August 11, 2009
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Month August 11, Edition 000269, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul
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- N KOREA’S MYSTERY SHIP
- A DIFFERENT STATUE STORY
- INDIA’S TRYST WITH TRUST BUT VERIFY-A SURYA PRAKASH
- EMRAAN’S NOT A ONE-OFF EPISODE-JASIM MOHAMMAD
- THE MONTH WE LOST DARA-ASHOK MALIK
- MAMATA ON A ROLL-SHIKHA MUKERJEE
- ISLAMISTS GNAWING AT ALGERIAN VALUES
- GRAM SABHA COMES TO THE RESCUE OF THE POOR-AWANISH SOMKUWAR
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- FEVER PITCH
- STATUE DIPLOMACY
- A HOME-GROWN CONFLICT-
- THEY HAVE SET A POOR PRECEDENT
- NO POINT PLAYING IN FEAR-
- ACT IN BALANCE-
- HATE AAJ KAL-
- NOT RAINING SOLUTIONS
- THE WOMAN TRAP
- MIND THE GAP
- LALITA PANICKER
- LICENCE TO SKILL
- SCREEN THIS
- LET’S PUT IT TO A VOTE-SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE
- CLASS MONITORS-NINA SINGH
- TV’S CONTAGIOUS PANIC-SHAILAJA BAJPAI
- THE SILENCE HEARD AROUND THE WORLD-ROHAN D’SA
THE FINENCIAL EXPRESS
- THE BIG BOYS
- NOT JUST PATENT BUSTING
- MAKING AI FLY: GET THE PRICE RIGHT-KRISHNAMURTHY V SUBRAMANIAN
- BAD RAINS ARE NOT A RARE EVENT. SO PLAN-RAMESH CHAND
- JUST ADVICE FOR BENGAL-SUDIPTA DATTA
- FACING UP TO A BAD MONSOON
- CLEARING THE FINAL HURDLE
- QUESTIONS OF REAL NATIONAL SECURITY -PUSHPA M. BHARGAVA
- U.S. SEEKS A FRESH START IN ANGOLA -JEFFREY GETTLEMAN
- RARING TO GO AHEAD ON THEIR OWN -ROD NORDLAND
- U.S. MILITARY TARGETS AFGHAN DRUG CHIEFTAINS -JAMES RISEN
THE ASIAN AGE
- ON CHINA, KEEP THE BLINKERS OFF
- CAN CHINA SAVE RISING ASIA FROM RECESSION?-JAYATI GHOSH
- SCHOOLS, OR SHOPS?
- CULTURE OF VIOLENCE
- ENGLAND’S OVER-REACTION
- DATELINE WASHINGTON-BY ASHISH KUMAR SEN
- NEED TO CONTROL FOREST FIRES -BY KK GUPTA
- DELHI DURBAR
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
- INVESTMENT CLIMATE
- INFORMATION COMMISSION
- MAYAWATI’S MAYHEM IN UTTAR PRADESH-SAIKH MD SABAH AL-AHMED
- PRIORITY TO NE TOURISM SECTOR-NAMITA DEVI
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- BETTER LATE THAN NEVER!
- COSMETIC SURGERY WILL NOT DO
- WHO WANTS TO BE PM?
- IS INDIA READY FOR DEBT MANAGEMENT OFFICE?-SIDDHARTH SHAH, CHITTARANJAN DATAR & NIRVAAN GUPTA,
- ON CHINA, KEEP THE BLINKERS OFF
- WITH PAK, IT’S BETTER TO ‘VERIFY, THEN TRUST’ - BY SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY
- US ECONOMY BACK FROM THE EDGE OF ABYSS -BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- CAN CHINA SAVE RISING ASIA FROM RECESSION? -BY JAYATI GHOSH
- JOE’S ‘NEVER SAY DIE’ SPIRIT -BY JEREMY CLARKE
- BASIC FLAWS OF GDP -BY ERIC ZENCEY
- FIRST STEPS
- BITTER PILL
- UNANSWERABLE CHARGES? -ASHOK V. DESAI
- REWRITE THE POLICIES -MALVIKA SINGH
- MEDIUM: THE WAY TO BUILD HEALTHY SOCIETY-BY G K GOVINDA RAO
- MEDIUM: THE WAY TO BUILD HEALTHY SOCIETY-BY G K GOVINDA RAO
- MOONSTRUCK FOR EVER-BY HARISH BHAT
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- FAIR HOUSING IN THE SUBURBS
- MORE THAN MISSILES
- THE CHINO PRISON RIOT
- A CENTURY-OLD PRINCIPLE: KEEP CORPORATE MONEY OUT OF ELECTIONS -BY ADAM COHEN
- WHO NEEDS DRONES?
- WHO NEEDS DRONES?
- LYARI AFTER REHMAN DAKAIT
- SURVEY REVEALS PAKISTANIS’ THREAT PERCEPTION
- LORD NAZIR’S INFLAMMATORY STATEMENTS
- EVEN NEWBORN BABIES ARE BEING ABDUCTED
- LATENT WEALTH
- WHERE WOULD THEY LOOK?-ROBERT CLEMENTS
THE KOREA TIMES
- CHAIRWOMAN’S VISIT TO NK
- RESURGENT HOME PRICES
- CLINTON’S DANGEROUS SUCCESS-BY ANDY JACKSON
- DISGRACE AND HUMILIATION-BY ALEXANDER WASHKO
- CHINA HAS NO RIGHT TO CENSOR IN AUSTRALIA
- HEAT IS ON TURNBULL
- A VERY SAD SUBJECT
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- CHINESE SPOOKS IN THE MARKET
- SOME STATES MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS
- BABY P: NAMES, SHAME AND A CHILD
- IN PRAISE OF... RED GROUSE
- PAKISTAN: PREMATURE CLAIMS
- BREAKTHROUGH WITH NORTH KOREA?
- SEVEN TOPICS FOR A SUMMER DAY-BY HUGH CORTAZZI
THE KOREA HERALD
- NO POLS IN CABINET
- FORMER PRESIDENTS
- OWNING UP TO ISRAEL'S NUCLEAR BOMBS -SHLOMO BEN-AMI
- WHAT MAKES A GLOBAL FINANCIAL CENTER? -ANDREW SHENG
- A GOOD START IN MONTREAL NORTH
- SORRY, MR. RASMUSSEN, CANADA HAS DONE ITS BIT
- REDUCE WRONG CASES
- SIGNIFICANT ROUND
- SINO-US TIES NEED TREATIES
- DEVELOPING EMISSIONS AGENDA FOR GOVT RESPONSIBILITY
THE JAKARTA POST
- ELUSIVE PEACE
- INDONESIA: THE PROMISED LAND-GIGIN PRAGINANTO
- INDONESIA: THE PROMISED LAND
THE MOSCOW TIMES
- ONE BIG LESSON THE KREMLIN HASN’T LEARNED
- DISHEARTENED WITH THE WEST-BY ALEXEI PANKIN
- MY PLAN TO DROP THE BOMB-BY BAN KI-MOON
N KOREA’S MYSTERY SHIP
HOW DID IT ESCAPE DETECTION?
The mystery over why MV Mu San, a North Korean merchant ship, ‘strayed’ into Indian waters and dropped anchor off Hut Bay last Wednesday, and then tried to escape when confronted by the Coast Guard and the Navy before being detained, remains unresolved. Initially, the ship’s captain had claimed that the vessel was headed for Iraq with a consignment of sugar loaded in Thailand and he had lost his bearings. This was later modified: The captain said he had received ‘orders’ not to proceed to Iraq and await further ‘instructions’; hence he had dropped anchor. The veracity of the captain’s claims apart, the fact remains that the ship did not have permission to drop anchor off the Andaman and Nicobar Islands; that the captain tried to turn around the vessel and escape rather than explain his position to Indian officials; and, that crucial details, including its docking at Singapore, are missing from the ship’s logbook. All this may just add up to sloppy work by the ship’s masters and sloppier book-keeping by the captain. But till such time a full inspection of the ship’s cargo does not yield to the discovery of contraband, especially nuclear technology and fuel, there is no reason to trust the captain and his crew. We need to know where was the ship headed for — was its destination Burma? In the past, North Korea is known to have shipped nuclear material to Libya. With the military junta in Burma reportedly working on a bomb in the basement, a Pyongyang-Rangoon axis cannot be ruled out. If the cargo is no more than sugar and if it was indeed meant for Iraq, why was the captain asked to change course and drop anchor? Or, is the entire exercise no more than a red herring to distract attention? These and other questions need to be answered before the ship is allowed to sail. A mere certification of its cargo under UN Security Council Resolution 1874 will not do; the North Koreans are far too crafty to be taken at face value. We also need to know for sure why the ship made so many calls at Chinese ports in the recent past — was it involved with transporting missiles and nuclear material from China to North Korea?
There is another aspect which merits full and close scrutiny. It is astonishing that despite the Navy and the Coast Guard being on alert since 26/11, a large merchant vessel without appropriate clearances could enter Indian waters unchallenged. Worse, it remained undetected after dropping anchor and would have possibly escaped attention had it not been for the passengers of a ferry who spotted the ship and informed the captain, who, in turn, contacted the Coast Guard. To pretend now, as is being done by Indian officials, that this is part of the system put in place after 26/11 is bunkum. Had the passengers of the ferry not spotted the ship, its presence in Indian waters would have gone unnoticed; that it was detected is no reason to applaud either the Coast Guard or the Navy which, if truth be told, have been caught napping. This does not augur well for coastal security. The Mumbai massacre of last November happened in large measure because the terrorists were able to use the sea route to enter India without any let or hindrance. Since then, the Government has made several pronouncements on stepping up vigil along the coast and keeping a watch on all vessels that enter Indian waters. A new command-and-control structure has also been put in place, involving both the Coast Guard and the Navy. Who is responsible for this shocking lapse?
A DIFFERENT STATUE STORY
KARNATAKA, TAMIL NADU PUT PAST BEHIND THEM
In the first ever act of its kind, the State Government of Karnataka, deciding to script a new chapter in the history of its relations with neighbouring Tamil Nadu, unveiled the statue of Tamil poet-saint Thiruvalluvar in Bangalore on Sunday. This will now be reciprocated by the installation of a statue of Kannnada poet Sarvajna in Chennai on August 13. Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa deserves to be applauded for having made the installation of Thiruvalluvar’s statue possible. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi too has acknowledged as much. Efforts to install a statue of the Tamil poet-saint have been on for the last 18 years. Up till now each time the Karnataka Government tried to conjure up the political will to get the statue installed, it failed. It is in light of this that the Yeddyurappa Government’s achievement becomes more significant. It had to not only whip up popular support for the installation of the statue but also fend off criticism from pro-Kannada outfits like the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike and the Kannada Vatal Paksha that were opposed to it. On both counts the Karnataka Government came out with flying colours. It has demonstrated great courage and conviction that will surely help it establish better relations with its neighbour.
The statue diplomacy comes in the backdrop of long-standing problems between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The Cauvery water sharing dispute, the Hogenakkal dam issue and various border related problems remain major points of contention between the two States. But of all the issues that have led to differences, the issue of according classical language status to Kannada in Tamil Nadu is perhaps the one that is most sensitive. In this respect it is welcome that Mr Karunanidhi has promised to do all he can to vacate the writ petition filed in the Madras High Court against the conferring of classical language status to Kannada. This was conveyed to the people of Karnataka by Mr Yeddyurappa on the occasion of the unveiling of Thiruvalluvar’s statue. Drawing on the wisdom of Thiruvalluvar he also said that the Tamil poet-saint’s works expressed human virtues and teachings that indirectly advise the Governments of the two States that the crops of the farmers of both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka should not be allowed to die for the want of water — a clear reference to the Cauvery water dispute. By acknowledging legendary poets of Tamil and Kannada literatures and by installing their statues in each others capitals, the State Governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have made a significant gesture of goodwill. It can also be construed as a symbol of respect for each others language and culture. Hopefully, this will provide a platform to resolve all the disputes that have plagued the two States for decades.
INDIA’S TRYST WITH TRUST BUT VERIFY
A SURYA PRAKASH
The Pakistanis must be laughing their guts out listening to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s borrowed formulation that we must adopt a “trust but verify” approach to our relations with their country. First of all, there is nothing original about this formulation because it was said by somebody else in some other context. Second, “trust but verify”, as everyone knows, was an afterthought. Mr Singh shockingly committed himself at Sharm el-Sheikh to trusting and talking to Pakistan without any kind of verification. Unable to bear the political heat on his return, he was compelled to do a bit of a somersault.
But, what Mr Singh has not realised is that without sounding so ponderous, many of his predecessors — Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Mrs Indira Gandhi and Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, to name a few — have preached the ‘trust but verify’ principle. As the history of the sub-continent shows, politicians only ‘trust’. They do not ‘verify’. That is done by our armed forces and our soldiers and hapless civilians lay down their lives in the process.
