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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Editorial 15. 07.09

July 15, 2009

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Month July 09, Edition 000246, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

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The Non-Aligned Summit in Egypt signals the formal revival of the India-Pakistan dialogue, with the two Prime Ministers meeting. The tough talk and rhetoric of the post-26/11 period, persisted with through the election season in India, has now been toned down. The UPA Government's argument is going back to jaw-jaw cannot really do India any harm, provided Pakistan shows progress with its investigation and prosecution of the masterminds of the Mumbai terror carnage of November 2008. On its part, Islamabad has taken grudging action. The belated appeal against the freeing of Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, chief of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h — the parent organisation of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba — by the Lahore High Court was being cited as a sign of hope. Even here the Punjab Government has now withdrawn, claiming it has no evidence against Saeed. In any case, the Pakistani Supreme Court is a populist, politicised institution. It has gone out of its way to release Islamist insurgents who had been detained at various points since 9/11. Indeed, this was at the root of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry's battle with Mr Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's former President. It is unclear how cooperative the Pakistani Supreme Court will be in bringing the conspirators of 26/11 to justice. Given this treacherous history, any India-Pakistan engagement can only be an exercise in caution. Romantic hopes of a composite dialogue are obviously just not viable. The principal bilateral concern is simply terrorism against India, supported and perpetrated by groups within Pakistan, including some within the Islamabad-Rawalpindi establishment. There is no point discussing cross-border trade, resolution of the Sir Creek dispute, river-water sharing and so on without a satisfactory conclusion to that core issue: Terrorism.

Yet, even within that narrow ambit, there is much to be cautious about. It is obvious a straightforward conversation between the political leaderships will not do. President Asif Ali Zardari and the Government that rules in his name do not have the wherewithal to deliver what India wants. They cannot substantially roll-back Pakistan's Islamisation or even defang jihadi militias such as the LeT. Some quarters have proposed direct talks between the Army Generals of both countries. This is obviously not acceptable to India, where civilian control of the military is both a de jure and a de facto reality. The chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence is the latest to join the ranks of Pakistani interlocutors. This is a double-edged sword. Powerful sections of the ISI are still collaborating with Islamist groups — domestically, as well as on the Afghan and Indian fronts. Today, the leadership of the ISI may be persuaded to be conciliatory vis-à-vis New Delhi and share intelligence. Tomorrow, under a new dispensation, the information India puts on the table could be used against it. All this is not to say there should be no talks. It is just that one has to go into the meeting room with very limited expectations, with a minimalist agenda and with reticence as the first, last and defining principle.

Given this cautious and mutually suspicious framework, it is highly unlikely the talks will amount to much or help make India and Indians truly safer. It would be best if the Government complemented the resumption of dialogue with other strategies that may allow it greater leverage within Pakistan. Those plans, of course, are not for discussion with another country.





                                                          EDIT DESK



If you thought that the global economic downturn — with dipping stock markets, contracting demand and across-the-board job cuts — was tough on you, think again. Human miseries apart, the economic slowdown has also taken victim blue-collared workers of the Artificial Intelligence kind. Robots in Japan — those hard-working dedicated employees who make up a substantial portion of the Japanese labour force — are having to power down due to the slack in the global consumer market. And it's not just the muscular industrial robots that have the recession blues. All the cute and entertaining ones like the robotic puppy that plays fetch with your kids without having to be toilet trained or the really 'practical' ones like the cyborg house-sitter that reports any suspicious activities in your home when your are away, all of a sudden do not have any takers. One supposes that when people all around are getting pink slips, seeing robots flourish at the workplace wouldn't exactly be kosher. But the truth is that although they can perform mundane, repetitive tasks with amazing precision, and cut down on production costs in the long-run, the initial investment required to have robots work for you is way too heavy on the wallet. And as far as those 'practical' household robots are concerned, we figure that the industrious Japanese believe that during recession it wouldn't hurt to put in a couple of more locks and get your kids a real dog from the local pound.

The going might be tough for Japan's robots today, but they need not short-circuit on account of that. For, Japan's is an ageing society where 25 per cent of the population is 65 or above. Hence, whether there is an economic slump or not, the country needs its robots to supplement its active workforce and help the elderly go about their daily routine, while the younger lot slaves it out in those competitive Keiretsus. This is probably what got the Japanese Government to moot a plan in 2007 calling for one million industrial robots to be installed by 2025. Thus, just so they aren't rusty when they are needed again, it might be prudent to engage the presently-decommissioned robots in some way in these troubled times. They could be strategically placed in downtown Tokyo's commercial district to sing dejected, laid-off workers a peppy Japanese number to boost their morale. Or they could be used to give out free hugs — nothing like a warm, steel and plastic embrace to make you forget your financial woes. Maybe they could have them tell fortunes; people do tend to believe in those things when the going gets tough. All said and done, Japan has to have its robots. Without them, who is going to pass around the Sake, eh?









The Ticho House is where Jerusalem's artists, writers, musicians and anybody else who qualifies as an intellectual and is appropriately dressed in gloomy black representing the sandal-clad hip crowd's existential dilemma gather every evening to while away the lazy hours of mid-summer stupor. Nava Bibi, in a billowing flower-printed dress, is a charming hostess. On the lush lawns a huge screen has been set up for the ongoing art film festival and the movie being screened, Seven Easy Pieces by Marina Abramovic, directed by Babette Mangolte, is reminiscent of Jean-Luc Godard's Une Femme Mariée. Godard's chosen medium was black and white; Mangolte's use of bleak colours is equally brooding. Young Israelis watch the film intently; later, they dissect it frame by frame over wine and fish at Little Jerusalem, the Ticho House restaurant where it's tough to find an empty table.

At a short distance, in noisy, raucous Ben Yehuda teenagers and twenty-somethings party late into the night. There's live music (a woman belts out Jai Ho!) spilling into the street; most pubs throb with Goa Trance. In the din, a singer's voice soars over the cacophony of club music: Idan Raichel, the Rasta Man with matted hair, is a rage in Israel. His music is unique and defies existing categories. He brings together musicians from Israel's various immigrant communities — all of them are Jewish yet each of them is different. Raichel says it is his attempt to help new immigrants remain rooted in their cultural traditions while blending with mainstream Israeli society.

Meanwhile, the Haredim, who occupy the ultra-orthodox quarters of Jerusalem and collectively represent the anti-thesis of everything that secular Jews stand for, including their lofty disdain for the haredi way of life which is sustained by generous financial assistance provided by the Government and Jewish charities, fight it out with riot police over a perceived violation of Sabbath rules. A month ago, the Government decided to keep a newly-built parking lot across the walled city's Jaffa Gate open on Sabbath when everything in Israel, especially in Jerusalem, comes to a halt and an eerie silence descends on the city.

The Haredim, appalled by this callous disregard of established tradition that prohibits people from, among other things, driving their cars on Sabbath, have decided to force the Government into withdrawing the order. So, for the past three Sabbaths, the Haredim, including young and old religious Jews, have been gathering in large numbers to confront the police. It's a fierce battle that follows each Saturday afternoon, but neither side is showing signs of relenting.

In the West Bank settlements, redolent with the fragrance of flowers and ripening fruit, the resident Jews are in a fury. They see themselves as not just settlers grabbing Palestinian land, as they are made out to be by the Arabs and the international media, but as the true and legitimate inheritors of the 'promised land' of Judea and Samaria. All construction activity in the settlements has been halted; even building a new room now requires the approval of the Prime Minister of Israel.

The settlers don't blame Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (admiringly and loathingly referred to as 'BB') for the freeze on settlement construction activity. Their anger is directed at US President Barack Hussein Obama — the middle name is emphatically stressed in Judea and Samaria where settlers have miraculously converted the sterile desert into fertile farms and pine-scented woodlands.

Mr Obama is accused of appeasing Arab sentiments and addressing imagined grievances by forcing the Right-wing Government led by Mr Netanyahu to give in to his demand of halting all settlement-building activity. Israelis of American origin (many of whom still retain their US citizenship) despise Mr Obama with unguarded hostility. For them, the good news is that American gunboat diplomacy has frozen the peace process and restoring the Green Line as a step towards a full and final settlement of the Palestinian issue continues to remain a distant chimera. Abu Mazen is not complaining.

Israeli Arabs, full citizens of the Jewish state, are not complaining either. Any change in the status quo would cause them needless stress. In any event, most of them take a disparaging view of the situation in Gaza Strip and West Bank. Not surprisingly, they would rather live in Israel where law and order prevails than in the anarchy across the Wall.

Between faith and democracy, the choice is clear — at least for those who have benefited from Israel's economic boom, which has remained largely untouched by the global financial crisis. Young Israeli Arabs may be less hesitant than their parents about speaking up for Palestinian rights, but that does not necessarily reflect split loyalties or subversive tendencies. On the contrary, they are eager to fully assimilate with Israeli society as that would afford them the freedom which Fatah and Hamas deny to Palestinians under their charge.

The certitudes in which the Israeli identity — overwhelmingly Jewish, largely exclusivist and dominated by the cultural preferences, if not biases, of the post-Holocaust generation that came from Europe — has been anchored for the past six decades are still there. But they have begun to yield space to other defining features. The Jewish narrative is witnessing subtle changes and the shift in the Jewish worldview is apparent; victimhood is no longer the main characteristic of the Jewish identity, nor is it cloaked in aggressive religiosity or political Zionism.

The new generation of Israelis is far more confident and aspirational than the previous generation. At the same time, young Israelis have begun to open their doors and windows to the world, absorbing and adopting ideas and accommodating those who were on the margins of a society whose social rules till recently were written by an European elite and religious rites were dictated by the Haredim. Modernity and tradition have found a new equilibrium without disturbing social harmony.

In this Israel, Idan Raichel is as much an inspirational force in reclaiming Jewish cultural identities as the Haredim are in enforcing orthodox Jewish traditions; the Israeli Arabs are not ashamed to flaunt their Israeli identity and the Jewish settlers remain defiant; and, in the heart of Jerusalem, Israelis of various faith and cultural denomination jive to the tune of Jai Ho! and Goa Trance. This Israel cannot but alarm Hamas, Hizbullah and Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


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Mr Balbir Punj's concern ("Alienating our own culture", July 10) about the decadence among our youth who blindly follow Western culture and the deleterious effect it is having on our society is something which should unsettle us all. That the passing away of Sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and the memorial meeting in his remembrance got desultory coverage in newspapers but columns after columns were devoted to pop star Michael Jackson's death is a sad commentary on our society.

The other day on DD Bharati while compèring a captivating programme on Manipuri dance and songs, the anchor said that the function of music was to establish communion with god and unite jeevatma (individual soul) with parmatma (god). All the various ragas of classical Indian music have a spiritual quality about them which makes them far superior than the beating of drums accompanied by tuneless songs that characterises Western rock and pop. While the former leaves you spiritually fulfilled, the feeling after listening to the latter is of emptiness.

There was no need for the Indian media to devote so much of space to MJ's death unless we are in an advanced stage of cultural degradation brought about by a mindless aping of the West, and have nurtured contempt for our own heritage and culture. The other manifestation of the rot pervading our society is the growing permissiveness, be it the culture of live-in relationships or abhorrent same sex coupling. The encouragement given to such utterly despicable behaviour by 'liberals' and 'intellectuals' of a certain kind and the unbalanced media coverage that it has received have only made things worse.

The verdict of the Delhi High Court that decriminalises gay sex has only added fuel to this destructive fire. All of a sudden so many 'queers' are publicly flaunting their perverted sexuality in the name of liberty and equality. Our society, which has for centuries remained bound by familial, ethical and religious bonds, shall never be the same again. Nor will our ancient culture survive the onslaught of this licence mistakenly called 'liberty'. Violence, broken homes, children with split personalities, immorality, et al, will be rampant instead of families living harmoniously within a society, in a land with a rich and glorious past.







May 9, 2002. It was early morning for the guests at the five-star Oberoi Hotel in Karachi. But some White men were not here for tourism; they had come on a mission. They were there to provide the expertise for a top secret project, building a submarine for Pakistan.

A minibus stopped in front of the hotel. Eleven French engineers and three Pakistani staff boarded the vehicle, which was to take them to a dockyard. They worked for the Direction des Constructions Navales (DCN, Direction for Naval Constructions), an undertaking of the French Ministry of Defence.

A Toyota Corolla (1976-make) approached the bus, and, in a fraction of second, exploded. All the French engineers and their Pakistani colleagues were killed. Fourteen by-passers and hotel staff were badly wounded.

The kamikaze attack deeply shocked the French; it was the first time that French citizens were directly targeted after 9/11. The French media and the Government immediately suspected it to be a handiwork of Al Qaeda; a practical concept: It was so nebulous that everything and anything could be attributed to it. The French Chief of Army Staff, General Jean Pierre Kelche, went on air to speak about 'a non-negligible possibility' of the involvement of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. The French Air Force had participated in the bombing of Tora Bora where bin Laden was hiding a few months earlier. Therefore, the elusive Saudi decided to take revenge, they said.

All suspicion pointed towards the Islamic fundamentalists, especially Asif Zaheer and Mohammed Rizwan, the two terrorists belonging to the Harkat-ul-Mujhaideen who were arrested in Pakistan in December 2002.

A year later, the duo and one Mohammed Soham, who was still absconding, were found guilty. They were sentenced to death in June 2003.

The script could have ended at this point, but, suddenly, at some time in 2008, the affair rebounded. During a search of the office of one of the managers of the DCNS (ex-DCN), the police found an interesting report, code-named 'Nautilus', which mentions the 2002 Karachi attack.

In the meantime, in May 2009, after an appeal, the 'overwhelming' proofs against Asif Zaheer and Mohammed Rizwan were found to be too vague; the terrorists were discharged. They were, however, not freed; they were booked under some other cases (in Pakistan, a freed terrorist could always speak out of turn).

But according to the weekly Le Point, the Nautilus report was explicit: "After several contacts in Europe as well as in Pakistan, we came to the conclusion that the attack in Karachi was carried out with some complicity inside the (Pakistani) Army … The (Pakistani) military personnel used the Islamic group to achieve the desired results, but (the affair) has a financial angle". The document speaks of unpaid commissions following the sales of the three submarines.

In September 1994, the Benazir Bhutto Government had signed a secret 825-million euros contract with the DCN to supply three Agosta 90B submarines to the Pakistan Navy.

The first submarine was to be manufactured in France, the second assembled in Pakistan and the third entirely built in Pakistan (the French engineers and staff were working on the last in Karachi).

At the time the contract was signed, the battle for Mitterrand's succession as President of the republic was raging in France. Within the Gaullist Party, Mr Jacques Chirac and Mr Edouart Balladur, two old friends of 30 years, were ready to do anything to be elected.

According to the Nautilus report, different commissions would have been promised to different middlemen and the highest Pakistani authorities were involved (Benazir Bhutto was then Prime Minister).

The Nautilus report also spoke of retro-commission, which would have come back to France and helped to finance the campaign of a candidate. A few months later, when Mr Chirac was elected, he decided to "dry the hidden financial networks" of French politicians and stop the payment of the commissions.

His former companion and looser in the election, Mr Balladur, was Prime Minister at the time of the signature of the contract was targeted. Mr Nicolas Sarkozy, who was not mentioned in the report, was then Finance Minister.

While Mr Balladur denied any wrongdoings and Mr Chirac kept quiet, Charles Millon, Chirac's Defence Minister, admitted to the weekly Paris Match on June 24 of having blocked in 1995 "commissions which could have been the source of retro-commissions".

It appears that the French secret services, the Direction for the Surveillance of the Territory and the Direction General of External Security knew from the start that the attack was not 'Islamic'. Two clues: The explosive used had a 'military' origin and the attack was not claimed by any of the terrorist groups, which is their usual practice. It appears that the US secret services were also in the picture. One Randall Bennett from the US Embassy in Pakistan would have informed the French Prosecutor that the attack was linked to the submarine deal. The Pakistan Navy appears to have been deeply upset to have lost the promised 'commissions'. It could be the motive for the attack.

Though President Sarkozy termed the disclosure a 'grotesque fable', the script is too good for the French press to be easily dropped. Especially when so many of the actors are still around.

Whether it is a 'fable', a Bollywood script or a sad reality, only the judges will be able to tell us!

A question has not been answered, why was Paris supplying the Agosta subs to Islamabad? Was it to combat terrorism in the region? One more mystery!







Why the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan is now targeting scientists and engineers working in Pakistan's strategic weaponry establishments such as the Army-run Heavy Mechanical Complex at Taxila and the Kahuta Research Laboratories, which is responsible for the development of Pakistan's military nuclear and missile capabilities. Both these establishments have come up with substantial Chinese assistance — the HMC since 1979 and the KRL since the 1980s.

This should be of great concern to the Pakistani authorities. Several scientists, engineers and others working in a Pakistani strategic establishment were travelling in a bus on July 2 on the Rawalpindi-Peshawar road when a suicide bomber rammed his motor-bike fitted with explosive device against the bus. According to initial reports, at least six persons were killed and 36 others were injured. Later the Pakistani authorities claimed that the suicide bomber was the only fatality.

There are conflicting versions of the establishment which the persons travelling in the bus were working with. While the Dawn and the Daily Times reported them as the staff of the KRL, the News said they were staff of the HMC. Amir Mir, the well-known Pakistani correspondent, described them as the staff of the ISI. One thing that seems to be certain among all these versions is that those travelling in the bus were working either with the HMC, or with the KRC, or both. If they really belonged to the ISI, as reported by Mr Mir, and were not scientists and engineers as reported by other sources, the possibility is that they were part of the physical security set-up at these establishments.

Even though no claim of responsibility has so far been made by the TTP or any of the organisations associated with it, the needle of suspicion points to the TTP, which had in the past similarly targeted buses carrying the staff of the ISI in Islamabad/Rawalpindi area and Air Force officers in Sargodha area.

Since the commando raid of the Pakistan Army into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July, 2007, there has been a wave of suicide attacks in the non-tribal areas on the Pakistan Army, the Special Services Group, which led the commando raid, the Air Force, the Navy, the ISI, the Federal Investigation Agency and the police, but there has not been any attack on scientists and engineers working in the military-industrial-nuclear-missile complex. They are amongst the most popular of Pakistan's security bureaucracy. Pakistani society venerates them for giving Pakistan a nuclear and missile capability and for strengthening its capability for the production of arms and ammunition. Attacking them runs the risk of antagonising the Pakistani society — including the mainstream fundamentalist parties which lionise these scientists and engineers.

If it turns out that those travelling by the bus were scientists and engineers and not ISI personnel as claimed by Amir Mir and if it further turns out that it was the Pakistani Taliban which carried out the attack, why did it take the risk? The only possible answer is that the Taliban had calculated that the only way of exercising pressure on the military to slow down, if not halt, its military operations against the Taliban is by threatening to target strategic establishments such as the HMC and the KRC. The Armed Forces and the police have so far taken in their stride the increasing suicide attacks on their personnel and establishments. Will they treat with equal equanimity attacks on scientists and engineers and strategic weaponry establishments if such attacks are repeated or will they once again make peace with the Taliban to halt such attacks? An answer to this question will depend on the Taliban's capacity to keep such attacks sustained.

The attack on the scientists and engineers, if true, coming in the wake of the suicide attack on some Army personnel in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir can be interpreted as indicating the Taliban's determination to fight with no-holds-barred — even to the extent of damaging the strategic capabilities of Pakistan, either in respect of Kashmir or in respect of its nuclear, missile and other military arsenal — in order to force the Army to stop its operations in the Pashtun tribal belt.

The writer is director of the Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.








Ghee, derived from the Sanskrit word 'ghta' meaning sprinkled, is a class of clarified butter which is often used in cooking as well as religious rituals. Fooling people in the name of 'pure' ghee, unscrupulous manufacturers have been selling ghee adulterated with animal fat. The seizure of hundreds of tins of adulterated ghee in Jharna nullah locality on June 13 by health officers and the Agra Police is testimony to this horrific act. Besides hides of cows, monkeys, donkeys, horses and dogs, the police seized 25 big drums, 150 tins and four furnaces, knives and country pistols from the site. Despite 50 people working there, no arrest was made as police alleged that the information about the raid was leaked out.

The Agra Municipal Corporation's Animal Husbandry Department chief BS Verma said that residents of the locality had complained several times about the spurious manufacturing unit but it was not found.

Earlier, a raid on farm belonging to a BSP Legislator in Etmadpur area in Agra on June 7 exposed large-scale extraction of animal fat from carcasses of cattle destined for the ghee market. Even 10 days after the raid nothing was done. Later, when the residents protested against inaction against the owner of this unit, an inquiry was ordered.

This is not the first time when this heinous activity has come to the fore. Several television channels have aired footages in the past showing ghee being adulterated with animal fat.

There are two significant reasons why ghee is adulterated: First, recent raids have revealed that only 30 per cent of milk we drink is actually milk and rest is mixture of soap, urea, earthworm fat, oil and whiteners. So, when we don't have milk to drink then where does the milk to prepare ghee come from? Every year, nearly 4,50,000 tonnes of ghee is produced of which 80 per cent is eaten and the rest is used for religious purposes. Looking at the prevailing situation this seems an impossible figure — the actual ghee would be less than a quarter.

Second, dairy products like ghee only have five per cent profit margin, so the only way to up profit is to use animal fat.

The detection of animal fat in ghee is difficult as the mixture has more or less the same physical and chemical characteristics as pure ghee and most laboratories in India do not possess necessary equipment to test edible item properly. To make matters more complicated, ghee obtained from the milk of buffaloes who have been fed cotton seeds have the same characteristics as ghee adulterated with meat. Most of the Government testing methods are based on Reichert-Meissel value, Polenske value and Butyro refractormeter index to detect adulteration in ghee, but these methods are of little use as there are too many variations in the results.

According to the Handbook of Food Quality and Authenticity by Rekha Singhal, Pushpa Kulkarni and Dinanath Rege, several methods like mixing ghee with ascetic acid (this fails as the solvents have to be varied constantly), measuring the butyric acid (this cannot detect animal fat at below 10 per cent); using heat to dissolve the ghee as butter dissolves at 49-53 degrees centigrade and meat at 70-73 (however the temperatures vary hugely); using ultraviolet spectrophotometry, have partially failed. Moreover, colour tests work only when the meat adulterant is over 15 per cent.

So far the best way of detecting pork and beef content in ghee is analysing the triglyceride content. There is Bomer value: 63-64 for cow and buffalo ghee, 66-68 for cotton seed ghee and 69 to 76 for animal fat. So one can detect animal fat if the Bomer value of ghee is between 69 and above.

Besides scientific methods, a lay man can detect adulteration by a simple observation: Pure ghee is uniformly homogenous and not semi-solid.

Besides improving the taste of food, ghee does no good to our health, rather it causes damage as consumption of saturated fats can be harmful for heart and for blood circulation.

Researchers in King Saud University, Saudi Arabia, have found that children who were fed ghee during infancy developed chronic chest infections that failed to respond to antimicrobial therapy. It's high time we realise that ghee is a form of cow's blood into milk. But now to have animal fat along with it makes it extremely awful.

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While the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act has been hailed as a socially relevant legislation addressing the concern of livelihood for impoverished rural masses, there seems to be a disconnect between its intent, principles and the translation of these on the ground.

In the two years since the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme was implemented in the Manatu block of Palamu district, Jharkhand, those for whom the law was enacted find themselves left out in the cold. Those who are poor, unemployed, and for whom the Government's provisions held out a ray of hope, find that now vanishing.

Sadly, the failure starts at the early stages of implementation. Panchayat sevak, who plays a key role in the implementation process, rejects several applications on the ground that the applicant's name is not in the BPL list. In what has been a blatant disregard for the provisions of the Act, in some villages, applicants were rejected for being women.

Further, the job card were not provided to villagers who had applied for it and were found eligible. The irregularities are not the preserve of errant panchayat sevaks alone but seem entrenched in the system of local governance itself. In Jharkhand, the Gram Sabha is supposed to choose the work according to peoples' choice, supervise it and do its social auditing. At the level of the panchayat, the planning and implementation of the chosen work is supposed to be done. Registration of families, applications for the work, distribution and allotment of work are primarily panchayat's responsibilities.

In Manatu, however, things are otherwise. The Gram Sabha was not consulted before choosing the work and an announcement was made to construct ponds whereas most of the villagers wanted wells to be dug. Nor was information on construction of wells, roads or bridges displayed in Panchayat offices which is required.

Violating the rules and withholding vital information seem to go hand in hand in the implementation process. Effective communication is the key to take this legislation to the common people. Information on wage rate, name of implementing agency, cost of the project and date of beginning of work are to be displayed at work sites, which are rarely found in sight.

For instance, according to the rules, a person who is eligible to get work under the scheme and does not get it should be paid a fraction of the minimum wages, which has to be paid by the State Government. The display of this vital information is conspicuously missing at all work sites.

Corruption runs like a common thread in the entire chain of operations. Many villagers claim to have paid Rs 100 as bribe for getting their job cards. It has also come to light that each applicant was being charged from Rs 35-50 for getting photographed for the job card.

To make things worse, there have been cases of discrimination where several families headed by women were not allocated the job cards. On many occasions, Muslims were intentionally left out and those belonging to the Yadav caste were given preference.

The muster rolls were supposed to be filled on a daily basis and a copy of it was to be made available at the programme office as well as at gram panchayat level. The muster roll must be available at the work site also. This was far from the ground reality in Kusmatad, Chunka, Senari, Pakriadeeh, Hamhari and Jashpur, where there were simply no muster rolls at the work place. In Jaspur village, thumb impressions of workers were taken on empty muster roll. In several places, wages were not given accordingly.

There is obviously a deep disconnect between the lofty principles of the Act and its implementation on the ground. Unless these are addressed and a high degree of accountability is injected into the system, the NREGA rather than helping the poor to break out of poverty will only reinforce the social dynamics which keeps them poor.







These are not the best of times for the CPM. Its parliamentary strength is at the lowest since the party's formation in 1964. The leadership is divided over the factors that led to the massive defeat in the 2009 polls and the remedial actions needed to regain the confidence of voters. The confusion at the top has manifested itself in the ad hoc measures taken by the party's central leadership to address factionalism within its Kerala unit.

The fight between two groups, one headed by the state party secretary, Pinarayi Vijayan, and the other by the chief minister, V S Achuthanandan, has paralysed administration in the state and contributed to the Left Front's defeat in the Lok Sabha polls. However, the steps announced by the CPM central leadership are unlikely to improve matters within the party or in the state administration. This week, the CPM, after an unusual two-day session to discuss factionalism in Kerala, chose to expel VS, a founding leader of the organisation, from the party's highest decision-making body, the politburo. However, Vijayan has been allowed to continue as state chief even though he faces a CBI case over his alleged role in the multi-crore SNC Lavalin corruption case. A truce between the two factions seems unlikely, which will be a drag on governance.

It is strange that a party should penalise a member but want him to head its government. It is equally rare for the CPM, which emphasises probity in public office, to defend a leader facing corruption charges at the risk of dividing the party and alienating sympathisers. The only possible explanation is the Machiavellian logic that while VS is relatively more popular than Vijayan, the latter has control of the party. That the CPM leadership prejudged the case against Vijayan and gave him a clean chit has complicated matters. The party failed to convincingly argue its position and defend its leader without obstructing the investigation. It lost credibility over the Lavalin controversy and that was a major factor in its electoral loss. Now, the party leadership finds it awkward even to ask Vijayan to step down till the case is concluded.

By so blatantly favouring one faction, whose leader is an accused in a corruption case, the party's central leadership has gone against its own interests. While the Left's withdrawal of support from the UPA government was packaged as an act of morality and ideological purity, it will be hard to maintain that appearance in the face of the expulsion of VS. Prakash Karat, general secretary of the CPM, was the key mover behind both those decisions. His authority is bound to be eroded when the party comes face to face with their consequences.








Plastic is convenient. It is cheap, too. So plastic bags are ubiquitous in cities, towns and hill stations. From mega grocery store chains and retail outlets to pushcart vendors, eateries and restaurants, the plastic bag is the wonder solution to storage and cartage. Sadly it also kills hundreds of thousands of birds, whales, seals and turtles every year the world over. In India, discarded plastic bags choke not only drains leading to flooding in cities but cows, too. The animals eat leftover food-filled bags discarded on the roads, and suffer the consequences. Polythene bags are not biodegradable. In landfills, they leach toxic chemicals into the soil, contaminating groundwater. Polythene bags that are of less than 40-micron thickness are more harmful not only to the environment; as popular wraps for takeaway foods, they impact public health as well.

The issue at hand is to work out how we can reduce the risks with better usage and disposal methods as well as eventually replace plastic with safer options. A complete ban might not be the answer. Recycling is an option, and this could apply not only to recycling better quality plastic bags but also waste paper. The advantage of allowing bags that are more than 40 microns thick is that they have some economic value, and thus provide some incentive for recycling. Another option would be a plastic tax, which would lead to greater reuse of plastic as well as a shift towards more ecologically friendly packaging.

Reuse, reduce and recycle the three R's of polythene use may be a popular mantra among schoolchildren, but we don't take it seriously enough as adults. The throwaway culture is a major reason for increase in toxic garbage and sewage clogging. There are many alternatives to polythene bags. Encourage the use of jute bags and baskets that were used by shoppers before plastics. Use bags made of recycled paper, or else shopping trolleys and rucksacks or backpacks.

Bangladesh banned thin polythene bags in 2002 to solve the problem of blocked drains and flooding and it has worked. Delhi began with a ban early this year but the momentum seems to be petering out. Biodegradable polythene made of starch is another, less affordable option. A total ban on thin polythene bags coupled with practising the three R's will help us take significant steps towards curbing the plastic menace.







If there's one amenity all cities require for better air quality, reduced congestion and noise as well as quicker, safer travel opportunities for all, good and efficient public transport systems would be it. Unfortunately, our cities are centred on the personal vehicle, causing environmental and social damage. Public transport, on its part, has been inadequate. In terms of receiving the government's financial support and priority or general popular acceptance, it has failed miserably. Cities like London, Singapore, Brisbane and Bogota are trying to ensure people abandon personal vehicles and use public transport, at least on weekdays. But we seem to have taken the opposite path, towards the personal two-wheeler or car. No wonder urban transport has become a serious threat to the environment.

Of 4,400 towns and cities in India, less than 15 have government-provided public transport systems. In all other urban locations, public transport is a mix of privately operated formal and informal modes, which function with hardly any regulatory oversight. Though there exists a huge demand for public transport in cities, given the rapid rates of personal motorisation, public transport shares are dwindling in terms of passenger trips and vehicle shares. The share of the public bus reduced from 11 per cent of India's total vehicle fleet in 1951 to 1 per cent in 2001. While in 1951, one of every 10 vehicles sold was a bus, today it's only one in every 100. The number of registered buses grew at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.6 per cent between 1951 and 2006 while other vehicles registered had a CAGR of almost 11 per cent.

According to a TERI study in one of India's large metropolitan cities, increase in public transport's share from 62 per cent to 80 per cent by the year 2020 would lead to a fuel saving of 7,65,320 tonnes of oil equivalent, or about 21 per cent of the fuel consumed in the baseline case. In addition, 23 per cent reduction in total vehicles (6,42,328) and road space creation (equivalent to removing 4,18,210 cars off the road) would go along with decreased traffic congestion. Air pollution would also drop significantly: a 40 per cent drop in carbon monoxide, 46 per cent in hydrocarbons, 6 per cent in nitrogen oxides and 29 per cent in particulate matter. Total carbon dioxide mitigation potential for the city over a 15-year period (2005-2020) would be 13 per cent. This emphasises the need to bring in more and improved public transport in cities.

Public transport in India involves multiple technical, operational, managerial, financial, institutional and organisational issues. There's also labour, planning and quality. State and city governments have not done and are still not doing enough to plan and operate attractive transport systems, and unless we as citizens demand action now, we will suffer long vehicle queues, traffic jams on congested roads, dangerous walking conditions and bad air.

With initiatives like the National Urban Transport Policy and the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, public funds have been mobilised to build/acquire requisite public transport infrastructure (BRT, procurement of buses, etc) in 63 mission cities. This is a good move. But what about the remaining 4,000-plus towns and cities? Their mobility needs must also be met so that they do not repeat the mistakes of cities that adopted an unsustainable path of personal motorisation thanks to lack of decent public transport.

We need to arrest declining shares of public transport in small and medium cities and preserve and gradually increase them. This does not call for heavy investments or sophisticated infrastructure, only a recognition of the fact that people's growing mobility needs should be matched by the presence of affordable and attractive public transport. State and city governments will need to ensure this. Providing adequate buses running on schedule, good coverage of routes, safe and easy access to bus stops, basic passenger amenities at waiting areas, comfortable travel environment and good bus headways can go a long way.

Sometimes the most effective solutions are simply good coordination and management. For example, Delhi's and Pune's BRT and Volvo buses in Bangalore have been in the news for apparently not meeting expectations while systems like shared CNG three-wheelers in Surat and shared Maruti car taxis in Shillong seem to be serving mobility needs, being safe, accessible, affordable and convenient to use. The point being made is each city has unique transportation and traveller characteristics. Especially in small and medium towns where average trip lengths do not exceed 2-3 kms, informal, flexible transport systems should be looked upon as part of the public transport system, not a competition or threat to it. Finally, commitment and will on the part of city authorities are required as demonstrated by cities like London and Bogota. Unfortunately in India, transport does not even feature as a municipal function in most cities, barring a few exceptions.

The writer is associate fellow, transport and urban development, The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delh







What is the relation between designing and consumer habits and usages?

I think consumer habits are one of the key issues in design. Look, for example, at the habits of working and of eating (or drinking) at the same time on the same table. Although tools like laptop, cups and plates seem to be quite functional in their own contexts, they may not be functional in many other contexts. For instance, a plate or a cup which is used close to a laptop seems to be quite non-functional because it's not designed to be used in this context; it's just designed to be filled with any beverages. Think of the cables, think of the danger pouring out of your cup close to the computer. We as designers, therefore, would have to look at those specifications because these specifics are necessary to think of special solutions of designing.

Are there any hindrances that designers face in Europe today?

I think European designers are in quite a comfortable situation. Most of the latest technologies are more or less available and there are plenty of platforms open for innovative and even experimental concepts. So, essentially, there are no fundamental hindrances for designers in Europe. However, there could be the problem of convincing the public, and the market, about the quality of an innovative design. But that in fact is not a hindrance. It's just part of the job.

Due to globalisation, designing is increasingly losing its indigenous identity. Is there any solution to this?

That is true. The only solution might be that those with very strong cultures (for example, the diverse cultures in India) should be aware of their characteristics and they should be able to transform the qualities and specifics into a contemporary design vocabulary that would keep those specifications while respecting and utilising technological developments.

What lesson do you think Indian designers learn?

Each crisis can be very helpful as it forces us to concentrate more on the essentials, on what we really need. And this concerns all designers and not only the ones from India. During the period of high economic growth, most companies (and designers) think about the question: What do we eventually like to have? In times of crises, we have to ask: What do we really need? And that might lead us to focus on need-based designs instead of catering to materialistic drives that dominate consumer habits in times of high prosperity.






Shock and horror! Obama's been clicked 'ogling' at a Brazilian delegate at the G8 do. Not only is he likely to be branded a bad hubby-cum-daddy, his ratings as Prez may nosedive. His compatriots are big on family values. Unlike the Europeans, generally cool about real or perceived familial blots. Italy's given a long rope to scandal-prone Berlusconi. The French don't fulminate over First Lady Carla Bruni's pin-ups. The British saw Lady Di take comfort outside a troubled marriage and not always be a focused mother. But she was People's Princess, in life as in death.

We in India too don't seem to think the personal choices, peccadilloes or parental lapses of public personages determine their professional calibre or lack of it. Gandhi did bold experiments with abstinence. Nehru had a soft spot for Edwina. Indira chose career over conjugal bliss. Single-status Vajpayee wasn't grilled about his private life. Glamour people from Dharmendra to Javed Akhtar broke with biwi number one for second marriages. People's reaction mostly was and is: so what?

Try telling that to Oprah Winfrey enthusiasts or Bush family fans, who believe daddy-do-no-wrong or, alternatively, it-all-goes-back-to-mommy. Wacko Jacko once lived up to his alias by dangling his baby from a balcony. Today, everyone forgives Michael Jackson that transgression. All because daughter Paris has crowned him the world's best daddy. Her "i love him so" message came at a memorial concert, where the crowds were already making mega-use of their tear ducts thanks to the gigs of hold your sobs Lionel Ritchie and John Mayer.

Jackson's alleged pajama parties with adolescents may finally be consigned to HIStory. With his child doing him the best (if belated) PR favour before a gaping global audience, he's been posthumously redeemed. Fatherhood, duly certified, now overshadows his music, his brilliance as an entertainer or those hot moves that spawned legions of break-dancing copycats. For large sections in America, you can be singing sensation or pop president. How good you are at your job still depends on publicly swearing that you tuck your kids into bed and sing them a lullaby or two besides.

Hell, even Obama knows that. On the campaign trail, he'd neglected onerous bedtime-story-reading duties to his two girls. In White House, he felt they needed a written apology. No, he confessed in an epistolary tear-jerker, he hadn't been a perfect daddy. Nor a model member of that greatest of all American institutions: the family-about-to-turn-First Family. But guess what? He took wife and wards on his "adventure" of running for Prez only because he wanted wonderful things "for every child in this nation". Even Obama-baiters must have sighed over that presidential gem in a magazine appropriately called Parade. Obama wasn't just papa to Sasha and Malia. He was Papa of the Nation.

If only Bill Clinton had thought of dashing off a paternal mea culpa to Chelsea way back when Bush Sr attacked his family values. Not that he didn't have a post-presidency defence strategy. Who can forget the Clintons attending Sunday church like exemplary First Citizens? If anything, Obama got great tips from his Democratic predecessor at Oval Office, and we're not just referring to his commissioning a mandatory First Puppy. Obama's well-publicised romantic dates with spouse recall Bill and Hillary waltzing in Martha's vineyard (with their 'private' clinch somehow making it to every tabloid cover in the country).

Monicagate was to make Bill, Hillary and Chelsea look more like the Simpsons than the Clintons. But Hillary's blame-his-mother defence of her husband was a psychobabble that floored all. Bill, she revealed in 1999, was a victim of childhood scarring. His ma and grandma fought like she-cats in toddler Bill's presence. So he turned philanderer in retaliation!

Question: Why is it that do-little daddies get second chances while monster-mommies don't? Answer: Britney Spears the story goes had her babies substitute gum-chewing for teeth-brushing. And that made rapper-hubby Kevin Federline seem the epitome of parental solicitude. What a no-brainer.







Until recently it was the land of sand, honey and money to which the corporate whiz-kids made a beeline, to shake the moolah tree. Today, with recession and downsizing, even the sheikhs are issuing pink slips. The affected ones don't know what's hitting them or when. Not too long ago, they were the toast of the organisation fat salaries, multi-garage deluxe homes on the waterfront, fancy wheels, south of France holidays. Now with the party over, they realise that their specialisation has few takers, prices have crashed, and they're debt-ridden to the gills. The other day at the golf course, we had the misfortune of meeting one such high-flyer, a middle-aged Indian-American who came crashing to earth in quick time. At the start, with due apology and courtesy to all, he excused himself to whisper into his hand-held gizmo. As practice swings swished, we could hear him. He was issuing work instructions to a PA abroad, and then to overseas associates. As the game progressed, so did the Blackberry buzz. Realising the importance of his business, we had excused him for the cellphone usage. After all it was a friendly outing and he was a visiting golfer. At the 13th par-3, the 17-handicapper drove the ball into the water. Clearly, he was distracted. The vibrating device had delivered the coup de grace. ''Sorry about that'', he apologised, ''I've been axed.''

Later, at the 19th hole, the heart-wrenching story quickly unfolded. It was enough to make brave men cry. The week before he was the toast of Wall Street. Two days before he flew an inaugural A380 super jumbo where a sweet young thing in crimson head-wear and white veil fussed over him with endless Dom Perignons and canapes, after he had a luxurious shower at 45,000 feet above the ground. ''Today, that's history. I am redundant. It hurts too that the message came by SMS!'' ''What do i do next?'' he repeated the question over chilled lager. ''I am a financial man securities and all that. I know little else. I know of pink-slipped guys who are exploring entirely new avenues of income selling fish tanks. Another, a colleague in hedge funds, is delivering pizza for $7.29 an hour. I don't know where i'll land up.'' Some time later, brightening up, he said, ''Listen up people. I've played at Pebble Beach and Torrey Pines. I am passionate about golf. Anyone want a caddy?''








In 2007, Hindustan Times' 'India Besieged' series reported that out of 600 districts in the country, 152 were hit by the Naxal insurgency. A year down the line, the figure has gone up to 180. There has also been a rise in the number of Naxal attacks: according to the Home Ministry, there were 1,509 Naxal-related incidents in 2006, 1,565 in 2007, 1,591 in 2008 and till the end of June 2009, the figure has already touched 1,128. Along with an increase in their firepower, the national ambitions of the Naxalites have also grown by leaps and bounds despite last month's ban on the Communist Party of India (Maoist) and some plainspeak by the Prime Minister and Home Minister. The Sunday attack in Rajnandgaon district of Chhattisgarh (30 police personnel and Superintendent of Police were killed) and news reports that the Reds are eyeing a corridor from Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh to Dantewada in Chhattisgarh via Koraput and Malkangiri in south Orissa prove that hardtalk by the Indian State has failed to downsize their ambitions.


It's not very difficult to assess why the problem started in the first place, how it proliferated and why it is continuing. The Naxals exploited the vacuum that the State created by relinquishing its basic duties. Today, despite deploying large number of forces and funds for development, the State is finding it difficult to regain lost ground. At the same time, as the buzz goes, it is trying to clear the resource-rich lands of its original residents for industrial houses. Is the government working at cross-purposes? It would seem so. Moreover, in Chhattisgarh it has compounded the problem by its disastrous policy of Salwa Judum and instead of calling it off, a similar experiment is being started in Manipur. In India's federal structure, law and order is on the state list, yet it is quite clear that the solution has to be carried out together by the Central and the state governments. Moreover, unlike the Dalits, adivasis don't have a political voice, and when the State has its earplugs on, where do you think they would go?


There could be a security solution or a development solution or both. We could take the Andhra Pradesh model and replicate it. There could be dozen of more solutions but nothing will fall into place and wean the tribals away from the Naxals if we don't have the political will. The crores in development funds that go into these areas have given birth to a cozy, corrupt nexus between the politicians, bureaucracy and industrial houses. The Naxals too are not above suspicion. Yet blaming them and their support base, the tribals, would be a self-defeating exercise.








It is unheard of that we praise the government in any of its attempts to curtail the freedom of expression. But the latest diktat from the ministry of external affairs that no one should tweet from office will find sympathisers among us. When a minister chooses to go on Twitter, could we expect that we will gain some insights into international diplomacy? No, we learn that the minister is fond of mangoes and eats as many as six a day.


The Chinese whose hacking propensities have led the ministry to crack down on tweets must be intrigued. How do we compete — inscrutable mandarins in Beijing will ask — with those whose constitution can absorb so many mangoes while we get the runs every time we overdo the chop suey? But honestly, do we need to know so much that is irrelevant about people? We are surprised that the Chinese thought it fit to hack into all this cornucopia of ghastly information about the dietary and other habits of our leaders. In fact, many of us are ready to hack to death anyone sending us more inane twitter on their underwhelmingly boring lives. Do you want to suffer someone's holiday stories, see pictures of their unphotogenic families, learn of their professional woes or personal passions? If yes, chances are you are not gainfully employed.


But before those Luddites among us rejoice, the ministry has only banned twitter from the office, not from home. The only way to counter pesky tweeters is to become one yourself. And bombard them with information on when you cut your toenails to how you are afraid of the dark. Now this will either invite a barrage of irrelevant news from them, or scare them off. Either way, it will be twit for tat.








Members of the tony DLF Golf and Country Club in Gurgaon received a shock last month when they read an e-mail from the club that said that the 'Haryana government has levied and started collecting 25 per cent Entertainment Duty under the Punjab Entertainment Duty Act 1955, as made applicable to the state of Haryana on the various golf resorts/golf activities situated/conducted throughout the state of Haryana'.


It went further to say that this duty is to be collected with retrospective effect for the period between 2003 and 2009 and that it is being levied on membership fee, subscription fee, cart fee, caddy fee, rentals of clubs etc. It added that it had challenged the order before the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which did not entertain  the matter. So, it will now approach the Supreme Court.


In the flurry of e-mail exchanges and telephone conversations among club members that followed, some of the points that were made are as follows :


The government learnt that some golf clubs were letting out their premises for weddings, entertainment shows and other events. Rather than taxing only such events, it has included golf-related activities, a sport and not 'entertainment'. Members of these clubs don't benefit from such revenues. So, they are needlessly being penalised.


Golf is no longer a sport only for the affluent. Witness the number of middle-class people who pay a nominal fees to play on public courses in various parts of India. By imposing taxes on the game, the government is discouraging our youth from taking up a game that's bringing international laurels, thanks to stalwarts like Jyoti Randhawa and Jeev Milkha Singh, to the country.


It's not clear why golf has been singled out for unfair treatment. Why shouldn't swimming pools, badminton courts, basketball courts and cricket pitches also be taxed?


Why is the government levying a tax on activities that are good for the environment and health of the citizens? Golf courses are the only green covers amid the ugly urban sprawl.


It is known that golf courses are expensive to maintain and membership fee alone doesn't help clubs. This is why they rent facilities for other non-golfing activities. By levying high taxes on this, the government is discouraging the use of golf clubs.


How will the government recover taxes with retrospective effect from members who have left the club? Levying taxes only on a few loyal members and not on others would be highly discriminatory.


Some members of golf clubs use only non-golf facilities such as swimming pools, squash courts, tennis courts etc. Does the government propose to monitor the activity of each member and tax them only when they use the club to play golf?


A tax of 25 per cent, higher than any other tax rate, implies that the activity is believed to be undesirable and, so, falls in the same category as smoking or gambling. Surely, golf and golfers deserve better treatment!







In the last two months, I have been in eight American cities — Boston, New York, Washington, Houston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle. Phew! I am left with several sentiments.


First, if you have to travel from city to city in the United States, you would do yourself a favour by finding a way of journeying by train. But, for all the misery of air travel in America, when you get to your destination it can still blow your socks off. The lakeside architecture of Chicago. The sight of Puget Sound in Seattle. Park Avenue in New York on a fine late spring morning. They are all, to borrow from Frank Sinatra, "my kind of town".


What is surprising for a European at the moment is the relative optimism in all these cities. Yes, the economic news has been and remains grim. Much of the automobile industry is bust. House prices remain pretty flat. Unemployment and the budget deficit are soaring. But there is not the same sense of gloom that envelops you in Britain and much of Europe. My guess is that much of this is the result of traditional American ebullience: the view that what goes down will bounce back up.


But there is another factor at work.


We often talk — a good Marxist point — about the impact of economics on politics. But what about the impact of politics on economics? That is what I believe you see today in the US. The economy may look bad, but the president looks great. Despite the ubiquitous efforts of Fox News,  Barack Obama dominates, enthralls, and enthuses the audience of American voters. He is, as one American commentator calls him, The One.


Obama seems to have every political talent, and he passes the character test too. His wife is a star in her own formidable right. So, while the economic numbers may look bad, the country's political leadership looks great. And if you're an American, you observe other countries where people say, "If only he was ours."


I am a fan myself: a fan with two worries. First, what happens if politics does not trump economics, and Obama's policies don't start to produce a recovery? If there are no signs of economic recovery by the end of the year, the polls may start to turn. Obama is smart enough to understand this. So why does he take quite so much on his own shoulders? Every day, on every news bulletin, he is out there swinging. He might argue that he has to be. There are so many issues, from healthcare reform to the Middle East, that need his attention. I just worry about the boredom factor. If you assume that governing is like campaigning — that you have to be on top of the debate, all the time — can you really anticipate a long shelf life? Don't you risk becoming, even if you are smart as hell, too much of a good thing?


I hope I am wrong. Barack Obama is a star. The world needs one. But it needs one who continues to shine brightly for several years to come.


Chris Patten is Chancellor of Oxford University and former European Union Commissioner for External Relations







As the shadows of drought lengthen across the subcontinent, the faint voices of apocalypse are growing louder by the day. That they emanate mainly from news channels and not from well-informed agricultural scientists or meteorologists is quite interesting. As the comic shots of farmers looking skywards with their palms shading their eyes — popularised by the Films Division of India 60 years ago — start crowding the 24x7 screens, it is apparent that they are smelling a big, dramatic story.


There is very little of this sense of imminent catastrophe in the villages where I live, at the centre of India's semi-arid belt. Why is it that farmers most likely to be affected by drought don't sound half as hopeless as the TV channels? The answer lies in their worldview of weather, water and warnings.


When India's scientist-in-chief said on a news channel that the spread of the monsoon is more important than the volume of monsoons, the channel suddenly discovered a big truth.


But my illiterate 60-year-old neighbour, Musaligari Laxmappa smiled and said, "This is what we have been saying for several generations. How come the television never gets wiser through farmers' wisdom and gets its gyan only through telegenic farming scientists?"


Though the gyan of Laxmappas and their ilk has not brought them closer to the news channels, it has surely given them an equanimity of sorts.


It is because their knowledge of agriculture keeps them by and large insured against the vagaries of the monsoon and the despair it produces. In the Deccan, the farmers who still defy the Green Revolution model of agriculture, and have stood by their traditional agriculture, know how to mix and match their crops to suit early rains, late rains and right-time rains.


They also know how to cope with less rain and more rain. Even within the varieties of jwar that they grow, they have some that mature within three months and hence can do with an early spell of rain and survive. They also have varieties that take six months to grow and mature to cope patiently with the madness of the monsoon.


If the first six weeks of the season see no rains, they dip into their seed baskets and bring out bajra that can be planted late into the season and still flourish. If all this fails, they plant one of the hardiest of crops, horsegram. Their agricultural diversity is extremely climate-compliant. And they are despair-protected, since they see farming as a way of producing crops and not as a sensex- or GDP-booster.


In the dry regions of the Deccan, Rajasthan, Kutch and Madhya Pradesh, farmers have always pursued  their agriculture while defying the climate Cassandras. Without irrigation, in high temperatures, in chilling winters, they have provided the country with an amazing array of millets, pulses and oilseeds.


Some of these crops flourish with excessive rains, some survive scanty rainfall, while most can bravely withstand water stress. In fact each of these crops has a niche use related to the culture, festivals and rituals of the regions. This is what keeps them going against the assault of markets and the science of monoculture.


