an atmosphere of fear in hopes of achieving some progress. These types of enemy operations have caused immense damage to the lives and property of civilians in Nimroz, especially to the people of Khashrod district. The day to day achievements of Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate is related directly to the full support we garner from the people.”

In the context of these developments the long-term strategic objectives of New Delhi, Washington and Kabul must be severely scrutinised and questioned. What is the point of investing billions of dollars in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, if New Delhi and Washington cannot collaborate to protect the development related infrastructure? Also what’s the point of developing infrastructure that could be easily appropriated and used by the Taliban as has been embarrassingly revealed in the take-over of the Zaranj-Delaram Highway by the Taliban.

Several other Indian projects have quietly folded up in the face of threats by the Taliban. In fact, after the attack on the Indian Embassy in Kabul in 2008 the speed at which Indian projects are winding down clearly displays the Indian establishment fear of the Taliban. An Indian Classical Music Teaching project in Kabul supported by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) was shut down. This was a popular project amongst Afghan youngsters. Another project supported by the CII and headed by a former Indian army officer imparting various trade skills to Afghans was shut down after a Taliban threat.

Till 2009 the level of India’s assistance to Afghanistan had reached USD 750 million, making it the 5th largest bilateral donor after the US, UK, Japan and Germany.  Given below are a list of projects that were initiated under Indian development assistance:

  • Construction of a 220 KV Double Circuit Transmission Line from Pul-e-Khumri to Kabul and a 220/110/20 KV sub-station at Kabul under the North-East Power System project to bring power from neighbouring countries to Kabul (USD 111 million);
  • Humanitarian food assistance of one million tons of wheat in the form of high protein biscuits distributed to 1.4 million schoolchildren every day under the School Feeding Programme, administered through the World Food Programme (USD 100 million);
  • Construction of a 218 kilometre road from Zaranj to Delaram to facilitate movement of goods and commodities from Afghanistan to Iranian border (USD 175 million – approval for an additional USD 91 million is being sought);
  • Reconstruction and completion of Salma Dam Power Project (42 MW) in Herat province (USD 116 million – approval for additional USD 36 million is being sought);
  • Construction of Afghan Parliament (USD 83 million);
  • Reconstruction of Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health in Kabul in various phases, including reconstruction of surgical ward/polyclinic/diagnostic centre (USD 6.7 million);
  • Reconstruction of Habibia School (USD 5.1 million);
  • Digging of 26 tube wells in North West Afghanistan (USD 1.2 million);
  • Gifting of vehicles (400 buses, 200 mini-buses, 105 municipality and 285 army vehicles) (USD 25 million);
  • Setting up of 5 toilet-cum-public sanitation complexes in Kabul (USD 0.9 million);
  • Telephone exchanges in 11 provinces connecting to Kabul (USD 11.1 million);
  • Expansion of National TV network by providing an uplink from Kabul and downlinks in all 34 provincial capitals, contributing towards greater integration of the country (USD 6.8 million).

It is clear that Pakistani Army and its main covert agency, the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) will continue to use the Taliban to destroy Indian footholds in Afghanistan. If India wants to capitalize on every rupee it invests in Afghanistan, then it must rethink its passive strategic posture to secure its humanitarian and development assistance. If India cannot and would not like to commit troops to protect its investments in Afghanistan, then it must stop all development assistance and infrastructure development because ultimately these projects will help Taliban consolidate and strengthen.

It is impossible to figure out why Indian strategic policy makers continue to make monumental mistakes, such as believing that Pakistan will allow India access to Afghanistan via a third country (Iran)!

It is impossible to believe that South Block and the PMO actually think it’s possible for India to by-pass checks posed by Pakistan in refusing to allow the transit of Indian goods en route to Afghanistan!

It is impossible to believe that New Delhi continues to be short-sighted and seems to have forgotten that Pakistan and its ally, Taliban, detests Indian reconstruction efforts in southern Afghanistan and in the Herat area bordering Iran. It is also important to remember that the Hamid Karzai government has virtually no control over these regions.