Here, in brief, is the saga of ‘trust but verify’:
August 1947: At its inauguration, Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah declares that this new country wants to live in peace with India. The Indian political leadership ‘trusts’ him.
October 1947: Over 5,000 heavily armed tribesmen intrude into Kashmir. The Indian Army moves in and while driving the intruders out, ‘verifies’ their credentials. It finds that they are recruited and armed by the Pakistani Army.
However, Pakistan denies the charge. But some time later its Foreign Minister tells the UN that all forces fighting on the ‘Azad Kashmir’ side are “under the over-all command and tactical direction of the Pakistan Army”. This is our first tryst with this great principle — trust but verify.
December 1947: Having trusted Pakistan and verified that it was up to no good, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru flies to Lahore for a meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Liaquat Ali Khan.
India gets no guarantees from Pakistan but the business of “trusting” Pakistan begins afresh.
1958: The Prime Ministers of the two countries sign a pact which says pending settlement of disputes, “there should be no disturbance of the status-quo by force”.
1959: This year sees another joint statement in which the leaders of the two countries resolve “to solve border disputes by negotiation”.
August 1965: The Pakistani Army despatches hundreds of infiltrators into Jammu & Kashmir, but disclaims responsibility. However, UN observers ‘verify’ that armed Pakistanis have crossed the ceasefire line from the Pakistani side. A full scale war erupts.
The Indian Army captures several strategic positions on the Pakistani side, including the Haji Pir bulge and the Tithwal Pass. As the war progresses, Home Minister YB Chavan informs the Lok Sabha on September 6, 1965 that the armed infiltrators were regular and irregular soldiers of the Pakistani Army but Pakistan however has assumed “a posture of innocence”. The war ends with a UN-sponsored ceasefire. However, despite this betrayal, Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri signs a truce with Ayub Khan at Tashkent and returns to Pakistan all the major gains of the war.
The Tashkent Agreement says both countries will “abjure force” and will ensure “non-interference” in each other’s internal affairs. So, consequent to ‘verification’, we are once again convinced that Pakistan has betrayed our trust. But, what do we do? On the advice of the Soviet Union, we again start trusting Pakistan and hope it will “abjure force”. The then Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, pooh-poohs the agreement but our Foreign Minister, Sardar Swaran Singh, tells the Lok Sabha on February 16, 1966 that the agreement will help in “stabilising peace between our two countries”.
1971: Pakistan gets back its swagger and wages yet another war on India. This conflict is brought about by the flood of 10 million refugees into India following the crackdown by Pakistan’s military dictator Yahya Khan. The war culminates in the dismemberment of Pakistan, the creation of Bangladesh and the return of these refugees to their homeland.
The conflict ends with the Pakistani Army surrendering on December 17, 1971. Apart from losing its eastern wing, Pakistan loses 5,000 square miles of territory in the west and over 93,000 of its soldiers become prisoners of war. Following the war, Bhutto replaces Yahya Khan as President and the West steps up pressure for yet another “peace accord”. This leads to the Shimla Accord of July 1972.
Under this agreement, the two countries once again agree to settle differences “by peaceful means”. The agreement also says both sides will respect the Line of Control and refrain from use of force in violation of this line. Bhutto gets back the lost territory in the west and the POWs. Thus, from India’s point of view, the biggest ‘achievement’ in Shimla is Pakistan’s so-called commitment to bilateralism. This is touted as a major achievement and we get back to the business of trusting Pakistan all over again.
Bhutto, however, sings a different tune. Pakistan will shed its blood to support “the liberation war” launched by the Kashmiris, he says. Yet, Sardar Swaran Singh claims in the Rajya Sabha on July 31, 1972 that this accord is the “first step towards establishing durable peace on the sub-continent”.
February 1999: It is now Prime Minister Vajpayee’s turn to ‘trust’ Pakistan. He undertakes a dramatic bus journey to Lahore and signs an agreement with Nawaz Sharif which expresses sentiments similar to those in the Tashkent and Shimla accords.
May 1999: The Indian Army ‘verifies’ and finds large scale intrusion of Pakistani troops into Kargil. Hundreds of Indian soldiers lay down their lives as they drive out the intruders.
December 1999: Terrorists hijack an Indian Airlines flight IC 814 to Kandahar. We ‘verify’ that the terrorists are Pakistanis.
2001: Mr Vajpayee once again “trusts” Gen Musharraf and invites him for talks to Agra.
December 2001: Terrorists attack our Parliament House. We ‘verify’ and inform the world that the perpetrators of this daring assault on our democratic institution are Pakistanis.
2004: Mr Vajpayee again visits Lahore and signs yet another joint declaration. Once again, Gen Musharraf promises that “he will not permit any territory under Pakistan’s control to be used to support terrorism in any manner”. We trust him.
November 26, 2008: Pakistani terrorists mount a sea-borne attack on Mumbai, killing and maiming hundreds of people. We 'verify' that this horrendous assault was planned and executed with the blessings of the Pakistani establishment.
July 2009: It is now Prime Minister Singh’s turn to ‘trust’ Pakistan. Action against terrorists by Pakistan need not be linked to the dialogue process, he says, but later modifies this. “Trust but verify” is our motto he says! So, the political leadership is now back to ‘trusting’ Pakistan. Civilians beware!
EMRAAN’S NOT A ONE-OFF EPISODE
This refers to the Second Opinion, “Emraan has not helped Muslims” by Khimi Thapa. A Muslim citizen being denied the right to purchase property is not a one-off episode but a rampant practice. Bollywood actor Emraan Hashmi, who was denied a no-objection certificate by Nibbana, a plush housing society on Palli Hill in Mumbai, allegedly on religious grounds, where he wished to purchase an apartment, simply exercised his right to be heard by making the incident public.
Instead of setting right the injustice done to Emraan, Maharashtra Police slapped cases against the actor under different sections of the IPC for trying to disrupt communal harmony in society. Emraan’s ordeal is not a one-off case as similar incidents have happened to several Muslims, including actress Shabana Azmi.
Instead of rubbishing the issue, it must be discussed intellectually in the larger interest of the country. When India attained its freedom, a large number of Muslims opted to stay here. Those who remained in India never regretted their decision. No doubt Muslims in India are far better than any other country in the world. But for the last two decades, a sort of degeneration has taken place in our socio-political atmosphere. The reason is that our policymakers and politicians have failed to translate constitutional secularism into a reality.
When the architects of the Constitution were busy debating its framework, their basic aim was to ensure that the aspirations of all sections of the Indian society were satisfied. The recorded Constituent Assembly debates indicate in very clear terms that they had a desire to develop a cohesive society.
Hence, special laws for the tribal and deprived classes were enacted and special Articles were incorporated in the Constitution for the minorities. The objective was to evolve a peaceful, sustainable Indian citizenry without any bias. But our politicians of later years could not govern the nation on the lines decided by the framers of the Constitution.
Several reports of different inquiry commissions are gathering dust, including the report of the Sri Krishna Commission, which probed the Mumbai riots of 1992-93, and till date remains unimplemented even three years after its submission. If our politicians fail to channelise their energies to de-communalise the society, the society will crumble from within.
THE MONTH WE LOST DARA
DARA SHIKOH WAS KILLED ON AN AUGUST NIGHT 350 YEARS AGO, AND WITH HIM DIED HOPES OF A LASTING HINDU-MUSLIM COMPACT. IT WAS THE PARTITION BEFORE PARTITION. TODAY DARA LIES FORGOTTEN IN HIS OWN COUNTRY, REDUCED TO A FRINGE FIGURE BY POLITICIANS TOO EMBARRASSED TO ACKNOWLEDGE HIM
August is India’s month of myth, memory and anniversary. The three are not unrelated. The past is often not what was but what we make of it, or want to make of it. In this country — as elsewhere — historical remembrance is an inherently political act. It so often becomes a reflection of current affairs or contemporary political innovation.
This month is packed with such landmarks. Some, like August 15 or August 9 — Quit India Day — come every year. Some — like book releases and revisionist accounts of the founder of Pakistan — are perhaps custom-created for August 2009. Discussants tend to see the past only as it is expedient. Anniversaries are not cherished moments. Rather, they are reduced to symbolism and point scoring.
An example would help. Earlier this month, the Times of India carried a bizarre report that confidently predicted there would no official celebrations in early 2011 of the 600th anniversary of Ahmedabad’s founding. It made this assertion a good year-and-a-half in advance because “Now that the BJP is in power both in Ahmedabad and Gujarat, it is not enthused by the idea of recognising and celebrating the birth of the city under Muslim rule.”
Was this report motivated by delicate concern for a milestone in the evolution of Indian urban planning? Alternatively, was somebody resting a gun on history’s shoulder to fire a bullet at the Narendra Modi Government? In India, if a historical anniversary has not been politicised, somebody will rush to make amends.
On the other hand, there are some dates that are subjected to only collective amnesia. They fall in the blind spot of the prevailing consensus. This month has one such: The 350th anniversary of the murder of Dara Shikoh. As per the Julian calendar, it took place on August 30, 1659. If one were to follow the modern Gregorian calendar, the date would move 10 days to September 9, but that wouldn’t remedy its neglect.
Why was Dara Shikoh’s departure so significant? It signalled the partition before Partition. His death ended old India’s final chance to bequeath succeeding generations a post-denominational legacy. It extinguished hopes of a genuine and lasting Hindu-Muslim compact.
Dara was Shah Jahan’s first son, a compelling, charismatic character. The French traveller Francois Bernier wrote of him as “courteous in conversation, quick at repartee, polite and extremely liberal”. He was the Barack Obama of his age — the cerebrally-gifted member of a minority who positioned himself beyond faction.
The Mughal dynasty produced warriors and intellectually curious men such as Akbar. Dara Shikoh was its lone scholar, a PhD in a family of school drop-outs. He studied the Quran, as well as the holy books of the Jews and Christians. He was an authority on the Upanishads, translating them from Sanskrit to Persian in his Sirr-i-Akbar. He was a devotee of Mian Mir, the Sufi spiritualist who laid the foundation of Sikhism’s holiest shrine, the Harmandir Sahib.
Dara’s Majma-al-Bahrain (Mingling of the Oceans) was an interrogation of the philosophies of Hinduism and Islam and sought to synthesise these. It could have been the inspirational text of a new India.
This was not to be. A few months before his death, Dara was defeated by his brother, Aurangzeb. Victors write history. Aurangzeb painted Dara as a villain. As Abraham Eraly recounts in The Last Spring: The Lives and Times of the Great Mughals, Aurangzeb’s official chronicler wrote of Dara: “He was constantly in the society of Brahmins, yogis and sanyasis, and he used to regard these worthless teachers of delusions as learned.”
Dara’s theological inquiry and his commissioning of a Persian translation of the Vedas were disparaged as “perverted opinions”. The consequences of Dara becoming emperor were assessed as catastrophic: “The foundations of faith would be in danger and the precepts of Islam would be changed for the rant of infidelity and Judaism.”
A mix of treachery and ill-luck lost Dara his crucial battle against Aurangzeb, despite a combined army of Muslims and Rajputs fighting desperately for a prince they saw as the moderate face of Indian Islam.
When eventually captured, Dara was tried for apostasy and sentenced to death.
Aurangzeb, the brother Dara often dismissed as a “namaazi”, a zealot only obsessed with the outward appearances of religion, took charge of the Mughal Empire. Midway through his reign he imposed the jizya tax on Hindus, over a century after Akbar had abolished it. Dara was physically dead; now his spirit had been crushed too.
For a certain type of historian, it is fashionable to present Dara as a bookish weakling whose ascension to the Peacock Throne would have enfeebled the empire and thrown it into anarchy. This is not necessarily correct. His father trained Dara as an administrator, rarely sending him on military expeditions but realising perhaps that his reasonableness and learning were crucial to the governance of Hindustan.
The one campaign Dara did lead was an attempt to recapture Kandahar from the Persians in 1653. It failed and this is cited as evidence of Dara’s poor skills as a general. It is often forgotten that in the previous year Aurangzeb had done no better. He had also been humiliated in Kandahar.
The military setbacks suggested a broader message, one Dara instinctively understood. The Mughals had become an Indian people, far from their Central Asian roots. Their future, their culture, their very religiosity lay here, in the soil of India, not in some external homeland of the mind.
Unfortunately, we remember Dara today as only a fringe character. He features in popular culture — most recently in Mohsin Hamid’s novel Moth Smoke, an allegorical tale of Pakistan that names its tragic hero Dara and packages him as a sort of South Asian Jay Gatsby.