In some ways this continuity of tradition has also emerged as an answer to the latest crisis: climate change. That these crops are not water-guzzlers like rice and wheat and hence can grow without irrigation is their big plus point. Some of these crops can fix organic carbon into the soil thus responding to the impact of climate change.  Thus, they become climate-asset crops, unlike rice and wheat, that some describe as the causal factors for a climate crisis.


When the genetic engineering industry makes daily incursions into the Prime Minister's Climate Action Plan, promising saline-resistant rice varieties to fight the probable rise in sea-levels, it might be sobering to know that farmers in the Sunderbans already have more than a dozen such varieties.


So in our current anxiety about drought, we will do well to learn from the deep ecological and cultural knowledge of our agricultural communities.


P.V. Satheesh is Director, Deccan Development Society, Hyderabad









It is the sort of headline that routinely runs through news tickers. The sort which our gaze now too often does not even register. Except that the number of those killed was unusually high. Thirty security personnel, including an IPS officer, were killed by Naxalites in Chhattisgarh on Sunday. But if those fatality figures are unnerving, see this one: 249. That's roughly how many security personnel have been killed by Naxalites in the first six and a half months of this year alone. For perspective, that's more than the corresponding number for the whole of last year. It is also about eight times higher than the personnel killed in Jammu and Kashmir this year. Even one victim, of course, is one too many, but the scale of the slaughter, captured in clinical figures that chill more than any single graphic account, indicates this: tackling Naxalite violence must be an urgent priority for the Centre.


The Centre seems to have heard some of this message. As per a new blueprint to tackle Naxalites, development-related activities will be promoted in Maoist areas. Of special concern are tribal laws, especially over forestry, which breed resentment. But all this will be ineffective as long as we refuse to accept that the Naxal problem is also a law and order one. When Naxalites kill road-layers, uproot electricity poles and render civil administration impossible, there can be no development. When they terrorise people and extort money and assistance, the issue is certainly not one of social alienation. Special assistance must take place concurrently with stronger security measures to wipe out Naxals from the areas in which they roam so freely.


If statistics of leftist extremism are cause for alarm, another set of numbers is cause for hope. Zero. That's the number of security personnel killed in Andhra Pradesh due to Naxalite violence this year, a steady decline over the past four years. The decline in civilian deaths is more dramatic: while 132 civilians died in 2005, only five have been killed in 2009 so far. These numbers are the result of neither happenstance nor luck. Andhra Pradesh has a locally recruited, dedicated anti-Naxal force — the Greyhounds — unlike other states which often outsource the fight to Central paramilitaries, less familiar with local conditions. They also have a deep-rooted intelligence gathering set-up which has driven out Naxalites from their state. Some numbers speak for themselves. It is hoped that the Centre is willing to listen.








A five-day workshop for first-time members of Parliament concluded in New Delhi on Monday. With more than half the 15th Lok Sabha qualifying in that category, the orientation exercise is rightly being supplemented by programmes by individual parties for their MPs. Yet, already some signals from the workshop, organised by the Bureau of Parliamentary Studies and Training, are revealing about the wish-list common to many MPs. Two demands reportedly made during the workshop were a hike in the MPLAD fund from Rs 2 crore to Rs 5 crore per year, and the allotment of red-beacon cars. Puzzling out generalisations from anecdotal reports is tricky, but the two demands are disturbing. They hint at too much of a readiness of the legislature to be associated with the patronage capacity of government.


When those debuting as representatives of the people in Parliament make such demands, what do they tell us about themselves? The red-beacon is easy to caricature, and perhaps we should be more understanding of this accessory as a sign of arrival. But MPs — whether in opposition or on the back benches — are not government, and the parliamentary system presumes a tension between them and the treasury benches. The daily schedule of Parliament is attuned to their primary role in gaining answers from the government of the day and reflecting the concerns of their constituents. This is why there is such a lively debate currently on the very continuance of the MPLAD scheme.


The Local Area Development concept is relatively new. It was adopted in 1993, but was fast acquired by state legislatures and even some local bodies. Volumes of funds vary, but essentially a legislator is given a limit to the amount s/he can spend on development in the constituency (or state, in the case of Rajya Sabha MPs). There are many firewalls to check how the funds are spent. So, the case is not just that some audits have hinted at corruption. It is instead that the scheme obliterates the separation between the legislature and the executive. By giving a legislator money to make good on election promises or constituency needs, it takes the edge off her impatience or cooperation (as the case may be) in holding the government to its responsiveness to development and other issues.











After the recent Lok Sabha elections, the discourse has been led by the "big" parties, and it is easy to conclude that "small" is no longer beautiful. It has been the peace of the graveyard for political analysts who survive on complex electoral expression — the phenomenal victory secured by the Congress in 2009 has threatened to render politics at the moment tediously boring.


They would have us believe it is almost a clutter-free arrangement. A "big" party rules the roost, and even objections by important allies, say, the DMK and the Trinamool, appear too small to record — compared, for example, with the noise and tumble-dry early days of UPA-I.


But for the forthcoming assembly elections once again, interestingly, keen questions are being asked about "small" parties altering the electoral map, thereby giving a lease of life to those who think there is life beyond a two-dimensional understanding of party politics in India. With the first big


assembly polls (Maharashtra) approaching, there is a lot of anxiety around the political battle that is likely to take place. The morale of the beleaguered Shiv Sena and the BJP there is low and even generally the opposition, both Right and Left, continues to appear bereft of argument and voice. The Congress and the NCP are set to go in together as an alliance, as are the Shiv Sena and the BJP. The fight is for a key western Indian state where the Congress-NCP bucked anti-incumbency in 2004, and is now optimistic after the alliance's performance in the Lok Sabha elections.


The course that a single party seeks to adopt, Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), a party that did not even send one MP to the Lok Sabha, seems to hold a crucial key to success. Though the MNS's appeal is not spread evenly across the state, a cursory look at the results of the Lok Sabha polls will establish how it inflicted the kind of damage on the BJP-Shiv Sena combine they had hoped the BSP would do to the Congress-NCP. The MNS, with just 11 candidates put up, picked up a significant vote share, significant enough to make a difference to the fortunes of the Congress-NCP alliance. Consider some of the Mumbai seats. In Mumbai North-West, the MNS got 1,24,000 votes; in Mumbai North, even more, about 1,50,000 votes. All in all, in Mumbai, not only was the MNS vote greater than the margin of victory for the Congress-NCP, the Sena-MNS vote combined was more than half of the votes polled. This could mean that as long as the MNS is firmly kept out of the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance, in the forthcoming assembly election it is the small party that could make the big difference.


So while the polls closed on a note that suggested the unequivocal triumph of the bigger parties — especially the ruling Congress — the past year has actually seen the power of smaller parties to alter the equation between the bigger parties.


Exactly a year ago, in July 2008, when the Indo-US nuclear deal threw UPA-1 in disarray, with the Left parties withdrawing support in a huff, it was a smaller party, the Samajwadi Party, that made all the difference and allowed the Congress-led UPA to stabilise and make a base that enabled it to consolidate itself, in effect taking away the initiative the Left had attempted to give itself — the right to decide when the general elections would be held. Earlier this year, it was again a then-small party, the Trinamool Congress, with exactly one member of Parliament in the 14th Lok Sabha, whose alliance with the Congress threw the Left in West Bengal off course, ensuring the biggest upset there in over three decades. However much the discontent against the Left Front there, the results would not have been as dramatic as they have been had the Congress not tied up with an ostensibly small party.


Cut to Elections 2009. Of the several states where the UPA did well, three were the largest and most significant; other than Maharashtra, it was Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu where the UPA exceeded expectations. While it would be churlish to grudge the incumbent YSR government credit for the victory, it is also clear that minus the presence of the "small" opposition, the Praja Rajyam, which again like the MNS did not win seats in the parliamentary election, the Congress may have seen a different script playing out. With a total of over 17 per cent of the vote share, coming mostly from coastal Andhra, the PRP helped the Congress wrest more seats than the underwhelming Mahakootami put together by Chandrababu Naidu.


Tamil Nadu, with a reputation for electoral tsunamis that benefit one or the other of the Dravidian parties, belied predictions as there was a new factor stirring the pot — as in the assembly elections in 2005, actor, "Captain" Vijaykanth's Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) was a force to contend with. On a "progressive" social justice platform, the DMDK said it was in the fray to liberate Tamil Nadu from the stranglehold of the two Dravidian parties. The party secured well over one lakh votes in constituencies like Virudhanagar, Arani, Kancheepuram, Kallakurichi, Dindigul and Dharmapuri and almost a lakh in places like Krishnagiri, Erode and Cuddalore — in all, about 9 per cent of the vote in the entire state — and, despite two excellent alliances giving it a bi-polar feel, helped split the opposition vote silently. Again, the DMDK's representatives do not get to sit on a green bench on Sansad Marg, but interesting and significant vote shares again helped break any possible anti-incumbency wave that the AIADMK alliance might have capitalised on.


There is no moral of the story here, but it is just a useful reminder of India's political complexities that remain, especially at a time when politics appears monochromatic and the opposition appears bereft of an identity. The power of the "small" remains a big story.








Charles Taylor claims he is not a war criminal. He will repeat that claim often as he stands now in a court at The Hague presenting his defence.


The first time I heard an account of the former guerrilla-warlord president of Liberia that sounded honest I was in a refugee camp in neighbouring Ghana. One word aptly describes the lengthy prose offered to me by a Liberian widowed mother of three (one of her sons is still unaccounted for): contempt. He and she were victims of the 11-year Liberian civil war; A war with spill-overs onto bordering Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone.


Charles Taylor, in 2003, was indicted with five counts of war crimes, including murder, outrages on personal dignity; five counts of crimes against humanity, including rape, enslavement and on one count of serious violations of international humanitarian law: that of recruiting and using child soldiers for his involvement in neighbouring Sierra Leone's civil war. The charges brought against him are by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He is the first African leader to be tried for war crimes.


Sierra Leone's civil war has many components to it. An


attempt to homogenise the civil war with others seen in West Africa may pit it as a conflict between Temme and Mende tribes; the West has generally approached it through the lens of an armed conflict between the government in Freetown and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels; and some have framed it as an expression of regional and corporate strategy for control over precious resources: diamonds. Charles Taylor actively backed the RUF through arms, money and leadership in return for the country's diamond fortune.


Taylor was indicted on June 4, 2003. A man on the run, he sought refuge in Nigeria. The election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to the Liberian presidency and her negotiations with Nigeria resulted in Taylor's handover to Sierra Leone. The court he appears in front of is rare and the first of its kind.


Unlike previous courts such as Slobodan Milosevic's at The Hague (UN appointed) or Saddam Hussein's in a Baghdad courtroom (Iraqi appointed), Charles Taylor stands in front of a hybrid national-international court. His judges are both from Sierra Leone and the UN. The Special Court for Sierra Leone is thus an internationally funded court operating under the approval of the UN with the participation of domestic players. Taylor first appeared in court on June 3, 2004. Tomorrow his defence presents his case at a rented courtroom in The Hague. He has pleaded not guilty.


Since its inception the court has been a subject of debate. There are some who believe that the court is revolutionary in nature and if it succeeds will alter the nature of military tribunals. Proponents point to the declining costs and time of trial but the Court currently faces monetary constraints. Critics point to the unrealistic time allocations. Taylor's defence has lined up 256 witnesses; analysts thus believe this could stretch the case by another three to five years, squeezing finances.

There are those who will argue that such courts have traditionally lacked much authority. The recent example of Sudan's former dictator Omar al-Bashir's disregard for


international law and justice, despite an arrest warrant, is a case in point. However, these high-profile cases do serve as a mechanism to see if past excesses have now been checked.


The court however fails to address the issue of Taylor's fortune, allegedly amassed through his involvement with conflict diamonds. The diamond trade provided the rebels — the Revolutionary United Front — with the finances it needed to fight. Hence the apt term "blood diamonds". The UN in 2000 banned diamonds from Sierra Leone and there has been an on-going debate over reform in the diamond industry based in Antwerp, Belgium.


Belgian statistics and the research project "Heart of the Problem" point towards Liberian involvement through Taylor's government. At the peak of the civil war Liberia exported "30 million carats worth of diamonds to Antwerp. These are Belgian import statistics. Liberia over that period of time probably did not have the capacity to export more than half a million." Further, the diamonds sold were of perfect clarity and colour, valued at $200/ carat. Liberian diamonds are "generally low quality diamonds... valued at $25-30/ carat."


Taylor's in the dock; but, after 11 years of civil war, thousands dead and 2.5 million displaced people, how has reform proceeded in the industry that gave him sustenance, that De Beers once monopolised?


Slowly. 60 million pieces of diamonds are sold every year, and the task of policing the industry falls as much on Antwerp — through verification of the stones' origin and careful classification — as it does on the UN. "Diamonds are a girl's best friend," they are also, still, the guerrilla's good friend.








After the others on whom blame may be pinned are exhausted, the leader and his circle turn on the ideals on which, on the 'ideology' for the realisation of which the movement had commenced and the party had been founded. So, one day they lunge for a 'hard' formulation — to win back the 'core constituency', they reason. The next, they lunge for a 'soft' formulation; one day they are stressing 'our religion', the next 'our culture'; one day it is 'return to basics', the next 'changing with the times'; one day they are declaring their faith in our history castigating persecutors of the past and their current heirs and apparitions, the next they are swearing by inclusiveness and geography¿ One day it is 'reforms', the next 'Reforms with a human face'... One day it is 'peasants', the next 'workers', the third the inclusive 'toiling masses'. And they are never short of quotations from the original leaders to justify each twist.


What the leader and his speechwriters convince themselves are sparkling new formulations, are, in fact, just clichés. "The party stands for a strong and prosperous India" — but which party doesn't? "The party will make the 21st century, India's century" — but which party says it won't? Can one not go on adding to that declaration, and it would be just as acceptable? "The party stands for a strong and prosperous India, an India at peace with itself and the world"? "The party stands for a strong and prosperous India, an India at peace with itself and the world, an India in which no one goes to bed hungry"? "The party stands for a strong and prosperous India, an India at peace with itself and the world, an India in which no one goes to bed hungry, one in which the benefits of growth are shared by all"?


The leader and his circle convince themselves that they are making their party current, that, by the new formulation, they are going to attract new chunks. In fact, they convince the people at large that they believe in nothing; that their proclamations have all along been just opportunism dressed up; that they have no core — there is nothing that they will desist from doing if they see some advantage to themselves in doing it, that there are several things that just must be done but which they will not do lest some slight, momentary disadvantage befall them.


The people put no store by the words of these persons. They want to know, "Can this lot bring these goals to fruition any better than the other lot? Is the leader, are members of his circle living these ideals?" The ideas and ideology of this lot, rather the ideas on which, the ideals for the attainment of which this lot was founded no longer permeate or radiate into those who are outside the party or organisation. Even when they accept those ideas and ideals, those outside strain to hide their original source. Recall the net effect of the innumerable gurus and organisations that have been speaking for Hinduism in the last fifty years, or Marxism-Leninism and social justice for that matter: how well the words of Toynbee fit those who, almost furtively, live Hinduism today or do their bit for a more just society — "Under these sinister auspices, such selective mimesis [imitation, adoption] as occurs takes place on the barbarians' own initiative [in our context, on that of those outside the party or organisation]. They show their initiative in imitating those elements which they accept in a manner which will disguise the disgraceful source of what has been imitated."*



By such twists and turns, the leader and his circle, far from inducting new adherents, discredit ideology itself; they turn people off even the talk of ideals. Another factor smothers ideals and ideology. The movement became a party. That party has since become a mere electoral machine. But as general standards deteriorate, the party has to 'adjust'; it has to effect 'compromises'. The sole object is to attain office. And the sole criterion for that is numbers. Hence, winnability is all. Whoever can win a seat, be he a criminal or blackguard who has just deserted from the rival camp, is the one whom the party fields. Three consequences follow at once and inevitably. First, the proclamations of the party — ideals, ideology — reek more and more of hypocrisy. Second, the people at large see that this party is no different from any other. Third, and this is what has the deepest consequences for the future, the character of the party changes forever. Everyone above and below comes to rely on the clever strategist, on the deceitful, for he leads them to victories. Either that clever person or someone even more deceitful rises to the top. Gandhiji's warning comes true — "An organisation that relies on rogues to do its work shall soon have rogues at its helm."


But the transformation doesn't stop there. Indeed, it has just begun. For the character of the one who has wrested the top stamps itself on the entire organisation, on every level of the entire organisation. His very 'success' legitimises ambition, greed, intrigue, double-dealing. "If he doesn't have what it takes to capture even a party," the thesis runs, "if he doesn't have enough fire in his belly to capture even a party, how in hell is he going to lead the party to capture the country?" Ambition, greed, intrigue legitimised, every one becomes every one's rival. Every one comes to suspect every one. That irreplaceable adhesive — Ibn Khaldun's 'group spirit' — is rent asunder.


Both relationships — the one of the leader with his circle, as well as that of members of the circle with each other — are transformed. Every relationship is now pure and simple barter. The leader seeks out not colleagues but clients, not partners but dependents, not associates but instruments. He uses the henchmen, of course. But they also use him. They are nobodies without him. But with him, even with the rumour that they are close to him, they can strut around, and rake in the perks. They strain to be useful to the leader: helping one relative of his out of a difficulty, helping another relative set up a business... The leader demurs, "Is this really right?" They say what he wants to hear: "But why should he suffer just because he is your son?" The leader allows himself to be persuaded, after making sure that everyone has seen him hesitate. They now have him entangled into those "interlocking webs of mutual complicity." He is as dependent on them, as they on him. Recall the cow-and-calf symbol of the Congress[I], and what the then chief minister of Haryana, Bansi Lal said during the Emergency, after he had helped ram through Sanjay's Maruti plant, "Jab bachchda mere haath mein hai, gayiyaa kahaan jaayegi?"


But, of course, henchmen don't just work to ingratiate themselves with the leader. They use their proximity to him to seize spoils for themselves. Indeed, in the organisation — and the more 'disciplined' and hierarchical the organisation, the more certain this is — they are the ones who are liable to make a grab for the riches because, even if evidence were to erupt in the public domain, the leader is least likely to act against them. They are the ones he is certain to shield.



What had begun as a relationship of devotees who had gravitated to an idol, of persons who had gravitated to the leader because he was devoted to a mission, because he personified ideals, becomes a purely transactional relationship. The first to erode is reverence for the leader. Next, the fear of him. That has but to happen and anarchy breaks out in the organisation, a free-for-all. The leader lectures, he admonishes, he threatens 'disciplinary action'. Members listen. They even make a show of cowering. And resume their skirmishes. The leader wrings his hands, "The party was never like this...Nobody listens... Indiscipline..." Even as he does so, he is externalising the state of affairs — as if he himself has nothing to do with what has come about.



As relatives and henchmen acquire properties on the sly, as they run businesses benami, the party loses its ability to fight the rulers. The leader knows, the henchmen know that the rulers know. So, they take up 'issues', but never push them to the point where the rulers will be really inconvenienced. As the Zulu proverb has it, "A dog with a bone in its mouth, can't bark".


Indeed, they go farther. They cultivate links sub rosa with opponents, in particular with rulers. They say this is so as to give the country 'a constructive alternative'. In fact, it is for getting a few crumbs from the rulers' table, at the least to keep out of trouble. Rulers readily flatter them by making a show of paying attention, they readily steer a few contracts their way — and thereby gain control over the very party that was to watch over them. The sequence weakens the leader vis a vis the rulers. It weakens him as much within the party: no leader who is crooked can straighten others.



These henchmen become the leader's eyes and ears. Indeed, his 'reference group', they function as the pliable conscience he now wants. They feast off him when he is in office. They dissuade him from quitting when he clearly should. Truth be told, that takes less doing than one might imagine: at such turns, the leader is only waiting to be 'persuaded'. They pander to his vanity exactly as Ibn Khaldun describes: by heightening the pretences of authority around him, even as they rake up the fruits for themselves.


But the henchmen don't try just to be useful to the leader. Their power, their indispensability depends on making the leader feel insecure. So, they are always conjuring up news of conspiracies. They are forever isolating the leader — sowing doubts in the leader's mind about one and all, in particular about his former comrades.


It is not that the leader never sees the cost these henchmen are bringing upon him. From time to time, evidence bursts forth that makes the continuance of some one of the henchmen completely untenable. The clamour against him becomes so insistent that the leader is brought to the brink of sending him away. Quite apart from the danger that exiling one who knows so much may entail, the leader is easily persuaded to hold his hand: "But they are not after me. Their real target is you. The moment you show that you can be pressurised, they will come after you" — recall the time it took for Indira Gandhi to act against Antulay; recall how Rajiv hung on to Ottavio Quattrochi.


The ordinary members watch with dismay as the sway of these henchmen envelops the leader, and, just as much, as their pillage begins to discredit the party. But at this stage they shiver at doing anything: they do not speak out; they do not collect evidence. They wait for something to turn up. They wait for someone else to expose and nail the henchmen: Ibn Insha was right, Haq achcha, iske liye Koi aur mare, to aur achcha


They wait for the leader to do something — "At least in his own interest." Of course, the leader does nothing. He is immersed in his interests of the moment, and, the henchmen are useful agents.


Precisely because his failure to act against the henchman who is causing him so much avoidable trouble makes him seem weak, the leader just has to act against others: to show that he is strong, that he will not tolerate "indiscipline", that he can and will quell "insubordination". He lashes out — naturally at persons outside his circle. What were mere suggestions from them are projected as criticism; what was criticism merely to arrest the decline is projected as disloyalty. Everyone sees through the vehemence: everyone sees that the leader has an elastic ruler — a long one for his cabal, his instruments, a much shorter one for others.


The transformation cannot be hidden from the people any more than a grating cough. The group begins to lose legitimacy. Constitution? What Constitution? One norm after another, one rule after another is set aside. The so-called constitution of the party provides that posts — every post at every level — be filled by elections. In fact, at each level, each gathering hails the leader, and 'unanimously resolves' to leave the choice of office-bearers to him.


The party hierarchy comes to consist entirely of nominees — of the leader, and of those who, for the moment, have managed to insinuate themselves into the good books of the leader. Tickets have to be distributed for the forthcoming elections? The 'state leaders' — nominees all — 'recommend' some names. Neither the leader nor his nominees in the central organs have any system of independent verification. Lobbying, insinuation, come to count more than analysis; collateral 'persuasion' more than evidence; bargaining more than deliberation. The nominees don't do well? There was dhaandali in the selection of candidates, someone shouts. He is smeared with motives, drowned with innuendo.


Meetings follow meetings. In each, ritual replaces substance. But the rituals, the routine are not for nothing. The ritual — the same "state-wise" reporting — is a device: a device to dodge the issues that are on everyone's mind. Abhiyaans follow abhiyaans. They too become just routine.


The losses mount. Calls for honest examination. For accountability. The leader and his circle swing into action. They galvanise their nominees in the states. "No, no. We can't afford any witch-hunts," these nominees of nominees declaim. "Elections are coming up in our state. Inquiry-shinquiry will cause all sorts of mud to be hurled. The media will be full of it. Our chances will be destroyed."


As further losses occur, an inquiry to fix responsibility is at last instituted. But who is to inquire? The leader and his circle — who, after all, are responsible for all the decisions that have led the organisation to this pass — are the ones who alone can decide. They pick from among themselves, or, if the façade of 'independence', of 'objectivity' has to be maintained, their weak men and henchmen.


The inquiry never sees the light of day. In any case, no reform that may have resulted from the inquiry is ever visible. Perhaps for good reason: in all probability, each inquiry has concluded that no individual was responsible. The shortcomings were 'systemic'!


(To be continued)


The writer is a BJP MP in the Rajya Sabha.



                                                                           INDIAN EXPRESS




As expected, the latest issue of CPM mouthpiece 'People's Democracy' was harsh on the Union Budget, with as many as nine articles criticising the various aspects of the Budget. Headlines saying "inadequate to tackle recession", "discredited neo-liberal model in action", "Budget neglects child welfare", "economic survey proposals inimical to people's interests" and "mass organisations oppose tilt towards khaas aadmi" sums up the party's conclusion of the budget.


The lead editorial says the budget reflected the contradiction that was born along with the UPA-2 government. That contradiction, it said, was the concerns of the aam aadmi on whose strength the Congress returned to form the government on the one hand, and the basic desire of the big bourgeoisie to push forward neo-liberal reforms, on the other.


"Already during the first four years of high growth during UPA-1, the number of Indian billionaires in dollar terms increased from 9 in 2004 to 53 in 2008. The assets of the top ten corporate houses tripled from Rs 3,54,000 crores to Rs 10,34,000 crores. It is this process that they wish to consolidate through this budget as well," it says. It points out that abolition of commodities transaction tax would result in hiking of the prices of essential commodities due to speculative trading... While the allocations for the much tom-tommed flagship programmes are much too less to achieve 'inclusive growth', the budget was inadequate to meet the challenges of recession and growing job losses."



Another article titled "A curious mix of autonomy and authoritarianism" dwells on the Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal clubbing the reports of the Professor Yashpal committee and National Knowledge commission on higher education.


It says the Yashpal committee report is a curious document in many ways. But Sibal's hasty acknowledgment of the report as his Bible for reforms along with National Knowledge Commission report on higher education and his ominous assertion that reforms cannot wait give little respite for such idle curiosities.


But, despite Sibal's camaraderie with Yashpal and Sam Pitroda, the article argues that the two veterans share little common ground in education.


"Yashpal's vision is the very opposite of Sam Pitroda. The vision of NKC is fragmented and divisive .It sought to divide disciplines, institutions and academics into different categories. It prioritised new generation disciplines with commercial prospects over traditional disciplines and national level institutions of excellence from state level universities.


"It wanted to divide the teaching community into different categories on the basis of the market value of their disciplines. Obviously the Yashpal committee report cannot be implemented along with NKC report. The recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission have already been acted upon by the government in part by incorporating its proposals in the action plan for 11th five year plan.


The setting up of numerous IITs, IIITs and IIMs as institutions specialising in their respective disciplines reflect priorities different from that envisaged by the Yashpal committee. Implementation of the recommendations of Yashpal committee would thus necessitate a rethinking on the priorities and programmes of the 11th Plan. Such a step is very unlikely to materialise. But the report could be compromised and co-opted. Unfortunately, the seeds for such cooption have inadvertently been sown by Yashpal himself through his half-baked notions of NCHER," it says.


Compiled by Manoj C.G



                                                          INDIAN EXPRESS





Although China is only an observer at the 15th Non-Aligned Summit this week, Beijing's diplomatic, political and economic influence in the developing world has begun to outpace that of Delhi, which claims a leadership role in the NAM.


While India was among the founding members of the NAM, China stood apart from the movement between the 1960s and 1980s. China became an observer of the NAM at the Jakarta Summit in 1992. Since then China has sent high level political delegations to participate in all the NAM gatherings.


As China and India rise in the international system, it is but natural that their policies towards the developing world are being subject to close scrutiny. Both Beijing and Delhi insist that they are part of the developing world.


Their massive size, however, suggests that China and India may be propelled into the ranks of great powers, even before they become developed countries in a traditional sense. It is no surprise, then, at least some in the West are attaching the tag of 'neo-colonial' to the rising Chinese and Indian profile in the developing world. Although there are many similarities between the third world policies of China and India, there are some very important differences too.


If India has been unable to rise above the process-driven NAM trivia, China has maintained a relentless focus on deepening strategic engagement with key non-aligned nations.


For example in Africa, Delhi is way behind Beijing when it comes to a very simple indicator — the number of diplomatic boots on the ground. The South Block certainly wants to increase the number of Indian missions in Africa; it will be a long while though before the lethargic Indian system delivers.


When it comes to high level visits, there are many NAM countries where no senior official, let alone a minister, from India have visited for decades. Beijing meanwhile has been sending its president, prime minister, foreign minister and a host of other senior officials on a regular basis to every corner of the world, from West Africa to the South Pacific and from Latin America to the Indian Ocean.



Meanwhile, the gap between China and India on economic diplomacy in the NAM has steadily widened. Consider, for example, China's economic assistance to developing nations.

Unlike India, China has no time for anti-imperialist verbiage at the NAM. Instead Beijing has focused on emerging as a genuine economic alternative to the West in many parts of the South. China believes deeds are more important than words.

A recent study from New York University has estimated that China's economic assistance to Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia, has risen from US$1.5 billion in 2003 to US$ 25 billion in 2007. Africa has received the largest increases in China's aid budgets.


Most of the Chinese aid has been in the form of government backed investments — about 53 per cent. Concessional loans constituted around 42 per cent and the remaining 5 per cent was made up of grants and debt relief. In sectoral terms, 44.5 per cent of the aid was directed at the development of natural resources and agriculture while 43 went to the building of infrastructure.



The competition between emerging India and a rising China for influence in the developing world is likely to turn one of the NAM's founding myths on its head.


At the core of the NAM philosophy was opposition to military alliances and a refusal to host foreign military bases. Beijing and Delhi have been great champions of this principle in the past demanding that foreign troops get out of the non-aligned world.


As they develop vital economic interests around the world and create the military capabilities to secure them, might Beijing and Delhi look for bases abroad for their own armed forces?


If you think this question is either premature or far-fetched, do look at the current jockeying between China and India for naval access in the Indian and Western Pacific Oceans. In the not too distant a future, for some nations in the developing world non-alignment may well mean balancing between Beijing and Delhi.


The writer is a Professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.









If banks are not as convinced as the finance minister that the Rs 89,000-crore extra government borrowing, compared with borrowing estimates given in the interim Budget, won't push up interest rates, it is because banks are wiser after living through a most curious phase in credit history. This phase is defined by three things. First, lending rates haven't responded as much as they should have to drop to RBI's policy rates—the repo has dropped by 425 basis points since October 2008, but lending rates have come down by around 200 basis points. Second, credit off-take hasn't responded to an easing of the monetary regime. At the end of June, according to RBI data, year-on-year credit growth was 15.68%, the lowest growth rate in five years. Low credit off-take is hurting banks' net interest rate margins. SBI chief OP Bhatt has said his bank is losing Rs 100 crore a day because credit volumes are down. Third, the debate whether low credit off-take can be explained by low borrower interest or low borrower interest is thanks to insufficiently low lending rates went on as inflation dropped and RBI desisted from another round of policy rate cuts. Also, as inflation dropped sharply, government's borrowing costs didn't. These attributes point to a central bank policy regime that's not sufficiently doing either the job of signalling rates or managing government debt.


These columns' opposition to such a work arrangement for the central bank is oftrepeated. Also well-known is the fact that this arrangement isn't changing any time soon. So, it all again depends on extremely deft handling by RBI of multiple and not harmonious objectives in a situation where bond markets are anxious about high government debt. In such a situation, the smart money will be on lending rates rising if private credit demand picks up just as a huge quantity of government paper comes in. The government and RBI are supposed to work out the borrowing schedule this Friday. One solution that has been advocated for a long time is government bonds being kept on RBI books. But even if there's clarity on this from government statements, this option raises the question of effective RBI management of its two roles as bondholder and debt manager. These questions may not have been important 30 years ago, but they are important now because a lot of smart people now track this trillion-dollar economy. They would have noticed that RBI and the government did very well to manage the immediate aftermath of the crisis. But the tight money orthodoxy before the crisis and the less-than-fully-effective loose money regime after the crisis don't inspire confidence. Higher lending rates even before the recovery has taken hold fully will strengthen that hypothesis.







It would surprise few to learn that the auction of 3G spectrum has been delayed yet again, as it would surprise even fewer to hear that Pranab Mukherjee has been appointed as head of another group of ministers—-the eGoM on 3G spectrum auctions. Hardly surprising though the news is, it is hard not to feel dismayed as a consumer looking forward to using a whole set of value-added services that will be enabled with 3G technology. At the speed at which the whole process is moving, India will probably end up launching 3G telephony well after most other major countries. That said, the government probably has its reasons for going slow and referring the matter to an eGoM. For one, this move will take the matter out of the purview of the full Cabinet and thus reduce the scope of lateral inputs. Second, it will take the matter away from the sole purview of DoT and its minister, A Raja. Given his past record of dishing out 2G licences at steep discounts, the government would not want to risk 3G at his sole discretion. Plus, and most interestingly, at this point in time a number of telecom operators are not too keen on paying huge amounts as a licence fee—-the slowdown has taken a toll on their fund-raising abilities and many players would like a breather of a few months, which the eGoM will provide.


Unfortunately, what this means for consumers is a likely wait until the second half of 2010 for high quality 3G services—-BSNL and MTNL, as the favoured firms of DoT, are already providing 3G, but with poor quality. The last eGom on telecom, which was set up to transfer spectrum from defence to civilian use, has only met three times in around three years. Hopefully, this eGoM on auctions will meet at more frequent intervals, but even assuming they do, no decision is likely unil the end of this calendar year. Remember also that there is really only one matter that needs a firm decision: how many blocks per circle will be up for auction. If the number is limited, there will be a competitive auction; if it's large, operators will just pay the reserve price. Whichever way one looks at it, it doesn't seem to be six months' work. But if the government and industry want a delay, there's little the consumer can do.









Economic adjustment is highly frustrating for economic commentators. It takes so long to arrive that you lose much credibility arguing it will come. In the process you come to be viewed as a slightly embarrassing eccentric of the old-school that just doesn't "get" the New Economy. When the adjustment arrives, most of it is over before you have had time to say I-told-you-so. Your prognosis of "adjustment underway", laced with a frustrated "I-told-you-so" is deeply uninteresting to head-line writing journalists. They are drawn to the sexier prophets of Armageddon.


Adjustment is well underway; armageddon will have to wait another day. Savings in deficit countries have risen sharply. The US savings rate will rise towards 10% from zero. The US current account deficit will be below $400 billion this year, almost half of its peak just a couple years ago. Global imbalances are dissolving. A large part of this adjustment is being driven by retrenchment in consumption in the US. Between 2007 and 2010, US consumption is likely not to grow at all, compared with previous growth of 3-4% pa . The next part of the international adjustment may have as much to do with the dollar's new-found competitiveness.


The dollar is now significantly undervalued versus its fair value on a price-competitiveness basis. The last time we saw such undervaluation was 15 years ago in the mid-1990s. Fair value for the euro, estimated by normalising exchange rates for differences in inflation, is $1.15-1.20, for sterling it is $1.50-1.55. It is harder to work our fair value for the Japanese yen, Canadian dollar and Indian rupee given a number of domestic exceptions, but it is probably some 25% higher for the dollar than current levels.


Whenever you reach points of significant deviations in valuation there is always a story that explains why "this time is different", why past valuation norms are irrelevant, and why the move has only just begun. Today I am better known by journalists as a dollar bear, but I won my first major economics prize for arguing, in 1994, that the dollar was not heading for zero. Back then the story was the US was inherently uncompetitive at producing exports relative to Japan and Germany and US savers were about to reverse an under-exposure to overseas assets. Today the argument is that the US has a structurally large amount of debt, it is losing its economic pre-eminence and the emerging powers are looking to reduce their use of the dollar. The Chinese have already started making currency swap arrangements with a range of trading partners that by-passes the dollar. The arguments today, as in 1994, are not wrong or unimportant. It is just that there are other things going on at the same time.


One of the things that market participants get wrong is that they think the only way countries can shift their reserve holdings out of dollars is through the market place. "Heavy-weight" economic journalists then revel in the apparent paradox and write that these countries cannot decide to get out of dollars because selling dollar reserves would hurt them as the dollar falls in value. This is not how it would happen. If the Chinese were concerned about the long-term value of the dollar they could, one Friday afternoon, call up the ECB and say that they would like to swap $1trn of dollars for euros at the prevailing exchange rate directly with the ECB. The ECB would rather print $1 trillion worth of Chinese euros for dollars than have the euro jump appreciate on the foreign exchange markets to a point that eviscerates European exports. The question is not the public sector's actions, but how the private sector would react to that announcement on the following Monday. Would market participants decide that the action by the Chinese reinforced the view that the dollar was in trouble and so they would try and sell dollars on the exchanges. This is what happened after the 1968 Basle Agreements by central banks not to sell sterling on the open markets. Or, would they decide that with the dollar overhang moving from a potential seller to a less willing seller, they should exit their dollar-short positions, thereby pushing up the dollar.


My underlying observation is that while we are probably at the beginning of a shift in currency power, while there are significant risks for the dollar, the path will not be a clear one from here. Other factors, such as a rapidly improving US current account position and stabilising economic activity will play a part. From current levels, my dollar bearishness is in greater check today than six months ago when I wrote of a dollar adjustment to come.


The author is chairman of Intelligence Capital, emeritus professor of Gresham College and member of the UN Commission of Experts on International Financial Reform










It has been over a week since the Union Budget for 2009-10 was presented, and we have had sufficient time to really digest the content after all the preliminary reactions came in on the 6th. This Budget is out-and-out Keynesian in spirit where there is unconcealed aggression in increasing expenditure to provide a further stimulus to the economy. This may be interpreted by the more conservative critics as being too profligate. At any rate, the result is that the fiscal deficit is as large as 6.8% of GDP which is the highest ratio since 1993-94. The revenue deficit at 4.8% of GDP is the highest ratio for the central government in recorded time. While overall expenditure has increased by 13.3%, plan and non-plan expenditure have increased by 15% and 12.5% respectively. Quite clearly the government has gone in for a fiscal deficit holiday, if it may be so called, and has kept the FRBM rules in the background. However, this approach may just be pragmatic. Even countries like the US and UK are running double digit fiscal deficit ratios.


Keynes had advocated that in times of an economic slowdown, governments should increase expenditure or reduce taxes so that people spend more which then through the 'multiplier' effect induces investment, which in turn generates income through the 'accelerator'. In an extreme situation, the government could just spend for the sake of spending (non-development expenditure) where those receiving the same spend the money by demanding goods. This approach has been advocated quite assiduously by most economists in times of an economic slowdown when conventional monetary measures fail to deliver adequately. It may be remembered that even last year, the government had supplemented the CRR and repo rate cuts with tax cuts and expenditure allocations to engineer growth as these measures are more direct and work faster.


The increase in plan expenditure is project based and encompasses those on infrastructure, irrigation, water, power, gas, weaker sections, interest subvention (though the burden is on banks) etc. which will have a corresponding increase in production of goods and services. The non-development expenditure is in the form of interest payments, subsidies (which are lower this year) and defence payments. To top it all, tax collections are to increase only marginally, with only corporate tax collections showing an increase while collections from income, excise and customs collections showing a decline over last year. Therefore the stimulus has two faces.

There are three issues here. The first is whether this stimulus will work? The answer is at best a shrug of the shoulders because while the FM has stated that the fiscal deviation last year of 3.7% of GDP (budgeted and revised fiscal ratio) was the result of the stimulus package which brought about the 6.7% growth in GDP, it is a matter of conjecture whether it was brought about by a fall in tax collections as well as higher expenditure. In any case, the important thing here is that the allocations should materialise. The past is replete with stories of budget allocations not being met, and there is a lot of window dressing done towards the end of the year to show that the money is committed, while the actual disbursements are not made until the next year. In fact, even when it comes to projects like irrigation there have been several instances of the projects not being completed with either the 'well' or 'motor' or 'irrigation track' missing. Maybe the resources should be channelled to complete these projects rather than embark on new ones.


The second issue is about the FM stating that the government was committed to meeting the FRBM targets in the medium term. While a commitment is assuring, it would have been better to have a time frame as expenditures cannot be rolled back that easily in future. While higher deficits can be defended under the present circumstances, it could mean harsh measures when we revert to FRBM guidelines. Therefore, the present relief provided may at best be transient and these measures have to work to propel GDP growth to bring in higher tax revenue in the next few years.


The third issue is more serious. The fiscal deficit is now past Rs 4 lakh crore, with the gross borrowing programme being enhanced now from Rs 3.62 lakh crore in the interim budget to Rs 3.97 lakh crore. Quite clearly there could be a problem on liquidity as well as interest rates when this happens. Therefore, the direct fiscal stimulus provided would have a monetary implication and RBI will have quite a job on its hands. This is so because higher government borrowing means a larger quantity of government paper in the market which pushes down the prices and increases the yields, thus providing an upward thrust to interest rates.


Therefore, the present stimulus, like all bold measures, has some doubt attached to it. Let's hope it works because the gamble with the fiscal deficit number is a big one.


The author is chief economist of NCDEX Ltd. These are his personal views







Monday was not a good day for farmers looking to tap world markets for a higher return on their produce. First, the minister of state for commerce, Jyotiraditya Scindia, rejected any proposal to lift the ban on non-basmati rice exports and then later in the evening, the government, in a move which can only be described as panicky, rescinded a ten-day-old order to export around 9 lakh tonnes of wheat through three state-run trading firms.


Both the decisions were taken with a view to shoring up domestic stocks of wheat and rice in light of the expected fall in kharif and rabi foodgrains production due to deficient rainfall. While the decision may be a psychological boost to the government, it is hardly good news for an already beleaguered farmer who is now denied the benefits of global trade.


And exports of wheat and rice, in any case, are a very small proportion of total inventories. In the case of wheat, just around 9 lakh tonnes is exported while as of June 1, 2009, India's wheat inventories with state agencies stood at 320 lakh tonnes.


So, an export order of 9 lakh tonnes would not have impacted price sentiment in the market. In any case retail wheat prices have been stable at around Rs 10 to Rs 13 per kilogram in most centres for the last two years and with global wheat prices showing a downward trend, there was little possibility of massive exports anyway.


The situation with rice is not dissimilar. The government has more than 200 lakh tonnes of stock, but has done nothing to allow the export of non-basmati rice or to lower the minimum export price of basmati rice.


If allowed, there would not have been any significant dent in availability, as in a normal year also, India exports just around 60-70 lakhtonnes of rice, including the premium 'basmati' varieties.


Incidentally, the international price of rice, is tipped to reach around $700 per tonne in the next few months, up from the current levels of $580 per tonne. Thailand, the world's largest rice exporter, recently, decided to export rice from its huge stockpiles. India should surely allow its aam farmers to do the same.









The rainfall situation in parts of north and northwest India does not look good. Deficient rains threaten agriculture in States like Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh, although there is still some hope of a recovery. The India Meteorological Department reports that the country as a whole received "near normal rainfall" during the week ending July 8. Of 36 meteorological sub-divisions, rainfall was normal or higher than normal in 21 and deficient or scanty in 15 during that week. However, it was "deficient by 59 per cent over northwestern India." If the 'grain bowl' States fare any worse, fears over crop failures would be natural. A normal July can account for a third of the season's total rainfall. Of the four months in the season, July rainfall has the most critical impact on agriculture. So the next two weeks will be crucial. The balancing part, says the IMD, is that the monsoon appears reasonably good in other parts of the country. Should things get worse, paddy — the dominant kharif crop in Punjab and Haryana — will be in trouble. So too will other crops such as pulses, bajra, and jowar. Fodder will be another casualty, with implications for livestock. The excessive use of tubewells is a problem complicated by the erratic power supply in some regions.


Fears of a severe drought are reflected in the sharply rising prices of food items, particularly pulses. Related problems could spring up: drinking water shortages, migrations, and distress sale of cattle and what little produce might remain with the cultivator. Those needing work will discover that the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) is not really tuned to providing that in the monsoon season. India has made little advance in monsoon management, whether in forecasting or planning for it, over years. But right now, the need is for clear-sighted and firm policy intervention that provides confidence to the people that the system can cope with any contingency. Governments must urgently regulate the use of water and power and control panic-driven misuse. They must rush seed and other inputs to regions that badly need them. They must stamp out hoarding and adopt measures to halt the price rise. They would do well to adopt the practical steps recommended by Dr. M.S. Swaminathan in this newspaper: a compensatory production programme in those regions with better soil moisture at this point, and asking the faculty and students of agricultural universities to leave their classrooms and spend a month with farm families. This will make them more relevant than they have been in a while, aside from deepening and enhancing their learning.








The Finance Minister's decision to opt for a huge fiscal deficit of 6.8 per cent of the GDP has been the most discussed aspect of the Union budget. Together with the deficit of the States and the off-budget liabilities, the figure will almost touch 11 per cent. Although it does pose a major risk, the huge spending programmes in the social sectors, on the rural and urban poor, and generally in providing further demand stimulus to the economy — the primary causes for the deficit — are justified in the context of the budget's broader objective of inclusive growth. Mindful of the negative consequences of such a large deficit, the Finance Minister has promised a return to fiscal consolidation as soon as the global recovery begins. The implication is that the demand stimulus unleashed by the fiscal deficit is necessary to sustain the growth momentum at a time of global recession. Indeed, he has attributed the relatively impressive growth of 6.7 per cent during 2008-09 partly to the three stimulus packages. India is not alone in incurring large deficits to provide a stimulus. The United Kingdom and the United States too have incurred higher deficits and resorted to record borrowings to fund them.


The Indian experience needs to be seen in the proper perspective to find out how realistic are the government's plans for an early return to fiscal consolidation. The Medium Term Fiscal Policy statement which forms part of the budget document envisages a reduction in the Centre's fiscal deficit to 5.5 per cent in 2010-11 and to 4 per cent the next year. Further, half of the projected 2.8 per cent fiscal correction is expected to come from higher tax revenues. Never before has correction of nearly 3 per cent occurred in such a short span of two years. The Centre's 6.8 per cent fiscal deficit translates into Rs. 400,000 crore of borrowings, about four times the amount envisaged by the 2008-09 budget. Market borrowings of such a magnitude will crowd out private investment and raise interest rates while borrowing from the RBI can rekindle inflation. The previous United Progressive Alliance government took four years to bring down the fiscal deficit from 4.5 per cent (2003-04) to 3.3 per cent (2007-08). The economy was registering an almost 9 per cent annual growth then. With the economy slowing down, tax collections will be much lower. The Centre's revenue deficit has gone up four-fold between 2007-08 and 2009-10. With no let up in public spending possible, the government will do well to maximise the impact of its social sector policies through better delivery of services.










As the oceans warm and the glaciers melt, one of the definitive impacts of climate change will be a rise in sea levels. Scientists expect sea level rise (SLR) to the extent of one to several metres by the end of this century. Unfortunately, since the models for ice-sheet melting are in their infancy, more accurate estimates are not available. SLR results in an increase in the frequency and intensity of cyclones and hurricanes, storm surges, coastal inundation, salt water intrusion, and damage to coastal ecosystems, all of which will make life along low-lying coasts and small islands difficult or impossible. When these areas are just a few metres above sea level, even less than a metre of SLR will make them uninhabitable and result in forced migration. Tens to hundreds of millions of people will have to move out of their homes permanently, thus becoming climate migrants or exiles.


In Bangladesh alone, where about a third of the population lives in the coastal region which is less then 10 m above sea level, up to 80 million people are likely to be forced to migrate inland or to other countries. Similar numbers can be expected along India's coast, since many coastal cities will be severely affected. SLR will possibly lead to internal displacement in large countries like China and India and also result in a significant number of stateless people from the smaller low-lying countries such as Bangladesh and Vietnam and some atoll nations including the Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean islands. The displacement is not expected to happen all at once, but will probably be spread out over time as various areas become unliveable.


If the Netherlands and other low-lying populated regions have successfully protected themselves thus far through dikes, dams and other barriers, why cannot these solutions be used for other countries? It turns out that while these have worked out reasonably well over the past several centuries in the Netherlands, future protection, according to a recent report by the Dutch Delta Committee, is expected to require annual investments of about €1.5 billion for the rest of the century just to protect its 200-mile (322 km) coastline.


Another study by Richard Tol estimates that the minimum cost of protection against two to three feet of SLR will be about $800,000 per mile of coastline, but even then 20 to 50 per cent of the vulnerable population will not be protected. Moreover, in many delta regions of the world, dikes cannot be used effectively because of silt formation and shifting dunes. Thus, traditional adaptation strategies will not work for this one class of vulnerable people.


Small islands and coastlines of poor countries whose greenhouse gas emissions have been minimal to low, will be the ones most severely affected by SLR. Even as people living on some small island-nations are already starting to migrate, the international community is still arguing over who is responsible for global warming and how to address it.


According to the World Refugee Survey, developing countries already host most of the world's refugees. In fact, nations with per capita incomes of less than $2,000 host more than two-thirds of all refugees: countries with incomes above $10,000 host only 4 per cent. In all likelihood, therefore, it is the developing world that will bear the worst impacts of climate change and house the largest number of climate exiles.


In 2007, the Pacific Conference of Churches called upon the Churches of the region to show compassion and welcome people of Kiribati and other atolls around them. It went on to say that a regional immigration policy was required to resolve the SLR issue. Generally, developing countries have been left to address the refugee problem by themselves and quite often do so in a piecemeal manner. Climate migrants and exiles, however, require a different strategy because their situation is unique: they will be in larger numbers, will have no rights or legal standing as they are not refugees, and we know in advance that they will have to migrate — as opposed to refugees from an unexpected disaster.


The International Refugee Convention of 1951 only recognises as refugees those who are "persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion." It was not designed for those who are left homeless by environmental or climate change. Thus, climate exiles do not have any agreed upon principles that guarantee them rights. Besides, since climate exiles will be unable to return home, a new legal framework is required to address their unique situation. This calls for a new international agreement: a protocol under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or a new convention that would address this problem.


The new agreement would need to do four things. It will have to acknowledge historical obligations towards climate exiles who live in countries with very low cumulative greenhouse gas emissions. Secondly, it should agree on a separate "climate exile" status, giving such people specific rights such as the right to migrate to a particular or previously agreed upon country of their choice. Thirdly, it should enable them to migrate in advance of actual SLR as part of a new mechanism for compensation and rehabilitation. Fourthly, it should prepare climate exiles through skill-building and training so that they are able to contribute to and build a new life elsewhere.


Developing nations such as China and India which will become significant emitters are also expected to experience large-scale internal displacement of people. Many of the above mentioned requirements, except the first two, would also apply to internally displaced climate migrants.


Tuvalu, Kiribati and other low-lying small islands are already facing problems. Similar crises will begin to mount in the next few decades and xenophobia and the fortress-like mentality of certain states are bound to worsen. Already, alarm is being raised by a number of those expected to be exiled as a consequence of SLR.

There is no need for such panic as the rise in sea levels should be slow for the most part. Preparation and a phased migration can resolve this issue. While the upcoming COP-15 in Copenhagen has a number of other items on the agenda, it is important that the international community begins to address this matter at the earliest.


(Sujatha Byravan works independently on science and technology policy. Sudhir Chella Rajan is Professor, Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras.)









The nationalist spirit that led to India's Independence engendered many unique personalities. At a time when women were considered mere commodities, a few pioneering women gained true empowerment by means of education, aided by their own courage and selflessness. Durgabai Deshmukh's life is an illustration of what determination and dedication could achieve even when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. She revolutionised the concept of social work, building on the diverse foundations laid by statesmen such as Ramabai Ranade, Mahatma Gandhi and Kakasahib Kalelkar. She laid the foundations of organised voluntary efforts and lobbied for state recognition and support to these institutions.


