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Friday, September 9, 2011

09.09.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month september 09, edition 000832 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.

For ENGLISH  EDITORIAL  http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. A DECADE AFTER
  2. WHY ADJOURN?
  3. NO MORE CHASING SHADOWS
  4. 'A VAST MAJORITY OF MUSLIMS WERE NOT WITH THE MUSLIM LEAGUE'
  5. PRIVILEGED CLASS - JUG SURAIYA

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. ALL SHOOK UP
  2. ROADBLOCKS TO RECOVERY
  3. WEAVING A WEB OF TERROR - SUBIMAL BHATTACHARJEE
  4. A RIVER CALLED TEESTA - N CHANDRA MOHAN
  5. FORCE-FEEDING INDIA - RAJDEEP SARDESAI

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. LAW OF THE LAND
  2. FLYING BACKWARDS
  3. ROUGH PATCH
  4. THE MORE THINGS CHANGE - C. RAJA MOHAN
  5. STORMS IN THE EAST - HARSH V. PANT
  6. A MONSOON AWAKENING - DILIP BOBB
  7. M/S REDDY BROTHERS AND OTHERS - SARITHA RAI
  8. THE SECOND DRAFT OF LAND HISTORY - SANDIP DAS
  9. LOOKING FOR HOPE IN LIBYA - NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. NO ONE KILLED AIR INDIA
  2. CHANGE IN TONE
  3. PUBLIC PURPOSE OF THE LAND BILL - RITA SINHA
  4. TARGET 9% GROWTH. RIDERS APLENTY - MK VENU

THE HINDU

  1. ULFA COMES AROUND
  2. THE SIXTH, IN FIVE YEARS
  3. PEACEKEEPERS' SEX SCANDALS LINGER - NEIL MACFARQUHAR
  4. MISSILES MISSING FROM LIBYAN STOCKPILE - C.J. CHIVERS & ROD NORDLAND
  5. WORKING TOWARDS A GREENER INDIA - THOMAS MATUSSEK
  6. CULTURE WARS OVER LONDON RIOTS - HASAN SUROOR

ASIAN AGE

  1. GENERAL CONDUCT - S.K. SINHA
  2. BEING SALMAN - SHIV VISVANATHAN
  3. GOOD BEGINNING MADE IN DHAKA

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. ANOTHER BLAST
  2. BROADENING RELATIONSHIP
  3. DELHI BELLY IS SHAKEN - BY SUDHANSU R DAS
  4. TACKLING BLACK MONEY - BY JOGINDER SINGH
  5. FALL OF A FIXER - BY TAVLEEN SINGH

THE TRIBUNE

  1. TERROR STRIKES DELHI
  2. DELHI-DHAKA PACTS
  3. AN EXERCISE IN FUTILITY
  4. THE CHANGE IN LIBYA - BY ANITA INDER SINGH
  5. DATE WITH DESTINY - BY MAJ-GEN G G DWIVEDI (RETD)
  6. POOR SPENDING ON FARM RESEARCH - JOGINDER SINGH
  7. GENERATING FUNDS FOR FARM UNIVERSITIES

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. THE NAC'S MINORITY REPORT

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. A COSTLY VICTORY
  2. GOOD, NOT HISTORIC
  3. IS THE US SLIPPING INTO ANOTHER RECESSION? - AKASH PRAKASH
  4. MAKING HEDGING MARKETS MORE EFFECTIVE - JAMAL MECKLAI
  5. IN SEARCH OF GOD PARTICLE - DEVANGSHU DATTA
  6. TWELFTH PLAN APPROACH - SHANKAR ACHARYA

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. SYSTEMIC LESSONS
  2. PRIVATISE TO FLY
  3. KEEP IT SYMBOL
  4. GROWTH BEYOND ECONOMIC FREEDOM
  5. WITH HISTORY AS GUIDE, RISING FEARS OF RECESSION  - DAVID LEONHARDT
  6. WHY THE WEST FEARS GLOBALISATION  - SANJEEV SANYAL

BUSINESS LINE

  1. THE CHIMERA OF 'INDEPENDENT' DIRECTORS - S. BALAKRISHNAN
  2. RACE TO THE BOTTOM
  3. LEARNING FROM THE LIVES OF JUDGES - G. SRINIVASAN
  4. GETTING THE BEST OUT OF INDIA-JAPAN CEPA - B.S.RAGHAVAN
  5. A LEAP IN THE DARK? - A. SESHAN
  6. CHECKS AND BALANCES FOR PVT BANKS - S.S. TARAPORE
  7. 'THE DOHA ROUND NOW IS ABOUT TRADE POLITICS - ARUN S

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. GOOD BEGINNING MADE IN DHAKA
  2. GATSBY'S INDIAN TOUCH
  3. DEBATING WITH THE STARS
  4. FINDING HOPE IN LIBYA
  5. HUMBLED BY KNOWLEDGE

THE STATESMAN

  1. QUIRK OF HISTORY
  2. TERROR THRIVES
  3. SCHOOL OF SCANDAL
  4. COMING HOME - BY BIBEKANANDA RAY
  5. DROPPING THE GUARD - SEEMA MUSTAFA
  6. A TIME TO LIVE  - FIROZ BAKHT AHMED

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. LOST POST
  2. FAMILIAR PATTERN
  3. NIX TO BOTH TEAMS
  4. THINGS FALLING APART  - BONAFIDE: MALVIKA SINGH

DECCAN HERALD

  1. HISTORIC TREATIES
  2. GRAVE IMPLICATIONS
  3. GOVT'S DUBIOUS MOVES KULDIP NAYAR

OHERALDO

  1. DELHI TREMOR, A WAKE UP CALL
  2. VOICE OF THE PEOPLE - PETER FERNANDES 

HAARETZ

  1. A TASTE OF HUMILIATION
  2. IN THE NAME OF GOD, GO!  - BY YOEL MARCUS
  3. A MATTER OF CHARACTER  - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
  4. THE ISRAELIS ARE HOSTAGES  - BY YOSSI SARID
  5. SEPTEMBER - THE TIME HAS ARRIVED FOR A TRIAL  - BY ITAMAR MANN

THE NEWYORK TIMES

  1. THE JOBS SPEECH
  2. LOST IN THE FOG
  3. DAMAGE FROM BRAIN STENTS
  4. STIMULUS FOR SKEPTICS - BY DAVID BROOKS
  5. SETTING THEIR HAIR ON FIRE - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  6. THE LINGERING INJUSTICE OF ATTICA - BY HEATHER ANN THOMPSON

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
  1. DANGEROUS ESCALATION IN TURKISH-ISRAELI TENSIONS
  2. NOT SO BLACK AND WHITE
  3. ÖZEL'S SUCCESS REQUIRES NO GOV'T INTERFERENCE IN PROMOTIONS
  4. ZERO PROBLEMS, A HUNDRED TROUBLES – REVISITED
  5. THE MODEL IMPOSED ON TÜBA CONTRADICTS INTERNATIONAL CONSENSUS
  6. THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN: BACK TO POWER POLITICS
  7. TIT FOR TAT AT THE AIRPORT
  8. UNTAXING THE RICH

I.THE NEWS

  1. KEEPING SECRETS
  2. TERROR IN DELHI
  3. AIR SAFETY
  4. A WOE SELF-CREATED  - AYAZ AMIR
  5. THE INTERMINABLE WAR  - DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
  6. THE BLACK HOLES OF PAKISTAN  - ABID HASAN
  7. WHY FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION  - AYAZ AHMAD
  8. KARACHI'S CAN OF WORMS  - SHAFQAT MAHMOOD
  9. SIDE-EFFECT  - HARRIS KHALIQUE

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. QUETTA BLAST: SIR THEY ARE NOT TALIBAN
  2. COMPARING KARACHI WITH WAZIRISTAN
  3. HIKE IN TARIFF BUT NO ELECTRICITY
  4. CONGRESS PARALYSED WITHOUT SONIA - M D NALAPAT
  5. HOW TO CUT ELECTRICITY COST - ATIF NOOR KHAN
  6. FIVE PILLARS OF ISLAM - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
  7. THE 'HOSTAGE' SUPERPOWER - ALYA ALVI
  8. AMERICA'S SELECTIVE VIGILANTISM - TARIQ ALI

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. ABC LAUGHS AT PM'S EXPENSE
  2. UNION FUNDS NOT TO BE MISUSED
  3. THE CONVERSATION ABOUT IR THE NATION HAD TO HAVE

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. BOAT POLICY MAKES WAY FOR GAMES
  2. A RADICAL ALTERNATIVE THAT JUST MIGHT WORK
  3. SCHOOL WELFARE OFFERS BETTER BALANCE

THE GUARDIAN

  1. FOREIGN POLICY: OUR MAN IN HAVANA
  2. THE EURO: PEERING OVER THE BRINK
  3. IN PRAISE OF … SUPERNOVAE

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. JAPAN RULES THE SENKAKUS
  2. THREAT OF NUCLEAR TESTS HASN'T DIED - BY TIBOR TÓTH
  3. BEATING THE MIDLIFE BLUES - BY EDWARD HOFFMAN

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. HEAL THE WORLD
  2. THE KING AND UI - JAJANG JAHRONI
  3. A LESSON FROM IDUL FITRI CONTROVERSY - MAHMUDI ASYARI AND MUIZZUDIN
  4. COMMON SENSE AND RELIGIOSITY - KHAIRIL AZHAR

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

A DECADE AFTER

 

In terms of global geopolitics, the new century began with the 9/11 attacks that felled the World Trade Centre in New York and damaged the Pentagon building near Washington DC. Ten years after that world-changing event how has America fared in relation to militant Islam, and how has the struggle between them impacted India's neighbourhood?

The fight to destroy al-Qaida has largely been successful, capped by the US Navy Seals strike that killed Osama bin Laden at his hideout in Abbottabad. America is much safer than before. But the same cannot be said for South Asia, as the terror problem has metastasised. That was rudely brought home in Delhi day before yesterday, as a sophisticated IED blast created mayhem at Delhi high court's reception counter. Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI), one of al-Qaida`s affiliates at its inception, has claimed the blast.

The Americans committed a cardinal mistake when they widened the war in Afghanistan, where al-Qaida was sheltered, to Iraq. The cumulative wars cost America 6,000 of its soldiers, an estimated $4 trillion in treasure and enormous goodwill across the world. The
Taliban was ousted from Afghanistan in 2001. However, a decade later it looks as if they are managing to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. During the Bush era the Americans focussed on Iraq and partially outsourced Afghan security to Pakistan, which saw the Taliban as a strategic asset. By the time the Americans realised their mistake, it was too late. It's extremely doubtful whether the current Afghan government, corrupt and incompetent in many respects, can survive the impending departure of American troops in 2014.

Pakistan, too, has paid a heavy price as it continues to play a dangerous double game with militants. It classifies some variants as nefarious terrorists and others as useful assets, without recognising the degree of interconnectedness between them. In a recent counter-blast US defence secretary Leon Panetta told
Islamabad that it cannot cherry-pick which terror groups to go after. But until that message sinks home and Islamabad puts its house in order, South Asia is likely to remain in turmoil. Meanwhile, people across the Arab world have expressed their yearning for democracy, in a movement that resembles the one that toppled communism across Eastern Europe a couple of decades earlier. The Arab spring serves to dispel bin Laden`s harmful legacy as well as the notion of a clash of civilisations that provides oxygen to western radicals. Hopefully, it will transform the world by the end of another decade.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

WHY ADJOURN?

 

It was counterproductive for the Speaker and the government to comply with the opposition's demand to adjourn Parliament on a day Delhi was struck by a deadly bomb blast that killed 12 people and injured around 70. Parliament is the most potent symbol of a functioning democracy. Did it then play into the hands of anti-national forces, since paralysing the administration is usually the terrorist's main motivation? Has Parliament ever stalled post-attack in the past that it needed to do so now? This was the moment for it to show its resolve. Condemning Wednesday's attack, paying homage to the victims, or even passing a resolution of significance to the nation - all this could have been part of a full day's work. The political leadership should have seized the opportunity to send out two messages. One, those found guilty would face severe punishment. Two, terrorists would always fail to prevent the country from going about its business.

The home minister and other ministers overseeing security could justifiably excuse themselves to focus on investigations. But all other MPs should have put legislative time to good use. According to estimates, the cost to the nation of stalling Parliament stood at roughly Rs 20,000 per minute in 2006. In 2011, the figure's likely to be double that, if not more. That makes it all the more inexplicable that Lok Sabha and
Rajya Sabha MPs felt they needed to get away from a House in session, after an adjournment was proposed. Clearly, parliamentarians still don't seem to comprehend that citizens want action against terror, not symbolic gestures. It's hardly surprising that politicians who landed up at hospitals on Wednesday weren't welcomed by the family members of the blast victims. It's about time the political establishment got its priorities right, and introspected on the manner in which it should respond to calamities.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

                                                                                                                                                TOP STORY

NO MORE CHASING SHADOWS

 

The blast at the Delhi high court suggests that Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI), which had been on the defensive since the reported death of its commander Ilyas Kashmiri in Waziristan in June 2011, has managed to reorganise in just three months. Intelligence agencies had been receiving inputs for the last month that Bangladesh-based HuJI had recruited about 200 people in West Bengal to set up sleeper cells.

The National Investigating Agency has done well to trace the emails sent from the web-based address harkatuljihadi2011@ gmail.com, allegedly by HuJI to various media houses claiming responsibility, to a cybercafe in Kishtwar in Jammu and Kashmir. The authenticity of the email is yet to be ascertained, and it is to be determined whether the IP (Internet Protocol) addresses were spoofed or anonymyzers were used. The utilisation of a proxy server in South Africa indicates that the senders were experts in computers and communications technologies.

The profile of the new Indian Islamic terrorist is in stark contrast to the public stereotype of a desperately poor, illiterate, uneducated, rural-based or ghetto-based, religious fanatic, a single young man in his late teens or early twenties. In contrast to the recruits of the Lashkar-e-Taiba who are madrassa students from poor families, the present set of terror activists of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and HuJI have no prior criminal records; are usually highly educated professionals such as engineers, doctors and architects; are usually married men with children; and have never displayed any religious extremism.

They come from upper middle class families and exhibit only moderate religious behaviour. A feeling of being discriminated against in their professional careers because of their religion is the major reason which turns them towards jihad. Also, a perception that they are being denied entry to social circles commensurate with their education and financial standing is a major cause for their seeking refuge in jihadi terrorism. Most of them had joined
SIMI or HuJI only a few weeks earlier, and their families, colleagues and close friends had detected no indications of their having done so. The act of terror is often the first illegal or even immoral act which they have ever committed.

This profile of the upper class Indian jihadi terrorist is in line with the findings of Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist who worked for the CIA in
Pakistan and Afghanistan for several years. Sageman found of terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan that: "Three quarters were from upper-class families, two-thirds were professionals with Masters degrees - engineers, physicians, architects or scientists. The average age for making an active commitment to violent jihad was 26. Three-quarters were married, most of them with children. They came from moderately religious, caring families. They spoke at least three languagesa¦Unlike the lone serial killer, these men functioned well in groups."

Sageman emphasised: "Those persons who are least likely to cause harm individually are most likely to do so collectively." Many studies among the Pakistani diaspora in Europe, especially UK, found that it required only three to four weeks for a person nurturing a mild grudge of discrimination to graduate into a person who would carry out a terror attack.

Unlike Khalistani terrorism which was crushed by excellent human intelligence, it is much more difficult for Indian security agencies as they are set up at present to penetrate HuJI or SIMI cells and plant moles or informants. They are immune to being enticed by security agencies with the lure of money, sex, drink or drugs. Even their families and close friends would have no inkling of their having been recruited by SIMI or HuJI.

A pointer could come from the brilliant manner in which the Indian government used Jat Sikhs in the police and armed forces to work on the Jat Sikhs in the Khalistani secessionist organisations. It is high time that intelligence agencies and the police recruited large numbers of Muslims of various sects in middle to senior positions, and built bridges with imams in mosques all over the country. In the UK, police have asked imams to report instances of people who were earlier only nominally religious suddenly showing increased religious fervour, or of people developing deeper friendships with members of the congregation with whom they were earlier only on nodding terms. These are thought to be the first signs of an impending inclination towards terrorism.

Sageman calls this the 'Band of Boys' theory of jihad - one person recounts how he was insulted or discriminated against for being a Muslim, and a small group sympathises. Soon, by a process of 'group think', each member adopts a much more ra-dical position than he otherwise would while alone in order to project himself as more loyal to this small group than his peers. Within three weeks, this small group is ready to carry out a terror attack to avenge the perceived discrimination. Not wanting to appear disloyal to this small group of peers, every member goes along even if he has inner qualms.

This is what was supposed to have happened with the doctors originating from Bangalore in
Glasgow. Dealing with such types of jihadi terrorists requires original innovative thinking on the part of India's intelligence agencies, and a great appreciation of the psychology of urban Indian Muslim professionals.

The writer heads a group on C4ISRT (Command, Control, Communications and Computers Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Targeting) in South Asia.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

                                                                                                                                                                        Q&A

'A VAST MAJORITY OF MUSLIMS WERE NOT WITH THE MUSLIM LEAGUE'

 

Rizwan Qaiser teaches history at Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia. In his new book, Resisting Colonialism and Communal Politics, he explores nationalist leader Maulana Azad's role in building an idea of India. Qaiser spoke with Kim Arora about Azad's political foresight - and his continuing significance:

How relevant is a leader like Maulana Azad today?

Very relevant in India and across the globe. His foremost concern was to create an ideolo-gical framework wherein it was possible for all communities to coalesce into a nation. His idea was that everyone, irrespective of one's religious affiliation or cultural loyalty, belongs to the country - as the country belongs to them. Communities can coalesce into a nation, provided each community gets to enjoy autonomy in religion, culture and identity, yet be a part of the larger polity that is India.

Speaking of polities, Azad opposed Partition. How did the Muslim League react?

Since they adopted the two-nation theory in the 1940s, the Muslim League had been extremely hostile towards Azad. You'd be surprised - they anticipated some of the vocabulary that's been used in recent years, like the term 'pseudo-secularist'. The Muslim League used to describe Azad and people belonging to the Azad Mus-lim Conference as "half-hearted pseudo-nationalists". What's important is that a vast majority of Muslims were not with the Muslim League in 1940-41. That's the most interesting part of my book...¦at the end of April 1940, about one lakh Muslims gathered in Delhi to say they're not a distinct nation and the Muslim League does not represent their interests.

When Jinnah called Azad a 'show boy' of the Congress, it was rebuffed by many Muslims in Delhi and other places.

With such political cross-currents, what position did the British take?

I have read records of the transfer of power where they describe nationalist Muslims as "so-called nationalists". There was this subtle attempt on the part of the British government to foment and exacerbate communal tension. This was repeatedly pointed out by Gandhi, Nehru and Azad.

In the 1937 elections, the Muslim League did not have more than 4% of the average Muslim vote. Their false claims of representing the Muslims were given undue recognition by the British.

Interestingly, Azad's predictions about Pakistan's future have been spot on. Did he foresee more?

In one interview given to Shorish Kashmiri, who edited a paper called Chattaan, Azad predicted how
Bangladesh would break away and what would happen in Pakistan. One thing he said was that barring the early years of Islam, it could not keep people united. Pakistan came into existence in the name of Islam but again, in the name of Islam, it is disintegrating...¦in Pakistan today, what is happening in the name of Islam is self-destruction. Forget about Islam holding people together globally, it's not able to hold Muslims together even in Pakistan.

To hold people together, we have to look for other markers, other parameters, which unfortunately haven't happened in the case of Pakistan. Many people will find these statements controversial. But Azad's larger logic is coming true.

How does Azad's secularism compare with Jawaharlal Nehru's?

In terms of conviction, it's just the same but in terms of drawing upon resources, different. Pandit Nehru was drawing on his European experiences of the separation of religion and state. Even in India, his understanding was that religion should be kept away from state agencies. Azad thought we should have a better understanding of religion in order to appreciate each other's world view.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

                                                                                                                                                JUGULAR VEIN

PRIVILEGED CLASS

JUG SURAIYA

Following reports that some MPs were thinking of bringing a breach of privilege motion against Kiran Bedi and other Anna followers, JV sought out an MP.

JV : Could you please tell me what exactly a privilege motion is?

MP : Privilege motion? Very simple. See that revolving phoo-phaa red light on top of my car? When my phoo-phaa car passes, all other traffic must come to a standstill to ensure that my car remains in motion without any obstacles in its way. If that's not a privilege in motion, i don't know what is.

JV : Er, that's most illuminating. Particularly the phoo-phaa revolving light. But doesn't breach of privilege mean that people can't say critical things about you? And if people can't say critical things about you, isn't that a curtailment of their freedom of expression, which is a fundamental right?

MP : Right-shite. The only fundamental right is our fundamental right of freedom of repression.

JV : But isn't it true to say that a number of your colleagues - though not necessarily your esteemed self, of course - are history-sheeters?

MP : Don't talk to me about that bogus subject called history! These nalayak teachers in school always gave me zero in History. Come to think of it, they also gave me zero in Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Geography and Moral Science, the so-and-sos.

JV : So basically what you're saying is that no one can make laws apart from you, which could be another way of saying that you're a law unto yourself. But surely there are certain natural laws that even you must be subject to. Like Newton's law of gravity.

MP : Newton? Who's this kambakht Newton who has been going around making laws behind our backs? Must be some chamcha of that Hazare fellow. How dare he make laws in defiance of us? Throw the bugger into prison!

JV : That might be a bit difficult to do, considering he's been dead for over 400 years.

MP : Dead? How dare he die before we could arrest him! Never mind. Throw his corpse into prison.

JV : Can you put a corpse into prison?

MP : You bet we can. What do you think habeas corpus means?

JV : Look, there are certain laws of nature which are beyond your control. Like if it's night you can't say it's day, and if it's day you can't say it's night. Like it's day right now, right?

MP : Wrong. It's night right now. In America, and
Iceland, and other places i don't know the names of. Don't forget that zero in Geography. The point is if it's day here, it's got to be night somewhere else. You've got to see the bigger picture, like all we MPs are trained to do. Therefore, day is night and night is day. QED. How's that from someone who also got zero in Logic?

JV : Very impressive. It's been very instructive talking to you. I've never spoken with an MP, a member of Parliament before.

MP (laughing loudly): Member of Parliament? That's a good one! I'm not a member of Parliament MP; i'm the other kind of MP: a member of India's Mafia Party.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

ALL SHOOK UP

Everybody loves a safe quake. And we don't mean it with any irony.

Life is ordinary and a good tectonic shake-up can always stir things up — as long it's just a rattling of the bed, tilting of the fan, a scramble to the door.

But when Delhi and its adjoining areas felt the shockwaves of a quake that had its epicentre in Sonepat in Haryana, it couldn't have come at a more uninviting time. The day had seen a bomb attack in the city and many feared the worst.

But after the comfort of realising that this was an earthquake that posed no danger, Delhiites spent the wee hours of the night comparing notes about how rattled they were.

The quake also exposed a shaky aspect of the television media, which unlike us static folks in print, not only had to ascertain how big the intensity was but also had to keep the chatter alive.

Initially we were told that the quake measured 6.6 on the Richter scale and we duly felt the jolt with wide-eyed nervousness and pride. Then we learnt that it was a measly 4.2, which we thought was surely a misreading by the met guys.

Undeterred, television — and pardon the mixed metaphor — tried hard to milk the 10 seconds-long disruption and sought out experts who would tell them how dire it was and how close we had been from apocalypse. Alas, there was nothing dire to say.

So panic, a partner of TRPs, dropped and everyone had their fun midnight get-together at the car park.

The truth is that a quake that doesn't damage provides the luxury of talking about it while leaving us unaffected.

Nature has a strange way of shaking us up even after we've been truly shaken.

But Wednesday night's rumble provided folks something to talk about for a short while, making most of us temporarily forget the genuine tragedy that had taken place earlier in the day.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

ROADBLOCKS TO RECOVERY

Racing to the scene of a tragedy, as many of our political worthies, starting from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself, did on Wednesday, would have made sense if their visits had helped the victims in any manner.

As it happens, the aftermath of the horrific bomb blast in the capital called for medical attention for the suffering and forensic evidence gathering rather than the impediments created by VIP visits to the hospitals.

Anger at the visits of several top politicians including health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, home minister P Chidambaram and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi among relatives of the victims was palpable. These visits could have been best avoided on a day like Wednesday when this created hindrances to the help that the victims were getting.

In such a fraught atmosphere, there is bound to be suspicion that these are just political photo-ops and will serve to bring no real succour to anyone. It all boils down to an issue of priorities and purpose. In some events, a VIP visit to a scene of a tragedy can actually help.

But this must be carefully calibrated.

To airdash, that favourite word of our netas, to the scene of a drought or a famine could ensure that timely help and supplies reach the needy. Indeed, this has happened before.

When West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee went to the hospital where there had been an uncommonly high rate of deaths of babies in Kolkata, the administration moved very quickly to set things right.

But, in a situation where speed is of the essence in getting help to the needy and ensuring smooth passage for medical personnel and the family members is a priority, VIP traffic tends to hold up things. The practice of VIPs going to hospitals announcing ex-gratia payments is also to buck the institutional system where such things should be done after proper verification of the matter.

We have seen that a visit by the prime minister necessarily means tight security on the premises.

It is unlikely that he will be able to make an appropriate assessment of the needs of the victims or undertake anything meaningful in easing their trauma or pain. To some extent, we can understand the compulsions of leaders in going to such places.

They are damned if they do and damned if they don't. So in order to obviate unproductive criticism, it would be better to issue a statement on the reason why they would prefer to stay away in a situation such as that on Wednesday.

The symbolism of the highest in the land visiting victims may not be lost on people. But at times, substance has to take precedence over hollow symbolism.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

WEAVING A WEB OF TERROR

SUBIMAL BHATTACHARJEE

The bomb blast outside the Delhi high court on Wednesday has once again shown the involvement of cyberspace in terrorism. An internet cafe in Kishtwar, Jammu and Kashmir, was used to send an email to two media houses, notifying the motives behind the blast.

An email was sent from harkatuljihadi2011@gmail.com from the Global Internet Café, thereby identifying the militant group: Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI).

The police have detained the owner of the cyber café and his brother and the records of the users are being analysed. A second email came from the Indian Mujahideen on Thursday.

Hopefully, the digital trace of these emails and the physical chase would help in nabbing the culprits.

The issue remains that terrorists strike and use technology to support the strikes despite the stringent rules laid down by the government for monitoring cyberspace and internet cafes.

In the blasts preceding the 26/11 Mumbai incident, particularly the one in the Samjhauta Express in 2007 and in Mumbai in July 2006, cyber cafés were used by terrorists and their sympathisers. After these strikes, the law enforcement agencies started keeping a watch over them.

These efforts got a boost when in April this year the department of information technology notified the rules for cyber cafes on April 11. According to these rules, all cyber cafes were asked to register with a state-level registration agency.

Unfortunately, this move is yet to be implemented. Likewise, there are clearly defined steps for the identification of users like keeping an identification proof of the users.

However, most café owners still don't follow this. Further, the cyber cafes are supposed to keep a record of the identification document in either a digital or physical form for at least one year. The identity of anyone accompanying a user must also be verified. But none of these are being followed.

The rules also require the creation of a logbook for records of the users to be maintained on a monthly basis. These records should be stored and backups must be maintained for all the websites visited by a user and also the logs of proxy servers installed at a cyber café.

The provision for regular and surprise inspection was also mentioned.

In other words, the rules to operate cyber cafés are quite stringent. But the fact remains that cyber café owners, despite the threat of punishment, don't follow these rules as it impacts their business.

Now the issue is how the situation can be addressed and whether tough cyber laws and rules can really deter terrorists and criminals from using the internet.

Also, should cyber cafés be blamed? In this particular case, even the email address should have raised an alarm with the service provider when it was being registered as HuJI.

The Delhi blasts only prove that there needs to be much more coordination among law enforcement agencies and service providers on a daily basis.

(Subimal Bhattacharjee heads a defence multinational in India and writes on cyberspace and security issues. The views expressed by the author are personal)

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

A RIVER CALLED TEESTA

N CHANDRA MOHAN

A river named Teesta scuppered what would have been truly a historic visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Bangladesh.

The intransigence of Paschimbanga chief minister Mamata Banerjee in supporting a more equitable sharing of the waters of this river meant that India failed to deliver on a key takeaway for Bangladesh.

India, in turn, failed to secure a takeaway in terms of connectivity to its Northeast. India's trade concessions may have salvaged the visit but, overall, both countries have mixed feelings about it.

An accord on the sharing of Teesta's waters — including that of Feni, Manu, Muhuri, Khowai, Gumti, Dharla and Dudhkumar among other common rivers — was indeed critical as the lower riparian Bangladesh needs a guaranteed flow of water throughout the year for its agricultural operations.

To ensure such a regular flow of the Ganga, both countries concluded a historic 30-year Ganges Water Treaty in 1996. A similar agreement was needed for the Teesta, especially for sharing during the lean season.

Banerjee's hardline stance was obviously dictated by politics, as she felt that what was being negotiated was detrimental for farmers in North Bengal districts.

In any negotiation between two countries, there is always a delicate balancing act between micro pain and macro gains or between long-term benefits from freer trade with short-term costs that could inflict pain on its farmers and other stakeholders.

In her zeal to uphold the interests of the state, the big picture was lost sight of.

What is the big picture? Singh's trip was intended to be a game-changer for two related but distinct ideas: the formation of a larger Bay of Bengal grouping, and South Asian integration with a neighbour that would acquire a greater stake in the rise of India as a global power.

Unless the member countries of the Bay are connected through road, rail, air and shipping services, the former idea fails to take off. The latter requires accepting asymmetrical responsibilities like unilateral trade liberalisation.

Thanks to the standoff over Teesta, the formation of a Bay of Bengal grouping is blowing in the wind. India won't have better access to the Northeast and to Mongla and Chittagong in Bangladesh.

Out of 38.9 tonnes of cargo movement, 18 million tonnes could have been diverted if transit through Bangladesh were allowed. This formation cannot come into being unless Bangladesh provides seamless connectivity between India and the Northeast and extends it to Myanmar and the others rimming the Bay of Bengal.

South Asian integration, too, is unlikely to see the light of day. Bangladesh has been resentful that it has registered a massive and growing deficit vis-à-vis India that amounted to $3 billion in 2010-11. For a country that is one-fifteenth the economic size of India, it has been demanding unrestricted and duty-free access to the latter's market.

India has now agreed to provide freer access for Bangladesh's garments in which it has become a global player.

But given the disappointment on the Teesta front, a truly big bang initiative could have been to provide unrestricted duty-free access for all Bangladesh's goods.

If India could do so for readymade garments that accounts for 80% of Bangladesh's total exports, would freeing up the remainder pose any problems?

For a country that enjoys a $3 billion trade surplus, the revenue forgone if it dropped its sensitive list was pegged at $5 million for 2008 by the Bangladeshi think-tank, Centre for Policy Dialogue.

India could thus have enabled Bangladesh to acquire a greater stake in its economic progress.

But all of this has to await a more propitious moment. To be sure, there were a number of positives at the summit like the landmark deal to demarcate boundaries; making cross border supply of power a reality and helping build infrastructure.

But the river ran through it all.

(N Chandra Mohan is an economic and business commentator based in Delhi. The views expressed by the author are personal)

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

FORCE-FEEDING INDIA

RAJDEEP SARDESAI

'Why don't you cover Irom Sharmila's decade-old fast with the same intensity as you did Anna Hazare's 12-day fast?' asked Binalakshmi Nepram, the founder of the Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network with characteristic passion.

On stage in a live programme, there was no escape. "Perhaps, it's because Ramlila Maidan is closer to television studios than Imphal," was my feeble response.

The 'tyranny of distance' can only be a part-explanation for why a 39-year-old Manipuri woman's fast that began in November 2000 for the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) has not resonated across TV channels and the nation in the manner that Anna Hazare's did.

Yes, it did take a nude street protest by Manipuri women for the national media to wake up momentarily to an unfolding tragedy.

But to see this only from the prism of the traditional 'neglect' of the Northeast would be to ignore the contemporary reality of what constitutes 'democratic' protest in the eyes of the media and enlightened citizenry.

Forget Irom's brave struggle for a moment. Look at Medha Patkar instead. In May, Patkar went on a nine-day fast to protest against slum demolitions in Mumbai.

While the fast attracted some attention in the local newspapers, no large crowds or TV cameras could be spotted. Slum demolition is an issue that discomfits the urban middle classes, for whom Patkar is seen as a quintessential troublemaker, be it when seeking rehabilitation for those affected by the Narmada dam or in driving out the Tata Nano plant from Singur.

And yet, the moment the same Medha Patkar waves the Tricolour and shares a platform with Team Anna on the Jan Lokpal Bill, she becomes an embodiment of courage and idealism.

Or take the case of Prashant Bhushan, a 'core' member of  Team Anna. Only a few months ago, when the lawyer-activist was fighting cases for alleged Maoists or defending author Arundhati Roy's right to free speech on Kashmir, he was dubbed 'anti-national' in a section of the media.

Today, the same individual is embraced by the very same media as an anti-corruption crusader. When Bhushan and Patkar challenged the status quo they were targeted, even reviled. The moment they chose to swim with the tide, they were transformed into heroes by identical groups.

The fact is that 'anti-corruption' is an easy to market brand, which consumes everyone who vouches for it. The success of Anna's movement lies in its simple, inclusive character.

It's a movement that could co-opt a Medha Patkar, a Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and an Om Puri on the same platform along with millions of anonymous Indians. Why even a Baba Ramdev would have been a star performer of the Anna brigade till such time as he made the cardinal mistake of allowing Sadhvi Ritambhara to share a platform with him.

Suddenly, the divisiveness of Hindutva politics was seen to undermine the universality of the core anti-corruption message.

Therein also lies the fundamental difference between Anna's fast on the Jan Lokpal Bill and Irom Sharmila's battle for revoking AFSPA: one is seen to unite, the other is seen to divide.

In the end, Anna's fast wasn't even really about the details of the Bill but more about being a potent symbol of  popular anger against corruption. Many of those who gathered at the Ramlila Maidan and elsewhere couldn't really care whether the anti-corruption wing of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is brought under a lokpal.

What they really wanted was some outlet to express their outrage against corruption. Anna, aided by a willing media, happily provided it. For the middle class in particular, Anna's asceticism was in sharp contrast to their own lifestyle of conspicuous consumption: wearing an Anna cap could redress the balance, if only for a while.

It also enabled the economically privileged to suddenly feel politically empowered.

By contrast, Irom Sharmila presents a more complex choice before the average citizen. For Manipuris, she is a homegrown heroine who symbolises the fight against human rights violations by the army.

But for those outside Manipur, she is just as likely to be seen as someone who is questioning the majesty of the Indian State. Manipuris, and many right-thinking Indians, may see AFSPA as a violation of fundamental freedoms, but there are enough others who will see it as a necessity in a militancy-prone region.

To that extent, Irom Sharmila's fast will be viewed by hyper-nationalists as a challenge to the Indian State much in the manner that any popular movement in Jammu and Kashmir is seen as a threat to national sovereignty.

The irony is that both Anna and Irom Sharmila should have more in common than one might imagine. For both of them, using the fast as a peaceful protest weapon is essentially questioning the abuse of State power.

And at the root of this misuse of power is bad governance. Corruption flourishes where governance fails. The imposition of a draconian law like AFSPA, be it in Manipur or Jammu and Kashmir, reveals a crisis of governance.

Indeed, both Manipur and Kashmir have suffered because of corrupt politics as much as they have from violence.

Which is why anyone who calls for a strong Lokpal Bill as an antidote to corruption should also support the repeal of  AFSPA as a necessary condition for a more humane and honest State.

Which is also why Anna Hazare should seriously consider Irom Sharmila's request to visit Manipur and express solidarity with her struggle.

It may be a purely symbolic visit, but it will ensure that television cameras are forced to turn their lenses to Manipur's trauma, if only for a day.

(Rajdeep Sardesai is editor-in-chief, IBN 18. The views expressed by the author are personal)

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T tion c wo Indian scientists -- Ajay Anil Gurjar and Siddhartha A. Ladhake -- are wielding sophisticated mathematics to dissect and analyse the traditional medita- chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six tion chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six monographs in academic journals, which plumb certain acoustic subtlety of Om that they say is "the divine sound".

Om has many variations. In a study published in the Inter- national Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, the researchers explain: "It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of [the] Om mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods but still pulsing at that slow rate." The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there's always a basic `Omness' to it. Both Gurjar, principal at Amravati's Sipna College of Engineering and Technology, and Ladhake, an assistant professor in the same institution, specialise in electronic signal processing. They now sub-specialise in analysing the one very special signal. In the introductoy paper, Gurjar and Ladhake explain that, "Om is a spiritual mantra, out- standing to fetch peace and calm."

No one has explained the biophysi- cal processes that underlie the `fetch- ing of calm' and taking away of thoughts. Gurjar and Ladhake's time-fre- quency analysis is a tiny step along that hitherto little-taken branch of the path of enlightenment. They apply a mathematical tool called wavelet transforms to a digital recording of a person chanting `Om'. Even people with no mathematical back- ground can appreciate, on some level, one of the blue-on- white graphs included in the monograph. This graph, the authors say, "depicts the chanting of `Om' by a normal per- son after some days of chanting". The image looks like a pile of nearly identical, slightly lopsided pancakes held together with a skewer, the whole stack lying sideways on a table. To behold it is to see, if nothing else, repetition.

Much as people chant the sound `Om' over and over again, Gurjar and Ladhake repeat much of the same analy- sis in their other five studies, managing each time to chip away at some slightly different mathematico-acoustical fine point. The Guardian

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

LAW OF THE LAND

 

At long last, Parliament confronts one of the most vexed issues of our time, as a new and much-improved Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill was tabled in Lok Sabha. Many of its clauses can be quibbled with, and probably will be, but there is no denying the need for this legislation. A fair and coherent land acquisition act is most needed now, at a time of intense struggle and negotiation over this valuable resource. Whatever final shape the bill takes, it must address the rising expectations of land-owners and, equally, the rational requirements of industries and cities. As many of the recent agitations reveal, the friction is usually over fair compensation and stakes — farmers do not want to be confined to the land for ever, but do not want to be exploited and left out of the large gains of changed land-use. Efficient land use will be crucial to growth, and any meaningful policy must make sure we build sensibly and extract the maximum value from it.

The definition of public purpose is the crux of the issue, and has been treated with some care — while making a break with coercive takeovers of the past, the draft bill recognises the legitimate demands of "infrastructure development, industrialisation and urbanisation" as part of public purpose. One of the central debates is about the extent of government's role — should deals be largely transacted between private developers and land-owners, or should the state step in to acquire land on their behalf? The draft bill suggests the government should acquire land if 80 per cent of the stakeholders are agreed. Relief and rehabilitation schemes have been beefed up and made actionable, as part of the law. The other question that must be addressed is that of those who actually work the land — agricultural labourers and share-croppers whose interests may not mesh with that of land-owners, but must be accommodated in the new policy, whatever shape it takes. There are other areas of strong contention, like the issue of multi-cropped irrigated land, which must be thrashed out by various stakeholders. Why should these lands not be used for non-agricultural purposes, if the returns are worth it to the owner? And would not such restrictions cramp certain regions?

The fierce contestations we have witnessed across the country have made it clear that a comprehensive land acquisition law cannot be put off any longer. The process of giving final shape to the law will be critical.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

FLYING BACKWARDS

 

Air India has dug itself into a financial hole, one so deep that even a well-run, profit-maximising organisation would find it difficult to escape. Its accumulated losses till 2010-11 total Rs 20,320 crore; its debt burden — including working capital loans — has risen steadily for the past years, and is now around Rs 40,000 crore. Why is Air India so buried in debt, and what lessons should its owners — India's taxpayers — draw from its troubles?

A new report from the Comptroller and Auditor General, as reported by this newspaper, reveals the nature of the problem. A large component of Air India's debt comes from the decision to buy 111 new aircraft in 2005, the interest burdens of which purchase have been crippling. The report will at least allow, once tabled, an open examination of how this error in management came to be made. Whether the decision was made in good faith or not, the larger problem is clear already: government unwillingness to allow the company's management to properly estimate its needs and abilities, or to imagine a future without that outdated, socialist-era construct, a "national carrier".

The aircraft purchase is emblematic of the errors of judgement inescapable when a company like Air India is managed by the government. Financially unviable decisions are made; accountability is hard to pin down; and empire-building substitutes for hard-headed management of the bottomline. A clear accounting of where and how decisions were made should convince India's citizens and their representatives — to whom the CAG reports — of the lack of good sense in the state's attitude to Air India. There are more than enough competing airlines now that consumers need not be supported through state intervention; instead, a cash-strapped Centre is faced with endless demands to bail out its dysfunctional airline. Expectations that Air India would turn around, such as informed the aircraft purchase, are largely responsible for getting us here. They should no longer rule decisions about the airline's future.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

ROUGH PATCH

 

That the Turkish military cannot make any noise over the suspension of all defence ties with Israel is the surest sign of what has changed within Turkey under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — namely, the consolidation of civilian rule. Last Friday, Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador and now has put a full-stop to all military cooperation. This might have come as a shock had the cooling off not begun right after the Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla last year. Turkey had already withdrawn its ambassador from Tel Aviv, and cut down defence engagements. The latest developments just formally seal the freeze, which the US had been trying to stave off.

Turkey's pretext is Israel's refusal to apologise for the raid which killed nine Turks, Ankara's anger aggravated by the Palmer-Uribe UN report which blames Israel for the use of excessive force but finds its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip legitimate. While the report also takes Turkey to task for implicitly supporting the flotilla, Ankara wants to drag Israel to the International Court of Justice to challenge the blockade. Erdogan's conservative constituency had been demanding a toughness with Israel that, with his public criticisms earlier and the suspension of ties now, the Turkish PM has delivered. Turkish diplomats say that Turkey doesn't need Israel as much as it used to. Meanwhile, the Israeli government, which had almost worked out a mutually acceptable statement with Ankara, succumbed in the end to the hawks in its ranks.

The fate of ties between these two close US allies may depend on their domestic politics, but even Erdogan knows he can't push Israel too far. Turkey isn't likely to end up at the ICJ because, as per rules, the case can't be heard without Israeli consent. Above all, Turkey and Israel need each other to deal with a post-Arab Spring Middle East.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE

C. RAJA MOHAN

 

Wednesday's bomb attack on the Delhi high court is a painful reminder that a decade after 9/11, New Delhi is nowhere near gaining an upper hand over those planning and executing terror attacks against the nation. India was indeed one of the biggest victims of international terrorism before 9/11. It is likely to remain so a decade after 9/11.

Throughout the last decade, there have been a series of terror attacks, punctuated by brief intervals of calm. These include the one on Parliament on December 13, 2001, on the Sarojini Nagar Market in Delhi in October 2005, on Mumbai in July 2006, the Indian embassy in Kabul in July 2008, and Mumbai again in November 2008 and July 2011, to name just a few.

Matters could get a lot worse in the coming years, as the United States begins to draw down its forces in Afghanistan, the Taliban gains ground there, and the Pakistan army seeks to expand its influence in Kabul and establish the much vaunted "strategic depth" despite the deepening internal chaos.

A decade ago, when al-Qaeda attacked the World Trade Centre in New York killing nearly 3,000 people, India offered its full support to the US as Washington prepared to retaliate.

This extraordinary offer reportedly included access arrangements to facilitate the US war on terror in our neighbourhood. India's offer was based on the hope that following the shock and awe of the 9/11 attacks, Washington would focus on "draining the swamps" of international terrorism that had taken root in the north-western parts of the subcontinent during the 1980s and 1990s.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, India expected that the inevitable and furious American response would help compensate for the terrible US strategy in the 1980s, which saw Washington use the Pakistan army to promote an international jihad against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan.

This US strategy neatly dovetailed with the domestic political agenda of General Zia-ul-Haq to inject radical Islam into Pakistan's body-politic. Together, they contributed to making the Pakistan-Afghan borderlands an attractive home to violent religious extremism and international terrorism.

Al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Toiba and many other extremist organisations were among the consequences — both intended and unintended. So were the nuclear weapons of Pakistan which were built with Chinese support and American acquiescence in the 1980s.

Once the Russians were ousted from Afghanistan at the end of the 1980s, the US turned its back on the region. The Pakistan army, which had successfully deployed the jihad as an instrument of its foreign policy in Afghanistan, started applying the same technique towards India.

Armed with a nuclear shield that prevented India from credibly exercising the conventional military options, the Pakistan army was now free to pursue extremism as an instrument of state policy, with utter impunity.

Within a few days after 9/11, the US politely turned down the Indian offer of support and chose the Pakistan army as the principal partner in the war against terror. It is not difficult to understand the logic behind the US decision — the need to access Pakistan's territory and win the support of the Pakistan army and the ISI to conduct US operations in Afghanistan after 9/11.

Once it made the Pakistan army the main supportive instrument of its war against terror after 9/11, there was little prospect that the US would be able to compel the Pakistan army to act against anti-India terror groups.

US-India relations did indeed expand rapidly in the decade after 9/11 and were showcased by the civil nuclear initiative and the new defence engagement. The US and India also steadily expanded their cooperation on counter-terrorism, but they could never overcome the obstacle of the Pakistan army, which continued to orchestrate the terror campaign against India after 9/11.

That the US became a hostage to Pakistan was bad news for India; it was equally tragic for Pakistan. As Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official, who served many American presidents and has advised Barack Obama on Afghanistan, recently summed up the US blunder.

"Trusting Pervez Musharraf, then Pakistan's president, to fight on our side against bin Laden and the Taliban," Riedel says, was a "strategic failure". "Our man in Islamabad turned out to be helping the Taliban regroup while bin Laden hid out in his front yard, living in plain sight of Pakistan's most elite military academy for years."

Quickly sensing the US inability to change the Pakistan army's behaviour towards India after 9/11, Delhi tried negotiating with Rawalpindi directly on the question of terrorism. India offered to resolve the Kashmir question and normalise bilateral relations, if Musharraf eliminated the sources of anti-India terrorism in Pakistan.

As Musharraf turned on and off the terror tap, Delhi and Rawalpindi did negotiate during 2005-07 a broad framework to settle the Kashmir question. Once General Ashfaq Kayani succeeded Musharraf as the Pakistan army chief, it did not take long for the fragile peace process to break down.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh might have revived the talks with Pakistan, but there are few expectations in Delhi that the Pakistan army will provide India satisfaction on the question of terrorism. The civilian leaders — both in government and outside — in Pakistan are well-meaning but have no control over the army or the ISI.

If the US could not buy the Pakistan army's support against terrorism after nearly $20 billion of aid since 9/11, or coerce it through relentless drone attacks in recent years, there is little hope that India can negotiate away the threat of terrorism from Pakistan.

That takes us back to square one or worse. In the coming years, India will have to develop a set of means, different from the ones it employed through the last decade, to alter the Pakistan army's calculus in supporting anti-India terrorism. These must necessarily involve expanding India's political role in Afghanistan and promoting internal change in Pakistan.

The writer is a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi
express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

STORMS IN THE EAST

HARSH V. PANT

 

As reported by London's Financial Times, an unidentified Chinese warship had demanded that the INS Airavat, an amphibious assault vessel, identify itself and explain its presence in the South China Sea after the vessel left Vietnamese waters in late July. Though the Indian navy promptly denied that a Chinese warship had confronted its assault vessel, it did not completely deny the factual basis of the report.

The India-China strategic relationship is rapidly evolving and tensions are building up. China's military growth over the last decade has exceeded most forecasts, with the Chinese military fielding an operational anti-ship ballistic missile, completing a prototype of its first stealth fighter jet and launching its first aircraft carrier for a maiden run over the course of the last one year itself. Chinese capabilities are rapidly growing to an extent where it can challenge the status quo in the Pacific. The latest Pentagon report on the modernisation of the Chinese military warns India about the rapid advances Beijing is making in improving infrastructure near the border areas with India but also strengthening its deterrence posture by replacing liquid-fuelled nuclear capable CSS-2 IRBMs with more advanced and survivable solid-fuelled CSS-5 MRBM systems. The PLA navy will be building several additional aircraft carriers so as to enhance its naval fleet in addition to the Kuznetsov-class carrier (Varyag). It is likely Beijing will have its first indigenous carrier achieving "operational capability" as early as 2015. The US has also suggested China's aircraft-carrier-killing ballistic missile, the DF-21D, has reached initial operational capability.

In response to the latest India-China naval incident, the US called for a collaborative diplomatic process on resolving the disputes related to the South China Sea underlining its desire to recognise the right of passage to international waters in the South China Sea. Last year, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had suggested the South China Sea was of strategic importance to the US and offered to act as a mediator.

India too is within its rights to transit through the international waters of South China Sea and Beijing has no right to question the passage though these waters. Of course, China claims the South China Sea in its entirety but its confrontationist posture and rhetoric can easily escalate to a major conflict. The South China Sea is now one of Asia's critical strategic flashpoints with some even suggesting that it will be the "military front line" of China in the coming years.

Fears have been rising in Asia that China is seeking to use its growing maritime might to dominate not only the hydrocarbon-rich waters of the South China Sea but also its crucial shipping lanes, the lifeline of regional economies. Clinton used her visit to Asia last year to signal unequivocally that the US was unwilling to accept China's push for regional hegemony. When Beijing claimed that it now considers its ownership of the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea as a "core interest", Clinton retorted by proposing the US help establish an international mechanism to mediate the overlapping claims of sovereignty between China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia that now exist in the South China Sea.

This new US assertiveness vis-à-vis Beijing has been widely welcomed in the region. The other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) strongly endorsed Clinton's call for multilateral commitment to a code of conduct for the South China Sea rather than China's preferred bilateral approach. China has collided with Vietnam and the Philippines in recent months over issues related to the exploitation of the South China Sea for its mineral resources and oil. It was under the US guardianship of common interests for the last several decades that China has emerged as the economic powerhouse it is today. Now it wants a new system — a system that only works for Beijing and does not deal with the provision of public goods or common resources.

India too has an interest in protecting the sea lanes of communication that cross the South China Sea to Northeast Asia and the US. As India's profile rises in East and Southeast Asia, it will have to assert its legitimate interests in the East Asian waters. As China expands its presence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region, India needs to stake its own claims in East Asia. India has now decided to work with Vietnam to establish a regular Indian presence in the region as part of a larger Delhi-Hanoi security partnership. Vietnam has given India the right to use its port of Nha Trang.

The US remains distracted by its own economic woes and the challenges unleashed by the Arab Spring. Meanwhile, Japan is proving unable to tackle its political inertia and emerge as a credible balancer in the region. As such, the regional environment is conducive for Beijing to assert itself.

India is right to forcefully reject Chinese claims of sovereignty over the entire South China Sea. It should now build credible strategic partnerships with other regional states so as to prevent a Chinese regional dominance that will undermine Indian and regional security interests.

The writer teaches at King's College, London
express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

A MONSOON AWAKENING

DILIP BOBB

 

Rarely does the Indian middle class abandon its material comforts and studied sense of complacency to take to the streets — literally getting their feet wet — as they did last month. The innumerable talking heads we were subjected to 24/7 over those 12 days of drama and suspense were of one view: enough was enough, corruption had gotten out of hand and that was the sole collective motivation for the middle classes to have bought the t-shirt, topi and tricolour and abandoned the nearest air-conditioned mall in favour of the slushy, sweaty crush of a massive public rally.

In retrospect, however, the reasons could well be far more complex and deeper than a spontaneous anti-corruption outburst. Or, for that matter, an act of redemption for its earlier apathy towards politics and electoral participation.

For the Indian middle class, Gandhi — the original — is not someone they easily identify with except in an attempt to claim an enlightened legacy. The Ramlila Gandhi may have been a rallying point but not the main motivation. Corruption, at one level, is an issue that has been partly fuelled by the middle class; their growing affluence gave them the resources to afford short-cuts to special services and privileges. For most of them, it was a small but necessary price to pay, indeed, almost a status symbol to flaunt hard-to-get products and services. So what really brought them out onto the streets in such surprisingly large numbers?

Here's a theory worth considering: Life has suddenly become very insecure for the middle classes, from professionals to entrepreneurs, who have been the main beneficiaries of economic liberalisation over the last 20 years. The economic slowdown is real, and hits where it hurts: their pockets. Incomes have stayed static or barely risen for most salaried professionals, and so too for entrepreneurs in key sectors of the economy — mainly export-oriented — during the post-2008 period. And with the global recession carrying on its relentless slide, the future looks decidedly scary. Job security, in many export-focussed sectors focused — from manufacturing to IT and BPOs, from steel to autos and gems and jewellery — has become an area of serious concern. For the middle-class professional, it's a dramatic change from the boom years when the sky looked the only limit.

Here's the clincher: Prices have shot up across the board simultaneously. Inflation has climbed steadily over the past 20 months, eating into incomes and savings. Structural food price issues and strong demand pressures have pushed inflation in India well above the norm for Asia, according to Richard Iley, the chief economist for Asia at BNP Paribas. Food accounts for about a quarter of the Wholesale Price Index, and the fact that the average food inflation rate in the last four years has been close to 9 per cent (last decade it was around 4-5 per cent), has had a huge impact on middle-class lifestyles, expenditure and savings.

There has been a sharp and parallel price rise in other areas of middle-class consumption, from petrol and diesel to LPG to other consumer items. Fuel prices alone have risen 400 per cent in the last decade. The ones who have been hardest hit by wage deflation and high inflation have been salaried professionals. All this, coupled with no real visible push to the economy or attempts by the government to rein in prices has added to middle-class anger. The irony is that it's now directed at the man who they admired the most for being the architect of India's reforms, and its remarkable GDP growth rate: Manmohan Singh.

There is a clear connection between the dramatic curbing of lifestyles and ambitions through rising prices and dips in earnings to growing insecurity and coming out on the streets in anger at the threat to the Great Middle Class Dream. The anger is directed at the government headed by Manmohan Singh for letting them down after giving them so much hope.

It symbolised the breaking of an implicit contract between the middle class and the UPA government under Manmohan: allow us to rule and we'll make you rich. When functional turned dysfunctional in UPA 2, and the middle class dream died, the relationship died with it.

India's middle class will account for almost 40 per cent of the country's population in 15 years, according to a projection from the National Council for Applied Economic Research. They are now poised to be agents of change. Across the world, it's the middle class that is the driving force behind growth and prosperity. It should be no surprise that the Indian bourgeoise now want a bigger say in the future of their country now that their own future is coming under threat. The poor have always faced that prospect, and the rich can rise above it; it's the rest that are, literally, trapped in the middle.

Unlike the Arab Spring, it is not an emotional call for democracy or a new government or even an instant-noodle end to corruption. It is instead, the stirrings of a deeper change in the middle-class psyche and its tolerance for what they see as an arrogant and unresponsive leadership. The lifestyle revolution they experienced in the past two decades gave the false hope that they could expect a higher quality of governance, a tide of rising expectation which is now threatened.

The final straw has been that they imagine their money, as taxpayers, is either being wasted due to corruption or invested in grandiose but revenue-draining schemes for the poor, and no longer invested in infrastructure and growth-oriented reforms. The new middle class has also realised that, at 200 million and growing fast, their votes and opinions can no longer be taken for granted. Their taking to the streets may have been spontaneous and inspired by a single event, but it represents a social and political churning of considerable import.

The tipping point has been reached and a contract has been broken. They now want a bigger say in seeing their hard-earned money being put to better use, even if means getting down and dirty.

dilip.bobb@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

M/S REDDY BROTHERS AND OTHERS

SARITHA RAI

 

During its raid on the Karnataka-Andhra politician trio, the Reddy Brothers, the CBI found over 30 kg of gold, heaps of silver and some crores of cold cash. Bangalore was the brothers' playground, a base for their "seven-star" lifestyle as they hopped between cities to keep lunch and dinner appointments in their private helicopter. So, rather than incredulity, news of the Reddys' stash has evoked an utterly-Bangalore retort, "Ashtena?" ("Is that all?")

The jaded response to the CBI find is quite understandable, considering the Reddys' reputation. During their heyday, visitors to their Bellary fiefdom were transported back in time to an era of feudal maharajas and servile serfs. The Lokayukta, in its investigation of the mining scam, tracked the bonanza of the Reddy brothers from their Obulapuram Mining Company to various foreign tax havens. So, the CBI inventory of items like gilded cutlery, a Rolls-Royce Phantom and a heap of men's jewellery looked like an abbreviated summary of the Reddys' real assets.

Bangalore's passage to globalisation and its increasing economic fortune has been underscored by the rising affluence of its politicians. While businessmen-turned-politicians are few, the ranks of politicians-turned-businessmen are swelling. Bangalore's new-age companies like Infosys and Wipro took decades to grow into billion-dollar enterprises. But politicians of the three major parties, all of which have ruled the state in the last two decades, have multiplied their fortunes in the shortest possible spans of time.

Owing to a Supreme Court ruling in 2002, those contesting an election are required to file a list of their assets. In a sense, it has become easier to track the rise of the declared assets (not benami or salted away offshore) of politicians in India. But there is no mechanism to verify the declarations. If the actual wealth of India's top politicians is computed accurately, the list of richest Indians could look vastly different.

The infamous Reddy brothers' benefactors include the former Andhra Pradesh chief minister, Y.S. Rajasekar Reddy, whose son Jaganmohan Reddy's declared assets were Rs 363 crore, and his wife's assets an additional Rs 77.5 crore. Solely based on declared assets, Jagan, as he is called, is among India's richest politicians.

His wealth trajectory looks like this: in 2004, his declared assets were Rs 9.19 lakh; in 2009, after his father became chief minister, his declared assets zoomed to Rs 77 crore, and then to the staggering Rs 363 crore as last declared, a multiplication effect that would shame even Warren Buffett.

Some politicians are born wealthy; others are legitimately rich; but politics has largely become a profitable business today. In Karnataka, that is amply illustrated by the roster of former chief ministers and ministers roaming the courts in corruption cases. Last month, former chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa first pleaded a "temporary loss of memory" and then checked himself into a hospital for fever, hypertension and diabetes to get a waiver from appearing before the special court of the Karnataka Lokayukta in a case related to alleged irregularities in denotifying government land.