Given these realities on the ground India must rethink its strategy instead of falsely propagating its commitment to continue its development and reconstruction work in Afghanistan. The fact is that despite brave statements from New Delhi, India is actually diluting its presence and commitment in Afghanistan because Indian policy makers are afraid of deploying troops to protect its humanitarian and development initiatives funded by Indian tax payers.

Why has Libya been attacked?

Libya Attack - 4BY RSN SINGH

Since the exit of President Mubarak in Egypt, the geopolitical contours of the Arab world has been changing rapidly. What was touted as a revolution for democracy has now degenerated into pure international power politics. The so-called ‘Jasmine Revolution’ has hit road blocks in Yemen, Bahrain and more importantly Saudi Arabia. The revolution for democracy theory has been torpedoed. Libya with its vast oil resources was too important for Europe, to allow it to lapse into uncertainty.

The Fault Lines

The 6.4 million Libyan people continue to be divided over regional and ethnic lines in the ongoing ‘Civil War’ since February 2011. Even geography conspires to accentuate this division. 90 percent of Libyans inhabit only 10 percent of the area, primarily along the coast.

Tripolitania in the west and Cyrenaica in the northeast are the two major population centers with a population density of 50 persons per square kilometer, but in the remaining areas it is less than one person per square kilometer. These two population centers are separated by one of the most formidable desert in the world, wherein in certain areas it rains once or twice in a decade.

Libya Attack - 1The other region is Fezzan in Southwestern Libya, which constitutes 30 percent of the country’s landmass. The people inhabiting this area are basically pastoralists, who cross borders of Algeria, Chad and Niger. The population in Fezzan is estimated to be 0.45 million i.e. nearly eight percent of the total population.

Tripolitania and Cyrenaica sided with Axis and Allied powers respectively during World War II.

Subsequently, when Libya was granted independence in 1951 and King Emir Sayid Idris al-Sanusi, a Cyrenaican was installed as the head of the state with the support of Western powers. The people in Tripolitania resented while the people of Cyrenaica celebrated. In 1969, when a 27 year old Gaddafi along with 70 young army officers, overthrew King Idris in a bloodless coup, the reaction was in the opposite order.

Under Idris, Cyrenaica benefited politically and economically. Idris in fact could not break the shackles of his Cyrenacian identity primarily because that was where he derived his power from.

Gaddafi on the other hand, tried to promote nationalism by repudiating the tribal system and by creating an Arab nationalist regime. It may be mentioned that Libya has 140 tribes and clans. Gaddafi’s search for a new national identity for Libya floundered due to the exigencies of political power. His power base essentially lay in the west to the central part of Libya. Euphemistically speaking, the Cyrenacian tribes were punished by Gaddafi all through his rule. It is these tribes which now sensed an opportunity and decided to strike back.

Gaddafi meanwhile is being stoutly supported by his own tribe Gaddadfa as well as Al-Magarha tribe.

The regional and tribal fault lines, in this fourth largest country in Africa, have therefore hardly been bridged over the years. Therefore, what is happening in Libya is far from an ‘Arab Revolution’. It is the events in Tunisia and Egypt have provided the opportunity and impetus. This is despite a sound economy. Libya has a very generous social security programme especially in the fields of housing and education.

External Dimension and Linkages

The external dimension and linkages to this so-called revolution in the case of Libya cannot be ignored.

The Arab Revolution in Egypt led by Nasser had significant impact on Libya. This revolution was at the height of Cold War and as an outcome there was request of British and American bases to be evacuated from Libya. It may be recalled that Britain and Libya had signed a 20 year friendship treaty and in 1954 US had setup the Wheelus Air base near Tripoli. By 1970, the British forces and American bases were withdrawn, and consequently, cooperation including in the field of defence between USSR and Libya intensified.

The coup by Gaddafi in 1969 should be seen as an adjunct of the Cold War. The discovery of oil in 1959 had raised the geopolitical stakes of the Soviet Union, US and Europe in the country. At the time of independence, Libya was one of the poorest countries in the world. Its most significant exports were metal scraps of World War II.