Durgabai was born in Rajahmundry on July 15, 1909, into a family that was dedicated to social service and that practised religious tolerance. She displayed leadership qualities even during her youthful interaction with other young people, and could teach in a palatable manner. Durgabai passed her matriculation examination privately in 1934 from Banaras Hindu University. She passed the intermediate examination and later B.A. Honours in Political Science. She continued her education into her late-20s and became a lawyer. In 1953, she married C.D. Deshmukh, who was the Union Finance Minister. He later became Chairman of the University Grants Commission and served as Vice Chancellor of Delhi University. Both were dedicated to public service.


Seeds of social reform were sown early in her mind and she became conscious of the injustice suffered by women in all strata. Perhaps this was due to the fact that the social reformer Kandukuri Veeresalingam was a close friend of her grandfather.


An important episode in young Durgabai's life was her meeting with Mahatma Gandhi. As a 12-year-old she had collected money for the nationalist movement along with a few volunteers, and when she came face to face with the Mahatma she gave her gold bangles as well, on his request. It was a turning point, which further kindled her spirit of selfless service and patriotism.


Durgabai fought against the system of child marriage and dowry, and the harassment of widows in the name of custom, although she herself was married at the age of eight. She gradually became involved with the nationalist movement and understood the need for women to be educated. She was a forceful, persuasive public speaker and was imprisoned during the Salt Satyagraha. She came to understand the pitiable conditions of woman criminals and wished to arrange free legal aid for them. This gave the impetus to the free legal aid centre of the Andhra Mahila Sabha in Hyderabad, particularly to help unlettered women of all classes.


On the basis of her experience and observations, Durgabai realised that lack of education impeded women's progress. Education would provide them economic independence and create social awareness. This impelled her to lay the foundation for adult education programmes, which were taken up by the government of independent India.


In 1922, she started Hindi classes in the Balika Hindi Pathashala. The mini-school was to be the nucleus of the future Andhra Mahila Sabha, the mammoth social welfare organisation which eventually had service centres in Madras, Hyderabad and several districts of Andhra Pradesh. The Madras institution, started in 1937, organised many programmes such as condensed courses of education for adult women, nursery schools and crèches for working mothers, milk distribution for poor children, training of auxiliary nurse midwives and maternity centres.


When her family settled down in Madras, the centre at Dwaraka, known as "the Little Ladies Club," was formed. In 1939, Durgabai joined the Madras Law College and simultaneously started her work in the women and children's wing of Chennapuri Andhra Maha Sabha. The celebration of the silver jubilee of the Andhra Maha Sabha led to the emergence of the Andhra Mahila Sabha. In 1946, Mahatma Gandhi laid the foundation stone for the first building of the Andhra Mahila Sabha. That marked the beginning of the establishment of numerous educational institutions at the primary, secondary, professional and tertiary levels.


Durgabai's name is integrally linked with the Andhra Mahila Sabha. This grand institution has completed 100 years of useful service in the field of social welfare. The services organised by it are in the fields of health, medical care, nursing and education. The Sabha has contributed to the cause of adult education and literacy including functional literacy and non-formal education for rural women. Durgabai has been the inspiration for many dedicated, spirited, selfless and able voluntary workers, both men and women.


Durgabai was a member of the Constituent Assembly. By the time India attained Independence, she had established herself as a criminal lawyer and played an active role in drafting and enacting the Hindu Code Bill. Her efforts to elevate the status of women were evident in her involvement with parliamentary Bills. In 1952, she was appointed a member of the Planning Commission but relinquished the post as her husband was also a member. In 1953, she became the chairperson of the Central Social Welfare Board. In 1959, the government appointed her chairperson of the National Committee on Education.


Her autobiographies, Chintamani and I and The Course of My Life, were dedicated to Nehru. Her encyclopaedia, Social Welfare in India, is a valuable reference work for researchers even today. In 1979, Stone that Speaketh, her history of the Andhra Mahila Sabha, was released. It gives an account of the corner-stones of the institution laid by leading personalities over a period of 57 years, from 1921 to 1977.


Many awards and accolades came her way. She received the UNESCO Peace award for her work in spreading literacy. She received the Padma Vibhushan. The Paul G. Hoffman Award for bringing about social change in India and contribution to economic growth was conferred on her. She received the Nehru Literacy Award for services in the field of adult education.


She is perhaps best known for her work with the Andhra Mahila Sabha. But beyond that structure, her legacy lies in the unseen and intangible spirit of sacrifice, dedicated work, leadership qualities, and stern discipline.


(Dr. Prema Kasturi was Professor and Head of the Department of History, Women's Christian College, Chennai. Dr. Prema Srinivasan is a freelance journalist.)









Is there more to the timing of the latest round of India-Japan strategic dialogue than meets the eye? A transparent and credible answer is that the dialogue in Tokyo on July 3 was not designed to send any political signal to China.


Doubts on this score arose because the meeting took place in the wake of China's recent comments on its boundary dispute with India. The context of these comments on June 18 was the Asian Development Bank's adoption of the India Country Partnership Strategy for 2009-2012. Beijing voiced "strong dissatisfaction" over the bank's move, which was seen by China to cover territories in dispute with India. Beijing said the move "can neither change the existence of immense territorial disputes between China and India nor China's fundamental position on its border issues with India."


The July 3 meeting in Tokyo, in reality the third round of discussions on strategic issues of interest to India and Japan, was indeed an annual exercise. And, it is learnt on good authority in both these camps that China's comments did not figure in this dialogue as a factor in Japan-India ties.


External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna left Tokyo on July 5 after co-chairing the talks, which were marked by a feel-good paradigm.


At a macro-level, inter-state talks on strategic issues have in fact become a commonplace practice in worldwide diplomacy since the end of Cold War. In this perspective, the latest India-Japan dialogue need not necessarily be seen as being particularly important. Yet, a substantive fact is best summed up in the words of External Affairs Ministry spokesman Vishnu Prakash. According to him, the "canvas of cooperation [between India and Japan] has its own story to tell."


A top Japanese official, Kazuo Kodama, who was present at Mr. Krishna's talks with his counterpart Hirofumi Nakasone, was no less eloquent. Mr. Kodama told The Hindu about his perception of "a meeting of minds" between the two Ministers on the issue of worldwide nuclear disarmament. This perception is important. Even a nodding acquaintance with the India-Japan link will suffice to know how much this view is a positive element of their feel-good commitment.


It was just over a decade ago that Japan took an apocalyptic view of India's nuclear-arms tests and imposed economic sanctions on it in that context. By contrast, today's growing convergence of the views of these two countries on the idea of pan-global nuclear disarmament merits attention. This does not really signify a seismic shift in the positions of either country on the issue of worldwide non-proliferation since New Delhi's tests of 1998. A signpost for the Japan-India dialogue now is the view, first aired by the United States just a few years ago, that New Delhi is a responsible power.


In this changed context, New Delhi's nuclear weapons are not exactly an irritant in the overall Japan-India engagement, of which the strategic dialogue is a part. With a heavy heart and a pragmatic world-view, pacifist Japan backed the recent U.S.-led pro-India consensus in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Nonetheless, Tokyo does not still take its eyes off New Delhi's ongoing voluntary moratorium on nuclear-weapon tests.


Relevant to Japan's continuing watch over India is the latest Group of Eight (G8) statement on non-proliferation. Japan is a proactive G8 member. India is at risk of being covered under the G8 move to "reduce the proliferation risks associated with the spread of enrichment and reprocessing facilities, equipment, and technology."


On balance, surely, the nuclear issue is not the defining feature of the Japan-India strategic dialogue today. Yet, their new "meeting of minds" on global-scale nuclear disarmament is particularly important to Japan, still a pacifist on the atomic arms issue. In a sense, this "meeting of minds" sets a robust tone for the larger bilateral engagement on a host of smart-power issues. Smart-power, as first propounded by Joseph Nye, is a blending of hard-power of the military kind and soft-power of diplomacy and people-to-people influences.


The overall agenda for Japan-India strategic dialogue is vast indeed. This is so on two counts: the scope of this bilateral exercise itself and the broad definition of a generic inter-state engagement of this kind. Generically, the issues include the economic well-being of people, eco-friendly development, energy security, and international peace and stability.


A "Strategic and Global Partnership" (SGP), agreed to by Japan and India several years ago, is effectively a stimulus package for dialogue. For Tokyo, with its calculus of measured diplomacy, the SGP signifies a leap in state-sponsored goodwill for discussions and also cooperation. In fact, the SGP was reached through a two-stage accord, the engagement on issues of global concern being the second step in that process. In effect, the SGP now provides for India-Japan talks, aimed at specific agreements, on cooperation in the bilateral and multilateral domains.


The Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation (JDSC), a by-product of the SGP stimulus, served as another framework for the just-concluded dialogue. In fact, the JDSC, arguably a security pact of a secondary nature, is one of only a few such agreements that Japan has with major powers. With the JDSC issued well before the latest dialogue, Tokyo now has parallel security-related links with the U.S., Australia, and India. The qualitative content and material scope of these accords vary vastly. With the U.S. recently reaffirming its promise of an "extended nuclear deterrence," Japan remains assured of the American umbrella in this area.


In this issue-studded setting, India and Japan did not outline any specific accord at this time for space-related cooperation, a futuristic possibility. In the terrestrial domain, the promise of a new dialogue on cooperation for maritime security was held out. This was the farthest the two sides went, after having recently held a sophisticated naval exercise, which involved the U.S. as well. Nor did India announce any move to associate itself with the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative. Japan is active in this Initiative, which is in focus again because of the international crisis over North Korea's latest nuclear and missile tests.


China, besides the U.S., is the prime power with worldwide interests in Japan's neighbourhood. While Tokyo's links with Washington are of interest or concern to China, India cannot be in such a category for a specific reason. The Brazil-Russia-India-China (BRIC) constellation is taking shape now, although it is not yet in focus in Japan's neighbourhood. Nonetheless, Tokyo, proud of its membership of the elite Group of Seven countries, sees the BRIC forum as being compatible with the G-7.








When U.S. investment bank Morgan Stanley sought to produce a report on teenagers' media habits, they naturally consulted an expert in the field: one of their own summer interns, 15-year-old Matthew Robson from London. His research paper was considered so ground-breaking (he says, for example, that teenagers think Twitter is pointless) that Morgan Stanley published it in full for the benefit of their media clients. Dozens of fund managers and chief executives apparently requested copies.


But what do other young people think of Robson's revelations? My own personal research consultant (who insists on anonymity) may be nearly a year younger than Robson, but rest assured I walked no further than the folks at Morgan Stanley did to find him.


Below, my no-less-scientific findings:



Robson describes teenage viewing as erratic, claiming "they will watch a particular show at a certain time for a number of weeks . . . but then they may watch no television for weeks after the programme has ended."


My expert says: "People don't go for weeks without watching telly."



With consoles that connect to the Internet, says Robson, online chatting between gamers is beginning to impact on mobile use: "One can speak for free over the console and so a teenager would be unwilling to pay to use a phone." My consultant remains unconvinced: "I don't know any teenagers who use their Xbox instead of a phone."



My insider concurs with Robson's assertion that "many teenagers use YouTube to watch videos" but disagrees with the idea that those videos are "mainly anime." "It's mainly people humiliating themselves," he says.



Robson insists that "no teenager that I know of regularly reads a newspaper." My own operative has ceased cooperating by this point, but thanks to Robson I feel able to offer my own conclusions safe in the knowledge that no teens will discover them here. Today's young persons rarely, if ever, pay for anything they can get for free. The big question then, is this: why do we care what they like?


 © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009










"There has been no change on the gas supply market." In the past few months, this phrase has brought for the EU, Ukraine and Russia more anxiety than calm, because no change means that the question over the supply of Russian natural gas to the EU this coming winter has not been settled.


In early July, the EU's Gas Coordination Group met in Brussels to examine the level of preparedness of the EU and the Energy Community (EnCT) to face a possible gas supply disruption in the coming weeks or months. It established that the gas storage situation in Ukraine remained uncertain, and that it was still unclear who would finance Ukraine's acquisition of the required amount of gas.


Russia is fed up of lending money to the Yushchenko government, which only pokes insults at Russia, and has proposed that the EU provide several billion dollars to the "democratic" Ukrainian government.


Unwilling to part with such a large sum, Europe asked if Ukraine could save itself, or if half of the required sum would suffice.


Kiev and Moscow argue that democracies in a market economy cannot be saved without investment. To paraphrase Vladimir Lenin, any democracy is worth something only if someone can pay for it. In the case of Ukraine, it could be a permanent EU agency such as the European Commission. Its President, Jose Manuel Barroso, has been conducting endless meetings on the issue with his colleagues and pondering over the problem alone, but has so far not approved the allocation of funds to Ukraine.


Mr. Barroso is acting unwisely from the viewpoint of European values and ideology. Why not give money to the young Ukrainian democracy, which has been calling, in unison with some East European EU members, for the need to fight "Russian imperialism?"


However, one can also understand the European Commission President's stance, as such allocations may never be recouped. If West European companies pay in advance for the gas that Russia has not yet supplied to Ukraine, who can guarantee that they will receive the contracted gas?


European companies, which have had negative experience of dealing with Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko, refuse to believe the two again.


The Ukrainian President and Prime Minister, the current darlings of the European public, have promised to transit the Russian gas. But they may quarrel again, with Yushchenko again sanctioning searches in the office of Ukraine's national oil and gas firm Naftogaz, as he did last spring, or even halting Russian gas and thereby stopping its transit to Europe.

In this situation, the European Commission has reminded the EU countries of "the need to fill storage units and seek further regional arrangements before any possible new disruption occurs." As of late June, EU storage units contained 4.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas less than in June 2008, according to Swiss investment bank UBS.


Kiev paid for Russian gas supplies in May and June at the last possible moment. Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said that Ukraine planned to dramatically increase gas purchases in July.

Ukraine, which consumed 33 million cu m (mcm) of gas per day in mid-June, has contracted 120 mcm for July.


Does it have enough money to pay for the contracted amount? Ukraine "scraped and scratched" to pay $300 million for gas in June, but Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has recently said that her government was planning to increase the authorized capital of Naftogaz to $2.45 billion.


Ms Tymoshenko has also said in an interview that Ukraine needs $4.2 billion to buy the required 16 bcm of gas for the country's underground storage facilities, while President Yushchenko said $1.6-$2 billion would suffice.


Which of them is lying?


The European Commission is keeping silent, but Russian sources in Brussels say that even the most tolerant Eurocrats are losing patience with the Ukrainian leaders.



A solution was proposed to the European Commission five years ago. According to it, the EU, Russia and Ukraine should set up a consortium to ensure the transit of Russian natural gas across Ukraine. Unveiled in 2002, the idea of the consortium was an unwanted child for the EU, because it does not conform to its ideology. How can Europe work with Russia and not against it, helping the "new imperialist," which is seeking to restore its former influence in the ex-Soviet countries, in a joint project?


As a result, the consortium kicked the bucket.


Making another go at this policy, the EU signed a separate agreement with Ukraine last spring to modernise its gas transportation system. But its enthusiasm waned when the question of paying for the project was raised.

Maybe it is considering cooperation with the "gas imperialist" ahead of the winter colds?


RIA Novosti








By taking strong punitive action against Kerala chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan and privileging his former protégé and current factional rival, Pinarayi Vijayan, the Kerala CPI(M) chief, the party's national leadership may have created the unfortunate impression among ordinary people that it has no qualms putting down a public figure who enjoys a formidable reputation for probity and for being demonstrably pro-poor. On the other hand, the party has left the further sense in the public domain that it has treated with kid gloves a man indicted in the SNC Lavalin corruption case. There is no question that the drubbing the CPI(M)-led Left Front received in Kerala in the recent general election was to a considerable degree the result of grievous factionalism within the state party. To deal with the factionalism, the party had suspended both Mr Achuthanandan and Mr Vijayan from the politburo in 2007. Nothing would have been lost if that arrangement had continued to prevail. Instead, the CPI(M) central committee has now voted to drop Mr Achuthanandan from the politburo while retaining Mr Vijayan in that top executive body. To most observers, this would not appear even-handed although Mr Achuthanandan has not been disturbed from the post of chief minister.


It is clear that the party has taken the easy way out, and avoided looking at the basic issues. For eminently practical reasons the state party chiefs of Kerala and West Bengal, the only two states in which the CPI(M) counts, cannot be evicted from the politburo. It is equally true that given Mr Achuthanandan's standing among the people, he is the CPI(M)'s best bet to lead it in the next Assembly election. As such, he could not have been done out of the chief minister's post. This is precisely the course the central committee navigated. In the bargain it ended up leaving the feeling even among the faithful that VS, as the CM is popularly called, has been punished while his bête noire has got away scot free although taint attaches to him in the public eye. The cleanest way to deal with the issue of deep factionalism may have been to drop Mr Vijayan as state party chief and, as a corollary of this, from the politburo, and VS from the politburo as well as the chief minister's position. Whatever the impact of the last action on the voter, the end of serious factionalism — which would have accrued to the CPI(M) if both stalwarts had been shown the door and a young leadership set ushered in — might have been a net gain. But in the end the CPI(M) top brass need to contend with the question what led to the deep factionalism between the state party chief and the chief minister? Was it merely hunger for more power on both sides, or was there a deep-going ideological issue at the bottom of it? It is well known that Mr Vijayan, thought to favour pragmatism over scruples, is a liberaliser while VS is regarded as conservative. Besides disregarding this key issue, the CPI(M) leadership, in charging the CM with flouting party discipline and not coming to Mr Vijayan's defence when the latter was under attack by the Opposition Congress in the state, overlooked the fact that as chief minister Mr Achuthanandan could not but have given due weightage to the chargesheeting of Mr Vijayan by the CBI and sharp criticism of him by the Comptroller and Auditor General in a report. A chief minister is a constitutional custodian responsible to the entire state, and not a mere party hack.








July 15, 2009 is a special day for Indian women. It is the birth centenary of one of India's great women, a pioneering thinker, freedom fighter and one of the original activists for women's rights. At this juncture when women activists ponder sadly over the political circus that has become associated with any movement which works towards greater political or economic space for women in a democracy that declares itself to be equal and non-discriminatory on grounds of gender, the life and times of Durgabai Deshmukh are an inspiration to reflect and draw strength from.


Durgabai Deshmukh was born on July 15, 1909 at Rajamundry in Andhra Pradesh, and was inspired from a very early age to participate in the Independence movement led by Mahatma Gandhi. She was married to the adopted son of a wealthy zamindar at the age of eight. Very soon, when she realised the true ramifications of married life and the attendant obligations, she convinced her husband to free her from the bonds of matrimony. Thereafter at the age of 12, when she found a drunken husband beating up his wife, she rounded up all her friends, took out a procession to condemn the wife beater, and forced society to ostracise wife beaters. She took to the freedom movement at a young age and during the Kakinada session of the Indian National Congress in 1923, she was given charge of the Khadi Exhibition. She asked not to let anyone enter without a ticket. True to her mandate she stopped Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru from entering the exhibition because he did not have a ticket. She was asked if she knew who she was stopping, but she stood her ground and said that although she knew Panditji very well rules had to be applied strictly and were the same for everyone. Panditji had nothing but words of praise and encouragement for the young girl who stood firmly for the right values that he himself espoused.


Durgabai courted arrest during the Satyagraha and was imprisoned thrice during the freedom movement. Through all this, she never gave up her dream of education. Although she had passed only her fifth vernacular examination when she walked out of her marriage, she went on to clear the Benares matriculation examination, took her BA from Madras University and later studied law and was called to the bar of the Madras high court, where she specialised in criminal law. To imagine that a middle class woman from a village in Andhra Pradesh could achieve so much on the strength of her determination and vision is itself an inspiring thought for the woman of today, but Durgabai did not stop there.


She went on to become a member of the Constituent Assembly and provisional member of the Parliament of India between 1946-52 and is reported to have moved 725 amendments. Later Pandit Nehru made her a member of the first Planning Commission set up in India and placed her in charge of social welfare, which covered health, education, labour, public cooperation, social policy and administration. It was this background and experience in the Planning Commission that motivated Durgabai to set up the Central Social Welfare Board in 1953. She became its first chairman and mobilised a large number of voluntary non-government organisations (NGOs) to carry out the programmes of the board, in the field of education, training and employment of women, who had been neglected thus far. In many ways, therefore, Durgabai Deshmukh was the founder of volunteerism and the NGO movement in India.

Durgabai and her colleagues were true visionaries. In 1938, when a national planning committee was set up to chart the future course of planning in India a sub-committee was set up to deal with the place of women in the planned economy, ranging from family life, employment, education and social customs that prevent women's participation in the economy and the polity. The recommendations of that sub-committee, set up in 1939, bear a striking similarity to recommendations of various committees set up over the years, including proposals, in very recent plan documents. This is as much a tribute to the wisdom and brilliance of women like Durgabai as a sad commentary on the fact that the problems and vital issues pertaining to women remain pertinent until today. The further reality is that governments of today — notably those led by Rajiv Gandhi — who reserved 33 per cent seats for women in local bodies — and the present United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government which has taken many notable steps to make women equal partners in our democracy have understood the brutal truth that despite the giant strides made by our country, women have not moved or developed in equal measure as other citizens.


Nevertheless, the vested interests and compulsions of male-dominated hierarchies are so deep-rooted that even today, every step which is mooted to break yet another shackle that binds women is bitterly opposed and destabilised at every step. However, women are survivors and stories like those of Durgabai Deshmukh serve to remind us that no matter what the obstacles and opposition, the work of strong and indomitable women will continue without any faltering until Indian women reach true equality in our democracy.


Over the years the participation of women in politics has declined. At the same time, government and politics are very important factors in economic, social and power structures in India, more so than in countries with more influential women's movements and therefore the effect of the marginalisation of women in politics has a detrimental impact which is all pervasive. Also, with the increasing violence and criminalisation of politics, which has undermined other institutions of civil society, the participation of women in politics has become even more hazardous.


Durgabai Deshmukh and women like her played a major role in securing Independence for our country. It is only fitting that the millions of daughters of India, who now follow in her footsteps, inherit in full measure the development and equality which have been conferred upon us by our democracy.


Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.


The views expressed in this column are her own.








The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's decision to introduce a Food Security Act is a welcome step.


It is time we saw the right to food is the basis of the right to life. As everyone knows, Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees the right to life for all Indian citizens and food security is intimately tied to that.


It will be no exaggeration to say that India has emerged as the capital of hunger, with capita consumption falling from178 kg in 1991, the beginning of the period of economic reforms, to 155 kg in 2003.


Daily calorie consumption of the bottom 25 per cent of the population has also decreased from1,683 kcal in 1987-88 to 1,624 kcal in 2004-05, while the national norm is 2,400 and 2,011 kcal/day for rural and urban areas respectively.


In this context, we need to seriously think about food security.


However, there are several blind spots in our official approach to food security, the biggest of them being the neglect of food production and food producers, though they form the core element of food security.


Simply speaking, you cannot provide food to people if you do not first ensure that food is produced in adequate quantities.


And to ensure food production, the livelihood of food producers must be ensured. The right of food producers to produce food is the foundation of food security. This right has internationally evolved through the concept of "food sovereignty". In Navdanya we refer to it as Anna Swaraj.


Food sovereignty is derived from socio-economic human rights, which include the right to food and the right to produce food.


"Food Sovereignty argues that feeding a nation's people is an issue of national security — of sovereignty, if you will", says Peter Rosset in the Monthly Review (July-August, 2007). "If the population of a country must depend for their next meal on the vagaries and price swings of the global economy, on the good will of a superpower… then the country is not secure".


He adds that to achieve genuine sovereignty, people in rural areas must have access to productive land and receive prices for their crops that allow them to make a decent living while feeding the nation's people.


Two key aspects of food security are not present in the current approach — firstly, the right to produce food, and secondly national food security.

Both are aspects of food sovereignty, one at the level of food producers and the other at the level of the country as a whole.


In our country, two-thirds of the population are involved in agriculture and food production. Our small farmers produce food for the country. But today they themselves are in distress.


Even as we are pondering food security, we choose to ignore the suicides of over 200,000 farmers over the past decade. If our food producers do not survive, what is the point of talking about food security?

Ironically, half of the hungry people of the world today are food producers. This is directly related to the capital intensive, chemical intensive way of food production introduced as the Green Revolution and the second Green Revolution.


This forces farmers to get into debt to buy costly inputs and indebted farmers must sell what they produce to pay back the debt. The suicides too are linked to the same process of indebtedness.


The solution to the hunger of producer communities is to shift to low-cost sustainable agriculture production based on principles of agro ecology.


Though many people think otherwise, data from India and other parts of the world establishes that small farmers have higher output than large farms, that biodiverse organic farms have high food output than chemical monocultures.


Ensuring the food sovereignty of rural producers addresses the hunger of rural communities as well as the hunger of those they feed.


But the government's policies are biased in favour of the corporate sector. The proposal to shift from the PDS system to the food stamp or food voucher systems arises from this bias.


The assumption is that corporations will control the food supply, and the government will enable the poor to buy from them through food stamps and vouchers. However, the poor will then be condemned to the least nutritious unhealthy food as has happened in countries like the US.


As the great writer Tolstoy put it when he was involved in setting up soup kitchens during the Russian famine of 1891-1892, they were "distributing the vomit, regurgitated by the rich".


A food security system that does not include food sovereignty and that does not build public food systems must condemn the poor to food unfit for humans.


The present paradigm has the bias that the poor can eat bad food. Good food is only for the rich.


But that is unfair. Real food security includes the right to safe, healthy, culturally appropriate and economically affordable food. Food stamps cannot guarantee this. 


The time-tested PDS is both a food procurement and food distribution system. Dismantling PDS and substituting it with food vouchers will erode the food sovereignty of producers, abandon them to the vagaries of the market and finally destroy their livelihoods.


Adding 650 million rural people to the displaced and hungry will create a hunger problem no government and no market can solve.


That is why we must strengthen food sovereignty and the PDS system to strengthen food security.


Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust









A case is shifted out of a state in rare cases, only when there is very little chance of justice being meted out to the accused in that particular state. That this was done in the case of the murder of H. S. Sabharwal, the Ujjain Professor who was done to death in his college in August, 2006, itself is a sad commentary on the functioning of the BJP Government in Madhya Pradesh. But even a Nagpur court has now acquitted the six students owing allegiance to the ABVP accused of killing him, citing lack of evidence.


That leads one to the unfortunate apprehension that the ends of justice just cannot be met if a state government has decided to side with the suspects. Pliable prosecution can then make the case so weak that it would not hold in any court, be it within the state or outside it. Now that the prosecution has "miserably failed" to prove the case, even a higher court may be hamstrung by a deliberately weak prosecution.


Professor Sabharwal, head of the political science department of Madhav College, Ujjain, had died after fracas in the college over student union elections when he was allegedly beaten up by the ABVP activists. His only fault was that he had cancelled elections to the students' council on account of some irregularities. He paid with his life for the ugly politicisation of educational institutions which is the order of the day all over the country. Political parties have vitiated the atmosphere of colleges and universities for their narrow gains.


What has happened in the Sabharwal case is not much different from the Best Bakery case in Gujarat where too justice was derailed by a partisan state government. The country should seriously mull over the issue of this fascist tendency. Ways must be found to ensure that nobody can escape the hands of law, howsoever well-connected he may be.








Monday's uproar in the Gujarat Assembly over the hooch tragedy in Ahmedabad underlines the members' concern over the government's failure to tackle the menace. Surprisingly, though 140 people have lost their lives so far, the highest in the state's history, Chief Minister Narendra Modi has decided to keep mum on the issue until the inquiry commission submits its report on November 30.


His silence is a tacit admission of his failure to check the sale of illicit liquor. The situation is grave with hundreds still fighting for life in various hospitals. The root cause of the tragedy is the close nexus between the hooch mafia, the politicians and the police. As hooch kingpins, brokers and other bootleggers enjoy the political patronage of the government and the BJP leaders, the police and other officials look the other way.


The arrest of some bootleggers and suspension of police officials does not inspire much confidence. Nor does the appointment of an inquiry commission headed by a former high court judge. This is just the government's attempt to buy time. In 1960, when Gujarat became a state, prohibition was introduced in homage to Mahatma Gandhi. However, as successive governments failed to enforce it strictly, adulterated liquor became a thriving business in the state. On their part, the hooch manufacturers regularly grease the palms of the politicians and babus of the excise, prohibition and police departments.


Over the years, while illegal liquor dens have proliferated in the state, the poor have been falling victim to the deadly brew because of official apathy. The Forensic Science Laboratory report reveals that the country-made liquor, consumed by many in Ahmedabad, had a large dose of methyl alcohol — four times the permissible dose — making it lethal. While a strong political will is needed to tackle the menace, whoever is involved in it must be exposed and punished in accordance with the law.








Officers belonging to the All India Services like the IAS and the IPS have always been powerful, privileged and pampered. But increasingly many among them seem to be becoming a law unto themselves. What is even more disturbing is that reports of officers grabbing prime land, getting arrested while accepting bribes or defying rules while withdrawing public money have ceased to shock the common man, who is resigned to their inevitability.


There has indeed been an alarming increase in the number of officers found misusing their authority and allowing greed to dictate their action. While the decline of the All India Services has been a matter of concern for some time, recent reports have once again drawn attention to the urgency of making the officers more accountable.


A seemingly helpless Additional Director General of Police is reported to have informed the Punjab and Haryana High Court that 42 IAS officers and 10 IPS officers have been refusing to submit details of their property. An IAS officer was arrested in Himachal Pradesh last week while accepting a bribe.


The Comptroller and Auditor General of India has pulled up the Director General of Police in Jharkhand for withdrawing a whopping Rs. 6 crore on a single day from the 'secret fund' without following financial rules. It is a paradox that some of the best and the brightest of the land, carefully chosen to serve the nation, should end up as virtual parasites. It is time the black sheep in the elite services are dealt with severely.


They have subverted the system and slowed down the government's ability to deliver but successive governments have been far too lenient, reinstating most of them after a period of suspension. Service conditions need to be changed, if necessary, and rules made more stringent so that public money can be recovered and officers compulsorily retired or dismissed from service.













The Finance Minister, while presenting the budget on July 6, was ingenious enough to allude to being sensitive to the requirements of almost all important sectors, including defence. That's why people were not able to react immediately either in favour or against the budget put up by the astute minister. 


But the reality will dawn only when the process of implementation begins soon. The FM's clever statement in regard to one rank, one pension (OROP) for ex-servicemen also had this clan go into a tizzy only to realise later that it was nothing more than a mere sop and nowhere near what is commonly understood as OR,OP. Besides, it did not include the officer cadre. The Finance Minister enhanced the budgetary allocation for defence by Rs,36,103 crore from last year's allocation of Rs, 1,05,600 crore to Rs 1, 41,703 crore this year.


This works out to a big hike of 34 percent over the previous fiscal. Since the past allocations, after neutralising prevalent inflation, have been just about enough to sustain the armed forces at their current levels without reckonable modernisation, the 34 percent hike when compared to previous years, particularly last year's hike of mere 10 percent, seemed a big jump. This coupled with an increase of Rs 13,279 crore in revenue and Rs 13,824 crore in capital expenditure resulted in a certain amount of euphoria.


The Finance Minister was constrained to hike the budget substantially for reasons not necessarily confined to modernisation. Out of this total allocation, substantial chunks of Rs 833 crore and Rs 4,458 crore will go for ordanance factories and research and development respectively, leaving the balance about 95 percent or so for not only the army, the navy and the air force but also for the coast guard, which has its own wish list of fast patrol craft and helicopters for the surveillance of India's long coast line. How much will be needed for the newly created coastal command responsible for maritime security under the navy is not hard to contemplate.


The outstanding demands of the armed forces in regard to their long-term re-equipment plans, modernisation of obsolescent weapon systems, maintenance spares and a vast variety of weapons like bombs, rockets, ammo and missiles have to be catered for. In fact, the armed forces have been waiting for decades for their long-projected weapon systems like guns, armoured vehicles, fighter aircraft, helicopters, radars, missiles and submarines.


The government should now get on the task of speeding up the acquisition process so that the services get the equipment without the ministry surrendering the funds as hitherto. Normally, by the time, the services begin to receive these weapon systems after protracted negotiations that run into years, they begin to become obsolescent. The British Hawks are one such example.


The MOD has been surrendering vast amounts out of the capital outlays almost every year. Last year the MOD surrendered over Rs 7,007 crore. It surrendered almost similar amounts in the preceding two years also. And this is when the armed forces have been crying for help all through. The unspent money, which has become a regular feature with the MOD, could perhaps be carried forward to the next year since the arms deals certainly cannot be concluded within the same financial year.


With this in mind the NDA government had at one time created a fund to the tune of Rs 25,000 crore or so which was unfortunately undone by the next government later. Besides, large-scale corruption arising out of political parties' penchant for a share in defence deals in addition to others' share in the cake only adds to the delays, besides being a blot on the Indian democracy.


Every arms deal is dogged by allegations of kickback. The delay thus caused affects the armed forces' potential adversely and also often leads to surrendering the funds. A major chunk of the budget hike will also be absorbed by the commitments made by the government in the 6th Central Pay Commission. As it is, more than 60 percent of the revenue expenditure goes towards the salaries of personnel.


Viewed against the long outstanding wish list of the three services and the enhanced salaries consequent to the 6th CPC award and the fact that this so-called big increase is only around 2 percent of our national GDP, there is still sufficient scope for further enhancement, particularly in the light of today's security environment. Starving the forces of funds year after year, for whatever reason, has only led to the list of weapons required becoming longer and longer.


As against this, both China and Pakistan, arming themselves to the teeth, spend 7 and 5 percent respectively of their GDPs every year on their armed forces. Besides, both countries are known to hide their defence spending by allocating funds under different heads and ministries. Despite under reporting, China's officially declared defence budget for the year 2009 stands at $70 bn as against India's mere $27 billion. In fact, China's defence spending has been growing by double digit for the last 20 years or so which has enabled the PLA to modernise its army, navy and air force significantly. China's white paper on defence for the year 2009 leaves no doubt as regards its intent or the mounting military capabilities.


Why are we unduly conscious of others' sensibilities and keep our armed forces perpetually starved of funds? Our military potential has been progressively going down and at a time when there is a compulsion to combat the deteriorating internal and external security environment. Beijing's continued ingress in India's neighbourhood, particularly its unceasing collaboration with Pakistan, is a cause of serious concern. Piecemeal reactive measures, as are now being taken in the eastern sector, do not reflect any vision or long-term defence policy.


Unlike China that comes out with a White Paper on National Defence every alternate year, the Indian government has scrupulously avoided any such exercise. Our security depends upon the extent of clamour for the arousal of the politico-bureaucratic combine by the armed forces. We are too lackadaisical about matters of security. Are we too dependent on the valour of our young officers and the rural soldiers who are willing to sacrifice their lives for the national cause?


Human resources, however, can never replace the hardware. We sent our soldiers to fight the Chinese in the high Himalayas in canvas shoes and without adequate clothing. We did exactly that again 37 years later in Kargil. Our security continues to remain in dire straits. The continued paucity of funds only makes the weapons list longer, requiring more and more funds. The 34 percent hike may seem huge when compared to the past, but it stands fully committed against the equally huge list of pending jobs with the government.


The writer is a former Director General, Defence Planning Staff








Not that they really have the right to complain, but these are also dire economic times for smugglers and gun runners. Show up any afternoon at the Sitara Market on the western outskirts of the violent city of Peshawar and you can ask them yourself. This is a rogue's bazaar, within 35 miles of the Afghanistan border.


The locals call it the "American market," and for good reason: A baffling array of battlefield detritus, from U.S. military camouflage kneepads to night-vision goggles, Oakley sunglasses to Otis Spunkmeyer chocolate muffin cake, can be procured here for a bargain price. On this day, the first thing made clear is that it's not advisable to actually be an American at the American market.


"Do not say you are from the U.S.A.," is the kind advice offered by Baz Mohammed, a vendor with nearly a decade of experience hawking smuggled goods to anyone willing to pay. Taliban fighters sometimes peruse these stalls. "We are scared of them. They tell us, `Don't sell American things. They are our enemy.' That's why we can't write on our shop, `U.S.A. goods.' They come at any time and check what we're doing."


Mohammed, an Afridi tribesman from the Khyber district along the border, sits on a crumpled American flag cushioning his dusty swivel chair, behind a cracked-glass case from which he removes a U.S. Army Velcro name tag — of some poor "Davis" — and a large "Made in the U.S.A." socket wrench that he claims is from a Black Hawk helicopter tool kit.


He also sells gun holsters, gas masks, Sound Guard two-color disposable foam earplugs, Black & Decker power drills, extension cords, bolt cutters, welding glasses, corkscrews and a stand-up telescope. He does not feel like showing off the American firearms, but he insists they are not far away. "Business is zero these days," he said, sipping green tea out of a porcelain dish. Earlier in the war, he could make more than $1,200 a day. Now he is happy with $60. "It's now much more difficult to bring something in the old illegal ways."


The vendors at Sitara Market do not like to spell out in detail their illegal ways, or explain how they acquire their loot. Some goods, they say, trickle over the border from what Taliban fighters scavenge off the battlefield, or from theft along the military supply route through the Khyber Pass. There are black-market deals in the Afghan capital, Kabul, and donations flipped for profit.


Business has fallen off for many reasons, the vendors say, from the devaluation of the rupee to stricter border security making shipment more difficult. Bombs frequently explode along their routes. Rising violence in Peshawar and other parts of northwestern Pakistan have frightened away customers. "People used to come from across the country to get the things that are made in America. People like American products," Mohammed said. "No fakes. Good quality. Long-lasting. Doctors, fighters, engineers, they'd come here, and if they like it, they buy it. Everyone would come."


By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post








Residents of Tokyo famously live in the planet's most seismically unpredictable capital, yet they could always boast that they enjoyed one of its most stable political systems – until now. Voters in the city's municipal elections have just triggered the first rumblings of what could be a national political earthquake, by handing a historic drubbing to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP).


The opposition Democrats ended 40 years of Liberal Democrat dominance in the metropolis, winning 16 more seats in local elections at the weekend. They also effectively torpedoed the career of the nation's Prime Minister, Taro Aso, who is now, politically, a dead man walking. The defeat prompted Mr Aso to call a general election in August, which on current form will see his party lose its almost unbroken, half-century grip on power over the world's second-largest economy.


No one knows what impact that will have on Japan's relations with the rest of the world, but the guessing has begun. Mr Aso is the latest in a string of dud leaders to test the patience of Japan's long-suffering voters. He has been in power just 10 months and is the fourth prime minister since 2005. Two of his predecessors, Shinzo Abe and Yasuo Fukuda, also quit amid controversy and dismal poll ratings.


Mr Aso has distinguished himself only by making some of the worst foot-in-mouth gaffes in Japanese politics. In a country with the world's highest percentage of pensioners, he frequently insulted the elderly, with predictable results on his popularity. Last year, he questioned the wisdom of stumping up for healthcare for senior citizens. "Why should I pay tax for people who just sit around and do nothing but eat and lounge about drinking," he moaned.


In truth, Mr Aso's verbal carpet-bombs have left few untouched. The old, ethnic minorities, the overweight, the homeless, his political opponents and doctors have all been scorched beneath his undercarriage. His occasional attempts at a surgical strike, such as when he likened the Democrats to the Nazi Party last year, have invariably blown up in his face. Mr Aso's big mouth only partly explains his party's fall from grace. Like his predecessors, he has been unable to tackle Japan's daunting structural problems.


The country is snared in its worst economic crisis since the Second World War. At the end of 2008, it suffered the biggest quarterly contraction in 35 years, shrinking twice as fast as the eurozone and more than three times as fast as the US. An ageing population and a mountain of public debt – equivalent to 180 per cent of the country's gross domestic product – have added to what one commentator recently called "the stench of decay".


The LDP is powerless to stop this decline. Its factions are deeply split, and national policy under the party is a witches' brew of competing interests that has left the country rudderless and drifting. Its addiction to spending on public works – 700 trillion yen (about £4.7trn) has been budgeted for roads and railways over the next 10 years – is widely viewed as catastrophically wasteful.


Voters might have given Mr Aso the benefit of the doubt, had he demonstrated leadership and humility in the face of crisis, but he has shown neither. By turns petulant and defensive, he has been an inept communicator, luxuriating in a bon vivant lifestyle that mocked the growing hardship around him. As the recession began to bite early in his term of office, the press revealed that he spent almost every night of the working week at expensive hotels and restaurants.


Official records published in one magazine showed he ran up a food and drink bill of well over £340,000 between 2005 and 2007, including £65,000 at his favourite bar. Ironically, he was chosen from within the LDP last autumn because of his popularity with the electorate, and his impeccable political pedigree – he is the grandson of the post-war premier Shigero Yoshida and is related by marriage to the current Japanese Emperor, Akihito.


What comes after Mr Aso is likely to be a great political drama. The Democrats have promised a war on wasteful bureaucracy and plan to redirect about 10 per cent of the national budget toward building what they call a social safety net, offering more help for the old, the poor and the childless, as well as a £155-a-month children's allowance aimed at boosting the plummeting birthrate.


Mr Aso has vowed to dissolve the lower house of parliament by 21 July and to bring his party back from the brink, but he may not even last until election day on 30 August. In addition to the growing movement against him within his own party, the opposition joined forces yesterday to table a no-confidence motion in his leadership.


By arrangement with The Independent








The Railway Ministry has recently announced in the Parliament that the Bogibeel road cum rail bridge will be completed by March, 2014 and one hopes that the project will be completed within the stipulated time for the benefit of the people of Assam. The Railway Ministry spent an amount of Rs 439.46 crore on the project in the last financial year and the Ministry should closely monitor the implementation of the project to ensure that it is completed within the stipulated time frame. Very often, the national projects are not completed within the stipulated time frame in Assam, which is a matter of serious concern. The Government of India should examine the reasons for the slow progress of implementation of the mega-projects in Assam and on its part, the State Government should also play an important role in ensuring speedy implementation of the major projects. The State Government should keep a close watch on implementation of the projects under Central Ministries and whenever any slackness is noticed, the matter should be reported to the concerned Ministry immediately. At the same time, the State Government should take steps to expedite preparatory measures like land acquisition to clear the hurdles in the way of construction of major roads and bridges as very often the delay in land acquisition slows down the progress of work. The completion of the Bogibeel bridge will definitely give a major boost to rail and road communication, particularly in the north bank districts like Lakhimpur and Dhemaji and the bridge will also facilitate smooth movement of essential items to the districts, particularly during the rainy season as at present, road communications to the districts are snapped frequently during floods.

At the same time, the Government of India must ensure steps to expedite the implementation of other major projects including construction of the East West Corridor and the gauge conversion work of the Railways. The progress of construction of the East West Corridor in Assam has been very slow and only in a few districts the progress touched the 40 per cent mark, while, in most of the districts the progress is around 20 per cent. The delay in land acquisition is said to be one of the main reasons for the slow progress and the State Government should deal with this issue immediately. The State Government should also closely monitor the progress and whenever any slackness creeps in, the matter should be taken up strongly with the Central Government. Of course, the progress of the construction of the East West Corridor in North Cachar Hills is only around four per cent and most of the contractors engaged for the work in the district stopped the work because of the law and order situation as there have been number of incidents of attacks by the militants. The construction of the East West Corridor is vital for improving road communication and the State and Central Governments must play their parts to provide adequate security to the personnel engaged in the implementation of the project to ensure that the project does not face any major hurdle.







Democracy is supposed to be the fairest way to erect a system of governance by the people, for the people, of the people. The sad paradox is that the method does not always throw up the best amongst the public to act as their voice. More often than not brawn prevails over brain, with the result that quite a few whose photographs should more aptly be gracing the "most wanted" notice-boards on walls of police thanas are instead 'elected' as members of Parliament or State Assemblies! Not that those with more refined and less suspicious backgrounds can always be exonerated — as far as flouting of parliamentary etiquette is concerned they are equally culpable. If 'politics' has become a dirty word in contemporary India, much of it can be attributed to the way our 'people's representatives' behave in or out of our legislatures. One is not aware as to who first conceived of the idea of 'live' telecast of debates in Parliament and State Assemblies, but that individual was a sheer genius! Live telecast of proceedings has laid bare before the public the atrocious manner in which MPs and MLAs conduct themselves within the hallowed precincts of various legislatures. No longer is it a question of heated debates or furious, stage-managed walk outs — rushing to the well, tearing up papers or punching fellow legislators seem more to be the order of the day!

It is in such a context that the orientation programme for newly elected members of the Lok Sabha recently conducted by the Bureau of Parliamentary Studies and Training must be viewed. The 15th Lok Sabha has a high proportion of members who are new to the job, including many who are there by virtue of political pedigree rather than actual merit. Most of these fresh men and women are politically savvy, for they would not have otherwise come that far up in the hierarchy. But even then, the very fact that they are new comers enkindles hope that they have not yet been afflicted with the "whoever goes to Lanka becomes a Ravana" syndrome! Thus lessons in parliamentary etiquette can be imparted to them to ensure that they maintain proper decorum in the House, the reason behind the orientation course. This was driven home by Speaker Meira Kumar when she told the participants to behave themselves in Parliament and maintain discipline inside the House. Unfortunately, footage shown in the audio-visual media, of our 'people's representatives' yawning or snoring, gave little indication as to whether her exhortations have fallen on eager ears! Though the five-day programme also acquainted participants with various Parliamentary procedural devices, the primary goal had been to tutor them to maintain decorum. Only time will tell whether the current breed of MPs have imbibed this point and will carry Indian politics towards a new and decorous direction.








The huge electoral setbacks suffered by the Left and the Bharatiya Janata Party forced them to debate their causes. The BJP "debate" quickly degenerated from denial and evasion to crude mud-slinging and jockeying for privilege. LK Advani tried to put a gloss on this through the nice-sounding but fraudulent notion of "inclusive Hindutva". This hasn't boosted the party's morale. Afraid of facing a serious discussion, the BJP leadership has further deferred it.

The Left, by contrast, is at least engaging seriously with programme and policy-related issues, rather than personalities. It acknowledges that something went seriously wrong with its strategy and tactics, which caused its Lok Sabha tally to drop by 61 per cent to just 24, its lowest-ever score. It has admitted to some mistakes, for instance, in managing its relations with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance.

This is welcome. But the Left is fighting shy of a rigorously logical and ruthlessly clinical analysis of its electoral rout. Going by the first post-election meeting of the central committee of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM), the four Left parties–including the CPI, Revolutionary Socialist Party and Forward Bloc–will be reluctant to go the whole length in dissecting their weaknesses and drawing the right lessons.

Yet, unless the Left rethinks its approaches on some fundamental issues, and revises its strategies, it cannot recover from the rout and rejuvenate itself. India's Left parties, the largest current deriving from the Communist International tradition in today's world barring China, are at a fork in history: Either they change and re-establish an organic relationship with the working people, or they'll become irrelevant and perish, like many other Communist parties.

The Left has been grappling with four major questions after the elections. First, to what extent can its rout be attributed to the decision to withdraw support to the UPA over the India-United States nuclear deal? Second, was it right to adopt a stand of "equidistance" from the Congress and the BJP and create and project the motley Third Front as the alternative?

Third, to what extent were "tactical mistakes" like allying with Abdul Nasser Madhani's People's Democratic Party in Kerala, or coercive land acquisition and mishandling of the Rizwanur Rehman suicide case in West Bengal, responsible for the Left's dismal performance? And most vitally, did structural factors related to the Left's ideology, strategy and policies contribute substantially to its defeat? What are these, and how can it deal with them?

The CPM central committee fudged the answers to three of the four questions. It didn't engage in a robust, passionate debate or sharp and candid analysis, but virtually endorsed the line of general secretary Prakash Karat. In effect, it said it didn't err on any major issue of ideology, policy or strategy. Its mistakes were minor and don't warrant a radical shift of stance. The CC rejected or diluted the criticisms made by state leaders and emphasised state-specific factors for the CPM's poor showing in West Bengal and Kerala. This outcome doesn't quite airbrush the gravity of the CPM's rout. But it does minimise it.

Many State CPM leaders, and CPI general secretary AB Bardhan, questioned the wisdom of trying to topple the UPA on the nuclear deal after the government deplorably reneged on its promise not to push it through without agreement in the UPA-Left joint committee. But the CC said the move was "consistent with the Left's stand" of opposing a strategic alliance with the US; the party was near-unanimous on this.

However, the issue isn't consistency or lack of it, but the wisdom of withdrawing support on a foreign policy-security issue which isn't of grave importance to most people, and whose complexity many don't even understand. The nuclear deal is indeed a bad bargain. It legitimises nuclear weapons and detracts from the worthy objective of nuclear disarmament. It's part of an unbalanced India-US strategic alliance. And it promotes environmentally unfriendly and costly power generation.

The Left criticised the deal primarily because it would take India into the' US strategic camp. But secondly, it also argued like the BJP that it would restrict India's nuclear weapons programme. (In reality, the deal will allow India to stockpile an additional 40 bombs annually.)

The preserving-nuclear-autonomy argument has limited appeal. The US isn't the world's most poplar country in India. But people don't bring down governments on foreign policy issues. The Left should have realised this when its attempts to mobilise opinion against the Iraq war and the big 2007 India-US military exercises evoked a lukewarm response.

There's no evidence that the UPA's contradictory stand on the deal won the Left any sympathy. Yet, the CC said it's "of the firm opinion that withdrawal of support to the UPA ... was correct ... and necessary. There was no other option The CPM also wrongly thought its former ally Mulayam Singh Yadav wouldn't switch sides and support the UPA.

On the "tactical mistakes" question, the CPM concedes what its allies have long been saying, namely, it was unprincipled, opportunistic and stupid to make a deal with the PDP in Kerala, which nearly wrecked the Left Democratic Front. But the CC makes no criticism of the deal's rationale, which falsely contrasted the "secular" PDP to the "communal" Muslim League.

The committee is deafeningly silent on the root-causes of the Singer and Nandigram disasters and on CPM cadres' mindless violence against innocent people. It attributes its West Bengal debacle to "local factors" and "political, governmental and organisational reasons" related to the Left Front "shortcomings" and "certain wrong trends and practices...". These, it says, were rooted in "the failure of the government to properly implement various measures directly concerning the lives of the people. The apprehension about land acquisition ...contributed to alienation amongst some sections of the peasantry."