Meanwhile, the Karnataka high court dismissed Yeddyurappa's anticipatory bail plea in another graft case. That makes the ex-chief minister's arrest a distinct possibility.

Ironically, Yeddyurappa's political adversary, former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy found himself in a parallel predicament simultaneously, in cases involving a housing society and a mining licence. The Karnataka high court refused to stay the corruption proceedings against Kumaraswamy and his wife, Anitha. Meanwhile, the Lokayukta special court turned down the couple's anticipatory bail plea in the same case. The couple asked to be exempt from court appearances, citing poor health — Kumaraswamy with diabetes and a heart ailment and his wife with a slipped disc — but have been turned down so far.

Even as Jagan from neighbouring Andhra Pradesh is being investigated on multiple fronts and by various federal government agencies, the chief minister from nearby Tamil Nadu has been ordered by the Supreme Court to appear at a Bangalore trial court in a case pertaining to her disproportionate assets.

Some years ago, when a national magazine that generally lists India's best colleges, India's hottest careers and so on, attempted to track the country's wealthiest politicians, one reader wrote in: "Very interesting article. Going by the financial success of the profession, your next Hot Careers survey should list politics at Number One."

saritha.rai@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE SECOND DRAFT OF LAND HISTORY

SANDIP DAS

 

The national Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation and Resettlement bill (LARR), 2011, which was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday, has been now referred to a Parliamentary standing committee chaired by BJP MP Sumitra Mahajan. Rural Development minister Jairam Ramesh said that if the parliamentary committee gives its report prior to the winter session, it could be passed in both Houses. The bill seeks to replace the 117-year-old Land Acquisition Act. Its underlining principle was that land acquisition and rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) need to be "seen necessarily as two sides of the same coin... R&R must always, in each instance, necessarily follow upon acquisition of land. Not combining the two within one law, risks neglect of R&R." The proposed act is to come into effect retrospectively, to include those projects where compensation has not been made under the existing act, and where possession has not been taken. Sandip Das explains.

* What previous laws govern acquisition? What attempts to formulate a fresh law have been made?

In its earlier attempt to replace the 1894 Act, the UPA passed two separate bills — the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill and the Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill — in February 2009, after which both the bills lapsed following the Rajya Sabha's inability to pass them. However, the LARR law will not supersede 16 other Central laws for land acquisition. Sections 97 and 98 of LARR say that it "shall be in addition to" and "shall not apply" to existing Central laws governing acquisition for specific sectors like mining, SEZs, etc.

* How does the draft impact state-level laws?

The bill allows all states to enact any related law or policy, provided they do not contradict or reduce the LARR bill's entitlements. Thus any state can offer higher compensation, or make provisions for rehabilitation and resettlement which go beyond those provided for under the bill.

Additionally, the proportion in which states can acquire land for private parties has been left entirely to their discretion. The only condition is that the land acquisition provisions of LARR 2011 will apply to that part of the land that is acquired by the state government, and its R&R provisions will apply to all of the land already purchased by the private party — as well as the remaining part of the land to be acquired by the state government.

* When would the new rules be triggered?

Both acquisition and R&R provisions will be triggered when the government acquires land for its own use, hold and control. This includes land acquired for projects developed by the private sector for "stated public purpose," including PPP projects — other than for highway projects. However the land purchase can take place only if 80 per cent of project-affected families give prior informed consent.

The R&R provisions will apply also when private companies buy land for a project of over 100 acres in rural areas, or over 50 acres in urban areas.

* What are the provisions for compensation? What is the minimum R&R package?

Minimum compensation would be four times the market value. An earlier draft proposed six times of market value as demanded by the National Advisory Council. Jairam Ramesh has said that the cost of acquiring land would rise significantly if that provision is implemented.

For landowners, the bill has provided for a subsistence allowance of Rs 3,000 per month per family for 12 months. Affected families will be entitled to a job for one family member; or Rs 5 lakh per family; or Rs 2,000 per month for 20 years, indexed to inflation. The bill also provides for awarding one acre of land to each family in the command area, if the land is being acquired for an irrigation project.

* Are there special provisions for multi-cropped land, and for SCs/STs?

The draft allows the acquisition of only 5 per cent land of a district's multi-cropped land, and only as a "last resort"; an equal area of wasteland within the district will have to be developed. The earlier version did not allow the acquisition of any multi-cropped land.

Land-losing SC and ST families will be offered 2.5 acres of alternative land; the earlier version had set aside 5 acres.

* What safeguards exist for land already acquired?

As suggested by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the bill says that, if the land acquired is not used for the stated purpose within 10 years, it will not be returned to the original owner, but become part of that state's land bank. The bill further stipulates that "no change from the purposes specified in the land use plan submitted at the time of land acquisition" will be allowed. No change of ownership without specific permission of the appropriate government authority will be allowed, either.

sandip.das@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

LOOKING FOR HOPE IN LIBYA

NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

When I was entering Libya last week from Tunisia, a rebel soldier named Ayman objected that I didn't have a visa. I pointed out that his force had overthrown the government that issued visas. But, in this kind of a stalemate, the guy with the gun wins. And that was Ayman.

Eventually, he came up with a solution. I would give him a ride to his hometown, Zawarah, and the visa requirement would disappear. I gritted my teeth and told him to jump in.

That incident points to a fear that many Americans have of the Libyan rebels. Are they just goons who will create their own tyranny or chaos? Particularly after we embraced Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, only to see him engulfed by corruption, it's fair to ask whether the Libyan rebels will do any better. The uncertainties are real. But, after my recent visit to Libya, I'm guardedly optimistic.

What's particularly impressive is the paucity of revenge killings and looting in Tripoli, the capital. There have been a few incidents in which rebel soldiers apparently executed prisoners, and black Africans have been treated abysmally (they are accused of being mercenaries for Gaddafi). But the Libyans who served in that hated regime mostly have not been molested.

I saw many Libyans fleeing for Tunisia, and, presumably, many of them were Gaddafi loyalists. But rebels did not hinder them at checkpoints or pilfer their belongings. And, as far as I could tell, the homes and luxury vehicles the loyalists left behind have been mostly untouched by neighbours and rebels alike. In addition, I went through dozens of armed rebel checkpoints and was never once asked for baksheesh.

What we know of the top rebel leadership is also reasonably encouraging. Mahmoud Jibril, the acting prime minister of the rebels' Transitional National Council, earned his doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh and taught there, too. As for Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the acting chairman of the council, he is a former justice minister who challenged Colonel Gaddafi by calling for the release of political prisoners. Ali Tarhouni, the finance minister, is a former economist at the University of Washington.

Some Americans have fretted that Islamic extremists will take over Libya, but very few of the rebel leaders have been associated with Islamic fundamentalism. One exception is Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a military commander in Tripoli, who says he was tortured by the CIA in 2004. Yet he told my Times colleague Rod Nordland that all is forgiven and that he appreciates the American role in the Libyan revolution.

Frankly, any representative Libyan government needs to include fundamentalists like Belhaj, who were particularly brave in standing up to the Gaddafi regime. The mood in Libya is both pro-Islam and pro-Western.

Occasionally, I ran into Libyan-Americans who travelled to Libya to join the revolution; I called one rebel outside my hotel "Texas," because that's where he learned his drawl.

Then there's Dr Rida Mazagri, a neurosurgeon from West Virginia who returned to his native Libya to care for patients in rebel-held areas. Dr Mazagri was seized by Gaddafi forces, and nothing was heard of him for five months. Many of us assumed that he was dead, but then rebels freed him from a prison in Tripoli and he has just returned to a hero's welcome in West Virginia.

The mood in Tripoli seems largely tolerant and forgiving, and exuberant about the prospect of democracy. "We are free now," an engineer named Belgassim Ali told me. "Make a newspaper to support Gaddafi; I don't mind. But no dictatorship!"

It's true that the rebels are atomised in small armed groups, and some roll their eyes at the rebel council. Most have little experience in governing, and they squabble among themselves. Then again, the rebels have coordinated disparate fighting units and have tried to arrange the surrender of holdout towns like Surt, Colonel Gaddafi's hometown, rather than just marching in with guns blazing. Libya's new government will also have the advantage of access to tens of billions of dollars in frozen funds and to the oil that makes Libya one of the richest countries in the region.

I'm a believer in humanitarian intervention to avert genocide or mass atrocities — when the stars align, as I believe they did in Libya — so maybe I'm deluding myself to justify our bombing campaign. Yet it seems to me that the NATO military intervention prevented a massacre in Benghazi, saved countless Libyan lives and has put the country on a track of hope.

Countries like the United States, France, Britain and Qatar did something historic in supporting a military operation that was largely about preserving lives, not national interests. While plenty can still go wrong, my sense is that Libya is muddling along toward a future far better than its oppressive past.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

NO ONE KILLED AIR INDIA

The broader question regarding Air India is what are the reasons that have brought the company to this stage of terminal illness. Going by the audit report of the Comptroller and Auditor General, it was because of the collective impact of a humongous purchase order for 111 aircraft, the failure to push through a full merger with Indian Airlines and a poor performance vis-à-vis its private sector competitors. Allied with this is the frittering away of the bilateral rights by the aviation ministry that should rightfully have gone to Air India. This is more or less the same set of arguments advanced by Arvind Jadhav to explain the problems in the public sector company. In that case, it is difficult to figure out why the current dispensation in the civil aviation ministry has brought in a new management in the airline. Unless, of course, the ministry feels there is a separate set of factors that could explain the mess in the public sector company.

From a proposed disinvestment in the NDA years, the carrier has suffered every possible policy twist and the latest CAG report will not make any improvement to that scenario as the new management is unlikely to take ownership of previous gaffes. So, recommendations like cutting back incentives to pilots and even a merger of staff may not be attempted. What could have helped in retrospect is if the ministry, at the stage of putting in the order for aircraft in 2005, had agreed for a concurrent audit. That it would have delayed the eventual placing of the order to beyond 15 months is obvious, but it would have given one less reason to feel hopeless about the future of the airline.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CHANGE IN TONE

The final report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the production sharing contract in the oil & gas sector has moved away from quantifying losses made by the government and benefits reaped by companies like RIL, to more general observations on how to improve the contractual terms for the sector. The change in the tone of the report tabled in Parliament, instead, asks for more remedial action in future. Possibly, that is the reason why the shares of RIL moved up by 2.88% on the National Stock Exchange at the end of the day's trade, after the report became public. The performance audit of the hydrocarbon production sharing contracts, instead, takes the government to task for not exercising adequate oversight on deviations from the contract rather than point out corporate malfeasance. The most critical comment is about RIL entering the second and third exploration phases without relinquishing 25% each of the total contract area from the earlier phase. But, as the ministry of petroleum and natural gas has pointed out, the time limit for the relinquishment of the areas was July 2011 and so the deviation is marginal. This leads to the questions about the investment multiple formula. Broadly, the higher the capital intensity, the lower is the investment multiple and, correspondingly, the government share in the profits. So, the CAG says the operators had an incentive to show a higher capital intensity through mechanisms like single bids and doing exploration over larger areas. In its defence, the ministry has said the investment multiples are accepted at the time of the bids and so the question of revisiting the formula is impossible. However, the correctives can be built in for future contracts. In any case, whether because of selective leaks or the new climate of transparency within the government, most of the concerns flagged by the CAG had already become public before the report was tabled.

There are other aspects flagged in the audit report, but a key issue is how the hydrocarbon sector has performed since the 1970s, when public sector ONGC discovered Bombay High. The KG-D6 basin of RIL and the Rajasthan block of Cairn are the only two major discoveries in the oil & gas sector since then. Both developed in the incentive structure provided by the production sharing contract regime under the New Exploration Licensing Policy. The audit of the PSCs show there is room for improvement, but the role played by these policy initiatives has to be taken into account for any assessment of the sector.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

PUBLIC PURPOSE OF THE LAND BILL
RITA SINHA

Article 300A of the Constitution provides that "no person shall be deprived of his property save by authority of law". The law, which has enabled the state to acquire private property, is the antiquated Land Acquisition Act, 1894, which the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011, is seeking to replace (referred to, hereafter, as the Bill 2011).

The power of the state to acquire private land stems from the concept of 'eminent domain', a major element of which is that land must be taken only for a public purpose and should not merely involve the transfer of private property from one individual owner to another. In the existing Act, no procedure has been prescribed by which the government, which is the deciding authority, arrives at the conclusion that land is indeed being acquired for a 'public purpose'.

The Bill 2011 attempts to remedy this lacuna by providing for pre-notification examination of the purported public purpose. For larger acquisitions, the first examination would be done through a social impact assessment (SIA) study and after that by an independent expert group that would examine SIA. A committee set up under the chief secretary would examine all acquisition proposals. The findings of SIA, and of the chief secretary's committee, would be placed electronically in the public domain and would thus be available for public scrutiny prior to the issue of any notification.

Defining 'public purpose', although very crucial, is extremely difficult because of the sheer vastness of its scope, the varying needs of differently evolved economies across the country, and because the concept is a dynamic one, changing with the needs of a changing society. It is critical because it is the starting point of all land acquisitions; a justified public purpose legitimises land acquisition as the benevolent exercise of eminent domain. The Supreme Court has interpreted public purpose to mean the general interest of the community as opposed to the interest of an individual. The use to which acquired property is put should, thus, benefit a large segment of society. The existing Act includes multiple activities and entities within the ambit of 'public purpose', large segments of which are outdated.

The Bill 2011 has made the acquisition law applicable to the acquisition of land for private companies and acquisition of land with ultimate intent to transfer to companies, which are engaged in a public purpose. Such an inclusion acknowledges that such acquisitions have become an integral part of the developmental process, as more and more private sector funding is taking place for public projects.

The rub lies in the profit motive of the private sector, acquisitions for which, to displaced landowners, appears to be a breach of the fundamental principle of eminent domain, i.e., transferring private property from one individual to another for private gain. To off-set the unacceptability of such transfers and acquisitions, the Bill 2011 has added the rider that, in such cases, at least 80% of the 'affected' families must give their consent to the proposed acquisition.

Although reservations have been expressed on the practicality of the rider, it is worthwhile to try it out, as the studies of some of the most successful land acquisitions for large private sector companies have shown that social consent to such acquisitions is not only achievable but is also pivotal for the successful operation of the private project. In fact, the provision will ensure that there is indeed some 'public' content in the private project to merit land acquisition. After all, if the local community gets a win-win package, it would, in all likelihood, welcome such a project. This provision will herald the era of 'consensual' exercise of eminent domain.

The applicability clause also has the provision that the government can acquire land for its "own use, to hold and to control". The government should not exempt itself from acquiring land for public purpose only. This will open the way for misuse by governments.

The Bill 2011 has attempted to narrow down the description of 'public purpose' but, in the process, has opened up its own can of worms. It has included the acquisition of land for "infrastructure, industrialisation and urbanisation projects" without defining the nature of the two latter terms. This will leave a vast canvas for interpretation of 'public purpose' available to acquisition-happy governments.

One of the most abused provisions in the existing Act is the section on 'urgency' acquisitions, which empowers the government to bypass the hearing of objections to the acquisition and to take possession of the land almost immediately after the issue of the declaration. Nearly all the land acquisitions taking place today are under this draconian provision. The Bill 2011 proposes restricting the powers of the government to use the 'urgency' clause only for the defence of India, national security and for emergencies arising out of natural calamities, that too in the rarest of cases.

Governments have also been known to bypass the 'public purpose' requirement of acquisition by changing the land use after acquiring the land. The Bill 2011 seeks to cap this loophole by not permitting a change in the declared public purpose, at least reportedly for some length of time. However, even in the subsequent disposal of such land, the restriction of 'public purpose' should apply.

Overall, the Bill 2011 is a giant leap in the right direction. But, ultimately, it is the way statutes are executed that determine their successes and failures.

The author is former secretary, department of land resources, ministry of rural development

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

TARGET 9% GROWTH. RIDERS APLENTY
MK VENU

The draft approach paper to the Twelfth Five Year Plan does well to recognise some hard realities that face India's political economy in the 12th plan period (2012-17). The well-crafted chapter on 'Macroeconomic Framework' admits at the very outset that the global crisis of 2008-09, and its aftershocks, has created conditions which are less benign and more uncertain than the macroeconomic environment that prevailed during the Eleventh Five Year Plan.

Rather than being gung ho about achieving 9%-plus growth over the 12th plan period, the approach paper carefully examines the feasibility of accelerating GDP growth beyond what was achieved in the 11th plan period—about 8.2%. Given the uncertain global economic environment, India cannot take consistently high growth for granted, even though we did get over 8% GDP growth in 2009-10 when the developed world experienced near negative growth rates.

However, this should not create a delusion that India could continue growing at 9%-plus even as the OECD economies (the US, the EU and Japan) fall into a long-term low-growth trap, a prospect that seems real today. Still, the approach paper does give hope of getting a GDP growth of 9% if key sectoral constraints are overcome. There are domestic drivers of growth that need to be nurtured to keep India's growth chugging even if the global environment remains unhelpful.

The Planning Commission document warns of certain conditions that could act as a constraint on higher growth. There are the growing aspirations of a young population to improve its economic condition. These aspirations, if not adequately fulfilled, could lead to "frustration and cynicism". A major challenge, therefore, is to ensure that the performance of the economy remains ahead of the rising aspirations of the youth. It is perhaps this class that also rallied behind Anna Hazare. The campaign against corruption is partly a proxy for India's youth seeking a better life.

The Planning Commission has identified critical constraints arising on the supply side that might come in the way of achieving 9%-plus growth during the 12th plan period. These are (a) availability of energy, (b) growing evidence of a problem with water availability, (c) difficulties relating to land acquisition for industry and infrastructure development, and (d) the lack of a credible and fair system of exploitation of mineral resources. One may recall that even RBI had pointed to some of these constraints, especially the lack of a consistent policy for mineral exploitation, as a reason for the slowing down of foreign investment in 2010.

Well, all these problems are in the realm of political economy and involve the active participation of state governments, as land and minerals are state subjects. The minister for rural development Jairam Ramesh made a telling comment on TV after releasing the new draft land acquisition Bill. He said there was no point aiming at 9% GDP growth without social and ecological sustainability. The approach paper also recognises this reality and seeks a credible policy to overcome critical supply constraints with regard to land, minerals, energy and water supply.

The Planning Commission has, therefore, prepared models for two alternative GDP growth targets—one for 9% and another for 9.5% average—during the 12th plan period. Both models assume a substantial pick-up in growth in manufacturing, electricity, gas and water supply, and construction. The average manufacturing growth in the 11th plan period was 7.7% and the 12th plan projects this category to grow by 11% to produce an overall GDP growth of 9.5%.

Similarly, the most critical supply constraints—electricity, gas and water supply—grew at 6.4 % in the 11th plan. This is assumed to grow at 9% in the 12th plan period to achieve a projected 9.5% GDP growth. Mining and quarrying, another big supply constraint, is projected to grow at over 8% in the 12th plan period, compared with just 4.7% in the 11th plan. However, it is difficult to imagine how growth in mining will double when the political economy is currently grappling with a massive backlash against illegal mining, whether in Bellary, Orissa or Jharkhand.

There is a massive churn in the political economy over lack of governance and corruption in these areas. The 12th plan target, linked to the supply constraints with regard to mining, electricity and gas supply, can be achieved only if new institutions of governance emerge from the political churn that is currently going on. There is no knowing how long this political churn will continue. If there is disruptive politics until the next Lok Sabha elections in 2014, then two years of the 12th plan period would already have been lost. The ongoing Lokpal debate can also be seen as an attempt to come up with new institutional structures of governance to ensure a fair and equitable growth process.

So, the 12th plan target of 9-9.5% GDP growth has too many critical assumptions built into it. In the face of an uncertain global economic environment, the only chance India has is to get its domestic reforms on track through a broader political consensus among national and regional parties at the state level. Removing domestic supply bottlenecks, especially with regard to inputs such as land, minerals, energy etc, is the key to achieving higher growth. The approach paper also suggests that the sustained inflationary pressures seen at the end of the 11th plan period could become a risk to growth if domestic supply bottlenecks are not eased in the medium term. Fixing this requires a broad consensus among various political parties and other stakeholders (civil society) in the country. The current atmosphere of confrontation at various levels does not bode well for creating the right conditions for growth in the medium term.

mk.venu@expressindia.com

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

ULFA COMES AROUND

The winding down of a 32-year-long low-grade armed struggle in Assam is on course. Following the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire by United Liberation Front of Asom chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, the central government and the Assam government have signed a 'suspension of operations' agreement with ULFA — what has been termed a "gentleman's agreement." This is the first time ULFA has signed an agreement with any government and the expectation is that a substantive political dialogue will follow soon. ULFA's pragmatic approach, especially with regard to its longstanding but clearly untenable demand for "sovereignty" for Assam, has to be appreciated — even if it is clear that a combination of circumstances seemed to give it little choice. The central government's calibrated approach over the past few years was aided in no small measure by the tenacity, patience, and resolve shown by Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, who has led the State imaginatively over the past decade. The talking process took off once Mr. Rajkhowa and his associates landed in Indian custody, after being apprehended by the Bangladesh security forces: for this, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina needs to be given full credit.

Nevertheless, the peace process remains under the shadow of an unrelenting Paresh Barua, ULFA's 'commander-in-chief' who is believed to be based, along with some cadres, in the unruly international border between Myanmar and China. However insignificant the threat they hold out may seem at this point, these elements will need to be brought round, or overcome. Trans-border linkages have aided and abetted militancy in the region for too long. The government also needs to be wary of a host of other insurgent groups in Assam and elsewhere in the region who may be biding their time; this calls for vigilance against opportunistic terror but also the avoidance of overreaction. Genuine reconciliation will require a far-sighted strategy of taking everyone along by ensuring the region's development, more effective legal protection for Assam's indigenous people, and generous leeway over issues of land and resources. The early efforts at rehabilitating some 600 ULFA cadre in special camps known as "Nabanirman Kendras" augur well for the process — although the militants' refusal to turn in their weapons does pose a problem. The agenda for the talks between ULFA and the central and State governments needs to be worked out meticulously — with due weight given to the popular perception that persistent under-development in the face of the region's rich resources is the outcome of a policy of discrimination and facilitating exploitation by outsiders. The best chance yet for enduring peace in Assam must not be squandered.

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

THE SIXTH, IN FIVE YEARS

The first question about Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is: how long will he last? He is Japan's sixth Prime Minister in five years, and the third to assume the office since the historic victory of the Democratic Party of Japan in 2009. The promise of clean politics and good governance that came with the ousting of the Liberal Democratic Party — and with it a sleazy back-room style of functioning — appears to have all but faded from public memory. Instead, there is the uncertain economy, sharpened by the world's recession woes. Japan is burdened by a public debt of 225 per cent of the gross domestic product, high social security and pension costs due to an ageing population, and a shrinking work force. A strong yen threatens to hit exports. On top of it all, there is the daunting task of the nuclear clean-up and rebuilding after the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Prime Minister Noda's predecessor, Naoto Kan, had to step down following searing criticism of his handling of the disaster and the accompanying catastrophe at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Not surprisingly, the DPJ fared poorly in the April local elections. Mr. Kan survived a no-confidence vote in June, but promised to quit after seeing three pieces of legislation through the Diet in August.

Mr. Noda held the finance portfolio in the Kan cabinet, and advocated a tax hike to meet Japan's post-disaster public spending — a move opposed by his own party. One of the biggest challenges facing him is the task of playing the conciliator between the bitterly opposed factions within the DPJ. His election as Prime Minister showed how deep factionalism runs — Mr. Noda had to wrestle four other candidates off the mat, and he won only in a second round run-off. The DPJ's woes are compounded by the opposition LDP's control over the upper house of parliament, from where it has opposed all government policies. Prime Minister Noda has emphasised Japan's relations with the United States as "its greatest asset," signalling his intention to strengthen the ties. The two previous Prime Ministers walked a tightrope between the perceived Japanese need for the U.S. as a guarantor of regional peace, and the growing desire to cut dependence on the superpower and improve ties with China and other regional neighbours. As for Tokyo's reservations about a civilian nuclear deal with New Delhi, these could have only got strengthened. Post-Fukushima, the Japanese want to reduce their dependence on nuclear energy. The new man in the job has to prove himself on many fronts before the next elections, due in 2013. That is, if he lasts until then.

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THE HINDU

PEACEKEEPERS' SEX SCANDALS LINGER

NEIL MACFARQUHAR

On screen, two senior U.N. officials in Bosnia are arguing about firing Kathy Bolkovac, an American police officer battling to stop peacekeepers from both trafficking in young women and frequenting the brothels where they became indentured prostitutes.

"It is a point of honour for me that the U.N. is not remembered for raping the very people we must protect," says Madeleine Rees, a spirited human rights advocate played by Vanessa Redgrave.

"Those girls are whores of war," growls the male bureaucrat heading the U.N. mission. "It happens; I will not dictate for morality."

Ms Rees, the director of the human rights office in Sarajevo from 1998 to 2006, said that dispute in the movie The Whistleblower , recently released in the U.S., was lifted almost verbatim from a running argument she had around 2001.

A decade later, a string of sex scandals from Bosnia to the Democratic Republic of Congo to Haiti involving peacekeeping missions has forced the U.N. to change the way it handles accusations of trafficking, rape and related crimes. But the issue still bedevils the institution — a point underscored by the skirmishing among senior U.N. officials over whether to embrace the movie or try to ignore it.

The issue has certainly not gone away. This week, hundreds of Haitians protested in support of an 18-year-old who said he was sexually assaulted by peacekeepers from Uruguay on a U.N. base, eliciting a furious rebuke from Haiti's President and an apology from Uruguay.

The U.N. has focused serious attention on addressing sexual crimes among the more than 120,000 personnel it has deployed in 16 peacekeeping missions globally, including widespread training. But the question that diplomats, advocates and even some U.N. officials ask is why the efforts still lag in terms of investigating accusations and, most important, making sure those who send troops and contractors abroad hold them accountable.

Human rights experts and some member states fault the U.N. for leaving too much of the job of enforcing its "zero tolerance" policy announced in 2003 to the countries contributing troops. Individual cases and any disciplinary action are rarely made public.

"They never come up with actual facts; they never come up with actual cases," Ms Bolkovac said.

U.N. officials brandish the statistics published on the organisation's peacekeeping website as evidence of transparency. The numbers, the source of which is somewhat vague, indicate that cases dropped from 108 substantiated accusations of sexual exploitation and abuse in 2007 to 85 in 2008, then to 63 in 2009, 33 last year and just five so far in 2011.

But more than 200 such accusations remain unresolved, and the U.N. annual report on such crimes for 2010 noted that sexual activity with minors and non-consensual sex represented more than half of reported accusations little changed since 2008. Cases have come to light where peacekeepers paid children $1 or with candy to make a rape seem like prostitution.

Activists and some diplomats condemn the U.N. as timid, with internal policing particularly weak under Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Mr. Ban waged an extended feud over hiring with the head of internal oversight before she left in 2010, leaving dozens of investigator jobs empty. Senior officials admit that its investigators have the mandate to do more to track sexual abuse cases.

The U.N. pays $1,024 a month per soldier, making peacekeeping a profitable venture for many poorer nations. In June, member states voted themselves a roughly $100 bonus per soldier per month for the coming year. The U.N. lost an opportunity by not hinging the bonuses on better cooperation, advocates contend.

"Member states are not reliable enough to do a good job on their own, especially in the early stages of a military investigation," said Prince Zeid Raad Zeid al-Hussein, the Jordanian ambassador and the author of a damning study of sexual exploitation in peacekeeping in 2005 as special adviser on the issue under the previous Secretary-General. Mr. Ban never filled the post.

Member states rejected the study's recommendations to establish a coordinated, nimble investigation and discipline process. Soldiers serving the U.N. are subject to their own countries' military justice. The only wrist slap often faced by contractors is being sent home, because they enjoy immunity as U.N. employees.

Soldiers linked to crimes are often repatriated. In April, 16 peacekeepers from Benin were sent home from Ivory Coast more than a year after Save the Children U.K. found that the soldiers traded food for sex with poor, underage girls. More than 100 troops from Sri Lanka were sent home from Haiti in 2007 because of widespread accusations of sex with minors.

In many cases, however, the final outcome remains a mystery.

"The U.N. is not even a player in the investigation, doesn't know the evidence and has no way to follow up with the way the military decides to deal with this issue," Mr. Zeid said. "We, the member states, have by and large failed to do what I had hoped we would do."

The U.S. State Department's 2010 report on human trafficking criticised the U.N., saying, "No comprehensive information is available on the number of cases of disciplinary action."

A leaked memo from the U.N. human rights office in New York reflected the divisions over openness. In a lengthy discussion about how to address The Whistleblower , Kiyotaka Akasaka, the head of public information, and Patricia O'Brien, the top lawyer, argued for playing down the movie and certainly not screening it at the U.N. headquarters, the memo said. But the executive director of the newly created agency U.N. Women, Michelle Bachelet, the former President of Chile, argued for a more open approach, it said, along with several others.

Mr. Ban wrote to the film's director, Larysa Kondracki, saying he had watched the movie with his senior advisers and was "pained" by it. "Your film points to one area where our work left questions behind," he said.

A public screening will be held at the U.N. soon, he told her. — New York Times News Service

The episodes have changed the way the U.N. handles accusations of trafficking and rape, but the issue still bedevils the institution.

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THE HINDU

MISSILES MISSING FROM LIBYAN STOCKPILE

C.J. CHIVERS & ROD NORDLAND

The sign on the wall reads "Schoolbook Printing and Storage Warehouse," but the fact that the double gates in the wall have been crudely ripped off suggests that something more interesting might be inside.

It turns out that the only books to be found in any of the three large buildings in the walled compound are manuals how to fire rocket launchers and wire-guided missiles, among others. The buildings are actually disguised warehouses full of munitions mortar shells, artillery rounds, antitank missiles and more — thousands of pieces of military ordnance that are completely unguarded more than two weeks after the fall of the capital.

Perhaps most interesting of all is what is no longer there, but until recent days apparently was: shoulder-fired heat-seeking missiles of the type that could be used by terrorists to shoot down civilian airliners. U.S. authorities have long been concerned that Libyan missiles could easily find their way onto the black market.

These missiles, mostly SA-7b Grails, as NATO refers to them, have been spotted in Libya before and are well known to have been sold to the government of Muammar Qadhafi by former Eastern bloc countries. The evidence at the schoolbook warehouse confirms just how large those quantities were. It also raises questions about how many of them may have been purloined by rebels, criminals or smugglers.

In Washington, President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism official, John O. Brennan, said that the spread of shoulder-fired missiles and other weapons from Libya's arsenal posed "a lot of concerns," and that the United States had pressed the rebel government to secure weapons stockpiles.

A senior U.S. military officer who follows Libya closely said it was puzzling that there had been so few documented instances in which Libyan loyalist troops launched shoulder-fired missiles at NATO aircraft.

"I'm not sure what that means," the officer said. "Fewer systems than we thought? Systems are inoperable? Few in Libya know how to operate them?"

The officer said it was also unclear whether the al-Qaeda or other extremist groups had acquired the missiles, although he said intelligence analysts were assuming they had.

"But if they do, why haven't they used or threatened to use?" the officer said. "It's all very murky right now."

Wednesday, a reporter for The New York Times as well as a researcher for Human Rights Watch and other reporters who visited the scene found 10 crates that had held two missiles each lying opened and empty. The crates were clearly labelled as coming from Russia.

"Other countries know these weapons are on the loose, and they will be trying to get their hands on them," said a researcher for Human Rights Watch, Peter Bouckaert.

He was particularly concerned with one crate, labelled "9M342," the Russian designation for the SA-24 heat-seeking missile.

"These were some of the most advanced weaponry the Russians made," Mr. Bouckaert said. Referring to the former rebels who have taken control of Tripoli and to the international community, he added, "They need to get people here to secure some of this."

The SA-24 can be mounted on vehicle-based launchers or fired from a person's shoulder via a much smaller launcher known as a grip stock. The latter configuration, of the same class of weapon as the U.S.-made Stinger, is considered the gravest potential danger to civilian aircraft because the weapon is readily portable and relatively simple to conceal and use.

No grip stocks for SA-24s have yet been found in Libya, and the Russian manufacturer of the SA-24 has previously said that it did not sell any grip stocks to Qadhafi's military. The SA-24s, it said, were sold only with vehicle-mounted launchers. The SA-7, however, is a shoulder-fired missile. A Soviet-era weapon dating to the 1960s that remains in wide use and circulation, it has been implicated in several attacks on airliners over the years, including a failed attack on an Israeli charter plane

Former Eastern bloc nations call it Strela, for the Russian word for arrow. Nine of the freshly emptied crates found Wednesday were marked with the Eastern bloc designation for the Strela: 9M32M.

Libyan rebels have occasionally been spotted carrying SA-7s, although the weapon has no evident practical use to them, given that the Qadhafi air force was grounded by NATO months ago and that the only military aircraft confirmed in the Libyan skies have been the NATO planes supporting the rebels' advances.

— New York Times News Service

Including shoulder-fired heat-seeking missiles that could be used by terrorists to shoot down civilian airliners.

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THE HINDU

WORKING TOWARDS A GREENER INDIA

THOMAS MATUSSEK

The world's largest solar photovoltaic plant will start delivering up to 125 megawatt (MW) of clean, sustainable solar energy in Maharashtra in March 2012. Germany is proud to play a role in this important project by supporting the financial investment. Only recently, Germany's state-owned KfW Development Bank and India's Ministry of Finance signed a reduced-interest loan of €250 million for the construction of this solar plant at Shivajinagar, Sakri.

This is just one example of the flourishing Indo-German partnership in the energy sector, aiming to strengthen energy efficiency and the use of renewable energies. The objective is to develop an Indian energy system that is sustainable not only in economic but also in ecological terms.

Energy is a priority issue for India. Currently, the power situation in India is one of the major bottlenecks in its growth story. Even though India's total installed power capacity rose to 170 gigawatt (GW) by December 2010, the challenges lying ahead are critical. About 400 million people are still without a power connection. According to a rough estimate, the total demand for electricity in India is expected to cross 950 GW by 2030.

This is a huge challenge, especially against the backdrop of climate change. In absolute terms, India has already become one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world. Between 1994 and 2007 its annual greenhouse gas emissions increased by 58 per cent as an effect of rapid economic growth, higher industrial activity and consequent increase in energy production, consumption and transportation.

However, throughout its history, India has shown that it is able to deal with challenging situations. Likewise, one can sense a strong political will in India today to reduce the ecological costs of economic growth; for e.g., by employing a low-carbon strategy. Important steps in this direction have already been taken. In June 2008, India launched the National Action Plan for Climate Change (NAPCC), which envisions creating a self-sustaining economy. Under the NAPCC, India has outlined present and future policies to control the growth of emissions in eight different sectors. In the framework of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission, it has set an ambitious goal of achieving 20 GW of solar capacity by 2022.

India offers a conducive atmosphere for the growth and application of renewable energies. When utilised in the right manner and with the right technology, India can become a world leader in the field of renewable energy. For example, most parts of India have 300 to 330 sunny days in a year, which is equivalent to over 5,000 trillion kilowatt hour (kWh) per year — much more than India's total energy consumption per year.

India is also endowed with a large, viable and economically exploitable wind power potential. By June 2009, a wind power capacity of 10,386 MW had been established in India, making it the fifth largest wind power producer in the world. India's hydro power potential is estimated to be 150,000 MW, the current installed capacity being 35,000 MW. Thus there are many opportunities and Germany is happy to be one of India's main partners in harnessing renewable energies and moving towards a greener future.

Our expertise and technological edge can help India tap its vast resources efficiently and competitively. Consider this: Germany is a world leader in renewable energy. Currently, Germany produces 17 per cent of its electricity by using renewable resources. Out of its total production of 600 billion kWh in 2010, wind turbines, hydroelectric plants, solar cells and biogas digesters together contributed 100 billion kWh and this is set to grow. With our new energy policy in place, we are looking at achieving 35 per cent production from renewable energies by 2020, expanding this sector even further.

Some of Germany's companies with interest in renewables have already made their way to India or are taking this step. Largest among them is perhaps Siemens, which is planning the production of 2.3-MW wind turbines in Gujarat by 2013. Also among them is Juwi, a well-known German developer, who set up shop in Bangalore in 2010 to serve the Indian market in developing solar power plants. Also, the world's largest solar fair — the Intersolar fair in Munich — already has an Indian sister, the yearly Intersolar India, which will be held for the third time this December in Mumbai.

Given India's needs and Germany's expertise, it is then no surprise that energy is a top priority in Indo-German economic cooperation. In 2010 the German government committed about €330 million exclusively for energy efficiency and renewables.

To give just a few examples of our ongoing cooperation — We promote investments in renewable energy by providing sustainable financing through the Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA). Through KfW, we have committed credit lines to primarily finance project types that are relatively new in India in terms of technology, institutional set-up or financing structure. In Anta, Rajasthan, we are involved in financing a 15-MW concentrated solar thermal power station in collaboration with the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC).

As important as our financial cooperation is the technical cooperation (TC) through our implementing agency, GIZ. As a special component under the Indo-German Energy Programme (IGEN), a coordination office with German and Indian experts has been set up on the premises of India's Ministry of New and Renewable Energy in New Delhi to foster TC activities in renewable energy.

Over and above this, there are a number of other projects addressing various issues in the field of renewable energy. For example, the GIZ project 'Solar Mapping and Monitoring' aims at mapping India's potential for solar power generation with precise on-the-ground-data, rather than the rough satellite data available so far, and thus further the production of renewable energies. Through COMSolar (Commercialisation of solar energy), we are focusing on developing partnerships with private companies in order to promote commercialisation of solar energy in the urban and industrial sectors. The project implementation partner, GIZ, also organises training programmes, including seminars, study trips and special courses for capacity building and enhancing local expertise in the relevant field.

Since 2009, Germany and India have been organising a 'Carbon Bazaar' every year. This event provides a platform for entrepreneurs to establish direct contact with various stakeholders in the energy sector, with the sole purpose of reducing the carbon footprint of economic activities.

Last but not the least, the Indo-German Energy Forum, established by Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2006, focuses on promoting cooperation in energy security, energy efficiency, renewable energy, investment in energy projects, and collaborative research and development in the energy sector. This has proved to be an important tool in our bilateral relationship.

Germany considers India a key partner. A combination of India's positive outlook on renewable energy and Germany's expertise and technology will help us in achieving a sustainable, climate friendly energy mix of the future.

(Thomas Matussek is Germany's

Ambassador to India.)

The country has much to gain by joining hands with Germany in expanding the renewable energy sector.

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THE HINDU

CULTURE WARS OVER LONDON RIOTS

HASAN SUROOR

An American-style culture war has broken out among British academics and opinion-makers over the underlying causes of the recent riots in London and other cities. While the political class, despite attempting to sound "different," is broadly on the same sheet, the intellectuals are deeply divided with those on the Right suggesting that there was a racial dimension to Britain's worst street violence since the 1980s because most of the rioters came from a particular ethnic group.

Some have blamed elements of Afro-Caribbean culture such as rap music for contributing to a streak of violence and "nihilism" among black youth. A "collapse of family values" and a "lack of work ethic" are some of the other factors cited by right-wing commentators for "restlessness" among the young of Afro-Caribbean descent.

Those on the Left reject this racial stereotyping of a whole community arguing that many of these problems are also prevalent among other groups, including white working class families. Instead of looking for glib explanations in race and ethnicity the debate should be about "difficult" social and economic issues — racial discrimination and a neglect of inner-city working class communities — facing Britain's black community.

Both sides acknowledge that there is a dearth of enough role models for black youth to look up to and this has resulted in a lack of aspiration among them. But they differ on why there is such a scarcity of high-profile public figures of Afro-Caribbean origin. The Right puts it down to an "inherent aspiration-deficit" among blacks while the liberal view is that it is a lack of opportunities — a "racial glass ceiling" that prevents black people from getting a break in the first place; and, even if they do, hinders further progress up the professional ladder. They are grossly under-represented in nearly every area of public life from politics to media, academia, and arts and culture.

The most controversial intervention on the Right came from historian and broadcaster, David Starkey, a colourful figure and a favourite of television producers. His attempt to import race into the debate has been likened to the behaviour of a "blustering old fogey" gatecrashing into a party where until he arrived everyone has been at their best etiquette.

Before Dr. Starkey's provocative intervention, the causes of the August riots had been discussed in the context of social and economic deprivation in the Afro-Caribbean community, with even the Tories avoiding a direct reference to race. Prime Minister David Cameron, who has been attacked for some of his shrill post-riots rhetoric, was careful not to be seen to be singling out and "criminalising" an entire community for the actions of a few. Suddenly, Dr Starkey popped up on the BBC to launch an attack on "a violent, destructive and nihilistic" black culture. The contagion, he warned, was spreading with members of the white working class embracing this culture.

"The whites have become black," he declared with his trademark dramatic flourish.

In what one critic dubbed his "career-ending moment," the former Cambridge academic approvingly quoted the late Tory politician Enoch Powell's 1968 speech warning that unchecked immigration would unleash "rivers of blood" in Britain. He said he had reread the speech in the light of the riots and found that Powell had been "absolutely right."

"His prophecy was absolutely right in one sense. The Tiber didn't foam with blood but flames lambent. They wrapped around Tottenham and around Clapham," he said. Gesturing towards his co-panelist Owen Jones, author of Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Classes , he said: "What has happened is that a substantial section of the chavs that you wrote about have become black."

"The whites have become black. A particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic, gangster culture has become the fashion. And black and white, boy and girl, operate in this language together, this language which is wholly false, which is this Jamaican patois that's been intruded in England, and this is why so many of us have this sense of literally a foreign country," he said.

Undeterred by Mr. Jones's protest that he was "equating black culture with criminality and anti-social behaviour," Dr. Starkey went on to argue that "an archetypal successful black man" was more likely to sound like a white person. Referring to the Afro-Caribbean Labour MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, he said: "Listen to David Lammy, an archetypal successful black man. If you turn the screen off so that you are listening to him on radio you would think he was white."

Well-known black writer and education adviser Dreda Sally Mitchell, a guest on the programme, told him to "stop talking about them and us."

"You keep talking David about black culture. Black communities are not homogenous. So there are black cultures. Lots of different black cultures. What we need to be doing is ... thinking about ourselves not as individual communities ... as one community. We need to stop talking about them and us."

The big backlash, however, came from his own professional community. More than 100 academics and graduate students signed an open letter in The Times Higher Education Magazine denouncing his comments as "evidentially insupportable and factually wrong." Dr. Starkey was guilty of "crass generalisations about black culture and white culture as oppositional, monolithic entities" and his remarks demonstrated a failure "to grasp the subtleties of race and class that would disgrace a first-year history undergraduate."

At the street level and in the media, some of the reaction to Dr. Starkey's outburst shows that old racial prejudices still lurk under the veneer of multiculturalism and Britain remains a deeply divided society in its attitude to race. There is no dearth of those who believe that he spoke for them and said what they couldn't for fear of being labelled as racist.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph , writer and broadcaster James Delingpole claimed that Dr. Starkey's argument was "indisputable."

"Listen to how many white kids (and Asian kids) choose to speak in black street patois; note the extent to which hip hop and grime garage and their offshoots have penetrated the white mainstream; check out how many white kids like to roll …with their Calvins pulled up to their midriffs and their jean waistbands sagging …," he wrote.

Not done yet, Mr. Delingpole concluded: "To pillory a man for pointing out such a glaringly obvious cultural fact just because he's white and Right-wing would have been quite wrong even before the riots. Post riots it is positively obscene."

Outside the more doctrinaire Left-Right divide, there's the view that too many sensitivities around issues such as race, religions and immigration often hinder a rational debate on genuine problems of ethnic groups. Dr. Starkey's views may have been distasteful but in a free and open society there should be no "no-go" areas or "forbidden" territories. The Economist pointed out that the "density" of rioters from one ethnic group suggested that "the race played some part even if few politicians are keen to contemplate it."

"Just what that role was is a matter of great concern to thoughtful black Britons."

Libby Purves, a respected cultural commentator, wrote that Dr. Starkey's comments were, no doubt, "clumsy," but "it would be a pity if his detractors, in their stumbling panic to announce their own non-racism, closed down all discussion of the animating lawless rhetoric of top rappers."

Free speech campaigners such as John Kampfner, chief executive of Index on Censorship, complained that Britons were "too easily offended" and called for greater tolerance of "contrarian" viewpoints.

"At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, I suggest we dust off a phrase that probably hasn't seen the light of day since the 1950s: 'I beg to differ.' That should suffice the next time someone sees Starkey talk about blacks on TV or reads (Jan) Moir (a right-wing journalist) in the Mail ," he wrote in The Independent .

The most charitable interpretation of Dr. Starkey's outburst came from the Booker-winner Howard Jacobson arguing that he was a victim of the "foolish vanity of a public intellectual." Given a chance to pontificate, he got carried away by his own vanity and the more he was challenged by his co-panelists the "more he blustered."

That, to some, sounded like giving too much benefit of the doubt to someone who has form on such matters.

While the political class is broadly on the same sheet, the intellectuals are deeply divided with those on the Right suggesting that there was a racial dimension.

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ASIAN AGE

GENERAL CONDUCT

S.K. SINHA

General V.K. Singh is an officer of high repute. I have interacted with him when he was a major general in Kashmir and have great regard for him. Documentary evidence of his date of birth fully supports his claim. Year after year the annual List issued by the military secretary's office for nearly three

decades and more and readily available to all officers, unlike the adjutant-general's Branch Record, showed the wrong date. No attempt to correct the date was made when he was a junior officer. Had this been done in the early years, the issue could have been easily resolved between the two branches by Army Headquarter. When it was raised after his attaining very senior rank, it got linked with the succession plan of the top leadership of the Army. Today the issue boils down to whether Gen. Singh as Chief will have a two- or three-year tenure.
In 1947, a committee of three senior secretaries in the Government of India — R.N. Banerjee, Vishnu Sahay and H.M. Patel — recommended that as in other ministries, the defence secretary should have a status higher than the three Service Chiefs, who were only departmental heads. In 1947-48, we still had British Service Chiefs. They took up the matter with Lord Louis Mountbatten, saying it was ridiculous to equate Service Chiefs with department heads. Being key players in ensuring national security, in all democracies they have the right of direct access to the Prime Minister or the head of the government. At the instance of Mountbatten, Jawaharlal Nehru decided that the Chiefs would have a status higher than the defence secretary. This continues to be so even now. In view of the exalted position of a Chief, a public controversy involving him is most unfortunate. For the first time, a Chief has filed a statutory complaint on a personal matter. This is being examined by the defence secretary and his staff to obtain the decision of the minister. This lowers the dignity of the high office, which must take precedence over personal interest.

We have had many eminent generals who have been Army Chiefs. Gen. Cariappa, the seniormost Indian officer, was expected to become the first Indian Chief in 1949. A hitch arose. He was perceived as being too friendly with officers of the undivided Indian Army serving in Pakistan. In early 1948, he attended the Lahore Horse Show at the invitation of Gen. Iftikar Ahmed. In those days a passport was not required for travel to Pakistan, nor was prior government approval. Gen. Raza, the adjutant-general of the Pakistan Army who had served under Cariappa for many years in the Rajput Regiment, came to Delhi in 1947 for a meeting on division of assets. He stayed with Cariappa. Col. Nasar Ali Khan was a havildar clerk in the early Thirties, working under Cariappa, then the adjutant of the Rajput Regimental Centre. He later became an officer and, in 1947, was the military adviser in the Pakistan high commission. He often met Cariappa. Gen. Rajendrasinhji Jadeja, the next senior officer, had a distinguished war record in North Africa. As Southern Army Commander, he conducted the Hyderabad operations. He was the brother of the Jam Saheb of Nawanagar. As Chancellor, Chamber of Princes, the latter had worked closely with Sardar Patel to integrate the Princely States with the Indian Union. There were rumours that Rajendrasinhji would be made Chief. He is reported to have met Nehru and told him that he would resign if appointed Chief by superseding Cariappa. That would set a wrong precedent and may lead to politicising the Army. Rajendrasinhji set a shining example. After Cariappa completed his term, he succeeded him. Cariappa was the right man at the right time. A strong disciplinarian with a high sense of values, he held the Army together at a critical time when all combat units had undergone a surgical operation in the wake of Partition and units were being commanded by Indian officers with only seven years' service. He had led the Army successfully during the one-year war in Kashmir.
Gen. Thimayya was a charismatic leader, a true soldiers' general. During the Second World War, he was the only Indian to command a brigade in battle. His combat record in command of a division in Kashmir was outstanding, particularly during the Battle of Zoji-la. As chairman of the Neutral Nation Commission in Korea, he had won international acclaim and added lustre to the office of the Army Chief. He fell out with defence minister V.K. Krishna Menon on a matter of principle and tendered his resignation. That shook the country. Nehru appealed to his patriotism and assured him he would resolve his problem with Krishna Menon. Gen. Thimayya withdrew his resignation. The next day Nehru castigated him in Parliament for immaturity. Despite that, he continued to serve as a lame duck Army Chief for the rest of his tenure. This did immense harm to his reputation, and to the Army. The bureaucratic stranglehold over the Army increased and the Army got increasingly marginalised in decision-making. This contributed to the humiliating debacle of 1962.
J.N. Chaudhri and Sam Manekshaw were brilliant generals who successfully led the Army in the 1965 and 1971 wars respectively. They had established personal equations with the then Prime Ministers, working directly with them during the wars. In my own case, after commanding the Western Army, I was posted to Delhi as vice-chief and officially told to understudy the Chief as I would be taking over from him shortly on his retirement. I was suddenly told one day that the government had decided to supersede me and appoint Gen. Vaidya as the Chief. I resigned. There was a furore in Parliament and in the press. Venkatraman, the then defence minister, told the press, "Both Gen. Sinha and Gen. Vaidya are good generals but the government has chosen to appoint Gen. Vaidya as Chief." He sent the defence PRO, Brig. Ram Mohan Rao, currently editor-in-chief of ANI, to me, desiring that I speak to the media. I told the press that "I do not question the decision of the government. I accept it. I have decided to fade away from the Army. Gen. Vaidya is a good friend of mine and an able general. I am confident that the Army will flourish under his leadership." I never thought of exercising the option of submitting a statutory complaint or going to court.

I have recounted the above vignettes in the earnest hope that the present unseemly controversy be given an instant burial. The dignity of the high office of the Chief must not be compromised.

The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.

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ASIAN AGE

BEING SALMAN

SHIV VISVANATHAN

Bollywood is today ruled by a triumvirate of Khans. Each name summons an army of fans ready to debate the prowess of their particular hero. This essay is about Salman, the Khan who is different because he does not seek to be different.

Consider the other two first. Aamir Khan thinks he is decidedly intellectual, even political. His Rang De Basanti, Lagaan, 3 Idiots are all political statements. He is self-consciously intellectual and seeks a certain distance from Bollywood and its rituals, especially awards. He sees himself as part of the folklore of inspiration that triggered the Anna Hazare movement.
Shah Rukh Khan is thoughtful in a different way. There is reflexivity about his films, whether it is Om Shanti Om or My Name Is Khan. He avoids politics but can engage with courage, as when he told the Thackerays off. He has a sense of humour, is more playful about his status, ready to join quirky Fair and Handsome advertisements, which Aamir is too correct to do.
Being correct is not a problem for the third Khan. Salman Khan just is, the others strive to be. About the only thing he can manipulate are his muscles. He is a muscular presence if not a muscular intelligence, a combination of boy next door and noble savage. The sense of being boy next door makes him familiar, almost domestic presence. His ability to get into trouble with black bucks and women endears him. His mistakes make him human. The audience almost makes him feel that to err is divine.
There is nothing intellectual about Salman but he exudes an animal vitality which substitutes violence for foreplay. He can be crude, boisterous, corrupt, obscene, gambol like an animal and the audience loves it all.
The other two Khans make a dramatic entrance but Salman explodes and drives the crowds to ecstasy. His relation to heroines is predictably simple; their conversation is brief and more in the form of signals. He speaks through his body, language almost becomes secondary. His sense of plot is simple. He reacts and a sequence of his reflexes constitutes the movie. Nuance eludes him.
If the plot is tricky he is the first casualty. In Bodyguard, he marries the wrong girl and still looks immovably the same. The other two Khans would not be caught in such a situation, except as a pretext for some comedy. The expectations are different. One expects high drama from the other two. With Salman, it is the lowest common denominator. He is low brow and loveable. When he enters the room the average IQ falls by a hundred, but the fun quotient increases a hundred-fold.
He is marked by two kinds of events. First is violence; he exudes it like breathing. Problem solving is not an intellectual act but a narrative involving guns and fists. For Salman, the shortest distance between two points is a bullet or a blow. Yet there is nothing wicked or sinister about him. He is simple and his simplicity is sheer joy. He flexes his muscles like a toy. It is him. Yet what mellows his violence is the sense of comedy, of playfulness. The jokes are simple, even crude, but he maintains values of duty and patriarchy.
Beyond violence, what marks him is his body. His body is his brand name. For Shah Rukh a six-pack body was a later addition, an add-on. For Salman, his body is him. There cannot be a movie of his where he does not discard his shirt to make a point. While others might delight in the sharp repartee or a rapier like wit, Salman displays his muscles with equal effect. His message is simple, almost endearing: love me, love my muscles. It is his being and his becoming.
Salman's recent movies are an interesting bundle. Dabangg excited not merely for its cameo dances. It was Bollywood imitating a Bhojpuri film, tired of its own convolutions. It celebrates language at the lowest level. Ready is time pass, but what beautiful time pass. Bodyguard is even simpler, it has almost no pretensions of a plot until the last five
minutes. It is a collage
of dance and fights
alternating at animal speed. There is Salman and nothing else. It is what I call the first "mass movie".
Earlier, Bollywood was a part of popular culture but with a large amount of folk and myth in it. Bodyguard is the first mass movie. It needs no geneology. It does not have to refer back. It is utterly literal.
Salman is the first mass hero of the Hindi screen. He is his own mythology. He needs no other referent, no other presence. His machismo is self-explanatory. He is populist, he has to be the one with the maximum following. Hunger, love, hate, loyalty are not ideas but mere reflexes. One does not have to think, just react.
Often his personal life, his inability to retain girlfriends, his encounters with the law are cited as obstacles to his career. They appear to make him complex and add a sense of mystique and excitement. For the public, the myth of the man is adequate. He will always be the critics' despair and the audiences' delight. One guarantees the other when he enters. We admire a man without inhibitions. He has no inside. He cannot play Hamlet. The warm-hearted hulk is all he is and as far as the audience is concerned that is all he needs to be — Dhinka chika dhinka chika till the coffers keep filling.