Today, Libya is one of the world’s 10 richest oil producing countries and of course Africa’s richest.

Libya Attack - 2Libya holds the largest proven reserves in Africa followed by Nigeria and Algeria. 80 percent of the reserves are located in the Sirte basin. This basin constitutes the heart of Libya running from the approximately the center of the country to the coastline in the north. It also extends towards the west for some distance and to the east, falling short of the border with Egypt. As per estimate, only 25 percent of the Libyan oil has been explode mainly due to sanctions, which was effective for at least two decades. The UN and the US lifted sanctions in 2003 and 2004 respectively.

If the Cold War was the impetus for the coup by Gaddafi, this time, Libya is engulfed by a different kind of revolutionary wave, which many consider as being inspired and abetted by the West. It appears regime changes are being sought for an orderly transfer of power in the Arab world, because most of the dispensations have outlived their age and utility. Most of these ruling dispensations turned into family businesses and so has Libya under Gaddafi and his eight sons. Only a popular swell on the ground, engineered or otherwise can uproot them. Given the wherewithal and monopoly over instrument of war and violence of the rulers, it is impossible to bring regime changes without external support.

The entire script is being calibrated with Egypt serving as the epicenter. But in case of Libya, the calculations have been upset because of Gaddafi and his psychopathic ways. He has been using the safety and security of his own people as a bargaining chip in dealing with the rest of the western world. He and his sons are displaying acute paranoia and therefore the ruthlessness in dealing with the situation. The ruling dispensation in Libya therefore can be very unpredictable and dangerous.

Gaddafi – The Terrorist

The unpredictable and impulsive quotient in Gaddafi’s personality is well known. He has flirted with terrorism. In the 70s, Gaddafi extended financial and training assistance to Arab volunteers for the Palestinian terrorist groups. To establish Arab supremacy, he created a mercenary group i.e. the Islamic legion. In 1973, the Irish naval service had intercepted the vessel ‘Claudia’ in the Irish waters, carrying Soviet arms from Libya to the provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). He was a great friend, admirer and support of Idi Amin. In fact 600 Libyan soldiers had died defending the dawn fall of Idi Amin. When Anwar Saddat, the President of Egypt was murdered in 1981, Gaddafi applauded it publicly.

Gaddafi at one time was desperate to acquire nuclear weapon capability. Libya was most effusive in supporting Paksitan’s nuclear weapons programme. Gaddafi renounced Libya’s nuclear weapon programme in 2003. Some western sources believe that Libya still has a deadly stockpile of ‘Mustard Gas’.

Gaddafi – The Darling of the West

The exigencies and greed for power has seen Gaddafi sway between socialism and capitalism from anti-Americanism to pro-Americanism. Libya till late 2003-04 was treated a terrorist and pariah state by the West, after the bombing of the Pan Am aircraft in 1988 over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. Unnerved by the US invasion of Iraq and the consequent fate of Saddam Hussain and the rising discontent due to sluggish economy caused by sanctions, Gaddafi was compelled to make a complete ‘U’ turn. He began to placate the West by taking formal responsibility of the Pan Am bombing in 2003. Following this, the rehabilitation of Gaddafi in the international community was most dramatic especially after the payment of compensation to US victims of the Pan Am bombing in 2008 by Libya.

Following the emergence of this new relationship between the West and Gaddafi, the major oil companies were once again active in Libya. They stepped up oil exploration, using Enhanced Oil Recovery Techniques. Libya had proposed to increase its oil production by 40 percent i.e. from 1.8 million barrels/day to three million barrels/day by 2013.