In India itself, the more visible socio-religious Muslim leadership has no time for Dara. ‘Secular’ politics rejects him as an embarrassment. Others do no better. When the NDA was in office, there was a proposal to name a park in Old Delhi after Dara Shikoh. BJP functionaries from Chandni Chowk protested it would be unpopular with Muslim voters and the idea was dropped.
It speaks of the times that Indian politics has place for those who stress Mohammed Ali Jinnah’s early role as “an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity” but scarcely remembers Dara, the true embodiment of that synthesis. This August 30, spare a melancholic thought for that noble prince, and for the India that might have been.
MAMATA ON A ROLL
SHE HAS TO NOW CONVINCE VOTERS SHE CAN GOVERN
Like a juggernaut, the Trinamool Congress is advancing across the West Bengal landscape, fortified by a pliant Congress which is prepared to send the long-awaited, much-debated land acquisition and rehabilitation Bills into cold storage. The aim of the Trinamool Congress is to capture voters’ attention by leveraging sympathy directed at various victims of either the State Government’s neglect, corruption and inefficiency or the CPI(M)’s bullying, greed and abuse of power.
The response of the CPI(M), after the catastrophic Lok Sabha election result, has resembled a disorderly rout. There are, however, signs that the shock is wearing off and the Marxists are adopting retreat as a strategy. In its Burdwan stronghold, the Marxists have expelled 22 comrades in Pandebeswar over failure to implement the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. In Mayureswar, Birbhum, the comrades have decided to bring a no-confidence against one of their own in the gram panchayat. In Purshura in Hooghly, the comrades have opted out of contesting a cooperative society election.
As the Trinamool Congress gains ground at the CPI(M)’s cost, the political balance has begun to shift, hoisting the opposition to the top. Once there, the Trinamool Congress will need to start work on delivering on what voters believe it promised them it would do. Therefore, it is pertinent to examine what Ms Mamata Banerjee has promised the voters and how far she can be expected to deliver on it.
Her biggest success was the closure of the Tata Motors Nano project in Singur and the reversal of the decision to build a Special Economic Zone in Nandigram. She won the hearts and minds of voters in Kolkata and rural Bengal because she fought and won the battle over maintaining the status quo, which was the preservation in perpetuity of the timeless peasant life. Her triumph was produced by the CPI(M)’s political, organisational failures and the State Government’s inept governance.
Therefore, Ms Banerjee will have to do two things together to deliver on her promises. The first is to deliver prosperity while preserving the peasant life. The second is to deliver governance, via her party and as an administrator. Neither task is easy.
Her tasks are likely to become much more complicated because she is allowing a build up of perceptions that are raising expectations to vertiginous heights. The decision by the Congress to send the new Land Acquisition Bill and its accompanying rehabilitation Bill into cold storage ostensibly on the say so of Ms Banerjee and in the teeth of the opposition from powerful leaders like Mr Sharad Pawar, Mr Murli Deora and Mr C P Joshi has converted the Trinamool Congress leader in West Bengal into a giant killer. That she talks directly and only to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and wins her point every time has added to the mystique.
In other words, Ms Banerjee can talk the language of power. The question is, what does she want to achieve with the power she enjoys? As of now, Ms Banerjee wants to prevent the Government from having any role to play in assisting investors acquire land to put up factories, build real estate, construct infrastructure in order to continue India’s transformation into an economic superpower. She wants to deny to the Government the right to exercise the principle of eminent domain, which is the idea of the State being the ultimate owner of all land within the territorial boundary of India. She also wants to curb or ban the idea of sovereign compulsion, where under, should the situation so demand, the State can intervene in order to enable some activity.
The Congress on the contrary wants to retain the right of the Government to assist investors acquire the residual parcels of land after having directly purchased from the owners anything between 70 to 85 per cent of the required area for a project. If the differences between what the Congress wants in terms of a land acquisition and rehabilitation policy and what the Trinamool Congress insists should be the law were as irreconcilable as it appears, the alliance would have reached a breaking point. If there is no sign that a break is in the offing, then something else is working as an adhesive to keep the two together.
Ridding West Bengal of the CPI(M)-led Left Front is one of the ingredients that have gone into the making of the glue that binds the Trinamool Congress to the Congress. It cannot be the only ingredient. For the Congress having an in-house strident voice of opposition to the land acquisition and rehabilitation Bills may be the biggest boon and keeping Ms Banerjee sweet is, therefore, a political necessity. Opposition to changes in the 1894 Land Acquisition laws has surfaced in different parts of India. Major projects, including SEZs, are in danger of being scuppered as time runs out for its implementation. For as long as Ms Banerjee continues to keep the pot boiling over the new land Bill, the Government in those States can go ahead with big projects under the old law that allows for 100 per cent acquisition.
If Ms Banerjee’s opposition deters anyone other than West Bengal, it is doubtful if the Congress would worry too much about it. In other words, if West Bengal in the grip of Ms Banerjee repeats the disaster it brought on its own head by rejecting computerisation in the 1980s because it now refuses to allow industries to set up projects on farm lands, then the onus of perpetuating the State’s stagnation will not be on the Congress. It will be Ms Banerjee’s cross and she will have to bear it.
ISLAMISTS GNAWING AT ALGERIAN VALUES
Under pressure from conservatives, the Government has closed down many restaurants and nightclubs in Algiers and is enforcing a stricter and more visible version of Islam, writes Alfred de Montesquiou
All through the 1990s, when Islamic militants waged a ferocious war on the Algerian state and nightlife died in the city that once called itself ‘The Paris of Africa’, the Hanani bar and restaurant stayed open. It was “an act of resistance,” says owner Achour Ait Oussaid.
Yet today, at a time when the bloodshed has ebbed, local authorities have shuttered the hole-in-the-wall bar. “This same state has done what the Islamists never managed to do,” Ait Oussaid said, standing amid abandoned tables and empty shelves gathering dust.
At least 40 bars, restaurants and nightclubs have been closed in the past year around Algiers alone, according to local media. The Government insists that the closures are strictly a matter of safety and hygiene, but suspicion is widespread that Muslim conservative pressure is to blame.
Ait Oussaid, a Muslim like almost all of Algeria’s 32 million people, contends that officials caved in to a petition circulated in his seaside neighbourhood of La Perouse demanding that the Muslim prohibition of alcohol be enforced.
Many see this as one of a series of measures the Government is taking in Algiers and other cities to soothe Muslim sensitivities and isolate the militants who still carry out bombings and assassinations.
The North African country has a history of tolerance and secular-leaning Government, but its nightlife has gone through several ups and downs.
When it was a French colony it boasted countless classy nightclubs and restaurants. The fun went on in the early years of independence in the 1960s, lost its flair when doctrinaire socialists ran the country, made an exuberant comeback, and then was devastated by the so-called ‘Black Decade’ of Islamic violence and Government countermeasures that left up to 2,00,000 dead.
The fighting erupted in 1992 when the army canceled elections that Islamic candidates were expected to win. In the ensuing years, bars, nightclubs and anything else the militants deemed Western could be targeted.
Ait Oussaid says he defied death threats to keep Hanani open. “For me, it was an act of resistance, a way to defend the Algerian state,” he said.
Youcef Kerdache, a construction entrepreneur who still drops by Hanani for old times sake, calls the bar a victim of “the ostentatious Islamisation of Algerian society.”
Mohamed El Kebir, Algiers’ regional governor, declined to comment for this report, but speaking to the French-language Liberte newspaper, he said safety regulations are the only consideration, not “religion or other pressures.”
Still, other signs point to increasing enforcement of a stricter, more visible version of Islam. Several workers were prosecuted last fall for smoking in public during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Groups of Algerian Muslims have recently been put on trial for converting to Christianity.
Censorship of sexual content on national TV has become stricter, and although women aren’t officially obligated to cover their heads, students at provincial universities complain of being pressured to wear head scarves.
While the affluent elite can unwind at Algiers’ costly private clubs or international hotels, the closures appear to be hitting lower-income neighbourhoods hardest.
In the Boumerdes province next to Algiers, Governor Brahim Merad has pledged not to approve a single liquor license. “Even better; I won’t miss a single opportunity to close the existing establishments,” the French-language El Watan newspaper quoted him as saying in June.
Rundown Boumerdes remains one of Algeria’s most violent areas, with several killings and roadside bombings a week on average, blamed on Al Qaeda-linked militants.
The programme of “national reconciliation” put forward by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in 2005 is widely credited with ending the worst of the civil strife. But Rachid Tlemcani, a political science professor at Algiers University says: “We’re witnessing the slow growth and triumph of Islamism through society.”
Conservatives, he charged, “are nibbling at Algerian values, and authorities are following suit.”
AP writer Aomar Ouali in Algiers contributed to this report.
GRAM SABHA COMES TO THE RESCUE OF THE POOR
WITH NO GOVERNMENT PENSION PLAN IN SIGHT, PEOPLE FIND A WAY OUT ON THEIR OWN, REPORTS AWANISH SOMKUWAR
Ninty-six-year-old Sattan Bai’s joy knew no bounds when she received the first monthly pension of a princely amount of Rs 200 in Maniya village in Mandla district, Madhya Pradesh. This was not part of any Government scheme or an investment of the past but the result of a bold step taken by the village community though its gram sabha. Responding to the situation of the poorest and the weakest at the social strata, it announced a monthly pension for the most vulnerable persons.
“Maniya village is probably the first village in the State where the Gram Sabha has started its pension scheme for the destitute, the most vulnerable and for those who are physically unable to do any work for their living,” says Ajab Singh Maravi, sarpanch of Chhatarwada gram panchayat, which comprises Maniya, Chhatarwada and Mohgao villages.
Triggering this process was an initiative taken by the Madhya Pradesh Rural Livelihoods Project which works through gram sabhas for promotion and protection of livelihoods of the rural poor. A 10-member social protection committee from within the village community was formed to sensitise villagers about rights and entitlements and the protection of the most vulnerable groups. Soon the initiative found takers amongst the village in Maniya, predominantly comprising of the Gond tribe.
Taking note of this, the gram sabha announced to address the needs of those who were at the bottom end of the development process and needed succour immediately.
Access to Government welfare schemes is difficult for the poor in remote tribal villages. They hear about relevant schemes but no officials visit or guide them through the procedures. Another lacuna is that many deserving families do not meet the eligibility criteria. And this is where the Maniya gram sabha has stepped in, to protect the truly deserving, the marginalised.
“This is an expression of the gram sabha’s sensitivity for the poor. We are happy to have taken this decision because we have a surplus of Rs 1.50 lakh in our gram kosh (village fund),” says Lamu Singh Maravi, a social worker from the village.
The entire process of the gram sabha reflects flexibility to go beyond the confines of a set criterion defined for beneficiaries and respond to their needs in a direct way. Sattan Bai’s is a case in point.
The members of the social protection committee in the gram sabha believe that Government help is inevitable and the mechanism at the gram sabha level is only for an interim period. Once the Government scheme meets the need of a particular individual, having fallen within its eligibility criterion, the gram kosh pension will be discontinued. It could go to another beneficiary who perhaps does not fall within the criterion or has been left out for any reason. Thus the gram kosh will function as a safety net so that no one is left out in the cold.
What is refreshing is the approach of the villagers. It is finetuned to the needs on the ground rather than to any institutional process. “This is something we could think and implement on our own,” says Maravi, adding that the alternative systems can be thought about and the present system redesigned.
At the core of this move lies a heart-tugging simplicity and a commitment to social justice which ensures that the village community collectively takes responsibility for those who have little else to hope for.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
Six Indians have died from the H1N1 virus commonly known as swine flu. Tragic, to be sure, but consider that 'regular' flu kills over five lakh people around the world each year. In comparison, around 1,200 people are thought to have died due to swine flu across the globe, with the number of estimated infections at over 1.6 lakh. That puts swine flu's mortality rate on par with other strains of flu. According to some estimates, cerebral malaria has infected a thousand people in Bihar in one month and has already resulted in the deaths of 30 people. Yet, media and public attention has focused on swine flu to the extent that it has acquired more than a tinge of hysteria.
Since 14-year-old Reeda Sheikh tragically succumbed to the illness a few days ago, public frenzy over the disease has built up to such a fervour that it would seem like swine flu, rather than being a treatable, curable form of influenza, is the kind of apocalyptic virus seen felling the entire species in Hollywood's best thrillers. Gone is any sense of proportion. This is not to say that swine flu is not a public health concern, or that the government shouldn't be doing all it can to prevent the disease from spreading. But the fact is that now that we are in the throes of a pandemic, it is difficult to limit the spread of the disease.
More can be done to treat those who have been infected, such as bringing in private hospitals and clinics and allowing them to treat H1N1 patients. That would reduce the burden on government hospitals and allow better treatment to be provided to all those afflicted by the virus. However, paranoia seems to have taken hold of the public imagination, and both people and the media seem to believe that the government should wave a magic wand and rid the country of this dreaded virus.