Shiv Visvanathan is a social science nomad

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ASIAN AGE

GOOD BEGINNING MADE IN DHAKA

The agreements reached during the just-ended two-day visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Bangladesh, and the overall sentiment regarding Indian intentions that Dr Singh left behind, provide both sides the base for setting up a scaffolding of good-neighbourly relations in a subcontinent riven by

suspicion, hostility, political instability, and economic uncertainties in spite of India, and Bangladesh, being on a reasonably secure wicket in this regard.
Too much of India's time has been taken up in recent decades in reassuring Pakistan and simultaneously contesting its revanchism, calming Nepal's nerves over big-brother bossism, and coping with China's clever games aimed at confining India to the region between the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean; way too little in cementing ties with our eastern neighbour in whose struggle for independence there was a place for India. Indeed, Bangladesh becoming a free country did not especially lead to the easing of ties and the lessening of worries. The old problems remained — settling the land boundary, offering a fair settlement of river waters to a lower riparian when some 50 common rivers have to be reckoned with, devising transportation and transit links that will foster people-to-people contact, concretely assisting through tariff assistance Bangladesh's textiles that happily go all over the world.
The inability to find the right formulae to match the mood in Dhaka bred anxiety and suspicion. This state of affairs was made worse by the rise in sectarian temperatures and extremist constituencies in Bangladesh from time to time, impinging on India's legitimate security concerns. The Prime Minister's visit has laid the ground to put the old fears behind us in significant ways, taking advantage of relative political and economic stability in that country, and a desire in India to build constructive relations with a neighbour with whom ties can be expanded to cover a wider regional configuration, or even going beyond the region into Southeast Asia.
The time has arrived to build on what has just been achieved, thanks to the maturity of leadership and temperament shown by both sides. But this will require a further show of two-way perseverance and checkmating of bureaucratic ineptness. But most of all, it needs to be remembered that the Teesta waters issue must be revisited at the earliest. A prepared agreement was jettisoned on account of last-minute objections by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee that were not explicated. The ground is required to be recovered without ado. New Delhi has to re-connect with Kolkata and then move to Dhaka to complete the circle of agreements that can launch a relationship of value. If we succeed, we may provide the psychological opening to settle nagging issues with other neighbours.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

ANOTHER BLAST

 

On Wednesday, Delhi met with anther terrorist bomb blast, this time again outside the Delhi High Court at Gate Number 5. Eleven persons have been killed and 76 wounded some grievously, in an RDX blast put in a suitcase. This is the 19th attack of the terrorists in Delhi during past 15 years. Home Minister said in the Parliament that Delhi had become a target of the terrorists. In May last, an explosion had occurred almost around the same place following which the Delhi police claimed it had obtained some clues about the culprits. But the Government never disclosed who the culprits were, to which organization they belonged and whether they were prosecuted formally or not. However, the Congress spokesperson Digvijay Singh had quipped at that time his usual rhetoric that he did not rule out the hand of Hindu extremists behind the explosion. No Congress leader or the Government contradicted him. But according to an email received by two TV Channels, the Harakatu'l-Jihad-e Islami has owned the responsibility of Wednesday's blast.
Many questions are asked about the explosion. After May explosion, the security authorities had said that more CCTVs would be installed at the High Court premises as it was a very sensitive place. But this remained on paper or on the lips of authorities. The security apparatus like hand screen etc. at the gate is reported to be dysfunctional. The entire security performance at the sensitive place is reported to be of lackadaisical nature without any semblance of seriousness in performing the duty assigned to security personnel. The day of explosion, meaning Wednesday was specifically chosen to make the blast because this is the day fixed by Delhi High Court for admission of PIL application and hence a large number of people would be exposed to the fatal explosion. This is precisely what happened.
The Wednesday explosion is a message to the Government that consequences of hanging Afzal Guru can be much more disastrous than what it might imagine. Sending a message through exploding RDX is a classical method of terrorist to terrorize a democratic state. This is the result of half-hearted handling of terrorist cases in this country; this is the result of dragging on the justice in cases of acute criminality. We have now the Tamilnadu assembly asking for amnesty to the killers of Rajiv Gandhi and J&K Government almost asking same thing in the case of Afzal Guru. Trying to draw political mileage out of terrorism and criminality is what helps terror spread its tentacles deep in this country. We have never heard of the punishment given to any of the indicted persons in 19 cases of bomb blasts in Delhi during past 15 years even if the court verdict holds them responsible for terrorist act.
This is not the way how our country can counter terrorist attacks on civilians and soft targets. A vacillating Government is no answer to determined terrorism. An elected government is answerable to the people and if the security of the people is left to intentional jeopardy, the Government loses the right to govern. Ouster of the Home Minister or any other senior functionary in security chapters on account of this or that terrorist attack is a meaningless exercise. Government should not focus on persons but on institutions. The institution of vote bank is the greatest threat to the very survival of our democracy because it is the biggest hindrance to the Government in dispensing quick justice. For ensuring their vote banks, political parties can go to any length of compromising with any and all including elements patently inimical to the state. That is what has been reported in the matter of Naxalism and Maoism. The Government has to make introspection because the cancer is spreading in ranks within. After every terrorist blast, the Home Minster and others concerned with security arrangements make bold speeches of upgrading security measures, inducting more sophisticated weaponry and communication system in police and things like that. No leader, much less the Prime Minister or the Home Minister speaks of reforming our political culture, breaking vote-bank jinx, universalizing secularism by suppressing reservation concept, sensitizing the nation to the dangers of compromising and national security. How can the state control terrorism when the ruling coalition loses no time in projecting the opposition as the bastion of communalism? This is a divisive strategy and the result is self evident, terrorist attacks, sabotage, disruption of law and order and destabilization of the state.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

BROADENING RELATIONSHIP

 

Universities in modern times are not just study and research institutions but something more than that. They are required to widen the vision of youth community by interacting with like-minded counterparts all over the world with the view of universalizing human relationship and values. The recently organized interactive session on "Indo-US Cultural Relations" by the Business School (TBS) and the Department of Political Science of Jammu University at TBS Conference Hall, with the American Centre, New Delhi, is a manifestation of the new vision. Usually we are under an impression that foreign missions in our country or our missions in foreign countries are supposed to work only within the boundaries of politics and diplomacy. The world of art, culture, economy, human relationship etc. are not projected as the realms of equal if not of more importance to the nations of the world. In regard to Indo-US relations, the foremost important aspect is of two biggest democracies of the world trying to accommodate views and aspirations of a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. This is a great experiment in inter-societal relationship aimed at raising human life to higher levels through viable peaceful means. Once, a sadist said in lighter mood that "the US has no past and India has no future." This perverted thinking did persist for some time with certain circles, but what is obtaining now falsifies all derogatory cliché like these. India and the US have voluntarily taken upon themselves the task of exemplifying the positive and constructive vision of the future of mankind. Jammu University has made a small but commendable contribution in its own way to that end.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

DELHI BELLY IS SHAKEN

BY SUDHANSU R DAS

 

Fresh terrror attack on India's political capital after a gap of three months has shaken the country again. Everything was fine in the morning and people still had the festival hang up. Suddenly, the high intensity bomb tore apart the morning calm of Delhi and took nine innocent lives and injured 47 innocent people in front of the gate No.5 of the Delhi High court at 10.14 AM. TV journalists leaped into action as they repeatedly said the Delhi police was informed about the terror attack and there was also intelligence input supplied well in advance. The media had promptly reported people have reported to police.about the abandoned bag well in advance. The question is whether the life of innocent people in Delhi are in safe hand. It is not known whether such negligence is due to sheer inefficiency, lethargy or fatigue. A few weeks back terrorist attack on India's financial capital Mumbai took 21 lives, injured 141 people and left behind many orphans, widows and helpless people.
India cannot percolate its growth benefit unless it nips terrorism in the bud. It is not only the loss of lives and livelihood but terrorism has created huge trust deficit in the society. For a developing nation like India the cost of security checks, man power and loss of productivity hours is too much a burden on this country. US long war against terrorism is one of the reasons for its economic slowdown which causes ripples in other economies also. Though there has been no authentic survey to estimate the damage due to terrorism across India, the loss will run into billions of dollar if we take into account the damage to economic assets, relief and rehabilitation packages, various forms of compensations, death of elite security personnel, cost of deployment of forces, huge productivity loss, burden of orphans and widows on families, loss due to closure of small business, damage to property, loss due to bandh, migration of people, cost of acquisition of sophisticated anti terrorist weapons and upgradation of surveillance technology etc. Mr V K Saraswat, the Scientific Advisor to the Defense Minister reportedly said India should include unmanned battle field, single command center, unmanned ground aerial and underwater vehicles, unmanned tank and gun mounted robots, high powered laser, microwaves, particle beams and anti satellite weapons. All these futuristic weapons will not hide India's inability to collect grass root level human intelligence on terrorist network across the country. In a span of five years from August 2003 to November 2008 more than 21 terrorist attacks in India took nearly 2000 lives and injured three times more than the number of death. The terror attacks on India's fiancial capital was meticulously planned in Pakistan to damage India's financial capital which fetches 40% of foreign trade, collects 60% of custom duty, 40% of income tax, 20% of central excise and generates $ 10 billion corporate tax. Terror attacks on Mumbai has already triggered migration of Mumbai residents to nearby Pune, Nashik, Solapur and Kolhapur cities.
Similarly, maoist violence has affected lives and livelihood in 182 out of India's 626 districts. The productivity loss in those districts is huge as violence affects small economic activities, tourism, trade, banking, academic session, infrastructure and collection of minor forest products etc. Over the years maoist leaders have successfully channeled the tribal reaction to poor governance and corruption in back ward districts into violent guerrilla activities. The maoist leaders can also offer an alternate economic model for tribal development and win election with the support of the tribal. Bihar Chief Minister who is known for his anti hero image has made visible change in his state. He has attached palatial mansions of corrupt officials and converted them into schools and nurshing homes. Orissa's bachelor Chief Minister Naveen Pattnaik follwed suit by attaching buildings of one corrupt official recently. There are so many buglows which can be attached for development of schools and hospitals. If politicians undergo a transformation from bad to good they can do wonder because a nail can easily remove a nail. In order to consolidate the gain from economic growth, the Union government has to strengthen its internal security. The first step should be to dismantle the present recruitment procedure and evolve some new mechanism to pick up quality people on the basis of merit only. Safety of the innocent citizens should get the priority over religion, caste and language.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

TACKLING BLACK MONEY

BY JOGINDER SINGH

 

A young politician, from Andhra, who was hoping, to become the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, to succeed his late father, has been ordered to be investigated for his assets by Andhra Pradesh High Court by the CBI for allegedly amassing of huge wealth and money laundering Delivering its verdict on the writ petitions filed by Congress minister P Shankar Rao and TDP leader K Yerrannaidu, the Andhra Pradesh High court said financial misdeeds involved huge government largesse and corporate dealings including huge investments as part of the quid pro quo arrangement for the largesse and benefit received by the investors from the state government. Rao alleged that Jagan's income which was only Rs.11 lakh in March 2004, had now gone up to Rs.43,000 crore.
It directed the CBI to register a case under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, Prevention of Corruption Act and Prevention of Money Laundering Act. It gave liberty to CBI to bring under the scanner even those who are not a party to this writ petition, thus enabling the the CBI a free hand to probe the alleged role played by public servants and bureaucrats as well in this quid pro quo arrangement.
From May 2004 onwards, Jagan floated a number of companies "wherein quid pro quo investments have been made out of the benefits received by the investors/beneficiaries from the decisions of the state government in various forms like SEZs, irrigation contracts, relaxation/permission for real estate ventures, mines etc, besides payment of huge premium amounts in the shares and invested in the companies by such beneficiaries.," the order said.
The Bench held that "the money so paid is nothing but corrupt money attracting Section 3 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002. The investigation by the income tax authorities with respect to assessment orders of Jagathi Publications (publishers of Sakshi newspaper) for the year 2008- 09 shows huge unexplained cash credit.
Stating that the face value of the shares of some companies were escalated by as much as 35 times, the Bench said Jagan is "directly or indirectly connected with some of the companies which are showing phenomenal growth" and that it is necessary to ascertain the "role of individuals/ firms/public servants" in his group companies.
Stating that the material available supports a thorough probe into all aspects of the financial misdeeds on charges of corruption and moneylaundering, the division Bench said there are also "criminal conspiracies and commission of other related offences involving huge investments by local and foreign companies" including some located in tax-haven countries like Mauritius.
Former chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy extended huge benefits in the form of allotment of lands, mineral rights, licences, SEZ rights to develop ports all along the eastern coast, permission for star hotels and complexes in and around Hyderabad and other major cities the state Corporates and individuals who benefited from these favours were made to invest kickback amounts into individual and corporate businesses of Jaganmohan. On account of the quid pro quo arrangement, Jagan's income rose from Rs 11 lakh in 2004 to Rs 43,000 crore by the time of YSR's demise.
The young politician had approached the Supreme Court against the probe ordered by the High Court. The Supreme Court has rejected the same, saying that the High Court order is a reasonable one.
"I came to know that some DMK men said they were not bothered by it as it was like little water spilling out of a pot full of water," she said.
The Supreme Court has more than once pulled up the government for withholding information on black money stashed in foreign banks, saying it is not just limited to tax evasion but a "mind boggling crime" amounting to "theft" and "plunder" of national wealth having security ramifications. Does the approach of the Government mean that any powerful politician, suspected of store his ill gotten wealth,, can do so by keeping it in a Foreign Bank, as has been happening so far.
Corruption and black money are the two sides of the same coin, co-existing side by side. Most micro and macro socio-economic problems faced by our nation have the same deep, underlying inter-connection.
The way, the things are going on, and the wealth of the politicians has been increasing proves only what Truman once said that " YOU cannot get rich in politics,unless you are a crook, further adding, that I never give them hell. I tell them the truth and they think that it is hell.
The problem in our country, is that treat economic crime, and looting of the public and people' money, as something not very serious. We do not look down on economic thieves, as we do, in so far, as bulrgalrs are concerned.
In a first of its kind move, the Swiss government has agreed to tax black money held by UK citizens in Swiss bank accounts for the first time, while still hiding their identity.According to a a report, the deal could see between 3 billion pounds and 6 billion pounds a year being handed to British Government.
The agreement is a part of the British Government's latest efforts to track down and tax money hidden in offshore bank accounts.
It follows a similar deal agreed earlier between Germany and the Swiss authorities. No doubt, it is a land mark deal . The world has obviously changed for tax evaders, as a few years ago, nobody would anticipate such an agreement, to tackle tax evasion.
The world has changed for Brish Tax Evaders, Meanwhile, David Gauke, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, said, "The historic agreement will enable us to collect billions of pounds from those who have for too long evaded their responsibility to pay UK tax by abusing Swiss banking secrecy."
For decades, Swiss banking laws have provided complete secrecy to foreigners operating bank accounts there.
The account holders have been able to use the accounts to hide money from the own tax authorities, without even having to pay any Swiss tax.
From 2013, the Swiss will tax the bank accounts of UK citizens and transfer the money directly to the Treasury, but without revealing the identity of the account holders.
The least that Government of India, can do to tackle the menace of Black Money is to negotiate with the Swiss a similar agreement, so that more than on third of the Indian Black money could be got to India, in the beginning.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

FALL OF A FIXER

ON THE SPOT

BY TAVLEEN SINGH

 

On a Jet Airways flight from Mumbai to Delhi not long ago I happened to be seated next to Amar Singh. We met after more than three years. In this time he had become estranged from his political mentor, Mulayam Singh, and suffered such severe kidney problems that a transplant had become necessary. These misfortunes appeared to have resulted in his rich and powerful friends falling away so it did not surprise me that he looked subdued and gloomy compared to the old, ebullient Amar Singh I had once known well. He sat down silently in the seat next to mine with a nod of acknowledgement by way of greeting. I assumed that, like me, he was one of those travelers who likes to sleep and read on flights so I went back to reading my book while he flicked silently through a newspaper. It was only when the meal service began that he initiated a conversation. I asked about his health and he said that the kidney transplant had worked well but he had to be very careful not to eat or drink the wrong sort of things. When I looked pointedly down at his plate of spicy kebabs he smiled wanly and said that he would have to go home and take a whole lot of pills to compensate.
Once we got talking he talked about lots of things. I gathered that he was bitter about the manner in which he had been ousted from the Samajwadi Party. He hinted that his only crime was his closeness and loyalty to Mulayam Singh. This had made his family jealous now that his brother and son are both in politics. He reminded me that it was really because he had been able to interpret Mulayam Singh's political ideas to important people in the drawing rooms of Delhi and the glamorous parties of Bollywood that Mulayam had achieved the status of being recognized as a national leader. I agreed that this had indeed been the case and reminded him that I had been witness to the transformation.
When I first met Mulayam Singh (through Amar Singh) he was no more than a small time politician with some very odd ideas about the world. He told me during that first meeting that he believed India was a poor country only because Narasimha Rao's Government (in power then) had taken loans from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. His ideas on politics and foreign policy were equally bizarre and it was Amar Singh who later explained that he was a simple man who did not always understand complex issues.
Amar Singh translated Mulayam's ideas not just for me but for so many important people in Delhi and Mumbai that it was not long before famous movie stars and rich industrialists started flocking to Lucknow to share in Mulayam's 'political vision'. Among them were Godrejs, Ambanis and most notably Amitabh Bachchan himself. Unfortunately, Amar Singh's huge social and political skills changed him as a person. When I first met him he was a small time power broker operating on the outer edges of political Delhi. He was humble, helpful and full of jokes. This changed when he became Amitabh Bachchan's confidante and constant companion. After he went on to become a permanent star on page 3 I saw him less and less. Once when I ran into him at a Bollywood party, in a garden by the sea, I noticed that he was the centre of attention despite the presence of major movie stars and glamorous socialites. Everyone paid court to him and everyone seemed to want to be seen as a close friend of his. In Delhi he took to meeting only people who were politically important and rich and although he never stopped sneering at the 'cocktail party crowd' he was always at the parties he sneered at. He was fawned over and feted and his style of living changed dramatically.
Now whenever I saw him he traveled in expensive foreign cars and wore expensive foreign things. He spent so much money on 'renovating' his Government bungalow in Delhi that people started to gossip about how he had suddenly come into so much money. He attributed it, whenever he was directly asked, to his businesses doing very well but this did not end the gossip and his reputation changed from being a powerbroker to a 'wheeler-dealer'. His growing arrogance with journalists who asked difficult questions and his patent desire to always be seen only in the company of rich and powerful people lost him many of his old friends. When his rich and famous friends fell away after his rift with Mulayam Singh he seemed to disappear entirely from page 3 and public life. On the flight to Delhi he did not speak much about personal matters but hinted that he was hurt by the distances that had grown between him and his most famous friend, Amitabh Bachchan. When it came to his political future he said he was often in Uttar Pradesh holding meetings and rallies which he said were well attended. I gathered that he was eager to hitch his small bandwagon to a larger one and that he was already negotiating with different political leaders.
Amar Singh's problem was that he forgot, somewhere along the way, that he derived his celebrity from Mulayam Singh's political power and that on his own he was seen not so much as a political leader but a fixer. In Delhi's political circles fixers are tolerated but rarely respected so it should have surprised nobody that when they took him off to Tihar jail last Tuesday there were few tears shed for him. Even the BJP, whose MPs he allegedly bought to save Dr. Manmohan Singh's first government, seemed more interested in nailing the beneficiaries of his largesse than in what happened to him. As for friends from happier days there seemed to be no sign of them. Television reporters who waited outside Tihar Jail to record every moment of his incarceration said the only people who had come with him were members of his immediate family. As someone who knew Amar Singh in the old days before he became drunk with political power and celebrity it made me sad to see him so alone in his time of trouble. But, when a fixer bites the dust in political Delhi there are, alas, never many mourners around. That is how it has always been.

 

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******************************************************************************************THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

TERROR STRIKES DELHI

STILL A LONG WAY FROM FOOLPROOF SECURITY

 

THE powerful bomb packed in a small briefcase that exploded near Gate Number 5 of the Delhi High Court on Wednesday morning, killing 12 people and injuring scores of others, shows the continuing fragility of our systems in preventing terror attacks. That barely four months ago a low-intensity bomb had gone off in the same court's parking lot near Gate Number 7 and much action was intended to stave off any future attack but little was actually done is testimony to the lackadaisical approach that characterizes our reaction to terror. There was neither any CCTV camera at the gate to record the goings-on nor any metal detector to check entry. Both these devices were in the pipeline but not yet in operation. With Delhi not having seen a major terror attack for nearly three years, there was evidently a sense of complacency and a smug confidence that the striking power of terrorists was much reduced as mistakenly surmised from the failed attempt at the High Court in May.

 

There is, of course, the inevitable question of who did it. A large number of terror outfits have emerged in recent years, many of which are fronts for larger ones. If an E-mail message by one Harkat-ul-Jihad member is to be believed, it was this outfit that perpetrated the attack. There is much talk of strengthening the intelligence network but it is a moot question as to how much our intelligence has been able to penetrate and unmask such outfits. Crucially, in 2009, Home Minister Chidambaram had announced an imaginative security architecture. This included NATGRID, a networked intelligence database, the National Counter-Terrorism Centre which was slated to be a nodal agency for all counter-terror efforts, and a National Investigative Agency. While the NIA is looking into the High Court blast, the other two are yet to take off.

 

What also needs to be looked into is whether we have adequate deterrent in our law to keep terrorists at bay. Considering that it takes years, nay decades, for conviction, the death penalty handed out in the rarest of rare cases to the likes of the killers of Rajiv Gandhi and the kingpin in the attack on Parliament, Afzal Guru, is still in question. What message that sends out is clear as crystal.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

DELHI-DHAKA PACTS

DAWN OF A NEW ERA IN TIES WITH B'DESH

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's just concluded two-day visit to Bangladesh will be remembered for giving a new direction to India's relations with Bangladesh. The last minute jolt given by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee's withdrawal from his entourage over the Teesta river water issue did affect the outcome of the visit but only to a limited extent. The agreement that could have been signed over the sharing of river waters was put on hold. This led to Dhaka refusing to grant transit rights to India through Bangladeshi territory. But the two sides agreed to go ahead on the rest of the issues. It has been agreed upon that no country would allow the use of its territory to spread terrorism on either side of the border. This may lead to an extradition treaty between India and Bangladesh in the near future to work as a deterrent for extremists even when there is a change in political dispensation.

 

The two countries will now have a clearly demarcated land boundary with an agreement on some undemarcated areas, territories under adverse possession and the exchange of 162 enclaves (51 in Bangladesh and 111 in India). No country was able to properly administer these areas, where the residents would find themselves in virtually a "no-man's land".

 

Despite the mood of despondency in Dhaka, Bangladesh has found an opportunity to improve its balance of trade, which has always been in favour of India. A major trade concession has been granted to Bangladesh by India allowing duty-free access to 61 items from the other side. As many as 46 of these items belong to the textiles sector and these have a ready market in India because of their cost-effectiveness. India has also allowed 24-hour access to Bangladeshis through the Tin Bigha corridor. The policy of give and take adopted by the two countries may encourage other countries in South Asia to think on these lines for promoting peace, progress and stability in the region. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

AN EXERCISE IN FUTILITY

NEITHER POLLUTION NOR CORRUPTION UNDER CONTROL

 

WHEN the system is corrupt, even a well-meaning scheme can become a money-making racket. A classic example of this malady has come to light in Punjab. The Pollution Control Board has found that 70 per cent vehicle pollution checking centres in the state are not equipped with the requisite testing instruments and have been merrily issuing fake pollution under control (PUC) certificates to vehicle owners. The scheme was inaugurated some years ago with a lot of fanfare following the havoc played by smoke-spewing vehicles which had made lives of other road users and those living in nearby areas hell. Only those vehicles which carried certificates that their emission was within permitted limits were to be allowed to ply on roads.

 

The scheme worked properly for some time and then the legendary corruption set in. Policemen virtually stopped checking the certificates – unless they wanted to make an extra buck on the sly. At the same time, the checking centres started issuing fake certificates in a perfunctory manner. Pollution remained; corruption became worse. Vehicle owners had to shell out up to Rs 50 for a service which was never provided to them.

 

Unfortunately, the story is not peculiar to Punjab. The same thing has been happening all over the country — barring a few metropolitan cities. In Punjab, air quality is not up to national standards, particularly in Ludhiana, Gobindgarh, Jalandhar and Amritsar. The pollution board has said that it will ask the district transport officers to cancel the authorisation of defaulting vehicular pollution checking centres and file an FIR against the centres which were found issuing fake certificates. But what about the officials who allowed these centres to run with impunity for so long? It is they who are actually responsible for all this mess.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

THE CHANGE IN LIBYA

INDIA HAS TAKEN A PRAGMATIC STAND

BY ANITA INDER SINGH

 

THE military success of the Libyan rebels and the establishment of the Transitional National Council (TNC) throw a question mark at the decision of India — and Russia, China and Brazil — to abstain from voting for UN Security Council resolution 1973, which, on March 17, authorised Western military intervention in the Libyan civil war and the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya.

 

Along with India, the opposition by Russia and China, permanent members of the Security Council, to the resolution, was tempered by their refraining from using their veto powers against the Western-sponsored resolution. That implied that they did not want to break with the West over Libya. The question now is whether the fall of Gaddafi will lead them to rethink their approach towards other autocratic Arab leaders.

 

The overthrow of a dictator is always applauded by those who welcome democracy. But as the toppling of Gaddafi by Libyan rebels is being hailed, especially by Britain and France, who engineered NATO's intervention in what was essentially a civil war, one can see in it a fight for Western interests and the triumph of Western values.

 

India, Russia and China were right to be cautiouspartly because the UN Security resolution was unclear about how the measures it outlined would improve the situation in Libya. Also, the idea that the West can overthrow any ruler it dislikes in the name of humanitarianism flouts international norms and helps imperialism, not humanitarian ideals. Britain and France ignored calls by the African Union, which certainly has a stronger interest in Libya, and the Arab world, for a ceasefire, giving the impression that might is right.

 

In any case, China, India and Russia had little reason to get involved in Libya. Indian oil companies have interests in Libyan oil, but India evacuated most of its 18, 000 citizens in Libya. China relied last year on Libya for only 3 per cent of its crude imports. But it did have to evacuate more than 30,000 workers employed by mostly state-owned Chinese companies earlier this year.

 

The US itself stayed out of the Anglo-French initiative to begin with, and made clear that it would make no troop commitments. The US only called on Gaddafi to quit when there seemed a reasonable chance that the rebels might win. Still recovering from the mess of Iraq, and bogged down in Afghanistan, the US is reluctant to get militarily embroiled in more Muslim-majority countries. Generally, Washington's calculations in West Asia have been no less pragmatic than those of India, Russia and China. The US initially supported the governments of Presidents Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and President Bashar at Assad of Syria; and it only turned against them when it became clear that they were too weak to hold out against the growing tide of popular unrest.

 

Gaddafi's opponents now face the formidable task of assembling a government forging stability in a country riven by tribal rifts. Gaddafi's overthrow does not ensure the stability or democracy in Libya; the rebels are too divided to promise that.

 

Miffed at the lack of support from India, Russia and China to their cause, the rebels might be reluctant to do business as usual with them. But Western countries, especially France, are keen to have India on board, and President Nicolas Sarkozy invited India along with China and Russia to the Paris conference on Libya on September 1 to discuss support for the TNC. That could serve two purposes. Having them on board would dispel any impression in the Arab world that the Anglo-French action an act of Western imperialism (The Syrian rebels do not want Western aid).

 

The Libyan rebels have to build a new state. They must bring about reconciliation between warring factions; deliver essential services, including water, electricity, food and fuel. They must forge a united leadership that serves as a government-in-waiting. The TNC has to move from the rebel capital of Benghazi in eastern Libya to the national capital in Tripoli to establish control of the country and to give it political leadership and direction.

 

The fight for greater political freedom and economic choice is likely to be protracted and bloody, and the transition towards more open societies messy. In a region in which the struggle to get rid of the yoke of dictatorship faces the constant threat of sectarian and tribal strife, the question is whether and what India, with its myriad ethnic and religious groups cohabiting in a democracy and its long-standing ties to parts of West Asia. can offer.

 

That is certainly true in Libya where 42 years of Gaddafi's rule blocked the emergence of institutions that could question or challenge his authority. The TNC and its elected successor will need vision and substantial popular support to build a more open, transparent society from scratch. Iraq, which was torn by sectarian violence and fratricide after Saddam Hussein's fall in 2003, was an example of how not to unite a warring country.

 

The TNC seems to have learned the lessons. With the help of the United Nations, it plans the political transition to democracy. The idea seems to be that the UN could support the establishment of an inclusive and legitimate interim government, and help it prepare for the election of a provisional national congress to draft a constitution in the next six to nine months, as well as procedures to ensure that the process is transparent.

 

India's cautious stance on Libya has been well considered. The UN-backed process should make it easier for India to come to terms with the new political dispensation in Libya, which offers India an opportunity to demonstrate that it is on the side of democracy. At the same India, China and Russia — like the US — have shown that each issue involving support to those who want an end to Arab dictatorships must be judged on its merits.

 

The writer is Visiting Professor, Centre for Peace and
 Conflict Resolution, New Delhi.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

DATE WITH DESTINY

BY MAJ-GEN G G DWIVEDI (RETD)

 

Geographically, the crow flight distance between South Block and NDMC's concave-spherical building on Sansad Marg, which housed CWG Organising Committee, may have been merely 3 km, yet the two stood poles apart. During my last assignment in the Army, I sat on the second floor of the South Block.  Most of the office-bearers in this part of the building were in the Twilight Zone of their careers.  The environment was rather officious and bureaucratic.  On one occasion, compliments by a budding scribe, comparing our wing to an old age home, had to be swallowed with a pinch of salt.

 

A few months before the D Day, some senior officers were inducted to fast track the Games preparations and  I happened to be one among them.  On a bright sunny afternoon, as I entered the colourful building of the CWG, it felt as if one was amidst an annual college fete.  There were hundreds of young people, median age under 25.  Most were fresh graduates, techno-savvy, bright with a quick uptake.  They appeared highly motivated and proud to be part of the great sporting event.

 

Despite the lack of 'games time experience' coupled with hazy higher direction, these fertile minds innovated and improvised to formulate sound operational plans, which later proved vital for the efficient conduct of the Games.  They toiled hard during the test events, learning the tricks of trade, hands on.  The greenhorns showed remarkable patience and fortitude when ridiculed and scoffed by self-proclaimed sports pundits.

 

When the charges of corruption and mismanagement made headlines on the eve of the Games, the Young Brigade was deeply disillusioned.  Displaying immense maturity, they insulated themselves to remain focussed on the mission.  Closer to the mega event, as cohesive teams along with volunteers, they moved into the venues to finetune last-minute preparations, while defying the constraints of poor logistics backup, including substandard meals.

 

Come Games time, the  Young  Turks were off to a flying start, surprising their detractors.  The Spartans were at the respective stadiums at the crack of dawn and remained on their toes till late into the night, providing excellent services with a smile. Their spirited motto was "not to ask reason why, but to just do and die".  This phenomenon continued through the fortnight and the young pioneers stood their ground with a degree of professionalism and elan, earning appreciation from one and all.

 

 Some 20,000 youth who came from all corners of the country were the true face of the resurging India.  These were the unsung heroes of successful CWG 2010 and part of the positive story.   'No nonsense, plain speaking lot', they were impatient to make best of the day.  Once the job was done, they went their ways, without seeking any recognition or credit, leaving behind a rich legacy of intense nationalism and patriotism.

 

Today, the young India has once again pitched in, but for a different mission; to rid the prevailing system of the deadly virus of corruption.  Their screams echo the same familiar sentiments: 'Come what may, we will rise to the occasion so that India keeps its date with destiny'.

 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

POOR SPENDING ON FARM RESEARCH

CRITICS OFTEN QUESTION THE RATIONALE OF FUNDING AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH ON THE GROUND THAT THE OUTCOME IS SLOW AND LIMITED. THE IMPORTANCE OF AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH SHOULD BE SEEN IN A BROADER PERSPECTIVE. THE NET GAIN OF ONLY ONE TECHNOLOGY DURING THE DECADE AFTER ITS INCEPTION WAS GOOD ENOUGH TO OFFSET THE PAU BUDGET FOR FOUR DECADES

JOGINDER SINGH

 

Kotri is a mid-sized village in Desuri block (Pali district, Rajasthan), about 15 kilometres away from the nearest large bus stand and market place. We walked to the dusty outskirts of the village to meet an old man on our list of sample households. His blind wife squatted outside their hut, emaciated, worried and in a state of constant confusion. In the background their young son peered out from a picture on their wall, with a withered garland around his neck. Looking at this skeletal couple, living off their old age pensions and monthly supply of government-subsidised grain, you got the impression of a tenuous hold on life.

 

The landscape is expectedly dry and arid, dotted with neem and prickly babool trees. The main occupation is agriculture and animal husbandry, but among the people we met, the few who owned some agricultural land shrugged when asked about their reliance on it. It was 'saawan-khet', dependent on the recalcitrant monsoon, and therefore unreliable.

 

Previous reports on the PDS in Rajasthan provided a pretty dismal report card, like the 2009 report of the Justice Wadhwa committee, which pointed to large-scale diversion of PDS grain and serious bottlenecks in the delivery system. So we were pleasantly surprised to see how well the state welfare programmes were working in Pali.

 

Most families we met had worked for a hundred days at MGNREGA worksites, and almost all Below Poverty Line (BPL) cardholders were receiving their 'full quota' of 25 kilos of wheat, at Rs.2 per kg, every month from the PDS.

 

The changes in the PDS are primarily because of significant reforms introduced in May 2010. Under the "Chief Minister's Anna Suraksha Yojana", the price of grain was reduced to Rs.2 per kg, and Fair Price Shops were directed to stay open for a fixed period of seven days every month, from the 15th to the 21st. Importantly, the commissions for PDS dealers were increased from Rs.8 to Rs.20 per quintal, substantially reducing incentives to cheat. Earlier, the low commissions meant that there was enormous pressure to cheat just to recover costs, and this was also used as a convenient excuse to justify any amount of cheating.

 

Problems persist

 

There are still problems in the system: the quality of PDS grain left much to be desired, with many respondents complaining that their monthly wheat ration came with 2-3 kilos of stones and chaff. The availability of items other than wheat (e.g. rice and sugar) was uncertain and irregular. Although the Rajasthan state government was supposed to distribute sugar, it frequently failed to even lift the entire sugar quota released from the Centre. So, despite being entitled to half a kilo per member at subsidised rates, BPL families could not count on getting this every month. The same applied to the occasional apportionment of cooking oil and rice, when these commodities were supposed to be given.

 

This irregularity also indicated the power of information: because these 'additional' PDS entitlements were not clear to the recipients or even to the dealers, and allocations were subject to vagaries down the supply chain. Some dealers even said that they were asked to pay bribes to godown officials to get any 'extra' quota of rice or sugar.

 

Other lacunae include missed opportunities to modernise the system for increased efficiency and transparency. Although we saw fairly well maintained sales and stock registers at the Fair Price Shops, no one was checking the sales register and there was minimal checking of stock registers. No electronic weighing scales had been provided anywhere. It was also unclear what recourse people had for genuine grievances.

 

While the PDS was of great help to vulnerable households in meeting their food requirements, this support was restricted to those fortunate enough to be on the BPL list. There have been problems with the BPL list both at the policy and implementation levels. In 2002 a new 'scoring' approach was used to identify BPL families, with scores given on thirteen socio-economic criteria. This replaced a previous identification system based on income and expenditure, used in the 1997 
BPL survey.

 

The BPL list is a dubious way of ensuring that the entitlements of the most vulnerable are met, especially in areas where disparities in standard of living are relatively small. Getting onto the list often requires some clout, defeating the purpose of the exercise. This is particularly so since the centre caps the number of BPL households for each state, and the state has to adjust its 'poor' into this figure. This leads to situations where limited BPL cards are used as a means of reward and punishment. For instance, we heard of cases where BPL cards had been arbitrarily taken away from some families and given to political supporters of the village sarpanch.

 

Another significant reason for preferring food was the thought of having to cope with the all-too-likely possibility of a drought. Pali district, although slightly better off than the drier regions west of the Aravallis, expects a drought every three to five years. Reliance on the government increases drastically during a drought, and the government often releases larger amounts of food grain through the PDS at such times. One respondent, a 50 year old woman from the Meena tribe, pointed out that in such a situation, money is of little help as the cost of food spirals upwards and the availability of food grains dwindles.

 

All these reasons led to an overwhelming preference for the known, functional and simple option: food. For most women it was an obvious choice - one simply pointed at her alcoholic husband, while another laughed when we gave her the alternatives, and said "Kya mein paisa khaa sakti hoon?"

 

It is clear from the gains made over the last few years that the PDS system in Rajasthan is not, as is commonly

believed, a failing and ailing animal. It is showing clear signs of revival, and has to a large extent been made more efficient and leakage-proof. It has evolved to play an important role in people's lives. This has been achieved by the state government realising that fixing the PDS system can lead to significant political gains.

 

Cash transfers

 

A crucial question we posed to our respondents was how they would feel if the PDS were replaced with an equivalent system of direct cash transfers. Their experience with money transfers is, for example, the Indira Awas Yojana, a scheme wherein the government gives eligible rural families money to build a house. It has wizened them to sarkari calculations, and taught them to think in 'percentages' which have to be paid as bribe to different levels of the administration to get their money.

 

People aired their misgivings over fluctuating market prices (misgivings about how the state would index cash transfers), the high risk of delays in payments (commonly experienced in MGNREGA payments, and hard to cope with when it was the question of day-to-day sustenance), how much money they would spend going to the bank (which were often far away), how many days' wages would be wasted withdrawing the money and then buying their rations (markets too, were often not in the same village), and so on. The concern with transaction costs is particularly relevant in Rajasthan where the PDS system reinforces a tenuous market infrastructure.

 

The writer is a Law student in Delhi University

THE Green Revolution in Punjab was the outcome of a variety of factors. Obviously, the basic research innovation emerged from new strains of wheat and rice followed by a higher use of fertilizers, pesticides and water; standardisation of agronomic practices; and need-based mechanisation for uniformity of farm operations.

As a consequence of such efforts, a spectacular increase in crop yields, expansion of cultivated area, rising cropping intensity, shift in the crop pattern etc together led to an exemplary rise in production, particularly food grains in Punjab. The small state, apart from feeding the ever-growing population, generated a mountain of food grain surpluses by contributing 30 per cent rice and 60 per cent of wheat to the national pool.

In other words, with just 1.5 per cent of the geographical area and 2.3 per cent of the population of the nation, it is contributing about 12 per cent to the national output of food grains. From these facts, one can safely infer that but for such progress in this high-potential state, at least 10 per cent of the population of other states would have either faced a serious hunger situation or we would have to search for food with a heavy import bill.

However, the implication of such a fast agricultural growth was that the state was engulfed in a number of environmental problems. Heavy drain on water resources, rapidly exhausting soil health in terms of major and micro-nutrients, increasing pest resistance, falling bio-diversity, problems of crop residue management, a fast influx of labour from other states and declining work culture with the local population and over-investment in farm machinery have created doubts about the sustainability of the existing agricultural production system. Even the 33.5 per cent (10469 KWH) of the electricity consumption in Punjab diverted for agriculture free of cost in 2009-10 is a heavy drain on the public exchequer.

Govt levies heavy taxes on farm produce

In the absence of large-scale industry and lack of a strong tertiary set-up, the economy of the state continues to remain mainly agrarian. Thus about 40 per cent of the population is directly dependent on agriculture contributing 34% of the state income. To improve the state's financial health, the government imposed high mandi taxes made to be borne by the buyers of farm produce. It includes 5% of VAT, 2 % as market fee, 2% as the rural development cess and 3% as the infrastructure cess. Another 2.5% commission ad valorem is borne by the procurement agencies. This commission increased with every successive change of state government i.e. from 1.5% to 2% in 2002 and then to 2.5% in 2007.

Thus the commission agents thrived on three counts viz. increase in production and still faster increase in marketed surpluses, increase in market prices of farm products and commission on value of produce. Similarly, the earnings of the state government touched Rs 3,840 crore due to mandi taxes and commission agents' earnings are estimated at Rs 600 crore from wheat and paddy marketing only. The evidence of substantial economic gains of the Green Revolution to farmers has been authenticated by various studies.

Numerous agro-industrial and commercial concerns are some other direct beneficiaries of such development. For instance, cotton-based industries, rice shellers, flour mills, dal mills, fruit and vegetable processing units, cold storage, milk plants, sugar processing and alcoholic industry, oil mills etc have progressed on availability of raw materials. The increased demand for farm inputs led to the expansion of business concerns dealing with fertilizers, seed, feed, farm machinery, pesticides etc. A number of export houses also thrived on agricultural surpluses. Let us not forget the contribution of research and development for such a gigantic economic uplift of all sections of society.

Green Revolution wonders can't be repeated

Now, that the state agricultural universities are facing a serious financial crisis, carping critics, sour skeptics and professional pessimists commonly argue with the comment that the pace of agricultural research output has slowed down and is not coming up to the expectations. The expectation is that every year wonders of the type of the Green Revolution should be generated. Such comments are uncalled for because the incremental output of subsequent research diminishes as the ecological concerns are getting stronger hurdles to cross.

 

Notwithstanding these facts, severe questions about the rationale of funding of research are raised. To educate the general public, especially to those who are at the helm of affairs, there is perhaps need to have a strong socio-economic cell to examine the return to research in respect of cost involved to bring out the innovations and rapid adoption on one hand and spell out their contribution to society on the other. To quote an example, an analysis of PBW343 variety released in 1995 by Punjab Agricultural University was traced in terms of direct farm-level benefits from enhanced yield over the replaced HD2329 variety in Punjab and its neighbouring states without going in for secondary and tertiary impacts. It is startling to note that the net gain of only this one technology during the first decade of its inception was estimated at Rs 3350 crore, which was good enough to offset the entire budget of Punjab Agricultural University for four decades. The net indirect impact to other sections of the population, if traced, may be a multiple of this figure. There are a number of such glaring instances of technological innovation due to which significant benefits have percolated to society.

 

Therefore, we must not lose sight of the fact that human factor is of immense importance for the long-term socio-economic growth of the country. During the past couple of years, even the national expenditure on research and development (R&D) has continued to be 0.85 per cent of the gross domestic product, out of which almost 13% goes to the agricultural sector. In the event of fast-rising demand for basic necessary farm products, agricultural research is a vital input for planned growth and sustainable development of agriculture in the country.

 

Poor budgetary allocations for research

 

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research, being an apex scientific organisation at the national level, plays a crucial role in promoting and accelerating the use of science and technology relating to agricultural research and education. There are 43 state agricultural universities in India. The mandate of these institutions revolves around providing research, teaching and extension services. The broad break-up of the budget allocation is that about 63% is allocated for research, 19% for teaching, 10% for extension and 8% for administrative and miscellaneous activities. The pitiable situation of these institutions can be viewed from heads of expenditure which state that about 88% of the budget goes to salaries and allowances while only 11.3% goes to contingencies and wages and less than 0.5% goes to traveling allowances.

 

A cursory look at the overall expenditure budget of the five universities — Punjab Agricultural University and Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University in Punjab, Haryana Agricultural University and GSK Himachal Pradesh Krishi Vishav Vidyalya and Dr Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture & Forestry for the year 2009-10 was Rs 608.4 crore as against Rs 415.8 crore in 2005-06, showing an increase of 46% in four years, almost matching the rate of inflation, which means no real increase. Of this, almost three-fourth is contributed by state governments, 18% comes from the ICAR and the rest 8% from other sources.

 

The writer is a former Professor & Head, Department of Economics & Sociology, PAU, Ludhiana

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

GENERATING FUNDS FOR FARM UNIVERSITIES

 

IT is high time we realised the importance of agricultural research in broader and long-term perspective. The state governments, commission agents, agro-processing industry, traders particularly exporters and farmers are the major beneficiaries of such institutional research. The earnings of the state government from the mandi taxes should partly be diverted for funding research and development.

 

A part of the escalated income of commission agents must also be allocated to research. A small cut on farmers' income at the market level is desirable. A small tax on the export of basmati and other farm products is also justified. Liberal project-based funding by agro-industries as a part of corporate social responsibility can further ease the funding position of agricultural universities.

 

The scope of commercially raising funds for agricultural universities is limited. We do not have a system of patenting of agricultural research, charging high fees from students and suitably pricing services to various other stakeholders

 

An analysis of the allocation of funds at the state level shows that funding for agricultural universities by the states of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh was only 0.4%, 0.3% and 1.2% of the gross state domestic product respectively whereas the contribution of the farm sector to the state income amounted to 34, 21 and 18 per cent

 

The rational management of such scarce funds is no less important. State agricultural universities must develop effective linkages with national and international research institutions. The institutional reforms in the universities are also needed to encourage and facilitate research workers to submit feasible research proposals for funding by international and national organisations and the projects handled as well as feedback from research partners should be a major component of system of accountability of researchers. The bureaucratic procedural and ritual hurdles in the use of sanctioned funds also need to be revamped. — J.S 

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

EDITORIAL

THE NAC'S MINORITY REPORT

THE ANSWER TO COMMUNALISM IS NOT TO HAVE ONE MORE LAW, BUT TO STRENGTHEN ENFORCEMENT OF LAWS THAT ALREADY EXIST


Of all the opening words of the Preamble to our Constitution, the most difficult is one that wasn't even originally there. Till 1977, we were a sovereign democratic republic, recently turned gloomy with Mrs G in the middle of her run up to pole-vaulting us into bananadom. In that year, we became both socialist and secular; and, as the Aston Martins and Bentleys on our potholed roads, and repeated outbreaks of sectarian violence show, we have honoured both ideals.

 

Secularism, in the context of governance and law, speaks of the separation of religion from government. The word's absence in the original Constitution is curious; very likely it was felt unnecessary, for the entire Constitution is a profoundly secular charter. In India, we have learned to recognise secularism only by reference to what it is not: communalism as we understand it in India, meaning religious and ethnic sectarianism, frequently associated with violence.

 

The National Advisory Council is a sort of super-Cabinet given to us by the UPA. It sits outside government and has no discernible legal standing. Yet it seems to direct government, and Sonia Gandhi is its chairperson, indirectly inheriting Mummy's mantle. One of NAC's latest offerings is the lugubriously titled "Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill, 2011", awaiting Parliamentary benediction.

 

There are actually two drafts: the official government version, which typically says little and does less; and the latest iteration of the NAC version which says far too much and goes much too far.

The problem starts very early on with the definition of a "group", one that is central to the bill. A "group", in the NAC's thinking, is a religious or linguistic minority or a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe; and it is only a group, so defined, that can be the target or victim of sectarian violence. It seems not to matter that issues of sectarian violence also involve incidents of retaliation or perhaps even provocation. Axiomatically, this definition does not cover Shia-Sunni conflicts, or attacks by one minority on another – remember, it was a Muslim radical group that chopped off the hand of a Christian professor in Kerala. Offensive words like kafir, heathen and pagan are not understood to be hate speech, though these words are commonly used as pejoratives. It is naïve to pretend that these words are confined to their doctrinaire meaning. That is not how they are used in the real world; and communal violence does not occur in sacred texts. These are matters impossible to legislate. A narrow definition like this can only create greater divisiveness in an already fractured society.

Imprudence then leads to absurdity. A person is guilty of sexual assault if, among other things, he or she is guilty of 'exposing one's sexual organs in front of any person' who belongs to aforementioned 'group'. The draftsmen of this Bill have quite clearly never taken an early morning local train in Mumbai.

Then there's the matter of the appointment of a worthy 'The Human Rights Defender for Justice and Reparations', a person with 'expertise in relation to law or human rights' and who also has 'a record of preserving communal harmony'. How does an individual 'preserve communal harmony' and how exactly does he cut a record of it? The Bill also proposes National and State Authorities to be stuffed with people with a 'record of promoting communal harmony', which sounds very like an imbecilic neighbour's karaoke birthday party. The National Authority must receive quarterly reports from the State Authorities on communal violence – suggesting that, by law, we must have at least one riot every three months.

 

Communal riots are abdications of state responsibility. They are also potent social forces that alter the fabric, form and functioning of human settlements. Areas that have seen communal rioting never fully recover; the mere possibility of recurrence is enough to make that change, and the displacement caused by rioting extends beyond individuals to entire communities. It isn't possible to reverse this displacement or its likelihood by law; it requires political will with social backing.

 

In assessing compensation, the NAC bill borrows from the 1985 Bhopal Claims Act. That was in the context of an industrial disaster and demanded compensation from the corporation responsible. How is that relevant here? Litigation, government, administrative and other expenses (including environmental damage) are to be recovered –but from whom?

 

We have more than enough laws, even to deal with communal riots. The government chooses not to enforce them. The answer is not, as the NAC suggests, to have one more law and do nothing to strengthen enforcement of laws that already exist.

 

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******************************************************************************************BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

A COSTLY VICTORY

TERRORISM REMAINS A THREAT A DECADE AFTER 9/11

Ten years after the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre came down in New York, the world is taking stock. In the ensuing "war on terror", though the Al Qaeda has been defeated, it hasn't been destroyed. The terrorist organisation's key calculation, that a furious United States homing in on targets in West Asia would provoke a general Arab uprising, has been belied. Osama bin Laden and many of his key aides are dead, and no Arab nation wants to have anything to do with the organisation. If anything, the "Arab Spring" is a negation of Al Qaeda-style terrorism and a vote for representative democracy (different from bin Laden's dream of a unifying caliphate). No one can rule out fresh outrages by motivated groups in isolated cells, but in a decade when there have been Al Qaeda-inspired attacks in Britain, Spain, Indonesia and elsewhere, there have been none in the US, or none that have been successful. This could be a matter of luck (the New York car bomber was simply incompetent), but that is part of any war. Though the endgame is still being played out in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the US could possibly claim a victory of sorts.

But it has been a costly victory. Estimates vary on what the "war" has cost the US; the lowest is by the Congressional Budget Office — it puts the figure at $1.3 trillion (about nine per cent of US GDP). Other estimates go as high as $3 trillion, and even $6 trillion. The cost in terms of lives (not just American ones, but even Iraqi and Afghan) has also been steep. Inevitable questions arise on the mistakes that have been made, the war that need not have been fought (in Iraq), and even the choice of "ally", Pakistan, a country whose strategic interests fundamentally differ from those of the US, and which may emerge as the world's Headache No. 1. Critics will also quote historian Paul Kennedy on imperial over-reach: empires collapse when they seek military objectives that their economies cannot sustain. But then, the US might well have afforded the war were it not for other mistakes (the Bush-era tax cuts and the financial sector running amok) that have blighted the country's economy. Meanwhile, conspiracy theorists have argued that an undeclared US objective has been to gain control of oil — hence the permanent posting of US troops in Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War in 1990-91, the unprovoked attack on Iraq, and now on Libya. But oil production has fallen in both Iraq and Libya, and oil prices have reached record levels — a clear negative for the US, which imports oil.

Finally, the fact is that religious extremism and terrorism remain threats to democratic countries around the world. The US may have prevented a second 9/11-type attack, but it remains as vulnerable as India or Indonesia to the anger of religious extremists and the diabolical agenda of non-state actors from across the borders. In the long run, the real answer to such ideology-inspired terrorism has to be the strong assertion of the ideology of freedom, pluralism, secularism and tolerance. An eye for an eye, Gandhiji said, makes the whole world blind! However, no government can afford to neglect immediate administrative responses. Some feel the US has gone too far with "homeland security", using modern technology to invade citizens' privacy. In India, many believe the Indian security authorities have not done enough on this front — a view that will gain currency in the aftermath of the latest terror attack in New Delhi.

Clearly, India has to "walk on two legs": pursuing a longer-term agenda of a politics and economics of inclusion and an immediate agenda of creating a more effective and intelligent internal security machinery. The US was able to pursue external enemies to seek retribution for 9/11; India cannot afford such adventurism. It needs a more nuanced, though firm, strategy to deal with the threat at home and from across the border.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

GOOD, NOT HISTORIC

MYOPIC MAMATA SABOTAGED THE WIN-WIN DEAL WITH DHAKA

On balance, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Bangladesh has been good and useful, with several important agreements that will strengthen the bilateral relationship. However, it hasn't turned out to be the much-anticipated "historic" visit envisioned originally. The author of this sorry chapter was West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The Teesta and Feni river waters agreement was, of course, not as important as the trade concessions that India has offered and the land transfers and border agreements on which both countries have agreed. It took the Indian government a considerable effort to make the concessions on textile trade, and Bangladesh has appreciated this fact. But by sabotaging the river waters agreement, not only has Ms Banerjee helped Bangladesh withdraw its offer on transit corridor but, more importantly, it has robbed the visit of the one element that was uppermost in the mind of both heads of government, namely the need to build trust between both countries. While the central government, especially the Prime Minister's Office, and the Congress party must share part of the responsibility for not ensuring that Ms Banerjee was fully on board (and for not addressing some of her more reasonable demands on both of them), the fact is that Ms Banerjee acted in narrow self and political interest, sacrificing the larger interest of the nation and the neighbourhood. She deserves outright condemnation for such partisan behaviour.

Prime Minister Singh has held out the prospect that both countries will quickly address the new issues that have cropped up and complete the process. He must no longer leave this to his officials or colleagues and must take charge of the process. Bangladesh and India have been doing well on the economic front, unlike Pakistan and Nepal, and must keep the momentum of growth going. A lot is at stake for both countries and they will benefit from economic integration, both bilateral and regional. Hopefully, the two prime ministers will be able to limit the damage inflicted by Ms Banerjee and recover lost ground sooner rather than later. In diplomacy, as in economic reform, the bicycle metaphor is relevant. Unless there is constant pedalling and movement forward, the danger of things falling apart remains.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

IS THE US SLIPPING INTO ANOTHER RECESSION?

A STEEP DECLINE IS UNLIKELY, BUT THE RISKS TO ECONOMIC GROWTH CANNOT BE IGNORED

AKASH PRAKASH

Whether the US can avoid slipping into another serious recession is a subject of considerable debate among market participants. Along with Europe's sovereign debt problems, the risk of a serious renewed recession in the US is one of the major clouds hanging over global equity markets.

Gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the first half of this year has already been subdued, running below one per cent. Though the hard data over the past month have been stable, with retail sales increasing by 0.5 per cent in July, personal consumption expenditure increasing by 0.8 per cent and industrial production rising by 0.9 per cent, all these data points are backward-looking.

The more forward-looking survey data show significant deterioration. The Philadelphia Fed Index has dropped to -30.7, a level only observed previously during or on the cusp of a recession. The National Federation of Independent Business survey for small businesses has also weakened, with an increasing number of firms now expecting a decline in sales over the coming quarter. The biggest shocker has been the collapse in the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index. It hit a 30-year low in August, even lower than levels in November 2008.

Bond markets are clearly signalling economic weakness, with US 10-year rates slipping below two per cent.

Though the US economy may possibly slip into a shallow technical recession, two quarters of slightly negative growth, it is important to ensure that this does not turn into a deep downturn. The fears about a sharp downturn arise from the lack of ammunition with the authorities to tackle such an event (limited room on both fiscal and monetary front), and the savage effect it will have on corporate earnings in the US, the stock market and household wealth.

Though the lack of room for policy action is well known, few people realise just how elevated corporate earnings are in the US.

The profit share of GDP in the US is at an all-time high (nearly double its long-term average). This is driven by several factors: the effective tax rate has fallen to 25 per cent from 40 per cent in the year 2000; interest costs have dropped to less than 1.5 per cent of sales from four per cent in 2000; and real unit labour costs are at 60-year lows, with wage share of GDP at a 50-year low. The final factor in the elevated profitability of corporate America is the weak dollar, and the translation effect of converting overseas earnings streams into the dollar.

A deep recession will lead to at least a 20 per cent drop in earnings in the US, which is easily possible, given high earnings today. Thus, the market will no longer look as cheap as the bulls would have you believe.

This is the big risk that investors are worried about. The US economy double dips, the authorities cannot do much to address another sharp downturn, earnings decline 20 per cent-plus, and the markets have one more leg down, dragging everybody down once again.

But to come to the main point, will the US have another steep decline? To answer this question, one must understand why growth in the US slowed sharply to just 0.7 per cent in the first half of 2011. Growth in real final sales (GDP growth minus the inventory contribution) declined from 2.9 per cent in the second half of 2010 to just 0.7 per cent in the first half of 2011. The slowdown in personal consumption expenditure accounted for 1.3 percentage points (57 per cent) of this growth downshift and a slowdown in government spending accounted for 0.5 percentage points (23 per cent). Looking at the data in more detail, it becomes clear that about half the decline in consumption was owing to a drop in auto sales and another 10 per cent owing to a reduction in gasoline purchases. It is clear that the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which had a significant impact on the global auto supply chain, and the surge in fuel prices led to a reduction in auto and fuel sales in the US in the first half of 2011. Looking ahead, prices for most agricultural and industrial commodities, along with fuel costs, are likely to be lower in the second half of 2011. Also, the supply disturbances out of Japan are now mostly over. Motor vehicle production increased by 5.2 per cent in July, while both orders and shipments increased by 12 per cent. A reversal in commodity inflation and auto supply disruptions should provide some stability and support to consumption in the second half of 2011, and enable the US to avoid a sharp slowdown.

If we assume that consumption in the US will stabilise, then the bigger risk to growth is fiscal restraint. The question is: how much of a headwind on growth will it end up being? Fiscal tightening probably cut growth in the first half of 2011 by 0.75 to one per cent, and if current policy settings remain, this drag on growth will increase to between 1.5 and two per cent in 2012. The political environment in the US today is such that fiscal policy has become a major election issue along with jobs. The tea party movement, and its influence on the Republicans, has severely constrained the room for policy flexibility in this area. The Republicans were seemingly willing to even risk default to ensure spending cuts. The increase in fiscal drag in 2012 is largely owing to the scheduled expiry of the payroll tax cut at the end of 2011. If this is not extended, it will raise the tax burden on US households by $110 billion annually (0.7 per cent of GDP). If US President Barack Obama is able to convince the Republicans to extend this payroll tax relief and, hopefully, introduce some other job creation-related fiscal sops, than the fiscal drag on growth in 2012 will be no worse than in the first half of 2011. It will be critical for investors to track progress on this front over the coming months.

The single biggest risk that could push the US into another deep downturn is that of significant fiscal tightening, hitting an already weak economy. With Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke having fully understood the risks of premature fiscal tightening, US policy makers will hopefully pay heed to his advice and avoid rigid ideology-based policy positions. As for Europe pushing the US over the edge, direct US exposure is limited, since exports to the European Union (EU) only account for about two per cent of US GDP and cross-border exposure of most US banks is quite limited. However, a blow-up of any large EU financial institution will have unexpected consequences in the US.

As for other issues that could push the US into a deep downturn, there seems to be a reasonable amount of pent up demand in the US economy. The stock of capital goods has declined sharply as a share of GDP. On a flow basis, spending on these cyclical sectors is about 19 per cent of GDP, more than five percentage points below the post-1970 average. It would be a break from history for the US to go into another deep downturn, with cyclical spending already depressed.

Hopefully, the US can avoid another sharp leg down in its economy. Consumption seems stable, fiscal restraints can be eased, and most cyclically sensitive sectors are already depressed. A technical and shallow recession may still hit, but in the absence of a sharp renewed downturn, earnings should hold up, and markets don't look that expensive.

The author is fund manager and CEO of Amansa Capital

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

MAKING HEDGING MARKETS MORE EFFECTIVE

JAMAL MECKLAI

Among other things, banking regulations should seek to create adequate competition in the field of banking services so that the end customer of banks has to pay reasonable charges at each bank interface. This will increase return on savings for customers as well as, importantly, help companies – particularly those from the small and medium enterprises (SME) sector – maintain and improve their business competitiveness.

My area of experience is corporate foreign exchange, and though there has certainly been progress compared to some decades ago, substantial constraints on competition remain, as a result of which many, many companies end up paying exorbitant margins to banks for foreign exchange hedging transactions. I have a client with Rs 100 crore of exports who banks with three public sector banks and pays, on average, 40 paise (from interbank) for buying a forward contract; not only is this usurious – larger, strong companies pay as little as 0.5 or even 0.25 paise per dollar – it often leads to the company not buying the hedge since he feels the price is so bad.

Smaller companies in small towns are probably hit even worse; given that the SME sector is so important in terms of both employment and exports, this is a critical issue.

To create meaningful competition, it needs to be easier for companies to buy foreign exchange hedges from any bank it chooses. While banks are required to provide a No Objection Certificate to customers who wish to buy foreign exchange hedges from another bank, there are several practical, operational and regulatory constraints:

* Unlike large companies with multiple banking arrangements, most SME borrowers have an implicit agreement with their regular banker/consortium not to divert their foreign exchange business to other banks as part of the price for availing other credit facilities.

* In any case, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) does not allow banks to set up limits for "non-constituent" borrowers — a constituent borrower is one with funded limits. Thus, setting up standalone foreign exchange limits for clients is not encouraged in the present RBI framework.

* RBI requires banks to monitor underlyings by making notings on the physical underlying. While banks do not do this in all cases, the rule makes it that much more difficult to take an foreign exchange hedge with a bank different than the one that has custody of the underlying, effectively locking the customer out of a potentially better foreign exchange rate.

* All banks would require security/cash margin to set up foreign exchange limits; this would render the foreign exchange hedge, even at a much better rate, too costly, unless the borrower could convince his existing banker to release some part of the collateral to the new bank.

Clearly, operational rules are stacked in favour of existing bankers with no real incentive for them to provide finer rates to their clients. To enable companies to more efficiently access the foreign exchange market for hedges, RBI should amend the regulations as follows:

(i) The regular banker/consortium should only have first right of refusal, and the borrower should be free to avail the facility from any other bank offering better quotes — without any restrictive clauses.