The CC doesn't mention the larger-ideological and policy framework within which the Front operated, which caused-the "shortcomings" and "wrong" —trends. This framework is fundamentally neoliberal and pro-Big Business and derives from a mechanistic, warped understanding of "stages of historical development", which regards industrialisation at any cost as the sole way forward for society. The "apprehensions" about land acquisition weren't imaginary. An official acquisition notice was issued in Nandigram.

The CPM has followed reckless pro-private e capital and predatory land acquisition policies. Its Left allies have by and large tailed it. They set aside their reservations when the crunch comes, as with the Left Front's industrinlisation strategy. This is based on offering private investors undeserved subsidies and crony-capitalist deals. The Front offered Tata Motors incentives running into half the project cost. And it's still wooing the Selim group which a front for Indonesia's super-corrupt Suharto family.

The sole major issue on which the CC concedes its error is its creation of the Third Front–a ragtag combination of regional and caste-based parties tainted by association with the BJP and and-people policies. This derived from "equidistance" from the Congress and the BJP, which took the focus away from the BJP as a Right-wing threat to democracy. But the CC is silent on this and still defends the "third alternative" idea. It contends the Third Front Contributed to the BJP's defeat, but concedes that "it should not have extended the call for building such a front" to forming "an alternative government".

In reality, Third Front sponsorship resulted in alienating many secular voters from the Left as well as the Congress. It also put off many Muslims in West Bengal who were already alienated by the Sachar Committee's disclosures about their status. Worse, the Left's zealous endorsement of the Front's opportunistic leaders lowered its moral stature—its greatest asset.

The Left can recover and revitalise itself only if it undertakes thorough rethinking to gain ideological clarity, political vision and an alternative radical perspective. Simultaneously, it must return to its real moorings by mobilising people on a charter of demands that puts the poor at its centre and defends and extends their rights. If it fails to do this, it will face growing marginalisation, isolation and irrelevance. That isn't a fate to be wished for. The Left is an important and healthy influence on Indian democracy. It must rejuvenate itself.








Countries differ in respect of legislation on drugs and liquor. Most countries have liberal statutory provisions on trade and consumption of liquor. On drugs, however, the majority have strict legislations. Experts also seem to differ on the subjects widely. Many of them make a distinction between drug use and drug trafficking. They feel that drug use should be decriminalised. But drug trafficking should attract deterrent punishment. A statement made in June, 2009 by the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, is significant. He said that "law enforcement should shift its focus from drug users to drug traffickers. People who take drugs need medical help, not criminal retribution."

Puritans, however, raise questions of ethics. Again, there are those who feel that both traffickers and users should be punished. Others point out that in many countries, particularly in South America and Africa, drugs have led to "murder, torture, slavery, civil wars, corruption and deforestation." Some feel that there should not be total restriction. Their cohorts find that "prohibition is the worse option." But Costa's report categorically states that "the universal ban on illicit drugs provides a great deal of protection to developing countries".

I personally feel that neither the trafficking nor the simple use of drugs should be ignored or always exonerated. When lives are lost, careers are ruined, properties are destroyed and families are devastated, neither the civil society nor the government can remain idle spectators.

I still remember that soon after independence a public meeting was held in Guwahati's Church field to condemn a few persons who were suspected to have been connected with the opium trade. As children we did not understand the deliberations properly. However, the significance was clear. And, stated in simple language, the lessons were that no one should take drugs and no one should deal with drugs. Later in school, we read about the opium wars and about the social and moral deprivation of the Chinese people due to addiction to drugs.

Forty years ago, when I was a young Deputy Commissioner of the earstwhile united Lakhimpur district, with headquarters at Dibrugarh, I saw with my own eyes the physical and mental degradation of' the indegenous people, particularly in the Kakopathar-Doomdooma belt, where not many people could live till fifty and most people were physically weak and exhausted. This was caused by opium which even children used to take. Today, drug addiction has proliferated everywhere in India. Lakhs of young people fall prey to drugs of different types. Lured by unscrupulous dealers, and sometimes in the hope of dousing the flames of failure and frustration, many healthy people take to drugs.

Meanwhile, the habit of' drinking hard liquor has also increased tremendously. While in the advanced countries people drink more of brewed beers and light fermented wines, in India strong distilled spirits such as brandy, whisky and rum are generally drunk. These strong spirits have corroding effects on many vital organs such as liver, kidney, heart and lungs. Social life and family ties are adversely affected by such hard drinking. In Assam, Prafulla Mahanta is generally accused, by media and civil society, of having given a boost to the younger generations' drinking habit by issuing licenses to hundreds of "India Made Foreign Liquor" (IMFL) shops in every nook and corner of the state during the period Mahanta was the Chief Minister. It has to be mentioned, however, that even otherwise the drinking habit had been creeping in steadily. It is perceived that the sale of liquor in the entire State and boot-legging in the districts earlier under prohibition have gone up by leaps and bounds during the past few decades.

It is pertinent to recall the crusade which Mikhail Gorbachev fought as the head of state and the General Secretary of the Communist party of the earstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in the late 1980s. Gorbachev's anti-alcoholism was one of the main causes of his downfall. Gorbachev's policies ultimately led to the collapse of the huge monolith of USSR and the rise of the incorrigible hard drinker Boris Yeltsin to the Presidency of a truncated Russian Federation. To quote Vladimir Solovyov and Elena Klepikova, from their monumental book "Inside the Kremlin", "the common people have responded to the anti-alcoholism campaign of the General Secretary, whom they have nick-named 'tile mineral water secretary', with 'vodka riots' and a sharp increase in the production of moonshine." That syndrome is present even to-day. When I visited Russia in 2008 I was amazed by the enormous variety of vodka available and shocked by the huge quantities drunk in parties and functions.

In order to ensure that India does not fall into the liquor trap as Russia or the drug abyss as Colombia it is necessary to bring home to every one the dangers of rampant alcoholism and drug addiction. It is also necessary to guide parents and relatives about what to do for de-addiction and whom to approach for help.

Government and civil society have to agree on a policy framework, encompassing legal provisions on both drugs and liquor, and clearly setting out to what extent the use of these substances can be allowed and where prohibition and control must be clamped down.


(The writer is former Chief Secretary, Assam).








It is ironic that when the entire logic of setting up a separate Debt Management Office (DMO), independent of the central bank, has been stood on its head the world over, thanks to the financial crisis, we in India should be persevering with it. The most charitable interpretation could be that we are always a bit behind the times.

So if we were slow to latch on to it in the first place, we are now slow to dump it! The idea is not without theoretical merit. But there is a reason why in the Indian context debt management was historically tagged on as part of the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) responsibilities: the large size of government borrowing.

In a poor developing country, the calls on government are invariably much in excess of what it is able to mobilise by way of revenue, especially in the early years. Hence it was considered expedient to make the RBI responsible for raising and managing government debt.

Recourse to instruments like the Statutory Liquidity Ratio (SLR) that compels banks to hold a part of their liabilities in government securities is part of this regimen. The idea was that in course of time as government's borrowing needs come down and revenues rise, the RBI could divest this responsibility to a separate DMO.

Alas! Over the years government's borrowing needs have only grown, not only in absolute terms but, with an all-too brief interlude, also in relative terms.

Hence, the main argument for spinning off the DMO from the RBI (the conflict of interest between its role as government's merchant banker and as monetary authority) however valid on paper needs to be re-visited.

This is the reason why Rakesh Mohan, former deputy governor who headed the Committee on Financial Sector Assessment dissented from the Committee's textbook view of the merits of a separate DMO.

In a scenario of high fiscal deficits and high public debt, it would not only jeopardise government's borrowing programme but lead to a conflict of interest between government's role as debt manager and as owner of a substantial portion of the banking sector.

Moreover, as the financial crisis has shown, management of government debt, regulation of banks and monetary policy are all inter-linked. That cannot be wished away — DMO or no DMO.







It's one small para in the finance minister's budget speech but it could mean a giant leap for India's technological prowess. It is notable indeed that the budget has extended the scope for weighted deduction of 150% on expenditure incurred on in-house R&D to all manufacturing businesses, save for a small negative list.

This would incentivise and shore-up R&D expenditure right across the board and so boost innovation and enterprise. It would especially encourage R&D beyond the top-notch corporates. Today, many niche manufacturing companies in the SME sector are being compelled to spend more on innovations in product development to keep themselves competitive.

The fact is our spending on R&D has now dipped to below 1% of GDP. And this is much too low a figure. Other major economies routinely set aside 3% of GDP — often more — for the purpose. Hence the urgent need to better allocate resources for technological revamp and upgradation. The policy would pay rich dividends, and sooner rather than later.

In tandem, what's required is to promptly update the norms on royalty payment for use of trademark or brand and fees for technology transfer. The rules for technology tie-ups and approvals have barely changed since 1991.

Currently, if the technology transfer fee exceeds $2 million, it has to be approved by the Projects Approval Board, under the ministry of commerce and industry. As for guidelines on royalty payments for tie-ups and licensing, the standard limit is 5% of domestic sales and no more than 8% of exports.

They are much too restrictive. So like in the days of autarky and pre-reform, babus are required to vet and okay technology identified by specialists and entrepreneurs. This is preposterous. Worse, it implies ample opportunity for give and take, 'directly unproductive profit seeking' and other untoward activities.

If know-how was really best understood by Indian babudom, the licence-permit raj would have made India a technology leader! The extant norms need to be junked without delay, and technology imports determined solely on the basis of commercial principles. Further, there is no reason why the 150% weighted deduction ought not to be available for the services sector.







It's a song that captures the current Indian spirit wonderfully. The gung ho, the gassiness, the gumption, the gauche glibness. Dhen te Nan, a bouncy song in Vishal Bhardwaj's Kaminey, is India, a brash celebration of Indian brio.

Dhen te Nan is Main Street and its many rambunctious happenings. Dhen te Nan is Country Street with its seething ardour. It's Bharat with bombast, it's Bhart's bravura performance. Koi good luck nikale, aaj gullak toh phode are words that resonate in the subconscious of the small town.

In that line is a sizzling mixture of to-do (koi good luck to nikale) and can-do (aaj gullak to phode). More than a decade and a half into liberalisation, Dhen te Nan is a cocksure cornucopia of Indian capers.

In its raucous abandon, the songs brings the bubbling wishes of Bharat to the fore. Bang it pitches them into the heart of India. Small-town aspirations, the dreams of those living on dusty roads of Indian countryside.

As villages integrate into towns and towns into cities, bringing in its wake a thousand existential questions, Dhen te Nan can act as the unifier that unhyphenates that rash relationship. Critics may carp it's a plebeian song cocking a snook at Indian musical ethos, but Dhen te Nan encapsulates the changing mood of India and, of course, the primacy of the pleb.

It's a rallying cry for equality; it's a motto for seamless mixing of the possessed and the dispossessed. Dhen te Nan is resilient India, confident India, inclusive India. Dhen te Nan is the voice of empowered India.

It has the chutzpah to bring a cheer to even the bored in Bharat. It has the gall to take all of us gallivanting on the road to global nirvana. Like Lula's gift of a Brazilian football team jersey to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Dhen te Nan should be the Indian gift to the world buffeted by slowdown. With Dhen te Nan and its effervescent energy, the world might get some of its bounce back.








The delay in the advancement of monsoon rainfall and its erratic behaviour in the month of June, have led to serious worries about the likelihood of a drought-like situation in some parts of the country.

The fall in the level of water in major reservoirs of the country has also affected supply of hydro-electric power, which has exacerbated the situation, and tempers have started running high. But, is the current scenario really alarming as it is being thought to be, and is it the first time that monsoon rainfall has been deficient in the month of June?

There is no denying the fact that in the month of June, about 83% of the country's agro-climatic regions experienced rainfall deficiency ranging from 21% in Saurashtra to 87% in the Gujarat region.

Though in the last few days of July, the situation has improved significantly, and the actual status of rainfall scenario in all the 35 agro-climatic regions of the country now shows that, barring the exception of north-western region, the rainfall activity has been fairly widespread in other regions — east, central and west. And, predictions suggest that the monsoon is likely to remain active over many parts of the country during the next few days.

There are two points that need to be taken into account in the context of the unreliable nature of rainfall in June, and its consequent impact on the overall rainfall outcome for the season as a whole.

First, this is not the first time that the country has witnessed extremely uneven spread of monsoon rainfall during the first 30-odd days of the season. For example, in the most recent period of five years from 2003 onwards, one year, that is, 2005-06 also experienced deficiency in rainfall in about 53% of the 36 meteorological sub-divisions during the month of June.

And, an analysis of the distribution of monsoon rainfall in June during the past 18 years from 1990-91 onwards, also reveals that there was one year (1995-96), which experienced huge rainfall deficiency in 72% of the country's agro-climatic regions.

And, two years (1992-93 and 2005-06) also witnessed rainfall deficiency in more than 50% of the country's agro-climatic regions. By the end of the monsoon season, however, rainfall turned to be normal in all these years.

Similarly, in the north-western region, monsoon rainfall was deficient in four of the past 18 years — 1990-91, 1992-93, 1995-96 and 2005-06, which were all normal rainfall years.

Second, there is no doubt that sowing in some parts of the country has been delayed, but the situation is not scary as yet. It should also be kept in mind that a large part of the cropped area in some important states of the north-western region — Haryana, Punjab, and UP — is largely irrigated. The exceptions include a few states such as Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, and Uttarakhand where irrigation intensity is low.

Obviously, except for Rajasthan other states are hilly and account for a small share of the country's gross cropped area. The situation in these regions, however, is likely to change as the season progresses. There are also some concerns about sufficient availability of water in irrigated regions, but the revival of rainfall activity in the latter part of the season is likely to make up for the current deficiency.

Hence, there is the need to wait and watch how the monsoon rainfall actually behaves in the remaining part of the season — July in particular as also August and September before getting unduly alarmed. Proper advisories by the concerned departments of agriculture and extension can provide relevant information needed for coping with delay in sowing and utilising scarce water more efficiently.

Further, even if there is some shortfall in food production, the country has sufficient stock of cereals to meet any exigency that might arise. The combined stock of rice and wheat is currently in excess of 50 million tonnes, which is almost double the minimum buffer stocking norm of 26.9 million tonnes for the beginning of July.

Moreover, budgetary provisions for rural development may also come in handy if delivery systems are geared up to meet pressures arising out of unexpected outcomes.

In other words, as is clear from the above description, the current situation vis-a-vis the monsoon rainfall is not as alarming as it is being made out, and we need to wait for a while before declaring the season as calamitous.

(The author is Senior Fellow, National Council of Applied Economic Research, views are personal)










One more Budget and one more ticker-tape parade of intentions — some well-meaning, some gratuitous and many of mostly profligate. But, as is well known, this Budget has been crafted under trying circumstances and does manage to combine the twin objectives of interpreting the electoral imprimatur correctly and providing the right balance of stimulus for combating the continuing global economic slowdown.

But, after the celebrations conclude and the television studio lights fade out, who will sweep up all the confetti, clean up the mess that's been left behind?

Enter, stage left, the usual suspect. Once again, like earlier times, the central bank has been left to clean up the debris after the rave. Once more, the Reserve Bank of India has been handed a fait accompli. Given the expansionary nature of this Budget, the purging of excesses will now become the sole responsibility of monetary policy.

Let's start with the huge spending programme outlined in the Budget. This year's expenditure outlay has been budgeted to increase by 36% over last year's budget estimates — from Rs 750,884 crore to Rs 1,020,838 crore.

But, given the difficult situation of the previous year, actual expenditure for 2008-09 finally ended up showing a slippage of about 20% — at Rs 900,953 crore — over budget estimates. Therefore, the budget estimate for expenditure during this year is actually only 13% over the actual expenditure incurred during the previous year and looks well within the limits.

But, if the economic crisis forced expenditure to overshoot estimates last year, then who is to say that we already are out of the woods? The symptoms don't look good so far: with brown weeds still outnumbering green shoots and monsoons playing hookey, the economy could well end up with a higher-than-budgeted expenditure bill.

With even a budgeted 36% increase in expenditure, the government has planned a humungous gross market borrowing programme of Rs 451,093.25 crore. Net of scheduled repayments of Rs 53,135.79 crore, the government's net market borrowing target works out to Rs 397,957.46 crore.

Here's the catch: if growth during the year continues to be sluggish, or the monsoon plays wet blanket (pardon the pun), requiring some more booster doses from the government, then this borrowing target is bound to shoot up. Add to this the government's increased limits for ways and means advances from the RBI this year, and the central bank really looks boxed in.

Given that around 33% of the total expenditure tab will be used to meet expenses under only two heads — interest payments and subsidies — the government might be tempted to once again resort to some off-budget items to finance part of the subsidy bill. In that eventuality, it once again becomes the RBI's responsibility to manage the impact of fiscal policy on monetary management.

What are the challenges? First, managing the gigantic borrowing without creating ripples in the debt markets presents the central bank with its toughest test. Ensuring market subscriptions for an additional market borrowing of Rs 135,985.46 crore over last year's revised figure, without upsetting interest rates, is a mammoth task by any standards.

Even if the government does manage to set up a debt management office to implement its borrowing calendar, will the RBI have enough latitude to pull in the other direction? The borrowing figure — even at a net level — is over 62% of the increase in aggregate deposits during the previous year.

Even if there is substantial growth in aggregate deposits this year, the borrowing figure is still a significantly high appropriation of systemic resources that could be used for building productive assets. It is not this article's intention to discuss the merits or demerits of the government's fiscal stance, but to focus attention on how counter-cyclical fiscal policy could impact monetary policy.

The RBI is poised precariously on the horns of an interest rate dilemma: the rate of headline inflation is bound to move up post September-end (when the favourable base effect is expected to come to an end) and the swamp of liquidity in the system is already putting upward pressure on inflationary expectations.

Given these twin forces, it seemed as if the central bank would start revising its interest rate stance somewhere during Q3FY10. But, given the prevailing circumstances and the hand that it's been dealt, the RBI doesn't seem to be in a position to abandon its accommodative monetary policy stance in a hurry.

The central bank has been deliberately following an easy liquidity policy to tamp down interest rates. The RBI has combined this with deliberate reduction of benchmark interest rates. Cash Reserve Ratio (CRR) was reduced by 400 basis points over the span of five months, the repo rate was brought down by 400 bps and the reverse repo rate was cut by 250 bps.

Ironically, even Statutory Liquidity Ratio was slashed by 100 bps to free up money locked in government securities. These combined measures had the desired effect — the system was soon awash with liquidity, putting downward pressure on interest rates. Subsequently, commercial banks were forced to bring down their prime lending rates, albeit not to the extent justified by the central bank's actions.

There are other issues in this Budget that further muddy the waters of monetary management. The finance minister has announced additional interest rate subventions for agricultural loans. This compounds the rigidity displayed by bank prime lending rates; commercial banks are likely to display greater reluctance in publicly declaring a reduction in their official PLRs, while continuing the practice of offering prime customers sub-PLR loans.

Add to this, the inflexibility in the administered interest rates offered on small savings schemes and it makes the Reserve Bank's task that much harder. Monetary policy optimally operates at the level of interest rates and interest rate signals, but the administered system, coupled with concessional rates, create some speed-breakers or its proper transmission.

It will be interesting to see how RBI manages these contradictions.

(The author is head – policy & research, Dhanalakshmi Bank. Views are personal.)












By taking strong punitive action against the Kerala Chief Minister, Mr V.S. Achuthanandan, and privileging his former protégé and current factional rival, Mr Pinarayi Vijayan, the Kerala CPI(M) chief, the party's national leadership may have created the unfortunate impression among ordinary people that it has no qualms putting down a public figure who enjoys a formidable reputation for probity and for being demonstrably pro-poor. On the other hand, the party has left the further sense in the public domain that it has treated with kid gloves a man indicted in the SNC Lavalin corruption case. There is no question that the drubbing the CPI(M)-led Left Front received in Kerala in the recent general election was to a considerable degree the result of grievous factionalism within the state party. To deal with the factionalism, the party had suspended both Mr Achuthanandan and Mr Vijayan from the politburo in 2007. Nothing would have been lost if that arrangement had continued to prevail. Instead, the CPI(M) central committee has now voted to drop Mr Achuthanandan from the politburo while retaining Mr Vijayan in that top executive body. To most observers, this would not appear even-handed although Mr Achuthanandan has not been disturbed from the post of chief minister.It is clear that the party has taken the easy way out, and avoided looking at the basic issues. For eminently practical reasons the state party chiefs of Kerala and West Bengal, the only two states in which the CPI(M) counts, cannot be evicted from the politburo. It is equally true that given Mr Achuthanandan's standing among the people, he is the CPI(M)'s best bet to lead it in the next Assembly election. As such, he could not have been done out of the chief minister's post. This is precisely the course the central committee navigated. In the bargain it ended up leaving the feeling even among the faithful that VS, as the Chief Minister is popularly called, has been punished while his bête noire has got away scot free although taint attaches to him in the public eye. The cleanest way to deal with the issue of deep factionalism may have been to drop Mr Vijayan as state party chief and, as a corollary of this, from the politburo, and VS from the politburo as well as the chief minister's position. Whatever the impact of the last action on the voter, the end of serious factionalism — which would have accrued to the CPI(M) if both stalwarts had been shown the door and a young leadership set ushered in — might have been a net gain. But in the end the CPI(M) top brass need to contend with the question what led to the deep factionalism between the state party chief and the chief minister? Was it merely hunger for more power on both sides, or was there a deep-going ideological issue at the bottom of it? It is well known that Mr Vijayan, thought to favour pragmatism over scruples, is a liberaliser while VS is regarded as conservative. Besides disregarding this key issue, the CPI(M) leadership, in charging the CM with flouting party discipline and not coming to Mr Vijayan's defence when the latter was under attack by the Opposition Congress in the state, overlooked the fact that as the Chief Minister, Mr Achuthanandan, could not but have given due weightage to the chargesheeting of Mr Vijayan by the CBI and sharp criticism of him by the Comptroller and Auditor General in a report. A Chief Minister is a constitutional custodian responsible to the entire state, and not a mere party hack.








With the appointment of Mr Kapil Sibal as the minister for human resources and development (HRD), people's hopes for substantial reforms in education, particularly in higher education, which had been grossly neglected in the last five years, have been rekindled and they are waiting to see the new government's priorities in this crucial sector.


The most important issue about higher education is the priority that the government will adopt between improving the quality of higher education and increasing access to institutions for higher learning. This is a difficult choice for the minister to make as quality and access are equally important if education is to become the most important instrument for development in all sectors. Mr Sibal does not have the option to appoint another committee or commission to make recommendations on this matter since all information necessary to take decisions on priorities in the higher education sector are already available with the government. The minister as an experienced administrator will also know that what is desirable is not always possible and that decisions on priorities have to be made taking into account the competing demands from various other sectors for substantial increase in the allocation of resources. Increasing access to institutions of higher education has also its political dimensions and the minister has to take this fact also into consideration while taking decisions on priorities. He will also have to reckon with the serious problem of shortage of qualified teachers for colleges and universities while deciding on the increases in the number of institutions in the higher education sector.


Judging from some of the views on the subject of priorities expressed by the HRD minister in the last few days, there seems to be some ambiguity in the minister's thinking on priorities. He seems to believe that the targets fixed for access do not have to be scaled down in order to improve the quality of education in the existing colleges and universities. In an interview with a senior journalist a few days ago Mr Sibal had made the following statement: "Once we are able to increase the gross enrolment ratio of people going in for graduation and beyond from the current 11 per cent to 20-25 per cent, then we have a sufficient stock of people to choose from, then you are talking of better quality graduates and better outputs". In other words, he seems to think that an increase in enrolment for higher education from the present level of 11 to 20-25 per cent is not only possible without affecting quality, but is even necessary to ensure better quality. Of course it will be ideal if both access and quality could get the high priority they richly deserve, but the question is whether it will be more realistic to adopt a more moderate enrolment ratio and deploy more resources for improving the quality of education in the existing colleges and universities where huge funds have already been invested. The government will have to make a quick reassessment about the practicability of increasing the enrolment ratio to 20 to 25 per cent from the present 11 per cent.


No one would say that 11 per cent enrolment for higher education is adequate for a country like India. At the same time one cannot ignore the fact that the present ratio of 11 per cent is a substantial improvement on the seven per cent it was a decade ago. The increase in the number of colleges from 700 in 1947 to over 19,000 now has been impressive, though grossly inadequate for a nation of our size and requirements. In some cases the increase in the number of institutions in the last five years looks like an unplanned proliferation without proper care and attention on the part of the authorities sanctioning such increases. The worst case is that as many as 49 deemed universities by private parties have been approved during the last five years, while the numbers approved for over the earlier 50 years has been only 44. But the sadder fact is that a large number of institutions of higher education do not come anywhere near the standards expected of them. Even the University Grants Commission has found that about 50 per cent of the institutions for higher education already functioning are not eligible for financial support from it because of their basic inadequacies in infrastructure, qualification of teachers, record in research etc. The National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAC) has been able to assess the functioning of only a small number of existing colleges and universities but has found that some of them are in no position to provide quality education.


Most governments have been very liberal in the past in allowing mediocre institutions to come into existence as centres of higher learning. A new class of "educational entrepreneurs" has come up in several states from among influential politicians for starting colleges with the main objective of making quick profits from them. The initiative taken by these "education barons" would have been welcome if they had also satisfied the conditions required for quality education, but in many cases they have used their political clout to get recognition for their institutions without conforming to the prescribed conditions for quality and standards.


There have been complaints about corruption and malpractices from several colleges owned and managed by persons outside the government. In some colleges the authorities in charge of universities at the time of the final examinations turn a blind eye to copying and other such malpractices but the action taken against the offenders have often been far from being a deterrence.


Another common complaint is that the teachers in many of the privately-managed colleges and deemed universities do not actually receive the salaries prescribed for them even though they sign the registers for the full amount. When we speak of quality education, it should mean not only academic excellence as judged by the results in the examinations, but also sound moral and ethical standards and the all round development of the students' personality.


When people find that the sanctity of the education system is being violated with impunity, the credibility of the degrees acquired even honestly gets eroded and the whole system of higher education comes into disrepute. Third-rate colleges and universities will produce mostly fourth-rate graduates and the loser is the nation. The "stock" created by such graduates may be large in size but may not be of "better quality and outputs", as hoped for by the minister.


P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra








The dismal prediction of the meteorological department, despite its valiant statements aimed to stem a panic, is that the monsoons are deficient this year and with respect to the northern grain bowl of India, the states of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, it has more or less failed. There are reports from parts of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, that many farmers have decided not to plant the kharif maize at all since the rains are late, and insufficient. They do not expect to get anything worthwhile from the sowing this season and have decided not to waste precious seed. This way they also save the money that would have to be spent on inputs like fertilisers and pesticides. But there will be no food, and people have begun to migrate to the cities already in search of work.


It is providential that despite the many plans afoot to do so, the government did not sell the grain reserves that are meant as buffer stocks for crises situations like the one we are likely to face this year. We have sold buffer stocks before, at a fraction of the cost it took to produce and store the grain, even as people in the country remained hungry. The clamour to sell off buffer stocks comes with good and not so good intentions. In all such transactions, money is made on the side. The reason offered to dispose this foodgrain is that it is rotting in storage. Well, the answer to that is better storage so that the grain does not spoil, not throwing out the grain, especially when we still have persistent hunger


This time round, what is disconcerting is the sense of complacency that seems to emanate from the government, which is issuing statements that there is no reason for panic, that even in the event of a failed monsoon, we will manage the situation since we have adequate food in our buffer stocks. One could stretch the point about the grain stocks to make the case that the government is in a position to provide food relief. Depending on the extent of the rainfall deficit and shortfall in food production, the current grain reserve of approximately 55 million tonnes, could help make up the kharif shortfall and provide food aid for a period of three to four months till the winter rabi crop comes in.


This facile plan however, overlooks the far larger crisis of livelihoods that will be created for a population with no options but dependence on farming and its allied activities. If the kharif crop fails, agriculture labour and landless peasants who depend on wage labour, will be hard hit. They are able to earn from agriculture operations like weeding, threshing, winnowing, packing and transporting harvested grain. Apart from wages, the men and women who do the weeding are able to collect many types of nutritious, edible leafy greens that grow throughout the season in and around the cultivated fields. Apart from these varieties of saag, they are able to take home green fodder for their livestock.


The poor who migrate from Bihar and Orissa every season to work as agriculture hands in Punjab and Haryana, will lose this income opportunity if the rains fail. These earnings form a substantial part of the annual income of such families. A shortfall in the kharif crop also means no straw or less straw for fodder, thus hitting at the survival of livestock that marginal farmers and landless peasants are so heavily dependent on. Stover and woody stems from crops like maize and linseed provide fuel for the farm family. These fuel sources will become unavailable if the kharif crops do not provide crop residues for fuel use.


What is barely being mentioned is that if the rains are delayed and late planting is done… the kharif crop will mature late, which means it will push back the planting of the winter rabi crop. The untimely or delayed sowing of the rabi crop will impact the production of winter foodgrains. In addition to the deficit in rice production, which is the main kharif crop, a delayed or poor monsoon also means that the crops that are sown at the tail end of the kharif season, like early mustard and linseed, will also not be possible. These are planted either in the last stages of the rice crop or immediately after the rice is harvested. This loss will further reduce the food available to farm families and reduce farm incomes still further.


We have been talking for a long time about climate proofing our crops, buffering our agriculture systems and raising rural incomes through on-farm and off-farm operations to cushion against poor harvests. Not much has done in this regard. The current crisis underlines the urgent need to immediately set in place systems to support food security and rural livelihoods, develop contingency plans and increase income opportunities for rural families because weather shocks will increase, not decrease in the coming years.


Dr Suman Sahai, a genetic scientist whohas served on the faculties of the Universities of Chicago and Heidelberg, is convenor of the Gene Campaign










July 15, 2009 is a special day for Indian women. It is the birth centenary of one of India's great women, a pioneering thinker, freedom fighter and one of the original activists for women's rights. At this juncture when women activists ponder sadly over the political circus that has become associated with any movement which works towards greater political or economic space for women in a democracy that declares itself to be equal and non-discriminatory on grounds of gender, the life and times of Durgabai Deshmukh are an inspiration to reflect and draw strength from.


Durgabai Deshmukh was born on July 15, 1909 at Rajahmundry in Andhra Pradesh, and was inspired from a very early age to participate in the Independence movement led by Mahatma Gandhi. She was married to the adopted son of a wealthy zamindar at the age of eight. Very soon, when she realised the true ramifications of married life and the attendant obligations, she convinced her husband to free her from the bonds of matrimony. Thereafter at the age of 12, when she found a drunken husband beating up his wife, she rounded up all her friends, took out a procession to condemn the wife beater, and forced society to ostracise wife beaters. She took to the freedom movement at a young age and during the Kakinada session of the Indian National Congress in 1923, she was given charge of the Khadi Exhibition. She asked not to let anyone enter without a ticket. True to her mandate she stopped Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru from entering the exhibition because he did not have a ticket. She was asked if she knew who she was stopping, but she stood her ground and said that although she knew Panditji very well rules had to be applied strictly and were the same for everyone. Panditji had nothing but words of praise and encouragement for the young girl who stood firmly for the right values that he himself espoused.


Durgabai courted arrest during the Satyagraha and was imprisoned thrice during the freedom movement. Through all this, she never gave up her dream of education. Although she had passed only her fifth vernacular examination when she walked out of her marriage, she went on to clear the Benares matriculation examination, took her BA from Madras University and later studied law and was called to the bar of the Madras high court, where she specialised in criminal law. To imagine that a middle class woman from a village in Andhra Pradesh could achieve so much on the strength of her determination and vision is itself an inspiring thought for the woman of today, but Durgabai did not stop there.


She went on to become a member of the Constituent Assembly and provisional member of the Parliament of India between 1946-52 and is reported to have moved 725 amendments. Later Pandit Nehru made her a member of the first Planning Commission set up in India and placed her in charge of social welfare, which covered health, education, labour, public cooperation, social policy and administration. It was this background and experience in the Planning Commission that motivated Durgabai to set up the Central Social Welfare Board in 1953. She became its first chairman and mobilised a large number of voluntary non-government organisations (NGOs) to carry out the programmes of the board, in the field of education, training and employment of women, who had been neglected thus far. In many ways, therefore, Durgabai Deshmukh was the founder of volunteerism and the NGO movement in India.

Durgabai and her colleagues were true visionaries. In 1938, when a national planning committee was set up to chart the future course of planning in India a sub-committee was set up to deal with the place of women in the planned economy, ranging from family life, employment, education and social customs that prevent women's participation in the economy and the polity. The recommendations of that sub-committee, set up in 1939, bear a striking similarity to recommendations of various committees set up over the years, including proposals, in very recent plan documents. This is as much a tribute to the wisdom and brilliance of women like Durgabai as a sad commentary on the fact that the problems and vital issues pertaining to women remain pertinent until today. The further reality is that governments of today — notably those led by Rajiv Gandhi — who reserved 33 per cent seats for women in local bodies — and the present United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government which has taken many notable steps to make women equal partners in our democracy have understood the brutal truth that despite the giant strides made by our country, women have not moved or developed in equal measure as other citizens.


Nevertheless, the vested interests and compulsions of male-dominated hierarchies are so deep-rooted that even today, every step which is mooted to break yet another shackle that binds women is bitterly opposed and destabilised at every step. However, women are survivors and stories like those of Durgabai Deshmukh serve to remind us that no matter what the obstacles and opposition, the work of strong and indomitable women will continue without any faltering until Indian women reach true equality in our democracy.


Over the years the participation of women in politics has declined. At the same time, government and politics are very important factors in economic, social and power structures in India, more so than in countries with more influential women's movements and therefore the effect of the marginalisation of women in politics has a detrimental impact which is all pervasive. Also, with the increasing violence and criminalisation of politics, which has undermined other institutions of civil society, the participation of women in politics has become even more hazardous.


Durgabai Deshmukh and women like her played a major role in securing Independence for our country. It is only fitting that the millions of daughters of India, who now follow in her footsteps, inherit in full measure the development and equality which have been conferred upon us by our democracy.


* Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.The views expressed in this column are her own.








The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's decision to introduce a Food Security Act is a welcome step.

It is time we saw the right to food is the basis of the right to life. As everyone knows, Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees the right to life for all Indian citizens and food security is intimately tied to that.


It will be no exaggeration to say that India has emerged as the capital of hunger, with capita consumption falling from178 kg in 1991, the beginning of the period of economic reforms, to 155 kg in 2003.
Daily calorie consumption of the bottom 25 per cent of the population has also decreased from1,683 kcal in 1987-88 to 1,624 kcal in 2004-05, while the national norm is 2,400 and 2,011 kcal/day for rural and urban areas respectively.


In this context, we need to seriously think about food security.

However, there are several blind spots in our official approach to food security, the biggest of them being the neglect of food production and food producers, though they form the core element of food security.


Simply speaking, you cannot provide food to people if you do not first ensure that food is produced in adequate quantities.

And to ensure food production, the livelihood of food producers must be ensured. The right of food producers to produce food is the foundation of food security. This right has internationally evolved through the concept of "food sovereignty". In Navdanya we refer to it as Anna Swaraj.


Food sovereignty is derived from socio-economic human rights, which include the right to food and the right to produce food.

"Food Sovereignty argues that feeding a nation's people is an issue of national security — of sovereignty, if you will", says Peter Rosset in the Monthly Review (July-August, 2007). "If the population of a country must depend for their next meal on the vagaries and price swings of the global economy, on the good will of a superpower… then the country is not secure".


He adds that to achieve genuine sovereignty, people in rural areas must have access to productive land and receive prices for their crops that allow them to make a decent living while feeding the nation's people.
Two key aspects of food security are not present in the current approach — firstly, the right to produce food, and secondly national food security.


Both are aspects of food sovereignty, one at the level of food producers and the other at the level of the country as a whole.

In our country, two-thirds of the population are involved in agriculture and food production. Our small farmers produce food for the country. But today they themselves are in distress.


Even as we are pondering food security, we choose to ignore the suicides of over 200,000 farmers over the past decade. If our food producers do not survive, what is the point of talking about food security?

Ironically, half of the hungry people of the world today are food producers. This is directly related to the capital intensive, chemical intensive way of food production introduced as the Green Revolution and the second Green Revolution.


This forces farmers to get into debt to buy costly inputs and indebted farmers must sell what they produce to pay back the debt. The suicides too are linked to the same process of indebtedness.

The solution to the hunger of producer communities is to shift to low-cost sustainable agriculture production based on principles of agro ecology.


Though many people think otherwise, data from India and other parts of the world establishes that small farmers have higher output than large farms, that biodiverse organic farms have high food output than chemical monocultures.

Ensuring the food sovereignty of rural producers addresses the hunger of rural communities as well as the hunger of those they feed.


But the government's policies are biased in favour of the corporate sector. The proposal to shift from the PDS system to the food stamp or food voucher systems arises from this bias. The assumption is that corporations will control the food supply, and the government will enable the poor to buy from them through food stamps and vouchers. However, the poor will then be condemned to the least nutritious unhealthy food as has happened in countries like the US.


As the great writer Tolstoy put it when he was involved in setting up soup kitchens during the Russian famine of 1891-1892, they were "distributing the vomit, regurgitated by the rich". A food security system that does not include food sovereignty and that does not build public food systems must condemn the poor to food unfit for humans.


The present paradigm has the bias that the poor can eat bad food. Good food is only for the rich. But that is unfair. Real food security includes the right to safe, healthy, culturally appropriate and economically affordable food. Food stamps cannot guarantee this. 

The time-tested PDS is both a food procurement and food distribution system. Dismantling PDS and substituting it with food vouchers will erode the food sovereignty of producers, abandon them to the vagaries of the market and finally destroy their livelihoods.


Adding 650 million rural people to the displaced and hungry will create a hunger problem no government and no market can solve. That is why we must strengthen food sovereignty and the PDS system to strengthen food security.


* Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust








I strongly believe in God and destiny. I follow Sikh religion but I also respect all other religions. I was brought up in a traditional Sikh family, where my parents and grandparents imbibed the basic teachings of Sikhism in me.
Even today before I walk on ramp for any show, I pray to God and say the mool mantra before stepping up. I feel it gives me strength and a sense of security when I pray to the Almighty.


When I was young, I visited gurdwaras regularly with my grandmother. She taught me all about the history and beliefs of Sikh gurus. Religion was never forced upon me and that is why it came naturally to me.
I was sent to a Sikh school because my parents wanted me to know everything about our religion.


I do not believe in observing fasts or skipping non-vegetarian food on Tuesday or Thursday for religious reasons. I am unable to comprehend this concept. However, I have no objection to this concept and I think each individual has the right to follow what he or she wants.

Sometimes when God takes too long to hear our prayers, one should not give up and lose faith because ultimately everything falls in line as planned.


I feel God has truly blessed me with all the happiness, and it was because of Him that I met my soulmate Raghav and we got married. My husband is like a gift from God. I think everything happens for a reason and God has His own ways to show that He has some great plans for everyone.


(As told to Nivi Shrivastava)


Amanpreet Wahi is a well-known model








The reforms proposed by the Union human resource development minister, Mr Kapil Sibal, may reduce stress in students. But it may also end competitiveness among them, which is not a good sign.
I think the problem is not with exams but with faulty evaluation system. This has to be changed.
At present, a student needs to secure a minimum of 35 marks in each subject in Class X Board exams.

If a student secures 33 marks in a single subject he would fail even if he gets good marks in other subjects.


Because of this, they are losing a valuable academic year.

The government can instead consider the idea of total aggregate marks for language subjects and also for core subjects to award pass certificates.

This means that a student can pass the exams if he gets an aggregate of 105 marks for three language papers. With this, the stigma of failure will disappear while competitiveness will remain.


(Bro. Show Reddy is the principal of St Paul's High School, Hyderabad)








The Minister for Urban Development is an intelligent man, and will soon come to, if he already hasn't, the conclusion that the collapse at a Delhi Metro site this week is a symptom of a larger problem that might soon haunt the government. While many believe construction is easier during a recession ~ because building contractors have less to do ~ Mr S Jaipal Reddy is wise enough to know it is actually more dangerous. For recession has a chain effect in the construction business. Demand drops, contractors are either not or not fully paid and, with bottom lines under pressure, they and their principals tend to cut corners. While the enquiry committee formed to look into the South Delhi disaster will look at proximate causes, it will not go deeper, to examine the overall health of the industry and the possible deleterious effects on other construction. The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation as indeed every government agency involved in construction related to the Commonwealth Games has deep pockets. Deficit budgets and desiccated taxpayers ensure that Government's coffers are always full. But does this apply to the construction and real estate industry?

Three of India's largest real-estate majors have been in serious trouble over the past few months. One has seen its borrowing capacity drop, and its ability to deliver on projects suffer as a result of severe erosion in its net worth. Another a few weeks ago had nearly a hundred winding-up petitions pending in the Delhi High Court. The third, involved in major Commonwealth Games projects for which it has sought and obtained bail-outs from government, faces serious problems with several projects. These companies, in turn, engage contractors who they sometimes do not pay, or whose payments they delay. The contractors are involved in major construction jobs, including for DMRC projects. And while Mr E Sreedharan's company may be prompt with payments, others in these hard times are not. Ergo, there is every reason to cut corners. And when you add the pressure of extremely difficult deadlines to this mix, the consequences can be deadly.

It isn't only the Delhi Metro that is racing against time, and requires close monitoring. The Commonwealth Games village is being built on the ecologically sensitive floodplain of the Yamuna. It was the Government of Delhi that chose this site. The site falls in a water recharge zone, and for this reason alone it was badly chosen. Worse, it is a seismically active zone. Construction at the site was challenged in the Delhi High Court, which appointed a committee to assess ecological damage. The government appealed to the Supreme Court, and argued successfully that such a step would seriously jeopardize the holding of the Games. While construction is on, and the Delhi Government has even taken the extraordinary step of arranging funds for the builder, there remains the need for extremely close monitoring by government agencies. While the businessman who constructs, and not the politician who chose the site, will be blamed if a mishap occurs, the consequences will be felt by a nation that seeks to derive prestige from holding the Games. The lessons of Zamrudpur must be learnt.







YEARS ago shock waves cascaded through the defence community at the revelation that some senior officers took a helicopter to a remote mountain stream where the mahseer fishing was excellent. Now the abuse of official assets for personal pleasure has hit a dirty low with the Comptroller and Auditor-General reporting that funds earmarked for battery operated vehicles for hospital inmates and track-laying reconnaissance vehicles were diverted to acquiring golf carts for the army's several courses. That the carts would be reserved for only senior officers confirms the theory of fish rotting from the head; it also testifies to brazen and sustained scalping of taxpayers' money. Insignificant, by comparison, are staff cars for shopping sprees, the "canteen" servicing the entire khandan, sahayaks (batmen) serving as an unglorified domestic aides etc. That such "stolen" golf carts are deemed par for the course ~ a few even sport the stars of a general-sahib ~ speaks volumes about the declining standards of probity in the ever-demanding defence family. The CAG rejected the army's explanation, hence the defence ministry's seeking another is pointless: AK Antony (a self-proclaimed Mr Clean) has to muster the courage to have a thorough study conducted into such looting of the exchequer, refuse to be browbeaten by the tarnished brass, and endeavour to inspire the military to regain some of its honour and morality. For the offending golf carts are merely symptomatic of a deep-rooted disease that not only deems public funds pocket money, but fuels an insatiable desire for more. The rot has to be stemmed ~ the defence sector owes some accountability to the people who grant it over a thousand crore rupees a year.

More than collateral damage has been inflicted on the game of golf, which, funnily, has replaced cricket as epitomising the highest of ethical standards. Most of the military's courses have been carved out of defence land earmarked as training grounds (as the CAG previously noted), are maintained by the jawans, the club-houses are luxurious affairs, and now boast "free carts". While many believe golf a comparatively sedentary exercise, some officers insist it is therapeutic: would that justify golf carts being described as vehicles for the sick? The way the military goes about it sustains the image of golf being elitist. Adding to the shame is that though officers now play few other games; it has been decades since the army last boasted a national amateur golf champion!







There seldom has been a more succinct sizing up of the reality on the India-Bangladesh border than the one by a Central team last week. It literally has been a "free for all", as described by the delegation, headed by the Additional Secretary of the union home ministry. The scenario has deteriorated to the extent that the Bengal frontier is today far worse than Raxaul on Bihar's border with Nepal, an outpost that also has an open border. It signifies the concerted failure of an ineffectual Border Security Force and a restive Bangladesh Rifles. That failure on the migrants' front has been compounded by an easy-come-easy-go exchange of commodities despite what must be a token presence of land Customs. And more critically, in the context of financial destabilisation, the mushroom growth of hubs that churn out fake currency. Bengal's border with Bangladesh has the dubious distinction of being one of the worst administered in the country, going by the assessment of the Central team.

The home ministry intends to take up the issue with the state's home secretary. But it would be less than fair to lay the blame entirely at the state's door though it must be conceded that the anxiety to protect potential voters has been one of the deterrents. It is the Centre's remit to ensure that the state of affairs doesn't degenerate to a "free for all". If Attari in Punjab has been completely sanitised, it begs the question why similar measures were not adopted in Bengal. The spread of illegality since the late seventies is today overwhelming. The realisation of a "free for all" is one that comes 30 years too late.









Governments everywhere find it hard to deal with separatist politics. But the West Bengal government has long lost the will or ability to even try to tackle it in the Darjeeling hills. The result is a dangerous drift that is allowed to continue in a sensitive border region. The latest call for another indefinite bandh in Darjeeling shows once again the total collapse of the administration in the area. The people there are left at the mercy of the agitators, and normal life is completely disrupted. The government has abdicated all its responsibilities to enforce the rule of law. The only concern of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government seems to be to avoid the use of force and bloodshed at all costs. This can hardly be the mandate for governance anywhere. But then, both New Delhi and Calcutta have long sought to buy peace in Darjeeling by surrendering to the violent tactics of "Gorkhaland" movements. The withdrawal of the State from Darjeeling today is actually an old story that began with the violent stir by Subash Ghisingh's Gorkha National Liberation Front in the mid-1980s. The Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which leads the agitation for a separate Gorkhaland state now, moved into the vacuum created as much by the fall of Mr Ghisingh as by the collapse of the State.


True, it would be politically and administratively wrong to treat the agitation in Darjeeling as only a law and order problem. The demand for a separate administrative arrangement for Darjeeling predates India's independence. Ironically, it was the communists who first voiced the demand for "self-determination" for the people of Darjeeling in 1946. No matter which party led such an agitation in different times, the demand had always had the support of an overwhelming majority of the people in Darjeeling. The issue, therefore, needs a political solution that would respect the popular sentiment. The problem is that almost all major political parties used it over the past 20 years only to further their narrow partisan interests. It is time leaders of these parties, both in West Bengal and at the national level, realized the importance of a durable solution to the problem. After all, the way the Centre and a state government deal with a statehood demand will have its impact in other parts of the country where such demands exist. But letting Darjeeling drift is a sure recipe for worse problems







Every incident of violence does not require a judicial inquiry. The Karnataka chief minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa, may seem to have done the right thing by turning down demands for investigation of the July 2 riots in Mysore. He mentioned that a police probe was on, and this was sufficient to ensure that no wrongdoer escapes punishment. Mr Yeddyurappa's comment could be construed as an indication of his faith in the efficiency of the state police and justice system. But he made another observation only minutes later on the same day in the assembly. He stated that there was an "organized conspiracy" to tarnish the image of his government. It is obvious that his decision to refuse holding a judicial enquiry into the Mysore riots has been informed by the same belief, which naturally makes it imperative for him to make light of each and every instance of the transgression of law in the state. Earlier this year, he had dismissed the violence committed against women in a Mangalore pub with the same observations. The perpetrators of the crime were arrested and released on bail, and the police continued to hedge on arresting the kingpin, Pramod Muthalik, the leader of the Ram Sena, till the top brass of the Bharatiya Janata Party made known its displeasure over the incident. Despite the show, however, the chief minister's explicit disavowal of pub culture ended up giving the Ram Sena the free licence it had always sought, and encumbered the police with confusing principles of public action. Similarly now, Mr Yeddyurappa's summary dismissal of allegations that the Ram Sena or the Bajrang Dal may have instigated the riots in Mysore will, without doubt, come in the way of the police carrying out an impartial investigation into the incident.


It goes without saying that the mental universe in Mr Yeddyurappa's state is rapidly shrinking, and has been shrinking for a while now. The prolonged and incessant attacks on churches last year, the hounding of young people for befriending members of communities that are different from theirs or for entertaining themselves in the open are as much a reflection of this as the riots in Mysore are. Mr Yeddyurappa and his party may or may not be entirely responsible for this. But as head of the government in his state, Mr Yeddyurappa is expected to give these matters the attention that is their due, instead of being excessively touchy about them.









Mamata Banerjee's railway budget must have caused nightmares to all sensible economists — it was such a blatant act of political opportunism. Was the railway budget a precursor of things to come? Would Pranab Mukherjee's Union budget for 2009-10 tread the same populist path? Fortunately, the finance minister has given us a pleasant surprise by presenting a budget which — although completely devoid of any big-ticket reforms — is a concrete attempt to implement the United Progressive Alliance's goal of growth with social justice.


Of course, the line separating policy interventions that are populist and those that are genuine attempts to promote social justice can sometimes be very thin. However, all the new policy initiatives targeting the poor are typically (with a caveat that I will come to soon) on schemes and programmes that are very basic and legitimate attempts to improve the living standards of the poor. Who can question the need to spend more on increasing rural employment via the national rural employment guarantee scheme, rural health and infrastructure? Similarly, surely the aam aadmi in the urban sector deserves more public support? Mukherjee has responded to these needs by very substantial increases in budgetary outlay — 144 per cent for NREGS, 45 percent for Bharat Nirman, which is the unified programme for rural infrastructure, 87 per cent for the Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission.


But, now for the caveat. During the course of his budget speech, the finance minister has said that the government is "committed to providing a real wage of Rs 100 a day as an entitlement under the NREGA". While this is a noble intention, its implications need to be examined carefully. Since market wages in many rural areas are far below this level, there will be an upward pressure on market wages. Employers' responses are then quite predictable. They will cut back on employment and will also pass on the higher cost of production to final consumers. An obvious implication is that the price of food will also rise. This will, in turn, have an adverse effect on the well-being of the poor, both in urban and rural areas. The cutback in employment will, of course, be an additional negative effect as far as agricultural labourers are concerned. The bottom line is that the implications of interventions that distort market prices need to be analysed carefully before they are actually carried out.


The budget also shows that the finance minister has taken a very conscious decision to provide another fairly large stimulus package so as to coax the economy back to a high-growth path. Overall expenditure has been stepped up quite significantly. In addition, budgetary outlays in several key infrastructural areas have been stepped up quite significantly. For instance, the outlay for national highways goes up by 23 per cent, while railways also receives a substantial increase in budgetary support. The priority given to infrastructure is consistent with the prevalent feeling that highways, ports and power act as crucial constraints in impeding growth in India. An additional benefit is that spending in these sectors has a relatively large multiplier effect and so will provide a big boost to aggregate demand.


