The Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu visited Pakistan in November 2014. This short visit, only one day long, made headline news because it meant a new diplomatic opening in the military field for both Pakistan and the Russian Federation. The last time such a visit had taken place was 41 years ago. The visit signified a break from the past. One major takeaway from the Russian-Pakistani meeting was the announcement of the sale of Mi35 helicopters to Pakistan.
Despite the end of the Cold War, more than 25 years ago, Pakistan and Russia have not been able to shed their inhibitions in the field of defence cooperation. The first time Pakistan imported Russian military hardware was after the American embargo on arms sale in the aftermath of the 1965 war with India. The notable purchases were T55 tanks and Mi8 helicopters. The Pakistan Russian military collaboration fizzled out after the Soviet Union and India signed the 20 years friendship pact in August 1971. In the intervening period Pakistan purchased armament from different sources such as USA, UK, France, China and Ukraine. The Soviet legacy did not entirely disappear from the inventory of Pakistani weapons Chinese and Ukrainian tanks were basically a makeover of the T55 and T72 tanks. One lasting Soviet heritage was the Mi8 helicopter. This was later supplemented and replaced by the Mi17 cargo helicopter. Pakistani pilots have had an extensive experience in flying Russian helicopters. They have found these machines rugged and dependable.
The first attack helicopters were inducted into Pakistan army as part of the US military aid resumed during the 1980s after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. AH1S were the first Cobras received by Pakistan Army Aviation. The post 2001 military aid to Pakistan included 20 AH1F Cobras. Veteran Pakistani army aviation pilots hold Russian attack helicopters in high esteem. They got a chance to examine two Mi24 HIND helicopters at close quarters in 1980s, when their crew had defected to Pakistan and brought alongwith these unexpected gifts. Most of the inferences that the Pakistani pilots draw about Russian attack helicopters are from these Afghan helicopters e.g. they found that the Mi24 in their custody were armoured plated. The engine and belly were armour plated. The glass was reinforced and bullet proof. The cracks in the glass portions were simply bandaged and not replaced. Cobra is not armoured and is particularly vulnerable in valleys. It cannot climb up to safe altitudes.
The Mi24 helicopter is pneumatically sealed during flight and can operate in NBC environment. A filtration plant keeps the inside of the cabin clean of dust, smoke and radioactive material. The Mi24 is configured to carry bombs like aircraft, in addition to 16 unguided missiles on each side. It can also carry Anti-Aircraft Missiles (AAMs), Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGMs), 23 mm twin barrel gun, and a 12.7 mm four barrel Gatling Gun. The Cobra attack helicopter in comparison can carry unguided rockets, TOW ATGMs and a single 20 mm canon. The Cobra is a twin seat helicopter and carries no other human cargo. The Mi24 and its various versions including the Mi35 can carry 8 combat ready troops. So the Mi24 can typically go on a strafing run and deploy or evacuate troops from an isolated post. The Mi17 can carry upto 24000 kgs of payload.
The Mi24 series helicopters have night fighting capability, while the Cobra with Pakistan Army can fly at night but cannot fire in the darkness. The M2 version of Mi24 can hover at 5000M. The Mi17 is known for its efficiency on high altitude. Pakistan Army Aviation pilots recall that the resupply missions to northern areas improved nearly tenfold after the high altitude Llamas were replaced with Mi17s.
The Mi24 has suppressors to reduce its IR signature. It has two engines as compared to a single one in case of Cobra. Mi24 and 35 have been in use of nearly 30 countries and spare parts are readily available outside Russia. US sanctions can be complete and comprehensive and are difficult to bypass and the black market has hardly any alternatives to offer for American helicopters and aircraft.
The deal on Mi35 offers a new beginning in Russia-Pakistan military relations. Pakistan will be able to diversify its fleet of ageing helicopter gunships. It will have a better machine to operate in the counter terrorism campaign against terrorists ensconced in difficult terrain and high altitudes and it should get spares from sources other than the original vendors.