(ii) Working capital and other loan agreements should always have clauses that offer pari passu charge on the securities provided by the creditor bank to other banks for bona fide hedging purposes; some European Central Bank agreements already build this in

A broader point is, while there is no question about the need for stringent Know Your Customer norms, the documentation issues mentioned earlier, which often severely constrain hedging efficiency, one often wonders whether RBI should be monitoring underlying exposures at all. This should really be an issue for company managements to determine whether they have sufficient risk capital to cover hedges in excess of their actual underlying exposures. Importantly, newly set up companies and special purpose vehicles are not able to hedge any risk at all since they have no past exposures, even though the management may have very clear visibility of exposures and risk.

RBI should only be concerned with systemic issues, which could be addressed by putting an overall ceiling on derivatives outstanding at any point of time — say, not exceeding 1.5 times of the balance sheet size (assets plus liabilities), provided the company had a board-approved risk management policy. Each bank could, at its own discretion, lay down additional restrictions on limits based on its perception of the risk capital available to the company.

These are minor tweaks and well within the ethos of current regulation. Additionally, RBI should make it clear through senior level speeches, etc. that reasonable foreign exchange pricing is a "must have" for improving market efficiency and sustaining export growth.

jamal@mecklai.com

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

IN SEARCH OF GOD PARTICLE

MUCH HINGES ON FINDING THIS ELUSIVE EXPLANATION FOR MASS

DEVANGSHU DATTA

In scientific terminology, a hypothesis transmutes into theory only after it has been verified. In the next year or so, the "God Particle Hypothesis" will either become a theory, or be discarded along with curiosities like ether and geo-centrism.

Whatever happens will lead to a deeper understanding of the so-called Standard Model (SM), which attempts to explain ways in which electromagnetic and nuclear forces interact at sub-atomic levels. Our understanding of how stars are formed and generate energy, and of cosmology – the origin and possible end of the universe – depends on the SM. (The SM ignores gravity).

Since 1964, the SM has revolved around the search for an elusive particle that could explain various puzzling details. Variously known as the God Particle or the Higgs Boson, this hypothetical particle is thought to have imparted mass to elementary particles, just after the Big Bang.

Its existence was postulated simultaneously in three separate papers, by six different physicists, including Peter Higgs (working alone), Francois Englert & Robert Brout (in collaboration), Gerald Gulanik, Carl Hagen & Tom Kibble (in collaboration). If it exists, it would be the simplest explanation for mass.

It's common to infer the existence of particles and quantum theory largely developed through searches for particles that "should" exist. Apart from the Higgs, every particle hypothesised in the SM has been found.

Elementary particles are very small. They appear and vanish through decay in complicated interactions that last just fractions of a second. The general method of discovery consists of accelerating particles and smashing them together at very high speeds in controlled environments.

The break ups lead to the appearance of elementary particles that can be detected by fluctuations in energy patterns even as they decay. Mass and energy are equivalent at sub-atomic level and the mass of elementary particles is often indicated in energy units.

When it came to the possible mass of the Higgs Boson, there were huge differences in predictions. Further modifications arose in the 1970s after work done by, among others, Steven Weinberg and Abdus Salam. Some hypotheses suggest entire families of Higgs may exist. There are over 100,000 possible ranges where the Higgs may be found. There are also versions of the SM, including one championed by Stephen Hawking, which assume the Higgs doesn't exist.

The biggest atom-smasher is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) located inside 27 kms of circular tunnels under the mountains of the Swiss-French border. Beams of particles are fired at each other inside these tunnels, which are tightly insulated from external influences. Detectors collect data from those high-energy collisions, seeking new particles and other information.

The LHC collects huge amounts of data. But it takes months or even years to process and make sense of it. There are two teams, Atlas and CMS, tasked to specifically search for the possible presence of the Higgs Boson.

In July, there was much excitement when scientists announced the LHC had discovered "excess events" at one of the ranges where the Higgs Boson was predicted to possibly exist. The excess could have meant the Higgs had been nailed down. But since then the data gathered at that range, has more than doubled and the excess has diminished. So that's a damp squib.

According to Sergio Bertolucci, director, research and computing, European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), the search is proceeding on the following lines: "Rather than dropping a hook in a pond, we are fishing with a new technique. We remove all the water from the pond. If there is no fish, we will conclude that the Higgs doesn't exist."

The LHC data will gradually exclude various mass-ranges where the Higgs cannot exist. However, with over 100,000 possible ranges, this will take lots of data. The experimental data presented at the XXVth Lepton-Photon Symposium in August at the TIFR in Mumbai, now rules out the existence of the Higgs Boson inside the 145 GeV (giga-eletron-volt) to 466 GeV range with 95 per cent certainty. There are a couple of "islands" in this 145-466 zone that could still harbour the Higgs. But chances are, the Higgs, if it exists, is either a light particle (less than 145 Gev) or heavy (above 466 Gev).

Based on the current rate of data acquisition, LHC researchers predict they will either have found the Higgs by end-2012. Or, they will have confirmed that it does not exist. Either way, that will mean modifications to the SM and confirmation or rejections of various subsidiary hypotheses.

If the Higgs doesn't exist, the range of the unknown expands. The Higgs would be the simplest possible explanation for mass, which is a fundamental quality. So if it doesn't exist, another explanation for mass has to be found. That may involve the holy grail of physics — a unification of electromagnetic and nuclear forces with the effect of gravity.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

TWELFTH PLAN APPROACH

GROWTH PROJECTIONS OUTLINED IN THE APPROACH PAPER MAY BE OVERLY OPTIMISTIC

SHANKAR ACHARYA

The operational relevance of the Planning Commission has declined over several decades. Certainly, in my 15 years in the finance ministry up to 2001, we did not pay much attention to the Planning Commission, except for the squabble over the scale of "gross budget support to the plan" in each year's Budget. Nevertheless, it is the only organisation within the government charged with crafting a medium- and long-term vision of India's economic and social development and securing some degree of semi-formal co-ordination, or at least acceptance, of that view. If the Planning Commission didn't exist, we would have to invent it, though probably not in its present form.

Last week the Planning Commission put its draft Approach to the 12th Plan (henceforth A12P) on its website for comment. So here goes. To begin with compliments, it's a fairly well-written document (especially the Overview chapter), which recognises most of the major challenges that India has to grapple with to sustain high growth over the next five years: uncertain global economic conditions, high energy prices, "limited energy supplies, increase in water scarcity, shortages in infrastructure, problems of land acquisition for industrial development and infrastructure, … the complex problem of managing the urban transition … greater efforts in agriculture, health and education", governance weaknesses in public service delivery and so on. The A12P is forthright in proposing serious policy efforts and reforms in most of these areas.

Nevertheless, there are some clear weaknesses. Here I will focus on just four of them: the context and realism of the overall nine per cent economic growth target, the downplaying of the enormous employment challenge ahead, an inadequate appreciation of the policy impediments to manufacturing and a disappointingly old-fashioned approach towards the social sectors.

Broadly, A12P's approach to setting the nine per cent growth target is to say that the country has achieved 8.2 per cent growth in the 11th Plan (assuming, optimistically, eight per cent in 2011-12) and, therefore, nine per cent seems a reasonable target if we make serious efforts to deal with the various identified challenges. This approach hides more than it reveals. The truth is that the Indian economy already grew at nine (8.9 to be precise) per cent for the five consecutive years, 2003-04 to 2007-08. Since then (and the global crisis) average growth has dropped below eight per cent. What were the ingredients of the 2003-08 growth acceleration and can they be recreated? I suggest they included: a buoyant world economy expanding at four per cent (at market exchange rates), with advanced economies growing at nearly three per cent; moderately benign energy and food prices; the cumulative impact of fairly strong economic reforms undertaken (in spurts) between 1991 and 2003; a surge in gross savings and investment by around 10 percentage points of GDP between 2002-03 and 2007-08, led by a boom in corporate investment, profits and savings and a major improvement in government savings; a serious reduction in the combined fiscal deficit (from over eight per cent of GDP to four per cent), which ushered in low nominal and real interest rates; and a reasonably competitive exchange rate policy.

Recreating these growth-supporting ingredients looks difficult. The advanced economies of America, Europe and Japan (accounting for over half of world GDP) are teetering on the edge of a "second dip" recession. Even if they don't tip over (and that unfortunate outcome appears increasingly likely), most respected analysts expect a prolonged period of slow and halting expansion. Energy and food prices are much higher now and not expected to decline appreciably. In India, the last seven years have seen very little reform to spur competition and productivity. Instead, impediments to land acquisition, environmental clearances and mining access have increased, as have corruption and crony capitalism. Aggregate savings and investment are still fairly high but they have dropped significantly from their 2007-08 peak. The combined fiscal deficit is still around seven to eight per cent of GDP, helping to buttress high interest rates. Exchange rate policy has become conspicuously inactive. Adding these unfavourable "initial conditions" to the challenges outlined by the A12P makes the nine per cent growth target look a lot tougher and perhaps unrealistic.

In fairness, the overview chapter does devote a page to employment/livelihood issues. It recognises that despite the very low increase in total employment (only 18 million in five years on the current daily status basis) between the NSSO large sample surveys of 2004-05 and 2009-10, the unemployment rate dropped a bit because of an unusually low increase in labour force due to a substantial rise in working-age youth enrolled in education. It also appreciates that labour force growth will revert to much larger increases in the 12th Plan and beyond, posing huge challenges for job creation. However, this early attention does not resonate in the chapters on the "Macroeconomic Framework" and "Education and Skill Development". Surprisingly, there is no separate chapter on this crucially important subject, which could have profound effects on the nation's society and polity.

The chapter on "Manufacturing" mentions the enormous importance of this sector for generating job opportunities: "Unless manufacturing becomes an engine of growth providing 100 million additional decent jobs (in the next 15 years), it will be difficult for India's growth to be inclusive". If by "decent" jobs the reference is to those in the organised sector, the chapter sheds little light on how the present total of organised manufacturing jobs of a paltry 6 million (out of a labour force of about 500 million) is to be increased 17-fold in the next 15 years! There is only a brief and muted discussion of the critical constraint of our current job-destroying labour laws. The chapter advances "a new policy paradigm" for manufacturing growth, which seems to boil down to an unconvincing plea for "improving processes for consultation and coordination". A sort of "industrial policy lite"? Regrettably, there is no discussion on important issues such as an appropriate exchange rate policy and fiscal/monetary policies which nurture low interest rates, without which rapid industrial growth will remain a chimera.

Finally, the chapters on the social sectors seem to be rather along traditional lines. They do not outline compelling remedies to the well-known failings of pervasive inefficiency, poor quality, rampant "leakages", lack of accountability and voice (to and of the beneficiaries). In particular, I missed a serious discussion of possible synergies between the roll out of the unique identification programme (Aadhar) and reform of social programmes.

I trust these comments on the approach will not arouse grave reproach from friends in the Planning Commission.

The author is honorary professor at Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations and former chief economic adviser to the Government of India

The views expressed are personal

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SYSTEMIC LESSONS

THE CAG REPORT ON OIL AND GAS IS USEFUL FOR SYSTEMIC REVIEW, NOT SPECIFIC OBJECTIONS


 The CAG report of its special audit of operations in four oil and gas blocks, including that in the KG basin operated by RIL, raises both specific and systemic issues that do need to be addressed and followed up on. Specifically, the observations pertain to field activities in the KG field on items of additional project expenditure that were initiated well before the addendum costs were approved: the project expenditure did go up from $2.4 billion to $5.2 billion. Also in the KG field, questions have been raised about the award of a $1.1 billion 10-year contract for an offshore production vessel, on the basis of a single financial bid. As for systemic matters, the report avers that the extant profit sharing formula between the government and private contractors based on investment multiple offers an incentive to inflate capital costs. Instead, it recommends a single biddable profit sharing percentage, so as to discourage 'front-ending' or skewing of capital costs. This is worth considering for future bids. What is also called for is revamp of sectoral oversight, so that the regulator is at an 'arm's length relationship' with the government, to avoid conflict of interest. The suggestion to deepen the DGH's skill-set is welcome too. We need greater transparency across the board in oil & gas. The audit remark about the technical flaw in the operator undertaking items of additional expenditure even before the added project costs were formally okayed underscores the need for procedural revamp in the hugely capital-intensive upstream hydrocarbon sector. But it cannot also be gainsaid that it makes sense to plan operations and tie up specialised capital equipment well in advance. The critical observation about the single bid and $1.1 billion contract suffers from its failure to amplify how tight the supply constraints were. Similarly, on the charge of non-relinquishment of field acreage in subsequent exploration phases in the KG field, the CAG report seems to be erring on the side of caution, given the cited technical grounds for 'continuity of discovery' and the practical futility of putting up small relinquished areas for bidding by third parties of repute who have not exactly been flocking to India.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

PRIVATISE TO FLY

THE CAG REPORT ON AVIATION IS A STRONG INDICTMENT OF STATE OWNERSHIP OF AIRLINES


Discussion of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report on civil aviation has tended to focus on the putative wrongs of the ministry in granting liberal bilateral rights to foreign airlines. This is entirely misconceived. In fact, public attention needs to focus on the running critique of public ownership of airlines provided by the CAG report, albeit unintentionally. As is typical of much of audit by the CAG, the focus of the present report is confined to the sector under review, when it criticises the liberal granting of bilateral rights to foreign carriers, endangering the national carrier, Air India, and suggests that grant of such rights could have been held in abeyance till 2010 when Air India's fleet acquisition plans would have given it some tangible capacity. In making this argument, the CAG forgets the elementary fact that people fly in and out of India to pursue their own businesses, not with the objective of protecting Air India's bottom line. If Indians and others had not been allowed to fly in and out of India freely and at low cost through a liberal policy on bilateral rights, it would have aborted India's vaunted growth of 8.9% in the four years prior to the crisis year of 2008. India's growth was globalised growth, in which foreign markets, foreign capital, foreign experts, foreign acquisitions and foreign remittances played a huge role. Foreign travel underlay all these elements of growth. If, instead of looking at the bottom line of an idiotically-run airline, the CAG had examined whether aviation policy served the wider economy, it would have given a seven-gun salute to the liberal grant of 6th freedom rights to foreign airlines (the right of a carrier to fly passengers to and from two foreign countries with a stop in its own country).
The CAG glosses over excess staffing and mismanagement of the national airlines before and after their merger. These and an overall debt burden nearly 40 times the equity derive from state ownership and swamp the airline. The long delay and the factoring in of geopolitical considerations in fleet acquisition also stem from state ownership. The clear lesson: privatise, to make it fly.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

KEEP IT SYMBOL

IF MEMBERS OF TIHAR GET TOGETHER, IT MAY BE A NO-HOLDS-BARRED PARTY


Politics has been known to make strange bedfellows, but never has Tihar Jail boasted a 'guest' roster that rivals the list of a party at one of the Capital's five star hotels during peak season, with its heady mix of the rich, brash and powerful. So Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah can be forgiven for yet another irreverent tweet, as he took the same line that a thousand wags must have already contemplated: "If Tihar Jail inmates set up their own political party, I wonder what the symbol would be…" Even if the disparate political players currently cooling their heels behind bars do decide they can bury their differences, make common cause and float their own political formation (recognised or otherwise), symbols reserved for the national parties will naturally be out of bounds. A scrutiny of the list of 75 'free symbols' available with the Election Commission would be the first recourse.


Some of the objects listed there could be quite appropriate.The axe would send out a message to their detractors about hatchet jobs, while a bungalow, brief case, envelope or even toffee would do nicely as a promise for votes rendered. A ladies handbag could convey the same offer, barring a copyright veto from a certain chief minister and rival party boss, of course. Even a frying pan would be a cooler alternative to the fire they are currently in, while a diesel pump or gas cylinder would be ideal to fuel popular anger over price rise. But they may want to avoid symbols such as the television and the lock & key, for their uncomfortable allusions. Of course, they could always invent their own handy symbol like the Indian National Congress has. Opinion may be divided, though, whether they would prefer a mobile phone — for instant connect — or maybe a bee.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GROWTH BEYOND ECONOMIC FREEDOM

INFRASTRUCTURE, ACCOUNTABILITY AND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT MATTER FOR GROWTH, BESIDES ECONOMIC FREEDOM


Ahigh correlation between the expansion of economic freedom and accelerated growth in GDP is well-established in India since the early 1990s when economic reforms were introduced. But there are interstate variations in this correlation depending on the differences in the initial levels of infrastructure development and the governance patterns. A recent publication Economic freedom of the states in India 2011* throws new light on such relationships by using 20 indicators classified broadly under three parameters, viz., size of the government; legal structure and protection of property rights; and regulation of credit, labour and business, for ranking the states.


Swaminathan Aiyar rates Andhra Pradesh as the fastest improver in economic freedom, faring exceptionally well in regulation of labour and business, over 2004-09 when Y S Rajashekhara Reddy was the chief minister. Improved business climate saw the state pushed the state's gross state domestic product (GSDP) growth above the national average. Aiyar also demonstrates, from the Andhra experience, the compatibility of high growth with programmes for poverty alleviation and social justice. High growth yields revenues and subsidies decline when the share of agriculture in GSDP and poverty decline. Thus, growth is a necessary condition for achieving inclusiveness, and inclusiveness in turn becomes necessary for sustaining growth politically, as demonstrated by Reddy by returning to power in 2009. Andhra Pradesh had already been pro-reform since the mid-1990s under the leadership of N Chandrababu Naidu. IT, power, irrigation, water conservation through watershed development and state finances saw reforms. As a result, GSDP growth rate, which remained below the national average for over half a century, surpassed the national average for the first time during 2001-01 to 2004-05, rising to 6.32%, against the All-India growth rate of 5.99%.The per capita GSDP also crossed the national average for the first time. The lagged effects of reforms introduced earlier helped in Reddy's period.
High agricultural growth, twice the national average, achieved in Reddy's period cannot be traced to economic freedom, as there is no indicator bearing on economic freedom in this sector. But it did contribute significantly to accelerating GSDP growth. By neglecting agriculture, Naidu left considerable slack in this sector, which Reddy made up for, restoring priority to agriculture through the sheer revival of the traditional public support systems like extension and better access to credit and inputs. Similarly, control of Maoism is also not traceable to the index of economic freedom as constructed, but was responsible for high growth in the northern districts of the state. Expansion of irrigation in this period cannot be traced to the massive investments made which have yet to yield results, but to generous subsidies for well irrigation in the form of free power that have led to unsustainable exploitation of ground water. These areas are known for high value activities like dairying and horticulture that contributed significantly to high farm growth.


    Adisquieting feature of the present index of economic freedom is its failure to accommodate education, health and accountability in governance in rural areas by empowering people. The present index is, in fact, biased against human development, as it clubs together all the revenue expenditure, any increase in its ratio to GSDP signifying lower economic freedom. For Andhra Pradesh in the last two years, revenue expenditure on health and education constituted 97-98% of total expenditure on these heads. This accounted for nearly one-fourth of total revenue expenditure. The Planning Commission, while formulating the 11th Five Year Plan, had weighed in against bringing down the revenue deficit to zero by 2009, as it would hit sectors like health and education.


While Andhra Pradesh succeeded in pushing its GSDP growth rate above the national average, during the same period, its performance in respect of human development was sliding down below the national average, as brought out by the CESS, Hyderabad, in its recent work. Apart from lower public expenditure, lack of accountability to local communities is the main factor. Engaging contract teachers for schools in the state was a right move, as Aiyar points out, but improvement in the system as a whole is possible only by ensuring accountability. A recent study by the National Council for Applied Economic Research on the devolution of powers to panchayati raj institutions places Andhra Pradesh just around the national average, but going by the field data, it ranks below the national average and certainly below the three other southern states. Finally, the post-reform experience brought out by Aiyar and others in this report shows considerable fluctuations in the ranking of states in respect of economic freedom — those ranking high in one period sliding down to low level in the subsequent period, suggesting that that some of the reforms tend to disappear with the exit of imaginative leaders. Therefore, institutionalisation of reforms and their insulation from the political exigencies of the day is a matter for serious reflection.


*Partnered by the Cato Institute, Friedrich Naumann Foundation, Indicus Analytics and Academic Foundation

 

C H HANUMANTHA RAO HONORARY PROFESSOR, CENTRE FOR ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL STUDIES, HYDERABAD

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GUEST COLUMN

WITH HISTORY AS GUIDE, RISING FEARS OF RECESSION

DAVID LEONHARDT


If history is a guide, the odds that the US economy is falling into a double-dip recession have risen sharply in recent weeks and may even have reached 50%. Economies have a strong self-reinforcing nature. When people are optimistic, they spend, which begets hiring and then more spending. When people are anxious, they pull back, which leads to a cycle of hiring freezes and further anxiety that often lasts for months. The US appears to have entered some version of the vicious cycle. Most ominously, job growth has slowed to a pace that typically signals the start of a recession. Over the past 50 years, every time job growth has been as meager as it has been over the past four months, the economy has been headed toward recession, in a recession or in the immediate aftermath of one. From early 2010 through this spring, by contrast, employment was growing fast enough to make the economy look as if it were in a recovery, albeit a modest one. "The chances that we are in something that is going to feel like a recession are close to 100%," said Joshua Shapiro of MFR Inc. in New York, who has diagnosed the economy more accurately than many other forecasters lately. "Whether we reach the technical definition" — which is determined by a committee of academic economists and based on gross domestic product, employment and other factors — "I think is probably close to 50-50." A double dip would present obvious political problems for President Barack Obama, whose approval ratings have already fallen below 50% and who is scheduled to give a speech to Congress on Thursday outlining a new jobs plan. A weak economy also could threaten incumbents of both parties in Congress, whose approval rating has hovered around 15% in recent polls.


More immediately, the main significance of the recent slowdown is that the economy may not merely be going through a weak phase that will soon pass, as many policymakers hope. Instead, history seems to suggest that the situation will probably get worse before it gets better. In a recent research paper, Jeremy J Nalewaik, a Federal Reserve economist, described this concept as "stall speed": Once the economy slows markedly, it often continues to do so. (He did not make a forecast.) In the other two severe downturns of the past 80 years — in the 1930s and the early 1980s — the economy suffered just such a stall and fell into a second recession not long after the first.


Today, Europe's troubles continue to weigh on banks and financial markets. Consumers remain indebted, and the housing market remains depressed. State and local governments continue to cut jobs, aggravating the problems in the private sector. Congress is unlikely to pass a major jobs bill. The economy could, of course, defy history and turn around soon. Eventually, consumers will begin spending more on houses, cars, appliances and services, and employers will begin hiring in large numbers. A further decline in gas prices, which have generally been falling, would particularly help households.


But the latest indicators suggest that even if the economy does not continue to worsen, it appears to be too weak to add enough jobs each month — roughly 1,25,000 — even to keep pace with population growth. Anything less, and the share of the population that is employed will continue to fall. Over the past four months, job creation has slowed to an average of just 40,000 jobs, or 0.1%, according to the Labor Department's survey of employers. The last time such a meagre increase did not coincide with a recession came in the 1950s.
The department's survey of households presents a somewhat sunnier picture, but it is a smaller and noisier survey. And even it shows an unemployment rate of 9.1% last month, up from 8.8% in March. In the past, an increase of three-tenths of a percentage point has typically coincided with a recession. James D Hamilton, an economist at the University of California, San Diego, who has studied forecasting, said he believed the most likely case was still that the economy would avoid a double-dip recession. He also noted that the recent job growth numbers were estimates still subject to revision, although the unemployment rate is not. "It's extremely hard to predict recessions," Hamilton said. The more important point, he added, was that the economy remained very weak, and weaker than people had expected. Perhaps the best sign of how difficult it is to know the economy's direction is that, as a group, the nation's professional forecasters have failed to predict all the recessions since the 1970s, according to data kept by the Philadelphia Fed. In the past 30 years, the average probability they put on the economy lapsing into recession has never risen above 50% — until the economy was already in a recession. The forecasters, on Wall Street and elsewhere, are not blind to economic change; they just tend to underestimate its severity. When the economy is on the verge of recession, the average recession odds from forecasters tend to rise to about 30%. There has been only one occasion, in 1988, when the chances rose above 30% and a recession did not follow. And what do many forecasters say are the prospects of a double-dip recession now? Somewhere between 25% and 40%.


©2011 New York Times News Service

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GUEST COLUMN

WHY THE WEST FEARS GLOBALISATION

SANJEEV SANYAL


As the US and Europe threaten to fall back into recession, some western economists have begun to question the foundations of both globalisation and capitalism. In a recent Financial Times column, Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University wrote about "The great failure of globalisation" (August 18, 2011). Another well-known economist, Nouriel Roubini went so far as pull out old Marxist arguments in a recent syndicated column called "Is Capitalism Doomed?". It is obvious that economic pain is frightening western intellectuals. However, their arguments not only distort the facts but, if taken seriously, also run the risk of driving western civilisation into permanent decline.


The basic argument being put forward by these economists is that globalisation has hurt the poor by allowing rich capitalists to invest in emerging markets. To quote Sachs, "They have been able to invest in new and profitable projects in emerging economies". He then deduces that globalisation is a failure because of the "simple fact" that unskilled workers in developed countries have been hurt by this shift. Yet, he does not spare a thought about the hundreds of millions of people in China, India and other emerging markets who have used global trade and investment to climb out of abject poverty. As China has become richer, we can now see how industries are moving to even poorer countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh.


Surely, the success or failure of globalisation should be judged from a global perspective and not only from that of rich countries. While income inequalities may have increased within each country, they have fallen sharply between countries as emerging markets have used globalisation to grow. As someone who grew up in the autarchic stagnation of pre-liberalisation India, this writer knows from personal experience that humanity as a whole is clearly better off today. Moreover, the gains from globalisation go beyond economics. Young people from Cairo to Delhi are using globalising technologies like Twitter, Facebook and mobile phones to demand accountability from entrenched elites. How is this a bad thing?


I agree with Sachs' recommendation that western governments need to invest in education in order to move the workforce up the value-chain. However, there is a danger that by deeming globalisation and capitalism as failures, we will give in to the slippery slope of trade protectionism and restriction of capital flows. This will hurt everyone but Asia is now strong enough that it will eventually recover and go ahead. The real longterm danger is to western civilisation itself. To understand this, consider the long histories of the two emerging giants, China and India.


In the first millennium AD, India was the world's dominant economy. Angus Maddison estimates that it accounted for 33% of world GDP. Its merchants plied trade from the Persian Gulf to the South China Sea. The remnants of this age of Indian dominance are still clearly visible across southeast Asia in archeological ruins, culture, language and place-names (Singapore, for instance, means "Lion-City" in Sanskrit). Unfortunately, when faced with competition from the Turks, Arabs and Chinese, Indian society turned inwards in the 12th century. Caste rules were imposed to discourage merchants from sailing across the seas. The consequence was that Indian civilisation went into centuries of decline.


By the 15th century, China replaced India as the world's largest economy. Between 1405 and 1433, Admiral Zheng He led a series of grand voyages that explored the South-East and the Indian Ocean. There is speculation that they may even have visited the Americas. Chinese naval technology of this period was so advanced that Europe would take another three centuries to catch up. Yet, it was not China that would dominate the following centuries but the "barbarians" from Europe. Why? The success of the naval expeditions had made court eunuchs like Zheng He powerful and the Confucian mandarins decided to cut them down to size. The fleet was destroyed and their records suppressed. China closed itself from the world and, like India, suffered centuries of decline. It was only after they opened out to the world again, in 1978 and 1991 respectively, that they came back as major global players. Roubini writes that "the world's middle classes are feeling the squeeze of falling incomes and opportunities". This is simply not true. China's salaries are rising at 15-17% per annum. India's confident new middle-class is demanding accountability from its politicians. This is hope, not hopelessness. The lesson to be learned from history is that globalisation is not the problem but the ability of a society to deal with a changing world. Western societies would do well to ignore the insecurities of its economists and embrace the new world. Otherwise, it runs the risk of turning a few years of fiscal pain into a few centuries of civilisational decline.


(The author is Global Strategist, Deutsche Bank)

 

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

THE CHIMERA OF 'INDEPENDENT' DIRECTORS

S. BALAKRISHNAN

It is a matter of regret, that though the concept of independent director is a sine qua non for listed companies, it does not have a place either in the existing Companies Act. However the principle has got recognition in the new Companies Bill (the Bill). But no company director can be fully independent. Directors, especially non-executive directors (NEDs), including the category of independent directors, are liable to answer for all acts, real, alleged or imaginary, of commission and omission. Even for minor infringement of some obscure legislation, of which professionals themselves may well not be aware, they can be hauled up, harassed, arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned. With statutes increasing exponentially, they require all support and help. To Clause 49 of the Listing Agreement can be ascribed the credit for the introduction of the illusory concept of independent directors in India. Will anybody be an idealist that he will work for a company 'free of cost'? The answer is a resounding No!

Where money is involved, one can forget independence!The Bill stipulates that an Independent Director shall not be entitled to any remuneration, other than sitting fee, reimbursement of expenses for participation in the Board and other meetings, and profit-related commission and stock options as may be approved by members – an instance of dangling the carrot!That independent directors will receive profit-related commission and stock options will definitely impair their independence.

CII argument

Readers will recall that the Chairman of Union Carbide was held responsible for the Bhopal gas tragedy and sentenced to imprisonment, creating a furore among commercial bigwigs and CII observing that "while as board members, independent and non-executive directors have the same legal duties and obligations as executive directors; however, because of their limited involvement in the day-to-day running of the company, it is undesirable for the law to expose them to personal liability". One cannot agree fully with the views expressed by the CII. The view that "a limited immunity should be made available to an independent director against arrests and prosecution unless the same is authorised in writing by a magistrate not below the rank of a district judge", seems more acceptable and logical.

The tenure of independent directors can be limited and an individual should not be counted as independent director for more than a specified number of companies. However, the problem is having a 'ready supply' of people duly qualified and willing to act as independent directors. This problem will get more acute with the continuing increase in the registration of companies and their subsequent listing. Supply will definitely be less than demand. And this leads one to the point that the concept of independent directors is only a chimera!

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BUSINESS LINE

OPINION

RACE TO THE BOTTOM

Airline companies in India appear to be competing in a fatal race to the bottom. A combination of rising fuel costs, high taxes and competition-induced irrational pricing is causing tremendous turbulence in the industry. Airline operators are faced with a paradox: every seat on a plane needs to be filled to recover fixed costs but for every seat that they fill they fail to recover the variable costs fully. Simply put, ticket prices are not high enough to cover the costs of flying an airplane. For this, the airline companies have only themselves to blame. The scramble to offer the lowest fare and grab every potential flier on the horizon has led to irrational pricing and undercutting of each by the other, fuelling a rapid downward spiral. Just consider these numbers. Jet Airways, the largest of the private operators, has accumulated losses of Rs 1,850 crore, while for Kingfisher Airlines it is a whopping Rs 5,600 crore. SpiceJet, relatively more stable financially, flew into the red in the last two quarters and has accumulated losses of Rs 720 crore. And we are not even talking of Air India which has problems of its own and accumulated losses of Rs 20,300 crore.

The airline companies might be putting on a brave face but they could end up paying a heavy price for this. For, their losses are funded by borrowings, and more borrowings. It is scary, indeed, that the total borrowings of the industry are around Rs 70,000 crore now. Something has to give sooner than later as margins in the airline business are thin at the best of times and the prevailing margins cannot cover even the interest costs. "We are playing the game of last man standing" — the pithy comment of SpiceJet CEO, Mr Neil Mills, in a recent interview to this newspaper — sums it all up.

So, what are the flight path options? First, the airline companies can decide whether they must arrest the free fall in fares. Collusive action is not an option, but one or two of them may have to soon pull away from the pack and start charging more realistic fares. Second, the governments at the Centre and in the states can drop the tax on aircraft fuel which, at around 24 per cent, is on the high side. They will, of course, be mindful of the revenue implications, and the political consequences. Third, the civil aviation authorities can ensure a more efficient navigation system so that aircraft do not burn extraordinary amounts of fuel circling over airports waiting for landing slots. With fuel constituting a large proportion of airline costs, every tonne saved will be welcome. Finally, it is great for consumers to have such low fares and yet a wide choice of carriers and flight schedules between most cities. But such rich choices cannot come cheap for all time. Either fares go up or one or more airlines will go under and cause consumer choice to narrow. The options now are therefore all stark.

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BUSINESS LINE

LEARNING FROM THE LIVES OF JUDGES

G. SRINIVASAN

The life stories of Supreme Court judges, close to a span of forty years, through biographical sketches of how they had come to occupy the pinnacle position in judiciary will definitely make an absorbing reading. This is all the more so when autobiographies by judges or other biographies of them by other commentators are acutely few, though their unbiased judgments on issues of public importance had drawn accolades across the country and abroad.

The book under review by George H.Gadbois, Jr, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, University of Kentucky, US, attempts to execute three tasks. One is to provide a brief biographical essay for each of the 93 men who served on the apex court from 1950 through mid-1989 and the second is to account for why and how theywere chosen and to the extent feasible the selection milieu. The third is to paint a collective portrait of them, paying specific attention to changes in the background characteristics of the judges over the four decades.

Personal interaction

The author's audacity is visible throughout his voluminous work as the contents of his biographical essays were gleaned from tête-à-tête with the judges as 68 were alive when the study was made in 1983 and 1988 and he was able to meet with all save four. The rest he either met or corresponded with widows, children or with other relations. The 40 years are divided into two spans—from 1950 to 1970 and from 1971 to 1989. The reason is that the Executive, after largely conceding to the Chief Justice of India (CJI) the power to select judges during the first 20 years sought after 1970, to retrieve some of that power. Afterwards, the selection power was shared between the CJI and the Executive and the selection criteria too underwent some changes.

Assertive Executive

When S..M. Sikri became Chief Justice of India in January 1971, the Executive asserted the powers clearly bestowed upon it by the Constitution and initiated the names of those it wanted on the Supreme Court. There were little changes in the backgrounds and prior careers of the new judges. They continued to be selected from the ranks of senior high court judges and brought as much as experience to the office as earlier appointees, the author avows, adding that the most compelling factor in most of these appointments was having patrons who were close to the Prime Minister. "So this was not court-packing in the conventional sense. But, no matter by whom chosen, few would argue that a Khanna, a Mathew, a Mukherjea, or a Chandrachud were not excellent appointees", the author declares with panache. The author's biographical sketches of Justice H.R.Khanna and Justice V.Krishna Iyer highlighting the lofty principles of serving judiciary with exemplary courage and with a clear conscience for the weal of the weakest and the poorest deserve keen study by social activists and general public alike.

Post-retirement jobs

The author adverts to post-retirement race for sinecure by judges particularly when governments of the day, both at the Centre and in States, seek their instrumentality for heading one Commission or another. All said and done, the author is not off the mark when he concludes that "background differences notwithstanding, all brought to the Supreme Court, a reputation for integrity and rectitude and left with that reputation intact. They served their nation well. India would not be the vibrant democracy it is without them". A biographical book on such judges is definitely an invaluable vade-mecum.

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BUSINESS LINE

GETTING THE BEST OUT OF INDIA-JAPAN CEPA

B.S.RAGHAVAN

The India-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IJCEPA) is the most exhaustive of all the agreements that India has concluded with other countries so far.

It covers more than 90 per cent of trade and an incredible range of provisions in respect of improvement of business environment for greater investment, trade in goods and services, removal of technical barriers to trade (TBT), sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures, movement of natural persons, intellectual property-related protocols, government procurement and mutual cooperation on matters of common interest and global importance.

The readiness shown by Japan in agreeing to abolish, with immediate effect, 87 per cent of its tariff lines, relating to 93 per cent in volume, compared to India's 17.4 per cent, and in conceding to India's plea for phased reduction during a span of 10 years, on the ground of giving sufficient time to domestic industry to adjust to the trade liberalisation, has been nothing short of generous.

The trade volume of items still attracting tariff on the Japanese side is only 2.93 per cent, as against India's 13.62 per cent.

Japan has thus opened up for unrestricted entry a tremendous number of items of export interest to India, besides enabling Indian professionals in information technology-related services, accounting, research and development, tourism, market research and management consultancy, to set up shop in Japan.

But getting the most out of the CEPA hinges on a vital pre-requisite: The willingness on the part of both India and Japan to jointly work the Agreement, in a constructive and accommodating spirit, by laying down, and adhering to, specific milestones and timelines.

BLUEPRINT FOR ACTION

It is from that perspective of giving it a fillip that this column offers the following Blueprint for Action:

Increasing the inflow of Japan's direct investment: Under the Agreement, all direct Japanese investments will be treated on par with domestic investment, as regards concessions, incentives and facilities, and application of regulatory and tax regimes. Japanese investment should be pushed from the present measly $1.2 billion to $20 billion by 2020.

Pushing up trade volume: India's trade with Japan is at present an unmentionable two per cent of its total trade.

With the reduction / abolition of tariff on both sides, it should be possible to push it up to 10 per cent by 2015, or at least equal to India's total trade with China (which at present is eight per cent of India's total trade).

Raising exports in the domain of textiles: Japan is today the fourth largest apparel products importer on the globe, constituting seven per cent of its total imports. India's share in this sector is barely 0.8 per cent, the lion's share going to China, Italy, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

Here is a challenge to India's enterprising artisans in Tirupur and Ludhiana. If they bend their energies towards renovating and revamping production lines, suitably recasting the basket of products and redrawing business plans, they can raise India's share of apparel supplies to Japan, to at least five per cent by 2015.

Likewise, though the demand for knitted garments is very high in Japan, India's share in 2009 was only 0.2 per cent, leaving it to Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Italy, South Korea, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam to dominate the market. Since, under the CEPA, Japan has agreed not to levy any import duty on Indian exports of knitted and woven apparel, it is undoubtedly possible to raise India's share to 10 per cent by 2015.

Setting up Technical Woking Groups to anticipate and solve disputes on interpretation: The CEPA extends to many intricate technical areas such as intellectual property rights, TBT, SPS, and procurement, likely to give rise, during implementation, to honest differences in interpretation. Technical Working Groups, constituted in advance, will help iron out these differences.

Establishing a Ministerial level India-Japan Monitoring Group to supervise the pace and progress of implementation: The CEPA has been in the making for more than seven years, and it should not take an equal time to get off the ground.

Not the existence, but the implementation, of the Agreement is the key. Hence, going the extra mile to give it an impetus is eminently worthwhile.

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BUSINESS LINE

A LEAP IN THE DARK?

A. SESHAN

T wo-thirds of the decision-making process is based on analysis and information and one-third is always a leap in the dark. - Napoleon

The Annual Report of the Reserve Bank of India is an authoritative document looked forward to with eagerness not only by observers in India, but in international institutions also. The latest Report brings the story up to the middle of August going beyond its accounting year (July-June). It maintains the high standards that have evolved over time.

One may not agree with its interpretations or forecasts. But the document cannot be faulted for factual accuracy or analytical rigour. Although this year's edition has shrunk in size, it does not detract in any way from its utility for the readers.

The uncertainties of domestic and international factors that impinge on policy making have multiplied owing to the increasing integration of economies and the instantaneous transmission of information. In this situation, the size of the economy does not matter much. The debt crises of small countries such as Greece have as much impact on the world economy as the downgrading of the rating of the US.

Under such circumstances policy-making, based on recent trends, is at best a measured and reasoned response to what has happened. Also, while one can estimate an equation and come out with prognostications, it is difficult to capture the feedback effect. Hence it is going to be groping in the dark when one tries to forecast for being pro-active. The RBI's policies need to be understood keeping this in mind.

Inertial or structural?

In para 1.48 the Report says: "Tackling food inflation also needs a strategy to break the inertial element arising from rising real wages leading to increases in the Minimum Support Price (MSP), which in turn leads to higher food inflation that feeds back to higher wages with an element of indexation……….Rural wage programmes need to be linked with productivity."

What is referred to as 'inertial' is really structural. We have inertial inflation when people reconcile themselves to a certain rate of price increase through adaptive changes in consumption pattern, as brought out in many anecdotal reports in newspapers. Inflation rate is then dynamically in equilibrium!

Linking wages to productivity in schemes like the MGNREGP is more easily said than done. There are enough accounts of the misuse of the scheme by both the implementing agencies and the participating labourers.

There is growth in rural employment and incomes without any corresponding increase in output unlike in the West where the discussion is about jobless recovery.

Infrastructure challenge

The RBI should be worried about the prospect of a trillion dollar expenditure on building the infrastructure in the Twelfth Plan. We do not know how much of the resources would be generated in the country and outside and how much would get spent within. In addition to infrastructure spending, there will be other expenditures on various sectors, both of a capital and current nature. The money supply (M3), at the end of March 2011, was Rs 65 lakh crore . The figure may grow up to a mind-boggling level by the end of the next Five-Year Plan.

Since infrastructure projects have a long gestation period with resultant lags in the flow of benefits to the economy, the central bank is going to face a major challenge in sticking to its agenda of controlling inflation. It will do well in starting to plan for its policy for the Twelfth Plan period, besides the one for the next year.

Threshold inflation

It is in this context that one is dismayed by the statement that in India the threshold inflation rate is 4-6 per cent, beyond which growth will be affected (page 33). There is no reference to the supporting research. Whatever study justifies the drawing of the Lakshman Rekha should be placed on the Web site of the RBI for examination by those who have knowledge of the esoteric subject of econometrics.

What is interesting is that the RBI has subtly changed its rationale for accommodating a 4-per-cent inflation rate in its monetary policy.

Demand for currency

There is a good discussion of the determinants of demand for currency and velocity (pp. 38-39).The standard error of the regression equation as a whole indicates its predictive power. In addition to the regression coefficients, their standard errors and R-squared value, it is also available in the software econometric packages and hence can be given in the future.

One important feature in India is the increasing demand for currency during election time. A dummy variable for the years concerned may perhaps throw some light on the matter.

Analysis should also take cognisance of the fact that although velocity and money multiplier are two different concepts, they can work together to counteract any monetary or fiscal policy.

This is what has happened in the US in the aftermath of the fiscal and monetary stimuli provided to the system. The extent of leveraging of the original increment in money supply through the multiplier influences velocity.

I am intrigued by the continued absence of any reference to offshore banking units in RBI reports.

The researcher is helpless as there is no other source of information for this subject.

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BUSINESS LINE

CHECKS AND BALANCES FOR PVT BANKS

S.S. TARAPORE

On August 11, 2010 the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) put out a Discussion Paper on New Private Sector Banks. After much discussion and debate the RBI, on August 29, 2011, put out the draft guidelines on licensing of new private sector banks and comments have been sought by the end of October 2011. The RBI deserves to be applauded for handling an explosive subject with maturity and astuteness. The whole process of finalising the guidelines, the preparation of applications by aspirants, the granting of licences and the setting up of new banks is going to be such a long journey that those applicants envisaging a rapid gain for themselves would very quickly drop out.

Granting of licences for banks has serious implications for the overall financial sector and the RBI is justified in undertaking a cautious calibrated approach. The whole process for the new banks to be operational may take two to three years.

Promoters' share

After the nationalisation of banks in 1969, no private sector bank was licensed up to 1993. After the 1993-94 round of licensing there was a long pause till 2001 when revised guidelines were issued. After another dormant decade, in 2011 the issue of bank licences is once again under examination.

The draft guidelines for new licences for banks now put out by the RBI envisages eligibility for promoters/promoter groups with a 10 year successful track record. The RBI recognises that as depositors' money is involved it is only appropriate that there should be a comprehensive 'fit and proper' assessment to ensure that the promoters are not operating in risk prone areas.

The draft guidelines envisage that new banks should be set up only through a wholly owned non-operating holding company (NOHC) which would be regulated by the RBI or other appropriate regulators. There would need to be an arms length operation between the promoter group and the bank.

The minimum capital of Rs 500 crore is low in the current milieu and to set up banks with resilience a higher minimum of say Rs 1,000 crore should be prescribed. The NOHC minimum holding of 40 per cent is locked in for five years.

The excess over 40 per cent would be required to be brought down to 40 per cent within two years from the date of licensing of the bank. This should be a water-tight non-negotiable clause. Invariably, the 'greed factor' comes into play and the NOHC would persuasively argue for a relaxation of this clause, so that the divestment is undertaken after a much longer time.

Again, the NOHC's shareholding is to be brought down to 20 per cent within 10 years and 15 per cent within 12 years; this stipulation should be cast in stone. The RBI has to be satisfied that the NOHC is ring-fenced and the RBI should be able to undertake a consolidated supervision of the NOHC and the bank.

Tight regulation

For years I have been advocating that corporates should be allowed to enter the banking field with strong safeguards. It is gratifying to note that the present draft guidelines enable corporates to apply. The case for corporates being given entry in to banking is that they would be able to set up strong banks.

The RBI is right to be concerned about 'self-dealing' by promoter groups and hence the stipulation that a bank would not be allowed to lend to any single group company more than 10 per cent and to the group as a whole not more than 20 per cent of the bank's net worth.

This is a fear expressed by those opposed to corporate entry into banking. It would be best to put a total ban on direct or indirect lending by a bank set up by a corporate to any company connected to the promoter group. The RBI should come down heavily on any mutual compensatory lending between two promoter groups through banks set up by corporates. The stipulation that the new bank should set up 25 per cent of its branches in unbanked rural centres is flawed as a bank can easily set up a tin shed proximate to a metropolitan centre. The stipulation should be the proportion of business in unbanked rural areas.

Gestation phase

It is unfortunate that public sector units (PSUs) are debarred from setting up new private sector banks. To think of it, if PSUs were debarred from setting up private banks in the 1993 guidelines, there would have been no Axis Bank today! The RBI must reconsider this issue.

The final guidelines could take till the end of the current fiscal year. The whole edifice of the guidelines is based on the Amendment of the Banking Regulation Act. Again, the scrutiny of applications by the RBI and the screening by the High Level Advisory Committee could take a year or more. Hence, no new bank is likely to be set up before the end of 2013. Nonetheless, potential applicants would do well to undertake vigorous pre-investment activity.

Death and birth are part of the law of Nature but in India we do not accept that banks should be allowed to die and, as such, how are banks to be born?

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BUSINESS LINE

 

'THE DOHA ROUND NOW IS ABOUT TRADE POLITICS'

ARUN S

Critics of the World Trade Organisation might want an official burial to the protracted global trade talks as the Doha Round has long been dead. However, the WTO Director-General, Mr Pascal Lamy, says the Round, launched in 2001 for further liberalisation of world trade, is only deadlocked. He has been tirelessly touring the world talking to political, business and civil society leaders on the benefits of concluding the Round. In Delhi earlier this week, Mr Lamy spoke to Business Line on matters including the Round's future and the global trade forecast.

What is the current state of negotiations?

When you look at the WTO commitments from members, we have three regimes — that of the developed, emerging and poorer developing countries.

The negotiations are stalemated in the debate between the US and emerging countries (including India).

The US says 'since you have now emerged, you should eliminate duties like us on chemicals, industrial machinery and electronics'.

The emerging countries say 'we accept we are not like LDCs, but we don't want to be treated like developed countries because of our development challenges'. That is where the problem lies. But I am not prescribing a solution.

India still has huge development challenges and it needs to reaffirm this reality. But what an average westerner sees of China or India is their shining side. India and China also want the shining side of their reality projected abroad.

If developed countries are convinced that India or China is like them, they will ask for a level playing field in international trade rules. Therefore, people should understand the whole reality rather than the perception they have of the reality.

The issue now is not trade policy, but trade politics. It is my duty and that of political leaders to put perceptions in line with reality instead of using their perceptions to antagonise.

World trade and its issues have changed a lot since the Round started in 2001. Does it make sense to arrive at an agreement so late with the same old mandate?

Nobody remembers who accepted what in the tariff reductions negotiations in the (previous) Uruguay Round. What people remember is that the global trading system was strengthened.

And this is why it could work efficiently during the present economic crisis. So, on top of the balance of concessions, there is a virtue in strengthening the system and making it more predictable. Stabilising market openness through a global trade deal is a big plus for the conduct of business.

Can one expect any forward movement on Doha Round after the Ministerial Meeting in December?

WTO is a forum not only for negotiation, but also for implementation, litigation and capacity-building. The real challenge of the meeting is for the Ministers to draw a road map on all these WTO activities for the next two years.

Is there the political will to break the deadlock?

I have not heard any of the 153 WTO members saying 'we should throw in the towel'. Most members, including China and India, want to conclude the Round; but they haven't yet found a way to do that.

But they say serious engagement from the US can be expected only in 2013 when its new President takes charge?

We need to sustain a negotiating and implementation agenda that goes beyond the volatility of short-term political factors. No international negotiation will be possible if you have to stop negotiations when there is election somewhere.

What do you have to say on India's efforts?

India is cooperative, proactive, and trying to find solutions. India has offensive and defensive interests and I don't expect India to surrender on either of these fronts.

Has the delay in concluding the Round dented WTO's credibility?

The credibility of the WTO was tested during the recent economic crisis. The WTO is an insurance policy against protectionism and it did work during that time. But if the Doha Round is procrastinating, there is a risk of this credibility being dented.

Our mission is not only to implement existing rules, which I think we are doing rather well, but also to adjust trade regulations to the changes in world trade. If we cannot do that, we risk having a problem.

Are you considering a 'Lamy Draft' to save the Round?

It has always been an option. But it is the only bullet that I have got. When you have only one bullet, you better pull the trigger at the right moment and on target.

For the moment, I don't agree that given where we are, pulling the trigger would be a major contribution. My first duty is to do no harm.

What is your take on the global trade prospects?

There are two engines — a slow one including the US, European Union and Japan, with 2 per cent growth, and a fast one i.e developing countries with 6 per cent growth.

This growth differential is increasing. Our forecast of 6.5 per cent growth in world trade volume this year may be revised downwards in line with a downturn in demand.

A growth differential in itself is not the reason for reduction of trade. On the contrary, some say the only way developing countries can sustain this growth is to keep importing equipment and consumer goods to satisfy their domestic consumption.

So the risks are less on trade volumes than on the resurgence of protectionist tendencies which so far have been reasonably well contained during the crisis.

The major risk for the world economy from this possible downward revision of growth is the permanence of high unemployment which then triggers protectionism. Therefore, we have to remain very vigilant.

Do you see the Doha Round being completed before your term ends in September 2013 so that you can leave with head held high?

I don't know. Whether or not the Round will be concluded and when is not in my hands, but that of the members. I am just the facilitator or the midwife.

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

GOOD BEGINNING MADE IN DHAKA

 

The agreements reached during the just-ended two-day visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Bangladesh, and the overall sentiment regarding Indian intentions that Dr Singh left behind, provide both sides the base for setting up a scaffolding of good-neighbourly relations in a subcontinent riven by suspicion, hostility, political instability, and economic uncertainties in spite of India, and Bangladesh, being on a reasonably secure wicket in this regard. Too much of India's time has been taken up in recent decades in reassuring Pakistan and simultaneously contesting its revanchism, calming Nepal's nerves over big-brother bossism, and coping with China's clever games aimed at confining India to the region between the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean; way too little in cementing ties with our eastern neighbour in whose struggle for independence there was a place for India. Indeed, Bangladesh becoming a free country did not especially lead to the easing of ties and the lessening of worries. The old problems remained — settling the land boundary, offering a fair settlement of river waters to a lower riparian when some 50 common rivers have to be reckoned with, devising transportation and transit links that will foster people-to-people contact, concretely assisting through tariff assistance Bangladesh's textiles that happily go all over the world. The inability to find the right formulae to match the mood in Dhaka bred anxiety and suspicion. This state of affairs was made worse by the rise in sectarian temperatures and extremist constituencies in Bangladesh from time to time, impinging on India's legitimate security concerns. The Prime Minister's visit has laid the ground to put the old fears behind us in significant ways, taking advantage of relative political and economic stability in that country, and a desire in India to build constructive relations with a neighbour with whom ties can be expanded to cover a wider regional configuration, or even going beyond the region into Southeast Asia. The time has arrived to build on what has just been achieved, thanks to the maturity of leadership and temperament shown by both sides. But this will require a further show of two-way perseverance and checkmating of bureaucratic ineptness. But most of all, it needs to be remembered that the Teesta waters issue must be revisited at the earliest. A prepared agreement was jettisoned on account of last-minute objections by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee that were not explicated. The ground is required to be recovered without ado. New Delhi has to re-connect with Kolkata and then move to Dhaka to complete the circle of agreements that can launch a relationship of value. If we succeed, we may provide the psychological opening to settle nagging issues with other neighbours.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

GATSBY'S INDIAN TOUCH

 

The news that Amitabh Bachchan's deep baritone will be heard speaking in English must surely please his millions of fans. By signing up for The Great Gatsby under the direction of Baz Luhrman the actor has added another feather to his cap, though of course he didn't need the endorsement of a foreign film to confirm his iconic status. The new project, based on the novel The Great Gatsby, is a truly international one. Bachchan is Indian, Luhrman Australian, the other co-star Leonardo DiCaprio is from the United States, and female lead Carey Mulligan hails from Britain. Luhrman himself is quite a fan of Indian cinema — he used Indian motifs in his winner Moulin Rouge and gave it the full Bollywood treatment, with its songs, garish colours and over-the-top melodrama. Choosing to make The Great Gatsby is an intriguing idea. F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel about a reclusive and shady millionaire who throws lavish parties which he does not attend himself reflected America's gilded age. The rich and beautiful people, the expansive homes and expensive clothes, the Jazz Age — it all looks so out of tune today. America is now dangerously close to a recession; indeed it is India which is enjoying an economic boom. So will the scene shift to India? If so, Bachchan could teach Gatsby and Daisy the tricks of romancing, Indian style.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

DEBATING WITH THE STARS

 

It was a dark and stormy night. Except in those parts of the country where it was dry and fire-prone. But what did America care about the weather when it had the chance to forget about its troubles on Wednesday night and curl up with eight candidates for the Republican presidential nomination? The voters have a lot to figure out. What would it be like to have a president who continually tells the country he's going to get the working class workin'? And is there something going on with Mitt Romney's hair? The dark part is looking darker and those little white tufts around the ears are getting whiter. It makes his forehead look as if it's levitating. The Republican nominating campaign has thus far been one long primal scream from party members desperate to avoid making Romney their nominee. Really, they will look at anybody. Remember the Donald Trump moment? Michele Bachmann, Front-Runner? Who knows where their glazed eyes will turn next? Rudy Giuliani is now running around saying that he might get in the race "if I think we are truly desperate". Which they would really, really, really have to be. The current front-running Mitt Alternative is Rick Perry, possibly the first major presidential candidate opposed to the direct election of US senators since the advent of the Bull Moose Party. He did not do anything superweird at his maiden presidential debate, unless you count bouncing up and down and cocking his head a lot. Or claiming that the reason a quarter of the Texas population has no health insurance is because of government interference. And Romney cleaned Perry's clock on Social Security. Young Americans, if you dream of someday running for President, try not to write any books calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme. "We're not trying to pick fights here," protested Perry, inaccurately. Attempting to change the subject, the Texas governor suggested: "Maybe it's time to have some provocative language in this country and say things like: 'Let's get America working again and do whatever it takes to make that happen.'" If you dare, candidates. Perry and Romney had an interesting dust-up over who did the better job of creating employment. This is a fight that is going to go on for the next several months. Statistics will be cited, and by the time it is over you will come to understand why young people don't dream of running away from home to become an economist. "Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt," Perry said at one point. "George Bush and his predecessors created jobs at a faster rate than you did," retorted Romney. Score. Republicans, do you want to trust your nomination to a guy who makes Mitt Romney look clever? Just think about it. I was sorry that no one asked Perry more of the really critical questions. For instance, is it true that he saved his daughter's puppy from being eaten by a coyote? This allegedly happened when Perry went jogging "packing a Ruger .380 with laser sights and loaded with hollow-point bullets". Because, as he says, he is "that kind of guy". His puppy-rescue is a stirring picture, especially considering that Perry's chief competitor is the man who drove to Canada with the family dog Seamus strapped to the roof of the car. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder. Where were his bodyguards? How did the puppy keep up with him if he was running? And where exactly was he carrying the Ruger? Many joggers I know have trouble hanging on to a water bottle. Perry and Romney were not the only debaters. There was Jon (I Believe in Evolution) Huntsman Jr., hoping to be next in the Not-Mitt Sweepstakes. Rick Santorum, Bachmann and Ron Paul ganged up on Perry for trying to get Texas girls inoculated against cervical cancer. This is a big deal for some social conservatives, but it's still interesting to think that we have presidential candidates who believe that they could score a stunning upset victory on an anti-cancer-prevention platform. Santorum, ever hopeful, has been telling people that the competition is "like an episode of Survivor", but I am thinking you need a more depressing image — maybe like an episode of Dog the Bounty Hunter or one of the several current television shows about people who bid on abandoned storage bin lockers. The debate was at the Reagan library, and no matter what you think of Ronald Reagan, this crew makes him look good. It is the genius of the Republican Party in recent decades that it continually selects candidates who make the ones who went before appear better. Remember how great George H.W. Bush seemed once we'd lived with his son for a while? And I have a strong suspicion that whoever the nominee is this time will make us yearn for the magic that was W.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

FINDING HOPE IN LIBYA

 

When I was entering Libya last week from Tunisia, a rebel soldier named Ayman objected that I didn't have a visa. I pointed out that his force had overthrown the government that issued visas. But, in this kind of a stalemate, the guy with the gun wins. And that was Ayman. Eventually, he came up with a solution. I would give him a ride to his hometown, Zawarah, and the visa requirement would disappear. I gritted my teeth and told him to jump in. That incident points to a fear that many Americans have of the Libyan rebels. Are they just goons who will create their own tyranny or chaos? Particularly after we embraced Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, only to see him engulfed by corruption, it's fair to ask whether the Libyan rebels will do any better. The uncertainties are real. But, after my recent visit to Libya, I'm guardedly optimistic. What's particularly impressive is the paucity of revenge killings and looting in Tripoli, the capital. There have been a few incidents in which rebel soldiers apparently executed prisoners, and black Africans have been treated abysmally (they are accused of being mercenaries for Col. Muammar Gaddafi). But the Libyans who served in that hated regime mostly have not been molested. I saw many Libyans fleeing for Tunisia, and, presumably, many of them were Gaddafi loyalists. But rebels did not hinder them at checkpoints or pilfer their belongings. And, as far as I could tell, the homes and luxury vehicles the loyalists left behind have been mostly untouched by neighbors and rebels alike. In addition, I went through dozens of armed rebel checkpoints and was never once asked for a "baksheesh", meaning bribe or gift. What we know of the top rebel leadership is also reasonably encouraging. Mahmoud Jibril, the acting Prime Minister of the rebels' Transitional National Council, earned his doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh and taught there, too. As for Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the acting chairman of the council, he is a former justice minister who challenged Col. Gaddafi by calling for the release of political prisoners. Ali Tarhouni, the finance minister, is a former economist at the University of Washington. Some Americans have fretted that Islamic extremists will take over Libya, but very few of the rebel leaders have been associated with Islamic fundamentalism. One exception is Abdel Hakim Belhaj, a military commander in Tripoli, who says he was tortured by the CIA in 2004. Yet he told my Times colleague Rod Nordland that all is forgiven and that he appreciates the American role in the Libyan revolution. Frankly, any representative Libyan government needs to include fundamentalists like Mr Belhaj, who were particularly brave in standing up to the Gaddafi regime. The mood in Libya is both pro-Islam and pro-Western. Occasionally, I ran into Libyan-Americans who travelled to Libya to join the revolution; I called one rebel outside my hotel "Texas", because that's where he learned his drawl. Then there's Dr Rida Mazagri, a neurosurgeon from West Virginia who returned to his native Libya to care for patients in rebel-held areas. Dr Mazagri was seized by Gaddafi forces, and nothing was heard of him for five months. Many of us assumed that he was dead, but then rebels freed him from a prison in Tripoli and he has just returned to a hero's welcome in West Virginia. The mood in Tripoli seems largely tolerant and forgiving, and exuberant about the prospect of democracy. "We are free now," an engineer named Belgassim Ali told me. "Make a newspaper to support Gaddafi; I don't mind. But no dictatorship!" It's true that the rebels are atomised in small armed groups, and some roll their eyes at the rebel council. Most have little experience in governing, and they squabble among themselves. Then again, the rebels have coordinated disparate fighting units and have tried to arrange the surrender of holdout towns like Surt, Col. Gaddafi's hometown, rather than just marching in with guns blazing. Libya's new government will also have the advantage of access to tens of billions of dollars in frozen funds and to the oil that makes Libya one of the richest countries in the region. I'm a believer in humanitarian intervention to avert genocide or mass atrocities — when the stars align, as I believe they did in Libya — so maybe I'm deluding myself to justify our bombing campaign. Yet it seems to me that the Nato military intervention prevented a massacre in Benghazi, saved countless Libyan lives and has put the country on a track of hope. Countries like the United States, France, Britain and Qatar did something historic in supporting a military operation that was largely about preserving lives, not national interests. While plenty can still go wrong, my sense is that Libya is muddling along toward a future far better than its oppressive past.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

HUMBLED BY KNOWLEDGE

 

What we see depends on our vision of life. Looking at the moon, a scientist will want to know more about it. He/she will want to know whether or not there is water on moon and try to find out if life is possible on moon. But a poet's response will be entirely different. A person who thinks only about food will compare the full moon to a papad! Your vision of life prompts your thoughts. Seeing the hot water springs in Yamunotri, a devotee will think with gratitude about the Lord, while a businessman may think of opening a resort there. Looking at the things around us in this world, we should get noble thoughts. Sri Rama saw dark rain-bearing clouds and peacocks dancing in joy. The analogy that came instantly to his mind was the joy of a dispassionate householder who sees a devotee coming to his house. We must understand that household life is not meant only for enjoyment, it is also meant to develop dispassion. Usually, the joy of the householder is compared to the peacock's dance of ecstasy. Here the comparison is inverted in a very effective manner to hold up an ideal. Sri Rama was a householder, and yet he went to the forest, accompanied by wife Sita and brother Laxman, with a calm mind, to follow His dharma, though the entire kingdom, except Kaikeyi and Manthara, wanted Him to stay. We learn that priority has to be given to dispassion and devotion. When Rama used to meet saints, He would be very happy. Seeing the beauty of the dark clouds, Rama keenly felt the absence of His dear wife and worried about Her welfare. From this we learn that the husband should be concerned about the wife's welfare, a simple fact that needs to be reiterated today. From the way the Lord sees things, from His thoughts, words and behaviour, we come to know about His nature and His vision of life. The flashes of lightning that disappear in a moment remind Sri Rama of the fickle friendship of ignoble people who show a lot of affection one moment but are not to be seen a moment later. When Kamsa saw Vasudeva's first son, he was filled with joy, but the moment someone told to him about the prophesy, he wanted the child killed. As clouds gather water and become heavy, they hang low, near the earth. Similarly, an intelligent person grows humble with the growth of knowledge. The beauty of knowledge lies in humility. A cloud is called "jalada" because it can give water — generously and impartially. Most people give with a certain sense of pride; there is a feeling of arrogance where there should be love alone. True knowledge is that which confers humility. We shall study more of Sri Rama's insights on the monsoon in my next column. Swami Tejomayananda, head of Chinmaya Mission Worldwide, is an orator, poet, singer, composer and storyteller. To find out more about Chinmaya Mission and Swamiji, visit www.chinmayamission.com.