Mukherjee could have tried to raise additional resources in order to finance the increased expenditure. In fact, most people had expected that he would increase excise tax rates at least partially because this would simply reverse the steep cut in taxes that he had effected some time ago as part of an earlier stimulus package. That he has resisted the temptation to do so emphasizes his belief that the domestic economy continues to need large doses of support from the government before it can recover from the effects of the global slowdown — any increase in taxes would have had a dampening effect on aggregate demand and hence on the prospects for growth. This is a budget that leaves the tax system virtually unchanged. Most of the relatively small changes have been in favour of the tax payers. The corporate sector must have welcomed the removal of the controversial fringe benefit tax, while all tax payers will benefit since the surcharge on income tax has been abolished.


There is no such thing as a free lunch. The increased expenditure on the social sectors and infrastructure combined with the disinclination to raise tax revenues will increase the fiscal deficit. The Central government's fiscal deficit is estimated to be 6.8 per cent of gross domestic product. Since state governments have also been allowed to resort to market borrowings, the combined deficit of the Central and state governments will be massive — almost 11 per cent of GDP. One does not require a rocket scientist to point out that this level of fiscal deficit cannot be sustained in the long run. Clearly, the current priority is to steer the economy back to the high-growth phase as well as finance all the promised programmes in the social sectors. Mukherjee must be planning to change track and practise fiscal prudence within a year or so after the short-term goal has been achieved.


However, fiscal deficits of this magnitude can pose problems even in the short term. The government will have to resort to market borrowings of a gigantic scale to cover the deficit. This must inevitably result in an upward pressure on interest rates since there will be an excess demand for credit at current interest rates. If interest rates increase, then the private sector will tend to borrow less as a response to the higher cost of borrowing. In economists' jargon, private entrepreneurs will be 'crowded out' of the credit market. Of course, this will tend to offset the positive effects of the stimulus package.


This leads me to the aspect of the budget that I find the most deplorable. The budget speech states that the disinvestment target during the course of the year is a minuscule Rs 1,000 crore. Compare this to the figure of Rs 25,000 crore mentioned in the Economic Survey, released just a couple of days before the budget and by the same ministry! Why did the finance minister develop cold feet about selling off shares in public-sector enterprises at a time when there was an overwhelming economic argument to use the proceeds from these sales to reduce the size of the fiscal deficit? Was there political pressure from the other partners of the UPA? Perhaps, we must wait for Mukherjee's memoirs to find out the answer.


The author is professor of economics, University of Warwick







Sport offers unalloyed joy. If you were to sit in front of your television and think that sport is not for you, you have become a cynic, a person who has lost the battle to regain his innocence. Innocence? Yes, that is the word. To enjoy sport, one needs innocence, the innocence of childhood when one would hero-worship sportsmen without thinking of the consequences; when one was loyal without any selfish reason; when one cried because one's favourite team had lost. In those tears lay one's freedom. This was a time when one's spirit soared to the skies. You cared for no one; nothing else mattered.


Sport has a purity that is its very own. It is impossible to derive such pure pleasure from anything else, not even from politics, films or business, where the performers are forever trying to be something that they are not. This isn't the case with sport. Here, Mahendra Singh Dhoni has no qualms in telling people about his humble background and in wielding the bat as he did on the streets of Ranchi. In sport, players cannot but show their real selves to the world.


No-hopers, too, have a chance in sport. Kapil's Devils won the 1983 World Cup even though no one had thought that they would win. Persecuted people have a chance to turn the tables on their tormentors: Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali did it for the Blacks in the United States of America. Abebe Bikila took the Ethiopians and the rest of Africa to glorious heights in long-distance running.



When one supports a team, one does so not because of any conceivable reason. People want Brazil to win every time they take the field in soccer. Similarly, one roots for Roger Federer even though he doesn't care whether one is dead or alive. Yet, we do lose sleep when our favourites fail. Why is this so? It is because we adore the freedom that sport offers. We marvel at the champions, and sympathize with those who keep trying their best but are never good enough to beat the best. Milkha Singh was loved even though he never won a single medal at the Olympics. So was Gundappa Vishwanath, as well as Mushtaq Ali, who belonged to an earlier generation.


Sport also has in it the fear of failure. The uncertainty in sport is what makes it exciting. The audience wants a contest, and does not want the favourite to have it easy. But, at the same time, it also wants the favourite to win. Herein lies the contradiction in sport. What is more important, the contest or the result? Whatever people may say, fans only want their favourites to win. Yet, there are times of reversal too, but people continue to support their favourites. This is not merely loyalty: it is an urge to identify oneself with sporting freedom.


Sport is reality: Mary Kom punching her way to world championships is the stark truth. Tendulkar's rasping drive too is a statement of fact. But sport can also be an illusion. Sport is all-pervading: it even exists deep in the Amazon as well as in the heart of Sahara. The early hunters and the ancient mariners were sportsmen.


If sport were to lose its innocence or its mystery, it will lose its charm. It will become a business venture full of political overtones and filmi glamour. Shameless cricketers have been known to fix matches to earn hefty amounts. They were dancing to set tunes; minting money and selling their nation. They were traitors enacting a farce. Today, one can still find such people in politics, business and in films.


Sport, in a way, is about love and grief. Sport is camaraderie as well as a contest. Some people think sport is life and death. No, sport is much more important than those, as a renowned soccer manager had once said. Only when one is sad does one know that he or she is alive and aware. Sport makes one sad in order to keep one alive.











A powerful new global player has emerged on the world stage: the Group of 192. The G7, the G8 and the G20 must now move over. While the G8, which met in L'Aquila, Italy, July 8-10, boasts that its members account for over 65 per cent of the Gross World Product, it comprises only a handful of countries and a mere 14 per cent of the global population.

The G192, on the other hand, represents for the first time all of the world's national economies, from North to South and East to West. Long dismissed by financial elites in the now discredited, shrinking global casino, the G192 met in New York at the UN General Assembly June 24-26.

They shared their long-ignored views on the financial crisis and its Impacts on Development. President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann's masterful opening speech laid out an expanded view of the whole human family and our evolution on planet earth which allowed for a deeper dialogue among this G192 than has ever been seen at G7 and G8 summits.

The delegates were able to give voice to the new paradigm emerging from the collapse of Wall Street and the global casino that its market fundamentalist ideologies spawned.

This new paradigm downsized finance and put its players back in their real place as intermediaries and servants, not masters of the real productive sectors of their economies.

An efficient financial sector should comprise less than 10 per cent of a country's Gross Domestic Product. These new leaders reframed their economies as sub-sets of their societies and cultures, with their multiple sources of wisdom, values, and wealth beyond money, and with their ecological, social, and cultural assets interacting with the creative energies of their people -human capital.

The President's Commission of Experts, chaired by Columbia University professor Joseph Stiglitz, reported its many sensible recommendations: democratising the IMF, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organisation, a new global reserve currency as an alternative to the volatile US dollar, and stricter regulations over all areas of financial markets, rating agencies, derivatives, and excessive risk-taking.

The experts also called for a very small tax on financial transactions to reduce volatility and provide revenues for financing the Monterrey Consensus of 2002 and the Millennium Development Goals: poverty reduction, education, healthcare and the further empowerment of women. The G192 adopted the Experts' report.


Not surprisingly, the mainstream media largely ignored this historic event, and the heads of state of the G192's largest players, the US and other G20 member countries, sent lower-ranking officials to the meeting. The G192's vision spells the end of their domination of global policies and that of their incumbent fossil-fuelled industrial sectors.

Watch for the G192's 21st century style of distributed network power -unlike the fossilised elites at their highly-restricted and choreographed G8 and G20 summits. At last the G192 has a world platform to air their frustrations with Anglo-Saxon, neoliberal market fundamentalism and how this ideology spread from the University of Chicago through US president Ronald Reagan and United Kingdom prime minister Margaret Thatcher to the harsh 'conditionalities' and double standards of the IMF and the misplaced priorities of the World Bank. The imposition of these policies is now recognised as unjust and harmful, exacerbating the meltdowns of Asian economies. Countries like China and Malaysia avoided this pain by using their own homegrown policies.

The G192 has envisioned a new world game. They see finance serving people and a healthier, sustainable, and just future for all. They see huge opportunities in the collapse of the global casino and in the climate crisis to change course and invest in building cleaner, greener economies worldwide.

They are now supported by 21 agencies of the United Nations, spearheaded by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and the International Labour Organisation in their launching in 2008 of the Green Economy Initiative and a Green New Deal for the world.

The G192 also provided a forum for civil society organisations whose policies have developed since 2000 at their World Social Forum and by thousands of grassroots groups that helped shaped the new vision. All are now coalescing to turn the lugubrious debate about the costs to incumbent fossil fuel sectors of mitigating climate change to the positive calculations of the massive savings and new wealth and millions of new jobs that will be created by investing in Climate Prosperity Bonds.

The world is ready for this new vision and welcomes the emergence of all the new leaders of the G192. (IPS)








Our first port of call during a trip to China was Shanghai.  We set out shopping in the evening at one of those night markets where every conceivable goods were sold. We were part of a group that had ten girl students from an art institute in Ahmedabad. The women went berserk buying T-Shirts, leather boots, handbags and so forth. I went shopping for watches, i-Pods and electronic gadgets.  Though I knew the gizmos were fake, I couldn't resist picking-up couple of 'branded' watches and i-Pods.  And what more, I beat the price down by 25 pc.

It was only when we got back to our hotel that the sharp Gujarati girls told me, "Uncle, you should bargain for 25 pc of the price, not for discount of 25 pc."  To make matters worse, I discovered none of the watches and i-Pods worked.  They were real fakes!  I swore not to buy anything in China.

My brother-in-law in Ahmedabad called and wanted me to help his wife pick up a golf-set for him. I warned him about all the fake stuff, and told him not to blame me if the set came apart after a couple of rounds. I checked-out golf-sets at every city we visited, but didn't like the pirated clubs.  Finally, when we were in Beijing, my exasperated brother-in-law said, "If you guys can't pick up a golf-set then get me a good golf bag." 

It was our last day in Beijing and there was hectic shopping. I spotted a golf bag which I liked.  Brother-in-law, who was on the phone, wanted a description of the bag.  I explained: "It has umpteen compartments, a host of side pockets, a stand, concealed wheels, clip for score card, bottle-holder, umbrella-holder… everything except a Global Positioning System!"   "Go for it," he barked.

Bargaining with the shop-keepers is by using a calculator.  I asked the sales girl - "How much in US dollars for just the bag?"  The bag had a full set of clubs in it.  She was confused and called another salesman.  They conferred with yet another assistant in the shop, and finally punched 750 on the calculator.

Sister-in-law, by now a seasoned bargainer snatched the calculator and punched 100. 

While the sales team came down by 100 dollars at a time, we increased our offer by 5.

When our offer reached 120, I emphatically said "our last price," and prepared to walk out of the shop.  As expected, they called us back and pleaded for 125 dollars.  With approval from Ahmedabad, the deal was sealed. 

After the payment was made we were flabbergasted when the sales girl smilingly handed over the bag with all the 13 golf-clubs in it!  We looked at each other.  I said, "Let's vamoose real fast from here." After our return, a week later I received a phone call from my brother-in-law waxing eloquent about the clubs!  Even now, I kick myself for not having gotten a set for myself.








President Obama's nominee for surgeon general, Dr. Regina M. Benjamin, is a woman of astonishing grit, selflessness and competence. If confirmed by the Senate, she would bring a perspective solidly rooted in the difficult reality so many Americans confront as they search for adequate, affordable health care.


Dr. Benjamin practices family medicine in a poor shrimp-fishing village on the coast of Alabama. She founded a clinic to serve a community of poor whites, blacks and Asians. She has rebuilt it three times (after two hurricanes and a fire) by mortgaging her house, digging into savings and raising donations.


She frequently pays for medicines out of her own pocket and is only sporadically paid by the financially shaky clinic, which currently owes her more than $300,000. Last year, the MacArthur Foundation honored her with one of its "genius" awards for her "compassionate and effective medical care." President Obama was right to extol her as representing "what's best about health care in America: doctors and nurses who give and care and sacrifice for the sake of their patients."


Dr. Benjamin in 1995 became the youngest doctor, and first black woman, elected to the American Medical Association's board of trustees, and she served in 2002 and 2003 as president of the state medical society in Alabama. She is little known in Washington, however, and will have to work to master the capital's ways.


Despite its high-sounding title, the surgeon general is actually a mid-level federal health official whose primary powers are hortatory and educational. Some past surgeons general have reshaped thinking about the dangers of smoking and the urgency to combat AIDS, but many have disappeared into the bureaucracy.


Dr. Benjamin has said that she wants to act as a voice for patients and make sure that no one falls through the cracks as health care reform proceeds. And she has said she wants to focus on preventing disease, a crucial component of health care reform. To do all that, the soft-spoken, unassuming family doctor will also have to master the bully pulpit. But judging from her history, we are betting on her.







Unemployment is rising. Foreclosures are surging. Lending is still constrained. So why exactly is the Obama administration waiting to act?


It is true that more time is needed to show results for policies that are currently in place, including stimulus spending, foreclosure relief and the bank rescue. But it is also clear that joblessness and defaults are worse now than was assumed when those policies were formed. So the need for more federal help is all but inevitable, as are political fights over renewed aid. President Obama may want to avoid those battles until health reform passes, but he still should lay the groundwork in three main areas:


STIMULUS SPENDING One of the arguments against another round of stimulus is that more deficit spending might spook bond investors, forcing up interest rates. The solution to the deficit, however, is not to forgo temporary stimulus in a time of need but to lock in long-term fiscal discipline. The best way for the administration and its Congressional allies to do that is to credibly pay for health care reform. That, more than anything, would show that the budget is in responsible hands.


On the other hand, if health care is "paid for" with gimmicks, the bond market will get understandably nervous — and the administration will lose the credibility it needs to argue for more stimulus spending.


FORECLOSURE RELIEF In a recent letter, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Shaun Donovan, the secretary of housing and urban development, summoned the top 25 mortgage servicers to Washington later this month, apparently for a dressing-down over the lack of progress on modifying bad loans. It's still not clear, however, if Mr. Geithner and Mr. Donovan understand what's really holding up the show.


Their letter said that preventing avoidable foreclosures is an objective "we all share." In fact, lenders and mortgage investors have several reasons to prefer foreclosures over modifications. Among them, foreclosures allow a bank to postpone taking a loss until the process is complete, which can take a year or longer.


If the administration really wants to kick-start loan modifications, it should revive efforts to allow bankruptcy judges to modify bad loans. At the least, it should impose costs on laggard banks, like higher charges for debt guarantees or higher deposit-insurance premiums.


BANK RESCUE The Obama administration has largely shelved, for now, its plan to finance the purchase of banks' toxic assets, ostensibly because of the banks' recent success in raising capital. An alternative explanation is that the banks won't sell. Recent accounting changes make it less painful for them to keep bad assets on their books. Why admit to losses if you don't have to?


In any event, the adequacy of banks' capital cushions hinges, in large part, on success in stimulating the economy and preventing foreclosures: If those efforts fall short, employment, household wealth and consumer spending will not rebound and bank losses will deepen — not only on home mortgages, but on credit cards, commercial real estate and other loans. The result would be a long period of tight lending and of subpar economic growth, if not outright contraction.


If wait-and-see is anything other than a near-term tactic, it's bound to be a miscalculation. The need for expanded relief and recovery efforts is compelling. Rather than avoid those fights, the Obama team must win them.








Christopher Bodkin was looking through a Lowe's home improvement catalog the other day when an idea for tackling Long Island's housing problems jumped off the page.


Mr. Bodkin is a councilman in the Town of Islip in Suffolk County. A man of gentle voice, thick white hair and cardigan sweaters, he is more ruminative than your average local pol. For years he has carried around a file folder fat with clippings about his efforts to get Congress to grant honorary citizenship to Anne Frank. He has no direct connection to Anne Frank, and she has none to Islip Town. But after reading the diary, he wanted to do something for her.


He was probably the only one to notice that MacArthur Airport had no bust of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. He's been raising money for one.


What caught Mr. Bodkin's imagination in the Lowe's catalog were "Katrina Cottages" — small houses, from 300 to 1,800 square feet, like the ones Sears, Roebuck used to sell. They were designed for hurricane refugees in New Orleans and Mississippi, but now Lowe's sells the plans for $700, along with the materials to build them.


Wouldn't it be great, he thought, if Islip were to build some here? They're cheap, look good and are sorely needed on Long Island, where families are squeezed into basements and stacked up in illegal sublets. He said that, to start, the town could build and sell 10 cottages for about $100,000 each through a lottery.


Mr. Bodkin, a Democrat, is up for re-election in November. His running mate, Jim Morgo, is a former deputy county executive who from a past life as an affordable-housing developer knows that subsidized homes have a way of never getting built on Long Island. The problem is the not-in-my-backyard brigades that manage to keep such good ideas trapped for decades in lawsuits, while hopes and empty lots go to weeds.


When I told them that I wanted to write about the idea, they declared it was not yet baked. They agreed to talk as long as I made clear that no site has been chosen yet.


Long Island, of course, is the place where, 60 years ago, William Levitt would have had 10 cottages finished before lunch. Mr. Bodkin is a living throwback to that can-do era. He might be able to pull this off. I can't think of many others who'd try.







After more than a month of bickering and paralysis, the New York State Senate has a lot of work to do. It can start on Wednesday by passing the Assembly's carefully balanced bill restoring control of New York City schools to the mayor's office.


The legal authority for Mayor Michael Bloomberg's mostly successful experiment expired on June 30. The Senate's stalemate forced Mr. Bloomberg and borough presidents to hastily create a similar version of the bad, old Board of Education to keep the city's 1,100 schools going. Senators who now want to dilute the mayor's authority — mainly Senator John Sampson, the new Democratic conference leader, and his allies — must recognize that this is not the time to meddle with something that works.


The Assembly bill skillfully addresses their main complaint, that parents do not have enough access to educators. The bill would, for instance, create 32 district superintendent jobs designed to focus on parents' issues. The Senate should avoid tinkering with the Assembly version since the Assembly adjourned long ago and would have to be called back into session to pass a modified bill.


The senators have neglected other important matters. The Assembly's bill authorizing same-sex marriages deserves passage soon. If they have any hope of redeeming themselves in voters' eyes, the senators must also press forward with desperately needed political reforms. The state needs a nonpartisan redistricting commission, as well as campaign finance reform and ethics reform. On both issues, the Assembly has passed useful measures.


Democrats, who appear to still hold a shaky majority, would also be wise to enact some of the procedural changes endorsed in April by a few reform-minded colleagues, including strengthening the role of committees and encouraging floor debates, which are now a rarity.


After passing a stack of routine bills last week, some Senate leaders have begun thumping their chests. The nerve. It is impossible to claim victory with so much business unfinished — and with no firm commitment to fix Albany's corrupt and incompetent system.








All governments, whatever their type and wherever they are in the world have a 'duty of care' towards the populace. Duty is care is a broad brush, and no government can anticipate the needs of every citizen, and poorer governments tend to care less well than richer. Despite our relative poverty Pakistan is able to display a duty of care that is sometimes a positive credit to it. Much criticism, some of it ill-founded, has been levelled at those agencies responsible for the care of the IDPs. There was certainly a level of unpreparedness, there was chaos and confusion, but against that has to be set the fact that this was one of the largest population displacements in our national history. Now, the return has started and on the first evidence it looks like 'duty of care' has translated into something less than success. Only a fraction of almost two million internally displaced persons (IDPs) went home on the first day of the organised return on Monday, and early reports on Tuesday suggest that the trickle has failed to gather pace. Many remain fearful about their security and others are refusing to leave the camps without the cash grant that was promised by the government. Some families are sending an 'advance party' of two or three members to ascertain the position of family holdings and businesses. If all is well – or minimally sustainable – then the rest will follow.

The plan for day one was that 720 buses and 52 trucks were going to repatriate 5,760 families from Landakay, Barikot, Guratai and Kota areas of the Swat Valley. Those living in schools and private houses as well as camps were to have gone back first. Security measures were in place including state-of-the-art vehicle scanners capable of scanning large vehicles, army air cover and surveillance and a range of check posts; all in the hope of catching or deterring any militants who were seeking to smuggle themselves back whence they came. Mobile health units travelled with the convoys, and one month's foodstuff was to be provided to every family. All government leave has been stopped until further notice and government officers instructed to remain at their posts in the areas that IDPs are returning to.

Few plans of this magnitude survive intact beyond the first hours of implementation. Azam Khan, a senior official in the government's emergency response unit, said that only 192 families out of an estimated 2,680 left three camps on Monday. "We expect an increase in coming days," Mr Khan told reporters at Charsadda, where 22 out of a planned 247 families left for Swat district. Despite the failure to hit any of the targets on day one, a slow start is better than no start. A lot will depend on what the family forward-parties report back, and if they are positive then the trickle could well become a flood. It is to be hoped that it does, because a flood in the form of the monsoon is fast approaching; but we can hardly blame the IDPs for their caution and unwillingness to return. The Taliban are pushed back, not defeated, and ground taken has to be held. We hope for the sake of the displaced that this is a journey they only have to make once.







The Sillispeak virus is on the loose again and this time has wormed its way into the software that powers NWFP Chief Minister Ameer Haidar Hoti. Sillispeak can afflict anybody, but it tends to target politicians and there have been several reports in recent weeks of outbreaks in the upper levels of governance. Chief Minister Hoti was addressing a gathering at the Government College Palosa (Charsadda) intended to mark the start of the return of the IDPs on Monday. An assortment of worthies was on hand - provincial ministers, MPAs from Swat and Charssadda and other provincial and district officials were also present. The seriousness of the infection was rapidly apparent. The chief minister said that the war against those who had destruction on their agenda would last 'until the elimination of the last terrorist' – at which point his anti-viral software flashed a 'Sillispeak' alert. He went deeper into viral infection by telling his audience that the Nizam-e-Adl regulations were promulgated on the requirements of the people of Malakand and neither his nor any other arm of government had been under any pressure from anybody. The virus abated somewhat as he spoke of the role of the prime minister and the president, the federal government, the donor agencies and NGOs, and the ordinary people of everywhere who had given sterling service. Flashing ceased as he spoke of the role of the army but flickered again when he mentioned that the military had the support of all sections of society. Lights came on all over the place when Sillispeak struck one more time. The chief minister, clearly under the influence of a powerful inner force, said that 'the terrorists had been defeated' – going on to say that he hoped the general public would immediately point out any terrorists they might come across in their daily lives in order that they may be exterminated.

We admit to a degree of levity in the foregoing, but believe it illustrates a valid – and serious – point. The terrorists have not been defeated, not at all. Their commanders are apparently alive and well despite the pronouncements that one of them, Mullah Fazlullah was at deaths door, and they continue to battle our forces on every front where we fight. Their foot soldiers are in the process of redeployment. Defeated they are not. To suggest that no pressure was applied regarding the Nizam-e-Adl regulations goes even beyond the predations of the Sillispeak virus. The 'elimination of the last terrorist'? Dream on, Sir. And if the chief minister really thinks that anybody in their right mind is going to point out a gun-toting extremist to the relevant authorities then he really has had a hard-drive crash that will need techie attention for days. Public figures, if they are to retain their credibility, have to be heard to speak in a way that reflects reality as experienced by those outside the bubble of governance.








ACCORDING to report, on the first day on July 13, not many IDPs chose to return to their homes for understandable reasons. As the return is voluntary, fear of the unknown did not encourage them to make a clear choice and many of those who did return went back without their families to assess whether or not the conditions were safe for their children at their native villages and towns where Taliban had maintained their hold only a few weeks back.

But the commitment with which the armed forces and law enforcing agencies are trying to restore peace and efforts of the Government, civil society and international community to help IDPs rehabilitate would surely spark confidence among them and the process of return would gain momentum in the coming days and weeks. However, the smiling faces of the returnees showed how satisfied and happy they were on the prospects of resuming their normal life. There was absolute confusion and apprehensions of all sorts two months back when they were forced to leave their homes and assets because of repressive tactics of the Taliban and the consequential military operation ordered by the Government to re-establish writ of the state. Beginning of the return of about two million IDPs just within eight weeks of the operation has once again demonstrated that the Pakistani nation has the capacity and ability to overcome daunting challenges. This is indeed a major achievement and people have every reason to be proud of the accomplishment. This is because militants were fully entrenched and no one knew how much time the Army would take to restore normalcy in a very complex situation. No doubt, a massive evacuation was arranged but still a large number of people opted to stay in their areas which increased the risks of collateral damage but hats off to the Army and other personnel of the security agencies who made countless sacrifices to safeguard interests of the local population and that of the motherland and ultimately succeeded in their mission. It is true that Swat and Malakand are not hundred per cent safe and sporadic incidents might continue to haunt the residents for quite some time but the same is true of people elsewhere in the country in the backdrop of bomb blasts and suicide attacks. The authorities are taking necessary measures to ensure maintenance of peace but to make it sustainable it would be advisable if peace committees are formed at the grass-roots level and entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining peace and tranquillity in their areas of jurisdiction. This is because Army, Police or security personnel cannot be deployed in required numbers at each and every place. Restoration of the infrastructure and its expansion/improvement should also be the priority as this would create much-needed job opportunities in the region.








The incident of 5th July in Urumqi has died down after the successful handling of the situation by the Chinese Authorities. It is also satisfying that the world community by and large considered it as an internal matter of China and did not show any serious concern to clashes between Uighurs and Han Chinese.

Of course some vested interests and a part of the Western media gave a usual twist to the incident and tried to create a storm in a teacup, but the situation stabilised in a couple of days and it gave no more ammunition to them to blow up an incident of purely local nature. As the incident involved the Uighur Muslims and Han Chinese, some people in Pakistan thought that Beijing might raise the issue with Islamabad as in the past some Uighurs had sneaked into Pakistan who were handed over to the Chinese authorities. This was just an imagination because Pakistan has been acting very responsibly and rightly it expressed sorrow over the incident and at the same time showed confidence in the ability of the Chinese authorities to handle the situation. Similarly there was no hint from Beijing giving the impression of involvement of any outside hand in the incident. However, we noted that in a few articles in newspapers and letters to Editors people expressed concern that the incident can cause dent in Pak-China relations. But in our view the incident has nothing to do with Pak-China time tested relationship and even in the remotest corner of Pakistan people are fully aware of the importance of this relationship. Nobody in Pakistan from the top-level leadership to the ordinary citizen would like to see any dent for any reason in our relationship with the steadfast friendly neighbour. The Urumqi incident was purely an internal matter of China and of no concern to any other country. In our view Pakistani media should also be extra vigilant and exercise utmost care to ensure that no one is allowed to express his views on the incident in a way that may lead to creation of any ill will between the two friendly countries.







THE issue of extremism and terrorism in South Punjab came into limelight when Interior Minister Rehman Malik made the sensational disclosure that after Swat and Waziristan, operation could also be launched in South Punjab to flush out militants from there. This prompted the JI Chief Syed Munawar Hassan to warn against expansion of the operation to other areas of the NWFP and Punjab.

It was indeed a shocking disclosure on the part of the Interior Minister and the nation did not approve of it. It was widely believed that some forces want to expand the ongoing operation to Punjab with a view to destabilising the Province. We have also been urging the authorities that Army should not be allowed to suck in everywhere as it would complicate things for the country and amount to compromising the security in the face of external threats. But Monday's deadliest blast that rocked Mian Channu resulting in loss of 13 precious lives including seven children has once again drawn attention to the South Punjab. It appears that the militants too wanted the Government to open more fronts as this would dilute pressure on the nerve centres of terrorism. According to reports, the blast occurred in a store of explosives and ammunition, dumped inside a house of a local teacher, raising many questions as to how a large cache including mortars and rocket launchers were smuggled into the area and for what purpose they were stored. This also highlights the failure of our intelligence network that cannot track down even such huge quantities of arms and ammunition and wakes up only after some tragedy unfolds in an area. The Mian Channu incident is condemnable and we hope the culprits would be brought to book. However, we firmly believe that even this incident does not justify Army operation in the area. We have full faith in the leadership qualities of Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif and hope that he will be able to eliminate the threat in close cooperation with local leadership and people. We would also suggest that as was recently done in Rawalpindi, local administration in South Punjab should arrange meetings of religious leaders and involve them in efforts to promote peace in the region.








Holding of national councils by political parties is important and a legal obligation too. This, according to the Representation of the People Order (amended), stipulates that the political parties get their party constitutions approved at a national council for registration with the Election Commission (EC). The duration for completion of the process is six months from the start of parliament and accordingly July 25 is the deadline this time for doing the task. Initially though there was an indication that none of the political parties would be able to hold its party council by the set time but the ruling Awami League has announced it would have its council on July 24. It argues that it has taken the decision in compliance with the legal bar.

True, the last minute AL decision will put pressure on other political parties, particularly the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Already reaction from the BNP has been quick and sharp. It smells a rat in the sudden AL move towards holding the council. The EC had earlier hinted it was in favour of extension of the date for submission of approved constitutions by the political parties. But now it says there is no provision for such date extension. All it can do is to forward applications seeking date extensions, if and when it receives them from political parties, to the Jatiya Sangsad for its opinion. Either way, the BNP and other parties suffering from constraints, have not many options open to them.

Quite clearly, the sudden decision to hold its council within the deadline is a shrewd political move by the AL. It cannot be faulted for this by any means. After all, it is going by the rules and now the onus is on others to do the same. A national council is a measure of a party's strength and weakness. If party bickering stands in the way of holding a council, political rivals cannot be blamed for this. The bottom line is to put one's house in order. Not all the political parties are in a position to do that. Obviously, BNP has limited options now: to seek an extension of the deadline or to hurriedly call its own council. What steps the former ruling party take between now and the deadline remains to be seen.








Bangladesh registered its first overseas Test victory, nine years after the International Cricket Council (ICC) granted it Test status, when they beat the West Indies on Tuesday, at Kingston. Earlier, Bangladesh had beaten Zimbabwe in a home series. It also comes after 60 games, most of which the country lost.
The West Indians were on the backfoot even before the five-day game started as the 13 players originally selected for the Test refused to take part following a dispute over pay and other contractual arrangements with the West Indian Cricket Board. The team that took the field finally was a makeshift one and had as many as seven debutantes. But a victory is a victory, notwithstanding the structure of the opponent team.
 Besides it did not seem very easy, either, even after the start of play as Bangladesh trailed West Indies by a huge margin in the first innings. The Bangladesh comeback in the second innings was a pleasant surprise, thanks to some sloppy fielding by the West Indians. However, this also means that the next Test starting on Friday will not be an easy one. If debutantes with hardly any preparation could play so well, it is natural they will improve with experience.


The Test victory comes at a time when Bangladesh cricket is under intense pressure, globally, as they face the threat of disqualification as a Test team by the ICC because of its almost predictable poor performance. Hopefully yesterday's victory will reduce the intensity, if not the pressure, somewhat. But the fact remains that Bangladesh have to improve, substantially; otherwise the respite may only be temporary. We certainly look forward to a longer one, though.








"Lovely watch!" exclaims the youngster looking at my wristwatch and then stares at it fascinated, "You can see into it, what's all that machinery?"

"It's a winding watch," I tell him, "What you see inside is the machinery that converts the wind into actually running the small hand, the big one and the seconds hand!"

"A winding watch?" asks the same youngster now staring at my apparatus with unconcealed fascination, "You mean you got to wind it to run it?"

"Yep, every morning without fail, hold wind between thumb and finger and keep winding till it gets difficult. One wind lasts twenty-four hours!" I look at him staring at my watch with focused concentration and my thoughts wander to other things at home one used to wind to keep working. I remember the old grandfather's clock that tick-tacked its way through my childhood; it had belonged to my granddad and came home after his death. I'd watched curiously as my father wound it every Saturday and then one day he'd turned to me, "Want to wind it, Bob?"

"Sure," I said and from that day the job was mine and I continued doing it diligently till the day it just stopped working. "Uncle!" I looked around, and then realised 'uncle' was me, "What happens if you forget to wind it?"

"Ah but you don't!" No, you don't. You wind the watch as soon as you get up, "It's like brushing your teeth," I tell him, "You never forgot to wind your watch!" And you didn't forget to wind the grandfather clock on Saturday. You just didn't. There was no cell phone to beep a reminder, no computer to flash one for you and no secretary to ask, "Sir did you wind your clock today?" You just did it. What was it we had I wonder that made us do things automatically; and the answer comes fast and sure, as I grin to myself, we had clockwork! Life went about with the precision of a ticking clock: You got up on time with no alarm to wake you up, went about getting ready, ate your breakfast, packed your school bag, walked to the bus stop, caught the bus along with the rest of the crowd, reached on time, listened to the teacher, came home, did your home work, played a little, read, ate and went to sleep. Somewhere between you saw your busy mom and dad, who had their own schedules and lives to lead, a lot to do with earning enough to putting you through school and college. But life went on like clockwork, only difference being you had to give it the daily wind. You put in effort you got results. You wound the key, life worked. I look at my winding watch, actually a collector's item, my mother's gifted me and smile, maybe we need to get back to the old 'giving ourselves the wind' days and bring a lil' discipline into the chaos that's a happenin' in today's spoonfed quartz automatic world...!








NOW that the IDPs have started returning to their hometowns with the government's help, we can hope that normalcy will soon be restored to the conflict-hit areas. Nearly 200 displaced families left the Jalozai camp on Monday, while another 26 started their journey from Charsadda. Many said that their nightmare appeared to be coming to an end. Repeated assurances have been given that the areas, dominated by the militants until quite recently, are now safe; administrative services such as water and electricity supplies as well as banking facilities are also being restored in many areas. This constitutes some evidence of the government's commitment to its stated resolve of facilitating the IDPs' return.


Nevertheless, it must be recognised that major challenges continue to confront both the government and the IDPs. More than two million citizens were displaced by the conflict and their return to and rehabilitation in the battlescarred areas, devastated by the use of heavy artillery, will not be easy. The attacks and counter-attacks have taken their toll on the civic infrastructure; the scale of reconstruction required is immense. That services such as water, gas and electricity are being restored in some areas is no doubt encouraging. But beyond this basic step other measures such as rebuilding schools and hospitals are required.


Furthermore, a support system for the returnees will have to be put in place until they are able to resume their normal income-generating activities — and this may take some years.


Meanwhile, chances of a lasting normalcy will hinge on the security situation. The army's claim that the militants have been routed in the affected areas has held so far. However, militant activity by even a handful of the remaining Taliban would be enough to spread terror and severely disrupt civic life. After all, we have witnessed little success when it has come to arresting or eliminating the militants' top leaders. It is evident that the IDPs are aware of this danger: the Emergency Response Unit had made arrangements for over 2,000 families to leave the Jalozai camp, but the majority of them refused to do so, citing security concerns. Lasting peace in these areas requires not only that civic life be restored to what it was before the militants launched their attacks, but that the earlier position of the citizenry be improved upon. The region needs increased investment in development: better educational facilities, more incomegenerating opportunities and greater economic contact with the rest of the country. Only then will it be possible to eliminate the risk of disillusioned citizens turning against the state in the future.

now that the idps have started returning to their hometowns with the gov- ernment's help, we can hope that normalcy will soon be restored to the conflict-hit areas. nearly 200 displaced families left the jalozai camp on mon- day, while another 26 star- ted their journey from charsadda. many said that their nightmare appeared to be coming to an end. repeated assurances have been given that the areas, dominated by the mili- tants until quite recently, are now safe; administra- tive services such as water and electricity supplies as well as banking facilities are also being restored in many areas. this consti- tutes some evidence of the government's commitment to its stated resolve of fa- cilitating the idps' return. nevertheless, it must be recognised that major challenges continue to con- front both the government and the idps. more than two million citizens were displaced by the conflict and their return to and re- habilitation in the battle- scarred areas, devastated by the use of heavy artille- ry, will not be easy. the at- tacks and counter-attacks have taken their toll on the civic infrastructure; the scale of reconstruction re- quired is immense. that services such as water, gas and electricity are being restored in some areas is no doubt encouraging. but beyond this basic step other measures such as rebuilding schools and hospitals are required. furthermore, a support system for the returnees will have to be put in place until they are able to resume their normal income-generating activi- ties — and this may take some years. meanwhile, chances of a lasting normalcy will hinge on the security situation. the army's claim that the militants have been routed in the affected areas has held so far. however, mili- tant activity by even a handful of the remaining taliban would be enough to spread terror and se- verely disrupt civic life. after all, we have wit- nessed little success when it has come to arresting or eliminating the militants' top leaders. it is evident that the idps are aware of this danger: the emer- gency response unit had made arrangements for over 2,000 families to leave the jalozai camp, but the majority of them refused to do so, citing security con- cerns. lasting peace in these areas requires not only that civic life be re- stored to what it was be- fore the militants launched their attacks, but that the earlier position of the citi- zenry be improved upon. the region needs increas- ed investment in develop- ment: better educational facilities, more income- generating opportunities and greater economic con- tact with the rest of the country. only then will it be possible to eliminate the risk of disillusioned citizens turning against the state in the future.

the delay in doing away with the 17th amend- ment with all its aberra- tions is astonishing given that there is a virtual con- sensus on its repeal. on sunday the prime minister repeated his resolve to an- nul the musharraf-gifted law that is now part of the constitution. speaking at the convocation of the international islamic university in islamabad, syed yousuf raza gilani reiterated his determina- tion to amend the basic law, pointing out that the present system of govern- ment was neither parlia- mentary nor presidential — a 'hodgepodge', as he put it. almost every politi- cal entity is in favour of scrapping the 17th amend- ment. in fact, the very first paragraph of the charter of democracy, signed in london on may 14, 2006 with benazir bhutto and the sharif brothers pres- ent, declared categorically that "the seventeenth constitutional amend- ment shall be repealed". armed with this national consensus, the democratic government should have translated this idea into re- ality long ago. clearly, the resistance against revert- ing to a true parliamentary system comes from within the ppp. the most pernicious part of the 17th amendment is article 58-2b which gives the president the power to sack the government, even if the prime minister en- joys the national assem- bly's confidence, and dis- solve the lower house. ziaul haq inserted it into the 1973 constitution by decree and it enabled him to sack the junejo gov- ernment. subsequently, ghulam ishaq khan and farooq leghari exercised this power to sack three prime ministers — benazir bhutto, nawaz sharif and then benazir again. inci- dentally the article makes it clear that the president can exercise this power on- ly if a situation arises where the government of the federation cannot be carried on according to the constitution. in each case, no such situation existed and ziaul haq, ghulam ishaq khan and farooq leghari used it for purely political purposes. in his second term, nawaz sharif had the article repealed. pervez musharraf brought it back through the legal framework order. what is involved now is the ppp's credibility. both the prime minister and president asif ali zardari stand publicly committed to the repeal of the 17th amendment. however, mixed signals from the presidential camp smack of dithering and lack of re- solve. the president may say one thing in public but his views are perhaps best couched in the statements of loyal functionaries. one cannot but recall here the inordinate delay that went into the restoration of the sacked judges. they were restored, no doubt, but not before mob fury forced the federal government to act. let the 27-man committee formed last month by speaker fehmida mirza expedite its work.

hoping for the best can do no harm but the signs aren't promising. there is considerable an- ticipation surrounding what could happen on the sidelines of this week's non-aligned movement summit, where top-level talks are expected be- tween pakistan and india. it is being hoped, at least in pakistan, that this inter- action in egypt may help kick-start the composite dialogue process that came to a halt following the mumbai massacre last year. the pakistani and indian foreign secretaries are expected to confer on tuesday, setting 'the tone' for talks the following day between pms yousuf raza gilani and manmohan singh. it could be argued that 'the tone' ought to have been set much earli- er, not 24 hours before the prime ministers' tête-à- tête. things have been left a bit late, it seems, for any breakthrough. india's position was un- derstandable in the heat of the moment. the mumbai attacks traumatised the country and it was soon clear that pakistani mili- tants had orchestrated the massacre. but what has happened since then is a different story. new delhi exploited global sympathy in a calculated manner to drive pakistan to the brink of international isolation. forgotten in all this was the distinction between state- and non-state actors. india's strategy began un- ravelling in may this year when the pakistan milita- ry launched a telling oper- ation against the taliban. global and local opinion vis-à-vis pakistan's hither- to questionable commit- ment to the fight against militancy began to change. yet india kept up the of- fensive. it demanded that the alleged masterminds of the mumbai assault be brought to book, ignoring the argument that taking a shaky case to court would serve little purpose. the release in early june of jamaatud dawa chief hafiz mohammad saeed added more fuel to the fire. again india over- looked the fact that under the law as it stands the court had no option but to order mr saeed's release. most recently, an indian defence ministry report openly accused organs of the pakistani state, not in- dividuals or organisations, of aiding and abetting ter- rorism in india. pakistan, for its part, has admitted that non-state actors oper- ating from its soil were be- hind the terror unleashed in mumbai. to overcome the trust deficit, islam- abad also needs to demon- strate that its decision to take on militants is not limited to 'jihadists' oper- ating within the country or on the western front — those who seek to destabi- lise our neighbour to the east must also be neutral- ised. sincere cooperation in the battle against mili- tancy and dialogue on out- standing issues can point us to a new and healthier direction. the need to talk has never been greater.


iran's guardian council has ruled that this month's presidential election was fair and the "healthiest" the coun- try has seen since the 1979 rev- olution. how it came to these conclusions after "10 days of examination" remains un- clear, however. given the stranglehold tehran main- tains over information, what is true or otherwise in iran is hard to verify. the govern- ment has maintained all along that the election, which resul- ted in a landslide victory for in- cumbent president mahmoud ahmadinejad, was free and transparent. but mir hossein mousavi, who according to the official count was routed on june 12, believes he was short- changed. his views are shared by hundreds of thousands of iranians who poured into the streets for days on end to regis- ter their protest. in the imme- diate aftermath of the elec- tion, mousavi supporters al- leged that there was a short- age of ballot papers at several polling stations, agents of can- didates running against mr ahmadinejad were not al- lowed to oversee the voting process, and that some polling stations were shut down even though voters were lined up outside. then they took to the streets. what followed was a brutal crackdown by the state ma- chinery. at least 17 protesters were killed but some claim the number was much higher. women, who were in the fore- front of many demonstra- tions, were not spared either. neda agha soltan (1982- 2009), who has become a sym- bol of the struggle in iran, was apparently shot dead by a sniper while others were blud- geoned mercilessly by the basaji and the police. independent video footage supports these contentions. on friday, leading cleric ahmad khatami declared that "rioters" — it is not clear if peaceful protesters are in- cluded in this category — "should be punished ruthless- ly and savagely". they should be declared mohareb, he said, guilty of waging war against god and therefore worthy of death. no one can contest the presidential election in iran, it should be pointed out, un- less he is vetted and approved by the guardian council. if anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, iran's pow- er brokers are not in sync with the mood of a sizeable seg- ment of iranian society. roughly 60 per cent, if not more, of iran's population is under 30 years of age and in- creasingly frustrated by the social and political restric- tions imposed on the citizenry by what is fast becoming the old order. what had rele- vance in 1979, or through the '80s and '90s, may no longer be applicable today. the pro- testers, for the most part, may have been driven off the streets through strong-arm tactics but that cannot change mindsets. mahmoud ahmad- inejad originally came to pow- er through a popular vote with his promises of helping the underprivileged and rein- ing in rampant unemploy- ment. his contribution on those counts has not been sub- stantial even though iran is the world's fifth largest ex- porter of crude oil. a rethink may be in order.






the skipper of the under- dogs summed it up nicely af- ter winning the semi-final. there is little to celebrate in pakistan these days, said the man from mardan, but the nation's cricketers are deter- mined to bring a smile to peo- ple's faces. and that the pakistan team certainly did with sterling back-to-back performances after a lacklus- tre start to the twenty20 world cup. for a while it seemed that the nation's joy would be confined to seeing india exit the tournament at the super eights stage. the clinically efficient south africans lay ahead in the first of the two semi-finals, a contest pakistan was tipped to lose. how could so mercu- rial a side prevail over a ma- chine programmed to win? never mind, pakistan did it anyway. and on sunday, it was sri lanka's turn to be re- minded that pakistan can put in a crackerjack perform- ance when it counts most. an unpredictable side, of course, but also most sub- limely, sweetly brilliant when it matters. as one com- mentator, former england player david lloyd, put it: "it's pakistan. and yes, you might say fittingly." fittingly indeed. pakis- tan's victory in the t20 world cup final sends a clear mes- sage that we will not be writ- ten off, come what may. yes, it is perfectly understandable that foreign teams are unwill- ing to play in pakistan. after all, the sri lankan side, which alone stood by us in our time of trial, came close to dying on pakistani soil. we are now resigned to the fact that we will either have to play our 'home series' at off- shore venues or not play at all. so how are things any different now? pakistan's vic- tory tells the world that we can win wherever we might have to play. even in india, which with its deep pockets now virtually controls the icc. it will take some doing to crush pakistan's spirit. we will not simply go away and sulk. we can triumph in the face of adversity. besides the cup, the best thing this slam-bang version of cricket delivered was a sense of self-belief. also, this pakistan side seems to enjoy itself on the field; it's not just another day at the office for men who once liked playing cricket for its own sake. gone too for the most part are those pumped up 'i would be a serial killer if i weren't a bowler' celebrations that some subcontinental players had picked up in recent years from caucasian teams. why be angry when you take a wicket? that's not our style. this team smiles and exults when it gets a batsman out, like the west indians did in their heyday. if there is any friction behind closed doors — and it could well be that for a change there isn't — it doesn't show on the field and that's what counts. this pakistan side has done us proud.


TRYING to set a world record for trees planted in a single day generates publicity and helps raise awareness of the urgent need for environmental protection. In this connection, credit must go to the Sindh forest department which in conjunction with the federal environment ministry hopes to plant as many as 450,000 mangrove saplings around a barren island near Keti Bandar in Sindh. What is particularly encouraging about this initiative is the emphasis on local participation. Members of the indigenous community will be in the forefront of the plantation drive and, it is envisaged, will ultimately be paid to monitor and preserve the new mangrove stand as it matures. While this initiative must be lauded, it needs to be said that tackling the destruction of mangrove forests is a fight that must be fought on many fronts. New plantation drives cannot be a substitute for the massacre of existing forests, nor can one-off schemes suffice in the absence of a comprehensive preservation strategy.