But that's not possible. Now that the disease is here, having come from 'out there' - perhaps one reason why the general populace has reacted to it with such disproportionate fear - all we can do is institute damage control measures. For them to work, it is imperative that we stay calm and not panic. In the United States, where swine flu has infected many thousands, there is little panic. Schools have not shut down. People are being told to exercise basic personal hygiene at their workplace and in schools. For now, that is the only way to limit the spread of the disease. Identifying the symptoms and getting tested at the right time is important. Of course the government, as well as private institutions, should make every effort to educate the public about the symptoms. But we must remember that scaremongering isn't going to help anybody.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
All the bitterness that Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have heaped on each other was, for the moment, forgotten and a love fest prevailed. The statue of Tamil saint-poet Thiruvalluvar was unveiled in Bangalore and within a week, a similar event will take place in Chennai with the inauguration of Kannada poet-philosopher Sarvagna's statue. The long and bitter battle, both in the courts and on the streets, which preceded the first event will hopefully be reduced to a footnote, testimony to the triumph of statesmanship over linguistic parochialism and partisan politics.
It is to the credit of Karnataka chief minister B S Yeddyurappa that he pressed ahead with the unveiling ceremony and brought to a logical end this protracted dispute. It is to the credit of the people of Karnataka that they largely ignored fringe groups' call for a Bangalore bandh to protest the event. It is to the credit, also, of Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi who lent his symbolic support to the event.
Such statue diplomacy has interesting indicators of not just what is, but, more importantly, what can be. Even as people heave a collective sigh of relief that they can now get on with their lives in these difficult economic times, it's time for politicians to recognise the opportunity to fix old problems with new solutions. The differences over Cauvery water sharing and Hogenakkal power plant need to be amicably, and quickly, settled. For Messrs Yeddyurappa and Karunanidhi, resolving these issues would be their chance to leave a mark on history.
Over centuries, people of both states have lived in such harmony, and enriched each other culturally and sociologically, that the conflict has always been a source of puzzlement to the ordinary citizen. Ugly expressions of mutual hatred and occasional blood-letting have left deep wounds. Hopefully, the healing touch of the written words and exemplary lives of poet-saints will act as a balm in enabling the two states to come together. Both states stand to gain from a spirit of cooperation. When Yeddyurappa said "we are Indians first, and Kannadigas and Tamils next'', it was a welcome break from the cynical emphasis on identity issues so often promoted by the political establishment for narrow gains. If that spirit can grow in the country at large, the benefits will be widely shared.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
A HOME-GROWN CONFLICT
When the first Baloch insurgency broke out in 1948 to resist the illegal and forceful annexation of the Baloch-populated autonomous Kalat state with Pakistan, Manmohan Singh - today Indian prime minister - was barely a teenager while his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani had not even been born to witness the rebellion's magnitude. Yet, last month, both leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh discussed for the first time the indefatigable Baloch insurgency.
Pakistan has been blaming India for causing trouble in its resource-rich province. Gilani broached the issue with India at a time disgruntled Baloch youth have removed the Pakistani flag from schools and colleges and stopped playing the national anthem. Punjabi officers refuse to serve in Balochistan, fearing they would be target-killed. Islamabad attributes the unrest to 'foreign involvement'. India is not the first to be blamed. Similar allegations were levelled in the past against the now defunct Soviet Union, Afghanistan and Iraq to discredit the indigenous movement for retaining a distinct Baloch identity. Indian assistance sounds ridiculous given that the Baloch do not share a border, common language, religion or history with India. Hardly has 1 per cent of Balochs have visited India.
The idea of Pakistan never attracted the secular Baloch. Ghose Baksh Bizanjo, a Baloch leader, said in 1947: "It is not necessary that by virtue of our being Muslims we should lose our freedom... If the mere fact that we are Muslims requires us to join Pakistan, then Afghanistan and Iran... should also amalgamate with Pakistan."
Over the years, Islamabad has applied a multi-pronged approach to deal with Balochista Apart from military operations launched in 1948, 1958, 1962, 1973 and 2002 to quash the rebellion, Islamabad adopted other tactics. First, it kept the province economically backward by denying it good infrastructure, mainly in education and health. Natural gas was discovered in Balochistan in 1951 and supplied to Punjab's industrial units. The Balochs hardly benefit from their own gas.
Second, Balochs, whom the state views as traitors, were denied representation in the army, foreign services, federal departments, profitable corporations, Pakistan International Airlines, customs, railways and other key institutions. Third, Balochistan has historically been remote-controlled from Islamabad. A Pakistan army corps commander, often a Punjabi or a Pathan, and the inspector general of the Frontier Corps, a federal paramilitary force with less than 2 per cent Baloch representation, exert more power than the province's elected chief minister. The intelligence agencies devise election plans and decide who has to come to the provincial parliament and who should be ousted.
Fourth, Islamabad has created a state of terror inside Balochistan. Hundreds of check posts have been established to harass people and restrict their movement. Forces and tanks are stationed even on campuses of universities. Fifth, national and international media are denied access to conflict zones in Balochistan. Several foreign journalists were beaten up supposedly by intelligence agencies personnel or deported when they endeavoured to report the actual situation. Sixth, international human rights organisations are denied access to trace the whereabouts of some 5,000 'missing persons'. Pakistan is also in a state of denial about the existence of around 2,00,000 internally displaced persons in Balochistan.
Seventh, Islamabad has been engaged in systematic target killing of key Baloch democratic leaders. Ex-governor and chief minister of Balochistan, Nawab Akbar Bugti, 79, became a victim once he demanded Baloch rights. Balach Marri, a Balochistan Assembly member, was killed to undermine the movement. In April this year, three other prominent leaders were whisked away by security forces and subsequently killed.
Eighth, Pakistan has pitted radical Taliban against secular and democratic Baloch forces. The state is brazenly funding thousands of religious schools across the province with the help of Arab countries to promote religious radicalisation. Elements supportive of Taliban were covertly helped by state institutions to contest and win general elections. They now enjoy sizeable representation in the Balochistan Assembly to legislate against the nationalists and secular forces.
Ninth, Islamabad has been using sophisticated American weapons, provided to crush Taliban, against the Baloch people. This has provided breathing space to Taliban hidden in Quetta and weeded out progressive elements. Finally, Afghan refugees are being patronised to create a demographic imbalance in the Baloch-dominated province.
Baloch leaders are critical of many democratic countries for not doing 'enough' to safeguard a democratic, secular Baloch people. I asked Bramdagh Bugti, a Baloch commander, about the India link. He laughed and said, "Would our people live amid such miserable conditions if we enjoyed support from India? We are an oppressed people... seeking help from India, the United States, the United Nations and the European Union to come for our rescue."
The Baloch movement is rapidly trickling down from tribal chiefs to educated middle-class youth aggressively propagating their cause on Facebook and YouTube. This generation would understandably welcome foreign assistance but will not give up even if denied help from countries like India. The Baloch insist their struggle was not interrupted even at times when India and Pakistan enjoyed cordial relations.
The writer is Balochistan bureau chief of Daily Times .
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THEY HAVE SET A POOR PRECEDENT
The English badminton team's decision to pull out of the Badminton World Championship to be held in Andhra Pradesh has come as a bolt from the blue. Granted, threats of a Lashkar-e-Taiba terror strike may have given them cause for some concern. But their decision was precipitous, taken just a day before the tournament is set to kick off. As the Badminton World Federation (BWF)'s chief operating officer pointed out, the team had already withdrawn by the time the BWF could get the chance to assure them of their safety. Such a move sends out the wrong message entirely; it is neither consistent nor well thought out.
Consider the implications. The English badminton team has now confirmed that terrorist organisations can gain publicity and disrupt life in the subcontinent with absolutely no risk to them; a simple propaganda statement will suffice. And this when the team had no real cause for concern. Granted, there have been a number of terrorist strikes in India, but consider the choice made in far more dire circumstances by the English cricket team just a few months ago. They opted to return to India after the horror of the Mumbai attacks, participated in a thrilling Test match and pronounced themselves satisfied by the security they had been provided with in its aftermath.
The Indian central and state governments have never been less than thorough about security. Little wonder the BWF, an international body, is satisfied with security arrangements for the championship. And there have never been terror strikes on sports tournaments in India. If the English badminton team's precedent is to be carried to its logical culmination and a simple statement becomes reason enough for the sporting community to shut shop and go home, it would, in effect, mean the end of all international sports tournaments anywhere. Thankfully, by heeding the BWF and agreeing to continue with the tournament, the other teams have set a better example and showed that this need not be the case.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
NO POINT PLAYING IN FEAR
The English badminton team has sparked off a debate by deciding to pull out of the world championships in Hyderabad. Citing security concerns, the team decided to give the prestigious championships a go-by, leaving Indian officials red-faced. Reports of the Lashkar-e-Taiba's threat to target the event apparently prompted the English team's about turn. Now, they are being charged with over-reacting. Should they have stayed on and shown solidarity with the event and fellow sportspersons, or were the English right in thinking about their safety first?
The decision of the English team management to pull out its players from the competition is perfectly acceptable. And the English badminton team has not done something unprecedented. For instance, some international cricket teams have cancelled their trips or shown reluctance to tour Pakistan once the security situation there started deteriorating. Australia pulled out of the Davis Cup tie in India this April citing security fears. Self-preservation is a strong human instinct and no one should be blamed for thinking of their own physical safety, even if it comes at the cost of doing a no show at a sporting event, or any other event for that matter. Who would want to knowingly court trouble?
Let's not kid ourselves. Security threats are all too real in the subcontinent. In India, we have seen a string of deadly terrorist attacks in recent years, in which hundreds of people have lost their lives. The 26/11 attack on Mumbai showed up the fact that terrorists who strike in India are now targeting not just Indian citizens but foreign tourists as well. 26/11 was a gruesome three-day affair broadcast throughout the world. It's therefore not hard to see why foreigners are testy about their safety while in India.
Yes, it is important to get on with life and not let terrorists hold us to ransom. But there is something to be said about being practical and not indulging in false bravado. Important as a sporting event is, there is no point in playing under a cloud of mortal fear. It's just a game, and should not become a matter of life and death.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
ACT IN BALANCE
Aristotle rightly described virtue as the golden mean between two extremes, each of which is a vice. The Judges Assets Disclosure Bill, recently deferred for introduction in the Rajya Sabha, in any future avatar, must try to achieve that golden mean. The Bill, or any future variant of it, involves two competing public interests. Law, as indeed life and politics, frequently involves balancing such conflicting public interests. The first vital public interest is the public's right to know. In an age of transparency, the right of the public to know is the very essence of good governance.
Add to that the brooding omnipresence of the constitutional fundamental right to free speech and expression - a provision enormously expanded to subsume all facets of the right to disseminate, receive and imbibe information and ideas and including the vital right of a free press ^ and it would be a travesty of the faith and trust of the Indian polity to immunise the judiciary completely from the exercise of their valuable right to know.
But there is an equal public interest that is not given adequate weight in the contemporary debate - the public interest in avoiding the slightest dilution or erosion of judicial independence by any legislative measure. An independent judiciary is the bulwark of Indian democracy itself. All said and done, our judiciary has acquitted itself well over the last 60 years. Its innovative expansions of the law have been the pride of India and the envy not only of our neighbours but of highly developed democracies as well. If imitation is the best form of flattery, some of its totally novel, avant-garde doctrines - like basic structure doctrine, public interest litigation, humongous judicial review and several others - have been copied by several other nations.
Judges decide cases, which have either binary win-lose outcomes or at least one dissatisfied litigant. By the very nature of their position, judges are vulnerable to motivated complaints, harassing and intrusive inquiries, and a series of other assaults - overt and covert - which directly impinge upon judicial independence. This competing public interest of judicial independence does not mean that judges can seek to immunise themselves from public scrutiny. It cannot mean that while giving sermons to lesser mortals about disclosure - as found in Justice M B Shah's path-breaking judgement on disclosures by potential electoral candidates - the judicial institution carves out a blanket exception for itself. It also cannot mean that what is grudgingly conceded by the judiciary, after a significant delay - disclosure by all but no access - is effectively rendered unusable and non-accessible permanently. What is given by the left hand should not be taken away by the right hand.
The solution is simple. Try and harmonise these two competing public interests without reducing either to vanishing point. Insist on disclosure by judges - as already done - but let access to that disclosure be permitted after passing through an additional filtering safeguard of a high-powered committee. The composition of that committee is a matter of detail. My list would include one senior sitting judicial element, one senior member each of the executive and legislature and one or two eminent and senior members of civil society. The committee would broadly screen applications for disclosure and weed out the patently false, frivolous and vexatious ones. Being broad-based and acting under public gaze, the committee would be an adequate barrier to intrusive and motivated complaints.