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

QUIRK OF HISTORY

CONGRESS-AWAMI LEAGUE TIES TAKE A HIT


THE thoughtfully grim visage of the Prime Minister while inspecting the guard of honour at Dhaka airport said it all. In a sense, it reflected the mood of the summit ~ from a trumpeted build-up to a diplomatic fizzle, if ever there was one. Forty years after the liberation of Bangladesh, the fiasco itself has been historic. And by a quirk of history, under the Congress and the Awami League. It is a swingback of the political clock from 1971 (the heady victory of Indira and Mujib) to 2011 (the bonhomie that ended under Manmohan Singh and Hasina). Such agreements as have been concluded must be of relatively peripheral interest, with the notable exception of the deal on the border enclaves. Both countries have lost out on the core issues ~ pre-eminently an agreement on sharing waters of the Teesta (of all-important  interest to Bangladesh) and the letter of transit (of critical moment to India). Whatever progress had been achieved over the past couple of years by Dr Singh and Begum Hasina has foundered under the same leaders. The setback is quite totally palpable for Delhi, indeed a classic instance of bumbling diplomacy in the face of a state's sensitivities. The crisis will necessitate a mending of fences and the prevalent mood in Dhaka suggests that it could well dictate the terms of engagement. Just as Mamata Banerjee's decision to pull out of the Indian delegation had bamboozled both countries, Dhaka's retaliation by not granting the letters of transit caught Delhi on the wrong foot. Had it materialised, it would have curtailed the travel time from several north-eastern states to the rest of the country.
The failure of the summit is bound to affect the ratings of both leaders. Dr Singh, out of his depth in the face of a range of problems, will now have to contend with the foreign policy disaster or national security advisories, if you will. It is time perhaps to take a call on the co-relation between the MEA's compulsions and the established certitudes of federalism. As much is clear from the Foreign Secretary's assurance that "nothing will be done without consulting the state government". Admittedly, Miss Banerjee played hard to get at the eleventh hour; but the carping of the chatterati in Dhaka that "she is the villain of the piece" marks a below-the-belt swipe. There is substance in her argument that Bengal would have lost out under a 50:50 water-sharing proposal. At another remove, the damp squib is indubitably a political setback for Begum Hasina, one that is bound to be exploited by her bete noire, Begum Khaleda of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, as pro-Islamist as it is anti-India.


Let us not delude ourselves; the mood in Bangladesh, under the historically friendly Awami League, is today decidedly anti-India. This is the bitter irony of bilateral equations, indeed a quirk of international game-theory that both leaders will have to contend with. The twists and turns of diplomacy are, as often as not, unpredictable. 

 

TERROR THRIVES

NATION UNITED IN HELPLESSNESS

EMOTION can cloud analytical thinking: for that reason this newspaper refrained from any potentially knee-jerk reaction to the outrage at the Delhi High Court. Sadly, even after a little steam has dissipated, the inescapable conclusion is that any commentary on terrorist activity in the country boils down to a lament of frustration. Frustration at the reality that the Indian people remain as vulnerable and unprotected as they were when terror first manifested itself some three decades ago. The nuances of terror may have changed, the incompetence of the security apparatus remains a "constant." Neither has there been any preventive action evident, nor has the detection/prosecution effort been successful enough to serve as a deterrent. Experiments like "tough" legal measures such as TADA/POTA have not worked; promises of upgraded intelligence gathering and coordination remain unfulfilled; new security agencies have been created to no effect, but out there on the ground the police forces continue to be understaffed, ill-trained, ill-equipped, non-motivated and misused ~ only VIP security gets a little priority. None of the Czars of North Block over the years have delivered: at least not to aam aadmi. And the political debate remains caught up in a vicious, vote-bank oriented blame-game. Or inane sermonising. Or pointing an accusing finger across the border as if that is a valid explanation for repeated failure. No wonder the people are angry ~ as expressed when some political figures tried to gain brownie points by visiting the hospital on Wednesday. When, they wonder, will they have a government that displays the steel to lead the way in ensuring that the citizen enjoys the right to live in safety?
History and "context", however, are poor alibis. The government of the day cannot duck its duty. The home minister ~ the Delhi cops are under his supervision ~ has proved to be more style than substance: would he care to examine his track-record and make a self-determination on the propriety of his continuing in office? Bombast does not counter bomb-blasts. The inability to protect the citizen cannot be divorced from UPA-II's failure to contain corruption, keep inflation in check etc. The Prime Minister insists he is no lame duck, when did he last walk the talk? Even those who disagreed with the way Anna Hazare did things hoped that the outpouring of public revulsion would shake the government out of its apathy ~ the repeat-blast at the Delhi High Court confirms the opposite. The present dispensation has clearly lost its way, will a change of leadership help? Or is an election the way out? There is the supposed TINA factor (there is no alternative) to consider too. All difficult questions to answer. Another question, perhaps not so tricky, is what would have been the status of the security services had the government energised them in the way it has unleashed the CBI on its political adversaries?

 

SCHOOL OF SCANDAL

COLLECTIVE DISGRACE IN BIHAR

IT is more than a travesty of universal education. The Bharatiya Janata Party, a constituent of the Bihar coalition, has made a mockery of human rights in a state that had appeared to be on the upswing on several fronts under the present dispensation. To the appalling extent that the National Human Rights Commission has taken suo motu notice, seeking a report from the state government. Learning suffered an outrage when a government school in Vaishali was shut down for two days, to be transformed as the venue for the BJP's state executive committee meeting. Far worse, and one that could incur a stricture from the NHRC, was that the children were reportedly engaged in labour within the school complex. It is a cruel irony, though perhaps not in the case of Bihar, that this school in Vaishali showcased the bizarre co-relation between child labour and elementary education. The children were not dropouts working in roadside eateries to supplement their families' income. They had come to school in search of learning, and were made to work to fulfil a mainstream political party's agenda. It is almost incredible that the kids ~ between the ages of eight and 12 ~ were made to serve and wash  plates of the delegates on each day of the three-day conference. And these saffronite worthies included state ministers, MPs and MLAs. In a sense, it was a state-sponsored, sub-human tamasha. The accountability rests on the BJP's national leadership and most importantly on the JD(U)-BJP coalition. Vaishali showcases a disgrace that is collective.

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

COMING HOME

NRIS IN USA WILL PERHAPS NEVER RETURN

BY BIBEKANANDA RAY


DURING the Assembly election campaign, Mamata Banerjee had pledged to bring the NRIs back home if her party came to power. Mum's the word, however, since she assumed office on 20 May. Successive Left Front governments had also given such assurances, to no avail. The CPI-M state secretary, Biman Bose, who used to attend the Banga Sanskriti Sammelans ~ the annual gathering of  Bengali NRIs in the USA ~ would also urge them to return home, but nothing was done to facilitate the process.


The Centre has an NRI ministry, which observes "NRI day". Yet it has done precious little to attract them home. There is probably no NRI department in any state government, certainly not in West Bengal.
The first Indian, a maritime worker (khalasi), migrated to the USA in 1790. Since then groups of Indians, largely agricultural workers, arrived in Washington from Canada. Many Indian immigrants also came from the UK, Mauritius, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Surinam, Guyana, Fiji, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica. They are among the most highly educated in the continent.


In early 1920s, there were barely 5000 Indians in the USA. In  many states they were denied citizenship and the right to own land. After World War II, the USA's need for more doctors, engineers and entrepreneurs gave a fillip to immigration. In 1946, the Indian Citizenship Bill, piloted by two Congressmen ~ Emmanuel Celler and Clare Booth Luce ~ facilitated the naturalisation of Indian immigrants and fixed a token annual entry fee of $ 100. After this was lifted in 1965, the entry of Indians into the United States increased further in the late Sixties and Seventies.


According to the 2010 US Census, the Asian-Indian population grew by 69.37 per cent ~ from nearly 1.7 million in 2000 to well above 2.8 million in 2010. The majority are in in Greater New York City (comprising New York City, Long Island, the adjacent areas of New Jersey, Connecticut, Pike County and Pennsylvania). An estimated 195,000 live in New York City alone. The other US cities with a sizable Indian population are Atlanta, Baltimore, Washington, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland.


Indians constitute 16.4 per cent of the Asian-American community. They are the third largest race among the Asian American population, next to the Chinese and the Filipinos. Since 2000, their number has increased by over 100 per cent. Indian immigrants have founded more engineering and technology companies than those from the UK, China, Taiwan and Japan combined. One-third of Silicon Valley computer engineers are of Indian origin and seven per cent of its hi-tech firms are headed by Indian CEOs. Indians are among the highest qualified of all immigrants. Almost 40 per cent of them, five times the national average, have a master's, doctorate, or other professional degree. Thomas Friedman, in his book, The World is Flat, wrote that the best and brightest in India move over  to the US for better career and professional opportunities. Beginning with Anandibai Joshi, who graduated from the Women's Medical College, Pennsylvania in 1886, some 30,000 Indian doctors are now practising in the USA.


Indians are also emerging as a political force, with 112 members in the House of Representatives. Deven Sharma, president of Standard and Poor, can be credited with the bold decision to downgrade the USA's long-term sovereign credit-rating from the top-notch "AAA" level, much to the disappointment of the US administration.


Associations of Bengalis are also proliferating. At present, there are at least 50 such entities across the US, five in San Francisco alone. They are engaged in literary activity and the theatre. They celebrate Durga Puja and other Hindu festivals. The 2000 Census recorded 150,000 Bengali-speaking immigrants in the US, and this included 57,000 Bangladeshis. The major exodus took place in the early 1990s when jobs were scarce in West Bengal because of its sluggish economy.  It was also spurred by a liberal grant of visas and offers by US universities. Indian politicians and sociologists described the exodus as "brain drain". And the NRIs retorted that they were forced to leave India because "brains lay in drains" in their home-country.


After meeting scores of Bengali NRIs and their families in Los Angeles and Houston during my two visits ~ in 2002 and 2011 ~ I am inclined to believe that wooing them home will be an uphill task. The Bengali NRIs can be grouped in six major categories ~ students, researchers, job-seekers, doctors, lawyers and businessmen. All of them are so enamoured of bright career prospects and the general quality of life that they are unlikely to be lured by any carrot from India, whether by governments or by the corporate sector.


In the capitalist economy of America, creation of jobs in the government and the private sector is a test of good governance. This is because the poor (around 36 million) and the middle class have no other source of income. Small traders and shopkeepers, ubiquitous in India, are virtually non-existent. Unless retrenched or laid-off, Indians are unlikely to return. India cannot provide the high standards, a corruption-free academia and comparable salaries and perquisites. Doctors, lawyers (two of the richest groups), engineers, accountants and IT specialists will never return because they will have to start from scratch in an increasingly competitive job market. There is no reason for businessmen to return unless the US economy collapses. 


Students aspiring to do their PhD and pursue post-doctoral studies can be held back, if India's colleges and universities upgrade their standards, in accord with levels in the USA. Research, notably in human and plant genetics, bio-medicine, cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, is best carried out in America till such time as India raises its standards.  India has talented doctors in the cities, but the profession is far more paying in the US where health care has become a high-stake industry because of unscrupulous insurance companies. Even liberalised government policies are unlikely  to woo back the NRIs in the USA. But the tide of exodus can perhaps be stemmed.


The writer is a retired officer of the Indian Information Service

 

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THE STATESMAN

DROPPING THE GUARD

SEEMA MUSTAFA

 

Another terrible blast, more death and destruction, grieving relatives, hurt and wounded victims and lives turned upside down as the killers get away. The explosion that killed and wounded citizens seeking justice at Delhi High Court had a precursor. In May, again on a Wednesday, the terrorists had carried out a trial run. But the government had ignored the message, and after the usual platitudes and a few sniffer dogs at the spot, had done nothing to secure the High Court. The result was that more than three months later, terrorists were able to carry out a high-intensity attack at the same spot, fully aware that even minimal measures had not been taken to ensure at least a modicum of security at the crowded courts.


The terrorists carefully chose the day and the time. Parliament was in session until Thursday, Delhi High Court falls in the high security zone, and despite repeated assurances, the government's inability to provide adequate security was exposed. Parliament, like the rest of India, rose as one to condemn the terror attack and express support for the government in its efforts to track down the perpetrators. But this time around, questions are being asked about the government's failure to secure the nation where terrorists are able to strike at will even in parts of the National Capital put on a full alert. Union home minister Mr P Chidambaram assured Parliament that "several measures have been taken to strengthen Delhi Police". And he went on to say on the day of the blast: "Despite the capacity that has been built and despite Delhi Police remaining on full alert, the tragic incident occurred today." The point is that it should not have, particularly if the May warning had been taking seriously. It was incredible to learn that not a single CCTV camera guards the public entrance to the High Court and that an area that should be teeming with plainclothesmen and others, was left undefended. Mr Chidambaram, who is not proving to be a particularly effective home minister, will have to explain what measures have been taken to "strengthen", as he describes it, Delhi Police and what exactly is the "capacity" that has been built. The much tom-tommed National Intelligence Agency (NIA) set up after the Mumbai terror attack has clearly failed to function, with the turf war between different Intelligence and investigating agencies almost making the NIA non-functional. A special secretary in the home ministry admitted on record to reporters that no Intelligence at all had been received about a possible attack on Delhi High Court and that the government had been caught as much by surprise as the poor souls who were killed or maimed.
Mr Chidambaram has been talking of so-called effective systems and even assured Parliament as far back as 2008 that he would come back with concrete proposals. That has not happened. Parliament is none the wiser on the national security issue with the national security advisor busy with foreign policy, the NIA dysfunctional, and the home ministry unable to cope with the demands of security. It is not without reason that the people booed Congress leaders who visited hospitals to meet the injured persons with even Mr Rahul Gandhi not being spared. Each terror attack is followed by the same platitudes, the same assurances, and everything is forgotten after a few days, until the next. Officials inform reporters from time to time that "security systems" are in place, and it does seem on reading these reports that every vulnerable spot in Delhi is manned by CCTV cameras and/or personnel. The latest blast has shown this to be far from the truth, and the same officials are now saying that only orders had been placed for surveillance cameras that were yet to be delivered and installed.
It is no one's case that any city, particularly, crowded cities of India, can be made terror proof, particularly, when terrorists prefer to blow themselves up to wreak havoc. But at the same time, people are completely justified in expecting the government to have taken all precautionary measures so that attacks such as the one on Delhi High Court are thwarted and terrorists and their support systems are sniffed out and dealt with.
Unfortunately, Mr Chidambaram seems to be spending more time on nabbing innocent citizens who cross his path (such as Dr Binayak Sen at one point) and less on taking concrete action. After each terror attack, police get the mandate to arrest anyone they please with the result that hundreds of innocents are nabbed and tortured needlessly. And after a few days of excitement, the dust settles, police go back to its corrupt ways and it's business as usual for the government.

India has always been a target of terrorist groups that have expanded considerably in size in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. While the main target for these is Pakistan these days, there are enough cadres and leaders looking at ways to wreak havoc in India and the bomb blast outside Delhi High Court was clearly, meticulously planned. Of course, the absence of high-level security makes it far easier for terrorists, almost a cakewalk as was the case with the "tall man" who detonated a bomb in a "steel" briefcase he had purportedly carried to the entrance of Delhi High Court. Save the account of a single eyewitness, authorities have no leads and like all blasts preceding this, this too will remain unsolved.


The dangers have heightened as terrorism against India is not just being planned and executed by those terror groups supported by Pakistani agencies who had made the secession of Kashmir their mission. Terrorism now is resorted to in order to wreak havoc with India clearly being marked as hostile territory by these groups. This makes the task much more difficult for Indian security agencies and it is thus imperative that the government puts a strong, sound, effective security system in place. One had thought, given the repeated assurances by the UPA government that this had been accomplished but clearly, that is not the case.


Political parties seem to be more concerned about their own safety and the safety of Parliament. But what about the common man who saw his relatives being killed in front of his eyes, what about the father who lost his 20-year-old son, what about the woman who lost her father, what about the parents whose three sons are battling for their lives? These are not rich and powerful people, these are people who had to queue up for passes to enter Delhi High Court. Seems the UPA government and its home minister invariably fail to factor such people into their envisaged security "system". The anger that took the form of slogans against Congress leaders is more than justified, but this will not bring back the dead, or ward off further attacks. All this political rhetoric ~ "we should get rid of this scourge together" ~ sounds good, but what is the government doing to ensure that every citizen knows that at the end of the day, he can go home safe and sound?


The writer is Consulting Editor, The Statesman

 

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

A TIME TO LIVE

FIROZ BAKHT AHMED


September 7, 2011 was another black day for India when 12 died and more than 70 people were injured in an explosion triggered outside Delhi High Court. Sketches of two people suspected of having placed the bomb in a suitcase have been circulated. Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJi) has taken the responsibility for the terror attack and even Indian Mujahideen (IM) seems to have had a hand in it. Will innocent Indian lives continue to be lost like this?


We know the drill by now. Every time there is a terrorist attack, the government invariably cites foreign involvement, mechanically announces compensation, insists that normalcy has been restored and finally, issues frayed condemnation of acts of terror. Muslims, in the meantime, must spend endless nights in their "ghettos" fearing more baseless arrests. The 8 September, 2011 edition of the Urdu daily Inquilab rightly points this out.
At the same time, my head is hung in shame with Muslims again seemingly responsible for another terror attack. I'll go to work carrying the stigma of sharing the same religion with the two bearded suspects of the Delhi High Court blast. My colleagues will be unfailingly polite, but at the back of their minds the thought will be as much alive as in mine. As a law abiding Indian Muslim, I will try my best to maintain a low profile. Don't these terrorists realise what they are doing to us ~ the common Muslims?


Today, Islam is branded as a religion that advocates violence. One cannot entirely fault such perception as people must judge by what they see.


As a fellow man and an Indian Muslim, I weep over the needless deaths. Kafeel Ahmed ~ one of two terrorists behind the 2007 Glasgow International Airport attack, the Memons who triggered the Mumbai blasts, the jehadis in Kashmir, the perpetrators of 9/11, 7/7 (London), 13/12 (Delhi), 29/10 (Delhi) and Al Qaida globally have shamed us Muslims. We must come out openly against terrorist outfits such as HuJI, Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba, Al Qaida, Harkat-ul-Ansar, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Sipah-e-Sahaba and others ~ all committed to desecrate peaceful coexistence and harmony.


The jehadis have been slaughtering innocent people indiscriminately. The ideologically-networked jehadis kill without mercy, specialise in suicide attacks and when cornered, fight to the finish. They derive their strength from Al Qaida. These radical jehadis are part of an intricate web of "nationalist" insurgent groups who act autonomously and are difficult to track down. Right from 9/11, theirs has been a bloody tale of hate-and-kill. Many terrorists acting in the name of Islam cite Kashmir, Palestine, Chechnya, Iraq and Afghanistan to justify their killing spree. They have lost their moral compass. For them, anyone who does not agree with their point of view is an infidel and should be eliminated.


These groups misinterpret verses from the Quran to justify their heinous designs. Muslims must distance themselves from "Muslim terrorism". The word jehad comes from its Arabic root jahada meaning "to struggle". The word jehad has been so misused both by wayward Muslim terrorists and Islam-baiters alike that it has completely lost its meaning. Jehad is essentially a struggle against evil, both within and without. Jehad-e-Akbar (The Greater Jehad) signifies complete surrender to the Will of Allah. It calls for a total subjugation of ego and anger. The Muslim clergy must do more to make the obdurate followers of Islam appreciate Quranic messages that say killing innocent people is a hell-bound sin. Let us not wage a war of religion but one of reason and tolerance. Let us engage in a dialogue. Let us prove all those who link Islam with violence wrong.
As a long-term strategy, the government should absorb patriotic Muslims into its departments to keep an eye on their fanatical co-religionists. Also, most Muslims remain isolated from practitioners of other faiths. There is an urgent need to promote inter-faith interaction. This will not only inculcate tolerance but also diminish the sense of isolation that plagues so many Muslims.
But it's very important to remember that those who kill innocents, have nothing to do with Islam. Sura Al-Baqr (Verse: 114) states in the Quran that Allah dislikes those who indulge in arson, loot and killings. Sura Al-Kafirun (Chapter: 30) mentions "Lakum dinokum waley yadeen (You follow your religion; let them follow theirs)". Islam rejects violence in all its forms but the jehadis, who consider themselves devout Muslims,  don't seem to realise that. They don't seem to have read those Quranic verses that declare that taking the life of even one innocent individual is no different from wiping off humanity. The jehadis have a preference for only those verses from the Quran that are "contextual" and by twisting them conveniently, they grant themselves the licence to kill themselves and others. Islam doesn't condone suicide. There are many verses in the Quran that are "contextual" in the sense that they are applicable only to a warlike situation.
Take, for example, the verse: "Slay the pagans wherever you find them, seize them, beleaguer them, lie in wait for them with every stratagem" (Chapter: 9, Verse: 5)". No doubt it calls upon the believers to fight with determination against perpetrators and all odds but it is not necessarily directed against non-Muslims. If taken out of context, such verses might appear to advocate violence and misguided Muslims are doing exactly that.
The president of India Islamic Cultural Center, Mr Sirajuddin Qureshi, while strongly condemning the deadly blast outside Delhi High Court, said that no religion allowed or motivated anyone to perpetrate such a heinous crime against humanity or endorsed the killing of innocents. He said in times of turmoil, inter-faith concord must not suffer at any cost. Khwaja Iftekhar Ahmed, an Islamic scholar and president of Inter-Faith Harmony Foundation of India, said it was abominable that extremists only chose some 20 or so Quranic verses only to defend their "righteousness or to uphold their right to act righteously". To a common Muslim, it is abhorrent that acts of violence should be associated with the teachings of Prophet Mohammed ~ known universally as "The Merciful". The so-called jehadis have no right to misinterpret Quranic verses to suit their dastardly deeds. However, the Khwaja points out that efforts must be made to understand the roots of terror ~ something the government hasn't done seriously till date. We have seen such an initiative in Egypt and in Algeria. Muslim voices of sanity are not heard loudly enough. In cities like Jaipur, Hyderabad, Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, the moment the community finds a suspicious person living in the neighbourhood, it must inform police without delay.
Even London Muslims, while condemning the 7 July killings, lingered a bit too long on the ifs and buts. In Muslim mohallas, jehadis offer handsome rent and the landlord is so happy that he doesn't bother to find out why an affluent tenant should seek out digs in the so-called ghettos. The Muslim community needs to adopt counter-terrorism strategies as much as the government does. A liberal Muslim needs to rein in a communal Muslim as much as a communal Hindu needs to be reined in by a liberal Hindu.

The writer is a freelance contributor and can be contacted at
firozbakhtahmed07@gmail.com

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

LOST POST

Institutions are always more important than individuals. Therefore, it is necessary to look at the institution called National Security Advisor rather than the present holder of the post, who was sent by the prime minister to brief the West Bengal chief minister about the Indo-Bangladesh treaty regarding the Teesta waters. That visit by the NSA misfired. The immediate question that arose was, why was the NSA sent? But this hides the far more important question: what is the need of having the post of NSA which is not sanctioned by the Constitution? It bears repetition that the office of the NSA is of very recent vintage and a straightforward replication of the situation prevailing in the United States of America since the days Henry Kissinger ruled the roost. (This shows that even in the US the post is not a very old one.) Mr Kissinger's idea was imported into India by Brajesh Mishra who, during Atal Bihari Vajpayee's premiership, served as the principal secretary to the prime minister. Mr Mishra wanted to determine India's foreign policy and so got himself appointed the NSA. The office once created, following Parkinson's law, has continued and no one has bothered to query its rationale.

The very name of the post is confusing. The letter 'S' in NSA stands for security. If this is sincerely meant then the holder of the post should report directly to the home minister and the home secretary. For all practical purposes, however, the NSA works out of the prime minister's office and advises the prime minister on matters of strategy relating to foreign policy. This reality raises questions about the assigned roles of the foreign minister and the foreign secretary. These office bearers, in consultation with the prime minister, are supposed to decide on the strategy that underpins India's foreign policy. Yet, it can be said without any exaggeration that since the creation of the post, the NSA has had a greater say in advising the prime minister on foreign policy than either the foreign minister or the foreign secretary. The NSA has no de jure position on foreign policy but is the de facto authority on it. An advisor's post has become more important than those who should be the effective authors of India's foreign policy. If India needs a strategic advisor at all, he — whatever be his past record or seniority — should report to the foreign secretary. Institutions are paramount in a democracy and there is no need to create new ones.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

 

FAMILIAR PATTERN

India never seems to learn from past mistakes. Blasts have shaken up the national capital with a shocking regularity over the last ten years and more, but security agencies continue to be slow on the uptake. It is only after a terror attack — such as the one that killed around a dozen people on the premises of the Delhi High Court on Wednesday — that the vulnerability and the sheer callousness of India's security apparatus come to light. It surpasses belief that an institution as exalted as the national capital's high court was left without CCTV surveillance in this day and age. The incidence of terror attacks has increased the world over, and the Indian subcontinent, in particular, has been at the receiving end of some of the worst hits. If the memory of the 26/11 siege in Mumbai had become distant enough to be wished away by the Indian State, there was the example of the explosion, albeit a minor one, that took place on May 25 this year, just a few yards from the site of Wednesday's blast, right under the nose of the security forces. Not surprisingly, the plan to enhance security arrangements on the high court premises was put on hold due to some silly delay over the awarding of tenders. As a result, innocent citizens had to pay the price of such banal inefficiency with their lives.

After every attack in Indian metropolises, and especially on the symbolic pillars of the country's fabled democracy, politicians come up with the usual platitudes. Expressions of condolence and suitably vague pledges of action follow, only to be relegated to oblivion. Indian leaders seem to have absolute trust in the vagaries of public memory and remain unshaken in their confidence that a bad phase, like all else, shall pass. Faced with such administrative ineptitude and a criminal dereliction of duty, people have next to nothing to fall back on. It may be utopian to hope that governments alone will be able to triumph over a menace as endemic as terrorism. But the least that the citizens can expect of elected governments is more stringent vigilance. At the same time, for better safety measures, people, too, must cooperate with the security agencies. No individual, be he a lawyer or a member of parliament, should object to being frisked for the sake of the greater common good. The value of one's life, and that of hundreds of others, is more important than the presumed gravity of one's exalted social status.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

NIX TO BOTH TEAMS

PEOPLE'S POWER CAN ONLY WORK WITHIN A STRUCTURED SYSTEM CUTTING CORNERS: ASHOK MITRA

What can one say of a government which says it has committed an error, but no mistakes? Only the other day, its spokespersons had called the Gandhian from Pune an army deserter and defalcator of a trust fund. A little later, it brusquely arrested him from his residence on the weakest of pretexts. Miracles have their place in Roman Catholic theology, the story is otherwise in real life. No change of heart has taken place with those who matter in the Indian National Congress; they have agreed to go through the charade to surrender to Anna Hazare because they suddenly realized that the survival of their regime was at stake. Anna per se is not reckoned as the threat, it is the size of the crowd gathered in and around the Ramlila grounds, convulsion over large parts of the country and cacophony in the media. It is as if a very large segment of the nation was conveying a message to the government and Parliament: we have lost faith in you, you have failed to protect us from the scourge of both corruption and inflation, you have, in fact, abetted acts of corruption, you are reluctant to pass meaningful legislation to nab corrupt elements; now this frail-looking man is telling us what to do, he has placed demands before you that reflect our demands, he is urging us to be no more forbearing, has convinced us that in case established institutions of the country fail to look after our interests, we have the right to take over the functions of legislation and governance; even as Anna will fast till you accept his demands, we, the people, too will refuse to melt away or grow quiet; we dare you to try subdue us.

That things came to such a pass is entirely the regime's own doing. Perhaps even more than gross instances of corruption rise, it is the nonchalance the perpetrators of the evil deeds are displaying that has incensed ordinary men and women. When the office of the comptroller and auditor general, in fulfilment of its constitutional obligations, points out where the government had gone astray and contributed to corruption, cabinet ministers resort to abusing the agency. Ministers and MPs are unable to escape the wrath of the Supreme Court when it begins to probe specific cases of financial misdemeanour; one or two of them are put behind bars, the major ruling party as well as the head of government continue to disown responsibility for skulduggery within their precincts. Sums equivalent to around $2 trillion accruing from shady transactions are smuggled out of the country and stashed in secret accounts in Swiss banks. Ways and ways exist for tracing the criminals who have thereby fleeced the nation. The government makes no worthwhile move in the matter despite severe reprimands from the nation's highest judiciary. In disgust, the Supreme Court sets up its own investigation team. Instead of expressing contrition, the authorities lodge a formal protest on the ground that unearthing sources of black money is a task coming under the purview of the executive. A few months ago, when Anna was yet to grow into the phenomenon he now is, his associates submitted, at the invitation of the government, a bunch of suggestions for its consideration. Maybe these had some utopian features, but they made a few important points too. The authorities rejected each one of these and finalized a bill which promises to make it even more difficult to catch the felons.

Events have, since then, taken an awkward turn. It is axiomatic in a representative democracy that people must not take law in their own hands. It should be equally out of the question for them to venture to make laws supplanting the role of the legislature. The crisis we face is because Parliament, expected to enact an effective legislation to eradicate all forms of corruption, has till this day failed in that task; this failure is linked to the executive's reluctance for such a statute; the citizenry have remained helpless victims of depredations carried out by thieves and scoundrels in the garb of civil servants, politicians and corporate leaders. Ordinary people do not quite know what to do with their fast-growing stockpile of sullen resentment. Out of the blue, a seemingly quixotic individual, an eccentric-sounding Gandhian, appears on the scene and tells them that they have the sovereign right to participate in law-making, all they have to do is to assert themselves. The — so-referred-to — man in the street does not have the depth of understanding to judge whether what the Gandhian is proposing will scotch all species of corruption, he does not care for the minutiae of parliamentary procedures. But, he is sure that, like him, this Gandhian too wants no further dilly-dallying, or shilly-shallying; he, like him, is for immediate measures; this person is willing to sacrifice his life for the cause and implores the people to help him out by — to use the Mao metaphor — bombing the headquarters and bending the authorities into submission. The people respond with wild enthusiasm. The government is frightened, a shiver goes down its spine. It can ignore the nation's highest court, which has no army to march to force the authorities to carry out judicial directives. People's power is a different proposition. It is not practicable to shoot down thousands of people; to do so is to invite chaos in the country. Even if law and order is finally restored and the crowds disperse, sooner or later, the election season will arrive, multitude after multitude will march to the polling booths, and vote out the regime. The government swallows its pride. Procedural rigidities are shelved, Parliament has a free-ranging discussion and passes a resolution endorsing the broad principles underlying the Gandhian's demands for consideration of the standing committee concerned. It is as though our system is accommodating a fourth institution — the will of the masses — to the already existing three, the legislature, the executive, the judiciary. That it is only a strategic retreat on the part of the government is evident from the pinpricks it is aiming at Anna's associates. But it will be awesomely difficult to renege wholesale on all the promises that have been made.

Still, should this be the pattern of the nation's law-making process from now on? If so, it is likely to be only the beginning of a Humpty-Dumpty tale. The next target may well be the executive authority. For instance, district magistrates and their junior officers can be considered incompetent, relief work, it will be complained, is being poorly managed, the rural employment guarantee scheme is in a mess, the public distribution system has broken down; the neighbourhood youth — proxy of people's power — may intervene and teach the dumbfounded officials how to perform more efficiently. Nothing wrong there, it will be argued; do not members of the public volunteer to help the forces of law and order to maintain the flow of road traffic in rush hours?

What about the judicial sphere? Delayed justice apart, there are innumerable instances of miscarriage of justice, the canker of corruption has affected the judiciary too. Such a state of affairs, it will be decided, must end. The concept of a people's court has been afloat for long. Although not exactly a revolution, is not what Anna has ushered in a quasi-revolution? So why not supplement the on-going network of official judicial system by thousands of people's courts dotting the country? Moreover, in case of doubts regarding the integrity of individual judges, why not a people's judge — whatever his qualifications, but handpicked by the local populace — to seat next to the judge under the shadow of suspicion?

The Gandhian has opened the floodgate of a new awareness: as people are sovereign in a democracy, they have the right to directly exercise this sovereignty irrespective of the contents of the Constitution; since it is their creation. It all sounds so cosy. Problems do not, however, go away. What about a situation where one set of people disagree violently with another set or many other sets? There will then be several focal points of people's power, with widely diverging notions of law-making, law enforcement and judicial fairness. If each of the differing groups is allowed to exercise its sovereign rights, the sequel will be murderous anarchy.

People's power is a beautiful idea, but it can work only within the format of a structured system. The Anna accident has been provoked by the insensitivity and incompetence of those in authority in New Delhi. While it leaves lessons, it should also make the nation realize the perils from excesses indulged in the name of the people's will. Substitute the image of Anna Hazare by that of a fascist-minded rabble-rouser urging the gigantic crowd assembled on the Ramlila grounds to march with him to lock up that nuisance, the Parliament House.

To return to where one began. The mess we are now in is largely because of the misdoings of the principal ruling party at the Centre. Indian democracy is in danger on account of it. It will be idle to assume a chastened Congress party will now play a key role to ward off further attacks on the basic structure of the Constitution. A party must cherish democratic convictions before it can defend democracy. The Congress, alas, does not fit the bill. The BJP carries the albatross of Hindu fundamentalism and has a hankering for the Dark Ages; the Congress, on the other hand, is a feudal, authoritarian outfit, its president chooses her son, a total greenhorn, as the party's general secretary with not a squeak within the party; the offspring struts about as if he is already the supreme leader of the nation. Perhaps his most intense wish is to see the crowd in the Ramlila grounds switch over to him; he can then rule the country forever.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

THINGS FALLING APART

BONAFIDE: MALVIKA SINGH

Ashamed by the political shenanigans that overwhelm us all, disgusted by the personal greed and unchartered governance that embarrass us all, we still have some rather special realms we can enter that are comforting and allow for aspirations to soar. Step aside from the circus of Lutyens' Delhi and into a space where the energy of individuals, young and old, as well as of non-governmental organizations, spells hope. As we consciously try to disconnect from the abysmal governance which has painfully stunted real growth and entrepreneurial skills, we start to breathe again. However, even as individuals, public entrepreneurs are constantly stalled by the inept servants of the State who wield far more power than they should. It is this faulty modus operandi of government that has prevented our robust people from moving on and breaking new ground.

We are an unusual democracy, a feudal, functioning democracy. India is very much like a large, rambling joint family where diversity, conflict and more merge, converge and are eventually sorted out under the larger umbrella of a father figure or the head of the clan. Differences are dealt with at lower levels of the family, and if unresolved, the 'father' decides and his opinion prevails. Our democracy should operate in a similar way because that is the ethos of our plural culture. To organize governance according to an alien and sterile model makes no sense at all — we are saddened by the faltering strides that have destroyed our present and will have a devastating impact on our future. The sorry truth is that the most enlightened leaders have not had the gumption to stand up and be counted for changing the trajectory. They have all indulged in the horrific act of running for cover using unacceptable excuses of coalition dharma and suchlike.

Horror show

Where the government has failed, individuals have succeeded. Indians have learned well and found creative ways out of the horror of convoluted norms, laws and redundant acts, topped with malgovernance, which have engulfed them as a people. Nearly one quarter of the population of the world has had to deal with this painful disease because of a leadership in denial.

Our Parliament wastes its time, with the Opposition focusing its guns on irrelevant and inconsequential matters that do not concern or directly affect the people, but instead, feed gossips that titillate the senses of the privileged durbars of metropolitan India. It is that India which has benefited from this anarchy, and it is that India which whines and complains.

Governance and its modalities, as defined and perpetuated today, have failed miserably. The empowered group of ministers is seen as a joke, where the buck is passed and no decision is ever taken. Committees are considered equally moribund. Bribery and corruption are taken to be the most effective ways of getting legitimate work done, particularly when dealing with an arm of the government. Everyone knows this to be true but nobody does anything to change the course.

Nobody in power, including the best, cares as long as they remain personally protected. That is the tragedy of India. Governance has become selfish, inaccessible, insular and worse. It is operated with no accountability whatsoever. Small wonder that protest is growing rapidly in this vacuum.

History shows that such blind arrogance heralds the crumbling of empires. Denial comes from a deep-seated fear that all will be lost soon. The sad part is that India is being bruised and battered for no reason. The condoning of corruption by those who rule India, in the highest echelons of power, has triggered the terminal cancer that has eaten into the body politic of the country.

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******************************************************************************************DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

HISTORIC TREATIES

''MOST OF THE IRRITANTS HAVE BEEN RESOLVED.''


The many political and economic agreements signed by India and Bangladesh during prime minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Dhaka have put an end to most of the irritants in their bilateral relationship. In spite of the momentum given to it by the visit of prime minister Sheikh Hasina to Delhi last year, issues of discord like border disputes, sharing of river waters and economic co-operation had remained to be settled. It has taken time to resolve every issue.  But the failure to sign the treaty on sharing of the Teesta waters should not detract from the agreements reached on other issues. The most important among them is the border agreement. By deciding to implement the 1974 accord and agreeing on the specific issues the contentious border problem has been completely resolved.

The decision on mutual transfer of a number of villages and grant of citizenship rights to people in adversely held enclaves has removed a longstanding anomaly.  Many  people had to take circuitous routes and had to travel only during certain hours even to meet daily needs. Apart from liberalising the terms of the $ 1 billion line of credit given to Bangladesh, India has also given quota-free access to its market for 46 Bangladeshi textile products and 15 other items. This has been a major demand of Bangladesh where the textile industry is strong. It has always complained about its unfavourable balance of trade with India. India, which has a much larger economy, did well to be considerate to that country's needs and sensitivities.

The prime minister's visit would have been a comprehensive success if the agreements on the sharing of  the waters of the Teesta and a transit facility for India through Bangladesh to the North-Eastern states had also been signed. The water-sharing agreement was ready and would have been inked but for West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee's last minute objection to it. The Centre has to be blamed for not communicating with the state government on the provisions of the draft treaty in time, even though the state was aware of them. Efforts must be made to sign the treaty soon, after removing the West Bengal government's reservations. It will pave the way for regular transit of people and goods from India through Bangladesh, which gives enormous economic benefits to West Bengal also, apart from the North-Eastern states. A close and friendly relationship with Bangladesh is also essential for India's national security.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

GRAVE IMPLICATIONS

''THE LEAKS WILL HAVE SERIOUS REPERCUSSIONS.''


The WikiLeaks saga has taken a new twist. Its huge archive of 251,287 unredacted US diplomatic cables can be accessed online through an internet link without a password. News organisations have accused WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange of recklessly providing free access to unredacted cables. Assange has blamed journalists of The Guardian newspaper for making public the password to access the encrypted data online. While the fog around how the unredacted cables came to be available online is yet to clear, it is evident that this twist in the WikiLeaks saga will have far more serious repercussions than did previous releases of cables. Hitherto, news organisations put cables through a careful editorial process whereby names of confidential informants were removed before they were published. But now, the names of these informants are out in the open. In the past, WikiLeaks revelations were deeply embarrassing to American diplomats as it laid bare their opinions – not always positive – of world leaders. It also revealed US meddling in domestic politics of other countries and abuse by US soldiers in conflict zones like Afghanistan. But beyond damaging US diplomacy, the cables did little harm. However, the release of unredacted cables is greater concern. The identity of sources, including civilian informants and human rights activists, is now exposed. These people could now be harmed.

Amidst the heated debate over the release of unredacted cables, the content of some of the new cables is going by unnoticed. One of the cables, for instance, draws attention to a 'heinous war crime' by US forces in Iraq in 2006, "wherein one man, four women, two children, and three infants were summarily executed" and their house subsequently bombed by a US airstrike to destroy the evidence. If it were not for WikiLeaks, incidents such as this would remain in the realm of mere speculation. The release provides credible evidence that Iraq's government must now use to press for convictions.

The controversial release of unredacted cables will empower WikiLeaks' critics. They now have ammunition to oppose transparency in the name of protecting people. Undoubtedly, the accidental release of unredacted cables puts at risk individuals named in the cables. But of graver concern is the intentional violence unleashed by the US government on innocent civilians, which WikiLeaks has laid bare. But it should not become an excuse for silencing WikiLeaks. 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

GOVT'S DUBIOUS MOVES KULDIP NAYAR

IN A DEMOCRACY, THE MEDIA HANDS HAVE A DUTY TO PERFORM AND THEY CANNOT BE SILENCED BY A GROUP OF MINISTERS OR

THE CABINET.


Pakistan may not have a democracy in the sense the world knows. Nor will it pass the muster in the economic field. But it has to its credit independent judiciary and free media which the lawyers and journalists have won after long battles in their respective fields.
Bangladesh and Sri Lanka cannot emulate Pakistan because both countries have authoritarian rules. The judiciary and the media exercise independence to the extent the two allow, although Bangladesh is a shade better than Sri Lanka.

India is a different cup of tea. The country's constitution and the democratic system guarantee free functioning of both the judiciary and the media. Yet the baffling point is that the Manmohan Singh government, battered by scams running to a loss of billions of dollars to the exchequer and the Anna Hazare movement to have an anti-corruption Lokpal, did not interfere in the functioning of either the judiciary or the media.

However, while licking the wounds the government has begun a new way of thinking: should the media and the judiciary have the freedom they enjoy? It is like finding fault with the sea after the ship has been wrecked because the captain failed to act. Home minister P Chidambaram, human resources development minister Kapil Sibal and the experienced finance mminister Pranab Mukherjee are reported to have urged the prime minister to 'do something' to correct the two.

For action against the media, the suppressed report by the Press Council of India has come in handy. 'Paid news' is not to the liking of journalists or the people. And it would help cleanse the field if the guilty could be spotted and punished. But the government's  proposed remedy is to give teeth to the council. Such a measure has been discussed many a time and rejected because the Press Council is not another law court, but a forum where peers judge peers. The sanction is moral and ethical, not legal. The government's proposal may defeat the very purpose of the council. Talking to bodies like the editors' guild and union of journalists may be more beneficial.

I dare the government to bring a bill to curtail the press freedom. Rajiv Gandhi, hurt by the criticism on the Bofors gun scandal, tried to have an anti-defamation Act. There was such a widespread pretest that he had to beat a hasty retreat. In a democracy, the media hands have a duty to perform. They cannot be silenced by a group of ministers or even the entire cabinet. Left to the government, nothing would appear in the press except official handouts.

Official media

The government's mind is clear from the manner in which its television network, Doordarshan, treated the Hazare movement. It just did not cover it, the biggest story since Jayaprakash Narayan's movement in 1974. India's tax payers finance Doordarshan. It does not have to depend on advertisement. Readers or viewers would always revert to private avenues to get the news. This is exactly what happened when the Congress government imposed censorship in 1975.

The fact is that no government wants strong media or judiciary. It has a way to indirectly influence the judiciary because the budgetary allocations are made by the government. Media can be 'disciplined' through corporate sectors which have a large advertisement budgets.

Rattled by the Hazare movement, the government is playing its old game by digging out cases against Hazare team members Prashant Bhushan, Arvind Khejerwal and Kiran Bedi. And I do not know why Manish Tewari who rescued himself from the standing committee should return to it?

As for the judiciary, the members of different parties are peeved over the obiter dicta of judges' while hearing a case. Such remarks never make part of their judgment. For example, a Supreme Court judge said a few days ago that people would teach a lesson to the government. This was a realistic assessment against the background of the countrywide anti-corruption movement. It is apparent the government and the opposition have not liked the remark. But should parliament go overboard to counter it?

Giving vent to their annoyance, members of a house panel of parliament have recommended to the government to set up a mechanism to scrutinise the declaration of assets by the Supreme Court and high court judges (what about the cabinet ministers who too have declared their assets?). But the bizarre proposal is that the media should be prohibited from publishing names of judges under probe.

Whether names are published or not they soon become talk of the town. All this should not in any way affect the independence of the judiciary. Hazare did well to keep it separate from the ambit of Lokpal. After all, the Lokpal pronouncements are subject to a judicial review. How could, therefore, the judiciary come under the Lokpal?

Yet, the judges should shed their sensitivity over what forms the contempt. There is a lesson in how Lord Chancellor in the UK treated a remark after a judgment. The remark was that he was an old fool. His reply was that he was indeed old. As for fool, it was a matter of opinion. He let the matter rest at that.

High court and Supreme Court judges in the subcontinent should take a lesson from Lord Chancellor's attitude. They use the rule of contempt of court at the drop of a hat. The authority should rarely use it but never against the media. The two are on the same side.

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

DELHI TREMOR, A WAKE UP CALL

 

The news that emanated on Wednesday about the deafening bomb blast at the reception area of the Delhi High court that killed 11 people and injured many, was followed by another near calamity, that that shook the living night lights out of Delhiites. This moderate tremor though thought to have been registered at 6.6 on the Richter scale, was downscaled to 4.2 by the Indian Met department. The tremor that struck 30 minutes before midnight when residents of the city of Delhi was prepared for a night after a grueling day's work with terror thoughts in their minds, was thankfully over without any loss of life and property.

 

However, one thing is certain. It brought to the fore that the capital city of India and other larger cities in the vicinity like Chandigarh and Amritsar which is more to the west along side the border sit on earthquake zone V, classified as very high risk, as per the seismic map of India.

 

Basically, this had all the settings of a tectonic earthquake in a zone that stretched across the Mediterranean and Caspian seas and the Himalayas, terminating in the Bay of Bengal. The zone, which releases 15 percent of earth's seismic energy and runs on a tectonic plate stretching in a north westerly direction, have often devastated areas of Europe, countries partly or completely on the Balkan Peninsula, Iran and India.

 

The Home Ministry gave a report on the areas most prone to potential tremors, listing Srinagar as the city with the highest risk. More than 50 percent of India is listed in Zone 5, meaning that those areas lie in the Very High Damage Risk Zone.

 

What would worry an analyst is, and god forbid, when a quake of more than 6 to 7 on the richter scale strikes in India, there is large scale devastation. The respective state governments must ensure that these bye laws are followed. Another danger that presents itself is many of the buildings in cities in earthquake prone zones are old and some of them cannot stand monsoons, leave alone quakes, like in Mumbai. Delhi is no different. 

 

Amid all this, was the Minister informed about any prediction of a tremor from the meteorological department? The reason for this is that attempts at predicting when and where earthquakes will occur have met with some success in recent years. At present, China, Japan, Russia, and the United States are the countries most actively supporting such research. In 1975 the Chinese predicted the magnitude 7.3 quake at Haicheng and evacuated thousands of residents. One of the clues that led to this prediction was a chain of low-magnitude tremors, called foreshocks. There were also tilts or bulges of the land surface, changes in the earth's magnetic field, the water levels in wells and even some unusual animal behaviour. 

 

In conclusion, the Delhi tremor has sent a stern reminder to the government that apart from ensuring various disaster mitigation and preparedness measures, other ways and means of containing widespread devastation are also taken care of so as to minimise casualties.

 

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OHERALDO

EDITORIAL

 VOICE OF THE PEOPLE

PETER FERNANDES 

 

Democracy as an institution is truly the voice of the people. The largest democracy in the world, raised its voice to protect the 'democracy as an institution', which is walking the wrong path of corruption, extortion, and many other vices. 

The voice of the people to purge corruption resounded in every nook and corner of India, and even around the world. Anna Hazare led the movement to give a tone to the conscience of the people, and of the nation - the secular democratic country. Indeed, any system when touched by corruption, cannot stand strong for very long. 

 

The Day of Atonement is near; victory will be shared by both, the people and parliament. The people's demands

were respected, and the legislators accept the role of the people in a democratic system of government. However, people should not forget that the challenge lies ahead of them. Is the Nation ready to accept the demands they made to the Parliament? Otherwise, another Anna Hazare will have to emerge to give a clarion call once again. This time it will not be the fault of the legislators, but that of the people. 

During the recent rallies, great number of youth, and schoolchildren came out on the streets; it was a remarkable sight. 

They too expressed their disappointment over governance of this Country, and their desire for a better tomorrow. Only time will tell whether the promises made will be kept. 

My fellow Goans when will you feel the discomfort of the corruption and distortion that exists in every institution of our government today? Will the voice of conscience ever cry out for redemption?

In recent times, Bollywood displayed the dirty linen of Goa to the whole nation and to the world. Such a display of our society's misdoings was not something to be proud of, but can we hide from reality? Nevertheless, the pro-government lobbies came out to protest the showing of the movies; perhaps thinking that they could hide the wrongdoings, and continue to sleep on the dirty linen. 

It seems that people too are content to allow the woes of our society to linger on. What a disgrace for a society that claims to have a high literacy and standard of living. 

Elections are just around the corner. How many can say that they will vote without taking anything from politicians? If Goans take such a stand during the most solemn time of elections in a democracy, the time of atonement is near. 

The irony is that Goans were appalled by a legislator who announced his candidate for Cortalim constituency by sponsoring a tiatr, a day after the end of Anna Hazare's fast. Nonetheless, some Goans have shown great courage in the face of structural sin. 

They refuse to pay bribes or indulge in any corrupt practices to get their work done - whether minor or major and however important it may be. If we just a few more families, that follow such upright practices, Goans will finally see a bright light on the horizon. 

The voice of the people is supreme in a democratic form of government. People must be aware of their power and responsibility. 

While raising their voice, they should also respect the establishment –Parliament, for proper order for their greater good. 

Keep in mind Parliament is that same voice of the people handed over to the elected legislators at the time of election. Hence, electorate should be mindful of their responsibility of electing the right candidates. Therefore, striking the balance between the voice of the people and the self-governing institutions to promote peace and justice is a supreme call for democracy.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

A TASTE OF HUMILIATION

ISRAEL SHOULD VIEW THE HARASSMENT OF ISRAELI TURKISH AIRLINES PASSENGERS HUMBLY AS IT SERVES AS AN EMBARRASSING REFLECTION ON US.

The Israeli response that has followed the harassment of Israeli Turkish Airlines passengers who experienced detention and intrusive body searches upon their arrival at Istanbul airport on Monday, borders on hysteria and hypocrisy. The incident was blown out of all proportion and immediately became an additional and unnecessary chapter in the friction between Turkey and Israel.

There is no doubt about the fact that the conduct of Istanbul airport authorities was improper, and it is unforgivable - even if it was the result of retaliation for similar treatment Israeli authorities accorded Turkish air travelers. Nonetheless, Israeli citizens, and even more so the Israeli government and the Israel Airports Authority, should view it more humbly inasmuch as it serves as an embarrassing reflection on us.

The security check that Turkish citizens - and passengers from other countries with a Muslim majority - experience as they travel through Israel is stringent, overbearing and humiliating. Israeli citizens have gotten used to taking off for Turkey without the need for a visa, enjoying the hospitality of Turkish tourism services and vacationing in their multitudes in Turkish cities, villages and beach resorts without any restriction. Turks seeking to come to Israel for a visit, however, have had to go through a real ordeal, beginning at the Israeli consulate, where on occasion they get turned down without explanation, and later - assuming they get a visa - ending with an exhausting and humiliating airport security check.

The State of Israel has never apologized to these visitors and has never thought they deserved compensation for the lost time and the insult. Israel doesn't bother at all to explain its offensive security inspection procedures. To this day, it has not provided a proper response to the High Court of Justice, which demanded an explanation over the blatant discrimination experienced by Israeli Arabs before they board flights here.

In recent years, Israeli Arabs have complained about the treatment they receive, which has far exceeded the limits that can be explained by security needs. This includes intrusive body searches, unbearable delays and questioning on matters that have nothing to do with the flight. Most of the airport's passengers ignore the outrageous discrimination, or are not even aware of it. Perhaps now, having tasted the bitterness of this humiliation, they will no longer take it for granted.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

IN THE NAME OF GOD, GO!

BIBI IS GETTING ON THE NERVES OF THE ENTIRE WORLD. AND THAT'S BECAUSE OF FOUR WORDS: THEY DON'T BELIEVE HIM ... ISRAEL IS MARCHING TO THE UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY WEAK AND HATED, UNDER VERY DIFFICULT NEGOTIATING CONDITIONS.

BY YOEL MARCUS

 

The head of the Home Front Command, Maj. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg, warns: The probability and danger of an all-out war have increased. "Israel has discovered new and dangerous weapons in Gaza," he says, summing up the poem by saying: We can expect a radical Islamic winter. On the other hand, Amos Gilad, who was once known as a doomsayer, says the opposite: Our situation has never been better.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently met with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan and tried to convince him not to go to the United Nations. We have to try to reach an agreement, you have a lot to lose, we can do great things, count on me, said Barak, adding the words "look me in the eye." During his first term as defense minister Barak used to boast that he saw "the whites of the enemy's eyes," and ended up very badly.

Abbas does not suffer from myopia. Maybe he saw the whites of Barak's eyes and maybe not. Barak has already made an international name for himself as a blowhard. His version of the same conversation is that he didn't hear new proposals, but only warnings. Barak doesn't even know how to lie. In that area Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is more convincing. And what he doesn't do, he makes his emissaries do.

While the experts on American affairs report a negative balance in relations with the United States and say that "we're not in its guts" - in other words, that we nauseate them - Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz announced on television that our relations with Washington have never been better. How does he know? Does he work for the CIA?

There's a limit to the lies that the U.S. administration is willing to swallow. And it's no coincidence that they chose this moment to reveal former Secretary of State Robert Gates' description of Bibi Netanyahu: "a liar," "not only ungrateful, but also endangering his country by refusing to grapple with Israel's growing isolation." Even if the administration casts a veto at the United Nations, the sound of President Barack Obama gritting his teeth will be heard from the North Pole to the South Pole.