It is estimated that Pakistan's coastline boasted nearly 605,000 hectares of dense, normal and sparse mangrove vegetation in 1966. Today this figure is said to stand at roughly 170,000 hectares, though some believe it is much lower. A combination of factors has contributed to this heavy loss of life (yes, it is time we started thinking of plants and non-human animals in those terms as well). Faced with a lack of alternative fuel and timber sources, coastal communities have been guilty over the decades of over-harvesting what were once abundant mangrove resources. A burgeoning population also comes into it, as does destruction by influential developers who can flout environmental laws at will. Then there is the growing shortage of freshwater supplies in the delta region, which has increased sea-water salinity and resulted in the stunted growth or slow death of mangrove stands. Discharge of untreated effluent into the Arabian Sea and pollution generated by port activities are other major culprits. Mangrove forests are rich in biodiversity, serve as marine hatcheries and present a buffer against tidal surges and tsunamis. They must be protected at all cost.

pakistan is no strang- er to ill-conceived laws and regulations that eventually prove crippling to the na- tional good. take the blas- phemy laws, which over the years have become an in- strument for the victimisa- tion of individuals and mi- nority communities. tho- ugh less pernicious, the most recent example of dis- criminatory laws is the gov- ernment's announcement that the sending of "inde- cent, provocative and ill- motivated stories and text messages" via email and cellphones will henceforth be punishable by up to 14 years of imprisonment un- der the cyber crime act. according to the interior ministry, the government is initiating a campaign against "ill-motivated and concocted stories against the civilian leadership and the security forces." this borders on officially sanc- tioned censorship of the free flow of ideas and the people's right to engage in debate over the actions of the government and its in- stitutions. for one thing, the 'law' is dangerously loosely worded: the param- eters of 'indecent' or 'ill- motivated' have not been defined. neither have any conditions been identified under which potentially prosecutable offences will be delineated from legiti- mate discourse. this leads to the possibility of the reg- ulation being misused to harass and silence the gov- ernment's critics. indeed, the decision carries dis- turbing echoes of past attempts at censorship, for email and sms messages are now an important means through which the voice of the people makes itself heard. by criminalising what is essentially the people's freedom to debate and comment, the government exposes itself to the charge of stifling political opposi- tion rather than changing or reconsidering policy. certainly, no person should be allowed to fan communal hatred or incite others to violence. but the laws governing freedom of speech must be specific and tightly worded, as they are for slander and libel. the government would do well to remember that upholding the tenets of democracy, amongst them the freedom of legiti- mate expression, is an im- portant part of retaining its democratic credentials. the political parties cur- rently in power may tomor- row find themselves in the opposition, facing the sharp end of the stick they wield today.

so rapid is the rate of degradation that slow poi- soning may no longer be an accurate description. as speakers at a workshop pointed out last week, irra- tional use of chemicals in both rural and urban set- tings is killing the envi- ronment as well as the peo- ple of pakistan. agricul- ture is a major culprit, with run-off from farms that re- ly heavily on chemical fer- tilisers and pesticides pol- luting waterways and con- taminating groundwater aquifers. polluted water not only harms human health and biodiversity but also affects agricultural productivity — which, iron- ically, is what pesticides and other chemicals are meant to boost. pesticides comprise an overwhelming majority of deadly toxins classified as 'persistent or- ganic pollutants', which ac- cumulate in body tissue over time. despite interna- tional restrictions, some of these pesticides are still used in pakistan and have entered the food chain. studies have also shown that fruit and vegetables grown with polluted water can contain alarming lev- els of heavy metals. at times this 'water' is ob- tained by directly tapping into the effluent dischar- ged by factories located on city outskirts. improper storage of expired pesti- cides is another cause for serious concern, as is the release of untreated waste into the sea. industrial air pollution and vehicle emis- sions are also hurting hu- man, animal and plant life in a country where rele- vant environmental laws exist on paper but are rou- tinely flouted. serious physical and psychological ailments are on the rise in large cities with unaccepta- ble levels of air and noise pollution. irrespective of where it occurs, the poor are always the biggest victims of envi- ronmental degradation. farmers, herders and fish- erfolk lose their liveli- hoods as land and water resources shrink. the ur- ban poor tend to cluster in the most polluted parts of cities and towns, and as a result are exposed to seri- ous health risks on a daily basis. the state healthcare system cannot cater to their needs and poor hea- lth in turn affects produc- tivity and life expectancy. children are deprived of adequate schooling as well as the nourishment they need for future develop- ment. among other socioe- conomic measures, envi- ronmental laws must be rigorously implemented if this vicious circle of pover- ty is to be broken.

punjab minister for prisons chaudhry abdul ghafoor has had problems with traditions and customs in recent weeks but this was a particularly bad day for him. for a period of time on monday afternoon and from the sharifs' raiwind estate, the minis- ter hogged the attention of television channels. this was the time when a clash — apparently over washing rights — between inmates at lahore's kot lakhpat jail competed for space on the screen with a fight tak- ing place inside the punjab assembly. eventually, the more privileged lawmakers won and the prisoners fa- ded out. chaudhry ghafoor has yet to speak on the fre- quent shows of ill-manner- ism on the part of jail in- mates in punjab. he has, however, felt sufficient urge to explain as to what prompted his face-off with a group of women lawmak- ers belonging to the pml-q in the house on monday. he accused a woman mpa of trying to defame the leader of the house, mian shahbaz sharif. indepen- dent accounts confirm the mpa, bushra nawaz gar- dezi, had flashed a placard inside the assembly, which in no ambiguous words criticised chief minister sharif of failing to protect punjab's share of water for agriculture. independent versions al- so say some other leaders, among them prominent men such as zulfiqar khosa of the pml-n and raja riaz of the ppp, had played more than a cameo role in the proceedings which led to the violence. chaudhry ghafoor denies having as- saulted the q-league la- dies but eyewitnesses say he had the intent to do so and that throwing books at his target did, in fact, con- stitute some kind of an at- tack. fortunately, he was reined in by his party men or we could have had an even uglier situation on our hands. indeed one of the aggrieved women mpas has reminded the faithful chaudhry ghafoor of the grave consequences his act could have entailed. chaudhry ghafoor sur- vived the episode just as his political career escaped an early ending after he was accused of violating the law at lahore's allama iqbal airport in may. who knows he might have earned a pat on the back for the show of his loyalty to the sharifs inside the punjab assembly but a par- ty occupying the high mo- ral ground on issues will find his continuing antics a bit too difficult to ignore. after the lahore airport in- cident, mr shahbaz sharif let chaudhry ghafoor go with a 'be careful in fu- ture' warning. the people are watching: the chief minister needs to be care- ful himself. all is not well in baloch- istan. the simmering insur- gency there shows no sign of abating. but why should it? after all nothing has been done on the ground to meet the demands of the disgrun- tled baloch. the provincial budget with an outlay of rs72.2bn hardly reassured those in the province who are demanding control over their resources. be it the gas in sui, the mineral wealth of saindak and now the deep-water port in gwadar, one knows well that the un- derdeveloped province will not be the major beneficiary of these projects. even the nfc which divides taxes col- lected by the centre among the provinces works against balochistan, which is contri- buting handsomely to the treasury but gets very little in return. the allocation is made on the basis of popula- tion and balochistan happens to be sparsely populated. the province needs propor- tionately more funds to devel- op infrastructure throughout its sprawling territory and make facilities accessible to its scattered population. long overdue, a new nfc award is being promised but nothing has been delivered. and, with summer in full swing, it is a major blow to a water-starved province to be deprived of 30 per cent of its water entitlement. seen against this back- drop, it is shocking that islamabad doesn't seem to be in a hurry to put matters right. since the ppp govern- ment assumed office more than a year ago it has been reiterating its commitment to negotiate with the baloch to resolve problems that have already been identified — many of them by committees and subcommittees set up by the centre itself. an apology has been offered by the pres- ident and the need to grant autonomy to the province has been conceded. but this is just talk and no one walks the walk. as a result we now have a hardening of the baloch nationalists' stance which may take them to the point of no return. on sun- day sardar akhtar mengal, head of the bnp-m, said that even a compromise is not ac- ceptable on the national rights of the baloch. it is dis- turbing that the nationalists are now convinced that they are being taken down the garden path with offers of dialogue and negotiation that are designed to appease and not necessarily solve any problem. this is most dis- quieting because our failure to respect the political sensi- tivities of one province led to the loss of half the country. we cannot push another province over the brink. the government itself says that there is many a foreign pow- er interested in continued turmoil in balochistan. why should we so willingly help?

one must welcome the re- alism shown by the foreign ministers of pakistan, afgha- nistan and russia in recognis- ing drug trafficking as a ma- jor source of funding for ter- rorists. meeting in trieste on friday, shah mahmoud qure- shi and his afghan and russian counterparts, r. d. spanta and s. lavrov, agreed to cooperate in a number of fields, including terrorism, drug production and traffick- ing, regional stability and sus- tainable development. accor- ding to a statement the three decided to explore the poten- tial of cooperation in areas of border control, exchange of information on terrorist activ- ities and organisations, train- ing anti-terrorist and anti- drug police personnel and promoting tolerance and in- ter-cultural dialogue. express- ing the belief that terrorists could not be defeated merely by law enforcement, they called for the affected re- gion's socio-economic devel- opment. one harsh reality seems to have made the three ministers focus on the drug trade — afghanistan has re- turned as the world's largest drug producer. more regret- fully, powerful elements in the kabul government are al- legedly involved in drug smuggling, and the karzai government has been unable to act against them. this was a godsend for the taliban. in fact, as richard holbrooke told congress recently "hun- dreds and hundreds of mil- lions of dollars" have gone waste in destroying crops without achieving the desired results, for this only served to drive the peasants into taliban hands. the various taliban fac- tions run billion-dollar em- pires. they need — and man- age to get — big money for sustaining military operations, which require not only an un- interrupted supply of sophisti- cated weapons but also a mod- ern logistics system, besides an underworld that runs re- cruitment, brainwashing and training centres. the point to note is that not all this money comes from the drug trade, for there are other sources of funding available to the taliban, including from those who have misguided concepts of philanthropy. while the ac- tivities of the drug barons can perhaps be tracked if not to- tally crushed, detecting the flow of non-drug money to the terrorists is a truly difficult job, because this system is more subtle. this makes us wonder whether the plethora of intelligence and security agencies we have possess the skills and investigative techni- ques needed to intercept and break up the infrastructure of this source of funding for the rebels. while the tripartite co- operation is welcome, the onus perhaps is on us in pakistan because of the sub- tlety of the challenge and its effect on the current military operations against the taliban.

sarabjit singh may have committed the crimes for which he was sentenced to death, but he is now in jail and as such poses no danger to pakistan or the well-being of its citizens. what then will be accomplished by execut- ing mr singh, who has spent nearly 20 years in prison? taking the life of a murderer will not bring back those he has killed, nor has it been demonstrated that the death penalty serves as a deterrent against violent crime. indeed, does the state have the right to take a person's life? issues of morality aside, the death penalty has no place in a country where po- lice officials and even judges can be bought or intimida- ted, where the wealthy can get away with murder and where the poor are implica- ted in crimes they did not commit. personal vendettas come into it, as does the in- competence of an unprinci- pled police force which often considers its job done so long as an arrest — any arrest — can be officially recorded. pakistan is also a country where torture is the prefer- red method of extracting 'confessions'. against this backdrop, the scope for mis- carriage of justice is huge and chances are high of inno- cent people being put to death. while dismissing sarabjit singh's review petition of his sentence on wednesday, the supreme court observed that "no ground has been made out in the case war- ranting a review"" is this is surprising given that mr singh's lawyer failed to at- tend wednesday's hearing as well as the one preceding it? true, the same verdict may have been issued even if the convict's counsel had both- ered to show up. but one thing is clear: his absence certainly did not help sarabjit singh's appeal in any way. hope for mr singh now lies in presidential clem- ency, a gesture that would not hurt relations between pakistan and india. court rulings are based on the law as it exists and it is up to the government to in- troduce new legislation. in june last year the prime min- ister proposed that capital punishment be abolished and death sentences commu- ted to life imprisonment. then, in october 2008, it was reported that the law minis- try would soon present a fi- nal draft in this connection, enabling the government to fulfil its pledge and do away with the death penalty. but little or nothing has been done and more than 7,000 prisoners are still languish- ing on death row. their lives, and that of sarabjit singh, ought to be spared.

balochistan is simmer- ing. a low-grade insurgency has gradually been gaining strength and the law-enforce- ment agencies are finding it difficult to check the violence that now erupts with unfailing regularity in the province. last friday, a judge and his aide were killed. the same day a bomb blast in dera murad jamali injured a num- ber of people while two were wounded in a grenade attack in quetta. there have been more incidents of violence since then. in may the police disclosed that since the begin- ning of 2009, more than 200 incidents of shooting, bomb blasts, grenade attacks and abductions had taken place. more than 150 people had died while approximately 400 were injured. add to this the toll of the last one month — over 20 deaths and at least 125 injured — and the picture is one of war. so grave is the crisis that talk of all-parties conferences, committees and enhanced budgetary allocations does not have any impact. why should it be taken seriously when no concrete steps are being taken to indicate that islamabad means business? the government's broken promises are now becoming embarrassing for the baloch leadership that threw in its lot with the rulers at the centre. some of the leaders have tried to resign but have been held back. others have dem- onstrated public dissent at the way matters are being handled. take the apc. the ppp promised a dialogue to resolve balochistan's prob- lems but has so far failed to honour its word. the last time the prime minister pledged to convene an apc was in may and it was supposed to be "within days". nothing has come of these assurances ex- cept for the establishment of a ppp committee headed by senator raza rabbani to study earlier reports and for- mulate a common position. the rabbani report makes many worthwhile points. but will they help if they remain on paper as previously? there is also the question of baloch participation in the apc. not all nationalists are willing to attend. so strong is their dis- trust of islamabad that they are no longer willing to be ap- peased by words. if islamabad is serious about resolving the balochistan problem, some confidence-building measures are in order. palpable steps to trace the missing people, re- lease political prisoners and rein in the military presence in the province might help pave the way for a dialogue on political and economic is- sues. at the heart of the prob- lem is the desire of the baloch to control their own political destiny and natural resources. is this really an unreasonable demand?






IT was not a suicide bomber who left 12 people, including seven children, dead in a village near Mian Channu on Monday; it was a huge quantity of ammunition stored in a seminary that blew up, spewing death and destruction. This is just a small indication of what some of those who run madressahs do behind what would appear to be an innocuous, even laudable, activity. The man who ran the seminary, Riaz Kamboh, was known to have militant links, had gone to Afghanistan for training and was arrested twice but then released. Seemingly, the madressah he ran was teaching the Holy Quran to village boys and girls. However, the recovery of propaganda literature and suicide jackets from the debris makes it abundantly clear that he was using the madressah as a cover for organising a terrorist cell which brainwashed and trained young people to become terrorists and suicide bombers.


What happened at village 129/15-L in south Punjab is symptomatic of a larger phenomenon throughout the country, for many — though not all — madressahs have links with banned militant organisations and serve as recruiting grounds and as centres of indoctrination for both boys and girls. Let us not forget that Jamia Hafsa was an intrinsic part of the Lal Masjid empire run by the Aziz-Rashid duo, and it used girls for unlawful activities like raiding and occupying a government library and kidnapping a woman. There are thousands of such madressahs and seminaries in Pakistan, and though all of them cannot be tarred with the same brush the security agencies must be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. That Kamboh's activities remained undetected constitutes a sad commentary on the efficiency of our security agencies whose performance leaves a lot to be desired. We do not know how many other Kambohs are using madressahs as cells for terrorist activity.

it was not a suicide bomber who left 12 peo- ple, including seven chil- dren, dead in a village near mian channu on monday; it was a huge quantity of ammunition stored in a seminary that blew up, spewing death and destruction. this is just a small indication of what some of those who run madressahs do behind what would appear to be an innocuous, even lauda- ble, activity. the man who ran the seminary, riaz kamboh, was known to have militant links, had gone to afghanistan for training and was arrested twice but then released. seemingly, the madressah he ran was teaching the holy quran to village boys and girls. however, the re- covery of propaganda liter- ature and suicide jackets from the debris makes it abundantly clear that he was using the madressah as a cover for organising a terrorist cell which brain- washed and trained young people to become terro- rists and suicide bombers. what happened at vil- lage 129/15-l in south punjab is symptomatic of a larger phenomenon throughout the country, for many — though not all — madressahs have links with banned militant or- ganisations and serve as recruiting grounds and as centres of indoctrination for both boys and girls. let us not forget that jamia hafsa was an intrinsic part of the lal masjid empire run by the aziz-rashid duo, and it used girls for unlawful activities like raiding and occupying a government library and kidnapping a woman. there are thousands of such madressahs and semi- naries in pakistan, and though all of them cannot be tarred with the same brush the security agen- cies must be able to sepa- rate the wheat from the chaff. that kamboh's ac- tivities remained undetec- ted constitutes a sad com- mentary on the efficiency of our security agencies whose performance leaves a lot to be desired. we do not know how many other kambohs are using ma- dressahs as cells for terro- rist activity.


balochistan law min- ister robina irfan has called upon the govern- ment and parliamentarians to work for the protection of children's rights. noting the increase in child labour, incidents of sexual abuse and violence against chil- dren, she termed the situa- tion "very alarming" and demanded that the govern- ment take notice. certain- ly, the minister's concerns are valid. although pakis- tan ratified the un con- vention on the rights of the child in 1990, the rights of the country's children con- tinue to be violated. child labour and trafficking, vio- lence in the home, school and workplace, sexual abuse, child marriages and the handing over of under- age girls in dispute settle- ments are a few examples of direct transgressions against child rights that take place virtually every day across the country. also pressing is the issue of juvenile offenders: the juvenile justice system ordinance was formulated in 2000 but the codes of conduct laid out therein have never been properly implemented. in reality, minors falling foul of the law rarely benefit from their right, as specified by the ordinance, to state-pro- vided legal counsel or alter- native sentencing meas- ures. and beyond these is- sues, there are the less im- mediately apparent ways through which children are routinely denied their due: lack of education, health- care, economic opportunity or even adequate food and potable water. with the country's popu- lation skewed heavily to- wards the young and a ris- ing birth rate, it is high time that the protection of child rights became a prior- ity of the state and citizenry alike. it is ironic, mean- while, that the minister has called for the attention of a government that she, in her professional capacity, is part of. it is the task of the country's parliamentarians, and the elected govern- ment they represent, to not only formulate legislation and policy but also ensure implementation. in the case of child rights, the leg- islators' performance has been unjustifiably slow.

mixing food with poli- tics is sure to leave a bad taste in the mouth. the way that 'food street' in lahore's gwalmandi area has succumbed to politick- ing confirms that. a food court overlooked by taste- fully painted and well-lit balconies of traditional lahori houses, the place was the delight of gour- mets and a favourite haunt of tourists and other visi- tors to the city. now the curtain has fallen on all that. with vehicular traffic allowed through the street during all times of the day, shopkeepers have lost the open space for seating and serving their customers. the lights are out for good it seems. it all started last month with city authorities telling the shopkeepers in the area to pull down their shutters for a few days to facilitate the laying of a sewerage line. next the of- ficials said the street could no longer remain a restric- ted area. they said those living in the vicinity were dismayed that their access to nearby roads had been blocked. in fact, a couple of banners hung over the gates of the now desolate street praise local and se- nior leaders of the pml-n for restoring the people's right to free passage. given that the street is part of a thickly populated neighbourhood, this would sound reasonable — if it were true. first, the street is not the only route availa- ble to local residents to make their way out of the side lanes. second, it is sur- prising that the residents who haven't complained for nearly a decade should do so now. perhaps the real reason for the closure lies in how the management of 'food street' has lost the po- litical support it enjoyed before the 2008 polls. it seems that punjab's new rulers cannot stomach any- thing that started during gen musharraf's regime — how could they allow the street to flourish in the heart of their political stronghold knowing that it enjoyed the former presi- dent's patronage? certain- ly, in doing away with this popular haunt they might have rid the country of yet another remnant of the musharraf era but not with- out depriving lahore of one of its star attractions.

french president nicolas sarkozy is not wide of the mark when he says that an israeli attack on iran will be "an absolute catastrophe". his state- ment at the g8 summit at l'aquila, italy, comes within days of american vice-president joe biden's remark in a television in- terview that his country could do nothing if israel chose to attack iran. in an interview with abc news, mr biden said washington could not "dictate to an- other sovereign nation" and that it was for tel aviv to decide what was in its interest. 'dictating' to an- other country is, of course, against the basic princi- ples of interaction among sovereign nations. but the sole superpower cannot take refuge behind this principle to shirk its re- sponsibility and avoid ac- tion where a serious breach of international law is feared and where a recalcitrant state's or group's behaviour poses a threat to world peace. the g8 summit called upon tehran to negotiate, but thanks to russia the con- ference decided not to slap further sanctions on iran. the summiteers thus showed maturity when they gave tehran until september to negotiate, and refused to impose an- other layer of sanctions on iran. mr biden's statement runs counter to the spirit of moderation shown by the g8 summit and to the overtures president bar- ack obama has been mak- ing to the muslim world. mr obama has also exer- cised restraint during the west's iran-bashing frenzy in the aftermath of the june 12 presidential elec- tion, and he has promised a seat for tehran at the afghan talks. the ameri- can vice-president's state- ment, however, is fraught with consequences, for it is tantamount to giving a go-ahead for the attack. the french president perhaps pulled the rug from under israel's feet when he said "israel should know it is not alone and should follow what is going on calmly". already reeling un- der the weight of a massive power shortage, the coun- try suffered a body blow on monday when mangla dam went off line and the na- tional grid all but col- lapsed. outages of up to 18 hours a day were reported from across the country. infuriated people took to the streets in large num- bers, particularly in punjab where some protests turn- ed violent. while demon- strations that result in de- struction of property can- not be condoned, the out- rage felt by long-suffering citizens is understandable. for years now pakistanis have paid the price for gov- ernment inaction in the power sector, where ad-ho- cism and excuses seem to rule. life at home has been turned into a living hell for all but the privileged, com- merce has taken a huge hit, small-time entrepreneurs are feeling the pinch and factories sit idle these days for prolonged periods, de- priving daily-wage earners of a sizeable chunk of their already meagre incomes. productivity has declined and the economy as a whole is suffering because of a crippling shortage of electricity. mangla's contribution to the grid is massive and a sudden shutdown there was bound to cause major problems. but that just re- flects poor planning. our power-generation capacity is woefully inadequate and there seem to be no contin- gency plans for unexpec- ted shortfalls. according to pepco's managing director, "we have lost all sense of the demand and supply sit- uation. the entire system is overstretched … without any contingency [measures in place]." a similar situa- tion was witnessed in kara- chi and other parts of sindh last month when a storm cut off power sup- plies from wapda for nearly two days. then too there was no backup plan that could have lessened the impact of a sudden power deficit. these are not problems that will go away and must be ad- dressed immediately.

our collective conscience is silent each time humanism stands compromised. the age- old price tag slapped on the female of the species is a com- mon example as young girls continue to be 'auctioned' to the highest bidder or traded in transactions such as vatta satta and other forms of bar- ter. the latest reported victim is eight-year-old zahida who was 'married' to a teenager in karachi. reports say the bar- gain was engineered by her father who wanted to marry the groom's sister. the great paradox is that these inci- dents abound at a time when women's rights' awareness is at an all-time high across the globe. the prime culprit re- mains the state; it has consis- tently failed to enforce laws that provide protection or es- tablish shelters for victims. secondly, it extends implicit sanction to such excesses by overlooking the provision of legal aid, women police per- sonnel and stations, and laws that guarantee security and women-friendly legal process- es. on the other end, child marriages such as zahida's not only sustain a self-perpet- uating cycle but throw up tragic consequences — loss of education, rise in infant and maternal mortality, and more victims of domestic torture. these 'marriages' are one of our saddest social truths that are not just embedded in pov- erty and ignorance but in the menace of male supremacy. also, this practice has to be seen as a heinous form of child abuse and the child marriage restraint act of 1927 that prescribes imprison- ment for perpetrators should be brought into force. despite pakistan's status as a signatory to the united nation's convention on the rights of the child and the stockholm declaration and agenda for action that pro- tect children from abuse, low- income segments of the coun- try remain bereft of the con- cept of child rights. organisa- tions such as unicef and sparc need to initiate aggres- sive advocacy campaigns that target rural, feudal and low- income environments, focus- ing on elders who have the power to curb such customs. last but not least, parliamen- tarians must overhaul exist- ing laws, police stations and relevant authorities to ascer- tain that 'conventions' extend beyond paper. healthy child- hoods cannot be distant dreams but realities made possible through sensitised legislature and media.

security and freedom are bad neighbours. to create a sense of safety and security, the authorities often put re- strictions on people's move- ment. restrictions on pillion- riding, roadblocks and securi- ty check-posts appear differ- ently to the government and the citizens. popular reaction to such security measures be- comes all the more negative when they are meant to block access to the government it- self. it was under these circum- stances that the lahore high court on wednesday ordered the punjab government to de- molish a wall it had built to block a road connecting the government officers' resid- ences (gor) to a public park. the court ruled that the gov- ernment could not be allowed to stop people from using thor- oughfares, not even under the excuse of securing a neigh- bourhood. but the wall is not the only obstacle impeding public ac- cess to gor. a couple of weeks ago, footpaths in the neigh- bourhood were replaced with greenbelts in an obvious at- tempt to discourage the entry of pedestrians; at least four roads in the area remain blocked for all kinds of traffic, and the entire gor remains off-limits to rickshaws, carts and a number of other not-so- pleasant-looking vehicles. these are not the first attempts to turn gor into an exclusive zone. under the previous pro- vincial government of chaudhry pervaiz elahi, the chief minister had a secretariat erected for himself smack where once a thoroughfare used to be. senior officials had walls built on a number of ma- jor roads leading to the area where almost all of them resi- ded. to what extent such steps induce a sense of security is subject to how they are per- ceived. the government's standpoint is that its offices and residential buildings are obvious targets for terrorists and, therefore, should be safe- guarded no matter what. but the citizens might be forgiven for thinking that a government obsessed with its own security can do little to maintain public safety. people also fail to un- derstand why one area needs more securing than all others and see it as an attempt to dif- ferentiate between the rulers and the ruled. that they should see their freedoms compro- mised thus, without raising an outcry, beats the imagination.

an example of medical negligence has presented it- self in the case of a woman who died in an islamabad hospital due to the transfu- sion of blood that did not match her blood group. according to reports, none of the health professionals attending to her noticed that the blood administered was not of the correct group. it seems that the prescribed protocol was not followed to the letter. this resulted in the mixing up of two blood bags. the unfortunate wom- an, who was operated on first, received the blood meant for another patient. this shows how a little care- lessness can lead to death. the hospital's decision to conduct an independent in- quiry into the incident will be welcomed since it will help it pin responsibility and ensure that such fatal errors are not repeated. there are two aspects of the matter that should be ad- dressed seriously. one is the protocol that a hospital for- mulates not simply in its blood bank but in every de- partment. it is widely known that stringent and foolproof processes not only facilitate the smooth running of insti- tutions. they also help mini- mise the chances of human error, that can cost a human life, in various surgical and medical procedures. the second aspect is the human factor. even the best of pro- tocol can be of little use if it is not observed carefully. it is therefore a pity that the surgeon, the anesthetist, the nurse and the technician at- tending to the woman were not attentive enough to check the error that proved to be fatal. this case reflects poorly on the professionalism of those whose stated mission is to save lives and ease the distress of the sick. given the quality of education and training in our medical edu- cation institutions which are supposed to instill motiva- tion and commitment in their students, can we ex- pect any better? true, we as a people have developed the trait of doing our work in a haphazard, careless fashion, and meticulousness is no longer considered to be of any use. but negligence in the medical profession can prove to be costly as this is a matter of life and death.

azad kashmir's budget for 2009-10 focuses on the rehabil- itation of those affected by the october 2005 earthquake, the reconstruction of infrastruc- ture and the generation of em- ployment opportunities. the ajk government says the "budget provides solid foun- dation for the social and eco- nomic uplift of the area with the provision of infrastructur- al services and escalation in the pace of development ac- tivities …." there is little rea- son to doubt its claims. the budget sets aside rs10.8bn, in- cluding a foreign component of rs1.1bn, for development projects. the proposed devel- opment outlay is 13 per cent more than the amount for last year. the money will be provi- ded by the pakistan govern- ment, which is also financing the revenue budget deficit of rs4.8bn. in addition, the ajk council is also likely to spend rs2.5bn on development ac- tivities. the pakistan govern- ment has separately allocated rs6.4bn in its public sector development programme for 11 projects in the region. besides, development ex- penditure to the tune of rs29.5bn has been allocated to different federal minis- tries. another sum of rs15bn is to be spent on reconstruc- tion. on the whole around rs64bn is to be spent on ajk's developmental activi- ties, with additional spending on projects by sponsors. that should be sufficient mo- ney to undertake develop- ment works, provide relief and rebuild infrastructure in the quake-hit areas. if spent judiciously, the funds set aside for the different schemes can bring about a no- ticeable change in the life of the people in the region. the government intends to spend rs16bn on reconstruction and rehabilitation programmes and over rs6bn for the com- pletion of 11 mega projects under the annual develop- ment programme. allocations have also been made in the budget for implementing de- velopment projects in the health, education, agriculture and irrigation sectors. pro- vision of potable water is also a priority. apart from making generous allocations for de- velopment, the new ajk gov- ernment should also be com- mended for its austerity drive, which allowed it to retire its overdraft of rs2bn and save another rs1bn. one hopes that the government will continue to control unpro- ductive expenditure and di- vert resources to the social and economic development of the region in future as well.

with the post-polls pro- tests in iran escalating by the day, we now have an an- nouncement from the council of guardians that some dis- crepancies have been detec- ted in the results. three mil- lion votes are under scrutiny. this adds a new element to the iranian crisis that has kept the world on tenter- hooks for the last fortnight. state television reported 10 deaths in sunday's demon- strations, bringing the total tally of casualties to 17. until the council of guardians' new position, it appeared that the government, which in- cludes president mahmoud ahmadinejad and supreme leader ayatollah khamenei, who represents the religious establishment, was not will- ing to accede to popular de- mand. but the protests do not seem to be on the way to pe- tering out as happened in 2003 and 1998 when iran was convulsed by demonstrations. mr ahmadinejad's opponents are convinced that the results were rigged, though no proof is available in the absence of independent observers. the president, who claims the sup- port of 63 per cent of the elec- torate against mr mir hossein mousavi's 33 per cent, has de- nied allegations of foul play. he accuses the us of med- dling in iranian affairs and in- stigating the protests. irrespective of who wins, or if there is a compromise, one fact can no longer be denied. a large number of iranians, especially among the post- revolution generation, now want reform — albeit within the islamic system. with the active backing of mr rafsanjani and mr khatami, both of whom have presided successfully over iran's desti- ny in different official capaci- ties, mr mousavi is proving to be a heavyweight. what is more, the religious establish- ment has split and the clerics in qom are supporting the op- position. mr ahmadinejad is said to enjoy the support of the rural masses who have been won over by his populist politics. he also has the back- ing of the revolutionary guards and its auxiliary — the basiji — militia. with 35 per cent of the iranians living in the countryside, mr ahmadinejad will have to contend with changing reali- ties. one hopes that the use of force is not an option to main- tain the status quo.








THE Kerry-Lugar bill and the Berman bill are now in the process of being merged. Not many stakeholders in Pakistan have examined or minutely gone through the 58-page Berman and approximately 17-page KerryLugar bill to assess its impact on military aid to Pakistan.


In this article I intend to focus on two issues; first, whether the bills stretch their legal scope unnecessarily to include military assistance; second, whether they give undue space to political statements.


In addition to regulating civilian aid, the bills intend to bring into their fold the already agreed to or ongoing military assistance and make it subject to conditions such as specific certification by the secretary of state. This means that assessing the performance of the civilian leadership under the aid pro gramme will be a basis on which clearance shall be given for the grant of military aid. Is that acceptable to Pakistani stakeholders? Is the leadership in full knowledge of the implications of the fine print? If so, then fine; the matter ends here. If not, then the implications need to be examined.


Ongoing military assistance to Pakistan is being given through existing US laws such as the Foreign Assistance Act 1961 and the Arms Export Control Act 1976. Under the present bills, the annual amount of $1.5bn is to be spent on the people of Pakistan and not for military purposes. Not many will disagree with this approach of giving aid for the people's welfare. In fact, given past allegations of the diversion of funds, the US government will, rightly so, put in checks to ensure that these funds are not diverted for military purposes.


Looking at it from a legal point of view only, the attaching of more conditions to military aid is some what ultra vires and extraneous to the scope of the law that is otherwise devoted to civilian aid. It is certainly understandable that the US would desire a verifiable guarantee that civilian aid should not be diverted to fulfill military purposes.


However, why should the proposed US law regulate the subject matter (military aid) that it is neither granting nor regulating? Military aid is being provided by the US to Pakistan under a separate set of laws. Those laws have in-built safeguards. Licensing regimes are in place, export permissions are required from the State Department etc. Several states including Poland, Hungary, the Philippines and Jordan along with Pakistan buy military hardware from the US government complying with all regulatory conditions. If new conditions are added in the final Kerry-Lugar bill on military aid to Pakistan, it shall be discriminatory and Pakistan shall be singled out vis-à-vis several other states routinely receiving military aid and supplies from the US.


Once the bills are finalised, they will introduce additional legal obstructions to obtaining military assistance under other US laws. Given Pakistan's significance as a US ally, Pakistan should be given prompt access to upgraded military hardware for use in its present counter-insurgency operation.

Under the circumstances, retaining a distinction between 'military aid regulatory law' and 'civilian aid regulatory law' may be desirable. Both need to operate independently of each other. Otherwise, the non-fulfillment of conditions on the civilian side may inadvertently end up obstructing military supplies to Pakistan. Politically, it can become a tool to put pressure on Pakistan any time in the future.


The other important legal issue is that both bills are aid-specific and provide conditions for disbursements and enlist heads under which the aid shall be spend. This is really the true scope and purpose of these bills. However, instead of confining the text to the core objectives, the bills devote unnecessary space to enlisting issues that are legally extraneous to the scope of the bill itself — for example, providing a long list of terrorist incidents in Pakistan, like the Marriott bombing, the names of terrorists arrested such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammad etc. Certainly, these are facts. But are they relevant to the bill?


In both the Kerry-Lugar and Berman bills, detailed elaborations of considerations and reasons for the bill are provided under several headings. All this could have been explained in a few lines of the preamble. Both bills contain more political statements than legal formulations under various headings such as 'findings', 'declaration of principles', 'purposes of assistance', 'statement of policy', 'sense of Congress' etc.


The approved legal approach is that such clauses in a draft bill must be brief and stay legalistic in outlook. This is the advice given to US lawmakers by the Legislative Drafting Manual prepared by the legislative branch of the US Congress. The present drafts of both the Kerry-Lugar and Berman bills are inconsistent with this advice and need to be shortened drastically so that the focus of legislation remains primarily on aid for the people of Pakistan. Those congressmen who are still interested in providing a detailed background of events in Pakistan can do so in introductory speeches that are part of the Congress record.


In conclusion it can be stated that both the Kerry-Lugar and Berman bills when merged should result in a brief, clear and legalistic instrument that radiates optimism and goodwill and that stays focused on aid for the welfare of the people of Pakistan. ¦ The writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and president of the Research Society of International Law.

the kerry-lugar bill and the berman bill are now in the proc- ess of being merged. not many stakeholders in pakistan have examined or minutely gone through the 58-page berman and approximately 17-page kerry- lugar bill to assess its impact on military aid to pakistan. in this article i intend to focus on two issues; first, whether the bills stretch their legal scope unnecessarily to in- clude military assistance; second, wheth- er they give undue space to political statements. in addition to regulating civilian aid, the bills intend to bring into their fold the already agreed to or ongoing milita- ry assistance and make it subject to con- ditions such as specific certification by the secretary of state. this means that assessing the performance of the civil- ian leadership under the aid pro- gramme will be a basis on which clearance shall be giv- en for the grant of military aid. is that acceptable to pakistani stakeholders? is the leadership in full knowl- edge of the implications of the fine print? if so, then fine; the matter ends here. if not, then the implications need to be examined. ongoing military assistance to pakistan is being given through existing us laws such as the foreign assistance act 1961 and the arms export control act 1976. under the present bills, the an- nual amount of $1.5bn is to be spent on the people of pakistan and not for milita- ry purposes. not many will disagree with this approach of giving aid for the peo- ple's welfare. in fact, given past allega- tions of the diversion of funds, the us government will, rightly so, put in checks to ensure that these funds are not diverted for military purposes. looking at it from a legal point of view only, the attaching of more conditions to military aid is some what ultra vires and extraneous to the scope of the law that is otherwise devoted to civilian aid. it is certainly understandable that the us would desire a verifiable guarantee that civilian aid should not be diverted to ful- fill military purposes. however, why should the proposed us law regulate the subject matter (military aid) that it is neither granting nor regu- lating? military aid is being provided by the us to pakistan under a separate set of laws. those laws have in-built safe- guards. licensing regimes are in place, export permissions are required from the state department etc. several states in- cluding poland, hungary, the philippines and jordan along with pakistan buy mili- tary hardware from the us government complying with all regulatory conditions. if new conditions are added in the final kerry-lugar bill on military aid to pakistan, it shall be discriminatory and pakistan shall be singled out vis-à-vis sev- eral other states routinely receiving mili- tary aid and supplies from the us. once the bills are finalised, they will introduce additional legal obstructions to obtaining military assistance under other us laws. given pakistan's signifi- cance as a us ally, pakistan should be given prompt access to upgraded milita- ry hardware for use in its present coun- ter-insurgency operation. under the circumstances, retaining a distinction between 'military aid regula- tory law' and 'civilian aid regulatory law' may be desirable. both need to operate independently of each other. otherwise, the non-fulfillment of conditions on the civilian side may inadvertently end up obstructing military supplies to pakistan. politically, it can become a tool to put pressure on pakistan any time in the future. the other important legal issue is that both bills are aid-specific and provide conditions for disbursements and enlist heads under which the aid shall be spend. this is really the true scope and purpose of these bills. however, instead of confining the text to the core objec- tives, the bills devote unnecessary space to enlisting issues that are legally extra- neous to the scope of the bill itself — for example, providing a long list of terrorist incidents in pakistan, like the marriott bombing, the names of terrorists arres- ted such as khalid sheikh mohammad etc. certainly, these are facts. but are they relevant to the bill? in both the kerry-lugar and berman bills, detailed elaborations of considera- tions and reasons for the bill are provi- ded under several headings. all this could have been explained in a few lines of the preamble. both bills contain more political statements than legal formula- tions under various headings such as 'findings', 'declaration of principles', 'purposes of assistance', 'statement of policy', 'sense of congress' etc. the approved legal approach is that such clauses in a draft bill must be brief and stay legalistic in outlook. this is the advice given to us lawmakers by the legislative drafting manual prepared by the legislative branch of the us congress. the pres- ent drafts of both the kerry-lugar and berman bills are inconsistent with this advice and need to be shortened drastically so that the focus of legislation remains primari- ly on aid for the people of pakistan. those congressmen who are still interes- ted in providing a detailed background of events in pakistan can do so in intro- ductory speeches that are part of the congress record. in conclusion it can be stated that both the kerry-lugar and berman bills when merged should result in a brief, clear and legalistic instrument that radiates optimism and goodwill and that stays fo- cused on aid for the welfare of the peo- ple of pakistan. ¦ the writer is an advocate of the supreme court of pakistan and president of the research society of international law.

it was not empty talk — pure electioneering, as many be- lieved — when barack obama declared that he would treat afghanistan differently if he were to win the election and be- come america's next president. he had rejected his predeces- sor's approach. for george w. bush, the war in afghanistan was a sideshow; for him the real war was in iraq. his administration had only limited goals in afghanistan. after having quickly overrun the coun- try in the fall and winter of 2001, and placed hamid karzai as the liberated country's president, the administration thought the job was done. the main ob- jective then was to keep karzai in place in the hope that the afghan president would be able to create an environment in which a limited number of western troops would be able to keep the taliban at bay. for some time the strategy seemed to work and afghanistan — at least compared to iraq — was in relative peace. there were bombings, killings and kidnappings but these were seen as the products of a violent society learning to adjust to a different way of living and a different way of be- ing governed. the economy began to re- vive with gdp increasing at double-digit rates. the afghans once again began to trade with the world outside their bor- ders. the long-standing transit arrange- ment with pakistan began to work once again as the traditional route that con- nected the landlocked country through karachi with the outside world was re- vived. the term normal has always been difficult to apply to afghanistan but the country seemed to be returning towards some kind of normal functioning. while the central government's power was limited to kabul and while the prov- inces were largely in the hands of power- ful chieftains to whom the epithet 'war lords' could be comfortably applied, this way of governing was not much different from what the country had known for centuries. and the taliban were lurking in the wings. at one time pervez musharraf, then pakistan's president, had suggested that not all those who chose to call them- selves the taliban should be painted with the same brush; not all taliban were terrorists. many were the pakhtuns who were not happy with the way hamid karzai was managing the country. because of the circumstances of the lib- eration of afghanistan from taliban rule, the share of power held by non- pakhtuns far outweighed their propor- tion in the population and their econom- ic strength. musharraf argued for separating the pakhtuns opposed to the karzai govern- ment in two groups: the taliban whose ideology was clearly not acceptable to any civilised society, and those who could be made to work in the system that was evolving. but by then washington was accustomed to looking at the world from the perspective of 'good' and 'evil'. this approach only hel- ped strengthen the diehard elements in the taliban community. by the time the american election campaign was entering its final phase, afghanistan had begun to unravel. more foreign troops were dying in that country than in iraq where the counter-insurgen- cy strategy developed by gen david petraeus had begun to work. the main component of this approach was to give space within the new system to elements in the sunni community, in particular those who had violently opposed the oc- cupation of their country by the americans. once this approach was accepted, it became clear that a large number of sunni insurgents were prepared to cross the line and come over to the american side. once the switch was made, the level of violence in iraq be- gan to decline rapidly. the same approach could have worked in afghanistan but for the long- enduring problems between the afghan governing elite and the political elite in pakistan. the two had always pursued different objectives. kabul, under the traditional elite, wished to bring the pakhtun living on the pakistani side of the border — the durand line — under its control. pakistan, always fearful of india's designs with respect to its integri- ty as a nation state, wished to end the old afghan-india entente in its favour. this conflict, therefore, gave the kabul re- gime under hamid karzai the excuse to use pakistan as an explanation for its own failures. there was some substance in the afghan belief that unless the border be- tween afghanistan and pakistan was not sealed they would not be able to win the escalating war against the resurgent taliban. the sealing of the border was needed to stop the taliban insurgents being pursued by the americans from withdrawing into their sanctuaries on the pakistani side of the border. once there, they could rest, regroup, rearm and attack. but there were elements within the taliban community that pakistan did not wish to give up since it was one way of retaining influ- ence in the country against what were per- ceived as india's de- signs. there are, therefore, four features of the pakhtun conundrum that need to be addressed in order to bring peace to this area. the first is to recognise that there are many genuine grievances felt by this community con- cerning the way power has been appor- tioned by the karzai regime among dif- ferent segments of the afghan society. second, pakistan has to show resolve that it will not allow those now general- ly referred to as stateless actors to pur- sue their own agendas against the coun- try's neighbours. third, it also needs to make sure that the law of the land is re- spected by all segments of society. this means that the country will not allow it- self to be fragmented to accommodate those not happy with the current politi- cal and legal orders. finally, there must be a clear under- standing with india on what are its legit- imate interests in afghanistan. pakistan has to recognise that india is a regional power with regional interests. at the same time india has to pay heed to pakistan's security interests. ¦


the kerry-lugar and berman bills are being moved simultane- ously in the senate and house of representatives. a joint com- mittee of legislators from both the houses shall then sit and merge them to enact what is likely to be called a peace act through which pakistan shall be given an annual aid package. both these bills contain several condi- tions as a prerequisite for aid to pakistan. however, the text of both bills leave out certain necessary provisions that are expected in a country-specific legislation of this nature. here i intend to collectively review the text of both bills and also propose the inclusion of certain issues. the draft law that would be eventual- ly adopted after merging the kerry lugar and berman bills must contain a provision to respect the sovereignty of pakistan. right now such a statement is missing. the us government needs to recog- nise the territorial integrity and political independence of pakistan. the us govern- ment should in legislative language assure pakistanis that it shall not implement this act in any manner that may affect the territorial integrity and political independence of the state. such a statement is almost customary in extra- territorial legislation. it would have not only legal value but also enormous polit- ical value for pakistanis. according to the present language of the bills the us may facilitate peace in the region, which in effect means that the us administration through the in- coming law is abstaining from making a clear commitment to facilitate the reso- lution of regional disputes. if the present language is adopted the us would have no legal compulsion under its own law (peace act) to facilitate the resolution of kashmir or regional issues. in other words if the status quo is maintained in the region, as india demands, then the bills would not provide any legal basis to pakistan to argue otherwise. this is con- trary to obama's own position on the res- olution of the kashmir dispute. the final draft act needs to mention that the us shall facilitate the resolution of the kashmir issue or at least that it shall facilitate the resolution of regional disputes, particularly because it is the us congress itself that has been passing resolutions earlier for resolving the kashmir issue. now when an occasion has arisen for pakistan- and region-spe- cific legislation, it suddenly chooses to omit it. under the present drafts, pakistan has been asked to demonstrate that it is not interfering in the affairs of its neigh- bouring states. this obligation placed on- ly on pakistan is surprising. either a sim- ilar obligation should also be placed on india and afghanistan or the subject of intervention or interference should not be touched on at all in the present bills. the alleged indian and afghan in- volvement in the balochistan and fata insurgencies is well-known. in view of this, the correct approach would have been to ask pakistan's neighbouring states not to interfere in pakistan. instead only pakistan is facing a condi- tionality of non-interference. the possible misuse of such a cove- nant could mean that even a frivolous complaint from afghanistan or india would obstruct incoming aid to pakistan. therefore, in the final draft act, the obli- gation of non-interference should be placed on all the neighbouring states. that would be the balanced legislative approach and in conformity with the principle of non-intervention as per in- ternational law.what if pakistan claims that afghanistan and india are acting in a manner that is curtailing its ability to take effective counter-terrorism meas- ures pursuant to the law? what should pakistan do then? to address such an eventuality, the final draft act should contain a provision to the effect that the neighbouring states of pakistan will re- frain from acting in a manner that may prejudice or undermine the ability and capacity of the pakistani government to fulfill the various obligations under the act and in case of suspicion of such an event pakistan shall provide the details of the same to the us president who would make it part of his report to the congress. the provision seeking access to nucle- ar proliferation suspects must be de- leted. in this context, the peace act can become a cause of anger among pakistanis with regard to their 'nuclear hero'. the us has other specific legisla- tive instruments such as the non- proliferation act to address this particu- lar issue. there is no gain in making this aid-specific legislation controversial. under visible influence of the indian lobby one of the draft bills demands that pakistan will need to take action against jamaatud dawa because the indian lob- by suspects it of being an al qaeda asso- ciate. this is a smart legal move. if al qaeda is somehow linked with any enti- ty that is involved in kashmir, then it to- tally changes the outlook of the kashmir struggle. from a movement of self- determination against which force can only selectively be used, it shall suddenly become a counter-terrorism issue and fit for an all-out counter-in- surgency operation. there is no provision on support for the internally displaced persons in the draft bills. a provision needs to be add- ed for supporting the idps whose omis- sion from the final bill would send across the damaging message of the insensitivi- ty of the us congress. the bill currently states that pakistan shall be paid "up to" $1.5bn per year. in other words, there is no guarantee of any amount for pakistan. without this guaranteed exact figure, pakistan cannot plan for making provisioning. therefore, the us govern- ment must commit a solid figure and de- lete the 'up to'. these are some of the im- portant points that need to be consid- ered by pakistani policymakers while in- teracting with the us administration. ¦ the writer is an advocate of the supreme court of pakistan and president of the research society of international law.

how should pakistan care for its poor whose number is increasing at an alarming rate? with very little gdp growth in 2008-09, there may not be any increase in income per head of the population. we know from the empirical work done at some development institutions that the gdp must increase at a rate equal to twice the rate of increase of population for the in- cidence of poverty to remain unchanged. for the incidence to decline, gdp increase has to be higher, perhaps as much as three times the rate of population growth. it needs to be even higher when income distri- bution is inequitable, as is the case in pakistan. for pakistan this translates into a growth rate of six to seven per cent a year. the economy is failing in this respect. this means that the dismal performance of the economy in 2008-09 must have added to the number of people living in poverty. the in- cidence may have increased from 50 million to 55 million. as was indicated in the budget for 2009-10, only a small increase in gdp is like- ly in 2009-10 and for a couple of years after that. if these es- timates hold, there will be a further growth in the number of poor, perhaps by 10 per cent a year. this rate of increase is more than five times the increase in population which means that the proportion of poor in the population will increase significantly. the increase will be even higher in the less developed parts of the country. this is clearly an untenable situation, which could have severe political and social consequen- ces. a rising incidence of poverty means a higher rate of unemployment, particularly in the country's large cities. in pakistan's case, there is a very young population — the median age now is 18.2 years. this means a very large number of young people are without productive jobs. the problem pakistan faces today has two dimensions. the state needs to assist the poor to meet their basic needs. and it needs to engage the youth in productive work. how does the government plan to address the problem? an answer was provided in the budget. islamabad is adding additional resources to a number of programmes aimed at alleviating poverty as well as pro- viding relief to the poor. much of the effort will be focused on a relatively new mechanism created by the present government and called the benazir income support programme (bisp). under this, the government is providing direct cash transfers to the poor. this is in keeping with the approach de- veloped in institutions such as the world bank that favour cash payments rather than subsidies directed at the poor. development institutions have learnt through experience that subsidies, more often than not, don't reach the intended beneficiaries. in coun- tries such as pakistan, where the state is weak, there are enormous leakages in such programmes. cash transfers can be better monitored. the component of "conditional cash transfers" is being added to the bisp, i sus- pect at the urging of the world bank that has tried this approach in several countries in the middle east that have fallen behind the rest of the developing world in terms of human development. the idea is to provide cash to families in return for taking action such as sending girls to school; keeping chil- dren in school for periods that are long enough not only for them to learn to read and write but also to make them responsi- ble citizens; and immunising children against communicable diseases. there is one additional advantage to adopting this approach. it encourages people to use the private sector for obtaining some of the services on which cash flows are condi- tioned. in this the burden is not placed on the public sector which is very weak in countries such as pakistan. some of this has already begun to happen. over the last couple of decades, the private sector has become actively involved in the sectors of education and health which were previously the concerns of the state. while much of this is being done for profit, there is also the active involvement of the non-gov- ernment sector in education and health. even when the private sector is doing this for generating incomes for itself, it is not targeting its activities at the relatively well- to-do. since the poor even in the vey poor areas are prepared to pay for health and ed- ucation, the private sector is bringing serv- ices to them. the conditional cash pro- gramme the government is now including in its on-going efforts will provide the poor ad- ditional income to spend on these services. this will encourage further private enter- prise in the social sectors. the government is making a very large commitment to the bisp. "during fiscal year 2008-09, rs22bn was distributed to 1.8 mil- lion families," said ms hina rabbani khar, state minister for finance, in the budget speech. "during fiscal year 2009-10, it is pro- posed to increase the allocation to bisp to rs70bn ...this would constitute more than a 200 per cent increase … and five million fam- ilies would benefit." each eligible family would receive, on average, rs14,000 of cash in 2009-10. this is 14.5 per cent more than the rs12,222 provided in the previous year. as is the experience in other parts of the world where such programmes have been tried — they are popular in latin america and the middle east — care needs to be tak- en to ensure that money reaches the right pockets. a number of target- ing mechanisms have been tried and some of them have worked. those that have succeeded are based on good informa- tion about the poor. this is done by building what are called 'poverty maps' based on censuses and household surveys. the government seems to be moving in that direction. accor- ding to ms khar, "a census would be com- pleted within three months in 16 districts of pakistan as a pilot to benchmark incomes. this would be extended to the entire coun- try within the calendar year. the benazir income support cards would serve as vehi- cles of transparent management and ad- dressing the needs of the vulnerable." the government has also indicated the willingness to commit resources to public works programmes in both rural and urban areas in order to provide temporary relief to the urban unemployed. these programmes work well when there is good oversight. in pakistan's case this could be provided by the local government institutions. all these are palliatives, however. the re- al solution to the poverty problem lies in getting the poor engaged productively in the economy as wage earners and that will need both a high rate of gdp growth as well as the development of labour-intensive sec- tors of the economy. ¦

the public debate on constitu- tional, legal and political reforms in the federally administered tribal areas (fata) has begun not a mo- ment too soon. indeed, some people think the time for leisurely talks may have passed. the fact remains that the battle for the hearts and minds of the tribal people will not end with a victory of arms over the militants. fata needs a new deal more urgently than any other part of pakistan. the basic issues relating to fata have been discussed in detail over the past many years. briefly, these are: what should be the consti- tutional status of fata? should fata be merged with the frontier province or should it be made a separate provincial unit? what should the frontier crimes regulation be re- placed with? should political parties be al- lowed in fata? what kind of local govern- ment needs to be introduced there? what are the priorities regarding fata's socio-cul- tural-economic development? a recent roundtable atten- ded by most political parties that matter again showed that while considerable agreement on the future dispensation in fata already exists, quite a few contentious issues have yet to be resolved. for instance, all parties want articles 246 and 247 of the constitution amended for three objectives. firstly, the tag 'tribal territory', commonly described in urdu as 'ilaqa ghair' (other people's territo- ry) must be discarded as it distorts the per- spective on both sides. secondly, the territo- ry should be transformed from a president's fief into a parliament-controlled area. and, thirdly, the area should fall under the juris- diction of the supreme court. similarly, most political parties readily agree, and for obvious reasons, that they should be allowed to operate in the area. for the sake of convenience one may endorse their call for the extension of the political parties order, 2002, a musharraf regime rel- ic of doubtful value, to fata, but it is time they devised a framework for political par- ties that could inspire public confidence in their democratic, responsible and transpar- ent functioning. the preparation of a local government plan appropriate to the area also should not be difficult. avoiding the musharraf regime's mistake of treating all parts of pakistan as uniformly developed and liable to be strap- ped under a single system, it should be possi- ble to work out a local government scheme that can facilitate the fata people's initiation into post-tribal local self-government. as regards the socio-economic develop- ment of the area, nobody will dispute the need to give priority to enlargement of eco- nomic activity, creation of jobs and establish- ment of educational and health institutions. but differences on the mode and mechanism of service delivery cannot be dismissed. this problem has not been solved in the rest of pakistan either. the search for a model that is people-friendly (as opposed to parliamen- tarian-friendly) and free of a built-in facility for a corruption model may not be easy but is well worth the effort. thus we are left with two ticklish issues — fcr's replacement and fata's provin- cial status. mr yousuf raza gilani's announcement immediately after his accession to the prime ministerial gaddi about the fcr's annulment was in line with liberal thinking. however, it was soon realised that the extension of the so-called normal laws and court procedures, which might have been possible some deca- des ago, was no longer a workable proposi- tion. the reasons were firstly, social changes in fata as a result of the communication ex- plosion, the afghan war and the militant cleric's success in supplanting the tribal ma- lik, and, secondly, the fata people's distaste for and fear of pakistan's justice system. as things stand, pragmatism may serve pakistan better than idealism. this means that a new law should be made for the area that does not have the obnoxious features of the fcr, such as the scheme of collective fines, destruction of offenders' houses and absence of appeal provisions, and still re- tains the spirit of a community-managed sys- tem for adjudication. in order to avoid every case causing protracted litigation, petty ca- ses and minor disputes could be resolved by democratically constituted juries with possi- bilities of appeal to superior judicial forums. the moment a tactical accommodation of the fata people's sensibilities is mentioned, two questions are raised. first, it is said that no step that perpetuates the tribal system can be welcome. among other things, this may trigger similar demands from elements that are in the process of transition from the tribal to post-tribal stage. secondly, how will the rights of women and minorities be pro- tected? the first objection ignores the impossibili- ty of a tribal society's acceptance of non-trib- al norms of personal and collective conduct without the abolition of tribal relations — economic, political and social. it also frees the state of pakistan of its liability to pay for the cost of protecting, in its narrow interest, the tribal population against social change. the bills have to be paid now with compound interest. if the banner of sharia is raised, for that too the state cannot escape responsibili- ty. as for the rights of women and minorities, guarantees for these have to be negotiated. it will be a test not only of islamabad's negoti- ating skills but also of its sincerity in uphold- ing women's and minorities' rights as to how it presents these rights as non-negotiable val- ues. without such guarantees all talk of re- form will be a hoax. somewhat harder is the determination of fata's provincial status. the frontier politi- cal parties have a clear interest in seeking fata's merger with their province. the exis- tence of some elements in fata who support this idea cannot be denied. but nobody can say as to the strength of the people who wish fata to be made a separate province. and are there no people who have reservations about coming under the pakistani constitution itself? the question obviously touches on the erosion of the confidence of the fata people in pakistan. there is no point in harping on these people's 1947 decision to throw in their lot with pakistan because that would raise the difficult ques- tion of whether the pakistan government honoured its part of the bargain. pakistan to- day is not the garden of promises it was in 1947. it is impossible to blame the fata pop- ulation for becoming wary of joining a fami- ly whose older members are behaving oddly, to say the least, and are pulling in different directions. there is no gainsaying that this trust defi- cit, accumulated over six decades, cannot be instantly wiped out — especially when the means of accomplishing this are no better than clichés. however, before schemes of the advancement of fata are unfolded the pro- clamation of a charter of its people's rights and islamabad's commitment to upholding them may still help in winning over these vig- orously and foolishly excluded people. a white paper may be issued acknowledg- ing the fata people's role in promoting and defending pakistan's interests and stating in unambiguous terms the federation's resolve to honour their rights. the white paper must make it clear that while the wishes of the people of fata to protect their traditions de- serve respect no compromise on the rights of women and minority groups and on human rights, democracy and the rule of law can be contemplated as this will harm the tribal community itself the most by putting a cross on their right to social progress. ¦







IN a recent book, Fred Kaplan makes the case for 1959 as a turning point in modern history. His thesis has attracted a fair amount of scepticism, not least because equally convincing arguments could be articulated for 1979 and 1989. But what about 1969?