Those opposed to the recent version of the Bill do not appear to have paid sufficient attention to the question of judicial independence. Nor have they made any constructive, concrete suggestions for reform, apart from criticising the Bill. And criticism in civil society has involved a certain amount of populism and rhetoric.
The writer is a Congress MP and national spokesperson of the party. The views are personal.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
HATE AAJ KAL
When you're at work and you don't have any work to actually do, and you have at your disposal a high speed internet connection, YouTube often turns out to be your best friend. I sought of this aforementioned best friend some cricket videos involving India and Pakistan about a week ago.
The infamous Sohail-Prasad incident, Sachin playing impeccably and then missing his century for the umpteenth time, and the trio of Wasim, Waqar and Shoaib destroying the Indian batting order were some of the videos YouTube presented before me. I reminisced for a few moments and purposelessly scrolled down to the comments section. That was when a storm of unbridled venom smote me down from my ergonomically flawed chair. I had stumbled onto a virtual India-Pakistan battle that has been raging vehemently since the day these videos were uploaded.
Pakistan supporters were showering heaps of heartfelt hatred upon Indians and the Indian supporters were returning the favour with equal fervour. I came across several gems that made me laugh and stand back in awe at their innovativeness on wading through the ocean of racial abuses, which had very little to do with cricket. All of them are unprintable in a newspaper. A handful of pitiful comments begged the furious parties to stop and focus on cricket in the midst of these racial attacks. And, predictably, both parties silenced the wannabe peacemaker with a fresh batch of invectives involving his entire family tree.
It's remarkable how the antagonism between India and Pakistan is inherited by each generation with so much vigour and enthusiasm. The hostility one witnessed online between Indians and Pakistanis was so vile that for a second one thought one was reading a chat transcript between the Ambani brothers. The participants dabbled in foul language that covered Hindi, English and Urdu. It was an all-out multilingual cuss fest. When we see the rulers of each country appear on TV and talk about constantly improving India-Pakistan relations, we naively tend to believe things might one day be alright between the two countries; when we see an Indian cricketer bantering with a Pakistani cricketer on the field we wrongly assume that a much-awaited friendship between the two countries will blossom in the near future. The truth is that we are far from getting things right, much like Emraan Hashmi's real estate agent.
NOT RAINING SOLUTIONS
After dithering over whether India is facing a drought or not, the Centre has finally admitted that a crisis is upon us. On Sunday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh confirmed that there’s a hydrological drought and 141 districts have been hit; we’ll have to wait till September to get a confirmation of an agricultural drought. That the situation is more than grim is evident from the fact that
Mr Singh himself met the chief secretaries of the states on Sunday and asked them to “immediately” kickstart contingency plans for crops, drinking water and human and animal health.
There were tell tale signs from the winter of 2008 that this year would be tough, doubly tough if the monsoon failed. This is because the winter rains of 2008 were below normal, which meant that the moisture level of the soil was already down. Then came the monsoon’s vanishing act. Every time a drought happens, the signs are evident in June; this year was no different. So why this delay in rolling out contingency plans? What we now have is a clinical assessment of the situation when there should have been a constant monitoring of rainfall given that it supports the largest private sector business i.e. agriculture.
The government has assured us that our granaries are over-flowing, no doubt a confidence-building measure. But when one crop cycle fails and offtakes by the states increase, our buffer stocks will not look as healthy as they are now. The Centre has also asked farmers to start growing less water-intensive coarser grains. A good move but this again is an emergency measure because our farm policies and price-support systems never encouraged these crops. The focus has always been wheat and paddy. India is a country of marginal farmers and in these hard times, it is imperative that they are protected. The prices of essential items have also skyrocketed and, therefore, the government must ensure that hoarders and speculators are firmly dealt with. Last, but not the least, the Public Distribution System has to work effectively but fixing a leaking tap at this juncture will not be easy. That should have been done much earlier, drought or no drought. The political price of a drought and rising prices could be severe on an incumbent government. The Congress, hopefully, is well aware of this considering there are a couple of Assembly and bypolls in the coming months.
THE WOMAN TRAP
In an age where we mark everything from Friendship Day to Ground Hog’s Day, have you noticed that there are not too many queuing up to observe Mother-in-Law Day? The hoary old saas-bahu rivalry is alive and well, according to a new book that says women are hardwired to hate their mothers-in-law. Apparently, even those who want to get along with their mothers-in-law are not able to because of expectations that they would not get along. We feel that such studies are promoted by cunning men for whom such perpetual rivalry works out quite well.
The son/spouse has two women battling it out for his affections and he is able to play one off against the other. So when the wife comes up with an enticing casserole, he compliments her and then extols the virtues of mummy’s chicken hotpot. The wife does not cosh him with the electric toaster but feels resentment towards the mother-in-law. In subtle ways, the hapless woman is informed of mother’s smooth household management, her parenting skills — after all, she bought him up all right —and her exquisite taste in clothes. Who could match up to all this? Most women don’t even try, they just try and trip up the offending paragon of virtue. So it’s time for all you feminists out there to urge women to stop falling into this sneaky male trap. Women must realise that for millennia, they have been outwitted by men who have stoked the fires of the saas-bahu animosity to their advantage.
It would be too much to expect the two women to join hands. But if each stays in her own corner of the ring, well, the referee, read the man in the equation, won’t have to choose between them. That takes all the fun out of it for men, doesn’t it?
MIND THE GAP
Population control is a must. We are sitting on a volcano. We don’t need so many people. Population is a drag on growth.
These are some of the sentiments recently heard from the highest quarters, including from Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. But we are justifiably proud of our young population, our demographic dividend. We will assume that these
vast numbers of young people we are so proud of didn’t spring up from immaculate conception. So where do we stand? Is a young and growing population a good thing or a bad thing?
It may interest the minister and other Cassandras to know that the new National Population Policy (NPP) unveiled in 2000 does not speak of population as a problem. Neither does it use the word ‘control’. The need to stop the unwashed masses from procreating formed the pivot of Sanjay Gandhi’s uniquely cruel sterilisation drive. That many in their prime were forcibly denied the joys of parenthood is now well-documented.
There are lessons from the political fall-out of that vicious campaign.
Simple People didn’t then and they don’t now like to be told how many children they should have. It is a personal choice and cannot be restricted because the government gets the heebie-jeebies about the population clock galloping on.
The advocacy of strong-arm methods for controlling population is an attempt by the government to cover up how spectacularly it has failed to implement its own population policy. The trouble in India is that there has never been much clarity on the issue of population. The Hindutva loonies have always propagated the bizarre notion that Hindus must go forth and multiply lest they be swamped by the infinitely more fertile Muslims. The other is that the poor have a penchant for producing more children to help augment household income and that they must be headed off at the pass.
The question of choice in the size of one’s family does not seem to arise. There is no evidence to suggest that the poor or illiterate want more children. They simply don’t have the access to space their children or indeed the assurance that a child born to them will live to see its first birthday. Like we take out insurance for a rainy day, they too hedge their bets. Given a choice, would most of us opt for a permanent method of family planning? No. Neither would a poor person.
The ‘cafeteria approach’, where a basket of contraceptives would be offered, remains a pipedream. Family planning clinics hardly exist in rural areas. The mindset of rural health workers is to somehow get hold of people and ensure that they do not reproduce any more.
If a woman were to get a reversible choice of contraceptive and basic healthcare, chances are that she would opt for a smaller family. The poor all the more realise the need for smaller families, especially in light of their limited resources. China, that proponent of strong-arm tactics on the one-child policy, has realised the folly of its ways and has all but reversed it. It has seen the deleterious psychological effects on children who grow up alone to obsessively concerned parents and on women who long for a second or third child.
Have you noticed that apart from thundering on about stopping people in their tracks on the issue of reproduction, there is no informed debate on this issue any more? The aim of the NPP was to bring down the total fertility rate (the number of children per woman) to 2.1 by 2010. But today, the figure is 2.8, ruling out even a remote possibility that this will happen. In states like Uttar Pradesh, the administration is busy building statues, perhaps as a diversion to prevent people from producing children. Much like Azad’s novel formula of giving people power and so they can watch television to stop them getting some action between the sheets.
This poverty of thought on what is an issue that needs urgently to be addressed will boomerang on our economic growth story. There is no point hyping this demographic dividend if young people do not have either the health or education to make them productive.
This government has the mandate to engage in some innovative thinking on this matter. And always keeping the aam admi central to any policy. The noted economist A.K. Shiva Kumar once told me with disarming simplicity. “Take care of people, and population will take care of itself.”
If the government can draft IT tsar Nandan Nilekani to frame unique identity cards, can it not set up a similar autonomous body to oversee a population stabilisation programme? The minister and his people can then be free to tackle the myriad other problems we have, control them if need be. People are not some abstract mass that can be brought to heel. The issue of children is a very emotive one. It must also be kept in mind that no policy can work if it focuses only on women. For the majority of families, it is men who determine the size of the family.
Now that things are moving along, we hope swimmingly, on the education front, population should be taken up in mission mode. It is not difficult. It is not expensive. All it takes is to involve people and provide them with the tools to regulate and safeguard their families. People don’t respond when you tell them that they must keep their families small so that population figures can be contained. They do when you tell them that smaller families mean more food on the table and more money in the kitty. The choice is clear, isn’t it?
Trust the British to speak on behalf of everybody else. After the England squad shipped out of the badminton World Championship in Hyderabad this week, British Sport Minister Gerry Sutcliffe dodged the specifics of the incident to make a larger call for the war on terrorism. Never mind that even Badminton Scotland kept its shuttlers in place and said that the English had “over-reacted”; the minister made a case for international cooperation to secure the 2010 Commonwealth Games from the terrorist threat. “I hope we can do something about it, because clearly we’ve got the Commonwealth Games in India next year, and we don’t want to see major sporting events affected in this way,” a London newspaper quoted him. “So I think it’s up to governments around the world to try and make sure we stamp out, as much as we are able to, this type of thing.” This type of thing? Certainly, there are lessons for sport, for touring teams and for host governments, but it is difficult to see Sutcliffe’s remarks as little more than obfuscation.
Sport everywhere is now increasingly conducted under a security umbrella, and managements routinely take a call on their confidence in the hosts to perceive and act upon threats. (And were Sutcliffe’s government to be returned in general elections that must be held within 10 months in Britain, his Labour colleagues should be answering similar queries as the 2012 London Olympics approach.) Thus Badminton England has invited adjectives like “immature” from competitors for precisely this reason; there is an air of casualness to the decision that betrays no prior effort to meaningfully interrogate the hosting federation, or the government, or even the Badminton World Federation on
security threats and consequent arrangements. This is, one, bad diplomacy: the kind of churlishness sought to be made honourable by lunging for every excuse that can needlessly curdle bilateral relations. It is also bad for sport. Even the most fierce or commercially contested rivalries are ennobled by an ethic that privileges the competition. Of course, the English lose any shot at a medal they may have had. But disrupting a draw so offhandedly and abruptly is definitely not badminton.
There is, however, a takeaway for the Indian authorities too. There is a sense that governments and police forces dwell long and loud on security threats as insurance against a possible crisis were there to be a terrorist strike. The Hyderabad example should caution them against such carelessly-worded alerts. It should also sensitise them to the folly of allowing the BCCI to represent its scheduling issues for the IPL as a simple case of security threats.
LICENCE TO SKILL
Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) were supposed to be the workshops of our progress, where the private sector, with government assistance, could mould a workforce best equipped to meet its requirements. Less than 3 per cent of the Rs 1500 crore allotted to upgrading these institutes has been used, and the private sector seems less than enthusiastic about the project so far. They are alsohobbled by inadequate infrastructure, poor instruction and systemic rigidity of the ITIs.
For all the happytalk about our demographic dividend, our workforce is appallingly untrained — only 2 per cent has skills training, compared to 96 per cent in Korea and 80 per cent in Japan. Private involvement in our ITIs was meant to prep our population, providing a 45-million-strong boost to the skilled workforce by 2012. So why is the skill development mission (of which ITIs are one strand) foundering? If there is limited demand in the manufacturing sector, as the review suggests, then service industries must step in to reorient these programmes. Making these technical institutes more self-directed and agile, and capable of meeting local market needs, is also vital. Setting up management committees to oversee instruction and placement, and giving students incentives, like membership of trade associations, tools, etc along with their diplomas is another positive step. Ultimately, industry-led skills training is the only way to bring our labour force up to speed. Germany has been doing it for decades — over 50 per cent of its students work in an industry for a couple of years after high school, before further studies. Ditto for South Africa and Brazil, where industries fund training based on their needs.
Recently, the Planning Commission also recommended a 150 per cent income tax deduction to apprentice stipends by companies — this could certainly change the logic of apprenticeship, from push to pull. The skill development project is foundering because of the multiplicity of ministries, and the lack of a cogent plan — with the result that millions of people are unemployed, even as jobs that require basic specialisation go unfilled.