Bibi is getting on the nerves of the entire world. And that's because of four words: They don't believe him. Although the special relationship with the United States was not close from the first moment when Israel was recognized in 1947 - the first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, didn't set foot in the White House to the end of his days - over the years Israel became America's friend and ally. When we recall the close relations between President Bill Clinton and prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak, between President Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Golda Meir, between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, we understand that even if they didn't always agree on everything, there was a level of trust.

After Camp David, Prime Minister Menachem Begin, in a Polish gesture, declared that he was willing to give up even U.S. financial aid; a gesture that caused the entire government to do everything in its power to prevent the Americans from taking him seriously. There were times when we boasted of the fact that we were called the U.S. aircraft carrier in the region. The names mentioned above excelled in maintaining rapprochement, even when there were misunderstandings.

Bibi once said that he was afraid that one day there would be a crisis between Turkey and Israel. And now it's happening. Just as Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is exploding with anger and humiliation, Bibi decides to visit the ceremony of the naval commandos. MK Shaul Mofaz (Kadima ) is correct in saying that Bibi is a danger to Israel's security. Turkey would not have behaved toward us so rudely and with such threats "if it didn't feel that Israel is weaker and more vulnerable, its deterrent capacity is poor," says opposition leader Tzipi Livni. And she adds: "When Bibi talks about an agreement he is saying words in which he doesn't believe, and that's why the entire world doesn't believe him either."

Israel's power of deterrence has deteriorated, and "our friend" America is isolated and unpopular. Not only because of Obama's dubious abilities at home and abroad, but because he is not being forceful with Israel, and because he is not coming out openly against Bibi's interference in internal U.S. politics. Israel is marching to the UN General Assembly weak and hated, under very difficult negotiating conditions.

It is not hard to understand how a man who is so meek at home dares to play this way with the fate of the country. The welfare of the coalition is more important than the welfare of the country, and people of worth like Dan Meridor and Ehud Barak prefer their seats to concern for the fate of the country.

With clouds of disaster floating above us, all that's left to say to Netanyahu is a historic sentence that was last said in 1940, to Neville Chamberlain: "Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"

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HAARETZ

OPINION

A MATTER OF CHARACTER

AN ECONOMY IS BUILT ON EXPECTATIONS, AND WHEN ISRAEL TURNS INTO AN ISOLATED STATE AND A PARIAH, ITS RISK LEVEL RISES AND LARGE NUMBERS OF COMPANIES ALL OVER THE WORLD DO NOT WANT TO HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH IT.

BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER

 

One day, the scorpion decided to cross the river but since he didn't know how to swim, he asked the frog to take him on his back. The frog took a lot of convincing, but eventually he agreed. However, when they reached the middle of the river the scorpion stung the frog. "Why did you do that?" the frog asked, "now both of us are going to die." "There's nothing I can do about it," the scorpion replied, "it's my nature."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also only wants to get through his term of office safely. He doesn't want to turn Turkey into an enemy and also does not intend to cause relations with Egypt to deteriorate. He really does not want to fight with the United States, the only ally we have left. But what can be done - that is his nature. He is convinced he can fool the entire world all the time - to speak about a two-state solution but refuse to make any concession; to call for direct negotiations, but to present the other side with illogical demands. But then the moment comes when the entire world sees that it is a bluff, and then we start to drown.

In a matter of two and a half years, Netanyahu has succeeded in bringing Israel to an unprecedented strategic low, to a situation in which we are lying on the ground with hands covering our heads while everyone happily kicks us without the slightest fear. The government of Turkey sends our ambassador packing, with scorn, and then gives instructions to cut off military and commercial ties, and even makes an oblique hint about using its country's ships against us in the Mediterranean. The military regime in Egypt warns us not to dare to take action in Gaza because the shaky peace treaty between us will be in danger of cancellation.

But what hurts most - and is most dangerous - is that meeting in the White House at which Netanyahu was described by the former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, as being "ungrateful toward the United States and endangering the country by refusing to deal with Israel's growing isolation and with the demographic challenges it faces if it keeps control of the West Bank." Obama nodded in agreement. He is completely fed up with Netanyahu.

The basic reason for this collapse in Israel's status is the occupation. Because the occupation brings down moral standards and clouds the difference between good and bad. And as time goes on, the occupying power begins to believe that what it did not succeed in solving with strength, it will solve with greater strength. And then the army begins to be the main factor in society and we find ourselves involved in violent incidents and serious conflicts, even with those who could have been our very best friends.

Netanyahu's escape route from the diplomatic low to which he has brought us runs via the economy. He believes it is possible to argue with the entire world, to continue the conflict with the Palestinians, but to achieve economic growth and a higher standard of living. He is not prepared to understand that peace is an essential condition for a healthy and thriving economy.

Now it is true that it is possible, for a certain amount of time, to enjoy a reasonable economic situation even without peace, but that doesn't work for an extended period. Because without peace everything is unstable, everything is likely to collapse at any moment. Remember the severe economic crisis during the second intifada?

An economy is built on expectations, and when Israel turns into an isolated state and a pariah, its risk level rises and large numbers of companies all over the world do not want to have anything to do with it. Already there are large workers' organizations that boycott Israeli products, and ports where they are not prepared to offload Israeli goods. And this merely gets worse by the day. It was with good reason that the Governor of the Bank of Israel, Stanley Fischer, got so upset this week when he heard about the possibility of trade with Turkey being affected, and said that this would have a detrimental effect on Israel's economy. And we have not yet mentioned the giant defense budget which comes at the expense of infrastructures, society and welfare, and which is a result of the ongoing conflict.

That is to say, it is impossible to perform a miracle. It is not possible to enjoy a stable economy that grows over an extended period and supplies decent social services, without achieving peace.

At a meeting held this week between Netanyahu and Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the prime minister said he was blushing as he left the room. He was referring to the affectionate slaps on the face he had received from the rabbi. But the truth of the matter is that there should have been another reason for blushing - the shame Netanyahu should feel for having brought us to this deepest of low points, isolation and weakness.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

THE ISRAELIS ARE HOSTAGES

ISRAELI SPORTS ARE CHANGING ALL OF JEWISH HISTORY, AND ARE PUTTING AN END TO ITS GLORY.

BY YOSSI SARID

 

Muscular Israel has had two difficult weeks: Athletes asked why they should do a high jump when it's possible to use a pole; discouraged tennis players fell on their rackets; judoka sprawled on the mattress even before they managed to say jujitsu; basketball players challenged a Teuton Goliath, but he dunked a ball right before their eyes; and soccer players, descendants of the Maccabees, were actually defeated by the Greeks. Israeli sports are changing all of Jewish history, and are putting an end to its glory.

The failure would have been less resounding were it not for the roaring arrogance prior to every contest. Although sclerosis is one of the signs of national pathology, it won't be any different the next time; cut and save.

Sports are only a parable and they have many morals, which share a common denominator: a disconnect from reality, an unrealistic self-image and a God who is too great, who doesn't always adapt the miracles to the needs. And we are preparing for the next war as for the next World Cup, as for the previous European Championship.

If only we could jump and bat and score baskets and goals only on our home court - let Yossi beat Yossi - and we didn't have to compete outside; if only we could win and lose here, among ourselves, and without any 'there,' without that disgusting need to compare and to be equal. Why not keep to ourselves, dwell alone, and not be counted among the nations? After all, we know that the entire world is against us and won't miss an opportunity to prove it. In that case, why play with it, and alongside it?

How happy we were when the OECD agreed to accept us into its ranks, which are the front rows of the world: Europe is here, just like Judea and Samaria. It was a bad bargain, of course, a recipe for bitter disappointment. Since then we have been flooded with statistics that only embarrass us, presenting us as we really are, and not as we thought we were. It used to be warmer and tastier, when we cooked in our own juice.

Without all those international indexes, we wouldn't have known that there are more poor people in Israel than in any other developed country; without all the comparisons, we wouldn't have known that we're No.1 in the Western world when it comes to the social gap; that the cost of living here is not logical and not fair; that housing in Paris is cheaper than in Tel Aviv, and the same is true of the yogurt in London.

And we wouldn't have been fully aware of the situation of our children-students, stuck on the bottom rung of the ladder of achievement; we would have continued to believe that they are the smartest, because they're ours and they're Jews, and they're the only ones who get to study the Jewish heritage and to visit the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. And we wouldn't have known that the classrooms in our schools are the most crowded, and the teachers' salary is the lowest, and the investment per child is too low. And we wouldn't have known that among the 100 leading universities, there is not a single local one. That's because the OECD and the other hostile organizations decided to pour salt on our wounds and to expose them to everyone.

How good it is to be in the dark, when the illuminated facts don't shuffle the pack of nice verses about how "all Jews are responsible for one another"; how nice not to know our place on the ladder of corruption, when even the Kirya Defense Department headquarters is becoming the rich man's Ronit Farm, and the Ofer family's Dead Sea (Works ) really is the lowest place.

The Israelis are like hostages, who are comfortable in the paradise of the blind. Sometimes they feel like stopping the world in order to get off; maybe we'll submit an official request for resignation to the United Nations, the OECD, and the Olympic Committee. But there's also another option: to stop in order finally to get on board.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

SEPTEMBER - THE TIME HAS ARRIVED FOR A TRIAL

A ROUTINE OF COMMISSIONS OF INQUIRY, INTERNATIONAL ARREST WARRANTS AND LAW-ENFORCEMENT ACTIONS IN MID-OCEAN, HAVE LED US TO FORGET A TRIVIAL FACT - ISRAELI LAW IS TERRITORIAL

BY ITAMAR MANN

 

The image of a diplomatic or legal tsunami coming down on Israel from the outside stresses the somewhat strange silence regarding the legal whirlwind that the Palestinian declaration of independence is causing inside. According to Michael Sfard, for example ("The legal tsunami is on its way," Haaretz, April 29 ), after the declaration the question whether Israel Defense Forces officers will be put on trial will no longer be decided in Jerusalem but in Ramallah.

But before the question of what will happen at the Muqata, and before taking off for The Hague, it is worthwhile to tarry for a while in the home court. A routine of commissions of inquiry, international arrest warrants and law-enforcement actions in mid-ocean, have led us to forget a trivial fact - Israeli law is territorial. The question of whether the territories have turned into an independent Palestinian state will, with the declaration, become a question in Israeli internal law. The wellspring of petitions submitted to the High Court of Justice with regard to the territories will not dry up by itself when the autumn arrives. However, it will not be possible to rule on these petitions without deciding the question of the authority to discuss them.

After the disengagement from Gaza in 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that it did not have the authority to discuss petitions from residents of Gaza who are outside the borders of the state of Israel. Now it will be even more clear that we are talking about another country. The court will not be able to assume the authority to discuss what is happening in the territories as if nothing had happened. Within a few weeks, it is likely that a Palestinian state will become a new member of the United Nations, if it gets a majority - as expected - in the General Assembly. New members that are cognized in a process like this generally win recognition from the countries of the world. Nevertheless, the process will not oblige Israel legally to recognize the new member and to send an ambassador to Ramallah.

However, this is not the case when referring to intervention in the territory of a country that has been recognized by the UN. There is a prohibition against intervention of this kind whether by a state that recognized the new state or by states that did not recognize it. Intervention by the Israeli Supreme Court in what is happening in the territories is likely to be considered, in this case, as a disruption of their sovereignty that entails sanctions according to international law.

Even if the aggression is a routine matter (on the assumption that the IDF and the settlers do not withdraw from the Palestinian state ), the Supreme Court will be bound by the declaration of independence and will have to take its hands off the territories. The judicial authority will not be able to blatantly violate rules of customary international law - the end of the era of petitions will be marked by a unilateral withdrawal of the legal system.

Certainly many people will say that judicial recognition of this kind of a Palestinian state is not the duty of the judicial authority. They expect the court to show "judicial restraint." However, it will be difficult to accuse a court that clears its table of so many petitions - the majority of which deal with human rights - of being unrestrained. It is precisely in the total passivity that will be demanded of it, that the court will have a head-on confrontation with the government's policy, and that is a good thing. It will no longer be possible to abandon the issue of recognizing a Palestinian state to the government's policy alone, or to lift up one's eyes to the international institutions.

The question that has to be weighed now is not only if Israel has an interest in supporting a Palestinian state (from the political point of view ), or whether it will promote any kind of ideal of justice (from the moral point of view ). A declaration of independence raises a question about the legal restrictions on the state of Israel, even if it does not want that. Contrary to the first two questions, the court is in an advantageous position to answer the last question. It is precisely when the court closes its door to another Palestinian whose land has been stolen, that it will become the first government arm in Israel to recognize the independence of Palestine.

 

The writer is a doctoral student in the Law Faculty of Yale University

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

THE JOBS SPEECH

 

With more than 14 million people out of work and all Americans fearing a double-dip recession, President Obama stood face to face Thursday night with a Congress that has perversely resisted lifting a finger to help. Some Republicans refused to even sit and listen. But those Americans who did heard him unveil an ambitious proposal — more robust and far-reaching than expected — that may be the first crucial step in reigniting the economy.

 

Perhaps as important, they heard a president who was lately passive but now newly energized, who passionately contrasted his vision of a government that plays its part in tough times with the Republicans' vision of a government starved of the means to do so.

 

The president's program was only a start, and it was vague on several important elements, notably a direct path to mortgage relief for troubled borrowers. And some of the tax cuts for employers may prove ineffective. Nonetheless, at $447 billion, the plan is large enough to potentially lower the unemployment rate and broad enough to be a significant stimulus.

 

As Mr. Obama pointed out, virtually every proposal on his agenda has been accepted over the years by Democrats and an earlier generation of Republicans that was not reflexively opposed to a recession-fighting fiscal policy. This generation is different, and the president's challenge to purely partisan resistance was forceful and clear.

 

"The question is whether, in the face of an ongoing national crisis, we can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy," he said.

 

Though he went on too long, he was authoritative in demanding that Congress pass his plan quickly and in laying out its benefits for average Americans. He directly, even mockingly, challenged the increasingly nihilistic Republican view that government's very presence is noxious. Just as Lincoln helped start the transcontinental railroad and land-grant colleges, he said, the two parties must together push the country past its economic crisis. Waiting for the next election will waste valuable time, he said.

 

"The people who sent us here — the people who hired us to work for them — they don't have the luxury of waiting 14 months," he said. "Some of them are living week to week, paycheck to paycheck, even day to day. They need help, and they need it now."

 

At the core of his plan are two cuts in the payroll tax — one for employers and one for employees — that have long been embraced by Republicans. The employee cut would reduce the tax to 3.1 percent of income instead of the 4.2 percent negotiated last year. (It was 6.2 percent originally.) Although it could have been better targeted to low- and middle-income families, it will put money in people's pockets quickly and increase consumer demand.

 

For employers, the plan would halve the payroll tax for most small and medium-size businesses and would provide an incentive for hiring by temporarily removing the tax for new employees (and on raises for existing ones). Companies would also get a $4,000 tax credit for hiring anyone out of work for more than six months. Unemployment insurance would be extended for five million people. Though Mr. Obama said more Americans would be able to refinance their homes at low interest rates, he did not say how.

 

The plan would provide $35 billion in state aid to prevent up to 280,000 teacher layoffs while hiring tens of thousands more, along with additional police officers and firefighters. It would create jobs to modernize 35,000 schools across the country. And it would accelerate $50 billion in improvements for highways, railroads, transit and aviation.

 

Though the plan would be paid for by more deficit reduction, he left those vital details until later. It was gratifying to hear him call for higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, but his warning of cuts to Medicare and Medicaid — lifelines to the most vulnerable — raised concerns about trading one important program for another.

 

We hope Mr. Obama keeps his promise to take his proposals all over the country. The need to act is urgent.

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

LOST IN THE FOG

 

As they debated at the Reagan library Wednesday night, the Republican presidential candidates seemed lost in a separate, frivolous galaxy from the sobering economic reality that President Obama was trying to confront. A public desperate for ideas about economic revival heard an astonishing argument about whether Social Security is a hoax, along with a fight about which states were more effective in luring low-wage jobs from other states.

 

The Republican Party has already demonstrated its lack of interest in rebuilding the economy, preferring instead to use stagnation as a club to dismantle President Obama's agenda and damage his chances for re-election. Much of that was on display at the debate, where Representative Michele Bachmann wrongly insisted that health care reform was a principal reason for high unemployment. Other candidates blamed the minimum wage, or corporate taxes (widely evaded through loopholes) or unspecified "federal regulations" and bureaucrats.

 

If only the American entrepreneur could be free from a crushing burden of taxes and regulations, jobs would flow, bemoaned Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. He did not mention that federal income taxes are near a historic low and taxes on investment gains are even lower. He boasted of having "created" a million jobs in Texas in the last decade, leading to a ridiculous quarrel with two former governors, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Jon Huntsman Jr. of Utah, over who had a better record of job creation.

 

Governors, of course, don't create private-sector jobs. Most often, they engage in race-to-the-bottom competitions to lure companies from one state to the other, or they take advantage of natural resources, location or climate. The job growth in Texas was largely the result of the oil and gas boom, increased American trade with Mexico and heavy federal spending. Many of those jobs are less than desirable: the state has one of the highest percentages of hourly workers who are paid the minimum wage and is dead last in health-insurance coverage.

 

Mr. Romney released his own prescription for growth this week, full of largely discredited ideas like cutting the taxes on capital gains and corporations, repealing health care reform and reducing regulations. But at least he stood up to defend Social Security from Mr. Perry's charge that the program is a "monstrous lie" and a Ponzi scheme. It is mind-boggling that the Republicans should be debating the value of Social Security as the economy teeters and millions worry about their retirement. But Mr. Perry isn't ashamed of his willful ignorance. As he said at the debate: "I don't care what anyone says."

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

DAMAGE FROM BRAIN STENTS

 

Americans eager to try the newest cures and willing to trust their doctors' judgment might have second thoughts about seeking experimental treatments given the disturbing results of a clinical trial of a new brain procedure. The trial involved inserting wire mesh stents into the brain arteries of patients at high risk of a second stroke. The stents were supposed to keep the arteries open, but the patients suffered strokes and died at such an alarming rate that the trial had to be stopped.

 

The tiny stents had been approved for humanitarian use by the Food and Drug Administration in 2005 for patients for whom routine medical treatments had failed. That approval was based on a 45-person trial that lacked a control group for comparing how well stents worked. Optimistic surgeons have since inserted the devices in thousands of people, according to the study's lead researcher.

 

Now the rigorous controlled study of some 450 patients has shown that those who simply had aggressive treatment with drugs and lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of stroke fared better than those who got the stents as well. Almost 15 percent of the patients given stents suffered strokes in the first 30 days, compared with less than 6 percent of those given medical therapy alone.

 

This case raises the question of whether the F.D.A. should demand more rigorous trials before a device is granted a humanitarian exemption. It clearly shows the value of conducting rigorous controlled studies with enough patients to provide meaningful results. This is just the kind of "comparative effectiveness" research that the national health care reforms seek to promote.

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

STIMULUS FOR SKEPTICS

BY DAVID BROOKS

 

A few years ago, Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen M. Reinhart wrote the definitive guide to the current economic downturn, a book called "This Time Is Different." Rogoff and Reinhart studied data from eight centuries of financial crises. They found that banking-crisis recessions are worse than normal recessions. They last longer.

 

In these recessions, it took an average of six years for housing prices to stop their decline. Unemployment rates were high or rising for an average of five years. Government debt increased by an average of more than 86 percent.

 

The general lesson I take from this history is that policy makers stuck in a financial recession should probably think about the long term. You're going to be stuck with a lousy economy anyway. Anything you do to try to boost the growth numbers next month or next quarter is going to be overwhelmed by the underlying forces — the continuing housing overhang, the gradual deleveraging process, the lingering mood of fear and anxiety.

 

You might as well use the winter of recuperation to take care of the fundamentals. Work hard to fix the education system, the tax code, the fiscal mess and the regulatory system. None of these things will produce short-term benefits. But when the recession finally does run its course, the economy will be ready to surge. Paradoxically, you have more power to influence these fundamental issues than you do next month's jobs report.

 

There's only one problem with this long-term orientation. Suppose in the middle of the winter of recuperation the economy stops recuperating? Suppose instead of grinding forward, the economy starts sliding back? In these circumstances, do you still have the luxury of thinking about the long term? Don't you have to try to reverse things here and now?

 

This is the problem the Obama administration is facing. Like everybody else, it has seen a sluggish economy come grinding to a halt. There is clearly now a significant risk of a double-dip recession. That would be terrible for America's workers, fiscal situation and psyche. This prospect is enough to shock even us stimulus skeptics out of our long-term focus. It's enough to force us to contemplate the possibility of another stimulus package.

 

The next question is this: Does the administration have any stimulus ideas that could actually stimulate? Thursday night the president gave one of the most forceful and compelling domestic policy speeches of his presidency. His proposals were drawn from the middle of the ideological spectrum and were selected to appeal to people who don't put a lot of faith in government spending. There's a payroll tax cut, a small business tax cut, infrastructure spending, subsidies so states don't have to lay off cops, firefighters and teachers, and a plan to use unemployment insurance to subsidize temporary work for the unemployed to get them back involved in the labor force.

 

Republicans have supported most of these ideas at one time or another. Still, let's not sugarcoat things. Recent stimulus packages have not exactly lived up to the hype. Temporary tax cuts generally don't lead to much job creation. Given the long lead times involved, infrastructure spending is an odd way to combat a double dip that might be starting right now. Job subsidies often go to companies that would have hired the people anyway. One recent study showed that a plurality of the people hired under the last stimulus package already had jobs; they were just switching from one to another.

 

In short, the administration is putting forth a package to prevent a double-dip recession that may not come to pass with a series of measures that may not work.

 

Yet it's hard to walk away. The prospect of a double dip is truly horrifying. What happens if next months job's report comes in negative? Or the one after that? Believe me, Congress will be rushing to do something then.

 

Personally, my bottom line is this: I think the president has earned a second date. He's put together a moderate set of stimulus ideas. His plan may not be enough to jolt prosperity, but it might maintain its current slow growth.

 

If he comes up with his own deficit proposal that pays for his programs with some serious entitlement reforms (and not merely with some boilerplate "let's tax the rich" plan), then Republicans would be wise to work with him to make his growth ideas more effective.

 

The mainstream economic view is that we should combine near-term stimulus with long-range austerity. Up until now, the political system has been unable to perform this two-stage approach. Republicans won't touch spending, and Democrats won't touch entitlement reform.

 

The president clearly wants to give it a final shot. His tone on Thursday was feisty and will please Democrats. But the substance was heterodox and worth pursuing. In this moment of peril, the country needs an insurance policy against the double dip.

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

SETTING THEIR HAIR ON FIRE

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

First things first: I was favorably surprised by the new Obama jobs plan, which is significantly bolder and better than I expected. It's not nearly as bold as the plan I'd want in an ideal world. But if it actually became law, it would probably make a significant dent in unemployment.

 

Of course, it isn't likely to become law, thanks to G.O.P. opposition. Nor is anything else likely to happen that will do much to help the 14 million Americans out of work. And that is both a tragedy and an outrage.

 

Before I get to the Obama plan, let me talk about the other important economic speech of the week, which was given by Charles Evans, the president of the Federal Reserve of Chicago. Mr. Evans said, forthrightly, what some of us have been hoping to hear from Fed officials for years now.

 

As Mr. Evans pointed out, the Fed, both as a matter of law and as a matter of social responsibility, should try to keep both inflation and unemployment low — and while inflation seems likely to stay near or below the Fed's target of around 2 percent, unemployment remains extremely high.

 

So how should the Fed be reacting? Mr. Evans: "Imagine that inflation was running at 5 percent against our inflation objective of 2 percent. Is there a doubt that any central banker worth their salt would be reacting strongly to fight this high inflation rate? No, there isn't any doubt. They would be acting as if their hair was on fire. We should be similarly energized about improving conditions in the labor market."

 

But the Fed's hair is manifestly not on fire, nor do most politicians seem to see any urgency about the situation. These days, the best — or at any rate the alleged wise men and women who are supposed to be looking after the nation's welfare — lack all conviction, while the worst, as represented by much of the G.O.P., are filled with a passionate intensity. So the unemployed are being abandoned.

 

O.K., about the Obama plan: It calls for about $200 billion in new spending — much of it on things we need in any case, like school repair, transportation networks, and avoiding teacher layoffs — and $240 billion in tax cuts. That may sound like a lot, but it actually isn't. The lingering effects of the housing bust and the overhang of household debt from the bubble years are creating a roughly $1 trillion per year hole in the U.S. economy, and this plan — which wouldn't deliver all its benefits in the first year — would fill only part of that hole. And it's unclear, in particular, how effective the tax cuts would be at boosting spending.

 

Still, the plan would be a lot better than nothing, and some of its measures, which are specifically aimed at providing incentives for hiring, might produce relatively a large employment bang for the buck. As I said, it's much bolder and better than I expected. President Obama's hair may not be on fire, but it's definitely smoking; clearly and gratifyingly, he does grasp how desperate the jobs situation is.

 

But his plan isn't likely to become law, thanks to Republican opposition. And it's worth noting just how much that opposition has hardened over time, even as the plight of the unemployed has worsened.

 

In early 2009, as the new Obama administration tried to come to grips with the crisis it inherited, you heard two main lines from critics on the right. First, they argued that we should rely on monetary policy rather than fiscal policy — that is, that the job of fighting unemployment should be left to the Fed. Second, they argued that fiscal actions should take the form of tax cuts rather than temporary spending.

 

Now, however, leading Republicans are against tax cuts — at least if they benefit working Americans rather than rich people and corporations.

 

And they're against monetary policy, too. In Wednesday night's Republican presidential debate, Mitt Romney declared that he would seek a replacement for Ben Bernanke, the Fed chairman, essentially because Mr. Bernanke has tried to do something (though not enough) about unemployment. And that makes Mr. Romney a moderate by G.O.P. standards, since Rick Perry, his main rival for the presidential nomination, has suggested that Mr. Bernanke should be treated "pretty ugly."

 

So, at this point, leading Republicans are basically against anything that might help the unemployed. Yes, Mr. Romney has issued a glossy, well-produced "jobs plan," but it might best be described as 59 bullet points with nothing there — and certainly nothing to justify his assertion, bordering on megalomania, that he would create no fewer than 11 million jobs in four years.

 

The good news in all this is that by going bigger and bolder than expected, Mr. Obama may finally have set the stage for a political debate about job creation. For, in the end, nothing will be done until the American people demand action.

 

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THE NEWYORK TIMES

THE LINGERING INJUSTICE OF ATTICA

BY HEATHER ANN THOMPSON

 

Philadelphia

FORTY years ago today, more than 1,000 inmates at Attica Correctional Facility began a major civil and human rights protest — an uprising that is barely mentioned in textbooks but nevertheless was one of the most important rebellions in American history.

 

A forbidding institution that opened in 1931, Attica, roughly midway between Buffalo and Rochester, was overcrowded and governed by rigid and often capricious penal practices.

 

The guards were white men from small towns in upstate New York; the prisoners were mostly urban African-Americans and Puerto Ricans. They wanted decent medical care so that an inmate like Angel Martinez, 21, could receive treatment for his debilitating polio. They wanted more humane parole so that a man like L. D. Barkley, also 21, wouldn't be locked up in a maximum security facility like Attica for driving without a license. They also wanted less discriminatory policies so that black inmates like Richard X. Clark wouldn't be given the worst jobs, while white prisoners were given the best. These men first tried writing to state officials, but their pleas for reform were largely ignored. Eventually, they erupted.

 

Over five days, Americans sat glued to their televisions as this uprising unfolded. They watched in surprise as inmates elected representatives from each cellblock to negotiate on their behalf. They watched in disbelief as these same inmates protected the guards and civilian employees they had taken hostage.

 

They also saw the inmates request the presence of official "observers" to ensure productive and peaceful interactions with the state. These eventually included the New York Times columnist Tom Wicker; the radical lawyer William M. Kunstler; politicians like Arthur O. Eve, John R. Dunne and Herman Badillo; and ministers as well as activists.

 

As the rebellion wore on, and the lawn around Attica filled with hundreds of heavily armed state troopers, these observers worried that Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, having already refused to grant amnesty to the inmates if they surrendered, would turn to force. This, they knew, would result in a massacre.

 

Several observers begged the governor to come to Attica. In lieu of amnesty, they reasoned, his presence might at least assure the inmates that the state would honor any agreement it made with them and prevent any reprisals should they end their protest. Rockefeller wouldn't consider it.

 

On the morning of Sept. 13, 1971, he gave the green light for helicopters to rise suddenly over Attica and blanket it with tear gas. As inmates and hostages fell to the ground blinded, choking and incapacitated, more than 500 state troopers burst in, riddling catwalks and exercise yards with thousands of bullets. Within 15 minutes the air was filled with screams, and the prison was littered with the bodies of 39 people — 29 inmates and 10 hostages — who lay dead or dying. "I could see all this blood just running out of the mud and water," one inmate recalled. "That's all I could see."

 

Incredibly, state officials claimed that the inmates, not the troopers, had killed the hostages. Meanwhile, scores of inmates who had survived the assault were tortured. Enraged troopers, and not a few correctional officers, forced these men, many of whom had been shot multiple times, to crawl naked across shattered glass and to run a gantlet as fists, gun butts and nightsticks rained down on their bodies. Investigators from the state police, the very entity that had led the assault, were then asked to determine what had gone wrong — all but guaranteeing that only inmates, not troopers, would face charges. Public opinion toward the inmates, once sympathetic, gradually turned against them.

 

The hostages were also treated miserably. The state offered families of dead hostages small checks, which they cashed to tide them over in this difficult time, but it did not tell them that taking this money meant forgoing their right to sue the state for sizable damages.

 

Much of the nation, however, never heard this history. Had it not been for the legal fight waged by inmates to hold the state accountable, and the testimony provided later by surviving hostages and their families, there might have been no official record of these brutal acts.

 

In 1997, the inmates were awarded damages for the many violations of their civil rights and, though the state fought that judgment, in 2000 it had to pay out a settlement of $8 million. In 2005, the state reached a settlement with the guards and other workers for $12 million. The vast majority of the inmates and guards got far less than they deserved.

 

Despite having to pay damages, 40 years later, the State of New York still has not taken responsibility for Attica. It has never admitted that it used excessive force. It has never acknowledged that its troopers killed inmates and guards. It has never admitted that those who surrendered were tortured, nor that employees were misled.

 

We have all paid a very high price for the state's lies and half-truths and its refusal to investigate and prosecute its own. The portrayal of prisoners as incorrigible animals contributed to a distrust of prisoners; the erosion of hard-won prison reforms; and the modern era of mass incarceration. Not coincidentally, it was Rockefeller who, in 1973, signed the law establishing mandatory prison terms for possession or sale of relatively small amounts of drugs, which became a model for similar legislation elsewhere.

 

As America begins to rethink the wisdom of mass imprisonment, Attica reminds us that prisoners are in fact human beings who will struggle mightily when they are too long oppressed. It shows as well that we all suffer when the state overreacts to cries for reform.

 

Heather Ann Thompson, an associate professor of history at Temple University, is writing a book on the Attica uprising.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

WHEN IT RAINS ...

Those who follow weather forecasts in print, on TV or some other form of the media were unlikely to be surprised by the record rainfall in the Chattanooga area on Monday. The possibility, indeed likelihood, of record-shattering precipitation was widely predicted. Still, the deluge and its aftermath are causing hardship and inconvenience for tens of thousands of area residents.

That should not be a surprise -- given the record 9.49 inches of rain in Chattanooga. It was the most rain ever in the city in any 24-hour period and broke the previous record set in 1886 by almost 2 inches, according to Kate Guillet, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Morristown, Tenn. Monday's rains were significant from a meteorological standpoint.

Though rainfall was widespread, the Chattanooga area was the hardest hit by this particular system spawned by Lee, first a tropical storm, then a depression, Guillet said. "It [Monday's storm] was a very unusual event. That amount of rain in that amount of time occurs only about every 500 years."

Monday's rains, which lingered into Tuesday, brought familiar problems to the area. As creeks and rivers filled, mostly minor flooding occurred, prompting many road closures and a few evacuations during the late morning and afternoon on Monday. High winds Monday night exacerbated the problems, bringing down trees and power lines. By dawn Tuesday, tens of thousands of customers of the EPB and other area utility companies were without service. The effort to restore power began promptly.

Even with every available local worker and crews from out of town working, it will take some time to do so. A spokesman or the EPB said late Tuesday afternoon that about 22,700 homes and business were without power, adding that the utility company hoped to restore service to a majority of its customers within 24 hours. Still, it could be Thursday evening before complete restoration is accomplished. Power interruptions, of course, are one of many problems caused by the record-breaking downpour.

Many schools in the area were either closed Monday or started classes on a delayed schedule. And despite the effort of public works and utility company crews in several jurisdictions, some roads in the area remained either covered by water or blocked by trees, wires or other debris. Still, it could have been worse, especially if the record rain had fallen on waterlogged ground.

Kent Frantz, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, Ga., said that flooding in the region could have been far more extensive. The area was extremely dry, he said and many streams, creeks and rivers in the area had low flows. "That gives a whole lot of room to work with ... normally when an area receives this much rain -- 6-10 inches over a widespread area -- you're in trouble."

This time, though, the ground was able to absorb a great deal of moisture and the impact of the record rainfall was relatively minor. In Northwest Georgia, he said, most flooding was relatively minor, though a few areas did experience what he termed moderate flooding. The weather, however, should abet recovery efforts.

"The long-range forecast looks pretty good for a while," Frantz said Tuesday. Those who experienced Monday's abundant rain and who are coping with its aftermath can be thankful for that.

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TIMES FREE PRESS

 

ALARMING LACK OF JOB CREATION IN AUGUST

To tens of millions of Americans who have no jobs or who cannot get enough hours at their part-time jobs to support themselves and their families, the most recent employment report will not come as any surprise.

In August, there was no net increase of jobs in the U.S. economy, and the unemployment rate remained stuck at 9.1 percent. That was the worst jobs report since last September, according to the Labor Department.

The alarming jobs figure in August seemed to take quite a few experts unawares. Economists had predicted -- or perhaps hoped -- that a net 93,000 jobs would be created in August, so it was an unpleasant surprise when new jobs were not created.

In fact, from June through August, job creation averaged only about 35,000 positions per month. That's obviously preferable to actually losing jobs, but that number is not nearly enough to keep up with the normal growth of our nation's workforce.

The United States needs to be producing about a quarter of a million new jobs a month to begin making progress against our high unemployment rate. The indicators from the past few months -- and the ongoing push in Washington to throw good spending after bad -- do not suggest that major private-sector job growth will be happening anytime in the near future.

Considering our high unemployment -- as well as the continuing housing market collapse, low consumer confidence and economic expansion of only 0.7 percent in the first half of this year -- can there really be much doubt that we face the serious possibility of another recession?

And even if we technically do not fall into a new recession, the likelihood of robust growth seems remote at best.

"[E]ven if the U.S. economy doesn't start to contract again, any expansion is going to be very, very modest and fall well short of what would be needed to drive the still-elevated unemployment rate lower," Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics, told The Associated Press.

President Barack Obama plans to deliver a big speech later this week on his plan to create jobs. But it is expected to be more of the same -- lots of government spending and borrowing to "stimulate" the economy.

We would rather he give a speech candidly acknowledging that the previous stimulus didn't work, and that the federal government is going to get out of the way of the free-market economy, cease its threats of tax increases, and roll back undue, job-killing regulations in ObamaCare and other unwieldy programs.

But we won't hold our breath waiting for that speech from our big-spending president.

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TIMES FREE PRESS

 

POSTAL SERVICE NEEDS HELP

U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe minced no words Tuesday in a meeting with members of a Senate committee on Tuesday. Without Congressional action, Donahoe told the lawmakers, that the Postal Service will default on a multibillion dollar payment due the U.S. Treasury this month and that it could run out of money to operate sometime next year. Congress should not allow either to occur.

The Postal Service's problems are well documented. The agency has been hammered by the economic slowdown and by the continuing consumer shift from first-class mail to email. The situation is dire. The Postal Service lost $8 billion last year and could lose that much or more this year -- despite job cuts and local post office closures. Clearly, some remedy is in order.

Congress holds the key to restoring a bit of fiscal stability to the Postal Service. While it does not provide funds to operate the post office, it has considerable say in how it operates. Congress mandates, for example, that the agency provide universal service, certain employment rules and that it prepay retiree health benefits. The Postal Service does not have the money to meet the latter requirement, a payment of $5.5 billion due by the end of this month.

Even if the Postal Service could make the payment, that wouldn't end the crisis. The agency still needs to cut other costs. That's difficult given the agency's mandates and the political pressures it faces from lawmakers, especially rural ones, to maintain unprofitable post offices and from big business that has a vested interest in keeping mailing costs, especially for bulk mail low.

Balancing such competing interests -- consumers, politicians, big business -- would be hard at any time. It is especially difficult in the current partisan atmosphere in Washington. There is some bipartisan support for remedies to help the Postal Service, though even the most ardent backers of such legislation admit they are mostly short-term solutions to a long-term problem. A broader view is needed.

Donahoe told the Senate committee that the Postal Service doesn't want taxpayer money. He said he wanted to get the agency's finances in order. That's the right approach, but Congress needs to help by helping to develop plans to streamline the service, even if it includes closing posts offices and reducing delivery days. Whether legislators are willing to do so remains to be seen. If they treat the looming Postal Service crisis like they did the debt-ceiling debate, then the Postal Service and all who still depend on it are in trouble.

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TIMES FREE PRESS

 

CONGRESS' LOW JOB APPROVAL RATINGS

Congress hasn't been exactly popular in a long time, and two recent polls drove that point home again. In an Associated Press-GfK poll, only 12 percent of those surveyed said Congress is doing a good job, compared with 87 percent who think Congress is on the wrong track. A Gallup poll put the disapproval at 84 percent, compared with 13 percent approval.

There can be many reasons for the unpopularity of lawmakers. Sometimes they must take difficult but necessary votes for the good of the country.

But all too often, they bring disfavor on themselves with unwise legislation. Think of the billions of dollars wasted, for instance, on harmful ethanol subsidies or unconstitutional federal support for Amtrak -- to say nothing of much bigger and extremely unpopular budget items such as ObamaCare.

And now, with a bipartisan "super committee" of Congress tasked with proposing, before Thanksgiving, more than $1 trillion in long-term deficit cuts, Democrats on the committee are zeroing in on tax increases rather than keeping the focus on the excessive spending that caused our huge deficits in the first place.

That's no recipe for enhancing the public's opinion of Congress.

Even when they do the right things, our representatives and senators in Washington will never please everyone. But it would be a refreshing change if they at least did fewer of the obviously wrong things.

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TIMES FREE PRESS

HEAVY RAIN, FLOODING WON'T LAST

While we in the Chattanooga area fortunately haven't experienced, over the past couple of weeks, the weather extremes that some on the East Coast have suffered during the hurricane season, nor the level of severe drought that places such as Texas are enduring, we undoubtedly have been going through some just plain messy weather.

The more than 8 inches of rain that the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee had dropped at Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport by late Monday afternoon surpassed the 24-hour local rainfall record set all the way back in 1886!

More rain fell Tuesday, closing or delaying school in much of the area and causing flooding. Phone service and electricity were out in a number of areas. And some motorists, not heeding warnings and common sense, unsuccessfully tried to drive through flooded areas, only to see their cars stall.

Tragically, at least one local death was attributed to the weather when a woman was struck by a falling tree.

Our "September in the rain" surely will yield before too long to "October's bright blue weather," though. Soon we'll see the seasonal changing of leaf colors, with mild temperatures for a while -- before we get to the chilly season. And even then, we'll likely be blessed with our accustomed mild winter weather.

Experienced Chattanoogans long have said that if you don't like the weather here, just wait 24 hours. It will change.

So as we dodge the current showers, raise our umbrellas and steer clear of flooded areas, we are certain that there's lots of mild weather ahead in these waning days of summer and during the fall, before we have to button up our coats.

And then before we know it, spring will break through again in all its splendor.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

 

DANGEROUS ESCALATION IN TURKISH-ISRAELI TENSIONS

In order to see a better, bigger picture to understand the state of the tension between Turkey and Israel, perhaps we have to list a number of incidents and statements of the past few days.

Here is a cross section:

• Responding to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan's accusation against Israel that the repair of the unmanned reconnaissance planes used by the Turkish army in the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, militants has been delayed for too long, Israeli defense sources said this was not on purpose.

• Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inspected a naval unit and said his navy was a powerful and strategic arm of Israel; that was in response to Erdoğan's statement a day before on more visible and aggressive patrolling of Turkish Navy in the international waters of the Mediterranean.

• Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (of Netanyahu's Likud) said his country would not apologize to Turkey for the Mavi Marmara raid in 2010 in which nine Turks were killed by Israeli soldiers, adding that the Gaza blockade is there to stay. Turkish Transportation Minister Binali Yıldırım said what Israel has done was not much different from what Somalia pirates have been doing.

• The issue was raised by Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov during his visit to Turkey's European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış in Ankara. Bağış reacted to Madenov's "sit and talk" suggestion and said he believed that if nine Bulgarian civilians were killed by Israel, Bulgaria would have acted the same way. The Bulgarian minister's reply was unpleasant to hear for Bağış; he said no Bulgarian citizens have tried to challenge a blockage in international waters.

• The U.S. ambassador to Ankara, Francis Ricciardone, made a statement in Turkish that the U.S. was waiting for the normalization of Turkish-Israeli relations, which is of crucial importance for the stability of the region. He also urged that the door for diplomacy should remain open.

• Erdoğan in the meantime, got an approval from the Arab League to address the forum during his visit to Egypt next week on the issue. Erdoğan lends great importance to his tour to Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, prior to his New York trip to join the General Assembly of the United Nations.

• Turkish President Abdullah Gül told journalists on his way to Russia where he joined the Global Policy Forum, that Israel was "ungrateful" to Turkey for the benefits it sought so far and has become "a burden" for its closest allies. Consolidating Erdoğan's "spoiled boy" denouncement of Israel two days ago, Gül criticized the U.S. Congress for giving support to Netanyahu that the latter could not even enjoy in his own parliament.

Lastly, diplomatic sources point to Sept. 20, when the membership of Palestine as the 194th member in the U.N. will be voted on in New York. The sources see this date as another threshold regarding the tension between Turkey and Israel. The region is warming up dangerously.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

 

 

NOT SO BLACK AND WHITE

The other day, Israeli friends were criticizing me for becoming a "Turkish fanatic," while yesterday Turkish friends were criticizing me for being an "advocate of the Israelis"… No problem, but perhaps there is a need for a summary… The shortest method, of course, is doing it with a Q&A.

1- Irrespective of the mistakes the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, might have made with the Mavi Marmara incident, Israel attacked a Gaza-bound humanitarian aid flotilla even though the flotilla conceded to Israeli demands and rerouted toward Egypt and used excessive force bordering on barbarism – indeed murdering some of the victims after they were taken down – and must therefore be condemned.

It is the legitimate right – and is actually an obligation – for Turkey to expect Israel to issue a formal apology and pay compensation to the victims of the incident. People can say whatever in defense of Israel and its blockade of Gaza, but the blockade is inhuman and illegitimate and causes immense suffering to the people of Gaza. On the deck of the Mavi Marmara, Israel was caught red-handed. It cannot wash its hands so easily and must apologize and agree to pay compensation.

2- Whatever the AKP government might do to fool the world and irrespective of whatever high volume Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other top Turkish officials have been – and rightly so – yelling at Israel at, they cannot hide the fact that they did not sufficiently undertake their responsibilities and indeed tolerated – if not sponsored – the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or İHH, in its attempt to breach the Israeli blockade of Gaza with a "humanitarian aid convoy"… That is, very much like the "furious" and "fanatic" members of the Israeli government, the Turkish government was well aware that more than being a "humanitarian aid convoy," the İHH was dispatching a "political flotilla" that aimed to penetrate the Gaza blockade… Turkey's passport laws were put aside; international navigational requirements were ignored and the İHH was allowed to stage the show with full awareness of the risks involved. Irrespective of the volume of yelling, it is not just the key actor, Israel, that is responsible for the Mavi Marmara tragedy; at least one other country, Turkey, played a supporting role in the tragedy.

3- Is the Gaza blockade legitimate? Israel, of course, has the right to defend its people and take appropriate measures against "stray missiles" fired from Gaza. Yet, neither indiscriminate Gaza bombing, its use of dirty bombs during that bombing and the continued blockade of Gaza can be condoned with the concept of self-defense. Turkey, along with all other respectful members of the international community, must be able to tell Israel "Hey spoiled baby, there is a limit."

4- Hamas is a terrorist organization that has refused to condemn terrorism. However, despite not condemning terrorism, the same Hamas was allowed to participate in elections – indeed the Palestinian Authority was forced by Washington, the European Union and, of course, Israel to allow Hamas to participate in elections, in which the Islamists promptly won. If Hamas is an "elected authority," how can it be ignored; or how can it insist on not giving up the use of force, that is, terrorist methods? For many people living in Gaza and elsewhere, Hamas has simply been a legitimate self-defense organization in response to Israel's inhumane attacks, continued occupation, harassment and violation of inalienable rights.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

 

 

ÖZEL'S SUCCESS REQUIRES NO GOV'T INTERFERENCE IN PROMOTIONS

If you want Gen. Necdet Özel to be successful, the mission, first and foremost, falls on the shoulders of civilian powers…

Why is this so?

It was due to President Abdullah Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's stance that Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, has distanced itself from getting involved with the country's political life and normalized its position.

Nobody has any doubt on this matter.

Well, what will happen now?

How will business be managed? How will the relations develop between the political branch and the armed forces?

These are at the top of the frequently asked questions.

The leader of the civilian power gathered four-star generals and sat at the end of the table alone, yes he did that, but what kind of order will be formed in the future?

How will the relation between the prime minister and the General Staff be structured?

The most important element to be taken care of is for the civilian power to recognize a certain area of action for the General Staff.

General strategic concepts, major expenditures to be made and important decisions must all be processed together with civilian power. (For this reason, the TSK should be reporting to the Defense Ministry.) But if politicians interfere in every field and in every topic, and especially on the subject of promotions, then there will be unease.

Officers should watch their commanders for promotion, not politicians

Promotions are the most crucial point in all armed forces.

If civilian powers adopt a stance as to control all promotions and influence the final decision, they would be making the biggest mistake. This method has been used before and the consequences were bitter. It might look charming for those who hold power to be able to promote one's own man or push forward those who have a similar view with oneself.

But its bill is a heavy one.

Once the army is politicized, then it is very difficult to reverse it. Look at what we have experienced for years…

The military should not look to civilian power for promotion.

Quite the contrary, he should watch his commander. If the officer feels that his politician "brother" will care for him and protect him, whatever his commander says, he will change his view and attitude.

If governments are going to oppose any promotion, they should be able to explain its reasons to the General Staff and persuade Supreme Military Council, or YAŞ.

The mechanism should not be disrupted and nobody should attempt to change the current rules.

In the coming years, whichever party or parties take power, they should continue on with this golden rule.

Let us not forget, if you break this rule once, tomorrow somebody else will try to push their own men forward and it will be the country that will be harmed by the situation the most.

We should end civilian provocation

Now, let us ask the same question to civilian segments:

Do you want Özel to be successful?

If your answer is YES, then we should leave the TSK alone.

What I mean by "leaving alone" is not ignoring the possible mistakes or that nobody should be held accountable. Of course we will hold them accountable and write about mistakes.

What I want to highlight is that some civilian segments should stop provoking the TSK. But we should abandon the attitude of "the country is in tatters, commander, when will you act?" which is voiced by retired officers.

The media should also adopt the same approach.

We have been provoking continually up until now.

Right?

Did we not constantly exert efforts to get them to topple the governments we did not like?

We must now leave behind that attitude.

The media should abandon it, the nationalist circles as well…

They should give up pushing the military into the political struggle.

Be sure that if the media and civilian segments opt for such a change of attitude, our military will be at ease and go back to its own business.

We need the TSK more than ever

You are reading almost everywhere that we are entering a phase when we will need the TSK more than ever.

This is a very correct conclusion.

For a Turkey that wants to have a say in the Middle East, the armed forces is more important than ever.

We only need to look around and we will immediately see it.

Syria's situation is there…

Relations with Israel are becoming tenser…

I am not saying this to point out that a war could erupt.

The TSK has to retain the most effective "deterrent force" in the region.

We have to create an army that does not meddle in politics and has no disputes with civilian governments; instead of that, we need to create a very powerful army with increased firepower.

This mission belongs to the General Staff.

All we can do is support these efforts.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

 

 

ZERO PROBLEMS, A HUNDRED TROUBLES – REVISITED

In "Enemy-less Turkey" in this column less than a year ago, I asked a few questions, hoping that the followers of the science fiction theory dubbed "zero problems" might give a convincing answer:

"Why does Turkey spend billions of dollars in naval systems, including new frigates, corvettes, submarines, coastal surveillance systems and even a 'landing platform dock that can carry up to eight helicopters?' Which country in our seas of peace poses a security threat to Turkey..? None, according to the (national security) threat paper. What, then, justifies the generous naval spending?

"Since Turkey has no enemies in its vicinity… what will it do with new-generation tanks and air-defense systems and frigates and a landing platform dock? Which government would spend tens of billions of dollars on equipment it thinks it will not need?"

Put another away, I was wondering why a country with a strictly no-problems-with-neighbors doctrine would spend $5 billion for new weapon systems every year? Apparently, the founder of the doctrine knew better than me and many others.

The always self-confident Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu set out to work with the ambitious zero-problems-with-neighbors dictum as if the world's most volatile region had waited for him as the promised peacemaker for two millennia. And he has miraculously found millions of "buyers" in the marketplace of ideas, ironically, even among the people he is now in a cold war with, not to mention the naïve sons of Aristotle.

He has traveled half the world more than a few times, shook hands with hostile statesmen, built "brotherly" relations with Muslim leaders in this part of the world, won prize after prize, posed for cameras thousands of times, always smiling, always hopeful for the best fruit: peace.

He built an alliance with Syria, thought he could persuade Iran to give up its nuclear program, thought Aegean disputes would soon go away and thought that Cyprus would finally be reunited. He thought a landmark peace with Armenia was feasible. What's more? "The return of the Ottomans," theoretically, would make al-Quds an Arab-only city, and "we would all happily pray at the al-Aqsa mosque in the Palestinian capital al-Quds."

After two years of hard work Professor Davutoğlu has been able to attain, sadly, a cold war with Israel. That cold war has already turned into a conventional war in the virtual world. An Israeli online news site reported that Turkish hackers "hijacked" 350 Israeli websites last Sunday.

The situation may look calmer, but deep down it may not be so when it comes to our great Muslim brothers and friends, Syria and Iran. Mr. Davutoğlu must be the last person Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would wish to see these days. Tehran's nuclear program goes on at full speed while "zero-problem neighbor" Turkey has agreed to host a NATO radar system on Turkish soil to intercept any future Iranian missile threat. And the head of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, Alaeddin Boroujerdi – no doubt, a brother and friend of Minister Davutoğlu – has made this not-so-brotherly statement: "Muslim countries should not serve NATO's interests."

The situation on the Aegean and Mediterranean is not better. To punish Israel, Turkey has pledged to increase its naval presence and warned against potential joint exploration activity by Cyprus and Israel in the eastern Mediterranean. "This is why we have a military," EU Minister Egemen Bağış said in a threatening tone which naturally was perceived threateningly in Athens.

Greek Foreign Ministry Spokesman Gregory Delavekouras declared Minister Bağış's statement as threatening and commented that: "This conduct is opposed to the policy Turkey has declared: that of zero problems with its neighbors."

Even the country with which we Turks feel as "one nation-two states" apparently feels irritated by its Turkish brothers. WikiLeaks has quoted Azerbaijan's president, İlham Aliyev, as confiding to American diplomats that all his country hopes to do is protect itself from Turkey's neo-Ottomanism and Islamism. So, once again Mr. Davutoglu succeeded at what looks unthinkable: Making nemesis neighbors Armenia and Azerbaijan feel equally distant to Turkey (like the nemesis trio Israel, Syria and Iran do as well).

Apparently, this is not how you build a sea of peace. But why the dramatic ending? There may be dozens of reasons but, speaking of WikiLeaks, I suggest readers start by recalling another cable which quotes a former U.S. ambassador as putting it most realistically: "With Rolls Royce ambitions but Rover resources to cut themselves in on the action, the Turks have to 'cheat' by finding an underdog, a Silajdzic, Meshaal or Ahmadinejad."

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

 

 

THE MODEL IMPOSED ON TÜBA CONTRADICTS INTERNATIONAL CONSENSUS

Science, Industry and Technology Minister Nihat Ergün defines the criticisms against the recent restructuring of the Turkish Academy of Sciences, or TÜBA, as "debates made in haste."

According to Ergün's statement on Wednesday, the government wants to direct TÜBA to become "a place where more organized studies are made instead of a place where famous scientists only carry out individual studies." The minister said that while the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, or TÜBİTAK, would focus on technological research, TÜBA would be made an active component of research in basic sciences and in this framework, new institutes would be formed; at the same time, appointments would be made "based on scientific criteria, not ideological ones."

Scientists select members

The government can very well head for a policy of supporting the basic sciences and set up institutes for this. Also, the government may not be content with the performance of TÜBA and its operating style. But all these thoughts do not change the essence of the problem.

A simple question lies at the essence of the problem: In selecting a member to an academy of sciences, who has the mandate to make a selection according to universal criteria? Scientists or those in political power?

The precise answer to this question is that this mandate belongs to scientists. In fact, when the statutes of the leading academies of the world are reviewed, from the perspective of protecting the autonomy of such institutions, we see that in all of them, the selection of members is absolutely left to the jurisdiction of the scientists. This basic principle is also valid for the Iranian Academy of Sciences.

It is possible to summarize the world consensus on the main criteria about the statutes of the academies of sciences. A) New members are selected by current members on the basis of competence; B) To limit the number of members; C) These institutions are run democratically from bottom to top and D) they are independent of political power, the business world and professional associations…

There are entirely independent academies in terms of resources but one of the sine qua non principles that is also valid for the academies that receive government funds is that their independence is strictly respected.

For a government to appoint the members of an academy is unimaginable, especially in the Western world. An incident was experienced in 2007 in Putin's Russia when the government introduced an initiative to form a council with powers above the Russian Academy of Sciences; the move was repelled with strong resistance from the academy.

Reaction starts in outside world

Well, is TÜBA a flawless institution? Hasn't it made any mistakes? The former rector of Sabancı University, Professor Tosun Terzioğlu, said, "TÜBA may have questionable decisions and practices – and it had some… For example, I think the rejection of Professor Şerif Mardin's membership was wrong. There could very well have been solutions found to eliminate such drawbacks and problems. But the solution to these is not the method introduced by this decree. The fundamental principle is that scientists should select the members."

Terzioğlu drew attention to the fact that during the current government's reign, substantial rises have occurred in funds allocated to scientific research; for example, TÜBİTAK's budget has been increased eight-fold. But after this, he voiced concern that "the positive atmosphere created by this situation in the international science community could be reversed with the recent arrangement."

As a matter of fact, serious publications addressing the international science world such as Science and Nature have already started publishing critical stories of the government's move targeting TÜBA.

But the most important development has been that 11 members of the executive committee of the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies based in New York sent a letter to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan the other day to convey the message that they are "deeply distressed" about the development.

The staff of the Committee on Human Rights of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine in Washington, D.C., serves as the network's secretariat. Its mission includes support for the independence and autonomy of academies of the sciences worldwide. The letter of this network, in short, said, "Any legitimate, respected national academy is self-governing. It elects its own members based on their scientific achievement... [These institutions] remains independent of ... political belief and influence."

This letter is like a harbinger of more reactions to come from the outside world. It seems inevitable that the government's TÜBA move will have a negative effect on the views of respected international science communities toward Turkey.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

 

 

THE EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN: BACK TO POWER POLITICS

In the 1990s the eastern Mediterranean region was characterized by balance-of-power politics. The end of bipolar competition had induced competition among regional powers. Turkey, for instance, developed its strategic thinking on the region then. At that time, the protracted Cyprus conflict was beginning to be viewed in a larger geo-strategic context. Control of sea access, oil transport and influence in the Middle East all became part of the larger strategic constellation. Turkish-Syrian relations deteriorated in the 1990s until the signing of the Adana Agreement in 1998 – something that was also part of Turkey's new strategy. One response from Ankara to the perceived threats was the development of strategic ties with Israel. The two countries had engaged in naval exercises in the eastern Mediterranean; Jordan also participated as an observer. In response, Greece's relations with Syria also developed. Clearly, balance-of-power politics reigned.

After the signing of the Adana agreement in 1998, Turkish-Syrian relations were transformed. The improvement of relations between the two states introduced a new element in the eastern Mediterranean. The policies of the first Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government signaled a change of perspective on the eastern Mediterranean. In addition to the transformation of Turkish-Syrian relations, there was a general improvement in Turkey's relations with the Arab world in general. A new perspective was introduced on the Cyprus issue as well with the support given to the Annan Plan. Turkish-Greek rapprochement that was started by the previous government continued. In fact, Turkey was talking about "peaceful diplomacy and economic interdependence" in the eastern Mediterranean.

Yet two issues began to challenge this policy. First, the Cyprus issue remained unresolved. Second, Turkey's relations with Israel began to deteriorate. As a result, we have been witnessing another change in the political geography of the eastern Mediterranean. One result has been the forging of closer ties between Israel and Greece in recent years. The two countries conducted a joint military exercise in 2008 and Israeli pilots were allowed to practice in Greek airspace. All this culminated in the signing of a security cooperation agreement between the two countries recently.

Another issue that is heating up for some time is related to energy policies. Oil exploration rights around Cyprus have become the subject of a rift between Greek Cyprus and Turkey. The issue has a regional dimension as Greek Cypriots have been signing exclusive economic zone agreements with some eastern Mediterranean countries. The Cyprus energy issue has the potential to escalate.