The turnaround by Gaddafi and his bonhomie with the West was strategic coup of sort. Libya became one of the most ardent supporters of the ‘war against terrorism’. In fact, Libya was touted as a fine example of responsible change in the discourse of Islamic fundamentalism. Italy signed a friendship treaty with Libya in 2008. The treaty included a nonaggression clause. Also, Italy paid $ 5 billion to Libya to compensate for the colonial rule. Gaddafi’s son, Saif al-Islam, was awarded a PhD degree by the London School of Economics, allegedly, after having accepted 1.5 million pounds donation from Libya. All the major oil companies of the West were enthusiastic about the fresh and increasing prospects in Libya. It was a happy situation for the West. What went wrong then?

The regime change in Egypt, which ushered in the so-called ‘Jasmine Revolution’, if Wikileaks are to be believed, was engineered by the US for which it had been working since 2007. Egypt was to serve as the pivot for the geopolitical change in North Africa. The European powers, particularly France, were not comfortable with the happenings in Tunisia and to an extent in Egypt. When it comes to the North African region, the Europeans do not see it through the US strategic prism. The economic stakes of the North African region and Europe is intertwined, because of geography, separated as they are by only the Mediterranean Sea.

It is pertinent to note that most of Libya’s oil exports are to the European countries i.e. Italy – 38%, Germany – 19%, Spain – 8%, France – 7%, China – 7%, Greece – 3%, etc. Importantly, the oil sold by Libya to Europe is lighter and sweeter, which implies that it has low sulphur grades. The heavier crude oil is exported to Asian countries. In addition, oil supply from North Africa to Europe is most timely and cost effective. In the recent years, there has been rapid increase in export of gas from Libya to Europe. In 2004, the 540 kilometer long Green stream pipeline between Libya and Italy became operational. This pipeline has a capacity of 11 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year.

North Africa, particularly Libya, is therefore critical to the very well-being of Europe. It is for this reason that the French have taken the lead. It is for this reason that against all norms of international diplomacy, Italy has repudiated its 2008 friendship treaty with Libya and has allowed its military bases to enforce the no-fly zone.

Europe has given clear message to the US that they consider North Africa as their vital area of concern and influence, and therefore expect the same kind of reciprocation for their role in the US led interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.


There is no parallel between Iraq and Libya. The shock and awe that the world witnessed in the former case, is not applicable to Libya as the West is very reluctant to use ground troops. Moreover, there are divisions within Europe itself. Germany has already expressed reservation about military operations in Libya. A major part of the European population has already become war-weary, therefore, a backlash cannot be ruled out.

Though the Libyan army has 50,000 personnel (25,000 volunteers + 25,000 conscripts), most of its equipments i.e. 2000 tanks, 1,500 MIVs, and 2400 artillery pieces are obsolete or in a state of disrepair. Nevertheless, it has enough troops to prolong the conflict, especially by way of Guerilla warfare, if the Western coalition were to commit ground troops. The Libyan Army has 10 x tank battalions, 10 x mechanized battalions, 18 x infantry battalions, 6 x commando battalions, 22 x artillery battalions, 4 x SSM battalions and 7 x AD battalions.

The most important asset with Gaddafi is the Regime Security Brigade also known as the ‘Khamis Brigade’. The fighter prowess of the Libyan Army is not known as it has hardly been tested. Moreover, the air force though has more than 300 aircraft, which includes Mig-17, Mig-19, Mig-21, Mig-25, SU-22 and Mirage-III are obsolete and dangerous. The Libyan Navy, which has two destroyers and two frigates, is hardly any challenge. At one time it had acquired six submarines, none of which is operational.

From the experience of Iraq, it can be possibly be deduced that under the sophistication and magnitude of the war machinery of the West, the Gaddafi forces would have capitulated if the combined weight of the coalition forces was to bear on Libya. The ongoing commitments in Iraq and Af-Pak theater has precluded that.

Therefore, a No Fly Zone may be a prolonged affair.

It is also possible that the east-west divide may contribute to further instability in Libya or at worst cause rupture of the country into two halves. That Gaddafi still has some very staunch supporters cannot be ignored.

A prolonged conflict in Libya is likely to send oil prices soaring.

The growing stability in the region may weaken the international counter-terrorism cooperation and focus. Fundamentalists and terrorists may find it convenient to grow and expand their tentacles in these uncertain conditions.