Having been a game changer in recent elections, how is Chiranjeevi’s Praja Rajyam Party adapting itself to its new role and circumstances? From a spectacle to a spectator, it’s been quite a journey for the superstar who now watches Y.S.R. Reddy and Chandrababu Naidu engage in routine verbal duels in the assembly. That screen stardom doesn’t automatically translate into votes was Chiranjeevi’s hard lesson from the elections, as the PRP, despite scaring both the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party, drew a blank in Lok Sabha and managed only 18 assembly seats. It was not Chiranjeevi’s fate to do an “NTR 2009”. Nevertheless, it was a beginning.
Now, the PRP could be falling apart. Along with heavyweights like T. Devender Goud and P. Mithra Reddy, many others have deserted ship. The party which paraded its “non-political” credentials of professionals, bureaucrats, etc finds its ranks depleted of the IAS-IPS brand. While their so-called
disavowal of politics may have sounded self-defeating in the political arena, Chiranjeevi’s harping on “social justice” from the dais and the lack of much delivery thereof on the ground may be a more concrete factor to pin down. He never quite managed to tangibly define the message of “change”.
Moreover, his Kapu votebank seems to have trapped him in a caste identity he can’t break out of. And yet, with the TDP near-decimated, a political space has opened up for the PRP. As he desperately holds on to his MLAs, Chiranjeevi perhaps hopes to move into that space. But a game changer now managing its own game, the PRP has to learn to stay afloat first. With Brand Chiranjeevi gone, the star needs to now become a politician. His first test is the survival of his party. If he can secure that, there’s no end to possibilities.
LET’S PUT IT TO A VOTE
There is something fascinating about the way our engagement with the rest of the world almost always gets hemmed in by the Us-versus-Them syndrome. The climate change agenda has also meshed beautifully into that chain.
I venture to think this form of engagement has become so much a part of our response to the current debates, the Indian government as in this case has put up a defensive wall about our position, without even bothering to accurately gauge the way Indian citizens have arraigned themselves on this topic.
It would be interesting then to inquire into the response of the Indian public to the issues of climate change through a referendum. The format has never been used by the Indian polity but there is absolutely no reason why this of all issues should not be voted upon by the people.
The government was within its rights to feel that the nuclear deal debate, for instance, was arcane enough not to lend itself to such methods. Also, despite the romance involved in asking an entire
1.1 billion population to vote on all and sundry issues, the scale involved would make the decision-making process impossible through such measures.
But I can think of just no other issue that lends itself to a nationwide vote more than the one on climate change. The implications are clear, the issues up for debate are clear too, as we shall see in a moment. Unlike any other topic that at best can involve only a section of the population in terms of the impact, the climate change agenda involves each person on this planet.
To then claim the people are not educated or nuanced enough to vote on it will be preposterous.
The other reason for a national referendum to determine our position on climate change is more compelling. Without getting into a debate on the content of the climate change discourse, it is clear that the Indian stand, along with that of the Chinese, has rapidly metamorphosed into an Us-versus-Them syndrome. The Indian government has argued consistently that the development needs of the Indian population cannot be made hostage to the need to put in climate safeguards, till the economy achieves a certain level of traction.
Here it is interesting to note that the government has been holding forth this position without much of a feedback from the people on the subject. Till now, Indian elections have been fought on myriad issues, but never on climate even on a tangential note. While most significant political parties have articulated their stance on climate issues, there are no visible differences among them. The position is basically tiered on the need to protect the interests of Indian citizens, especially the poor, against the demands made by the developed countries to meet emission standards.
It will be interesting to find out if “we, the people” also feel the same about the climate issues. My hunch is the Indian people’s response has evolved way ahead of this sort of political response. Whether at the farms or in the cities, citizens are much more perceptive of the role erratic weather patterns play with their life and, therefore, the need to take steps to take action. That this could involve a cost for them is possibly not understood as a logical corollary equally well, but the passions ranged against it are far more muted than the political parties would give credence for.
At this point I am not referring to a bunch of anecdotal tales, but simply a position that the average Indian is far more aware of the implications of weather patterns than possibly most communities in the world. Any changes in those patterns, like a drop in monsoon winds, are immediately discernible.
But let us assume that I am wrong, and the people are clear that a climate agenda cannot take precedence over their attempt to develop a reasonably assured lifestyle for themselves. So they decide to endorse the government position at the forthcoming Copenhagen summit.
That too would be equally impressive. An endorsement of the government’s position by 1.1 billion people would be a very powerful statement that any concourse of global leaders will have to pay heed to. But this can only happen if we take steps to make the position evolve through such a national political ballot. The immediate impact of the ballot would be to strengthen the government’s position in the debate, though I have my doubts that it could indeed be so. The process of leading up to the vote would be far more fascinating. For the first time, we can have a national debate that would be of relevance to each and every person, without being bruising to some sections.
It would also have a tremendous positive fallout. The climate change agenda has been one of the many also-ran issues that dominate our socio-political debate. Compared to most mature economies, our involvement in environment issues has been very minimal, whereas the fallout of an adverse weather pattern will impact India far more. The present ignorance suits fine the government of the day. But if a national ballot happens, it will force all parties to make clear where and why they do stand on the topic. It is easy to rail against the developed countries for their supposed cussedness, but it will be difficult to tell the multitudes in coastal areas that they should continue with a life-as-usual hypothesis, till the flood waters come in. The sight of the sky-high crashing waves against the doors of Haji Ali in Mumbai this July has, I am sure, brought home to the underbelly of that city what another such tidal wave can do.
It will make for a far more meaningful dialogue on climate change in this country than has happened so far. It would also tell the world where we stand on the most important issue of this century.
Many of us still vividly remember the telling image from earlier this year of a cop mercilessly thrashing a six-year-old Dalit girl in Etawah, UP, for apparently stealing a paltry 280 rupees. The erring cop was sacked, and rightfully so. Police brutality and high-handedness are not unique to India — consider the infamous 1991 Rodney King case that implicated the Los Angeles Police Department, or the more recent misconduct of the London police in dealing with G-20 protestors — but elsewhere, these organisations have recognised this as a major problem and have also adopted strategies to tackle it. The leadership exchange programme of the
London Metropolitan Police with business leaders reportedly improved policing standards. Similarly, the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) strategy of CPR (courtesy, professionalism and respect) is also said to have increased public satisfaction.
Ironically, while public perception of police here is largely negative, policemen themselves suffer from abysmally low self-esteem. The latter was corroborated by a study conducted by Rajasthan Police in collaboration with MIT, in which a majority of policepersons were discovered to be suffering from poor self-image. A typical police constable in India is generally overworked and underpaid; he lives in pathetic conditions with virtually no time for his family. They tend to feel that they are not looked after well by the system either. This alienation can be expressed in brutal behaviour. For several years, experts have been talking about big-ticket police reforms: insulating police from political interference and stability of tenure, among many others, as mentioned by the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh vs Union of India. Various police commissions have also come up with numerous recommendations. How long should the police wait for these to happen?
It is high time the police administration developed and implemented interventions, even small, that are quickly doable. While ensuring a transparent and merit-based process of recruitment at the constable level is the first and foremost essential prerequisite, the most important sector that requires immediate attention is training.
Training is of two categories: first, the basic training imparted immediately after recruitment that builds the foundations of a future cop; second, in-service training held periodically to update a serving policeperson’s skill-set. Most basic training facilities are ill-equipped and overcrowded. Trainers, picked from among serving officers, are not only under-qualified, but they are also mostly disinterested and usually a disgruntled lot — perpetually waiting for a transfer to a field posting. Importantly, training curricula are old and archaic, bereft of modern techniques and concepts, still influenced by the colonial legacy of the British — who tried to raise the Indian police on the pattern of the Irish constabulary. Even in-service training is not accorded a particularly high priority, with a pre- occupation with supposedly more important issues frequently cited as a reason.
So, allocate adequate resources to training facilities; use them to build reasonable infrastructure, source equipment and hire quality trainers. But also revamp the basic training curriculum. That requires the incorporation of “soft” skills in a major way.
Communication, problem-solving, motivation, team-building, and negotiation all have a direct bearing on the behaviour and
attitude of policepersons. William Bratton, the NYPD’s legendary commissioner had introduced training for “verbal judo” where the cops were trained to use aggressive behaviour of others to their advantage.
Similarly, in-service training must keep pace with the rapid transformation of Indian society. The paradigms of policing must also change towards a community-centric approach. Often, police personnel are not sent for in-service training at outstation facilities, on the pretext that they cannot be spared from field jobs. The NYPD, faced with a similar constraint, evolved the concept of in situ training at police stations, where a “training sergeant” was given the special responsibility of training fellow cops.
Even small, effective training does result in improved policing. Ample evidence backs that up. During the Rajasthan Police-MIT study, an attempt was made to evaluate the impact of training on the performance of police at 150 police stations across 11 districts of the state. Two separate training modules were prepared: one on professional skills (the use of scientific techniques in investigation) and the other on soft skills (communication, leadership, public relations, stress management, etc.) The result indicated that in police stations where 100 per cent of the staff was trained, the victim satisfaction level increased by 34 per cent; a truly giant leap.
As democracy in India matures and its society transforms, the Indian police needs to move beyond its traditional stereotypes, and reach out to the public. Training is the most critical catalyst for effective policing; image-building will follow naturally.
The writer is an IPS officer. The views expressed are her own
TV’S CONTAGIOUS PANIC
Swine flu or sex flu? If it’s H1N1 you’re looking to, then of course you must choose the news channels which are spreading it as far and wide as the latest developments take them. Last Thursday, after news of the first casualty, many anchors suffering from bouts of highly infectious indignation, wondered where the minister for health was hiding while his deputy Dinesh Trivedi manfully countered their queries. Well, Ghulam Nabi Azad was seated in a comfortable chair in what looked like his residential lawn, talking to DD News. With more death on the weekend, he’s made several appearances on all TV news. Why did he wait for death before coming live on TV?
If it’s sex flu you want to catch, go to Sach Ka Samna. You will not be disappointed or money back return. There’s more three-letter activity here than within the folds of Playboy magazine. That’s no secret. What’s more elusive is a contestant who can crack the 1 crore jackpot. Want to know why? Notice that the contestants have traversed the most treacherous personal territory, survived the landmines of adultery, domestic violence, deceit, etc., only to trip over a pebble. Last Tuesday, a young woman reached question 14 by which time she had pretty much stripped naked, when she was asked if she had ever falsely claimed to healing a person. No, she replied and the god of polygrapyhs sent her packing. When actor Raja married to K star Sweta Tiwari Choudhury had admitted to every sexual and private indiscretion he’d ever committed, that too, in front of his parents, he was asked if he played to the media gallery just to get attention. No, he said and out he went. All those humiliating true confessions had come to nought over the most innocuous questions. The winner will be someone who knows how uncomfortable a pebble is when stuck in the footwear.
While on the subject, there’s a TV commercial that is commanding parental guidance. Unwanted 72 has TV stars Armaan (from Jassi Jaisi) and his wife promote the use of an emergency contraceptive pill. Useful, you’d say, but have heard parents say it encourages sexual behaviour, especially amongst teens. As for ads, did you see the commercials where young boys tie rakhis to their sisters and thank them for their loving care? Now, that is certainly an encouraging sight.
Shekhar Suman is a wonderful sight on Sab’s Tedhi Baat (as opposed to Aaj Tak’s Seedhi Baat?), where he impersonates personalities and answers on their behalf questions put by a sardar anchor made to look like Jaspal Bhatti and sound like Vinod Dua (quite an accomplishment). Last week, caught Suman playing a gay designer who found sardarji ‘too freakin’ hot’. Man-to-man, a good show!
And you though Rakhi Sawant chose her man? According to Swayamvar contestant Manmohan, he walked out on Rakhi and the show voluntarily, and Luv disclosed that he kissed her forehead as a ‘blessing’ not a ‘kiss’ (uh?). Only India TV could have done such a ‘khulaasa’. Meanwhile, Aaj Tak’s revelation is that the next Swayamvar will be none other than, you guessed, big boss Rahul Mahajan.
Volleyball on DD Sports. After singing Jai Ho when India beat Russia, the commentators at Saturday’s semi-final encounter with Brazil were high on hopes, extravagant with superlatives and rather repetitive: “As you can see, once again India coming back strongly, 3-3 third set, once again it is a brilliant smash, as you can see, a brilliant performance by India, meanwhile, Brazil score again, 5-6, as you can see Mandeep is back, open ball, check ball, oh 8-6 Brazil but India coming back strongly, brilliant blocking by Gurinder and once again it is a point, as you can see...” Having seen enough, the commentator looked into the future: “As they say, a girl is Laxmi and probably a girl is due any moment (for India)”. As clairvoyants go, he’s 50:50. Laxmi did arrive. But not for India.