That's a bit harder, not least because it is so comprehensively overshadowed by 1968, the year when it seemed, in so many parts of the world, that the old order might perish as a consequence of the younger generation's withering contempt. It didn't, of course, and in many cases the forces of reaction had their revenge. But the notion of a better world did not recede everywhere. In the US, although 1969 began with Richard Nixon's swearing-in as president, it was also notable for two landmarks that grabbed the popular imagination.


One of these was the Woodstock music festival in mid-August, which brought together an estimated half a million young people, by and large united in their vague idealism and their broad opposition to the Vietnam War. Somewhat surprisingly, none of the performers at the festival alluded even tangentially to an event that had occurred less than a month earlier: man's first steps on the moon. That's right, Neil Armstrong and 11 other astronauts had a go at moonwalking long before the late Michael Jackson popularised the concept on MTV.


It's possible the tribes gath ered at Woodstock ignored the moon landing because it was clearly the ultimate in Cold War one-upmanship. John F. Kennedy had declared his intention of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade after the Soviet Union's Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the earth.


The space race was an extension of the arms race. In the latter, the US had always been well ahead of the USSR, but it pretended otherwise so that it could continue enhancing its nuclear arsenals. However, the Soviet Union was indeed ahead in the outer atmosphere: it was the first nation to launch a craft that orbited the earth, the first to put live animals into orbit, the first to put a man into orbit, the first to put a woman into orbit. It was blindsided, however, by the unexpected demise of Sergei Korolev, the chief scientist behind its Soyuz programme — and a veteran of Stalin's Gulag.


His American counterpart, Wernher von Braun, was a Nazi SS officer who had been behind Germany's devastating V2 rockets in the Second World War; he surrendered to the Americans in 1945 and was promptly co-opted into the US military-industrial complex. This former Hitler loyalist provided the impetus for the Apollo programme, which cost the equivalent, in today's money, of about a trillion dollars.


Initially, it seemed to be a price worth paying. The world watched as Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin lowered themselves on to the lunar surface from a module that resembled the craft conjured up by H.G. Wells in The First Men on the Moon (1902). Earth's satellite had inspired poets and astronomers since time immemorial: the first fantasy about landing on the moon apparently dates back to 160AD.



Inevitably, there were those who, in 1969, looked upon it as a transgression on celestial terrain — a case of man going not only where no man had gone before, but where no man was supposed to go. Others looked upon it as a hoax: a drama filmed in a dusty Hollywood backlot. These tendencies have persisted; on the 30th anniversary of the moon landing 10 years ago, a survey revealed that six per cent of Americans believed it to have been faked. A few years later, a spoof television documentary that featured the likes of Henry Kissinger and Donald Rumsfeld reinforced the idea of a conspiracy, tongue firmly in cheek.


Of course, had the 1969 moon landing indeed been faked, the USSR would have called Nixon's bluff. The most important question about "one small step for man, a giant leap for mankind" revolved around why, not whether. It wasn't a question that was widely raised at the time. That it was a monumental achievement seemed like reason enough. Arguably, the primary motivation was relatively mundane: the conquest of the moon by the Soviet Union would have signified the superiority of communism.


Besides, the supposed struggle against communism on another plane was not exactly proceeding according to plan: Vietnam may have been pockmarked with as many craters as the moon on ac count of the most relentless aerial bombardment campaign in history, but the Vietnamese had given notice they had no intention of crying uncle. On the moon, Armstrong and Aldrin, both veterans of the Korean War, left a plaque saying "We came in peace" (and, in a nod to détente, a medal for Gagarin). It was a vacuous gesture, given that on Earth the US was, as Martin Luther King Jr had put it, "the greatest purveyor of violence".


If Woodstock was, to some extent, a reaction to the Vietnam War, the moon landing was partly a distraction. There were further missions to the moon, but by the end of 1972 the programme had petered out: there seemed to be little point in gathering more moondust. The last Apollo flight, almost exactly six years after Armstrong and Aldrin's lunar adventure, docked with a Soyuz spaceship: more a one-night stand than a marriage made in the heavens. There are vague plans to resume manned missions to the moon before heading to Mars, amid indications that the next person to step on the lunar surface may well be neither an American nor a Russian.


That's all very well, but arguably the most precious moment in the US space programme was when, on Christmas Eve in 1968, the Apollo 8 crew captured the magnificent spectacle of Earthrise. More than four decades on, it remains a symbolic reminder that preserving and healing our exquisite and fragile planet is the human race's primary responsibility and should be our chief priority. ¦



first it was manu- facturing. then it was accounting. next it was software. after that, it was call centres. and now, it seems, it is tor- ture that is being out- sourced by rich coun- tries too squeamish to do their own dirty work. in a series of disturbing sto- ries, the guardian has exposed the british practice of point- ing out terror suspects from its pakistani community travel- ling to their home country. these young men have then been picked up, and severely tortured in safe houses, alleg- edly by the isi. spearheading this investigation is ian cobain, a journalist who has won the martha gellhorn prize for journalism, as well as an award from amnesty international. cobain has focused on britain's apparent complicity with foreign agencies in the torture of suspects overseas, in contravention of british and international laws. mi5 officers have questioned pris- oners undergoing terrible mis- treatment in morocco, egypt, bangladesh and pakistan. and while they have not per- sonally inflicted the pain, it was clear throughout that the questions were being framed by them. the post-9/11 policy of ren- dition pioneered by the cia produced a network of tor- ture centres across the world where suspects would be put through the grinder at washington's behest. this outsourcing of torture was copied by britain as compli- ant lawyers and legislators turned a blind eye to the geneva conventions as well as common decency. cobain quotes cofer black, former head of counter-terrorism at cia, telling a congressional committee: "all you need to know: there was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11. after 9/11 the gloves came off." there is a certain obscene logic to this cynical use of for- eign agencies to commit acts prohibited by law in the us and britain. abstract notions of national security have pro- vided a fig leaf to many crim- inals in and out of uniform, apart from protecting many reputations and careers. from this perspective, if physical and mental duress are to be applied, it is far bet- ter to have foreigners do the dirty work. describing the torture he underwent in pakistan during his trial on terrorism charges in britain, rangzieb ahmed tells a harrowing story. according to the guardian, "ahmed told the court how he had been beaten with sticks, whipped with electric cables and rubber whips, sexually humiliated and deprived of sleep … the nail of the small finger of his left hand was re- moved…." he has been found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. the issue here is not the guilt or innocence of individu- al suspects, but the manner in which evidence is obtained. the concept of torturing sus- pects is a medieval one that was outlawed many years ago in most western countries. as cobain reminds us in his piece in the guardian, the last tor- ture warrant was issued in england in 1641. neverthe- less, the english were not above using physical pressure in their colonies. the indian police in the colonial era had a reputation for brutality that is proudly maintained today in police stations and prisons across south asia. so when we loudly criticise the americans for the un- speakable torture inflicted at abu ghraib and guantanamo bay, should we not spare a thought for what goes on every day in torture cells in pakistan? as we all know, petty criminals hauled in for the most minor crime are routinely slapped around by the cops. if the victim is well-connected, suspects are given the third degree with- out any thought for conse- quences. occasionally, those at the receiving end of this 'intensive interrogation' do not survive, and compliant doctors put down their death to 'natural causes.' in this environment of widespread acceptance of these abuses, it should come as no surprise that our intelli- gence agencies torture people who have not been accused of any crime on our soil. at the behest of london and washington, we are ready and willing to inflict the worst hor- rors imaginable on young men fingered by the cia or mi5. i suspect that one reason we have lost our capacity to be shocked and angered by these excesses committed in our name is that we know that they seldom happen to 'peo- ple like us'. in other words, the victims of torture are members of an underclass with whom we seldom come into social contact. so when the cops apply their standard 'chhitrol' to petty criminals, the prevailing attitude is that they probably deserved it. this lack of sympathy and empathy has had a brutalising effect on society. police offi- cers shield their underlings from disciplinary action; judg- es are aware of how confes- sions were extorted, but go along; and senior officials of intelligence agencies know they are safe from any ac- countability. and while all of us close our eyes to this grim reality, victims of torture con- tinue suffering in our name. but this inhuman treatment is not limited to officialdom: several political parties are well-known for their use of torture. drilling holes in the knees of victims with electric drills is an old favourite. the taliban are no slouches at in- flicting pain, and take pride in filming the suffering of their victims. when it comes to complici- ty with our agencies in the use of torture, it is clear that agents from mi5 were out of line. they may or may not be prosecuted on the basis of in- formation unearthed by the guardian as well as by various human rights organisations. but the fact is that in the west, the use if torture is an aberration, and not the norm it is here in pakistan. one interesting (and de- pressing) fact to emerge from the whole terrible rendition saga is that nearly all these ep- isodes took place in the muslim world. alleged partic- ipants include egypt, moro- cco, bangladesh, the uae, jordan and pakistan. all these countries are notorious for the ill-treatment of prison- ers. of course, one reason for this slant is that almost all ter- ror suspects detained after 9/11 were muslims. clearly, those wishing to commit acts of terror must be stopped. we in pakistan have suffered more from them than any other nation. but by bru- talising others, we ultimately debase our own society. if we are to occupy the moral high ground in our fight against ex- tremism, we cannot use the methods of our enemies. ¦

on the face of it, last weekend's dramatic events in honduras are a throwback to the past, when the armed forces in any number of latin american countries routinely ousted civil- ian governments. it's inaccurate, however, to portray the unwarranted re- gime change in tegucigalpa as the first post-cold war coup in the region. after all, in some ways the removal from power of president manuel zelaya is remarkably reminiscent of events in caracas little more than sev- en years ago when elements in the venezuelan armed forces collaborated with the country's capitalist elite — with washington's approval and possible connivance — to overthrow hugo chavez. the coup in caracas fizzled out within 48 hours or so in the face of massive popular resistance, but also because significant sections of the armed forces remained loyal to the elected president. what's more, the nervous coup-makers played their cards badly: by seeking to ele- vate the head of the chamber of commerce to the presiden- cy, they made it all too clear that their action was essen- tially part of a class war. there are good reasons to suspect that those who broke into zelaya's compound in the dead of night, kidnapped him in his pyjamas and bun- dled him off to costa rica were similarly motivated. but before looking at the specific circumstances that led up to this travesty, it's pertinent to point out that the atmos- phere in the region has changed in the interim. although the 2002 action against chavez caused some consternation among venezuela's neighbours, the bolivarian leader had only one truly resolute ally in the region: fidel castro. the bush administration and even some supposedly liberal sections of the us media could barely conceal their glee — and their palpable sense of disappointment a couple of days later was im- mensely gratifying. in contrast, zelaya's remov- al from power immediately prompted a vociferous — and all but unequivocal — chorus of condemnation in latin america. although chavez has, characteristically, been particularly outspoken, even regional leaders far removed from him on the ideological spectrum have expressed their displeasure. and not- withstanding indications that the united states might be hedging its bets, both barack obama and hillary clinton have expressed their support for zelaya and called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, through constitution- al means and without foreign intervention. it would, of course, be use- ful if they could bring them- selves to admit that in the past century, intervention in honduras has been more or less exclusively a us pastime. besides, although the change in washington's attitude since the departure of the ne- ocons deserves to be wel- comed, it does not necessarily follow that a us role in the honduran developments can be completely ruled out, even if there is no immediate rea- son for assuming that it en- joyed the imprimatur of the white house. according to the state department, beyond a certain point the military headquar- ters in tegucigalpa stopped taking calls from the us em- bassy. if true, that's clearly a far cry since the days when that embassy was headed by john negroponte, a reagan administration appointee whose task it was to oversee the training of contras and their infiltration into nicaragua, plus intervention in el salvador, while trying to make sure that the local ex- ploits of the honduran milita- ry regime — characterised by its reliance on rightwing death squads — did not at- tract us media attention. negroponte was chosen for this vital assignment on ac- count of his extreme hawkish- ness, which can be gauged from the fact that in his previ- ous role as an aide to henry kissinger, he had, according to the washington post, "criti- cised his patron for making too many concessions to the north vietnamese". negroponte — who more recently served in bush ad- ministration in various ca- pacities, including national security czar and ambassador to baghdad and to the un — has never admitted that his crucial role in ronald reagan's anti-communist cru- sade involved close collabora- tion with a honduran regime that routinely terrorised its own people. the country's present constitution, which zelaya's opponents have ac- cused him of violating, dates back to the days of negroponte's proconsulship. the trend in latin america those days was towards super- ficial transitions from milita- ry regimes to civilian govern- ments, as far as possible with- out disturbing the socio-eco- nomic status quo — which in- variably meant entrenched advantages for the rich and callous disregard for the poor. it also meant that all aspects of what is broadly described as "security" remained the preserve of the military estab- lishment. the experiment appeared to be working in honduras, with centre-right govern- ments not only steering clear of military affairs but also taking care not to interfere with the pattern of institu- tionalised privilege that sus- tained one of the deepest eco- nomic divides in central america. as a liberal party presidential candidate, zelaya gave little indication of being a mould-breaker: al- though his platform ahead of the 2005 election mentioned poverty reduction, this was presumed to be little more than a rhetorical tactic. however, as president he displayed a reformist inclina- tion and caused some surprise when he allied himself with chavez and, last year, took honduras into the bolivarian alternative for the americas (alba) — having realised that alba was a better bet than the imf in combating the chronic poverty in his country. he also understood that meaningful change in honduras depended on amending the negroponte-era constitution. to this end he organised a non-binding vote, scheduled for last sunday, merely to determine the pop- ularity of combining next november's presidential elec- tion with a constitutional ref- erendum. this seemingly un- objectionable move not only attracted the ire of the gener- als but also clarified the re- sistance to change of civil in- stitutions such as the congress and the supreme court. although the army was os- tensibly placed under civilian control 10 years ago, when zelaya sacked the armed forces chief late last month, gen romeo vasquez was rap- idly reinstated by the court. the supreme court this week endorsed the coup, and con- gress lost little time in naming roberto micheletti as interim president. from his forced exile in costa rica, zelaya has con- demned the powerful forces arrayed against him as "rightwing oligarchs", which doesn't sound like an unfair description, given their evi- dent determination to de- fend their misbegotten privi- leges. there have been pro- tests in tegucigalpa, albeit not on a scale that presaged chavez's restoration in caracas in 2002. alba members and other latin american leaders have been meeting in nicaragua to determine their response, and there can be little doubt that the atmosphere in the re- gion doesn't suit the coup- makers. at the same time, however, there is the risk that if they get away with it, retrograde elements within other latin military estab- lishments might be encour- aged to make similarly un- democratic moves. there's an opportunity for washington to nail its colours to the mast by making use of the lever- age it still enjoys in tegucigalpa. but, as they say, don't hold your breath. ¦ ************************************






BRITISH troops are dying in Afghanistan because of a lack of money. Whatever ministers might say about their commitment to make sure the army has the best possible equipment, that's the reality.


What's more, the pennypinching has nothing much to do with the fact that Britain is skint. The cost of the recession will push the budget deficit to some 12 per cent of GDP this year, but the squeeze on the defence budget began years ago.


It is possible to provide the forces in Afghanistan with the helicopters and heavily armoured vehicles they need but something will have to give.


The fiscal facts of life are these. Just over four decades ago, Harold Wilson announced the end of Britain's East of Suez policy. At that time, Britain had a sizeable military presence in the Middle East plus bases in Singapore and Hong Kong. All but Hong Kong were abandoned because money was tight as a result of the economic problems that culminated in the devaluation of 1967. In that year, the UK spent 6.5 per cent of GDP on defence, more than it was devoting to education (five per cent) and a lot more than it was investing on health (four per cent). The cuts involved in East of Suez saved a considerable amount of money but even when Wilson lost the 1970 election the defence budget still accounted for well over five per cent of GDP, as it did when Jim Callaghan lost the 1979 election to Margaret Thatcher.


Over the next 30 years, defence took an ever-smaller share of spending, with the big change coming with the collapse of communism at the end of the 1980s. Governments in the West — including Britain, of course — felt they no longer had to spend as much on defence now that the Russian threat had disappeared. They received a tidy Cold War dividend, which they duly spent on other things.


In 1991, defence accounted for four per cent of GDP, but in the last full year of Conservative rule five years later it was down to 3.2 per cent. But after Tony Blair came to power in 1997, new threats emerged. Blair's "muscular interventionism" involved sending troops to fight in four serious conflicts — Sierra Leone, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. What it did not involve was a commensurate increase in the defence budget.


In the current year, the UK is planning to spend £42.1bn on defence at a time when the Treasury's estimates the output of the economy will be £1.43tr. That amounts to three per cent of GDP.


When Gordon Brown and his team say that they are planning increases in defence spending, they are right but only for the short term. An extra £1.6bn has been allocated to the forces in 2010 and because the impact of the recession is to make the economy smaller, defence will account for 3.1 per cent of GDP. That will be the highest since 1997.


The increase will, however, be only short-lived since defence — like every other department — will feel the squeeze from the spending restraint deemed necessary to reduce the budget deficit. Almost £2bn will be shaved off military spending and the defence budget will once again drop to less than three per cent of GDP.


Apologies for the blizzard of figures, but they are important. Too much of the debate about what is happening in Afghanistan is taking place in a statistical vacuum or involves the manipulation of selectively chosen figures. Brown, for example, said at the end of the G8 summit that Britain had doubled the num ber of helicopters available for the troops in Helmand province since 2006. What he didn't say was that according to military experts it has doubled from 10 to 20 — a total inadequate to support the 9,000 troops. Fewer helicopters has meant troops being moved around Helmand in vehicles, which offer scant protection against the roadside bombs.


So the conclusion is simple. The government wants to fight a war against extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan but is doing so on the cheap. It has returned to an East of Suez policy but with a defence budget less than half what it was in the 1960s.


Brown's case for remaining in Afghanistan is that there is a "chain of terror" linking the poppy fields of Helmand to the streets of Britain. His riposte to those who say that the defence budget for a medium-sized country with big economic problems should be spent on national security is that this is a matter of national security. But if that's what the prime minister thinks, he needs to find the resources to fight the war properly. Otherwise, it will be lost — and at an unnecessarily high cost. ¦ — The Guardian, London


british troops are dying in afghanistan because of a lack of money. whatever min- isters might say about their commitment to make sure the army has the best possible equipment, that's the reality. what's more, the penny- pinching has nothing much to do with the fact that britain is skint. the cost of the reces- sion will push the budget def- icit to some 12 per cent of gdp this year, but the squeeze on the defence budg- et began years ago. it is possible to provide the forces in afghanistan with the helicopters and heavily arm- oured vehicles they need but something will have to give. the fiscal facts of life are these. just over four decades ago, harold wilson an- nounced the end of britain's east of suez policy. at that time, britain had a sizeable military presence in the middle east plus bases in singapore and hong kong. all but hong kong were abandoned because money was tight as a result of the economic problems that cul- minated in the devaluation of 1967. in that year, the uk spent 6.5 per cent of gdp on defence, more than it was de- voting to education (five per cent) and a lot more than it was investing on health (four per cent). the cuts involved in east of suez saved a consid- erable amount of money but even when wilson lost the 1970 election the defence budget still accounted for well over five per cent of gdp, as it did when jim callaghan lost the 1979 elec- tion to margaret thatcher. over the next 30 years, de- fence took an ever-smaller share of spending, with the big change coming with the collapse of communism at the end of the 1980s. govern- ments in the west — includ- ing britain, of course — felt they no longer had to spend as much on defence now that the russian threat had disap- peared. they received a tidy cold war dividend, which they duly spent on other things. in 1991, defence accounted for four per cent of gdp, but in the last full year of con- servative rule five years later it was down to 3.2 per cent. but after tony blair came to power in 1997, new threats emerged. blair's "muscular interventionism" involved sending troops to fight in four serious conflicts — sierra leone, kosovo, iraq and af- ghanistan. what it did not in- volve was a commensurate in- crease in the defence budget. in the current year, the uk is planning to spend £42.1bn on defence at a time when the treasury's estimates the out- put of the economy will be £1.43tr. that amounts to three per cent of gdp. when gordon brown and his team say that they are planning increases in defence spending, they are right but only for the short term. an ex- tra £1.6bn has been allocated to the forces in 2010 and be- cause the impact of the reces- sion is to make the economy smaller, defence will account for 3.1 per cent of gdp. that will be the highest since 1997. the increase will, however, be only short-lived since de- fence — like every other de- partment — will feel the squeeze from the spending re- straint deemed necessary to reduce the budget deficit. almost £2bn will be shaved off military spending and the defence budget will once again drop to less than three per cent of gdp. apologies for the blizzard of figures, but they are impor- tant. too much of the debate about what is happening in afghanistan is taking place in a statistical vacuum or in- volves the manipulation of se- lectively chosen figures. brown, for example, said at the end of the g8 summit that britain had doubled the num- ber of helicopters available for the troops in helmand province since 2006. what he didn't say was that according to military experts it has dou- bled from 10 to 20 — a total inadequate to support the 9,000 troops. fewer helicop- ters has meant troops being moved around helmand in vehicles, which offer scant protection against the road- side bombs. so the conclusion is simple. the government wants to fight a war against extremism in afghanistan and pakistan but is doing so on the cheap. it has returned to an east of suez policy but with a de- fence budget less than half what it was in the 1960s. brown's case for remaining in afghanistan is that there is a "chain of terror" linking the poppy fields of helmand to the streets of britain. his riposte to those who say that the defence budget for a me- dium-sized country with big economic problems should be spent on national security is that this is a matter of na- tional security. but if that's what the prime minister thinks, he needs to find the resources to fight the war properly. otherwise, it will be lost — and at an unneces- sarily high cost. ¦ — the guardian, london


something bizarre is happening in the area of dalston, in london's hackney, where i live. as i write, half a dozen men are hunched over planting half- grown wheat on derelict wasteland. next to them, ar- chitects are building a wind- mill that will generate the en- ergy to power two bread ovens. when it opens on wednesday, it will host bread- making, music, theatre and feasts for anyone who wants to step away from the noise of the shops and traffic-clogged nearby streets. it's an installation linked to the radical nature exhibi- tion, at the barbican, in london, but it's evidence of an art that is penetrating some of the least hospitable places, very far from galler- ies, to open up conversations in unexpected ways around our relationship with land, food and each other. can we think differently about the way we use land, produce food and relate to each other? the origins of dalston's wheatfield lie thousands of miles away, with agnes denes, one of a generation of american land artists who took art out of galleries and away from making objects to be bought and sold. in 1982 she planted wheat on two acres of wasteland on battery park, two blocks from wall street; her harvest was worth £158, produced on land val- ued at $4.5bn. the photos of waving golden wheat juxta- posed against the manhattan skyline became an iconic im- age of environmental art. with her collaboration, her idea is now being recreated in hackney. at a time of growing anxi- ety about how we feed a crow- ded earth — food security was discussed at the g-8 last week — her image of fertility and sustenance is even more poignant, and no longer out- landish. such possibilities of food production in the city could be commonplace for our children. havana, fa- mously, learned to largely feed itself from within its city limits after imported russian oil dried up in the 1990s. the point about denes's work in dalston — and the ex- hibition at the barbican — is that it raises for a new gener- ation the role art can play in shifting attitudes towards our natural environment. with fortunate timing, tate britain also has a retrospective of an- other land art pioneer of denes's generation, richard long. or look north to man- chester's international festi- val and gustav metzger's ex- traordinary uprooted, upen- ded trees set into concrete. on every side, artists are put- ting their shoulder to the wheel, trying to prompt the revolution in values and atti- tudes required to deal with environmental crisis. can art succeed where sci- ence is proving insufficient to generate the will to act effec- tively on climate change? scientists sound increasingly desperate as the evidence they are carefully accumulat- ing stacks up but fails to prompt the urgency they in- sist it requires. science seems only to create a panicked pa- ralysis: a language of proba- bilities, statistics and num- bers fails to gain traction on the public imagination. is this where artists have to step in to prompt understand- ing, to challenge what is taken for granted, to turn our ideas upside down? to that ques- tion, tim smit, founder of the eden project, quotes cs lew- is: "science can lead to truth, only the imagination can lead you towards meaning." if this all sounds a little eso- teric, think again. peterboro- ugh council is at the beginning of fulfilling a huge ambition to make itself the environmental capital of europe. it believes it probably has the largest number of environmental bus- inesses on the continent. to re-orientate the city around sustainability, it plans to build art/culture into every step of the process. devolving decisi- ons to neighbourhood counci- ls, the council's leader, marco cereste, sees art as vital to prompting that local engage- ment that can generate the sense of belonging crucial to environmental sustainability. but art can never be didac- tic, insists smit. at the eden project the art can encourage people to "look anew, and transform their view. so many of us are skating so fast over the surface of so much," he says. ¦ — the guardian, london

britain's nuclear stock- pile could be reduced after multilateral talks next year that are likely to flow from a global summit on nuclear weapons, the british prime minister, gordon brown has indicated. the summit, to be con- vened by barack obama, is expected to come up with a new regime to prevent nucle- ar proliferation and the safe storage of nuclear stockpiles. it is likely to involve up to 30 countries, providing an oppor- tunity for discussion on a more intrusive weapons in- spection regime and a chance for nuclear weapons states other than russia and the us, which between them account for 95 per cent of nuclear weapons, to contribute to the disarmament process. talks are due next year anyway on a successor to the 40-year-old nuclear non-pro- liferation treaty. the obama summit, which is likely to be held in march, will also look at the risks posed by nuclear terrorism, the safety of nucle- ar stockpiles and atomic smuggling. the safety issue has been made more urgent by the ex- pected worldwide spread of civil nuclear power. obama briefed his fellow g8 leaders on his plan following his sum- mit in moscow earlier on, where he signed a framework accord aimed at cutting stock- piles to as low as 1,500 war- heads. britain is acting earlier than intended, mainly be- cause of worries that prolifer- ation is in danger of accelerat- ing, driven by fear of a nucle- ar north korea and nuclear iran. gordon brown indicated that a key aim of the obama summit could also be to dis- cuss a new inspection regime, whereby countries such as iran would be placed under a tougher obligation to prove that they were not develop- ing nuclear weapons. in re- turn, non-nuclear weapon states would be given greater help with developing civil nu- clear power. in the next few days, he is due to publish a plan setting out detailed british proposals on civil nuclear power, disar- mament and non-prolifera- tion, fissile material security and the role and develop- ment of the international atomic energy agency. in a speech in march, brown poin- ted out that britain had halved the number of its nu- clear warheads since 1997, and said it was ready to re- duce the number further in multilateral discussions. on thursday, brown stre- ssed he was not planning to reduce britain's stockpile unilaterally, or to revisit the decision to press ahead with a replacement for the trident nuclear weapons system. but he indicated a better weap- ons inspection regime would help give britain confidence to disarm. he said: "we have to show that we can deal with this by collective action. unilateral action by the uk would not be seen as the best way for- ward. we are prepared to re- duce our nuclear weapons, but we need new kinds of as- surances that other countries are not proliferating." brown added: "we need a tougher regime so the onus will be on the countries that do not have nuclear weapons to prove this. one of the prob- lems with iran is the question of whether you can prove or not that they have nuclear weapons." ¦ —the guardian, london

despite the constraints he faced in fulfilling pledges he made as a candidate, barack obama has succeeded in offering avenues for coop- eration to cuba, iran, the muslim world in general, and now russia. obama will be in ghana, and there is intense specula- tion about what this son of africa, who electrified the world by so improbably tak- ing the helm in america, will say about what he expects from, and will offer, the conti- nent. the president's personal knowledge of and interest in africa, his charisma and his grass-roots support mean that he could be a major player there. this is particularly true since africa's low profile among the american political elite allows us leaders a lot of leeway in formulating policy towards it. but as obama devises us approaches to african chal- lenges, he will face difficul- ties from an unexpected quar- ter — the us military. george bush and his war on terror, and his reliance on force as a first resort, gave the military extraordinary power in shap- ing african policy — symbol- ised by bush's creation of the united states africa command (africom), in the misguided notion that the military approach was the best way to tackle terrorism. thankfully, african govern- ments overwhelmingly resis- ted the siting of africom bases. but africom is a reali- ty, so it is vital that obama move to curtail one of its most dangerous mandates: its in- volvement in economic devel- opment and humanitarian ac- tions. this risks the militarisa- tion of africa's political and social life — areas that re- main the best hope for a bet- ter africa. africom apart, a number of obama's political appoint- ments are also hawkish, among them the africa spe- cialist who is now a member of his cabinet as the us am- bassador to the united nations — susan rice. she is inclined to the use of force, as evidenced by the threatening language she used about sudan and eritrea before joining the cabinet. it is this influence that would explain obama's risky decision two weeks ago to es- calate us involvement in somalia and ship arms to the isolated government — by ob- taining a waiver from the long-standing un embargo. somalia's tottering govern- ment has no public support, and runs just a few blocks of mogadishu, despite the sup- port of 4,300 ugandan troops. this new intervention is a continuation of the ruinous bush policy in somalia, which resulted in the militant al- shabab islamists — a previ- ously negligible group — emerging as the country's dominant force after large numbers of somalis were radi- calised by us air strikes and the invasion by ethiopia, somalia's arch enemy, in 2007 to topple the popular and mod- erate union of islamic courts. while attention will be heavily focused in accra on what obama says about africa, what is even more im- portant is for the us presi- dent to begin hearing from africans. he must confer with civil society leaderships that have finally come of age across the continent. one thing he would consis- tently hear from civil society leaders would be that good governance — democracy, in- clusion, respect for human rights and the rule of law — is non-negotiable. he would al- so hear that some of the sig- nificant gains made in ex- panding freedoms in multi- party africa are being rolled back. this is not surprising, as the strategy of the us war on terror reverted to the cold war model of supporting dic- tatorial allies, which in east africa included the ethiopian and ugandan leaderships. obama would also hear that there can be no compro- mise on free and fair elec- tions. in too many countries recently — including ameri- ca's close allies ethiopia, uganda and kenya, as well as zimbabwe — elections have been seriously tainted, and have been followed by vio- lence, the loss of liberties and the strengthening of state se- curity organs. ¦ — the guardian, london

speaking in moscow on july 7, president barack obama was the very soul of reasonableness. the united states and russia must coop- erate to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons, he said, while keeping the goal of a world without nuclear weap- ons always in sight: "america is committed to stopping nu- clear proliferation, and ulti- mately seeking a world with- out nuclear weapons." unfortunately, that is the wrong way round. the deal that underpinned the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, signed way back in 1968, was that the five great powers which already had nuclear weapons would gradually get rid of them. in return, the rest of the world's countries would not make them at all. but more than 40 years later, none of those five countries (the us, russia, britain, france and china) has kept its side of the deal. in the circumstances, it's remarkable that only four more countries have devel- oped nuclear weapons. three of them (israel, india and pakistan) never signed the treaty at all, and the fourth (north korea) signed it in 1985, quit it in 2003, and then tested its first bomb in 2006. but the queue of those who are now thinking about doing it stretches down the block and around the corner. "any (treaty)...has to have a sense of fairness and equity, and it is not there," said mohamed elbaradei, director general of the international atomic energy agency, in an interview with the guardian newspaper two months ago. "we still live in a world where if you have nuclear weapons, you are buying power." it was probably the us invasion of iraq that made the north koreans go nuclear. just last month, iran's supreme leader, ayatollah ali khamenei declared once again that "nuclear weapons are religiously forbidden in islam and iranian people do not have such a weapon." since khamenei is a religious scholar, we may presume that he is not lying when he says that nuclear weapons are for- bidden (haram) in islam. ayatollahs do not trim their conclusions on such matters to suit the tactical needs of the moment. so how does khamenei rec- oncile this principle with the obvious fact that iran is re- lentlessly developing all the technologies needed to build nuclear weapons? so far, all legal and morally correct. but if a hostile nuclear-armed country starts making open threats or secret preparations against you, you throw your legal and/or moral qualms out of the window. you have your own nuclear deterrent. it's legal because another part of the deal that underpin- ned the npt gave all the sig- natories the right to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes. the only thing that can stop the rapid spread of nuclear weapons now, argues el-baradei, is a genuine move by the existing nuclear powers to get rid of their weapons. it has to start with the us and russia, who still own 95 per cent of the world's nucle- ar weapons. the agreement that the united states and russia signed in moscow on july 6 doesn't begin to meet that requirement. it proposes only that the new strategic arms reduction treaty (start) must be signed by the end of this year. ¦  the list of human rights recognised by the international communi- ty continues to grow. si- nce 1948 when the uni- versal declaration of human rights was ado- pted by the un general assembly the dimensi- on of the rights issue, es- pecially its nature, has changed enormously. rights of all variety have re- ceived formal recognition, and therefore states are legally ob- liged to implement them. from political freedoms that are essentially designed to em- power people — such as the right to freedom of speech, as- sociation, movement, etc — the concept of human rights has moved on to a vast non-po- litical area encompassing practically every aspect of hu- man development that im- pacts on the quality of life of an individual. the latest to en- ter this hallowed precinct is 'preventable maternal mortal- ity and morbidity' which the 47-member un human rights council has now recognised as a human rights issue. in a landmark resolution adopted on june 18, govern- ments (including pakistan) ex- pressed grave concern at the "unacceptably" high rates of global maternal mortality (1,500 women die daily in childbirth or due to pregnan- cy-related causes) and commit- ted themselves to enhance their efforts at the national and international level to pro- tect the lives of women and girls. the resolution identified some of the factors that lie at the root of this problem. poverty, gender inequality, multiple forms of discrimina- tion and lack of adequate ac- cess to healthcare are some of them. the resolution recog- nised that the prevention of maternal mortality requires effective promotion of the hu- man rights of women, in par- ticular, their right to life and equality in dignity, education and access to informa- tion. this is a positive de- velopment not just from the point of view of health. it reflects on the assertiveness of women's rights acti- vists worldwide that such a demand can be made. it is now being increas- ingly recognised that maternal mortality rates are intrinsical- ly linked to the status of wom- en. a society that holds its fe- male members in high esteem also cares for their health, ma- ternal health being a top prior- ity. that is why in undp's hu- man development index the countries that figure high on the gender empowerment measure (gem) also have a very low maternal mortality rate. the two are inversely proportionate. take norway, for instance, that ranks at the top of the list in gem and had a maternal mortality ratio (mmr) of sev- en per 100,000 live births in the year 2000 (the cut-off year for the data). the same year yemen which is last (93rd) on gem had an mmr of 430 per 100,000. pakistan which is 82nd on gem recorded an mmr of 329/100,000. it is said to be 276/100,000 according to the demographic and health survey of 2006-07. pakistan is a member of the human rights council which adopted without a vote the res- olution recognising maternal mortality as a human rights is- sue. hence it was saved the di- lemma of taking a position for or against the resolution. earlier when 83 countries had presented the draft resolution to the council in march 2009, pakistan had not joined hands with the sponsors who had re- affirmed their commitment to address maternal mortality as a human rights issue. when the preventable ma- ternal mortality and human rights resolution is introduced in the un general assembly in its next session later this year, the votes of countries, such as pakistan, will prove to be a test case. the health professionals concerned with women's re- productive health in pakistan recognise the link between maternal mortality and the rights of women. the pakistan demographic and health survey (pdhs) clearly states that a maternal death is not merely a result of treatment failure. it is the final outcome of the interplay between a myriad social, cultural and economic factors. it reflects the failure of a society to look after its mothers. will this concern reach those who can make a differ- ence? these are the policy- makers and those who shape opinion. the millennium de- velopment goals require pakistan to bring down its mmr to less than 140 by the year 2015. it must also en- hance the skilled birth attend- ance to 90 per cent — at pres- ent it is 39 per cent. the two are interrelated. if all the tra- ditional birth attendants were to be trained so that they can identify health hazards in pregnancy and childbirth and refer risky cases to hospitals promptly, many lives would be saved. this would also call for an infrastructure of health in- stitutions at different levels and a communication network to facilitate the transportation of women to a hospital if the need arises. in this context it must be pointed out that many lives are lost due to unsafe abor- tions performed by untrained dais whose knowledge and skills are minimal. by denying the existence of this problem, we cannot solve it. according to the pdhs, five per cent of maternal mortality is due to abortions but experts feel sceptical about this data. the figure cited internationally is 13 per cent. dr sadiqua jafarey, chair- person of the national committee for maternal and neonatal health, would like the incidence of abortion to be reduced by preventing fertili- ty through the effective use of family planning, she would prefer the focus to be on birth control, education and repro- ductive health to avert unwan- ted pregnancies that drive women to have their pregnan- cies terminated. this is a more feasible approach, she feels, than seeking to legalise abortion. with all the brouhaha about maternal mortality and hu- man rights, one wonders if it will really reduce the high mmr in pakistan? dr jafarey expresses strong doubts. she feels that laws alone make lit- tle difference. it is the political will that counts; for what use are laws if they are to be flouted? she has a point. but to gen- erate pressure on the govern- ment to honour its commit- ment it is important to create public opinion as has been done about women's rights. it is time, as the human rights council resolved, that the gov- ernment started talking about the human rights implications of maternal mortality and morbidity so that there is greater awareness about this issue. the resolution requests the un high commissioner for human rights to prepare a thematic study on maternal mortality with the help of oth- er un agencies. this may help governments determine their priorities and give a direction to their efforts. ¦

last week, something unusu- al happened: the international community, coming together at the un to discuss the global fi- nancial crisis and its impact on the developing world, reached a consensus on an agreement. this spelled out the issues to be addressed and laid out the way forward. many had said it would be difficult for 192 coun- tries to reach consensus, and that was why discussions should be limited to a self-selected group of 20. in fact, the un agreement was stronger and more forceful than the g-20 communique. it also demonstrated why it was important to have an inclu- sive process: the g-192 were will- ing to raise key issues that the in- ternal politics of the g-20 may have made too sensitive. for in- stance, while the g-20 focused at- tention on the role of bank secre- cy in tax evasion, the un agree- ment highlights corruption. the g-20 recognised the need for a global response to the glob- al downturn. but responses are framed at the national level, and often take insufficient account of the effect on others. as a result they have been too small and they are structured to maximise domestic impacts, not global ones. moreover, developing countries do not have adequate resources for coping with the cri- sis. the g-20 committed them- selves to providing generous sup- port, mostly through the imf. but they did not take adequate note of the risk of poor countries undertaking more debt, and the reluctance of many to turn to the imf for support — partly be- cause of its history of demanding borrowers undertake counter- productive procyclical policies. participants at the un confer- ence emphasised the importance of more grant funding. the hun- dreds of billions (perhaps tril- lions) of dollars spent on bailing out the banks has put a new perspective on government ex- penditures. it makes claims that there are insufficient funds to fi- nance development assistance ring hollow. but developing countries are constrained not just by a lack of money, but a lack of "policy space". the meeting concluded that: "countries must have the neces- sary flexibility to implement countercyclical measures and to pursue tailored and targeted re- sponses to the crisis." one of the factors contributing to the crisis was longstanding global imbalances, and one of the sources of these was the dol- lar-based global reserve system. this contributes to an insuffi- ciency of global aggregate de- mand, as countries divert pur- chasing power into precaution- ary savings — and such an insuf- ficiency may impede the world's ability to regain robust growth. while the un meeting was not the occasion to devise a new sys- tem, it acknowledged calls for "further study of the feasibil- ity and advisability of a more efficient reserve system". unsurprisingly, some countries with large dollar reserves were concerned about the current system, the low returns and high risk — increasing with america's rising debt and the federal reserve's ballooning balance sheet. the un meeting reinforced the need for reforms in the gov- ernance of the international eco- nomic institutions — some of which pushed policies of finan- cial market and capital market liberalisation that were in part responsible for the crisis and its rapid spread. but it also delved into controversial issues of enor- mous importance to developing countries, such as migration. the un meeting reflected what is now a global consensus: "the current crisis has been compounded by an initial failure to appreciate the full scope of the risks accumulating in the fi- nancial markets and their poten- tial to destabilise the interna- tional financial system and the global economy ..." but discus- sion highlighted the shortfalls in the proposed regulatory reforms — for instance, the reluctance in some countries to do enough about the too-big-to-fail banks. while everyone talks about the need for transparency, some par- ticipants raised concern about changes in accounting in the us that have made matters worse. perhaps the most important conclusion was the most obvi- ous: "the ongoing crisis has highlighted the extent to which our economies are integrated, the indivisibility of our collec- tive well-being, and the unsus- tainability of a narrow focus on short-term gains." we have allowed economic globalisation to outpace political globalisation — we do not have the institutions or the mindset to respond collectively in ways that advance the wellbeing of all. the un meeting represented a small, but important, step forward. ¦ — the guardian, london the writer is chair of the un com- mission of experts on reforms of the international monetary and fi- nancial system. i wish i could believe l.k. advani when he said at the bharatiya janata party's (bjp) conclave re- cently that the rashtriya swayamsevak sangh (rss) with which the par- ty has links had rejected theocracy — the hindu rashtra concept. then why insist on the term 'hindutva' and why not 'bhara- tvata'? at least, the bjp would not sound as equivocal as it does. advani would recall the criti- cism he had to face for having hailed mohammad ali jinnah as secular in karachi. the rss liter- ally hauled him over the coals. he gave many explanations to water down what he said. not that advani's statement was wrong. the rss was not ready to forgive the person "who had viv- isected the limbs of bharat mata". advani, i am afraid, may inter- pret hindutva differently when he tours the states to explain why the bjp lost. he should real- ise that the party won in eight states, including gujarat on the plank of parochialism. will he re- interpret the victory? i think the party has once again avoided fac- ing its moment of truth. surprisingly, it has not struck the bjp that the party is not selling any more because of its divisive credentials. its hindutva, soft or hard, is lessening in appeal as pluralism increases its space. with time india's temperament is becoming secular. the crisis that the bjp faces is not that of image but of identity. the image of hindutva, despite its limitations, has given the par- ty the recognition it has sought. the new brand does not impart any sharper, popular edge be- cause hindutva is hindutva, hindu in content and appeal. in due course, soft hindutva will as- sume the shape of hinduism. the presence of leaders like narendra modi virtually guaran- tees that it will happen this way. whatever the explanation on the basis of cultural heritage or na- tionalism means, it has little rele- vance when the expression boils down to hindutva. the muslims, 15 per cent of the electorate, do not buy this. nor do the increasing numbers of youth, attuned as they are to science and tech- nology. they do not feel at home with the language of the mandir or the new word 'inclusive' coined by advani. they are hindu and do not feel threatened in a country where they form 80 per cent of the population. the bjp tries to play on the fear which is artifi- cially created to get votes. but this has resulted in diminishing returns. where the bjp gets stumped is on the point of identity. the party is so intertwined with the rss that it does not have a per- sonality of its own. however lib- eral the bjp may become, it can- not escape the odium of the rss philosophy which emanates from nagpur where some half-a-dozen persons, never elected by the people or even by bjp members, pronounce judgment on crucial problems facing the country. they are like the taliban lead- ers, confined to narrow religious practices expressed in extreme forms. the bjp has no cadre of its own and depends on the rss ca- dre which includes the bajrang dal of anti-christian fame in orissa and the vishwa hindu parishad of the gujarat carnage. the bjp got a chance to turn over a new leaf when it joined the janata party after the emer- gency (1975-77). it promised to sever its links with the rss. but the erstwhile jana sangh mem- bers went back on the undertak- ing given to gandhian jayapra- kash narayan who led the move- ment that ousted mrs gandhi. instead, they formed a new par- ty, the bjp. when the janata party was routed in 1980, one of the causes was that the bjp divi- ded the anti-congress vote. together the two might have done better. after the reverse in the recent lok sabha elections, i heard some liberal bjp elements re- newing the demand to go it alone. but in no time they seem to have realised that they do not have the inclination or determi- nation to build a cadre of their own. this is an arduous job. the youth can do it. probably the par- ty can attract them more on its own, not with the rss which is attracting less and less young people at its shakas (morning camps). the bjp has not yet analysed the cause of its reverses in the elections. when it met last, there were only harsh words ex- changed and inflammatory let- ters written and leaked. one leader even called those in charge of the elections "conspir- ators". another regretted that the ones who won did not get the reward. it was clear that the acri- monious attacks were made de- liberately, in a planned manner, primarily against party president rajnath singh and rajya sabha opposition leader arun jaitley. critics sounded like they were settling personal scores. i wish they had the courage to pursue the matter, but it turned out to be only a storm in a teacup. had the bjp analysed the rea- sons for its losses it would have been natural. every defeated po- litical party goes over the exer- cise as the communist party of india (marxist) has. but there is a difference between the two. the politburo of the communists is the final authority. in the case of the bjp, the buck does not stop with rajnath singh or advani. the high priests belong to the rss. had the bjp shed hindutva and snapped ties with the rss it might have provided a much- needed alternative to the cong- ress. the new formation may have been on the right of centre, but it would have given a plat- form to those who differed with the congress and who may have been rubbed the wrong way. if the bjp cannot convert itself into a secular party, however rightist, it should not hide itself behind soft hindutva. in that case, it would have been better for the party to own hindutva openly. its hedging is not going to attract muslims, liberals or the youth. a party avowing hindu- ism publicly may also be more recognisable when it says it is re- lated to the culture and ethos of the people — a way of life. at present the party has the same old image of hindutva and no identity of its own. it is also a divided house. how can it re- trieve the ground it has lost? ¦ the writer is a leading journalist based in delhi.








LAST week the deputy attorney general told the Lahore High Court that the federal government had appointed 1,386 people with disabilities to various posts against the two per cent quota for them provided by the law.


Another 800 are to be recruited shortly in the same category. This move was widely lauded and rightly so. But the fact is that the rights of the disabled are not simply limited to job and education quotas as is generally made out to be the case.


In the absence of public awareness of the rights (endorsed by the UN) of this considerable segment — said to number 16 million — of the population of the country, the government has shown limited interest in the welfare of the disabled. Society has been equally indifferent and insensitive.


One just has to look around to understand how difficult it is for a person with a disability to lead a productive life in Pakistan. Only one law has been adopted to facilitate the disabled in the country so far and that too has not been observed faithfully by all. The Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance was enacted in 1981 making it compulsory for every organisation with a minimum of 100 employees to reserve at least one per cent of its jobs for people with disabilities or pay a fine to the Disabled Persons Fund.


In 1998 this quota was enhanced to two per cent. Even the initial move was not born out of any recognition of the legal responsibility of the state. It was on the personal initiative of Gen Ziaul Haq whose daughter was a 'special' child. It is widely acknowledged that the military dictator took a number of measures for people in a similar situation, such as increas ing the budget of institutions working for the disabled. But lacking an understanding of the governance process he acted in an ad hoc manner without creating an institution al framework to provide comprehensive social security for the disabled.


Strangely, human rights activists have not addressed this issue either. Even jobs and admission to educational institutions can be rendered meaningless if various challenges the disabled face in their day-to-day life are not met. For instance, how can a student on a wheelchair cope with life at a university where there are no ramps and other similar facilities?