Given the geopolitical circumstances, the West can hope that it will be able to strangulate the economy of Libya in a quick time frame, thereby forcing the people especially in the West to abandon Gaddafi.

Hydrocarbon exports are the very lifeline of Libya. It constitutes 95 percent of the total exports. Half the GDP of Libya is from revenues from oil and gas. The country has very little agricultural base and is almost entirely dependent on imports for food to feed its people. The denial of hydrocarbon exports can therefore cause the collapse of the regime.

Moreover, 83 percent of the population resides in urban areas, who may not be able to sustain hardships for very long.

If at all, Libya were to emerge out of this crisis with Gaddafi remaining at the helm, the fate of the Libyans and the stability of the region will be on the whims of the unpredictable Gaddafi. It is too much of a risk. His ouster, possibly a dignified one must be ensured.

(RSN Singh is Associate Editor of India Defence Review. He is also a mentor and guest blogger at Canary Trap. Mr. Singh is also the author of the book Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and The Military Factor in Pakistan. His latest book is The Unmaking of Nepal)

Controversy over cash-for-votes sting

That the Bhartiya Janata Party planned the sting operation which CNN-IBN did was a public knowledge since August 2008 when it was first reported in Pratham Pravakta, a Hindi magazine. But the tale of sting is getting interesting day by day.

Tehelka has implied that the entire operation was not a sting but an attempt of top BJP leadership to entrap the ruling party into buying BJP MPs for votes. BJP has rejected the charge.

Let’s go back in time. Just before the vote and after the Left parties withdrew support to the UPA government, there were allegations that MPs were being bought to save the Indo-US nuclear deal and the government. The recently released Wikileaks cables have revealed a conversation between a close aide of Captain Satish Sharma, a Congress Party MP in the Rajya Sabha and close to Gandhi family, with a US embassy official. It states: “Sharma’s political aide Nachiketa Kapur mentioned to an Embassy staff member in an aside on July 16 that Ajit Singh’s RLD had been paid Rupees 10 crore (about $2.5 million) for each of their f our MPs to support the government. Kapur mentioned that money was not an issue at all, but the crucial thing was to ensure that those who took the money would vote for the government. Kapur showed the Embassy employee two chests containing cash and said that around Rupees 50-60 crore (about $25 million) was lying around the house for use as pay-offs.”

So with the allegations of MPs being offered cash in the air, the BJP decided to put the government on the mat. The party’s top leadership decided to hand over the operation (whistle-blowing operation according to the BJP) to a news channel and, according to Tehelka, approached the ruling party to buy their votes. The sting failed to trap the Congress leaders (there are still doubts about Ahmed Patel) but it did trap Samajwadi party leaders.

I have just one question: If Tehelka, on leads that there was corruption in defence industry, can entrap political leaders and army officials by bribing them with cash (even prostitutes), then what is wrong with a political party planning a sting operation with a TV channel in the light of alleged attempts of buying of MPs by the ruling party, which was corroborated by the Wikileaks cable. Although both the issues are different the premise on which the sting operations are done is similar. There are leads and they are pursued.

Tehelka’s report by its correspondent, apart from bringing new facts to light, seems like a desperate attempt to defend the Congress party.

Horse-trading and buying of elected representatives has been allegedly going on in the Indian polity since a long time. The entire controversy was used by political parties (BJP, Congress) and media outlets (CNN-IBN, Tehelka) to mislead the people of this country.

What was even more strange was the fact that Home Minister P Chidambaram was flashing a Tehelka copy in the Parliament to put forward his argument that BJP was behind the sting. As mentioned at the onset, the details about BJP’s involvement surfaced in 2008, and Delhi Police, which was investigating the matter, is under the Home Ministry. Is the Delhi Police so incompetent that it has to depend on a media outlet to investigate facts that were already in the public domain?

The timing of the so-called expose is highly suspicious as it comes on a day when the PM was facing the privilege motion in the House over the cash-for-votes scam.