THE SILENCE HEARD AROUND THE WORLD
We mail, we blog, we twitter. Yet, it is on mornings like that of August 6, that we stop taking for granted how dependent we are on technology. I’m talking about the social network meltdown, of course. As several sites were attacked, Twitter went down due to a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack leaving millions of users without the ability to communicate in bite-sized pieces.
DDoS is the technological equivalent of a human brain freeze. A teller at a bank counter can easily process one or two customers’ transactions at a time. Two or three hundred simultaneous customers, however, may lead to extreme confusion. For the sake of analogy let’s say this leads to unconsciousness, making it impossible for any more customers to be served. This essentially is what happened to applications in the online social networking world last Thursday. Malicious attackers bombarded websites from different locations (thus the word distributed) with seemingly legitimate messages causing some of them to slow down, and knocking others like Twitter out cold. Twitterers using the website, their mobiles or other means weren’t able to tweet as well. It was a brief, complete blackout.
The attacks that shook the online world this time around are reported to have political motives. Mashable.com reported that social networking sites including Facebook, Google and Twitter might well have been attacked to silence just one person - a blogger in the republic of Georgia, underscoring the role these sites play as a medium of expression. This wasn’t the first time Twitter was down, either. Earlier this year, a cracker got control of Twitter accounts giving him the ability to impersonate, among others, President Obama. Wonder what would have happened if that attack was politically motivated!
Motives notwithstanding, reactions to the outage were varied. Given the duration of Thursday’s attack, we were far from a Die Hard 4.0 like situation of technology-initiated anarchy. Prem Panicker, a journalist by profession and a twitterer known for his live tweets on cricket says, “I heard about the outage on Twitter and followed it on Twitter. So — what outage?”. For most casual users, it was merely a temporary loss of another source of information. At the other end of the spectrum, for those whose social lives are conducted online in a large part, this was akin to being marooned on an island. Given the entangled nature of the web, India was also affected by the turmoil as ‘tweeple’ from across the country faced issues in logging in to Twitter. Netra Parikh, a popular twitterer, thought at first that her internet connection was down. “When I realised that Twitter was not working, I felt like I ran out of oxygen” she recalls. “I immediately went to Facebook and posted that Twitter is down. I received close to 60 messages within the hour.”
The generation with probably the shortest attention span was left without its newest toy. We didn’t just miss out on opportunities to know what others were doing, browsing or eating. We also got a taste of what we take for granted in the otherwise stable world of technology. As the social web saw cracks erupt that fateful Thursday morning, the blackout of one of the world’s most used services reinforced the reality of the virtual world in our lives. We realised that we have come a long way from a few years ago — a time when social networking websites were the flavours of the season and ‘nice-to-haves’; a time when a new website mushroomed every few weeks and our e-mails reminded us of not having added a stranger as a friend on an unknown social network.
Today, we are at a stage where these networks are an integral part of keeping in touch with friends and family, an effective marketing tool and a way of killing time. Twitter itself isn’t limited to sharing information about the weather or pictures of funny cats. Brick and mortar businesses rely on it to reach their newest consumers. Bloggers, celebrities and politicians have all leveraged Twitter’s enormous reach to rival established modes of communication. In this context, downtime today costs money and service providers are answerable to why even their ‘free’ services are down or slower than usual.
On a lighter note, the outage generated a lot of fodder for humour in the media. Talk show host Jimmy Kimmel said, ‘For two hours this morning (Thursday) no one could find out what breakfast cereal Ashton Kutcher was eating.’ taking a dig at the world’s most popular Twitterer. Another user commented on a CNN website, “Horrors! People will have to communicate face to face!” Hopefully, it won’t come to that just yet.
The writer is an IT services consultant.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
THE BIG BOYS
The petroleum ministry needs to work out a smart, clear and quick strategy of shielding round eight of the National Exploration and Licensing Policy from the on-going dispute between the Ambani brothers. The facts are these: RIL has won the maximum number of blocks after ONGC, the public sector giant. Interpretation of production-sharing contracts in the dispute will have ramifications not only for domestic players but also for foreign investors like Cairn and BHP Bilton. The stakes are very high. Companies have made investment commitments of $10 billion on exploration and also made additional investment of $5.2 billion on downstream activities. True, oil & gas finds so far have been much larger than anticipated in the seven rounds of bidding. But Nelp-VIII starts with the uncomfortable fact that the superstars of global oil & gas like ExxonMobil and Shell have preferred to watch, not participate. This was true even when oil prices had hit unprecedented highs. Now that hydrocarbon is expected to become pricey again, India’s policy on attracting exploration bids can’t be called a success unless the big boys come in. And the big boys won’t come in unless there’s absolute clarity on production-sharing contracts and the rights of the government. Oil & gas companies have to make their bids on the basis of their work programme commitments, the share of production allocated towards cost recovery and the profitshare offered to the government. The ministry can’t keep all these details in abeyance, pending legal verdict on one case. A resolution of that case is crucial, as these columns have argued. But India’s hydrocarbon policy is a far bigger game. Especially in gas, India can be an even bigger player than what the KG basin discovery has made it. That will only happen with a policy upgrade.
Most crucially, in this high stakes game, policy needs to have all parts working the same way. Production-sharing contracts allow marketing freedom to contractors, but this right seems to be abridged in some ways when it comes to rules on gas allocation. Matters are made more complicated by pricing policies. About 55% of the 54 mmscmd gas currently available is priced under the administered price mechanism. There’s a wide range of prices, from $3.7 mmbtu to $ 5.7 mmbtu, and a wide range of disagreements. What should the petroleum ministry do? It should stop micromanaging and announce a broad set of guidelines, junk most of the innumerable clauses and tell hydrocarbon majors that it really understands the business and India is a good place to do business.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
NOT JUST PATENT BUSTING
Work on an H1N1 vaccine is going on the world over. Global majors like Sanofi-Aventis of France, Glaxo-SmithKline of the UK and Novartis of Switzerland have been booking orders even while they prepare for clinical trials. India, too, is preparing to develop an indigenous vaccine, with three leading biotech companies—Serum Institute, Bharat Biotech and Panacea—having received virus strains directly from the WHO. The way in which Indian pharma is part of a systematic global effort this time around represents a marked shift since 2006 when manufacturers like Ranbaxy took advantage of the bird flu outbreak to manufacture generic versions of Tamiflu. And, as the quest for identifying labs in which the human trials of the indigenous vaccines can best be conducted goes on, India is looking at both the public and private sectors, a lesson well-learnt from the fiasco wherein only private labs were initially allowed to test patients for the H1N1 virus. That decision has, of course, been reversed now.
A recent Lancet issue underlines the limitations of clinical research in swine flu. It points to how few patients have been enrolled in randomised control trials or even clinical descriptive studies. Obviously, this is unsettling, especially as the swine flu toll has now crossed the bird flu toll. And the H5N1 bird flu has not mutated into a form easily transmissible between humans even after a decade of being identified. But the WHO says that fast-tracking approval procedures will be safe as regulatory authorities are following previously agreed procedures while maintaining strict safety checks. Indian pharma has not made many headlines recently for its strict safety checks; so, successfully coming through in an internationally regulated high-profile health initiative will do both its reputation and fortune the much-needed good. There are sound reasons to believe that the three biotech companies working on the H1N1 vaccine will indeed come through for the country and the world. They already have a good standing in the vaccine business, and they offer very competitive exports. They have the necessary infrastructure and expertise. As per the WHO scheme, at least 10% of their production will be committed for use in other countries. If the current pandemic lives up to the WHO’s worst predictions, it will affect 40 million people. In lending its weight to a globally structured rejoinder, Indian pharma may find the opportunity for an image makeover, burying its patent-defying feats in the past.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
MAKING AI FLY: GET THE PRICE RIGHT
KRISHNAMURTHY V SUBRAMANIAN
As Air India attempts to build its low-cost carrier business through Air India express, Air India’s management would serve well to learn and imbibe the lessons from the most successful low-cost airline—Southwest Airlines. In the last 15 years, all major North American airlines have suffered at the hands of Southwest Airlines while Southwest itself has been spectacularly successful. From 1993 to 2008, Southwest Airlines expanded its revenues fivefold from $2.3 billion to $11 billion and its passenger miles fourfold from 18.8 billion to 73.5 billion. Southwest provided its shareholders an annual return in excess of 10% over this 15 year period, significantly higher than the return generated by any other competing airline. While there are several lessons to imbibe from the Southwest success story, the most crucial one is its pricing strategy. By diligently segmenting its market, varying its prices across the customer segments and meticulously communicating its brand value to customers, Southwest has cultivated the image of consistently offering lower fares.
Southwest follows an ‘everyday low price’ (EDLP) strategy by which it attempts to convey to its consumers the image that it consistently offers low prices across the various routes that it serves. To understand the EDLP strategy, let us contrast it to the high-low (HILO) pricing strategy pursued by several airlines. The HILO pricing strategy refers to charging significantly higher prices most times, but enticing consumers sufficiently through discounted prices on selected routes or days.
Segmenting is a crucial component of any pricing strategy. For example, airlines try to separate leisure travellers from business travellers by offering lower prices for advance purchase vis-à-vis purchases closer to the date of travel.
Recent research on airline pricing shows Southwest’s EDLP strategy comprises two key dimensions. First, the ‘everyday’ component, by which Southwest ensures that the prices are largely consistent over time in order to create a uniform and permanent belief amongst consumers. Second, the ‘low price’ component, through which Southwest creates the perception that its prices are on average lower than the prices of competing airlines. While both these components are important, Southwest emphasises the ‘everyday’ dimension much more than the ‘low price’ one. Most airlines charge high prices for tickets without weekend restriction and for tickets purchased closer to the date of travel. In these segments, Southwest assiduously cultivates its image of being an EDLP carrier by charging lower and more consistent prices than other airlines. Yet, for tickets that are purchased in advance as well as for tickets that involve a weekend stay over at the destination, Southwest’s prices are not as competitive. In fact, in routes where Southwest is highly entrenched, not only does it charge higher prices on average than competing airlines but it also pursues high prices consistently. Thus, Southwest nurtures the EDLP image to business travellers, who travel more frequently and therefore are likely to generate more repeat business. In general, Southwest engages in a similar form of price discrimination as other airlines, while ensuring that for any given customer segment and route it is perceived to offer the lowest and most consistent prices. Note that the key here is the ‘perception’ that it offers lower prices ‘relative to its competitors.’
To implement this hybrid EDLP strategy, Southwest does not participate in online travel agent sites such as Orbitz or Expedia, which minimises its consumers’ ability to compare Southwest’s prices with those of other airlines. Instead, Southwest’s user-friendly website offers its customers the easiest way to check schedules, prices and book tickets. Further, it builds technological solutions which render difficult online comparison of its prices to those of other airlines.
EDLP pricing offers several advantages to Air India. A consistent, competitive price leads to a more predictable, even demand which can enable better capacity utilisation. Greater capacity utilisation spreads the fixed costs over a larger base and therefore generates cost savings. By passing these cost savings to its consumers, Air India can generate customer loyalty and encourage frequent fliers to stay with it. A large, established base of frequent fliers increases entry barriers for other airlines since such travellers are reluctant to switch airlines.
For all its advantages, Air India needs to implement the EDLP strategy carefully to reap its benefits. First, Air India needs to streamline its operations and generate a favourable cost structure so that it can undercut its competition in at least some customer segments. Lowering prices dramatically before bringing operating costs under control would lead to price wars and bleed Air India red further. Second, Air India needs to optimally advertise its EDLP strategy to consumers. While inadequate advertising would fail to communicate the new price policy and therefore fail to create the necessary perception of ‘consistent low prices’, too much advertising could lead to aggressive responses from other carriers and in turn unwinnable price wars.
The author is an assistant professor of finance at Emory University, Atlanta, and a visiting scholar at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
BAD RAINS ARE NOT A RARE EVENT. SO PLAN
We think of erratic monsoons and droughts as terrible acts of god, events that don’t happen usually, as terrible rare outcomes. This is plain wrong. Bad rains and droughts are a recurrent phenomenon in India. But because we treat them as abnormal events, we don’t have a plan for them. There should be a template for monsoon management. And that template should become relevant from the time the IMD makes its first forecast.
Rainfall forecast by the IMD gives only broad idea about the amount of total rainfall for very large geographic regions. There is a probability associated with these predictions that is often ignored in reading the number.
For instance, IMD forecast for monsoon in North West India in 2009 was 81% of long period average with model error of ±8%. This implies that NW region could get 73% of normal rainfall; which involves 27% deficiency in June to September rainfall. As the rainfall is rarely distributed according to long-term monthly average, the actual rainfall was likely to fall more than 27% in the kharif sowing period. But this information, which was available as early as June 24, was not used in advance to prepare for deficient rainfall.