Today I took my 82 year old mother to get her Computerized National ID Card (CNIC) renewed. The previous ID card had expired and was technically invalid. The last one had been issued a decade ago. I believe ID cards being issued to those above 70 years of age need not be renewed. Unfortunately that rule was made before she got her last ID card. Outside the NADRA office in F8, there were long queues to get tokens for the ‘normal’ and ‘fast track channels.’ Inside a lot of people were waiting in different states of resignation, to be photographed, fingerprinted and for having their personal data entered. The staff was as polite as one can possibly be, while handling so many people, waiting for their turns. Among the waiting crowd there people of all ages – ranging from infants in their mother’s laps to octogenarians like my mother. I spied one bent old woman, who appeared to be in her nineties. Her attendant assured her that this time her card would be ‘ta hayat’ (lifelong). At long last my mother’s token number was called and we started with the photograph. There was some problem as the bio metrics machine found it difficult to read my mother’s fingerprints. As we waited for the data entry, the power went out. The generator kicked in but twenty minutes later it ran out of fuel. There was nothing to do but wait. 40 minutes later the power restored and business slowly resumed. At long last the data about my mother was rechecked and a printout issued. As I triumphantly got hold of the precious paper I was informed that I had to get the form attested by a government officer and deposit it again in the office and then wait for the card to be made – 7 days for fast track and 30 days standard time.
Why on earth would a government officer need to verify data about a woman, who had already been registered with NADRA? Why is there any need for any government officer to attest anything? Mr Modi, the Indian prime minister has already done away with this archaic and antiquated requirement. There is nothing revolutionary in taking such a minor step. I strongly feel that having a CNIC renewed should be done online. It can save NADRA, the government officers and most of all the common man a lot of bother.
My wife and I run a charity school in Maira Badia, Islamabad. Over a period of time, this place has become a profusion of shantytowns and slums. It is now inhabited by Afghans, IDPs from FATA and economic migrants from the hinterland of Punjab. Our school is registered with the Private Education Institute Registration Authority (PEIRA). Our aim is to educate poor children, to prevent them from falling prey to a life of crime or terrorism or both. Our objective is to equip them with skills that would help them lead a productive life as a responsible citizen without following militant ideologies.
This morning we received a letter from PEIRA. In the light of the sad incident that had taken place in Peshawar on December 16, the underlying spirit of enhancing the security of private schools was quite in order but the demands placed on a school like ours with limited means i.e. no regular funding from the government or non-government organizations, beyond our reach and hence impractical to implement. It also gives an impression that government is absolving itself of its primary duty to provide security to its citizens and leaving the private schools, particularly those that are not being run on commercial basis to fend for themselves.
The letter informs all private schools including ours that a security audit had been ordered. For this purpose the Chief Commissioner ICT had constituted the chairmanship of AIG Police (Special Branch) to conduct a security audit of all private education institution in line with a checklist containing the following points:
- Non-scalable walls at least 8 feet high.
- Wall topped with two feet high concertina wire.
- Trained security guards for the rooftop, gate and stealth placement.
- Metal detectors.
- Walk through gates.
- CCTV coverage with 15 days memory backup.
- Emergency exits.
- Nominated Chief Security Officer.
- Verification of pick and drop services.
- Any other requirement by the Committee.
The letter stresses that whereas external security in the proximity of schools will be beefed up through joint patrolling by Police and Rangers, especially at assembly and dispersal time. However, internal security would be the responsibility of the school management. The schools were “instructed to ensure strict adherence to the above requirement of above mentioned checklist, irrespective of location and scale” (Italics added by me for emphasis). The Secretary PIERA under whose signatures the letter has been issued has advised the management of all schools that in order to resume the academic process after winter vacations; an NOC is required from the office of District Magistrate (ICT). All institutions have been warned that their registration would be withdrawn vide Section 5 (d) & 16 of PEIRA Act in case of non-compliance.
The letter is far from reassuring. We have been told in no uncertain terms that security is our responsibility. We don’t have the funds to undertake the security measures that PEIRA wants and now there is an additional bureaucratic hurdle to cross i.e. obtain an NOC to operate after the winter vacations, else our registration will be withdrawn.
We are in a fix. We are operating on a shoestring budget and providing education to poor children living on the fringes of the society. If we leave them to their own devices they are most likely to become foot soldiers in militant outfits. Our purpose is not to make money. We are providing public service and doing what the government should be doing in the first instance. Instead of helping us, we have been put on a notice. What should we do? Give up hope and leave these children to their own devices so they join the ranks of those, who in any case are out to destroy our education system.