Also Read:

Details of cash for votes sting

Original article exposing the sting (August 2008)

Outline of New World Order?


Numbing spectacle of Christchurch’s Catholic Cathedral, like the rest of the exquisite city, reduced to a heap by the 6.3 magnitude quake that struck New Zealand last month; Hamid Karzai’s Populzai tribe in mourning over the killing of his cousin in Kandahar by US soldiers; agonizing tussle over Raymond Davis, part of covert CIA team in Pakistan who shot dead two Pakistani operators. All images of varying degrees of helplessness.

Just as these stunning pictures begin to register, comes an avalanche of images ever more catastrophic. A quake of an unprecedented 8.9 magnitude hits Japan, stirring memories of World War devastation – Hiroshima, Nagasaki et al.

And, just look at the coincidental configuration of the stars! In 1986, just when Chernobyl erupted, Col. Muammar Qaddafi was finding his way through bombs and falling rubble in his Tripoli palace, trying to help his wife strapped to a bed because of a slipped disc.

This time too a coalition of the willing has been, well, almost drummed up either to scare Qaddafi or to pound him and, the frightening nuclear disaster emanates from Japan – echoes of 1986.

Another coincidence? Foreign Minister Bali Ram Bhagat turned up in Tripoli to commiserate but Reagan rapped Rajiv Gandhi on the knuckles and Bhagat was sacked. Well, this time New Delhi has withstood pressures and abstained.

President Obama has clearly stated: “no boots on the ground” and that the resolution has the limited purpose of protecting human lives.

American reluctance to enter this North African theatre has been transparent. Trust an American cartoonist to capture the essence of the transatlantic confusion. Some Europeans are sipping Campari and Soda under a sun umbrella. Uncle Sam, standing somewhat like a butler, reports: “There is a fire raging next door.” Europeans answer: “Go, put it out. Don’t just stand there!”

Every itinerant journalist who crossed over from Egypt into Benghazi found an interviewee who demanded a no-fly-zone. Whether the two score British Special Forces and diplomats arrested by the protesters in the vicinity of Benghazi preceded the interviewees or followed them, only time will tell.

Unlike President Mitterand, who had to be coaxed into the coalition for Operation Desert Storm in 1991, President Nicolas Sarkozy has been something of a pioneer demanding the international community’s recognition for the Benghazi rebels. Clearly Sarkozy has in his possession all the East Libyan oil maps.

Even as British Prime Minister David Cameron faced an angry House of commons for his men being caught with their pants down in Benghazi, prompt moral support arrived from Sarkozy. Germany said no. Bertie Wooster would have gulped: “Axis and Allies, what!”

But no help arrived until Qaddafi had retaken the hub of Ajdabiah from where roads fork to Tripoli and to Tobruk near the Egyptian border.

Lebanon backed by Britain and France introduced the UN resolution supported by the US. What next? Not quite clear except that a huge question mark has been placed on the future of east Libyan oil reserves, rather like the one on Kirkuk in Iraq’s Kurdish north.

The US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates was quite clear. European’s cannot be packing up their bags in Afghanistan, where so much “blood and treasurer” has been spent, and expect the US to be in lock-step with them in Libya.

A senior Kremlin insider, places recent events against a larger backdrop. “In a totally interconnected world, the post imperial hierarchy is taking shape – US, China, India and Russia. US inability to shape events in West Asia boosts China’s relative image. Japan’s tragic collapse removes another countervailing force. Hence the delayed UN resolution.

Another country that has gained in stature in recent years, despite the US, is Iran. Shia power in Iraq, uprising in Bahrain and Yemen with a restless minority agitating in Dammam, adds upto a Saudi nightmare. Hence, Saudi armoured carriers driving into Bahrain, designed to check perceived Iranian influence.

There is considerable significance in Lebanon having taken the lead in sponsoring the UN resolution. Hezbullah supported by Iran, is the leading partner in the Lebanese government. Likewise, Saad Hariri has Saudi support. Does this Iranian-Saudi coordination by proxy have a larger potential?

(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)