Dutch courage in Afghanistan, instability in Nepal and India's homegrown fighter jets.
British Army pay is too low, its head admitted three years ago. An entry- level private earns just £17,014 (€20,346). His American colleagues fare even worse: the lowest-level private earns $17,611 (€13,039).
The Netherlands returned to Afghanistan in February, despite the fact that the last mission brought down the government and the country became the first to leave ISAF when it withdrew in August last year. Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his centre-right coalition had to fight against ferocious opposition to get the new training mission approved. Finally he secured it in late January by agreeing to Green Party (Groenlinks) demands that he be held personally accountable for any “mission creep” that would see the force expanded. He also agreed to seek a written guarantee from Kabul that Dutch forces would not fight in military actions.
The first 30 of the 545-strong force arrived in Kunduz in the north of the country on 13 February. It will be composed of 90 per cent military personnel and is scheduled to train police officers until 2014. Afghan police are heavily armed by western standards and are essentially a paramilitary force. Their basic training course includes a literacy module and has recently been extended from six to 18 weeks, with further field training that will last at least five months.
The Dutch force was well-regarded by its allies before its withdrawal in 2010, but it fell out over Nato’s strategy – which The Hague saw as aggressive and counter-productive – and Nato’s request for the force to extend its mission led to the collapse of then prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s government.
Nepal, which suffered a 10-year civil war from the mid-1990s, is again on the brink of crisis, having started the year still unable to form a new government (the prime minister resigned last June) or agree on what to do with the Maoist People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The latter is a real tipping point. The PLA was supposed to be rolled into the national standing army but objections scuppered this in mid-2009. The resulting political fallout and chaos has prevented a solution.
A parliament was cobbled together in December but it failed to agree on a process to elect a new prime minister and, perhaps more worryingly, approve an extension of the UN Mission to Nepal (UNMIN), leading to the force’s withdrawal.
The Maoist insurgency that killed 13,000 people came to an abrupt halt in 2006, prompting the country’s passage from autocratic monarchy to democratic republicanism with a shaky 22-party communist coalition virtually overnight. Although the parties are all committed to finding a solution, infighting within the Unified Communist Party of Nepal, which is behind the insurgent PLA, could see a return to conflict.
Twenty-seven years in the making, India’s first indigenous fighter jet, the supersonic light combat aircraft Tejas (right), has been given operational clearance and inducted into the Indian Air Force. At a cost of more than €2bn, the Tejas is meant to replace India’s fleet of ageing MiG-21s. The first Tejas squadron should be flying by 2013.
The arrival of Brazil’s new president, Dilma Rousseff, has reopened one of the world’s biggest fighter jet procurement deals. The battle to supply Brazil’s new F-X2s was widely believed to have been sewn up by France’s Dassault Rafale in 2009 as part of a wider defence cooperation agreement. However, outgoing president Luiz Lula da Silva failed to make the formal selection before he left office.
Rousseff is looking to delay the decision-making to 2012. And Swedish firm Gripen may now elbow the French out of the picture.