On the other hand, Turkey has been increasing its military presence in the region. In 2010 a Navy Task Force for the Mediterranean was created. Turkey's response to the U.N. Palmer Report on last year's Gaza flotilla attack also made clear the securitization of politics in the eastern Mediterranean. It seems that we have returned to balance-of-power politics in the region after a very short interval.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

TIT FOR TAT AT THE AIRPORT

I could not help chuckling over the news that "Israeli passengers were harassed by Turkish security at Istanbul airport," in retaliation for the treatment of Turks at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport. The following opinion piece of mine, which appeared in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz six years ago (May 1, 2005), explains why:

Let me Travel in Peace

Semih D. Idiz

I am the diplomatic editor for the Turkish network CNN Türk. I was in Israel recently to attend a conference at Ben-Gurion University. Following that I had the pleasure of interviewing your foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, on Dec. 30. On finishing my duties I headed for Ben-Gurion Airport at 3:30 a.m. on Dec. 31 to catch my 6:45 a.m. flight back to Turkey. Having been to Israel before, I was prepared for the security procedures, including the cross questioning by security officials there. Turkey, like Israel, also suffers from terrorism, so I am hardly in a position to object to this. I also travel frequently to the U.S. and Europe, so it is not as if I am a novice in this business.

But I feel bound by duty to object this time, seeing as the whole procedure at the airport took on a surreal – and I must say incomprehensible – turn as two young people, a girl and a boy, started what can only be characterized as an amateur police cross examination that become stupider and more pointless as time went on, and said more about Israel than me. Another young lad, also on the security staff, came up to where we were standing and started talking to me in Arabic, assuming I was an Arab. I told him his assumption was not only radically wrong, but hid an unpleasant prejudice, but I doubt if he understood what I meant. He tried to cover his mistake with platitudes about a wonderful holiday he spent in Turkey.

My having explained time and again why I was in Israel, including showing my name printed in the official program of the conference at Ben-Gurion University, plus telling them that only hours before that I had interviewed the foreign minister of Israel, was to no avail. Nor was the fact that I dropped the names of influential Israeli friends – including ambassadors and journalists – or that my passport is full of European visas and also has a valid American visa. These kids were determined in their pointless exercise.

Among the many stupidities I was subjected to during the more than two hours that I was kept there was being asked to recite my presentation at Ben-Gurion University. The questions they asked following this showed they had no inkling of what I was talking about, which merely spurred them on to further heights of Pavlovian suspicion. Eventually, having run out of pointless questions, I was subjected to the tour de force: "Why do I live in Ankara?" Why would a Turkish diplomatic editor for a major Turkish network live in Ankara anyway?

My better judgment told me not to create a scene. However, I did think that if this is how a well-known person from a friendly country – who just happened to have interviewed the foreign minister of the land just a few hours previously – is treated, then God help the rest. It is Israel's privilege to treat its visitors as it likes, of course. By the same token, it is my privilege as a Turkish citizen to complain about a treatment, which after the first hour started to defy logic and included a rifling through my personal belongings down to my dirty underwear, and a near strip search.

I realize of course that all I can do in this case is to write this letter – on the advice of my Israeli friends – and lobby the Turkish authorities to reciprocate in kind toward selected Israeli tourists or officials coming to Turkey; of which, as your know, there is no shortage. This I will naturally do. I wonder if an Israelis grilled in the pointless way that I was would have my patience. Something tells me not...

For the original article, please see www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/let-me-travel-in-peace-1.146178.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

UNTAXING THE RICH

Taxation is inherently political, as not only how tax income is spent, but more importantly, how it is collected reflects political choice. However, one would be hard pressed to find an example where an individual, or a group of individuals, voluntarily ask to pay more taxes and are rejected by their governments.

The picture becomes even more puzzling when those same governments are in dire need of income, as there's a general consensus that they may be unable to fulfill their debt obligations if they do not find a sustainable way to shore up their finances.

Yet this is exactly what is happening, and in more than one country. Groups of wealthy businesspeople in the United States, France and Germany have been actively campaigning to pay more taxes – and are apparently being turned down by their respective states, which are in dire need of tax income.

In the U.S., the "struggle" has been going on since at least November 2010, when more than 100 wealthy individuals "organized" to urge President Barack Obama to let the Bush-era tax cuts expire for people making more than $1 million a year. They are still campaigning through the patrioticmillionaires.org website. There are other groups, such as "Responsible Wealth," which have hundreds of wealthy Americans as members.

Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest persons on earth, wrote an article for the New York Times on Aug. 14, saying that Washington should stop "coddling" the rich and raise the top income tax rate.

"While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks," Buffett wrote. "Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as 'carried interest,' thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they'd been long-term investors."

Luca di Montezemolo, the chairman of Italy's Ferrari, announced his support. "I am rich and I am ready to pay more taxes, for reasons of fairness and solidarity," la Repubblica quoted him as saying.

A total of 16 French businesspeople, including the CEOs of Total, Societe Generale, Airbus, Peugeot-Citroen and Liliane Bettencourt, the heiress of L'Oreal, signed a petition, asking to pay more taxes.

In Germany, around 50 wealthy individuals have been "campaigning" to have the government raise the top tax rate since 2009.

In stark contrast, income tax rates for top earners have been falling steadily. In the U.S., this rate was nearly 70 percent in 1981 – today, it is 35 percent. In the same period, tax rates for the richest individuals fell from just below or above 60 percent to around 40 percent in Japan, Germany, France, U.K., Italy and Australia. In Turkey, the figure is also 35 percent.

According to a 2008 International Labour Organization report, the average corporate tax rate worldwide was cut by 10 percentage points between 1993 and 2007.

Needless to say, the years of decline in taxes for top earners were also the years that the gap in incomes has surged. Today, as most of the economies mentioned above face crippling debt crises, their policy makers are working to load the burden on the working classes, even as prominent members of the club of the rich beg to be taxed more!

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I. THE NEWS

KEEPING SECRETS


Does anybody in our top leadership genuinely want to solve Karachi's problems or are they all quite happy to watch the hapless city writhe in pain as they conduct meetings within the confines of luxurious offices and drive around in bulletproof limousines. This appears to be the case given that a comprehensive Joint Investigation Team (JIT) report which directly states why there has been so much bloodshed in Karachi has been lying in the prime minister's office for the last 19 months. It is doubtful that Mr Gilani has found the time to act on the report that was prepared by seven agencies or even to consider implementing its simple, straightforward recommendations. The text of this report, exclusively obtained by this newspaper, reflects the collaborative efforts of key agencies including the Sindh Police, Rangers, Special Branch, the ISI, the IB and the National Crisis Management Cell. The report holds the MQM responsible for the killings of as many as 83 policemen who were involved in the 1992 operation against the party. The target killings dissuaded other law enforcers from acting against party activists again. The report also says that target killings in Karachi began after the MQM split in the 1990s that led to the creation of the Haqiqi faction.


Still more alarming is the portion of the JIT report released to the Supreme Court which includes a detailed confession from Ajmal Pahari, currently in custody, that he had killed no less than 111 people over the last 24 years on orders from London, Nine Zero and South Africa. His victims included policemen, those suspected of collaborating with the rival factions and others. The MQM has said in its defence that Pahari's confession was obtained under duress. Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, however, has found the details 'eye-opening'. The real question is why there have been attempts to cover up things. On Thursday the SC was told that papers on the 1992 Karachi operation have been lost. This does not sound very convincing. The JIT was set up by the interior minister. Why has he since failed to follow up on its findings? Why have the recommendations, which include a proposal for a detailed dialogue between stakeholders, commitments from parties, the hiring of policemen on merit and deweaponisation in Karachi, been ignored? Why has the government been content to do nothing more than twiddle its thumbs? The government must tell us why the JIT report has been ignored and what it intends to do about its findings now that they have come to light.

 

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I. THE NEWS

TERROR IN DELHI

 

Only days before the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, militants have struck the Delhi High Court, providing a grim reminder that extremists remain committed to their activities across the globe. As investigating agencies try to crack the case, initial suspicions have fallen on the Bangladesh-based terror group Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI) that has claimed responsibility for the attack via an email in which it has demanded that Afzal Guru's death sentence be repealed immediately. HuJI's hand is already suspected in this July's Mumbai blasts and in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack at the Chabad House in Colaba. Afzal Guru was awarded the death sentence in 2004 for his role in the 2001 attack on the Indian parliament. An independent Jammu and Kashmir MLA has submitted a resolution seeking clemency for Guru while a petition seeking a life imprisonment term, over the death penalty, is pending with President Pratibha Patil. The home ministry has reportedly recommended that the petition be rejected. In this light, it would not be far-fetched to say that terrorists have decided to systematically target courts that have passed verdicts against terrorism.

The blasts have baffled many in India, not least because they took place barely a kilometre from parliament, which is in session at present. A minor explosion had taken place at almost the same spot this May, highlighting the need for security cameras. Yet security was not increased and no CCTV cameras were installed outside the nine gates of the building. It is clear that militants are exploiting weaknesses in India's security apparatus. At a time when the public mood is already soured by months of anti-corruption protests, the government needs to secure itself against further criticisms of carelessness. It is clear that India needs a comprehensive plan to fight terrorism, including schemes to deradicalise society, transform local policing and carry out aggressive intelligence work. It is also hoped that India will act maturely and understand the need to set its own house in order rather than create unnecessary acrimony by pointing fingers outwards.

 

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I. THE NEWS

AIR SAFETY


Two sets of unconnected incidents highlight the vulnerability of civil aviation to interference on one hand and technical failure on the other. Two PIA international flights had to make unscheduled landings after an email said that there was a bomb on board. The aircraft were flying in opposite directions. One landed in Kuala Lumpur and the other in Istanbul. Both were searched by local bomb disposal teams and no explosives were found. Over 600 passengers were inconvenienced and tens of thousands of dollars of expense incurred to PIA. It may be possible to track the source of the email, but more difficult to track who sent it. This appears to be the first time in the history of civil aviation that two aircraft have been targeted in this way.

The second pair of incidents is no less worrying but for different reasons. Two PIA turbo-prop ATR42-500s suffered engine failure on the same day and had to make emergency landings on a single engine. Nobody was hurt in either incident. The ATR42-500 is designed to operate with a single engine in the event of the failure of one. What is of concern is that a PIA spokesperson has described the incidents as 'happenstance' – which seems to be a curiously offhand way to describe a pair of serious incidents that resulted in emergency landings by identical aircraft. At this stage we cannot know if this truly was 'happenstance' – a technical failure that could not have been foreseen, or if it was a failure in the service and engineering department. The carrier operates seven of these aircraft according to the inventory published online and they are a 'backbone' aircraft on domestic routes. We need to be reassured that corners are not being cut, and that original spares are being used in servicing. The bomb hoaxes are perhaps 'happenstance' – but we can be less certain about the causes of the failure in flight of two engines on relatively new aircraft.

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I. THE NEWS

A WOE SELF-CREATED

AYAZ AMIR

 

I do not know how good a medicine man Dr Zulfiqar Mirza was. As a politician, however, he was a knight of the second order, owing his elevation or any importance he enjoyed to his dear friend the president. But as a fire-breathing, Quran-touching orator he has come into his own. In all its tempestuous history the MQM has been hit by no one as hard as Dr Mirza, although it remains to be seen whether his headlong attack leaves some kind of a permanent mark or is just a passing phenomenon.

But more than his MQM-bashing what is likely to transfix the attention of assorted aficionados is his candid admission that if the occasion demanded he entertained his friends, at his own expense, with drink and was not above taking the occasional glass himself.

Pakistani politicians, or indeed most people in public life, are mealy-mouthed. They don't talk like this and in public at least are given to excessive displays of self-righteousness. Mirza's declaration is a sign of his boldness and is a breath of fresh air. Standards of public life and public behaviour would improve if more people spoke like him. We know how widespread is the habit of drinking, especially amongst certain classes. But you won't catch many people admitting to this in public. We've made a religion of hypocrisy and our forked tongues on this subject in no small measure contribute to this phenomenon.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto famously declared during a campaign rally in 1977 that, yes, he drank but not the blood of the people. The rightwing parties were up against him in that fateful election – fateful in the sense that it led directly to Gen Zia's martial law, about the worst calamity that could befall a disaster-prone country. And they tried to exploit Bhutto's throwaway remark to the full.

Not that it made much of a difference. The masses have other problems in life and they don't wear religion on their sleeves. When Bhutto said what he did the average Pakistani could not suppress his laughter and there was a twinkle in his eyes. We are talking of more than three decades ago when things in general were far less frenzied than they are today. It is the lower-middle classes, and indeed the middle class as it has evolved in Pakistan, the breeding ground of hate and bigotry, the source of so much of the prevailing intolerance, which finds such honesty hard to stomach.

The Pakistan of today is a distorted country, swept by fear and hate. This makes Mirza's admission all the more welcome. When two bottles of liquor (or was it wine?) were allegedly discovered from fetching Ms Atiqa Odho's luggage at Islamabad airport and the Supreme Court, to widespread amusement, took suo motu notice of this incident, I asked in the National Assembly whether it wasn't time to reconsider some of our social restrictions. An enterprising BBC man reported that I was advocating the repeal of the drinking laws, about which I had said not a word. I had made just a general observation. Just shows how the subject of drinking can get people worked up in the Islamic Republic.

But we seriously need to re-examine this issue from a pragmatic point of view. Prohibition hasn't turned us into better Muslims. It has only made us greater hypocrites. Drinking while a big-time activity in Pakistan is a covert activity, carried on behind closed doors. This state of affairs while transforming bootleggers into very successful entrepreneurs is not very conducive to national honesty.

The surreptitiousness of the exercise also turns it into a big deal. You have to procure a bottle of some of Scotland's mediocre best and this becomes a major undertaking. A country where something like drinking looms so large in the collective imagination can't be a very healthy society.

We know how repression works. The tougher the restrictions on something, the greater the longing for the same thing. Too much license may not be a good thing but too much social repression, as in Saudi Arabia and to a milder degree in Pakistan, is also not a good thing. Sensible societies try to keep a balance between the two.

What we generally take to be the social sins are part of the human condition. They have been so since the beginning of time, certainly since the dawn of history. Much as unreconstructed moralists may wish it, there are things which sensible societies try to regulate, not eradicate, because they cannot be eradicated. Drinking is one such thing, the oldest profession another. The strictures against the former are far harsher in Saudi Arabia and Iran, each in their own way the redoubts of morality and correct Islamic behaviour (at least according to what they claim). But even there this ancient pastime goes on behind drawn curtains and closed doors.

Things are much more relaxed in the Gulf states, especially Dubai. Are they less Muslim for this? The social freedoms which prevail there do not cause any visible dent to the Islamic faith of the populace. We were also a pretty normal society back in the 50s, 60s and 70s (until we attracted the evil eye in 1977, since when we have travelled backwards in time and have known no peace). Our cities were fairly relaxed places and social freedoms up to a point were permitted without impairing our Islamic faith. People went to mosques and fasted in the month of Ramazan, although the holy fathers were not the nuisance they were to become in Zia's time. But bars were open, as were a few nightclubs here and there, and procuring a drink was not the major enterprise that it is today.

In Ghalib's timeless phrase "masjid ke zer-e-saya kharabat chahiye"...in the shadow of the mosque do I seek the solace of drinking, and Lahore's Badshahi Mosque, one of the grandest in the world, and Heera Mandi nearby, almost cheek-by-jowl with the mosque, home to Lahore's famed red-light area, were emblems of this conjunction. Pakistan was a tolerant place, a far cry from what our strategic grandmasters were to turn it into because of their Afghan and Kashmir adventures.

Bhutto banned drinking in 1977 and Zia, forever out to placate the religious lobby which was his constituency and his claim to legitimacy, passed the Hudood Ordinance in 1979 which, apart from other things, applied punitive penalties to the possession and use of liquor. We have had more than 30 years of experience to judge the effectiveness of the Hudood laws. The level of bribe-taking has sharply risen but the prevalence of drinking has not diminished. Why then have a law which promotes corruption?

There are many things which make Pakistan a bleak destination for any visitor. Prohibition is one of them. And so strong are the taboos underpinning this law that most of us don't feel free even discussing it. We'll talk endlessly about other issues but skirt around this one for fear of offending the licence-holders of ideology and morality. Perhaps it is too much to hope that this law will be repealed any time soon. More than ordinary people it is governments which are afraid of the moral custodians. So expecting boldness from governments is a futile hope. But at least this law can be relaxed allowing some openness to creep in.

Come to think of it, this fear of the gatekeepers of morality is misplaced. Jam Sadiq Ali as chief minister of Sindh allowed many liquor outlets to open in both Karachi and the Sindh interior. Many of them are still open, monuments to his memory. The heavens have not fallen and Sindh is not a more sinful place than other regions of Pakistan.

The strictures surrounding this subject should be broken. We need an honest debate on this issue. True, there are more serious problems bedevilling the Islamic Republic. But why on earth must we add to our problems by imposing totally unnecessary restrictions?

This is the only democracy in the world where prohibition is in place. Might this be one reason why our democracy doesn't function as well as it should?



Email: winlust@yahoo.com

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I. THE NEWS

THE INTERMINABLE WAR

DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL



Ten years and thousands of human lives later, we now live in a transformed world; a world filled with terror, suicide bombers, and unpredictable calamities. Those responsible for starting this seemingly interminable war have mostly left the stage, but the new leadership seems incapable of stopping the process which has unleashed a reign of destruction and terror across the world. What are they looking for now? The self-proclaimed holy warriors and the marines, themselves an unforgettable symbol of terror, unnamed young men from Texas recruited in the name of national security and allured by the promise of grand and quick bucks are not going home, even though one cannot fathom their unfinished agenda anymore.

The game has never been so complicated and complex. We now know that the British intelligence and Scotland Yard were actively involved in an international operation to protect Saif al-Islam, the son of Muammar Qaddafi, who had feared that an "Islamist plot to assassinate him on British soil" was in place. The most brazen thing about this so-called Islamic plot is that the secret files published recently by the British press links it to Qatar, now the foremost Arab ally of the western powers in their Libyan venture. Both MI6 and the Special Air Service (SAS) were then pressed into service to protect him. Both are now hunting Saif!

Saif al-Islam, literally the sword of Islam, in reality anything but that, has been condemned by Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and the US State Department; he is considered one of the prime suspects facing war-crime charges. But the same Saif al-Islam was their prime hope just four years ago and Qatar's interior minister was the main accused in the assassination plot. Let us recall that Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalid al-Thani, the Qatari interior minister, was also accused of sheltering "terrorists" at his farm by none other Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism director, who considered his ministerial post a "direct and serious threat to US forces present in Qatar". Of course, no one asked: why are US forces present in Qatar in the first place? No one asks such questions anymore; indeed, we live in a transformed world.

The papers found in the international relations department of the Libyan government further reveal that Libya had officially sought help from the UK in saving the life of the dictator's son through a letter written to a senior MI6 official. According to these papers, Saif al-Islam had then disclosed secrets of Libya's nuclear programme. His efforts were considered "highly constructive and welcome". When Saif filed a successful libel action against The Sunday Telegraph in 2002, which had accused him of being part of a money-laundering scam, this was viewed by a senior UK security official as an "unfortunate" matter which had, thankfully, been concluded. The amazing footnote to this episode is that many insiders claim that the money laundering stories in The Sunday Telegraph were, in fact, part of the MI6 misinformation-campaign when Libya was deemed to be a "terrorist state"!

Saif was placed on the "at-risk register" of the London Metropolitan Police Special Branch; police visited him to discuss the threat with him and took special measures to protect him. Saif, big hope of the British government, a key figure in securing more contracts in Libya, is now on the run. But then, he was speaking their language. He had allegedly disclosed certain activities of Dr A Q Khan, who was then accused of selling nuclear know-how to rogue states and striving to create an "Islamic bomb".

Saif used to present himself as the champion of western agenda for Libya. In an interview with a British newspaper, he boasted that he had convinced his father to give up attempts to build nuclear weapons and to cooperate with the US and UK. He disclosed that Libya had spent $450m to build a nuclear bomb. "I was able to take messages to my father and explain to him. By the end, we had a good relationship with the CIA, MI6 and all the Americans and British," he had said proudly.

This is merely one concrete example of the western duplicity; there are numerous others. But that is no more a "story" in this interminable war of terror. There is no real story left. All that we now have are unfathomable numbers: a conservative estimate three years ago by Joseph E Stiglitz, professor at Columbia University and a Nobel laureate in economics, had put the cost of this war between $3-5trillion. Since then, a number of new factors have added to that cost. The US troops returning from Iraq have required disability payments; as many as 600,000 have been treated at veterans' medical facilities, future disability payments and health-care costs are estimated around $600-900bn. Then there are social costs, arising from veteran suicides, broken families, and lost children. And no one is counting the number of dead and displaced Afghans and Iraqis.

An interminable war, by definition, has no end. Thus, second-rate propellers will keep pushing it. An example of such a poor propeller is Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, who recently said in an interview with Peter Mansbridge of the CBC that Islamicism is the biggest security threat facing Canada. One mentions him, although he is not worth mentioning, because there is something perversely hilarious in the idea of radical Islamicist cells gathering to plot attacks against Canada, because Harper does not seem to know that the term Islamists is the older term for the subcategory of orientalists studying Islam!

Be that as it is, the great post-9/11 hype created by mass media is over and the average citizen in the United States is now more concerned about his or her monthly bills and daily bread than national security, but there is no end in sight of the war itself. The only possible solution seems to be an economic meltdown which the United States has barely managed to avoid recently.



The writer is a freelance columnist.

Email: quantumnotes@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

THE BLACK HOLES OF PAKISTAN

ABID HASAN

 

Black holes are natural phenomena scattered in outer space from which nothing can escape, not even light. Recently, with the advent of modern governments, many man-made black holes have been observed on our planet, especially in our own country. These black holes are government organisations that gobble up huge amounts of taxpayers' monies, and don't have much to show for it. Pakistan's black hole organisations are of varying sizes which have gobbled trillions of rupees of the taxpayers' money, leaving them wondering on the usefulness of this spending. Any time a tax rupee goes into these black holes, information about its use is lost to the outside observers.

In the last decade, the government of Pakistan has extorted (as tax is essentially extortion by the state) Rs16 trillion of taxes from the citizens. In addition, the government has borrowed Rs6 trillion, of which Rs2.5 trillion is foreign debt. What has the government done with Rs22 trillion worth of resources? The simple answer is that most of this amount has been spent on Pakistan's black holes.

Pakistan's biggest black hole is defence. Over the last decade, it has gobbled over Rs3 trillion. Little is known by the taxpayer about how this money has been used. The military's performance has been varied. It has provided excellent disaster management support and fought valiantly in Swat and Fata, but they lost in the Kargil. The Swat and Fata expeditions were a double whammy for the taxpayers. Hundreds of billions of rupees were spent fighting Taliban and non-state actors, after spending tens of billions on nurturing and supporting them in pursuit of liberating Kashmir and a nonsensical strategic depth doctrine.

All these flawed policies are now posing an existential threat to the country, and have earned Pakistan the unique global brand image of a state and society that encourages and facilitates militant fundamentalism. Hundreds of billions have been spent on expensive toys, procured through very opaque processes. Ironically we are now having difficulty 'protecting' these toys. The military has strayed from its core mission. It has spent billions on commercial activities and the luxurious lifestyles of senior officers etc.

The second largest black hole inflicting the country is the public education bureaucracy. We have spent close to Rs1.5 trillion in the last decade. Despite this, there is hardly any improvement in the standard of education imparted here. A large part of this money has been used to pay the salaries of the 1.2 million teachers, who are overpaid and under performing. Drop-out rates are still very high among the students and over half the schools don't have water, latrines or electricity. Importantly, education 'apartheid' has increased, with the rich benefiting from good private schools and the poor stuck with poorly run public schools.

The third gigantic black hole in the country is the Rs1.2 trillion sunk into subsidies. The poor hardly benefit from subsidies on electricity, fertilizer, wheat or subsidies provided to PIA, Pakistan Steel or Railways. For the most part only the rich and middle income and overpaid, incompetent and corrupt employees of state enterprises benefit from these.

A whopping Rs800 billion has been consumed by the black hole providing sustenance to law enforcement agencies. These agencies are corrupt and incompetent to the core, and in many instances promoters and facilitators of criminal activities.

The health sector has gobbled up Rs600 billion, with hardly any improvement in the health indicators or access to health care. Whether it is immunisation coverage, births attended by trained birth attendants, availability of medicines and doctors at basic health units or quality of health care in public hospitals, Pakistan's health system is simply not delivering to the poor.

The irrigation department has consumed Rs400 billion in the last decade, where corruption and inefficiencies are endemic. The rural elite get more water then their legal right, depriving tail-enders in collusion with irrigation officers.

If you think we are done with black holes inflicting Pakistan, there are dozens of smaller black holes which need to be highlighted. For example (i) Rs100 billion spent on water and sanitation with hardly any improvement in quality or access to clean water; (ii) Rs100 billion spent on the Khushal Pakistan and People's work programmes, which mostly benefited the contractors and local politicians, and did nothing to improve rural infrastructure; (iii) Rs50 billion spent on administration of justice with no improvement in access, timeliness or quality of justice; (iv) the taxpayers' money funded perks and privileges of elected officials and high civil, military and judicial officials, who have irresponsibly appropriated large amounts to support their luxurious lifestyles and expensive cars, which is not only unaffordable but simply immoral.

So it is clear that the dismal state of Pakistan is largely because of these black holes being nurtured to benefit a few. They are the reasons we have accumulated Rs10 trillion in debt and spent Rs4 trillion in the last decade, servicing this debt.

From the perspective of the over 170 million poor citizens of Pakistan, who get abysmal basic services, Pakistan is a failed state despite trillions of rupees spent on agencies providing these services. They see Pakistan as a country for the rich and the corrupt. They are probably very sensible, and on a high moral ground, for refusing to pay taxes to a government which is corrupt and incompetent.

These black holes need to be plugged to enable the government to raise taxes to be used properly so we can avoid an economic meltdown. Three actions are vital for this. First, the military needs to reengineer itself and reset its priorities, if it wants the public support for a continued large claim on the country's scarce resources. Second, the performance of agencies delivering basic services to the ordinary citizens needs to be improved through deep civil service and institutional reforms. Finally, living a life of luxury at the expense of the taxpayers needs to be curtailed.



The writer is a former operations adviser at the World Bank. Email: fffhasan @gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

WHY FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION

AYAZ AHMAD


It is as if three-and-a-half years after the present government took over, the whole nation were resonating with calls of "no more." Just a few years ago we had thought things could not be worse and now the problems of the previous decade pale in comparison under the hopelessly incompetent PPP government. In 2007 we had thought our debt burden is so huge that it is unsustainable. In these four years Pakistan's public debt has doubled. There had been loud complaints about corruption, but compared to what we witness today, the financial scandals of the past appear to be amateurish.

There is no denying that there had always been massive corruption in every sphere of government, with its tentacles extending deep into Pakistan society. But the scale of corruption today is horrifying. Meanwhile, the law and order situation could not be worse. Karachi, once a vibrant city, has begun to resemble Mogadishu. The amassed fortunes of the leadership, stashed away in banks around the world, has left this nation's future bleaker than ever.

So much has been written on what is wrong with Pakistan today and why we allowed things to reach this stage. However, the time has arrived for action now, because continued inaction on our part can only lead to the destruction of our society and our disappearance into oblivion. The educated classes of this country, especially the youth, will have to take upon themselves the responsibility for the prosperity and progress of Pakistan's population, with special emphasis on the education and enlightenment of the Pakistani nation. This effort for progress is not about blinkered patriotism or one's ethnic or religious identity. It is about being a part of the movement to change Pakistan so that the future of this nation can be secured from those preying on it today.

The change will call for courage and commitment on the part of those who undertake that change, because this country's transformation into the Pakistan of the future we have in mind can only be brought about through a shake-up of the current political setup through democratic means.

The lawyers' movement that followed Gen Pervez Musharraf's illegal dismissal of scores of judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts in November 2007 had demonstrated that the nation, particularly its middle class, is yearning for change. The lawyers' movement could not deliver what the nation expected of it because of our mainstream political parties' lack of commitment to change, whatever their leaderships' hypocritical rhetoric in this regard.

Despite the absolute despair throughout the country today things do not have to remain as bad as they are. The alternatives are apparent. Either we can wait for a new political force that is able to end the status quo or we can use an existing political force. One clear alternative is a political party that is already emerging as a force against the status quo because its leader has the courage and the fierce resolve required.

One hopeful aspect of the present situation is that the educated middle class has truly awakened to the need for its participation in the political process and to utilise the talents of its members for efforts to change the nation's destiny. And there is a force available to facilitate the efforts. That force is the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf led by Imran Khan. For the record, I am not affiliated with the party in an official way.

The PTI is not just another political party. It has outlined a 100-day plan that is on target and has established think tanks by involving educated Pakistanis, both inside the country and abroad, to work out details of its policies and election manifesto. Imran Khan has been overly criticised in the media for everything under the sun – from his personal life to any slight variation in his tone or his stance. But through it all, Imran remains the most fearless, the most honest, the most able personality on Pakistan's political landscape today. Imran Khan is not perfect, but nor was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, or the leaders who did something for their respective nations. Imran Khan is the best we have at the moment, so either we work with him to bring about a change or keep waiting for the "ideal" leader.

However, not even a well-meaning political party can bring about change unless there are voting reforms. Currently the Election Commission is undertaking a drive to register new voters, an exercise that is absolutely necessary given our outdated election rolls. The Supreme Court is trying its best to reduce the phenomenon of bogus votes, and we should support all its efforts to correct the skewed makeup of the voters' list.

The road to prosperity is long and filled with hurdles. Therefore, it is not certain whether even the PTI will get there, but the game is on and Imran Khan is actively in the field. The battle is to be fought on hostile ground. But everyone should be on notice. Imran Khan is still playing, and his determination is stronger than ever. At stake is Pakistan's future. Therefore, failure is not an option.



The writer is a freelance contributor.

Email: ayaza75@hotmail.com

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I. THE NEWS

KARACHI'S CAN OF WORMS

SHAFQAT MAHMOOD

 

Karachi's can of worms has been opened wide by the theatrical histrionics of Zulfiqar Mirza. Despite a series of gaffes – ranging from the killings he ordered to confessing his ownership of vast properties thanks to President Zardari – there is much greater acceptance in the country of his allegations against the MQM than the party's angry rebuttals.

The reason for this is simple. Over the course of its existence since the mid-80s, the MQM has earned a reputation for violence. Whether the top leaders had any hand in it or not, killings attributed to the party have continued to grow in the public perception.

This has included its dissidents, the most prominent being Azeem Tariq and now Imran Farooq, but also the entire Haqqiqi faction; its opponents, mainly Pakhtuns and Baloch, but also prominent PPP members such as Munawar Suhrawardy and many of the policemen who dared to take the party on in the mid-90s. The list also includes outstanding civil servants like former Sindh home secretary Shahid Hamid and social workers like Hakim Mohammad Saeed, both brutally murdered.

It seems to those looking from the outside, and again we are talking of perceptions here, that the party has two faces. There is the public face consisting of educated, highly competent and articulate middle-class cadres such as Farooq Sattar, Mustafa Kamal, Haider Abbas Rizvi, Faisal Sabzwari, Nasreen Jalil, and many, many more. They are the ones in parliament and on the talk shows.

The MQM has every right to take credit for introducing them to politics. These are people from the middle class with limited means who ordinarily would never have had a chance to move up the political ladder. Some of them, like Mustafa Kamal, have also proved their credentials as excellent administrators.

Then there is the other face – true or false, the perception persists – represented by the likes of Ajmal Pahari. Reading his confessional statement before a Joint Interrogation Team, in which he admits to killing over a hundred people, is a chilling experience. To many, this is the tip of the iceberg and confirms in their minds the MQM's lethal potential for violence.

Some seminal events have confirmed this perception, particularly the gunfire and killings that greeted Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry when he came to Karachi on May 12, 2007. To date there has not been a believable explanation by the party of how and why this violence took place and who was responsible.

The MQM has every reason to claim that it is being singled out while others have equally lethal cadres. There is little doubt that other parties have of late organised their own gangs. There is allegedly the PPP gang in Lyari that Mr Mirza orchestrated and the Pakhtuns have an armed wing that has been involved in targeted killings. Whether the ANP as a party is involved in it or not, is hard to say.

There is little doubt that the MQM has genuine political support among the Mohajir population of Sindh. The party rose and has grown because of a sense of exclusion and deprivation among people who migrated from India. Altaf Hussain is thus not all hot air and angry speeches. He articulates the grievances and aspirations of a sizeable immigrant community in Sindh.

The sad part is that a party with a genuine and solid political base is widely seen to have a strong dark side. Then, there are allegations of its closeness with outside forces that refuse to go away. The letter supposedly written by Altaf Hussain has become another piece of this puzzle and adds to the perception of links with foreign powers.

Mustafa Kamal put up a spirited defence in a press conference with regard to the letter but he forgot one thing. In the age of the internet, it is easy to research past events. His claim that the address of the party headquarters in the letter is not correct has been belied by Najam Sethi's simple Google inquiry. In 2000, this was indeed the party's office address in London as revealed on its own website.

The MQM has much to explain and although Mirza continues to shoot himself in the foot by saying idiotic things, the substance of his charges has stuck. It has also given an opportunity to the media, much to the chagrin of the party, to air allegations that were whispered but seldom found in print.

It seems that the MQM has decided, besides refuting the allegations through its acceptable faces, to again go back to its roots of representing the Mohajirs of Sindh. This was visible in Mustafa Kamal's press conference and there is nothing wrong with that. It has always had a Mohajir base and there is no reason why this community's issues and problems should not be articulated.

The real challenge for the MQM is to fight the perception of violence associated with its party. For all its faults, the PPP has still not been linked as a party to the Lyari gangs although Zulfiqar Mirza has. The ANP's connection with the Pakhtun armed wing in Karachi is also not established in the public mind. It is the MQM's link to violence that needs rectification.

The party is an important player in Pakistani politics and nobody can wish it away. It has a huge following in the major economic hub of the country and its positive role is essential to Pakistan's growth and development. Any kind of knee-jerk attack on the party is not in the interest of the country.

What needs to be done though is to clean up the city of target killers and armed gangs, whichever party they may have an affiliation with. This is a task beyond politics and even if some interest groups and parties protest, it needs to be pursued with vigour and determination. Some noises to this effect are being heard but is there the political will to carry it through?

There is no guarantee of that. The PPP leadership does not seem to have the will to carry out a genuine clean-up operation. If politics intervenes again, Karachi will never be settled. The DG Rangers Karachi has correctly said that the killers are hiding and will resurface. The mayhem will continue.

This is the time for the permanent structure of the state, whether it is the bureaucracy, police or the army, to assert itself. Whatever has to be done to bring lasting peace in Karachi must be done irrespective of political considerations.

The conditions are right in the sense that the public not only in Karachi but also the rest of the country is now ready for strong action in the city. Too much damage has been done and more is likely to follow if nothing is done. No one is saying that any particular party should be targeted. Only that a serious attempt be made to rid the city of criminals.



Email: shafqatmd@gmail.com

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I. THE NEWS

SIDE-EFFECT

HARRIS KHALIQUE


Although books, art, culture, literature or some feats of scholarship are discussed, quoted or criticised in this column at times, this space is not supposed to promote or review a book. But what do you do if you chance upon a book whose publication is an event in itself. When the propositions are such that they may create anger, frustration, anxiety and discomfort among different segments of the society in which you live and remains a charged issue in the political sphere, you ought to mention that book and ask any of your readers interested in politics, history and linguistics to pick it up. The book I recommend is essential to understand the origins and potential of the language that brings us all together at one level and divides us at another – across South Asia and within Pakistan.

Dr Tariq Rahman is not simply our foremost linguist. He has a certain political vantage point. He sides with the weak, rejects absolutism, abhors bigotry and is totally anti-communal. The last bit becomes more relevant when we talk about his latest and seminal work, "From Hindi to Urdu – A Social and Political History". In a country where history is not even taught as a proper subject in public schools, generations after generations are devoid of any sense that it inculcates. But one must say that many conclusions reached at and ideas propounded in the book are not entirely new to people who have interest in language politics, understand the use of Urdu as a communal identity marker and believe in inclusion and social justice where a language must not be used as a separator. But here the preconceived notions and politics of the other camp which hinges our tradition, culture and languages in central or western Asia or the Middle East are challenged on the basis of researched facts and dedicated academic inquiry.

You may disagree with some of Dr Rahman's assertions, analysis and commentary, but he does incite you to raise new questions and come up with ideas which can be further probed and expanded. For instance, like Dr Mubarak Ali, the agency of Muslims in creating the communal wedge is sometimes overstated. Here, a serious but less expansive work than Rahman's book on the subject deserves a note. It was "Urdu ka ibtidai zamana (Urdu in its initial period)" by arch Indian critic, writer and scholar, Shamsur Rehman Farooqui, which appeared some years ago. It had a similar effect on the reader. It informed a lot but generated questions and ideas.

Dr Rahman concludes the book by saying, "It is, after all, only the truth to say that even now – after about two hundred years of separation and drifting apart – spoken Urdu and Hindi are the same language. It is only by not losing sight of the continuities and shared cultural features among Pakistanis and (north) Indians that we can hope to transcend the mutual hatred which threatens to annihilate this ancient land."

Tailpiece: Coming to think of it, in our local context, calling only a section of Pakistanis 'Urdu-speaking' is perhaps a misnomer. One, that their ancestors came from fifteen states of what is now India having different mother tongues, and, two, so many Pakistanis and north Indians speak Urdu as their first language, even if they have different mother tongues. I am not getting into the creation of literature yet, nor the use of Urdu as the only language of wider public discourse in Pakistan. For a change, let's probe this more academically than politically this time.



The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, author and public policy advisor. Email: harris.khalique@ gmail.com

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

QUETTA BLAST: SIR THEY ARE NOT TALIBAN

 

AT least 28 people including an FC Colonel and the wife of the Deputy Inspector General of Frontier corps were killed in two suicide attacks outside the official residence of the DIG in Quetta on Wednesday morning. The DIG himself and sixteen FC personnel were among 82 people injured in the attacks.

Those behind the dastardly act have, to an extent, succeeded in their nefarious designs as the attacks send shock waves across the city and the province, shattering confidence of the people in the ability of the administration to provide security of life and property. The attack on a high security zone and that too on the residence of an officer directly linked with security and law and order is a message that nothing is safe and beyond the reach of the terrorists and they can target anything, anywhere and anytime. Though, as usual, a telephone caller claiming to be spokesman of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attacks citing the bombing as revenge for Kharotabad killing but people are no more ready to buy such mysterious claims. In fact, a number of anti-Pakistan elements including some foreign agencies are involved in creating law and order problem and destabilizing the country. They are indulging in such acts with a view to keep Pakistan Army and other law enforcing agencies entangled in the domestic mess leaving little room for countering their conspiracies. We firmly believe that foreign hand is behind these acts of terrorism, as it is beyond the capacity and capability of Madaris-educated Taliban to plan and execute high profile attacks with pinpoint accuracy. But it is equally strange that our authorities concerned lack the necessary courage to expose our 'friends' who are destabilizing our country in different garbs. It is, therefore, time we call a spade a spade and release evidence of involvement of all those who are indulging in acts of terrorism and sabotage in the country. At the same time, we would urge people that it being a national war, every one of us will have to contribute in foiling designs of our enemies and strengthening hands of our forces and this means extraordinary vigilance. This is because no one knows what are their next targets.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

COMPARING KARACHI WITH WAZIRISTAN

 

EVERYONE knew that situation in Karachi was pretty precarious but the statement of Director-General Rangers Sindh made before the Supreme Court on Wednesday was an eye-opener. Ejaz Ahmad Chaudhary, who took part in military operations in Swat and Waziristan, told the apex court that the situation in Karachi was very serious issue and could be declared even worse than Waziristan. Without mincing words, he added that militants and criminals were taking refuge in political and ethnic parties and using them to commit illegal activities.

This is indeed a tragedy of unparallel magnitude that the largest city of the country, which was once considered jewel of the Sub-Continent, is now being compared with Waziristan which is considered to be abode of criminals, terrorists and militants. What a steep fall as the city had been centre of commercial and economic activities providing employment opportunities to millions of people, had excellent educational institutions, offered immense opportunities for entertainment and cultural activities, people lived in harmony and peace and calm prevailed. Now the city has sunk in mess of all sorts to such an extent that it is being compared with Waziristan where writ of the state hardly prevails. In our view, what DG Rangers has said is based on ground realities and must be taken seriously by all concerned — the Government, the Army, the Judiciary and the political parties. Presently, we seem to be directionless and clueless, as there is no hope of any worthwhile improvement in the situation in the foreseeable future, because almost all stakeholders are fighting wars of interests in the city at the cost of future, security and economy of the country. But we are sure that the Supreme Court, which is seized with the issue, would come out with a doable formula to ensure restoration of peace in the city on sustainable basis. But the court alone is not expected to deliver in the void if the government is unable to provide it fuller and concrete details and evidence of what was happening there and who was behind the killings and violence. Criminals should be treated as criminals and no political party should shield them for the sake of political expediencies

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

HIKE IN TARIFF BUT NO ELECTRICITY

 

NEPRA on Wednesday approved an increase of Rs 2.40 per unit tariff of electricity, which will be applicable to all consumers in next month's bills except KESC. The monthly adjustment of tariff on the basis of international furnace oil prices was no surprise because the consumers are now used to bearing the additional burden for the inefficiency and corrupt practices of those tasked to ensure uninterrupted supply of electricity at affordable rates.

The present Government is in office for the last three and a half years but it has not been able to address the problems of power shortages and circular debt. The vibes are that power tariff would be increased by 16% to bring an end to the subsidy but one is justified to question that despite its tall claims of adding over 2000MW in the national grid there is no electricity and people are still suffering from long hours of load shedding. Because of payment of billions of rupees to retire the circular debt, the government is now considering to hand over the power companies to the private sector. Though the intention is good, yet we are certain that it would not deliver the desired results because of huge line losses due to theft and obsolete generation and distribution system. Presently about 5000MW of electricity is being generated through hydel and 600MW from nuclear sources, which are the cheapest and only 40% comes from power houses that burn furnace oil while the rest is generated through natural gas. Despite that the circular debt is on the rise and the authorities are unable to get rid of it. The frequent hike in tariff means that the electricity is being made so costly that it goes beyond the reach of the common man and thus its consumption is brought down to the minimum. We think there is something terribly wrong in the system, which needs to be looked into on urgent basis in order to get rid of the menace of circular debt so that installed capacity is fully utilized to overcome the shortage and bring down the cost of generation.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

CONGRESS PARALYSED WITHOUT SONIA

GEOPOLITICAL NOTES FROM INDIA

M D NALAPAT

 

When Prime Minister Manmohan Singh landed in Dhaka on September 7, his retinue did not include the most important member, Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee of West Bengal (now renamed Paschim Banga). Till the final two hours, efforts had been ongoing to get her to join the group, and to drop her objection to the PM signing the Teesta River Accord with his Bangladesh counterpart, Sheikh Hasina Wajed. These failed, and the outcome was a huge loss of face for Dr Manmohan Singh personally, who was shown to command zero political influence with Ms Banerjee, despite the high post that he holds. Clearly, it had been a mistake to deal with Ms Banerjee through bureaucrats, competent though these might have been. Just as the British colonialists looked upon Indian members of the civil service with contempt, so too do politicians regard officials. Each day, all too many of the latter crawl at the feet of the former, either to get a prize posting or to avoid being shifted from one. It was therefore no surprise that the senior civil servants who had been dispatched failed to persuade the West Bengal Chief Minister to accept the Accord.

This columnist has repeatedly pointed out that all the talk about Sonia Gandhi or Manmohan Singh (the two Congress leaders most eager for an agreement with Pakistan) being "on the verge" of signing a deal on Kashmir is just that. Talk. Even in the case of the once-powerful CEO of Pakistan, it is doubtful that the Corps Commanders of the Army would have allowed Pervez Musharraf to accept a solution for Kashmir that did not call for the gaining of territory (despite news reports during both the Vajpayee and Singh periods that such a dea was "in the final stages of drafting"). In the case of India, there is zero chance of a political consensus for any agreement except that favoured by Indian negotiators at Shimla in 1971, which is the legalisation of the status quo. Because they forgot the need to build a political consensus, the Prime Minister's team severely compromised his image and standing, in the process harming that of India as well. However, they cannot be blamed, as it is not the job of the PMO to be concerned with politics. In the United Progressive Alliance government, it is Sonia Gandhi's responsibility to look after the political side, and Manmohan Singh's to pay attention to the administrative details. The absence of

the Congress President for six weeks (and counting) has affected cohesion in decision-making, in that these days, the political component is missing from government decisions. As a consequence, actions that are deeply unpopular are getting carried out, such as the arrest and incarceration of the 73-year old saint, Anna Hazare. But where is Sonia Gandhi? The "independent" media in India as well as the even more "free" foreign media has thus far not said more than a few sentences about the person who owns the ruling party. In an age of instant communication, it is noteworthy that there seems to be zero difference between India and North Korea where it comes to the health of the top leader, except that in the North Korean case, there are occasional photographs of the Dear Leader. In the case of Sonia Gandhi, after she disappeared from sight soon after a visit to Bangladesh two months ago, there has been no photograph of hers, nor even a statement, whether oral or in writing. All that the public have to satisfy their curiosity is the assurance of Congress Party spokespersons that she is well, and will be back soon. Indeed, every week there have been reports of Sonia's imminent return. Over the past two days, there has been a crescendo of reports that the Congress President is coming back "this night". By the time this column gets printed, maybe she would have come back. But the chances are that she will still be elusive, for reasons difficult to fathom.

What to make of the contempt for the public's Right to Know that has been evidenced by those who have made such a secret of Sonia Gandhi's health? And that too in an administration that calls the Right to Information act (indeed a useful - if incomplete - example of legislation) its centrepiece. Fear of having the Income-tax department or any other of the sundry agencies of government on their tale has killed the curiosity of those controlling the media in India. However, the very absence of news has led to an unintended consequence, which is that the public in India now seem unbothered by Sonia's absence. There is no effect at all in the public mood, which would otherwise have been expected to overflow with sympathy for a leader clearly unwell. Of course, this lack of emotion may also be because of the numerous statements by Congress functionaries that she is "recovering fast". Should this not be the case, and should her illness be more grave, the consequences for the Congress Party would be momentous, for the reason that she is the only - repeat only – source of power within the party. As yet, her son and heir Rahul Gandhi does not seem to have built up the gravitas needed to become acceptable as the Supremo of the Congress Party, in the place of his mother.

It is no surprise that Sonia Gandhi is the single fount of authority in her party. This has always been the case with the Nehrus. Even in the case of the individual whom prominent writers such as Shashi Tharoor and Sunil Khilnani claim "brought democracy to India", Jawaharlal Nehru, several highly consequential decisions were taken because of personal predilection and without any consultation with other leaders. Nehru forged the country's "non-aligned" policy, he introduced a socialist system of economy and retained the entire panoply of British-era laws and procedures without even the pretence of consultation. And yet Nehru is considered to be the exemplar of democracy! After 65 years of rule by Nehruvians, the country is several times more backward than several economies that in 1947 were even poorer than India was at the time. This columnist has just come back from a trip, and has undergone hours of torment on roads that mimic moon craters. He is writing out this column by battery power, as the electricity has (once again) ceased to flow. Since morning, there has been no water. Such is the quality of life in Nehru-style democracy, where only the leader has freedom, with the others having only the "right to follow" the leader. The drawback of such a system is that it gets paralysed when the leader is absent, as is the case with the disappearance from public view of UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Small wonder that the Congress Party is praying that Sonia will come back and soon, so that they may follow once again rather than be forced into the intolerable situation of being on their own.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

HOW TO CUT ELECTRICITY COST

ATIF NOOR KHAN

 

Power rates in Pakistan are very high, pubic concern is increasing due to unaffordable electricity tariff whereas life is now dependent on cheap and reliable energy. High electricity tariff is badly affecting general public and industrial and agricultural sectors of the country which demands an immediate need to bring the tariff down. A number of steps could be taken to reduce the cost of exorbitant electricity tariff which is adding to the misery of consumers who are already facing an unprecedented loadshedding. For example; Distribution companies will decide what price to pay for electricity and from which producers to get supplies. Privatised electricity distribution companies, as buyers, will decide how much to pay for electricity, not producers determining its price.

On the purchase side will be distribution companies: (Hyderabad, Quetta, Multan, Lahore, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Islamabad and Peshawar.) Add to them the KESC, which may be asked to sell all its shares to its customers. Meanwhile, on the supply side will be: hydel power producer (Wapda), thermal power producers, independent power producers, rental power plants, nuclear power plants and others. New power producers will emerge with their own financial resources.

The government will no longer have to allocate its limited resources for power generation, including large dams. Pepco will be disbanded because central control of purchase and distribution of electricity will no longer be required. (It is already on its way to abolition.) As a result, its agreements with power producers will be cancelled. (It will not be legally possible to impose present agreements on privatised distribution companies, which will now be public limited companies, owned by its customers). Nepra will also be abolished because it will no longer be able to impose its prices on distribution companies. Consequently, power producers, both public and private, will have to negotiate directly with distribution companies and offer lowest possible prices. The distribution companies will not sign long-term agreements because they will always switch to new producers that offer lower prices. Thus, the present producers will have to decrease their costs all the time so that they remain competitive. As lower prices become available, the expensive power producers will go out of business.

The National Transmission Dispatch Company will continue to get power from producers and transmit to distribution companies, in accordance with the agreements between the sellers and buyers. Not subject to Nepra decisions, new power producers will offer lowest prices to distribution companies. Hydel, wind, solar, coal and other alternative energy sources will flourish. Power plants running on expensive furnace oil and scarce natural gas will seek cheaper energy or will have to be shut down. Chief executives of distribution companies, who will be answerable to customers-cum-shareholders, will dare not accept higher prices from any supplier at the cost of lower prices available from others. Suppliers will offer electricity to buyers at their lowest prices. The buyers will select suppliers and place orders with them, depending on price, convenience and other factors. A distribution company may persuade power producers to set up generation plants in its areas on mutually agreed terms. A major cause of financial difficulties of distribution companies is line losses. The chief executive, under my plan, will formulate targets for reducing line losses to the absolute minimum. He will ensure that his field staff meets the quarterly targets, as he will face a vote of confidence after 12 months.Energy is a most problematic issue in the world. Whereas oil prices are steadily rising and no stability is seen in near future. Demands of energy from the emerging markets like China and India are growing day by day. Pakistan with official figurers of growth rate of 8% will have a definite rise in demand of energy for minimum 3% In USA the Gulf of Mexico is famous for oil producing and refining facilities. The prosperity of Houston is only due to oil industry being flourished. However the weather is not so kind on this area and hurricanes and tornadoes commonly hit the southern part of USA and Caribbean. Such is the volatility of fuel market now that just news of one hurricane developing in Caribbean shoots the oil prices in the world. A few years before oil was being traded on 20$ and no body ever thought that the weather conditions in the gulf can affect the oil market. Politically the Iran situation is deteriorating day by day where as Iraq condition is not stabilizing. Oil today is being traded around 65 $/, and the most vital question now is what will happen if the prices rise to 75 $ or even one hundred $/barrel. Pakistan with small manufacturing market, surrounded by major emerging economies like China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines and Bangladesh will be worst affected with the rise of energy prices. As a rule of thumb modern day manufacturing industries utilize at least 33% production cost in terms of energy prices. An increase of energy cost will affect their production cost and will force the manufacturers either to reduce the labour cost or to remain competitive in market by improving the quality standards. Major giants China and India will benefit with this condition and smaller economies will suffer badly. Are our policy makers in Islamabad thinking for the gravity of problem which is now just standing on our door step? On famous oil embargo days a lot of research in Europe was carried out to find the alternate source of energy.

Power theft through various means will become impossible. If it occurs, the field staff will face the wrath of bosses, as well as of customers. Default in payments of bills, even by powerful and government departments will also not be tolerated. A distribution company will not have any reason not to recover payments, as it will not be under political pressure. It will be answerable to its customers, not any government authority. Pakistan is presently facing a serious energy crisis. Despite strong economic growth during the past decade and consequent rising demand for energy, no worthwhile steps have been taken to install new capacity for generation of the required energy sources. Now, the demand exceeds supply and hence "load-shedding" is a common phenomenon through frequent power shutdowns. Pakistan needs about 14000-15000MW electricity per day, and the demand is likely to rise to approximately 20,000 MW per day in a few years. Presently, it can produce about 11, 500 MW per day and thus there is a shortfall of about 3000-4000MW per day. This shortage is badly affecting industry, commerce and daily life of people. All possible measures need to be adopted, i.e., to conserve energy at all levels, and use all available sources to enhance production of energy.

In Pakistan, we have plenty of waste material in the form of feed stock, sugarcane trash, rice husk, etc. Pakistan generates 56,000 tons of solid waste in urban areas only. For producing 10 MW of electricity, it requires 8,000 tons of municipal waste in Karachi as reported in January 2009. Apart from producing electricity from solid waste, we can also minimise pollution. It is unfortunate that despite potential and energy resources available in Pakistan no steps are being taken to meet a shortfall of 5,000 to 6,000 MW of electricity. A dedicated team of engineers and scientists should be formed by the Pakistan Engineering Council to undertake all possible modes of generating electricity to meet the needs of Pakistan.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

FIVE PILLARS OF ISLAM

NEWS & VIEWS

MOHAMMAD JAMIL

 

Every Muslim has to believe in the obligatory Ibadaat, which are called five pillars of Islam: Tauheed, Salat (Namaz), Saum or Fasting throughout the month of Ramadan every year; Zakat at the rate of 2.5 per cent of the capital or net worth, and the last Ibadah Hajj. The purpose of these Ibadaat is to strengthen the Muslim faith and sense of submission to Allah. The starting point is Tauheed, which means there is no god but Allah. And the consciousness of the Signs of Nature, the observance of their predetermined laws, their systematic change giving rise to time-space study, all lead consequentially to one reality whereto all human thought, philosophy, reason, feelings and intellectual outlook merge, which is called Concept of Unity of God. The Holy Qur'an explains this Unity in these words: "If there were in the heavens and earth, other gods besides God (Allah), there would have been confusion in both! But glory to God, the Lord of the Throne (High is He) above what they attribute to Him" (21:22).

This Unity has always been a source of inspiration and guidance to mankind; and in its spiritual manifestation, the idea of Ultimate Reality. No better explanation can be found for its practical connotation than the one given by Allama Iqbal. He says: "The essence of Islam is Tauheed, and the essence of Tauheed as a working idea is equality, solidarity and freedom. The state from Islamic standpoint is an endeavour to transform these ideal principles into space-time forces, an inspiration to realize them in a definite human organization". It is appropriate to understand terms freedom, equality and solidarity. As explained by the scholars, freedom means liberation of mankind from forces of exploitation, freedom from oppression, suppression and manipulation. It also means freedom from gods other than God; from idols of traditions, customs; from political and bureaucratic strongholds; from the sorceries of clerics; obscurantist and religious shysters; and from ignorance, poverty and illiteracy.

Only when a man is freed from all these thoughts, can he think progressively and feel the existence of one God. Equality means equality in status, before law, in civil rights, of opportunities but not necessarily in material possessions. When socio-economic justice is ensured to all the citizens, and all flaws in the judicial system are removed, there shall prevail sense of equality. By solidarity means bringing the people on a platform so as to think positively towards each other and to share a common outlook towards their problems. Once we believe in oneness of God, then we have to accept what has been ordained in the Holy Qur'an that Muslims should say their prayers (Salat). Apart from submission to Allah, the purpose behind going to the mosque is social interaction and helping each other.

The next pillar of Islam is fasting, which means abstinence from food and drinks etc. Though this ritual is also for God, but through fasting we can understand the feelings and the sufferings of those who could not afford even two square meals a day. By realizing the hunger of the impoverished and have-nots, we can act to alleviate their misery and want. Third pillar Zakat means helping others in the name of Allah, which results in transfer of some wealth from the rich to the poor, and in a way it is a social equalizer. The last pillar is Hajj, which became obligatory in the ninth year of Hijra. It is an act of Ibadah like prayer and fasting, and is obligatory once in lifetime for all those Muslims who can afford it. The Qur'an says: "Pilgrimage there (to the House of Allah) is a duty man owes to Allah those who can afford the journey" (3:97). Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, and sacrifice (Zabiha) is indispensable part of that ritual.

This sacrifice reminds the submission of Hazrat Ibrahim (AS) to the will of Allah when he was ready to sacrifice his son Hazrat Ismail (AS) in the name of Allah. But he was directed to sacrifice a ram in place of his son. "For every community We have ordained the ritual of sacrifice so that they may pronounce the name of God over the cattle which He has blessed them with because your God is one God; so surrender your selves to Him. (But this will be done by those whose hearts are bowed down before their God) and O Prophet (SAW) give glad tidings from their Almighty to those who submit to Allah" (22:34).

When Hazrat Ibrahim (AS) was directed to sacrifice a ram in place of his son and to commemorate this great sacrifice make it a living tradition for the coming generations, the Almighty said: "Then We ransomed Ismail for a great sacrifice (37:107). In Islam, sacrifice is the pinnacle of worship. When we make an animal stand or bow down in the direction of Ka'abah and also direct our own face towards of the House of Allah, we are in fact offering ourselves to Allah. It is worth noting that each every Ibadat has a purpose, and God lays emphasis on the spirit behind every ritual. "The flesh and blood of your sacrificed animals does not reach God: it is only your piety that reaches Him. Thus has He subjected them to your service so that you may give glory to God for guiding you. This is the way of the righteous, and O Prophet! Give glad tidings to these righteous" - Al Quran (22:37). One of the most important benefits of Hajj is that like Slaat it demonstrates equality and Muslim brotherhood. People of all nationalities, colours, races and all ranks from all over the world assemble at one place and interact. It also affords an opportunity to all the heads of Muslim states or government functionaries to meet and think of the plight of the Muslims in different parts of the world. And cooperate with each other to meet the economic or other challenges confronted by the Ummah. Prophet Mohammad (SAW) during his last Hajj had given 'khutaba' to the Muslims, which was in fact the gist of the pearls of wisdom scattered in Qur'an in various Surahs.