Our universities do not even have disability units to facilitate the studies of those with hearing or visual impairments. Were universities to set up such units, they could arrange for the audio recording of books or scan literature to be read on computers with the help of programmes activated with sound.


In fact cases have been reported where people who suffer loss of vision have not been allowed the facility of an

amanuensis because the examination authorities had not thought it fit to provide one. Whatever little bit is being done to facilitate people with disabilities is not institutionalised and one has to be grateful to NGOs which have taken it upon themselves to provide badly needed services. But these are limited.


While we have lagged behind, the world has addressed disability issues by formulating a legal framework to make every sector of life inclusive for the disabled. The UN adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons

with Disabilities in 2006.


After much pressure from disability rights advocates, the government proceeded to sign the UN convention in September 2008 but has yet to ratify it. The proof of the pudding is in the eating — in other words in the implementation of the convention. This may be a challenge for a society that is now driven more and more by greed, ambition and ruthlessness.


The convention was found to be necessary notwithstanding pre-existing human rights instruments because persons with disabilities were being marginalised. It lays down eight guiding principles. It is a different matter that all states refuse to be guided by them and society's behaviour towards all its members is not ideal.


Given the present state of affairs that places even people who have no disability at a disadvantage because they are not on the right side of the social fence, should one find it strange that the disabled are neglected?


These guiding principles call for respecting the inherent dignity of the disabled including their right to make choices, non-discrimination, full participation and inclusion in society, equality of opportunity, accessibility, gender equality and respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and their right to preserve their identities.


One may even feel that these demands are no extraordinary ones. That is true but when it comes to actually providing facilities to enable the disabled to use their full potential, it is so easy to sideline them. There is also the need for an attitudinal change which is not easy to bring about in a society that is hidebound in its percep tions. As the convention says, persons with disabilities must not be viewed as 'objects' of charity or medical treatment. They must be recognised as subjects with rights who are capable of making decisions and participating as full members of society.


One positive development to have taken place is that persons with disabilities, at least those with education and awareness, are asserting themselves. The convention itself is proof of this. What is needed is a paradigm shift vis-à-vis disability. The preamble puts it succinctly when it states that disability results from interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.


The disability rights movement has also picked up as technology has been put to good use by people with impairments to make a remarkable contribution in their area of work. As has been scientifically proved, the loss of a facility is invariably compensated for by the extraordinary development of other facilities. History abounds with examples of people who made it to the top in spite of their impairments. Remember Milton and Beethoven? ¦ last week the depu- ty attorney general told the lahore high court that the federal govern- ment had appointed 1,386 people with disa- bilities to various posts against the two per cent quota for them provi- ded by the law. another 800 are to be re- cruited shortly in the same category. this move was widely lauded and rightly so. but the fact is that the rights of the disabled are not simply limited to job and education quotas as is generally made out to be the case. in the absence of public awareness of the rights (en- dorsed by the un) of this con- siderable segment — said to number 16 million — of the population of the country, the government has shown limi- ted interest in the welfare of the disabled. society has been equally indifferent and insensitive. one just has to look around to understand how difficult it is for a person with a disabili- ty to lead a productive life in pakistan. only one law has been adopted to facilitate the disabled in the country so far and that too has not been ob- served faithfully by all. the disabled persons (employ- ment and rehabilitation) ordinance was enacted in 1981 making it compulsory for every organisation with a minimum of 100 employees to reserve at least one per cent of its jobs for people with disabilities or pay a fine to the disabled persons fund. in 1998 this quota was en- hanced to two per cent. even the initial move was not born out of any recognition of the legal responsibility of the state. it was on the personal initiative of gen ziaul haq whose daughter was a 'spe- cial' child. it is widely ac- knowledged that the military dictator took a number of measures for people in a sim- ilar situation, such as increas- ing the budget of insti- tutions working for the disabled. but lacking an understanding of the governance proc- ess he acted in an ad hoc manner without creating an institution- al framework to provide com- prehensive social security for the disabled. strangely, human rights ac- tivists have not addressed this issue either. even jobs and admission to educational institutions can be rendered meaningless if various chal- lenges the disabled face in their day-to-day life are not met. for instance, how can a student on a wheelchair cope with life at a university where there are no ramps and other similar facilities? our universities do not even have disability units to facilitate the studies of those with hearing or visual impair- ments. were universities to set up such units, they could arrange for the audio record- ing of books or scan literature to be read on computers with the help of programmes acti- vated with sound. in fact cases have been re- ported where people who suf- fer loss of vision have not been allowed the facility of an amanuensis because the examination authorities had not thought it fit to provide one. whatever little bit is be- ing done to facilitate people with disabilities is not institu- tionalised and one has to be grateful to ngos which have taken it upon themselves to provide badly needed serv- ices. but these are limited. while we have lagged be- hind, the world has ad- dressed disability issues by formulating a legal frame- work to make every sector of life inclusive for the disabled. the un adopted the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities in 2006. after much pressure from disability rights advocates, the government proceeded to sign the un convention in september 2008 but has yet to ratify it. the proof of the pudding is in the eating — in other words in the implemen- tation of the convention. this may be a challenge for a soci- ety that is now driven more and more by greed, ambition and ruthlessness. the convention was found to be necessary notwithstand- ing pre-existing human rights instruments because persons with disabilities were being marginalised. it lays down eight guiding principles. it is a different matter that all states refuse to be guided by them and society's behaviour towards all its members is not ideal. given the present state of affairs that places even peo- ple who have no disability at a disadvantage because they are not on the right side of the social fence, should one find it strange that the disa- bled are neglected? these guiding principles call for respecting the inher- ent dignity of the disabled in- cluding their right to make choices, non-discrimination, full participation and inclu- sion in society, equality of op- portunity, accessibility, gen- der equality and respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and their right to preserve their identities. one may even feel that these demands are no extra- ordinary ones. that is true but when it comes to actually providing facilities to enable the disabled to use their full potential, it is so easy to side- line them. there is also the need for an attitudinal change which is not easy to bring about in a society that is hidebound in its percep- tions. as the convention says, persons with disabilities must not be viewed as 'objects' of charity or medical treatment. they must be recognised as subjects with rights who are capable of making decisions and participating as full members of society. one positive development to have taken place is that persons with disabilities, at least those with education and awareness, are asserting themselves. the convention itself is proof of this. what is needed is a paradigm shift vis-à-vis disability. the pre- amble puts it succinctly when it states that disability results from interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environ- mental barriers that hinder their full and effective partic- ipation in society on an equal basis with others. the disability rights move- ment has also picked up as technology has been put to good use by people with im- pairments to make a remark- able contribution in their area of work. as has been scientifically proved, the loss of a facility is invariably compensated for by the ex- traordinary development of other facilities. history abounds with examples of people who made it to the top in spite of their impair- ments. remember milton and beethoven? ¦




there are two main views on the foreign aid — mostly military, and from the us — which pakistan has received in the past. the first is that pakistan has been over-dependent on it for long-term development re- sulting in insufficient mobili- sation of domestic resources (a negative link between do- mestic savings and foreign aid, the dutch disease, strate- gic rent-seeking and other eso- teric economic phenomena are often cited as evidence) and perpetual dependency on foreign relief. the other view, unfortu- nately predominant, is that aid received by pakistan is far too little. 'peanuts' is the word gen ziaul haq used to ridi- cule jimmy carter who of- fered $325m for three years to support the afghan jihad. he then waited to drive a much harder bargain with reagan. gen musharraf was recent- ly reported to have expressed regret over not demanding $20bn per year, instead of the paltry $1.5bn that he agreed to accept from bush in a rush. had he succeeded in striking that bargain, we would have indeed made a profit of sever- al billion dollars, as the total cost of the war has been esti- mated at $35bn — approxi- mately $5bn a year. but then, the military would have had vested interests in prolonging the war. indeed, gen musharraf's autobiography talks of the war on terror as something that was not only his duty to engage in as pakistan's chief soldier, but also as a lucrative business proposition for the country. undeniably, us for- eign aid to pakistan for mili- tary and economic objectives has primarily ensured that pakistan remains a faithful accessory to washington's self-assigned role of chief sheriff on a strategic oil and gas highway. the idea of a us-pakistani military relationship first came under serious considera- tion in washington in 1951 — in the quest for bases and al- lies in the region to protect america's strategic and eco- nomic interest in the middle east. ironically, the event that brought about the cha- nge in pakistan's foreign aid fortunes was the nationalisa- tion of iranian oil by moha- mmad mossadegh in march 1951, and president obama has admitted to us complicity in mossadegh's fall in 1953. suddenly, pakistan's strate- gic importance dawned on the us — the infant state with great potential as a foot sol- dier to keep a watch on its re- source-rich neighbourhood. the dulles brothers speeded up negotiations to induct pakistan as a military ally, cul- minating in the signing of the us-pakistan mutual (military) assistance pact (map) in 1954. the pact became a game- changer in pakistan's domes- tic and foreign policies. it also provided india with a facile pretext to renege on its com- mitment to solve the kashmir issue under un mandates. it is important to remember that the pact was signed after considerable disagreement in the cabinet and manipulation of domestic politics by the pro-american lobby in then west pakistan's bureaucracy and military, which has con- tinued to cast its long shadow to this day. in his seminal article on the burden of us military aid to pakistan, scholar hamza alavi had illustrated that pakistan was not a net receiv- er of aid from the treaty. the expenditure that pakistan it- self was required to under- take to sustain its military ca- pacity — including local costs of armed map forces sta- tioned in pakistan — was to be paid from its own budget, exceeding this military aid. such callous disregard for the cost-benefit calculus by the military can be justified only by the ambitions of powerful generals who bene- fited from inflated military expenditure. the us-pakistan military alliance of 1954 concluded in the context of the cold war and laid the foundation for a long, if unreliable, relation- ship between the us and pakistan military establish- ments. the main characteris- tic of this relationship has been ambivalence in the ob- jectives pursued by them. whereas, the key interest of the us has been to leverage pakistan's territory and armed forces in proxy wars in the middle east and afghanistan, the pakistani military's objective has been to acquire state-of-the-art mili- tary technology and equip- ment to bolster its strength against india. it has been a du- bious, if not duplicitous, rela- tionship that has lacked trust. pakistan experienced three major infusions of us eco- nomic and military aid — 1954-1965, 1980-90 and 2002- 07— which, according to one estimate, add up to about $68bn in terms of the current dollar rate. a much larger amount of aid is in the pipe- line, predicated on the success of the ongoing military opera- tion in the northwest. these have not served pakistani polity and economy well, president obama not- withstanding. the political fallout is the emergence of the military, rather than a sover- eign parliament, as the major player on the political scene in the last 55 years — by virtue of its role as the almost exclu- sive interlocutor with the us on military aid, which often determined the associated economic aid. its economic consequences have included geo-strategic rent-seeking, rather than self-reliant — not necessarily anti-globalisation — development strategies and the continued neglect and de- ferral of structural issues fac- ing the economy. above all, it has resulted in a complete lack of innovative and imagi- native economic thinking. with the restoration of de- mocracy, it has now become imperative for parliament to monitor military expenditure along with military aid. the us congress deliberates on the subject to guard its own interests; the pakistani parlia- ment should also scrutinise the disbursements of aid to ensure conformity with na- tional priorities. the estab- lishment should prepare a white paper on how foreign military aid has been utilised since 1954, solely for the sake of transparency and to avoid future mistakes. ¦

the british royal family is to demand a pay rise from the taxpayer to fill a looming £40m hole in its finances. queen elizabeth wants an extra £4m a year to pay for repairs and improvements to her homes, including buckingham palace, windsor castle and st james's palace. courtiers may also request an increase in civil list pay- ments to cover rising costs of running the royal family, which hit £41.5m during the 2008-09 financial year — an increase of £1.5m. the plan to demand extra cash from the taxpayer emerged as the annual re- port of the royal public finan- ces revealed the royal family spent £6.5m on travel alone last year. prince charles and the duchess of cornwall spent £33,400 on a private jet to visit the bushmills whis- key distillery and other en- gagements in northern ireland. the queen and the duke of edinburgh spent £14,515 to travel one way from euston to liverpool on the royal train — a journey that costs £74 first class when booked in ad- vance on virgin trains; and prince andrew spent £55,269 on a one-way flight from london to the red sea resort of sharm el-sheikh to co-chair the world economic forum. the queen also spent £300,000 relaunching her website, and £8m on the up- keep of buckingham palace — an increase of 36 per cent on the previous year. the annual publication of the cost of the monarchy sparked fresh calls for the royal family to cover their own expenses by selling tick- ets to visit their palaces and for greater scrutiny of their spending, in particular on travel, where details of any trip costing under £10,000 are kept secret. "now is not a good time to be asking for more money," said richard bacon mp, who sits on the house of commons public accounts committee, which this month reviewed palace finances. "they should be looking at what could be done to open up the occupied palaces and their priceless treasures to the public and in the process generate more revenue." he said that if the white house could open for most of the year then buckingham palace should too. this year, the palace will only open from the end of july to the end of september. republic, the campaign for an elected head of state, said the real cost of the mon- archy worked out at more than four times the amount quoted in monday's ac- counts, once the hidden cost of security, which some esti- mates put at £100m a year, and other costs are included. sir alan reid, keeper of the privy purse, defended the family's spending as good val- ue. the queen carried out 400 engagements last year. ¦ — the guardian, london

*************************************makhdoom javed hashmi of the pml-n has lent his voice to what he calls the longstanding de- mand in southern punjab for the division of the ma- jority-population prov- ince. such desires have al- so been expressed in sindh, the frontier and balochistan from time to time, and resisted by lahore and islamabad. the former pml-q–led punjab government went as far as to say that if punjab were to be divided into more federating units, it would only be fair that other provinces also underwent a redrawing of their boundaries. the reasons may be based on a narrow reading of the ethnic map of pakistan, but that's not the whole picture. more than re- drawing provincial boundaries, pakistan needs to rethink them first. the division of punjab into two or more provinces may be seen as an effort to tame the bull that the existing federating units perceive punjab as. the smaller federating units wish to use the division of punjab to their long overdue advantage. but the con- stitution, as it stands today, has lacunae that can outdo the per- ceived advantage with much more disadvantage coming the way of the smaller provinces un- der any such scheme, if not well- thought out. consider the representation of the four provinces in the senate, where each federating unit en- joys parity regardless of its size or population, and which has been the saving grace of the po- litical system put in place under the 1973 constitution for which there was unanimous consensus. now also consider the two major factors that have been the cause of much heartburn among the provinces: the federating units' share in the federal divisible pool and the water resources. dividing punjab into two or more provinces will not divide the upper riparian interests which the newly carved out prov- ince(s) would inherit from and continue to share with punjab. as for the national finance commission award, will the existing smaller provinces be ready to give the 'to-be-de- funct' punjab possibly more share than it can lay claim to at this point, and which has remained most controversial all these years? couple this with a double or possibly tre- ble representation of a divi- ded, upper-riparian punjab in the senate, especially in the case of laying claim to the water resour- ces of the indus river water sys- tem, and we have a possible rec- ipe for a bigger disaster in inter- provincial relations than the one we are presently grappling with. if it is difficult to convince one punjab, in a ratio of one to three among the federating units, would it be easier to convince two or three punjabs to let go of their interests in favour of the 'smaller' provinces, which would not remain all too 'small' after the division of punjab? any plan- ned or wished-for division of punjab must take into account these critical factors and warrant a debate in parliament to the sat- isfaction of all concerned. there was one good step that was taken by the pervez musharraf-led military regime soon after it took office in october, 1999. it was the forma- tion (albeit swiftly trimmed and then virtually aborted) of the devolution-of-power plan. the aim was to transfer a degree of fiscal independence to the dis- tricts, and through the districts to the lower, grassroots level. but after the 2002 election, the prov- inces cried foul; they felt cheated and dispossessed of what they had been demanding for them- selves as provincial autonomy. what good was provincial au- tonomy, even if they were to get it, when the real moolah was to be given directly to the districts, they argued. the general had to relent and let each province be- come the arbiter of how much money went to which district through a respective provincial government, virtually maiming the devolution plan if not killing it altogether. there is nothing wrong with the creation of more provinces; provinces are devolved adminis- trative units within a federation which aim at streamlining effi- cient governance. but the proc- ess was reversed in pakistan as early as 1955 with the creation of the one unit province out of the then existing federating units in what was west pakistan. the aim was patently mala fide: to neutralise the then majority-pop- ulation province, east pakistan, by thrusting an unequal parity on it. even the reversion to fed- erating units after the loss of east pakistan in 1971 has carried forth the baggage of heightened sensitivities on the issue. while balochistan was formally declared the fourth federating unit, the pre-one unit princely state of bahawalpur was amalga- mated into punjab. the demand for the restoration of a bahawalpur province, if not state, was quelled as it was seen to have the germs of inciting similar senti- ments among the former princely states in sindh and balochistan. punjab has since become the bête noire of the other three provinces, when within its own boundaries demands have been raised to divide the giant prov- ince which lays the largest claim to national resources without proportionately contributing to the federal exchequer in reve- nue or produce. considered from the standpoint of economically depressed areas, which happen to be the province's largely seraiki-speaking southern and western districts, these demands are legitimate. the desire to have the jhelum- chakwal and upwards districts coming together to form a third province, with or without the amalgamation of the hazara dis- trict of the frontier, has also been expressed from time to time. these are largely non-in- dustrialised hilly districts, rely- ing solely on rain water for irriga- tion or military service as form- ing a joint backbone of the local economy, unlike central and southern punjab which has a strong network of irrigation ca- nals and a growing industrial base — the latter more particu- larly in central districts. but desires and wishes are not horses on whose back a faltering state can ride. the need is to start a meaningful debate at na- tional forums and examine in earnest the establishment of more provinces. if punjab can lead the way by being the first to redraw its boundaries without further compromising the inter- ests of the existing three provin- ces, then a process can be put in place which can lead to more equitable distribution of nation- al resources and eventually to achieving that elusive goal: pro- vincial autonomy. ¦






The double-digit growth of fiscal revenue in June will allow Chinese policymakers to get their breath back after seeing the government's revenues shrunk by 7 percent year on year in the first five months.


Though the country still faces an uphill struggle to meet its target of 8-percent growth in government revenues this year, the latest improvement in the health of fiscal accounts indicates that China has a great chance to survive the ongoing global recession without sacrificing fiscal sustainability.

China's fiscal revenue jumped by almost 20 percent in June after a 4.8 percent revenue growth in May reversed the recent downtrend.


This is much-needed good news for Chinese policymakers who have been greatly concerned over the looming gap between declining revenues and soaring fiscal expenditure.


To combat the worst global financial and economic crisis in many decades, the Chinese government has promptly spent a huge sum of public funds since the end of last year to boost investment, encourage consumption and cushion export.


Meanwhile, slowed economic growth has resulted in less business activities and a consequent sharp decline in tax revenues.


Despite China's sound overall fiscal position in previous years, the widening gap between revenue and expenditure in recent months has sparked worries that the country's strong fiscal stimulus might be either unsustainable or unbearable for taxpayers.


But now, accelerated revenue growth is building confidence among policymakers that it pays to fuel the ongoing economic recovery with a temporary fiscal deficit.


The rapid growth of fiscal revenue in June, as a result of an improving economy, has stressed the importance of a pro-active fiscal policy in easing recession.


More important, by bringing back a fiscal surplus for June, it assured Chinese policymakers that, as a counter-crisis measure, the unprecedented fiscal stimulus is both necessary and viable.


The Ministry of Finance was quick to warn that the foundations for such strong fiscal revenue growth were not solid enough.


True, given the tremendous uncertainties surrounding a lasting recovery at home and abroad, it is still hard to tell how much more fiscal stimulus may be needed.


Yet, robust growth of fiscal revenues should give policymakers the confidence to make optimum use of the country's fiscal strength for sustaining an economic recovery.






The change brought about by the Internet is revolutionary. The change involves not just good but also bad outcomes such as online gambling. The gambling net in cyber space, not limited by physical constraints, involves hundreds of thousands of people and billions of yuan.


The largest Internet gambling case, which China's public security department cracked, involved six rings of tens of thousands of gamblers and agents. The money involved is as much as 50 billion yuan ($7.3 billion) and the illegal gains confiscated exceeded 800 million yuan ($117 million).


Traditionally, gambling is considered a major source of evil: it arouses people's greed, breeds crime, and, when gamblers have lost everything, makes robbers and thieves of them. The gambling business makes money by exploiting an intrinsic human weakness.


In spite of the fact that gambling is a legitimate business in some countries and regions, it has never been legal in the Chinese mainland. But it has not been rooted out either.


In recent years some government officials or entrepreneurs of State-owned enterprises (SOEs) are reported to have gambled with public money in Macao or casinos along the country's borders. Some government employees or SOE leaders are also involved in the Internet gambling case cracked last month.


Investigations show that there is almost no chance of any gambler winning in online games, which are controlled by gambling firms mostly based abroad. In the pyramid-shaped gambling net, bankers and agents at all levels are invariably the winners while the gamblers at the bottom are always the losers.


Internet has made it easier for gambling firms or bankers to control the games without the knowledge of gamblers. In this sense, such games are no more than traps, and in order to expand the net, agents are constantly developed at various levels to lure gamblers. As a result, more and more gamblers become agents to get their share of the booty and the net expands rapidly.


The majority of gamblers are private business people. Compared with government officials or SOE leaders who usually gamble with public money, they are the most miserable. It is not unusual for them to lose all their savings accumulated painstakingly over the years.


It is not just gullible individuals who are losers, but the country, too, as gambling networks drain national wealth. Therefore, the crackdown on gambling should be intensified.


However, it is difficult and expensive to trace such activities in cyber space and crack down on it. Such servers can be registered where gambling is legitimate, and business solicited online in other places. That makes it hard to nab the original culprit and crush the source of evil.


It is a formidable challenge but needs to be taken up.






There is a popular song in China called "Xinjiang - an Adorable Land", which gives an idyllic description of the grasslands stretching endlessly along the Tianshan mountains, cows and sheep grazing in peace, and the enticing fragrance of grapes and melons.


Xinjiang fascinates people from all over China and the world. Last year it was visited by 22 million tourists, including 360,000 from abroad. They are attracted by its history, its scenic beauty, and, most of all, its diverse culture and warm, hospitable people, who sing, dance, and treat visitors like old friends.


Xinjiang was an important passage for the ancient Silk Road, where people of many ethnic groups travelled, lived and traded for centuries. It has come to be defined by its multi-ethnic culture, in particular its Islamic culture. Its 21 million population now comprises 47 ethnic groups, the largest being the Uygurs, who account for 45.7%, followed by the Hans, and many others such as Kazakhs, Huis, Kyrgyz, Mongolians, Tajiks, Sibes, Manchus, Uzbeks, Russians, Daurs, and Tartars. Millions of Muslims live there and there are 23,000 mosques. There are also Buddhist temples and churches.


Different ethnic groups in Xinjiang have lived side by side for centuries like one big family. The relationship has been generally amicable, though, as in all families and multi-ethnic communities, frictions occasionally happen. We call them "problems among people", meaning they can be solved through coordination and are not a life-or-death struggle. That is why the violence in Urumqi on July 5, causing more than 180 deaths and a thousand wounded, came as a shock.


Some blame it on a criminal case in Guangdong province earlier, which was largely fanned by a rumor. But that case was handled and the suspects detained. This can in no way justify the horrific acts of rioters in Urumqi who, armed with sticks, knives and big stones, went on a killing rampage against innocent people. There is strong concern that outside incitement and organization played a big part. Framing it as "ethnic conflict" is a wrong way of looking at the issue, and may also drive a wedge between ethnic groups. The incident was reminiscent of terrorist violence in Urumqi and other cities in Xinjiang in the past decade or more. Some of these terrorists were sent to train and fight in Afghanistan. A few ended up in Guantnamo Bay. Investigation into the July 5 incident is ongoing and those who committed crimes will face the law.


China is a developing country with growing influence in the world. We are aware of the attention the world has shown to the incident. International journalists were invited to Xinjiang and, on the whole, the world is getting an open flow of information. We hope such transparency will reduce the biased reporting and use of false information and false photos as has happened in the past. Chinese bloggers are quite quick in responding to some unfair comments.


Now calm is being restored. People of all ethnic groups including the Uygurs are firmly against violence and long to resume normal life. Xinjiang has been growing as fast as the rest of China. Many people from other parts of the country work there, especially during the cotton harvest. People from Xinjiang also work, trade and study all over the country. There is hardly a big city where there is no Uygur community. Xinjiang restaurants in Beijing are very popular. Freedom of movement and migration is a basic human right and a sign of China's development and progress.


Throughout the centuries, China has been a multi-ethnic society connected by a commitment to unity, prosperity and harmony. Unity is deep in the blood. That is where our strength lies, and forms the basis for China's interaction with the international community.


The author is China's ambassador to the UK, and the article was originally published on The Guardian on Monday






Gas prices have gone up yet again in China. While rising fuel prices are bound to upset motorists, it is a good public policy both from the economic and environmental points of view.


The increase in fuel prices will address two of Beijing's biggest problems: chronic traffic congestion and air pollution. We expatriates have a standing joke that the Third Ring Road is the capital's longest parking lot. On a more serious note, the continued increase in the number of vehicles in Beijing threatens to offset the recent improvement in air quality after factories were moved outside the city.


Beijing's municipal government has sought to address the problem by re-imposing the odd-even system of driving introduced before the Beijing Olympic Games. But the system doesn't seem to have had much effect on the commuting behavior of families with two cars with odd- and even-numbered license plates.


For example, a Chinese colleague in the State-owned enterprise - a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) - where I work in Beijing has a car with an odd-number plate, while her husband has one with an even number. She told me recently that they drove to work every day by switching their cars to comply with the odd-even traffic regulation during the Olympic Games.


The economic theory that people respond to price incentives, along with empirical evidence, shows there is only one surefire way to get people to drive less and use more fuel-efficient vehicles. And that can be achieved by raising the cost of driving.


The US experience clearly bears this out. After the first oil price shock of the 1970s, the US government mandated average fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles (CAFE levels) to reduce gas consumption. The result: during the late 1970s, when oil prices were still high and gasoline was relatively expensive, US automobiles' fuel efficiency improved markedly.


But during the 1980s when energy prices hit historic lows after being adjusted for inflation, the sales of gas-guzzling SUVs, exempted from CAFE standards, soared. Growing suburban sprawls in US cities led people to drive more, increasing traffic congestion and commuting time for motorists.


The recent increase in gasoline prices in the US, which jumped to above $3 a gallon in 2007 - gas was below $2 a gallon in 2005 - has helped reverse these trends.


US Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) data show a 4.3 percent fall in the miles logged by US drivers from March 2007 to March 2008. This figure had been rising sharply every year from 1983, when the FHWA began collecting such data, to 2007. Plus, sales of SUVs have plunged, while those of hybrid cars have risen dramatically.


Since car ownership is a new phenomenon in China, I suspect many Chinese drive to work or other places not because traveling by car is the only or best way to get from point A to B, but because they want to drive their newly bought vehicles as much as possible.


For instance, one day a foreign colleague visited CNPC's research facility just beyond the Sixth Ring Road in southeast Beijing. On his way back, a Chinese colleague offered to give him a ride in his car and drop him off at Dongzhimen, from where he could take a bus back home to Shunyi.

My foreign colleague told me later that it had taken him about an hour by the subway and bus to reach the facility, but the return trip to Dongzhimen in the car took him more than 90 minutes.


While their car was stuck in one of the many jams, my foreign colleague wondered why would a person spend more money to drive a car and still reach half an hour later than what a much cheaper public transport would take. He got his answer from the Chinese colleague who said he wanted to drive as much as possible because he liked having a new car and using it -- and he wanted to do all the driving before gas prices rose.


Thus fuel prices should be raised if we want to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads. Rising fuel prices will not do any harm to people who use public transport. Besides, unlike most American urban-dwellers, Beijingers have access to a pretty good transport system, and it is improving rapidly. The increase in fuel prices should prompt more and more people to take advantage of such a system.


That will be good not only for the city's traffic, but also its air quality.


The author is a Sinologist, and teaches at Jintai Academy and Peking University.




*************************************************************************************JAPAN TIMES




The rationale for the Group of Eight, composed of leading industrialized nations, has been thinning for years. Not only has the group produced little of substance at its annual leaders' summit, but its members are unable to deliver on whatever pledges are produced. Moreover, the political heft of the eight has diminished as other countries have developed and demanded commensurate influence in global political deliberations. Their demand for more input into key institutions has meant that most G8 meetings include almost twice as many participants, as other key nations join the deliberations. But the size of the group, the ad hoc nature of the agenda and the lack of any real follow-through means the meeting is increasingly derided as a photo op, devoid of real substance.


The gap between the group's ambitions and its reality was on full display last week at the annual summit that convened in L'Aquila, Italy. The meeting backdrop may have been more revealing than intended: The summit host, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, decided to hold the get-together in a town devastated by an earthquake only weeks earlier to draw attention to the plight of the residents. So, world leaders occupied the remaining standing buildings while 25,000 people remained in the tents they call home. Mr. Berlusconi may have succeeded in getting the world's media to display the hardships borne by the people of L'Aquila, but it is unlikely that the attention will make their lives any easier.


Sadly, that is likely to be the assessment for the entire summit. One of the key agenda items at the summit was forging consensus on a formula to cut the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. As always, real progress proved elusive. The G8 did make a long-term commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050, but they set no more immediate targets. But the developed countries continue to demand that their developing counterparts participate in any global regime to fight global warming, a position that is anathema to the developing world, whose leaders argue, not without some justification, that they should not have to pay to fix a problem they did not create. All participants agreed that global average temperatures should not rise over 2 degrees Celsius. But absent a truly global regime, there is little prospect for a genuine solution to the global warming problem.


Or take food security. Coming on the heels of reports that more than 1 billion people worldwide suffer chronic hunger, the need for sustained and systematic efforts to provide aid has never been higher. The G8 governments pledged $20 billion over three years for agricultural assistance to poorer countries. That was $5 billion more than was in the original draft communique, but it is not clear if that is new money or is part of the doubling of aid that was originally promised at the 2005 G8 meeting. Moreover, since the G8 provided $13 billion in assistance since January 2008, then this amount seems a bit small.


The best way for the G8 countries to aid poor and developing nations is to open markets to their goods. As expected, the leaders reconfirmed their "commitment to keep their markets open and free, and to reject protectionism of any kind." That is nice language, but close scrutiny shows that virtually every G8 member has implemented some measures that are trade restricting. Even more important is the need for all governments to push for the completion of the Doha Round of trade negotiations. Those talks were supposed to have been wrapped up in 2004. Instead, they have been stalled for years, despite repeated acknowledgments — by the G8 and other groups — that they are essential to sustaining the momentum for trade and spreading prosperity. Once again, rhetoric outpaces reality and the continued empty promises make the G8 look ineffectual.


If the G8's moment has passed, what will replace it? The obvious contender is the Group of 20, which includes all the G8 members and other economic powers, such as China, Brazil, India, and Saudi Arabia to name but four. Altogether, the group is responsible for 85 percent of global wealth, 80 percent of world trade, and two thirds of the world's population. The inclusion of the remaining 12 countries provides more than just heft, however: Their participation means that G20 decisions enjoy more international legitimacy than do those of the G8.


But if the size of the G20 makes it a more credible global leader, then it also makes consensus more difficult, especially given the diversity of its membership. G20 members cover the range of political and economic models, include both producers and consumers, debtors and creditors, developed and developing nations alike. Finding common ground has been difficult. In fact, the G20's record of delivering on its pledges is little better than that of the G8. That may provide some solace for G8 supporters, but it is not a compelling reason to keep the group going.







By blanketing the oil-rich Xinjiang with troops, China's rulers may have subdued the Uighur revolt, which began in Urumqi, the regional capital, and spread to other heavily guarded towns like Hotan and Kashgar, the ancient cultural center whose old city is to be razed and redeveloped to help drain supposed jihadist swamps. But this deadliest case of minority rioting in decades — along with the 2008 ethnic uprising across the Tibetan plateau — shows the political costs of forcible absorption, shattering the illusion of a monolithic China and laying bare the country's Achilles' heel.


The ruling Chinese Communist Party had gone to unusual lengths to block any protests from flaring during this symbolically important year marking the 60th anniversary of its coming to power.


For example, the 20th anniversary of "June 4," the date of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of prodemocracy protesters, went by without any incident because of heavy security in Beijing. A security siege in Tibet similarly ensured that the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan national uprising against the Chinese occupation and the Dalai Lama's consequent flight to India passed off peacefully. A confident Beijing then provocatively observed March 28 — the 50th anniversary of its declaration of direct rule over Tibet — as "Serf Emancipation Day" with a national holiday, as if it just realized it liberated Tibetans from serfdom half a century ago.


Against that background, the Uighur rebellion — in the 60th-anniversary year of the Chinese annexation of Xinjiang — is a rude jolt to what is now the world's largest, strongest and longest-surviving autocracy. Tibet, which was forcibly brought under Chinese rule in 1950, remains tense since last year, with foreign reporters still barred from traveling there.


The policies of forced assimilation in resource-rich Tibet and Xinjiang — at the crossroads of Asian civilizations — began after Mao Zedong created a land corridor link between the two rebellious regions by gobbling up India's 38,000-square-km Aksai Chin, part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Aksai Chin provides the only accessible Tibet-Xinjiang route through the Kunlun mountains.


Aksai Chin began coming under Chinese control in the 1950s through furtive encroachment, before Mao consolidated and extended China's hold by waging open war on India in 1962. A year later, Pakistan ceded to China a 5,120-square-km slice of the Kashmir territory held by it.


Today, about 60 percent territory of the People's Republic comprises territories that historically had not been under direct Han rule. China, in fact, now is three times as large as it was under the last Han dynasty, the Ming, which fell in the mid-17th century. Territorially, Han power thus is at its zenith, symbolized by the fact that the Great Wall was built as the Han empire's outer security perimeter. Xinjiang and Tibet, by themselves, make up nearly half of China's landmass.



The Manchu assimilation into Han society and the swamping of the locals in Inner Mongolia have left only the Tibetans and the Turkic-speaking Muslim ethnic groups in Xinjiang as the holdouts.


But the events since last year have come as a painful reminder to the Chinese leadership that its strategy of ethnic and economic colonization of the traditional Tibetan and Uighur lands is stoking deep unrest. While government efforts to spread Han language, culture and commercial power have bred local resentment, economic development in those regions — largely geared at exploiting their resource wealth — has helped marginalize the natives. While the locals get the menial work to do, the Han settlers hold the well-paying jobs and run the show, overtly symbolizing an equation between the colonized and the colonizers.


More importantly, the very survival of the major non-Han cultures in China is now threatened. From school-level indoctrination and forced political reeducation to Draconian curbs on native farmland and monastic life, Chinese policies have helped instill feelings of subjugation and resentment in Tibet and Xinjiang.


To help Sinicize the minority lands, Beijing's multipronged strategy has involved five key components: cartographically altering ethnic-homeland boundaries; demographically flooding non-Han cultures; rewriting history to justify Chinese control; enforcing cultural homogeneity to help blur local identities; and maintaining political repression.


Demographically, what Beijing is pursuing is not ethnic cleansing in these regions but ethnic drowning. This strategy to ethnically drown the natives through the "Go West" Han-migration campaign is tantamount to cultural annihilation. A first step in that direction was the cartographic reorganization of minority regions. In gerrymandering Tibet, Beijing placed half of the Tibetan plateau and nearly 60 percent of the Tibetan population under Han jurisdictions in the provinces of Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan. Tibet's cartographic dismemberment set the stage to ethnically swamp the Tibetans, both in the separated parts and in the remainder Tibet deceptively named the Tibet Autonomous Region.


The Tibetan and Uighur languages already are disappearing from local schools. Rapid Sinicization of their pristine environment, however, has only sharpened the Tibetan and Uighur sense of identity and yearning for freedom. After all, if current trends continue, Tibetans and Uighurs will be reduced within decades to the status of Native Americans in the United States.


Reliable information on the casualties and continuing arrests in Xinjiang is hard to come by. At the first sign of trouble in Tibet or Xinjiang, Beijing cuts off local Internet and cell-phone services and imposes a security lockdown through curfews and virtual martial law. Few believe the official death toll in Xinjiang. After all, Beijing has insisted only 13 people were killed in spring 2008 in Tibet despite the Tibetan government-in-exile documenting some 220 Tibetan deaths.


Significantly, there are important parallels between the Tibet and Xinjiang violence. The ethnic uprisings in both regions erupted after authorities tried to disperse peaceful protesters in the local capital — Lhasa and Urumqi — where Han Chinese now outnumber the natives. In both regions, the protesters vented their anger on Han settlers. And just as Beijing was quick to link the Dalai Lama to last year's Tibetan insurrection, it blamed the Xinjiang bloodshed on exiled Uighur leaders, specifically the Washington-based Rebiya Kadeer, helping to lift her from relative obscurity to international prominence. An ex-businesswoman, Kadeer, however, is no advocate of violence, although she spent six years in a Chinese jail and two of her sons are still imprisoned in Xinjiang.


While Beijing was quick to clamp down on information about the events in Tibet and Xinjiang, it applied media-management lessons learned in Tibet to its handling of the news on Xinjiang. One lesson was that it had to go beyond suppression of facts to information spin to tone down coverage of the developments. So, as opposed to the way it shut out the media from Tibet, it readily foreign journalists to the violence-scarred Urumqi for stage-managed tours.


But as in Tibet earlier, the Chinese propaganda machine focused on portraying the dominant Han settlers in Urumqi as the hapless victims, with the state media showing no images of Han attacking Uighurs or security personnel employing brute force. Indeed, presenting restive, disadvantaged minorities as ungrateful, violent races resistant to the Han civilizing influence has been integral to the regime's repression.


Alas, the central plank of the Chinese system remains uniformity, with President Hu Jintao's slogan of a "harmonious society" designed to undergird the theme of conformity. Little surprise Hu's public response to the Uighur unrest was to ask local authorities to "isolate and deal a blow" to the troublemakers rather than seek to address the causes of the festering discontent. Brutal repression is a sure recipe for more unrest.


While India celebrates diversity, China honors artificially enforced monoculturalism, although it officially comprises 56 nationalities — the Han nationality (which, according to the last census in 2000, accounted for 91 percent of the total population) and 55 ethnic minority groups. China seeks not only to play down its ethnic diversity, but also to conceal the cultural and linguistic cleavages among the Han majority, lest the historical north-south fault lines resurface with a vengeance.


The Han — split in seven or more linguistically and culturally distinct groups — are anything but homogenous. The major languages in China other than those in minority homelands include Mandarin, Hakka (spoken in several southern areas), Gan (Jiangxi province), Wu (Zhejiang province), Xiang (Hunan province), Yue (mostly Guangdong province), Pinghua (an offshoot of Yue), Southern Min (Hokkien/Taiwanese) and Northern Min.


Yet the CCP has used the myth of homogeneity to fan Han nationalism. This myth, originally designed to unify the non-Manchus against the Manchu Qing Dynasty, was invented by Sun Yat-Sen, who led the republican movement that took power in 1911. The subsequent imposition of the northern language, Mandarin, helped establish a lingua franca in a diverse society but, almost a century later, it is not Mandarin but the local languages that remain commonly spoken.


Today, thanks to the greater self-awareness flowing from advances in information and communications technologies, the Hakka, Sichuanese, Cantonese, Shanghainese, Fujianese, Swatow, Hunanese and other communities officially classified as Han are reasserting their distinctive identities and taking pride in their cultural heritage.



China's ethnic problems won't go away unless the rulers stop imposing cultural homogeneity and abandon ethnic drowning as state strategy in minority lands.


After the 2008 Tibetan uprising, 2009 will go down as the year the Uighurs revolted. With next year marking 60 years of Chinese occupation of Tibet, the spotlight will stay on China's internal challenges. And with economic growth slowing and domestic unrest growing at about the same rate as China's GDP, these challenges indeed extend to the Chinese heartland.


Brahma Chellaney is a professor of strategic studies at the privately funded Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.







YPSILANTI, Mich. — The ongoing conflict between Iran's rulers and the Iranian public is the result of a head-on collision between two contradictory forces. In recent years, public attitudes in Iran have become more liberal. At the same time, power has shifted from conservative pragmatism toward a much more militant fundamentalism. The call by the most important group of Iran's clerics for the election results to be thrown out is but the latest sign of the fight back of both the reformist and pragmatic conservative factions.


Thirty years after the Islamic revolution, Iranians are growing demonstrably less religious and more liberal. Two face-to-face surveys of more than 2,500 Iranian adults, conducted in 2000 and 2005, clearly show the trend. The percentage of those who "strongly agree" that democracy is the best form of government increased from 20 percent to 31 percent.


Similarly, on a number of questions concerning gender equality — including political leadership, equal access to higher education, and wifely obedience — the numbers continued a downward trend. Those who considered love as the basis for marriage increased from 49 percent to 69 percent, while those who depended on parental approval fell from 41 percent to 24 percent. In 2005, a much higher percentage than in 2000 defined themselves as "Iranian, above all" rather than "Muslim, above all."


This trend is not hard to understand. The imposition of a monolithic religious discourse on society has made liberal values attractive to Iranians. But, while this was reflected in reformist trends in the country's wider political life, a movement toward militant fundamentalism took shape within the regime's power structure. Reform-minded politicians were partly to blame for this change. Far from opposing absolutist power as an impediment to religious democracy, they tried to persuade the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, of the value of reform.


But Khamenei had no interest in reform, as he made plain in dismantling the reform movement. The presidency of Mohammad Khatami, an avowed reformer, who served eight years, beginning in 1997, convinced the supreme leader that his authority would be assured only if the presidency was held by a subservient fundamentalist such as the current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In this, Khamenei was following the lead of the late shah, who kept Amir Abbas Hoveyda, a loyal retainer, as prime minister from 1965 until the shah was overthrown in 1979.


The problem with the supreme leader's calculation, however, is that Ahmadinejad is a loose cannon. His populist rhetoric and religious fundamentalism have alienated a large section of conservative-pragmatist clerics and their supporters.


Many members of this group honor the institution of private property, and Ahmadinejad's talk of redistributing wealth is not to their liking. More disturbing to them is his apocalyptic conviction regarding the imminent advent of the Hidden Imam, the Mahdi, whose appearance is believed to lead to the destruction of the world and the end of time. Generally, Ahmadinejad begins his public speeches with prayers for the Mahdi's immediate return.


For the Shiite religious hierarchy, long accustomed to relegating the advent of the Mahdi to a distant future, Ahmadinejad's insistent millenarianism is troublesome. They have often dismissed as unorthodox, if not heretical, any claim of personal contact with the Hidden Imam or speculation about his arrival. Several ayatollahs opined that such talk about the Mahdi is unbecoming of a president or, worse, indicative of an unstable leader.


These concerns were reflected in the fact that the Society of Combatant Clergy, a conservative body, was unable to endorse Ahmadinejad's candidacy.


Defiance of the supreme leader by millions of Iranians just a day after he firmly endorsed Ahmadinejad threw the country into a political crisis. Worldwide broadcasts of the beating and killing of protesters have undermined the regime's religious credentials.


Seeking a way out of this difficult situation, the supreme leader declared that the electoral disputes must be settled through legal channels, not on the street. Given his role in justifying electoral fraud, this argument seems like an effort to buy time to clear the streets of demonstrators, put opposition leaders under severe physical and psychological stress, and isolate Mir Hossein Mousavi, the presumed winner of the real vote.


Nonetheless, Khamenei's invocation of the law echoes the demands of many conservative-pragmatists who lean toward Mousavi, who is not in a position to challenge Khamenei's authority directly. Mousavi must carefully continue his legal campaign without compromising the trust he has gained from the majority of Iranians. He must stand by his two principal demands: nullification of the election and establishment of an impartial committee to rule on the government's violations of the electoral law.


Should Mousavi persuade Khamenei to reconsider his position, the supreme leader's hold on power will be shaken. If Khamenei holds fast, Mousavi cannot gain the presidency, but he will continue to represent the hopes of the majority of Iranians who differ dramatically with their government. For now, what will happen depends on Mousavi's perseverance.


Mansoor Moaddel, a professor of sociology at Eastern Michigan University, has conducted numerous opinion surveys in the Middle East. © 2009 Project Syndicate










OPPOSITION politicians should heed the warning of Ross Garnaut, former ambassador to China, that difficult matters such as the detention of businessman Stern Hu "are best handled away from the megaphones". Mr Hu, a Rio Tinto executive based in Shanghai, and three Chinese colleagues have been held in custody without charge for 10 days. China alleges they "pried and stole" state secrets. Instead of urging the Rudd government to be bold and direct with China's leadership, a more sophisticated approach by the opposition might do more to maximise Mr Hu's chances of being dealt with expeditiously and fairly.

China's secrecy and apparent bullying in dealing with Mr Hu is a reminder that for all its recent embrace of commerce and trade, it remains an authoritarian one-party state-run economy. China's intransigence and hypersensitivity over the Falun Gong, Tibet, the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square uprising and the Uighur riots in Xinjiang show its leaders are impervious to direct appeal and international sentiment.


Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop has been shrill in urging Kevin Rudd and Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith "to pick up the phone, speak to their counterpart ministers and ask what is going on". Her strategy, however, would raise the stakes over Mr Hu at an early stage, before anything is known about the allegations against him. It could also compromise the chances of a low-key, face-saving resolution that avoided major damage to China's reputation as a place to do business.


A wiser strategy for the opposition might have been to offer bi-partisan support and later, if appropriate, to offer to travel with a government leader to Beijing to present a united case. Politically, the onus would remain on the government to deal with the matter, especially given the Prime Minister's affinity with the Chinese.


West Australian Liberal Premier Colin Barnett, who will raise Mr Hu's situation with Shanghai's highest-ranking official, Han Zheng, at the weekend, is being more level-headed. He acknowledges that every diplomatic effort is being made. Malcolm Turnbull, who has also been restrained, must recognise the issue is too delicate and dangerous for loudmouth goading such as that of backbencher Bronwyn Bishop, who told Mr Rudd to test his "special relationship" with China: "Test it, use it. Try and achieve an outcome by intervening, you, yourself, personally."


Ms Bishop's sweeping claim that government "shilly-shallying" over a foreign investment application by state-owned Chinalco was linked to Mr Hu's arrest also lacks substance. Rio Tinto's eleventh-hour rejection of Chinalco's $US19.5 billion investment bid left the Chinese government angry and bitter. Chinalco lashed out at Rio Tinto this week, claiming it had "no business credibility". But the deal collapsed in the boardroom of Rio Tinto's London headquarters last month, not in Canberra, saving the Rudd government from a sensitive decision about whether to grant final approval. When the issue was pending, Wayne Swan took a measured approach. The Treasurer made it clear that while he welcomed foreign investment, he would look closely at proposals in which consumers of the product stood to acquire control of Australian mining companies, especially where their resources were already developed.


Negotiations over Mr Hu look set to be protracted. Megaphone diplomacy, or making him a political football, will be counterproductive.








STAND by for elegantly expressed outrage as authors and publishers respond to the Productivity Commission's recommendation to end the ban on importing books. Under the existing parallel-import restrictions, a bookseller cannot source a title from overseas if an Australian-based publisher can supply it within 30 days of its international release and supply replacement stocks within 90 days to shops that sell out. The commission wants to end this after a three-year adjustment period, so that booksellers can buy editions from wherever they like. This, it argues, would reduce the price of books. But many Australian authors are appalled, saying the existing arrangement stops the market being flooded by low-cost imported editions of their works, which would reduce royalties. Tim Winton warned it would reduce even his income in accepting his fourth Miles Franklin prize last month. Publishers add that without the guaranteed market share presently provided, they will lack the income to invest in new and innovative local writers and that in any case they already sell books at internationally competitive prices. And just about every member of the literary establishment agrees that excluding imports is a small price to pay for a vibrant writing culture, that readers should be prepared to pay for Australian voices telling Australian stories.

However well written, what these arguments do not disguise is this is the sort of old-fashioned protectionism that once kept the cost of consumer goods, from clothes to cars, higher than they would have been if importers were allowed to compete in an open market. In fact, it is worse. From Federation until the 1980s, while imports competing against locally produced products were burdened with tariffs, they were rarely banned altogether -- which is still the case with books. Certainly other countries have laws that protect copyright holders from pirated editions of music, film and fiction, but the existing arrangement here is intended to exclude legitimate products that earn authors a royalty, albeit not always as large as they want. And for all the talk of supporting struggling writers, advocates of import restrictions avoid acknowledging that they effectively impose a premium, paid by readers to publishers, on top of the world best practice price for any book they want to buy. Nor does this premium exclusively assist Australian writers. Under existing import restrictions, the publisher who owns the local rights to the next Dan Brown will be able to charge what it likes. And whatever the merits of Brown's next novel, it is a fair bet it will not add anything to Australian literary culture.


The problem for protectionist publishers and their authors is that even if they could marshal a coherent response to the Productivity Commission, there is nothing they can do to stop technology, which is no respecter of territorial copyright. Serious book buyers have long shopped online and downloading books direct to portable electronic devices, with screens that are easy to read, is becoming common overseas. New technology like the Kindle may do to hard-copy book publishing what MP3 players have done to music -- transform the industry. Instead of defending borders in a borderless world, the challenge for publishers and authors in Australia is to work out new ways to sell their products. The Productivity Commission is not changing the book world for the worse -- for good or ill, it has already changed.








NO one can fault economist Clive Hamilton for frankness in the way he gave the green game away on ABC TV's Lateline on Monday night. He dismissed the Rudd government's interest in developing clean coal as a way to reduce global warming as a "delusion", adding that "the only way to get people to take the necessary actions is to scare the pants off them".

It says a lot about the ABC that an activist with no scientific credentials is allowed to lay down the law when a real scientist, climate change sceptic Ian Plimer, was recently sharply challenged by compere Tony Jones on Lateline. And it says more about the the green extreme's fury that people wonder why we must take severe steps now, given the disasters they warn about are so far in the future. In the absence of present evidence, Professor Hamilton suggests scaring us all silly.


It will not work, which is why "third way" theorist Anthony Giddens, who also appeared on Monday's Lateline, wants activists out of the argument. Instead of scare tactics, Lord Giddens suggests encouraging government and industry to develop technology to create new industries -- to turn the problem into an economic opportunity. This means replacing warnings of catastrophe with investment and research. He is right. London's air pollution problem ended when people abandoned burning low-grade coal in the 1950s. Smog was reduced by better engineered vehicles. And new technologies will reduce greenhouse emissions. The debate needs more engineers interested in clean coal and fewer eco-catastrophists.


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WHETHER to hold an inquiry into the financial system has become mixed up unnecessarily with a more specific question: whether Australia should establish a people's bank to provide competition for the pre