Had the Muslim rulers and the ruled acted according the exhortations in the Holy Qur'an and according to the sayings of the last Prophet (SAL), Muslim Ummah would not have come to the present pass. The problem is that we the Muslims keep our three channels of knowledge – seeing, hearing and thinking – closed to the pearls of wisdom spread over the holy Qur'an. Why is it that Islamic teachings have not opened our eyes, ears, hearts and minds to the natural science and scientific spirit? Allama Mashriqi, a renowned mathematician with outstanding record at the Cambridge University had stated: "In comparison to thought-provoking knowledge contained in the Holy Qur'an, the knowledge of the West over other societies is still of no consequence. The West has not reached even to the bottom of the knowledge spread over the Holy Qur'an, I believe, the western thought is not sustainable and profitable for therein we find no idealism for Insaniat or humanity".

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

THE 'HOSTAGE' SUPERPOWER

ALYA ALVI

 

The recently published book "The Next Decade" by George Fried man, the founder of eminent Stratfor think-tank that forecasts global events, has dwelled at length the idea of quietly distancing from the Jews and Jewish Israel, if the United States has to continue with its dominant superpower role. The book provides two concepts; one of the US as an uncontested Empire and the other of the survival of the republic linked with the management of the Empire. There is no contesting the fact that the US is an Empire, but whether the republic can survive in this game of global and regional powers is the main concern of the book. It establishes that the US Empire will retain its powers for the next decade, even the next century, while the republic remains in danger of being engulfed by the regime it selects. It is only through the presidency that the republic can survive as it is the only office for which people, as a whole, select a powerful leader.

The relevant excerpts from the book, as follows, speak volumes for the realization of the republic turning into an empire state in the United States, which are very important to note while formulating any future strategy of further establishing relationship with America. The author says "I am not convinced that (the US) empire is worth the price of republic (p.xvii); the reality is that the American people have no desire for an empire. (p.10) Foreign policy and values simply coincide. The President will have to pursue virtue as all of our great presidents have done: with suitable duplicity. (p.8) The US possesses what I call "deep power", and deep must be first and foremost balanced power. This means economic, military, and political power in appropriate and mutually supporting amounts. (p.8) Unrivaled power is dangerous enough, but unrivaled power that is oblivious is like a rampaging elephant. (p.11)

There is a growing sense prevailing in the United States that the Jews' influence in the American politics and its foreign policy is leading America towards disaster. A number of leading think-tanks, members of intelligentsia, educationists and media persons have suggested the successive American governments to gradually distance from the Jews who have dominated almost the entire policymaking process both in Washington, White House and Pentagon. In fact the superpower is hostage to Jews-controlled media, economy or the entire social fabric of the American society. Shakespeare's famous 'Shylock' character depicts the deep-rooted realization of the Jewish mindset that, to them, had been plaguing the Christian societies for centuries. That was probably the reason that Germany's Hitler reached the conclusion that unless the Jews are eliminated from the map of the earth, peace cannot be prevailed. Hitler's hatred against the Jews was not without a solid reason. He and his comrades had been of the view that the Jews were the reason of Europe's downslide, economic downfall and above all the cause of two World Wars, consequently the killing of millions of people.

But most of all is interesting the speech of former US president, Benjamin Franklin, which he made at the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in 1787 and recorded in the diary of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, a delegate from South Carolina. It is worth reading to understand and assimilate it with the notion propounded by "The Next Decade" author, George Friedman. Benjamin Franklin said "…I fully agree with Gen Washington, that we must protect this young nation from an insidious influence and penetration.

The menace, gentlemen, is the Jews. In whatever country Jews have settled in any great number, they have lowered its moral tone; depreciated its commercial integrity; have segregated themselves and have not been assimilated; have sneered at and tried to undermine the Christian religion upon which that nation is founded, by objecting to its restrictions; have built up a state within the state; and when opposed have tried to strangle that country to death financially, as in the case of Spain and Portugal. For over 1,700 years, the Jews have been bewailing their sad fate in that they have been exiled from their homeland, as they call Palestine.""I warn you, gentlemen, if you do not exclude Jews for all time, your children will curse you in your graves. Jews, gentlemen, are Asiatics, let them be born where they will nor how many generations they are away from Asia, they will never be otherwise. Their ideas do not conform to an American's, and will not even though they live among us ten generations. A leopard cannot change its spots. Jews are Asiatics, are a menace to this country if permitted entrance, and should be excluded by this Constitutional Convention."

In this backdrop George Friedman's book "The Next Decade", his advice to the Americans and his predictions for the next decade are not only worth reading but offer guidelines for us as well as to how to move forward and what are the theme lines the American think-tanks thinking on. It is now clear that the American intelligentsia is well aware of being hostage to the Jewish lobby, and is very much involved in finding out solution to it. Whether are not Washington and fellow Americans succeed in distancing from the Jews during the next decade and stop patronizing Israel is yet to be seen? Given the US-led NATO raids on Libya, the reported use of biological and depleted uranium weapons to eliminate Qaddafi, and in Maleeha Lodhi's words "the war for oil" and to facilitate Israel, there seems lesser acceptance to George Friedman's notion amidst the strong Jewish lobby within America.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

AMERICA'S SELECTIVE VIGILANTISM

TARIQ ALI

 

Sovereign is he who decides on the exception, Carl Schmitt wrote in different times almost a century ago, when European empires and armies dominated most continents and the US was basking beneath an isolationist sun. What the conservative theorist meant by 'exception' was a state of emergency, necessitated by serious economic or political cataclysms, that required a suspension of the constitution, internal repression and war abroad. A decade after the attentats of 9/11, the US and its European allies are trapped in a quagmire. The events of that year were simply used as a pretext to remake the world and to punish those states that did not comply.

The experiences in the occupied lands speak for themselves. Ten years on the war in Afghanistan continues, a bloody and brutal stalemate with a corrupt puppet regime. Meanwhile, sets of protracted behind-the-scenes negotiations between the US and the neo-Taliban have been taking place for several years. The aim reveals the desperation. Nato and Hamid Karzai are desperate to recruit the Taliban to a new national government. The good citizens of Euro-America who opposed the wars being waged by their governments avert their gaze from the dead, wounded and orphaned citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan, Libya and Pakistan — the list continues to grow.

These days war is presented as a 'humanitarian' necessity: one side is busy engaged in committing crimes, the self-styled morally superior side is simply administering necessary punishment and the state to be defeated is denied its sovereignty. Its replacement is carefully policed both with military bases and money. This 21st-century colonisation or dominance is aided by the global media networks, an essential pillar to conduct political and military operations. Politics and power override all else. Apart from Barack Obama's windy rhetoric, little now divides this administration from its predecessor. Ignore, for a moment, the power of politicians and propagandists to enforce their taboos and prejudices on American society as a whole, a power often used ruthlessly and vindictively to silence opposition from all quarters — Bradley Manning, Thomas Drake, Julian Assange and Stephen Kim know this better than most. Nothing illustrates this debasement so well as the assassination of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. He could have been captured and put on trial, but that was never the intention. Take Libya, the latest case of 'humanitarian intervention'. The US-Nato intervention in Libya, with UN Security Council cover, is part of an orchestrated response to show support for the movement against one dictator in particular and by so doing to bring the Arab rebellions to an end by asserting western control, confiscating their impetus and spontaneity, and trying to restore the status quo ante. As is now obvious, the British and French are boasting of success and that they will control Libyan oil reserves as payment for the six-month bombing campaign.

The despot in Yemen, loathed by a majority of his people, continues to kill them every day by remote control from his Saudi base. Not even an arms embargo, let alone a 'no-fly zone', have been imposed on him. Libya is yet another case of selective vigilantism by the US and its attack dogs in the West. The frontiers of the squalid protectorate that the west is going to create are being decided in Washington. Even those Libyans who, out of desperation, are backing Nato's bomber jets, might like their Iraqi equivalents live to regret their choice. All this might trigger a third phase at some stage: a growing nationalist anger. The assault on Libya, greatly helped by Gaddafi's imbecility on every front, was designed to wrest the initiative back from the streets by appearing as the defenders of civil rights. The Bahrainis, Egyptians, Tunisians, Saudi Arabians and Yemenis will not be convinced. The struggles are by no means over.

The 19th century German poet Theodor Dubler wrote: The enemy is our own question embodied And he will hound us, and we will hound him to the same end. The problem with this view today is that the category of enemy, determined by US policy needs, changes far too frequently. Yesterday, Saddam and Gaddafi were friends and regularly helped by western intelligence agencies to deal with their own enemies. The latter became friends when the former became enemies. The assassination of Bin Laden was greeted by European leaders as something that would make the world safer. Tell that to the fairies.—Gulf News

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

ABC LAUGHS AT PM'S EXPENSE

IMAGINE a prime minister so compromised by minority government that she skips cabinet and ignores Barack Obama to take calls from the independents, a woman with so little authority that she cannot organise dinner without convoluted negotiations with Windsor, Oakeshott and Katter. Fortunately, she is still sharp enough to correct Wayne Swan's maths and sufficiently grounded to aspire to a quiet date-night with Tom, er, Tim. This is the political satire of the ABC's At home with Julia.

The fictional PM's nickname "Jugs" and her "quickies" before packing for Tokyo have drawn complaints of bias, disrespect, sexism and poor humour. Others loved it, with a million viewers tuning in. It lacks the depth of quality satire, but the characterisations are amusing, with a shrieking Katter stealing the show. The jury is out on whether it makes the real PM a figure of ridicule or will help people warm to her.

But, for those with Labor's interests at heart, it is a little like that most famous of Australian cartoons drawn in 1933 by Stan Cross. A construction worker high above city streets, clinging by his fingernails to a girder, looks down at a workmate grasping him by the trousers, which are wrapped around his ankles. "For gorsake, stop laughing," he shouts to his cackling mate as they hang on for dear life, "this is serious."

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

UNION FUNDS NOT TO BE MISUSED

WHEN Wayne Swan was speaking as Acting Prime Minister yesterday and demanded that the Opposition drop the Craig Thomson matter, he betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of community concerns.

Mr Swan brazenly attempted to turn the attack on to the opposition, saying the affair demonstrated a reckless and negative approach by Tony Abbott. Mr Swan ought to remember that he was elected to represent taxpayers, who expect honourable conduct by public officials. As a Labor MP, he ought also be alive to the expectation that union fees should further members' collective interest, not their officials' personal indulgences.

Mr Swan based his defence of Mr Thomson, the ALP member for Dobell, on revelations that NSW police will not lay charges over allegations about the misuse of his union credit card during his previous job with the Health Services Union. The prospect of charges being laid is not ruled out because the matter has now been referred to police in Victoria.

Regardless of police investigations, the government needs to understand that hard-working Australians, the people who set their alarm clocks early, who Julia Gillard promised to listen to, are appalled by the suggestion that a union official would obtain services for pleasure for himself -- or anyone else -- at their expense. The broader issue is accountability and honesty. Mr Thomson has denied any misdeeds, suggesting another, unnamed, person forged his signature for unauthorised purposes, including brothel visits. Yet NSW police, who have dropped the matter, are satisfied the signature was genuine, begging questions that only Mr Thomson can answer. Who used the card for brothel visits, expensive meals and cash withdrawals? Were they authorised? If so, how does he justify this extravagance?

Mr Thomson says he will give a full explanation. While he should have done so many months ago, it should happen in parliament, because this pertains to his suitability as an MP and it is where he is bound not to mislead. This comes as other allegations about the loose use of union funds have been exposed. Fair Work Australia, the ACTU, individual unions and the ALP all have a long-term interest in ensuring there is much greater accountability and transparency in union spending. At a time when the union movement is desperate to maintain numbers, it is not inspiring confidence from prospective members.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

THE CONVERSATION ABOUT IR THE NATION HAD TO HAVE

GOOD policy decisions are rarely black, so it is encouraging to see Wayne Swan looking for the right shade of grey by suggesting the government might amend its industrial relations laws, acknowledging business concerns about competitiveness and productivity. Nobody expects a return to Work Choices, not even John Howard, although after the restoration of the "no-disadvantage" test by former employment minister Joe Hockey, it was far more benign than its critics allowed.

Unfortunately, ACTU president Ged Kearney's speech at the National Press Club on Wednesday showed that any serious attempt by the government to modify the rigid centralism of the Fair Work system will be resisted. In one of the most economically challenged pronouncements of the year, which suggests she might have been wiser to stick to nursing, Ms Kearney declared that Australia's "productivity squeeze" means "unpaid work and greater pressure on workers". On the contrary, as Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens explained on Wednesday. Improving productivity does not mean adding more hours but finding ways to make the hours already worked more effective. As former BHP Billiton chairman Don Argus pointed out earlier in the week, productivity is not merely an issue for policy wonks but for the general community because "productivity growth is the only sustainable way to improve overall living standards".

If the Treasurer is serious about tweaking Labor's IR system to promote competitiveness and growth, his starting point should be to ensure that whether employees are unionised or not, work practices become more efficient in return for wage rises. A return to the option of individual contracts for new employees and a clamp on unions "striking now, bargaining later" would help bring the system into the 21st century, as would an overhaul of unfair dismissal provisions.

The Fair Work Act specifies that "bargaining should deliver increases in productivity" but in practice employers have found it difficult to achieve efficiency-related trade-offs for wage rises. No doubt this has contributed to Australia dropping from 16th to 20th place on the annual Global Competitiveness Index of the World Economic Forum. Australia ranked highly on health, education, stability of the banking system, foreign investment and the transparency of major institutions, but it rated an abysmal 116th out of 142 nations for flexibility of wage determination and 97th for hiring and firing practices. If that snapshot does not motivate Mr Swan to act, he should consider the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics employment figures, which showed a decrease of 12,600 people in full-time jobs last month and a labour force under-utilisation rate of 12.3 per cent.

While Mr Swan has softened his rhetoric about amending the Fair Work system after he and Julia Gillard repeatedly ruled out changes, the Treasurer showed his talent for understatement when he said people he respects in the business community have expressed concerns "from time to time" about aspects of industrial relations. "Very few" he says, want to "rip away" the Fair Work Act. But the name of the legislation is far less important than its substance.

A growing body of business leaders and employer organisations -- the Australian Mines and Metals Association, the Business Council, the Australian Industry Group, the Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry and retailers -- have argued for major reform. And after industrial relations was a "no-go" area for the Coalition during Labor's first term and at the last election, Tony Abbott has cautiously put his toe into the water by foreshadowing a policy change to allows workers and business to freely strike agreements "which suit themselves" by improving the individual flexibility arrangements of Labor's Fair Work Act. His comments, and those of Mr Swan, suggest that momentum for reform is gathering pace.

It must, because while Mr Swan, like everyone, does not want to see wages and conditions stripped from Australian families, it is those working families' living standards that will suffer if productivity continues to falter.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

BOAT POLICY MAKES WAY FOR GAMES

THIS IS starting to become ridiculous. The opposition's policy on asylum seekers appears, after recent developments, to amount to this. Whether or not the policies will work is of secondary importance; what matters most is whether they will rub the Gillard government's nose in the failure of Labor's Malaysia scheme. Game-playing is at a premium, substance at a discount.

That is the only conclusion to be drawn from Tony Abbott's manoeuvring. The Leader of the Opposition responded to last week's High Court decision which ruled the Malaysia plan unlawful by offering to help the government resurrect John Howard's Pacific solution - shipping those who arrive by boat without visas off to Nauru or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea to await processing as refugees. The problem is, as he has now been advised by officials from the Department of Immigration, that the High Court's decision probably rules the Pacific solution out, too. In any case, the strategy will not work any more: asylum seekers and people smugglers have seen that most of those who were sent offshore this way during the Howard years were duly processed and their claims to refugee status found to be genuine. After a shortish stay somewhere not especially desirable, they have been resettled in Australia. Even if the government and opposition collude to devise a way around the High Court's ruling, the deterrent no longer deters.

Abbott rejects that analysis, as well as its corollary: the Malaysia plan, according to the Immigration Department, has a better chance because it will involve taking some, at least, of the new arrivals right back to where they came from - a dispiriting experience for those who have been through, and paid, so much to get here.

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Whether the department is right cannot be known because the Malaysia option has not been put to the test. If Abbott has his way - as seems likely - it won't be. He means to rule out any co-operation which would send asylum seekers to countries which have not signed the United Nations convention on refugees. That gives his position a principled pretext but it is not his main purpose, which is to prevent the government from chalking up any sort of win on this issue. The government is unlikely for the same reason to concede that Nauru and Manus Island - the Pacific solution mark II - were better options all along.

At some point it should occur to one side or the other that too much effort and money are being spent on this pointless nastiness. Labor's strategy, to win over voters who hate boat people, is not going to work. It should pull out of this race to the bottom and initiate instead a border protection policy which offers asylum seekers no guarantees or encouragement, but does at least treat them humanely while their claims are assessed.

 

Movement at Port Botany

THE privatisation of Port Botany, provided for in the first budget of the O'Farrell government, should be a clever move. The proceeds of the sale of the long-term lease on the site - possibly about $2 billion - will allow NSW to take up Canberra's offer of matching funds for upgrades to the Pacific Highway. There can be no argument that it is a worthwhile project. Nor is there any reason to keep Port Botany in government hands if the same function can be performed as efficiently by a private operator.

As we reported yesterday, the privatisation plan has given rise to hopes that other capital works projects, including the M5 duplication and the M4 East, may now be hurried along, to match the expected increase in the volume of freight passing through the port. Private investors will have an interest in seeing work on transport links speeded up. Given the lean condition of state revenues - even assuming O'Farrell's plans for Waratah bonds are a thumping success - that will probably require more private capital. Here, however, there is reason to be cautious about privatisation.

This state's experience of privatisation and public-private partnerships has been patchy. The reason is obvious with hindsight. The interests of private operators of major infrastructure are not necessarily aligned with the public interest. Private owners of toll roads, for example, want as many vehicles as possible to use the road. That makes eminent sense for shareholders, but it is not necessarily in the public interest. It may be better if fewer vehicles used roads, to reduce congestion and pollution. That is particularly true of heavy trucks.

Yet the automatic assumption appears to be that extra freight from Port Botany will be distributed by road. That means hundreds more truck movements on inner-city roads each week.

At first, improved road links will cope with the extra load, but experience of motorway development has shown time and again that new road capacity quickly draws in more traffic until the old gridlock returns. It is also unwise given predictions that the price of oil will rise as easily-exploited reserves are depleted.

Rail links, particularly to the planned freight transfer centre at Moorebank, should be central to any upgrade at Port Botany. It is equally vital that no transport infrastructure contracts be written with clauses precluding future government investment in alternative transport modes.


Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/editorial/boat-policy-makes-way-for-games-20110908-1jzos.html#ixzz1XQItQTqP

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

A RADICAL ALTERNATIVE THAT JUST MIGHT WORK

Restorative justice could be applied in certain cases.

WHEN one of Victoria's most senior judges and longtime advocates for law reform expresses deep concerns at a key aspect of criminal-law application, those concerns should resonate within the community at large. Therefore, the views of Justice Marcia Neave, of the Court of Appeal, on the inadequacies of the traditional court system in dealing with sex offence cases are reflective not just of perceived shortcomings within an existing framework, but of something that needs to be ''fairer and more responsive'' to the victims of sexual abuse.

Justice Neave, as The Age reported yesterday, expressed her worries at the ''very, very low'' conviction rates for sexual assaults. These have fallen in recent years, from a conviction in about 50 per cent of cases that went to trial in the County Court to 38 per cent in 2009-10; in addition, guilty pleas have plummeted, and the number of victims who report sexual offences to the police is less than 20 per cent. Despite substantial reforms to sexual offence laws and practices - many of them following recommendations dating from when Justice Neave chaired the Victorian Law Commission and, before that, was a part-time commissioner - they have had limited success. Furthermore, as the judge also outlined yesterday, in a paper presented at an Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration conference in Sydney, the criminal justice system is unable to deal with many sex offenders or, indeed, meet the needs of some complainants.

Far from merely criticising the present system, Justice Neave proposes a solution. Although a radical alternative, with some obvious practical and political drawbacks, it just might be workable. The process of ''restorative justice'' eschews the traditional courtroom in favour of a ''conference'' setting, chaired by an independent person, in which some accused sex offenders, including alleged rapists, meet their victims (or a representative) to discuss the offence, its affect on the victim and how reparation could be made. Similar procedures existed in South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission and apply in South Australia, where they are part of the sentencing process for young sexual offenders. This is because of the proven effectiveness of such approaches in reducing reoffending rates.

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There are clear problems associated with any introduction of restorative justice. Indeed, Justice Neave lists several: who should run such conferences, how can they successfully be combined with other support mechanisms, including sex offender management programs, and how best can victims be protected during the process. Another impediment raised by the judge is the state's current law and order priorities: ''politicians may not support this approach because they fear they will be attacked by their opponents for being 'soft on crime'.'' But, as the judge is quick to point out, to compare restorative justice with an idealised justice system is misleading. More creative thinking is needed - and, indeed, it has been supplied.

The Age believes there is sufficient merit in the principle of restorative justice to warrant its consideration as part of dealing with some - though not all - sex offence cases. As Justice Neave says, the criminal justice system ''cannot meet all the concerns of victims of sexual assault. For that reason, we should experiment with restorative justice approaches for sexual offenders.'' She also makes the point that these approaches ''would not be a substitute for the criminal law but would operate alongside it''.

The system could also be fairer on victims seeking not revenge but understanding and acceptance. Like the woman from an evaluation study quoted by Justice Neave: ''I just wanted some sort of validation, someone to say, 'Yes, it happened,' or for him to say, 'Yes, it happened,' and then I would have been fine.''

 

SCHOOL WELFARE OFFERS BETTER BALANCE

WHEN a national school chaplaincy program was introduced in 2006, then prime minister John Howard insisted public funding of chaplains was ''not an attempt to force-feed religion to our children'', but the faith agenda was undeniable. Current Coalition leader Tony Abbott said then: ''We think that religious faith is important. We are just providing some modest assistance to schools that also think that religious faith is important and want to give their kids access to it.'' The scheme involves more than 2700 schools, so it undeniably meets a need. Acting on the Commonwealth Ombudsman's recommendations and public consultation, the Gillard government is extending the program to cover the employment of secular welfare officers.

This reform better satisfies the principle of secular public education and meets the needs of all schools, while acknowledging that religion has a place in our pluralistic society. The Age is not against all religion in schools. Any society that takes education seriously cannot shrink from exposing students to the beliefs that shape their world. That does not justify state-backed religious agendas. New training and conduct requirements accord with this newspaper's call for more trained non-religious people to give schools much-needed help with student welfare.

Each school ought to be free to employ the people best suited to offer pastoral care, in the broader sense of looking after school community members' well-being. Yet, until now, a secular welfare worker could be hired only if an ordained chaplain could not be found. School Education Minister Peter Garrett highlighted the positive response to chaplains' work in participating schools. That still means almost three in four schools have opted out. For many schools, particularly those in multicultural communities, the program's religious aspect has been an obstacle to participation.

Our society is predominantly secular, especially today's students and their parents. Two out of three marriages involve civil ceremonies. Only 7 per cent of people attend church weekly. A 2006 study by Monash and Australian Catholic universities and the Christian Research Association found 52 per cent of people born between 1976 and 1990 have no belief in God. Australian youth were the least religious of all countries in a 2008 Christian Science Monitor survey.

These trends may motivate advocates of faith-based pastoral care, but publicly funded programs should aim to meet the needs of all students in all schools. The redesigned chaplaincy and welfare program is more likely to achieve that.


Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/editorial/a-radical-alternative-that-just-might-work-20110908-1jzt8.html#ixzz1XQJ2sn3X

 

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

FOREIGN POLICY: OUR MAN IN HAVANA

Foreign policy must settle Britain's approach to the US, Europe and international bodies such as the UN

No building better sums up Britain's old imperial bombast than George Gilbert Scott's Foreign Office, all gilt and granite, and full of memories of long-vanished plenipotentiaries and legations. On Thursday, its Durbar Court and Locarno Suite were appropriate locations for a foreign secretary who hopes to revive his department's lost glories. William Hague gave a speech which warmed the hearts of retired diplomats but may raise eyebrows among some of their present-day successors, a back-to-the-future vision of a proud, practical, mercantile and independent Britain reaching out to the world.

Lord Palmerston would have approved: but Lord Palmerston's day is gone. The question Mr Hague did not answer is why his romantic view of national self-assertiveness is useful today. He spoke of burnishing the FCO's language skills and opening new embassies. He lamented the recent, brutish destruction of its library (now a room of empty shelves and a dusty stuffed snake). He wants to draw on the experience of former ambassadors. It was the sort of speech that should have been accompanied by a glass of medium-sweet sherry and, set against the ill-judged, immoral and at times illegal aspects of some British foreign policy in recent years, much of it was welcome.

But almost as he spoke, his cabinet colleague Liam Fox was on his feet in the Commons rejecting a key element of Sir William Gage's report into the British army's treatment of an Iraqi civilian, Baha Mousa. That disgraceful case – from a war Mr Hague did not even mention (Afghanistan scored only one brief remark) – is far removed from the elegant diplomacy of Mr Hague's imagining. It is excellent news that the FCO is expanding diplomatic representation in India, China and Latin America (which matters more than Britain cares to notice and where economies are growing). But the presence of our man in Havana is only part of a wider foreign policy which must also settle Britain's approach to the United States, Europe and international bodies such as the United Nations (also mentioned only in passing). About such things the foreign secretary was largely silent. What, for instance, does Mr Hague think of the sort of interventionism which, for better and worse, saw British forces go into action in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya? How do his guiding principles square with a world in which individual nations must confront global forces from the bond markets to climate change?

To be fair, Mr Hague did not deny the importance of multilateralism; only it is clear that it does not interest him very much. His world is history. He may struggle to bring it back.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

THE EURO: PEERING OVER THE BRINK

The only realistic endgame for the euro would involve unilateral declarations of independence

Research notes from investment banks are not known for setting pulses racing, but new analysis from UBS gets off to a racy start. "The euro should not exist," it begins, before going on to explain why we must nonetheless hope it continues to do so. Cutting through breezy talk about Greece one day throwing in the towel, the study gets to grips with the grisly mechanics of what would actually happen if a state quit.

Pegged exchange rates often come unstuck, and even "binding" monetary unions slip away. From the gold standard's demise to the collapse of Argentina's currency board, the unthinkable has often come to pass – and proved to be for the best. This has fostered some hazy hopes about escaping the euro, hopes that will be intensified by the ECB's baffling refusal to cut borrowing costs on Thursday. But the brute fact of shared notes and coins is very different from even the strictest exchange-rate rules. History provides precious few cases where a currency's territorial reach has been reduced, and such examples as exist – the American civil war, the Soviet collapse – are often one chapter in a wider cataclysm. Imagine the bank runs, stuffed mattresses and flights to the border which would be triggered in a state preparing to convert savings deposits into some new, cheaper currency, and you start to see why.

The first thicket to clear would be the legal one, since the euro was deliberately built with no exit door, aside from that leading out of the EU. As for chatter in the continent's north about giving feckless southerners the boot – aired again by a former Dutch prime minister on Thursday – there is no way to enforce this. Greece, Portugal and the rest would all have to sign off on Maastricht treaty amendments to facilitate their own expulsion. The only realistic endgame for the euro would involve unilateral declarations of independence, whether from debtor nations who could bear the hair shirt no longer or from creditors who lacked the stomach for any more bailouts.

Either could happen, though neither could be sprung as a surprise. Dislocation would best be contained by an out-of-the-blue announcement of fait accompli one Monday morning, but practical preparations, such as printing new notes, could not be kept totally secret. If a debtor country broke from the pack, they would have obvious difficulty in persuading their citizens to do business in their funny money. The nation's government and its companies would be regarded as ratting on their debts as they sought to settle them with the new currency. If instead a creditor quit, it would not have all these problems, but its banks' balance sheets would be gravely imbalanced, and it could find itself flooded with so many foreign funds that – like Switzerland this week – it would be forced to talk down its own currency. Whoever quit, the fracturing of the EU would in all likelihood spark a trade war, and the final bill for the ruin would hinge on too many known unknowns to be forecast with any precision. UBS's best guess, which can certainly be questioned but ought not be dismissed in the absence of alternatives, is that a cash-strapped quitter could suffer a hit of around a half national income, while a departing creditor might be stung for 20%-25% of GDP.

By any reckoning, such numbers represent economic catastrophe. They redouble the urgency of Angela Merkel showing some leadership, and taking the few steps that can still save the currency – an organised writedown of southern debt, a bigger stability fund and the issue of jointly backed eurobonds. The latter would have to come with strings for the debtors, and these strictures should go wider than the past fixation with public borrowing, covering private borrowing too. Now that Germany's constitutional court has declined to push the euro over the cliff by ruling against bailouts, Mrs Merkel and her compatriots should peer over the edge. They will find it isn't pretty.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF … SUPERNOVAE

We owe these fiery monsters everything, including the fabric of the planet from which we observe them

You wouldn't want one for a close neighbour – at their fiercest, they can be five billion times brighter than the sun – but supernovae, briefly capable of outshining an entire galaxy, have in the past 400 years lit up our universe. Tycho's nova or new star, recorded in 1573, was the first direct evidence that the heavens were not immutable. Kepler's supernova in 1604 was visible even by daylight. Both served as beacons to signal the scientific revolution. The latest candidate for supernova celebrity – provisionally called PTF 11kly – is blazing in the Pinwheel galaxy, 21m light years away: it has already earned its place in history, if only because astronomers caught the explosion within hours of its commencement, and are now fiercely measuring every stage of its bright but brief convulsion. This is a Type 1a supernova, and such puzzling celestial fireworks have served as "standard candles" to measure the rate at which the universe is expanding: if you know exactly how bright such a star ought to be, you can make a good guess, from its dimness, at its distance. Supernovae are, so far, science's best explanation for the heavy elements: everything from helium to iron is known to have been forged from hydrogen in the thermonuclear furnaces of ordinary stars. But gold, lead or uranium require something much fiercer, and supernovae are the best candidates for such alchemy. If so, we owe these fiery monsters everything, including the fabric of the planet from which we observe them.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

JAPAN RULES THE SENKAKUS

One year after the Senkaku incident, Japanese and Chinese people have a bad impression of each other, despite deepening economic and trade relations between the two countries. In fact, China is Japan's No. 1 trade partner. In this situation, the Japanese government must act coolheadedly toward China but must have the will to prevent any move on the part of China to weaken Japan's legal and effective rule of the Senkaku Islands.

Early Sept. 7, 2010, a Chinese fishing vessel hit two Japan Coast Guard patrol ships inside Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Coast Guard officials boarded the Chinese vessel and the JCG arrested its captain early the next day. A week after the incident, the Naha District Public Prosecutors Office decided to release him in view of the negative effect that continuing the investigation would have on the Japanese people and Japan-China relations.

China had strongly reacted to the arrest. It might have hoped that Japan would tactfully treat the incident to avoid a diplomatic row. Clearly, however, the Chinese vessel violated Japanese territorial waters. It must be pointed out that the Senkaku Islands have been integral part of Japanese territories since Japan declared the islands to be part of Okinawa Prefecture in January 1895 after confirming that they were not ruled by what was then China's Qing Dynasty.

The Senkakus were not among the islands — Taiwan and the Penghus — that China had ceded to Japan under the Shimonoseki Treaty signed by Japan and China after the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95). The treaty took effect in May 1895.

After the islands' incorporation into Japanese territories, Japanese nationals built a wharf and a factory to process dried bonito on the islands. They became uninhabited in 1940.

Under the San Francisco Peace Treaty of September 1951, the Senkaku Islands were placed under U.S. administrative power as part of Japan's Nansei Islands. China at that time raised no objection to this provision.

It must be remembered that China and Taiwan did not start making sovereignty claims over the Senkaku Islands until the existence of offshore resources, including oil, was confirmed in the sea near the islands around 1970.

Before the resources came to light, China's maps and the Chinese government recognized the islands as part of the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa Prefecture).

As late as in 1992, China enacted a territorial waters law that said the Diaoyu Islands (the Chinese name of the Senkaku Islands) were part of China.

As China is trying to get its neighboring countries and the United States to accept its position that the South and East China seas are "core interests" of China, friction is happening between Japan and China in the sea near the Senkaku Islands.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry protested against Japan over the fishing operations in early July by a group of fishing boats from the city of Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture, near the islands. A vessel operated by a Japanese political group accompanied the fishing boats. In late August, two Chinese fishing patrol boats violated Japanese territorial waters near the islands and then Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto protested to Chinese ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua.

For a long time, Japan has taken a low-profile posture over its sovereign rights over the Senkaku Islands in an apparent effort not to antagonize China. But it should raise its voice in the international community about its sovereign rights over the islands and make it clear that it legally and effectively rules them. As Prime Minister Naoto Kan and the U.S. President Barack Obama agreed in their New York meeting on Sept. 24, 2010, Japan and the U.S. should closely consult on "maritime issues in the western Pacific."

Even after one year has passed since the Senkaku incident, it is casting a shadow on the perception of Japanese and Chinese people of each other.

Apparently worried about the worsening of Japanese people's perception of China, the Chinese government has designated this year as a year to improve China's relations with Japan. After the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the Japanese Embassy in Beijing to express his condolences to Japan and disaster victims. In May, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Miyagi Prefecture to meet disaster victims. China also sent relief goods and a rescue party.

But according to a poll conducted in Japan and China in June and July, 78.3 percent of the Japanese polled had a bad impression of China — a rise of 6.3 percentage points from a year before — and 65.9 percent of the Chinese polled held a similar impression of Japan — a rise of 10 percentage points.

Both figures were the worst since the poll was first taken in 2005. Even so, it is encouraging that 77.6 of the Japanese polled and 83.1 percent of the Chinese polled think that bilateral relations are important.

Both the Japanese and Chinese governments at least should quickly develop a mechanism of communication to avert frictions in the East China Sea. They should also resume talks on joint development of offshore resources.

The most important thing is that China accept that Japan legally and effectively rules the Senkaku Islands and refrains from taking up the sovereignty issue.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

THREAT OF NUCLEAR TESTS HASN'T DIED

BY TIBOR TÓTH

VIENNA — Much of the world marked the 50th anniversary in early August of the Berlin Wall's construction. But while that Cold War abomination has truly been consigned to history's dustbin, Sept. 1 marked another 50th anniversary, one that resonates far more directly today.

As of 1961, some 200 nuclear bombs had been exploded, most of them in the atmosphere, but two on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Three years earlier, in October 1958, nuclear testing had ground to a halt after the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom agreed on a moratorium. During most of this period, one could get the impression, although it was deceptive, that nuclear testing was actually over.

But the moratorium had been fragile from its very beginning, with nuclear-weapons establishments pushing hard for a resumption of testing. Like the runup to an earthquake, political tension was building behind the scenes. It peaked with the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961. Then, on Sept. 1, the Soviets broke the moratorium, joined shortly thereafter after by the U.S.

What followed was a veritable nuclear-testing frenzy. More than 250 tests were conducted in the 16 months following the aborted attempt to put the nuclear genie back in its bottle — more explosions than in the 16 preceding years.

One test explosion set the infamous record for the largest-ever man-made explosion: the Soviet Czar bomb, detonated on Oct. 30, 1961, was the equivalent of 4,000 Hiroshima bombs.

It is no coincidence that a year later, in October 1962, the world found itself on the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis.

While the barrage of nuclear tests poisoned the political climate, it also literally poisoned Earth's atmosphere and environment. With her "Baby Tooth Study," American physician Louise Reiss, who died earlier this year, proved in the 1960s that radioactive fallout from nuclear testing had entered the food chain — and thus into human babies — all across the U.S. Some isotopes linger for tens of thousands of years. Plutonium-239 from a nuclear test conducted at the end of the Stone Age, for example, would have lost a mere sixth of its radioactivity by now.

Unfortunately, the lesson was not heeded. Nuclear-weapon lobbies triumphed. The distrustful Cold War mentality had taken its toll, with both sides regarding nuclear weapons as the ultimate guarantor of their own security, but a threat in the hands of the other. The inability or unwillingness of either side to put itself in the other's shoes, a precondition for any compromise, kept both locked in a spiraling arms race. The blasts continued — albeit underground — and increased greatly in number.

Today, 50 years and 1,500 nuclear explosions later, we have an historic opportunity to learn from the failures of the past. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) bans all nuclear explosions, everywhere, by everyone. It represents a strong norm — testing virtually screeched to a halt in 1996, when the treaty became available for countries to adopt. More than 180 countries, 90 percent of the world's countries, have signed it and committed themselves to a planet free of nuclear explosions.

Compared to the 500 nuclear explosions witnessed each and every decade during the pre-CTBT period, the last 10 years witnessed only two tests, both carried out by North Korea. While this was still two tests too many, the CTBT clearly has helped force the test genie back into its bottle — and keep it there.

But the treaty hasn't yet entered into force. Nine countries must first ratify it. Until then, nuclear tests are not outlawed, and their absence relies on moratoria. Unfortunately, history has shown just how unreliable moratoria can be.

As a result, we could see yet another volley of blasts, another obscene megaton-range competition, and another fatal countdown between nuclear-armed states, whose numbers have increased.

Only after the Cuban Missile Crisis — humanity's closest encounter with nuclear Armageddon — did U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev grasp the security risks of unchecked nuclear competition and the merits of a test ban to stop it. Only then did they really try to reach a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing — and failed.

How many more chances will we have to learn from the nuclear failures of the past?

Tibor Tóth is executive secretary of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization. © 2011 Project Syndicate

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THE JAPAN TIMES

BEATING THE MIDLIFE BLUES

BY EDWARD HOFFMAN

Special to The Japan Times

NEW YORK — Are you feeling down about middle age? Do you find yourself thinking that time is hurtling and you'll never reach your goals — or, perhaps more distressingly, that they don't even fit who you are anymore?

If you're in the age range of roughly 40 to 65, such angst is hardly unique. Indeed, it was back in 1965 that French-Canadian psychoanalyst Elliott Jacques coined the phrase "midlife crisis" to describe such potent symptoms.

In Jacques' view, midlife is the period when we face finitude — and struggle emotionally with the fading of our youthful dreams for great accomplishment.

Jacques, a poetic writer, forcefully observed: "The individual has reached the summit of life and sees a declining path before him with death at the end. This results in a crisis, stronger in some than others, connected with having to accept the reality of one's death. It's a period of anguish and depression."

Perhaps not coincidentally, Jacques was nearing 50 when he published his influential article. But it wasn't until the mid-1970s, with the hugely best-selling "Passages" by Gail Sheehy, that the term was popularized. An American journalist, she offered an alarming, nearly apocalyptic picture.

For example, her book's jacket copy described the "Forlorn 40s" as "dangerous years when the dreams of youth demand reassessment ... and sexual panic is common." Sheehy based her dark conclusions on interviews. As baby boomers around the world entered their 30s, they internalized Passages' fearsome drama, and came to expect a "midlife crisis" as surely as they expected to lose their youthful bodies. The term soon entered the common language — and remains there around the globe.

Of course, mass culture is shaped by more than best-selling books, and Hollywood has produced a stream of popular movies on midlife crisis. Perhaps the first was "10," a 1979 comedy starring Dudley Moore, playing a songwriter with a severe case of marital restlessness who falls instantly in love with dazzling Bo Derek. "Woman in Red," starring Gene Wilder in 1984, echoed a similar theme.

Over the years, cinematic portrayals of midlife gloom have included "The Big Chill" starring Kevin Costner and William Hurt, "American Beauty" starring Kevin Spacey, "High Fidelity" starring John Cusack, "Lost in Translation" starring Bill Murray, and, more recently, "Solitary Man" starring Michael Douglas.

In an interview promoting "A Single Man" — about a professor in 1960s Los Angeles who suddenly loses his partner — actor Colin Firth quipped: "I could relate to George's midlife crisis because mine has been going on since I was about 30. I have been in one for at least 20 years."

Indeed, the topic has often been parodied, even in movies such as "Enlightenment Guaranteed," which depicts two naive German brothers who fly to Japan to find inner peace in a Zen Buddhist monastery but immediately get lost in Tokyo.

Real midlife turmoil is hardly amusing.The good news is that current psychological research suggests that less than 25 percent of men and women experience a personal crisis during middle age, and less than 10 percent overall relate it to their chronological age or aging.

Also, investigators like Brandeis University's Margaret Lachman have found that our individual personality and prior history of severe stress are the best predictors of who will suffer a "crisis" during midlife.

Today, the rise of positive psychology has shifted attention to what its founder Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania calls "flourishing" during our adult years.

Though much is known about the pains of midlife like divorce and job loss, little information exists about the happiest moments of this period. To gain scientific knowledge on this matter, I've recently led an international research team focusing on midlife peak experiences in the United States and South America. Additional research is under way in Europe and Asia.

Over 250 men and women of diverse occupational and ethnic backgrounds were asked in a survey to describe a recent experience of joy and its impact on their life. The results are intriguing and surprising. Peaks involving interpersonal joy were overwhelmingly most common: more than all others combined.

These often entailed specific life-events like a wedding anniversary celebration, the birth of a child/grandchild, a family reunion or the college graduation of one's son or daughter.

Many participants also reported less time-specific peaks of interpersonal joy, such as feeling romantic love for their partner, mentoring a younger colleague or student, nurturing someone infirm back to health or playing with grandchildren.

The second-most frequent were peak experiences involving achievement in the domains of academics, work or finances — such as earning a university degree at age 40, achieving a professional license as a therapist or pilot, or finally starting one's own business.

Also relatively frequent were peaks of personal growth, particularly foreign travel or making a life-changing decision. Some reported an inspiring encounter with nature or returning to a favorite place of their childhood.

Whatever the particular trigger, midlife peak experiences almost invariably had a strong, uplifting and enduring effect.

Moments of joyfulness in midlife are hardly random, but come through particular kinds of experiences; cross-cultural research shows that several are most prevalent. To maximize your happiness, here are four tips for bringing these into your day-to-day life:

Strengthen interpersonal joy. Celebrations and trips with family members, and romantic times with your special one, are among the greatest sources of delight. Their impact is also long-lasting. Certainly, these events may take careful planning, but it's worth it.

Achieve a personal goal. We all need to feel a sense of accomplishment, especially as the years behind us begin to pile up. Have you had a longtime goal but never fulfilled it — learning a foreign language, taking up painting or a musical instrument, or mastering a sport? Now is the time to act. You'll feel great when you reach your goal.

Visit a place of your childhood. In our 24/7 society today, it's crucial to break free of routine to remember what most inspires us. Among the best ways for doing so is through "homecoming": re-experiencing a nostalgic site of our early years. Allow yourself ample time for savoring. Bring along a journal, and write all your impressions, memories and insights from your present perspective.

Encounter nature. As civilization becomes increasingly urban, it's vital to re-connect with the natural world. By opening your senses to its power and beauty. As "deep ecologists" insist — your mental and physical well-being will be enhanced. Mountain experiences seem especially potent in this regard.

Edward Hoffman, Ph.D., is an adjunct associate psychology professor at Yeshiva University, and coauthor of the forthcoming "Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness and Flourishing" (Cengage). Email: elhoffma@yu.edu

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THE JAKARTA POST

HEAL THE WORLD

This week, we join Americans in marking 10 years since the deadly terrorist attacks on US soil with our prayers. We could not think of a more appropriate prayer than what the late Michael Jackson said in his song "Heal the World": "Make it a better place, for you and for me, and the entire human race".

9/11, so named after the date when hijackers flew passenger planes into crowded buildings in New York City and Washington, changed the United States in a very profound way.

Nowhere has this been felt more abroad than in the way the US conducts its foreign policy. An angry America launched a war in Afghanistan one month after the attacks and another in March 2003 against Iraq, all in the name of the global war on terror. Washington also redefined its relations with the rest of the world, particularly with the Muslim world.

Indonesia too was dragged into the war out of necessity. In October 2002, Indonesian home-grown terrorists with links to the perpetrators of 9/11 struck with their own deadly attacks on the tourist island of Bali, and elsewhere in the country since then. Southeast Asia became the second frontline in the US-led war on terror.

For better or worse, 9/11 brought to the surface relations between the West (with its Judeo-Christian values) and Islam, only because the suicide hijackers had used Islam as the pretext to launch their attacks. There have been tensions and mutual suspicions between the world's Muslims and Christians, but also attempts to bridge them through better understanding and mutual respect.

As the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, Indonesia was pushed into the center of the debate about the compatibility of the values of the world's two major faiths. A nation with its own challenges on inter-faith relations, Indonesia has contributed to efforts at improving the relations between Islam and the West.

Especially in the war on terrorism, Indonesia has proved its commitment — perhaps beyond anyone's expectations — through consistent and strict law enforcement. Many have been arrested, prosecuted, jailed and even executed in connection with acts of terrorism over the past decade.

Ten years after 9/11, the threat of terrorism has been reduced but not necessarily eliminated, and relations between the West and Islam have survived turbulent waters. The United States is only now withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Putting aside the heavy costs incurred in getting here, the world today is a safer place, for Americans and for much of a large part of the world, including Indonesians. In marking the 9/11 anniversary, however, let's not forget that many more people in other parts of the world are still living in constant fear of wars, conflicts, poverty and disease.

The world will only become a safe place for everyone when it rids itself of the injustices, ails and gaps that cause these tensions in the first place.

As Michael Jackson says, the world needs healing, and every one can and should contribute: "If you care enough for the living, make a little space, make a better place".

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THE JAKARTA POST

THE KING AND UI

JAJANG JAHRONI

We are ignorant about Saudi Arabia. We just know humiliated and tortured laborers, the beheaded Ruyati and the invisible women who are banned from appearing in public life.

With these facts alone we cannot describe correctly Saudi Arabia as the most prominent country in the Middle East.

Most of us would not have been aware that over the past three decades this kingdom was busy modernizing its infrastructure. Universities, schools, hospitals, roads and factories were built across the country.

It attracted migrant laborers, including our own, and students all over the Muslim world were given scholarships, including our students.

It is true that gender segregation remains in effect. However, women in Saudi Arabia have better access to education now. Many Saudi women are becoming nurses, doctors and teachers — professions believed to be suitable for them.

We are also ignorant about the fact that Saudi Arabia is heterogeneous. We just know Saudis are Wahhabis, a conservative Sunni sect which fears any theological debate that may result from questioning their own monopoly over religious interpretations.

Our notion about this sect is undoubtedly monolithic, which is totally incorrect. In fact, divergent streams within Wahhabism have emerged over several decades as a result of religious fragmentation.

More than any other country in the Muslim world, Saudi Arabia is an Islamic state. Islam is the religion of the state, its source of legitimacy, shaping state policies and serving as the moral code of its
society.

Like it or not, Saudi Arabia practices Islamic law: a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose. I know most of us will not agree with this punishment system, but this is the way the law is enforced in Saudi Arabia, and the King might not have any authority to abolish it.

Being an Islamic state, the Wahhabi ulema are given privileges and authorities. They are state notables who consistently provide legitimacy for the continuation of the Saudi dynasty.

The formation of the state of Saudi Arabia was a result of the political leadership of Muhammad bin Saud (1702-1765), the founder of Saudi Arabia, and the puritan religious group led by Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792), the founder of the Wahhabism.

While this ideology previously served as an effective means for political mobilization and power centralization, now it is widely fragmented. Scholars have noted the fragmentation of religious authority during the Islamic revival of recent decades.

In the context of Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabi scholars are engaged in fierce debate among themselves about the meanings of Wahhabism. They are challenged by popular ulema, journalists, teachers and writers who also claim to have religious authority.

The reproduction of knowledge among the Saudis takes place in these largely overlapping social settings. On the one hand, the state seeks to control knowledge. On the other, the fragmentation of authority is inevitable as a result of modernization.

Compared to his predecessors, King Abdullah is moderate. Despite some political discrimination in previous times, the King made major advances in Sunni-Shiite reconciliations, which allowed the latter to practice their own cultures.

Insults against Shiism have been recently been abrogated from school textbooks. He is also concerned with the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. Major changes that marked a milestone of Saudi development occurred when the monarch invited hundreds of international scholars to teach at home.

Democracy is very unlikely to occur in Saudi Arabia in the near future. But attempts to that direction have been made by many. Ulema, students, journalist, activists, writers and women are working for democracy. All have demanded greater political participation. Gulf Wars I and II became a catalyst that forced the monarch to make reforms, albeit limited.

Unlike his predecessors, King Abdullah is facing different situations. Islamism has emerged and oil prices have plummeted by almost half. Opposition groups including the ulema have voiced criticisms against the regime's alliance with the West.

All these events have changed the Saudi political landscape and impacted religious education.

Do these facts suffice to award the king an honorary doctorate? I am not sure. But recent debate over the award from University of Indonesia (UI) indicates that our knowledge of Saudi Arabia is limited. We are ignorant. The arguments are no more than stereotypes.

I express my condolences to Ruyati and other laborers who have suffered a similar fate. But this is not to say we should be infuriated with the entire country.

If we consider the award is illegitimate based on the argument that King Abdullah is a despot, why do we keep sending our pilgrims to Mecca?

Saudi Arabia realizes that global politics has changed. This is the reason why King Abdullah visited Beijing. This is also the reason why he visited Ankara and awarded Erdogan with the country's most prestigious award.

We know that China and Turkey are becoming prominent players in the world. The King would love to visit our country, as one source says, but not after this embarrassment.

The writer is a doctoral student at Boston University.

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THE JAKARTA POST

A LESSON FROM IDUL FITRI CONTROVERSY

MAHMUDI ASYARI AND MUIZZUDIN

Idul Fitri 1432 H is over. Muslims hope that with the end of the fasting month they can return to what they call fitra, a perceived pure state. However, this hope is tainted by the debate over the correct date of Idul Fitri, whether it was Tuesday, Aug. 30 or Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2011.

The debate was heightened when Muslims visited their extended families, friends, and colleagues and knew that the people they were visiting celebrated Idul Fitri on a different day.

To some extent, these family visits, which are inspired by the religious spirit silaturahmi (keeping in touch and maintaining good relations) and should be warm and friendly became unnecessarily contentious over the date of Idul Fitri, each side sticking to the correctness of their position.

Ideally, religious leaders, Muslim organization leaders and preachers, emphasize the spirit of tolerance. It is a pity then, that they conduct the debate over the date of Idul Fitri in public, not simply among the Muslim intellectuals.

From this it can be said that they are ready to be different but they are not ready to see and accept differences in others.

With the ideology of caliphate (one Islamic state in the world), Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), for example, claims that Saudi Arabia's decision to set the date of Idul Fitri on Tuesday was absolute, not relative.

The HTI went so far as saying that fasting on Tuesday for those who celebrated Idul Fitri on Wednesday was haram (forbidden).

This is an act of intolerance and overreaction since ulema in Saudi Arabia recommend that each place has its own mathla (moonrise) and they don't recommend that Muslims outside Saudi Arabia follow their decision over the day to celebrate Idul Fitri.

With regard to sighting the crescent in Saudi Arabia, many members of ICOP (Islamic Crescents' Observation Project) such as Qamar Uddin from Medina and Abdul-Rasaq Abdul-Azeez Ishola from Mecca were reported to be surprised when the Supreme Council claimed to have sighted the crescent. They just said "we followed the decision and prayed May Allah forgive us all for our mistakes".

In Indonesia, the debate continues. The minister of religious affairs is accused of prevaricating, committing a mistake and needing to apologize.

The demand, which is growing, is not only formulated in messages on social networks but also voiced by academics.

There are three agreed criteria for sighting the crescent (the position of the crescent is not less than 2 degrees above the horizon at the time of the sunset, the elongation angle of the moon and sun is not less than 3 degrees, or the crescent is seen for not less than eight hours when the moon sets) among the members of Mabims (Informal Meeting of Religious Affairs Ministries of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore).

Considering the factual position of the crescent which was less than 2 degrees above the horizon, Muslims in Brunei, Indonesia and Singapore chose to celebrate Idul Fitri on Wednesday, Aug. 31.

It is questionable why Malaysia stuck to the third criterion only and declared that Idul Fitri fell on Tuesday, Aug. 30.

Perhaps the choice of day to celebrate Idul Fitri is perceived to be a kind of ijtihad (the process of reaching a legal decision on the basis of one's own interpretation of Islamic law) leading to different interpretations.

Given the dispute over the correct day to celebrate Idul Fitri, Muslims should learn to be more tolerant. When their opinion differs from that of others, they should consider what Abu Hanifah, a founder of the Hanafi School in Islamic Law, said: "My opinion is right but probably it is wrong, someone else's opinion is wrong but probably it is right."

It is better to make a claim as a choice of practice not as a choice of theology. Muslim leaders should show tolerance and wisdom when they express and explain the different interpretations related to religious activities.

When Muslim organizations cannot reach agreement, they should be prepared to look at and face up to the differences among them. If they are not prepared to do so, they should not make different decisions.

When they are not prepared to accept differences but nonetheless make different decisions, it is their followers, the common people, who will have to take all the consequences.

They should leave aside arrogance and egoistical attitudes. They should think of the country as a whole, not solely of their own group.

Theologically speaking, with the first principle of Pancasila (the official philosophical foundation of the Indonesian state), belief in the one and only God, Indonesia is not an Islamic state.

All Indonesian Muslims, including Muslim organizations, should follow and prioritize what the legitimate government decides as mentioned in the Holy Koran as ulil amri minkum (QS An-Nisa: 59).

There is room for difference and this is also guaranteed by the Constitution. However, when there is room to agree, why should they disagree?

One thing to take into consideration is that although Muslims in the Middle East, except Libya, Morocco and Oman, celebrated Idul Fitri on Aug. 30, they still firmly hold to the hadith emphasizing that Muslims must start and end the fasting month when they sight the crescent.

When astronomers in Jeddah declared that what they sighted on Ramadhan 29, 1432 H (Aug. 30) was not the moon but Saturn, they confessed that they had only followed the hadith to verify whether Ramadhan should have 29 or 30 days.

They do not argue whether the correct method of determination is rukyat (sighting the crescent) or hisab (calculation).

Mahmudi Asyari obtained his doctoral degree from Jakarta State Islamic University. Muizzudin is a lecturer at
the University of Indonesia.

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THE JAKARTA POST

COMMON SENSE AND RELIGIOSITY

KHAIRIL AZHAR

There was a question, amid a 20-minute religious service, "How about a woman with an infant who cannot perform the Idul Fitri prayer?"

The religious teacher smiled and answered, "Nurturing a child religiously is a must, while performing Idul Fitri is secondary. Allah rewards you with your conducting the former and will be displeased if you do the later."

Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), quoting a saying of Prophet Muhammad, sings, "Who should I give my love to/my respect and my honor too/who should I pay good mind to/after Allah/and Rasulullah/Comes your mother/Who next?/Your mother/Who next?/Your mother/And then your father." In short, related to reproduction and nurturing a child, Islam comes with this motherhood concept together with certain worldly virtues and eschatological consequences.

Yet, during last week's Idul Fitri prayer and sermon, some mothers of my neighborhood were trying hard to soothe their babies in the congregation. Their shimmering makeup and dress seemed to be meaningless as the babies continued to cry under the shining sun. The babies were surely too young to understand what was in their mothers' minds. Two or three years ago, I would have told my wife that I would stay home tending to our baby if she wanted to go to the mosque for the optional prayer.

In fact, it is not a rare case. Included here is how certain mothers abuse their fetuses with their fasting during the month of Ramadhan without consulting physicians.

How would it be if children suffer malnutrition or were born with physical defects? Can we say that this is what Allah decided? Is it the best the Sacred Books promise for humankind?

Here we are, then, at the point of how certain teachings of a religion are understood by its adherents. And it is unique — not to say absurd. As if scientific mind was nonsense compared to the understanding of a religious doctrine using common sense.

A colleague, in her seventh month of pregnancy, was asked about why she kept fasting while she already looked pale and faint. Her answer was unclear, which epitomized her doubt in understanding sacred teachings and natural reasoning. Her decision to continue fasting seemed to be an emotional, rather than a rational, choice.

Speaking about emotions, in a religious context, we are exposed to the feelings of fear, if not over-expectation. In the mind of a devotee, there is a kind of anxiety in case the God (or referred individual or groups) disagrees with what he or she does. One may then choose the safest way: to totally surrender to the extreme end of a doctrine and abort any possibility of the presence of interfering reasons.

On the other hand, an unreasonable choice is taken as one highly-stimulated by a certain imagined reward, something that looks more promising or everlasting. Here, any kind of pain or feeling may disappear. We can see, for instance, why a suicide bomber dares to sacrifice his life and forget the rest.

Back to my pregnant colleague, she was a university graduate with a secular major. She neither spoke Arabic nor learned Islam directly from its original or standardized sources. She learned all the doctrines basically from preachers, religious teachers, referred others, etc.

Now, let's see how and why this way of understanding a religious doctrine might happen in a wider context.

When I was teaching some students how to read Koran at a junior high school in 2003, two girls refused to touch and read it. When I asked them why, the answer was, "it is haram [religiously prohibited] to touch and read the Koran while girls are menstruating".

It made me crazy. Along my secondary school years at a pesantren (traditional Islamic school) in West Sumatra, I had never found such a problem. I can freshly remember how one of my late teachers said, "If every menstruating girl at this school is not allowed to touch and read Koran, how should we manage the teaching and learning process since most of the subjects are related to the Koran?"

We then had a debate about a verse of Holy Koran (56:79) read, "None touch it except the purified". The teacher said it refers to Koran in the heaven (lawh al-mahfuz). He also joked, "Please go to a Koran or Arabic printing company and you will find many paper cuts with Arabic letters spreading everywhere."

Back to the 2003 story, I then brought a book titled Tafseer Ayaat al-Ahkaam authored by Muhammad Ali al-Sayis, a leading Islamic cleric in Middle East, to school and handed it to my fellow Islamic teacher. I showed him the page telling about how menstruation should not obscure one's wish to learn Koran.

To my surprise, his face turned sour for knowing nothing about it. So, how did he come to the conclusion that menstruating girls could not touch or read Koran? He answered, "My teacher said that and it is applied here commonly." He didn't change his mind.

Advising my pregnant colleague, in the second story, my superior said that it is truly unfair, as our selfishness — such as to obtaining godly rewards — make us sacrifice our fetus. She should break her fast and immediately enjoy nutritious foods and drinks. Later, I knew, she kept fasting for a reason I might have never comprehend.

The writer is a researcher at Paramadina Foundation, Jakarta.

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