Was the reason a lack of faith in IMD forecasts? But that has been guiding the official policy in every other way. The stronger reason was the official thinking that deficient rainfall is an unlikely event, not something that should be woven into regular policymaking.
The net result is that kharif crops could not be sown on more than six million hectare area in the country till fourth week of July. The maximum damage is reported to area under paddy which may translate into more than 15% reduction in rice output during 2009-10. The effect on farm income would be much greater due to increase in cost of irrigation and labour.
There are four simple steps that need to become a part of regular monsoon policy. Taken effectively, they can insulate agriculture and the food economy from most of the effects of poor monsoon. The first step is to improve usefulness and accuracy of IMD forecasts and to follow them. This requires forecasts at disaggregate levels, that is, state or regions within large states. The exercise should be done by fortnights rather than by quarters. Obviously, IMD must develop database and a new model to accomplish this.
The next step is preparation of alternative crop plans under different scenarios of rainfall distribution. Implementation of such plans entails keeping ready adequate quantities of seeds of alternative crops. Only then can cropping patterns be changed quickly. Effectiveness of such plans requires very close coordination between state and central governments and agencies. Agriculture is a state subject. So, any plan to combat drought will be implemented by state governments. Some states’ first response is to blame the Centre for inadequate relief. This typically holds up coordinating a production strategy. Blaming is easier than planning. But every year that has seen poor rainfall has seen ineffective response in part because of state-level political wrangling.
The third step is stock management. Sometimes the severity of such events is so large that moderate decline in domestic production is bound to take place. This can be dealt with scientific management of inventories and imports. One reason India need not worry about the food security at national level despite looming threat of drought this year is the comfortable stock of rice and wheat with the government.
Incidentally, this stock was not built with an intention to face the drought; it resulted from policies that have nothing to do with drought management, for example, hikes in minimum support prices. There is a need to maintain stock of major food commodities targeted towards eventualities like drought. Inventory building must be extended to pulses and sugar. We also need to synchronise our trade policy to the monsoon forecast as early as possible. Rather than changing tariffs and deciding about imports when the production shortfall becomes evident to the whole world, we should import early so that prices don’t move against us sharply. The government also needs to involve parastatals in import of pulses whenever there is a likelihood of poor harvest.
The fourth response should be to use science. There are varieties of paddy that can be grown in short duration, there are aerobic rice varieties that require much less water than common varieties. It’s not rocket science to get them to farmers in time. Water stress affects paddy output severely—it need not. For pulses, there are varieties that mature in less than sixty days, a great advantage in poor monsoon. But their field level adoption is very low. There’s no reason that this should be the case.
The author is ICAR national professor, National Centre for Agricultural Economics & Policy Research
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
JUST ADVICE FOR BENGAL
He gave an inch, and took away some. At a question-answer session after delivering the annual Penguin lecture on Justice and India, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen reiterated that industry was important to West Bengal to bring back jobs and also because of the “long history of industrialisation in the state, especially in south Gangetic Bengal”.
He said the Tatas’ exit from West Bengal was a loss and that it would have done a lot to rejuvenate the process of industrialisation in the state and thus reduce poverty. This would have surely pleased chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee if he had attended the lecture. But then, Sen added that the way land acquisition was done was “perhaps not proper”. Extending his idea of justice to the Singur issue, Sen argued that there should have been more public reasoning. “It is very threatening to take land away… a great deal of convincing has to be done to let people know that such projects will lead to more jobs.” He said the state government has to address the issue of poverty.
According to Central Statistical Organisation figures, West Bengal has gone from second position in per capita income among Indian states in 1960-61 to the tenth slot in 2004-05. In fact, since 2001, West Bengal has shifted between slots 9, 10 and 11, with industry limping back after the turmoil of the 70s and 80s. In 2005-06, the state’s per capita income stood at Rs 25,223 compared to no. 1 Haryana’s Rs 38,832.
If Sen was concerned about the lack of public reasoning in other parameters of injustice like child and mother malnutrition and lack of access to primary healthcare, Bengal has a lot to ponder on these two counts as well. If we take just one, healthcare, the state’s record isn’t anything to write home about. In December, 2008, Parliament was told that the state had not used more than 14-15% of the Rs 489 crore given to the state under the National Rural Health Mission. As we saw during bird flu two years ago when it spread in rural Bengal, most primary health centres are inaccessible, and without power, water or connectivity. State elections are two years away, and the Left clearly needs to ‘engage’ more with the people.
FACING UP TO A BAD MONSOON
This year, the rains were exceptionally bad in June and the monsoon has been unable to recover from such a big setback. Now with half the rainy season over, the chances are that the monsoon will end in a drought. The country as a whole received little more than half the rain it usually gets in June. Mercifully, rains in July were only a little below average. Even so there was a cumulative deficit of about 20 per cent in countrywide rainfall by the end of that month. Based on an analysis of rainfall data for 130 years, leading atmospheric scientists have pointed out in a journal paper that when the June-July rainfall for the entire country has more than a 12 per cent shortfall, there is a 67 per cent probability of the monsoon ending in a drought. (Atmospheric scientists typically define a drought as a deficit of more than 10 per cent in the nationwide rainfall for the entire season.) In short, as July came to an end, it was clear the monsoon was in trouble. Moreover, the El Nino that is brewing in the Pacific Ocean appears to be affecting the monsoon. This warming of the equatorial waters of the central and eastern Pacific leads to enhanced cloud formation in that region, thereby drawing away the moisture-laden winds needed to sustain the Indian monsoon. In 1997, favourable conditions in the equatorial Indian Ocean were able to counter a strong El Nino and the monsoon enjoyed slightly above-average rains. This year, unfortunately, the Indian Ocean has not helped out and could instead be adding to the monsoon’s woes.
August usually provides nearly 30 per cent of the monsoon rainfall. Poor rains in the opening days of this month have pushed the seasonal deficit for the country as a whole to 25 per cent. If the rains fail to pick up this month, a bad situation could become a whole lot worse. Northwestern India has already been badly hit, with the rainfall deficit now standing at 40 per cent. It is from this region that the monsoon starts its withdrawal, a process that often begins in early September and then extends gradually to the rest of the country. So the rains in August will have a huge impact on this region. A poor monsoon no longer brings with it the spectre of famine but droughts have been shown to significantly reduce foodgrain production and the GDP. There has been a sharp drop in paddy cultivation this monsoon. “In no case should we allow our citizens to go hungry,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proclaimed at the recent conference of State Chief Secretaries. At a time like this, with a crisis looming, it is imperative that the central and State governments set aside their differences and work in unison for the common good.
CLEARING THE FINAL HURDLE
The suspense over the eligible human embryonic stem cell lines for federal funding has been finally removed after the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced the rules recently. The draft guidelines issued earlier by the NIH, after President Barack Obama signed an executive order overturning the eight-year-old ban on federal funding of stem cell lines, had specific requirements of informed consent by individuals who wished to donate their embryos for research. The 70 0 or so stem cell lines derived after 2001, and the 21 cell lines already approved for federal funding, were developed from extra embryos created by in vitro clinics after obtaining informed consent. This conformed to the guidelines laid down in 2005 by the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) or derived according to the ethical protocols approved by institutional review boards. But the stringent condition of informed consent laid down by the NIH would have made most of these cell lines, including the ones already funded, ineligible for federal funding. That would have been a severe setback to embryonic stem cell research. Nearly all ongoing experiments using federally funded cell lines and those created after 2001 would have been stopped. They would have needed to start afresh, using new cell lines obtained in accordance with the new rules. Little wonder that most stem cell researchers were aghast at the NIH proposal. The national body had clearly acted without applying its mind on such a vital matter.
Biological sciences, especially stem cell science, have been progressing at an astonishing pace over the last few years. When science progresses faster than regulation, it is inconceivable that retroactivity, the cornerstone of science regulation, was overlooked while framing the guidelines. It became all the more unfathomable as the NAS guidelines, the gold standard for the conduct of stem cell research in the U.S., permit retroactivity on cell lines already approved by the NIH. In fact, all the 21 cell lines identified for federal funding by the NIH itself in 2001 would have become ineligible for continued funding had the NIH not corrected the anomaly. Scientists may now become eligible to receive financial support from the government if the NIH is convinced that the creation of the stem cell lines adhered to the spirit, if not the letter, of the new regulations. However, what criteria the national body will use to determine whether a cell line that has not been collected in accordance with the newly laid down ‘informed consent’ rules is eligible for funding is yet to become clear.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
QUESTIONS OF REAL NATIONAL SECURITY
POLICIES WITH REGARD TO AGRICULTURE, EDUCATION AND HEALTH NEED TO CHANGE IN ORDER TO ENSURE A MEANINGFUL AND WIDE-RANGING SECURITY FOR THIS COUNTRY.
PUSHPA M. BHARGAVA
The arms business is probably the second largest business in the world after the food business. It is, therefore, not surprising that we consider national security to be just what the defence and allied services provide the country.
But there could not be a greater illusion than that. With all the weapons in the world, we must not consider ourselves secure unless we have agriculture security (which is synonymous with food security, farmers’ security and rural sector security), education security, and health security. If India were secure on these fronts, there would have been no so-called left-wing extremism affecting a quarter of the districts: in many areas the government’s writ does not seem to run now.
We waived farmers’ loans, but did we take steps to empower them so that they do not need to take any more loans? What we did was for political gain. For what we did not do, the explanation is that we pay only lip service to farmers’ security.
Agriculture security concerns seeds, agro-chemicals, water, power and soil. It involves the marriage of traditional and modern agricultural practices; the de facto empowerment of panchayats and women; the marketing of agro-products at fair prices. Such security requires the provision of sources of augmentation of income to agriculturists and village-dwellers through the development of traditional arts and crafts, medicinal plants, and the unparalleled repertoire of fruits and vegetables. Also involved here are organic farming; the use of post-harvest technologies; orchid tissue culture (for example, Arunachal Pradesh has 650 varieties of orchids which, if exploited, can bring the State an income of Rs.10,000 crore a year), mushroom culture, and the appropriate use of fisheries and marine wealth. Other elements include intelligent energy use; the empowerment of the rural sector with knowledge; microcredit; the integration of rural and urban sectors; appropriate research such as on organic farming, bio-pesticides, and the development of varieties with all the advantages of hybrids, that would benefit India: research that is being encouraged under the Indo-U.S. Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture would be of greater use to the U.S. The integration of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme with carefully thought-out developmental plans; prevention and management of disasters such as floods and famine and the cleaning up of land records are also not to be forgotten. Then come a system to prevent, detect and take care of bio-terrorism against agriculture. Emerging new and exotic diseases of plants and animals need to be tackled by setting up centres of plant and animal disease control. Climate change has to be addressed, bearing in mind the fact that a one-degree rise of temperature can bring down the production of wheat by 5 million tonnes. None of the above constituents of agriculture security has been adequately taken care of.
If a power from outside India wishes to control this country’s destiny today, it is not going to drop a nuclear bomb: it only has to control Indian agriculture. And to do that, it needs to control just seed and agro-chemicals production. The Indian government is not cognizant of this: otherwise, more than 30 per cent of the country’s seed business today would not have been under the control of multinational seed companies. Indeed, a moratorium on genetically modified (GM) crops would have been declared until preparations were made to test them adequately.
As regards education, the most important division in the country today is between those (numbering less than 10 per cent) who have access to good education and those (adding up to more than 90 per cent) who have only education without any value. The former are the rulers and the latter are the ruled.
With the extensive commercialisation of both school and higher (including professional) education leading to a university degree, education has become a commodity to be sold and purchased. India is perhaps the only country in which this has happened so extensively, with the buyer getting the minimum that the seller can get away with. So a private school has no hesitation in charging Rs.10,000 as laboratory fees for a Class I student, and there is often no correlation between what is charged and for what amount the receipt is given. You could sometimes get your required registration and university affiliation for an engineering, medical, pharmacy or nursing college that you are setting up by buying off the inspection team and officers of the accreditation authority. It is no surprise, therefore, that 80 per cent of the engineering graduates (in fact, graduates in all areas) India produces are unemployable.
Till the 1960s, there was no commercialisation of education, and government-run or trust-run schools were uniformly good. The children of the rich and the poor went to the same school, and the rich and the powerful had a stake in government schools. Now only the poor send their children to government schools; they might as well not do that too for, at times the school may exist only in name or the designated teacher may not come for weeks on end. Or, if he is a little more considerate, he may send a surrogate replacement for 20 per cent of his salary which he would compensate for by engaging in a more lucrative business activity during school hours.
The Right to Education Bill that has just been passed by the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha, if it is notified by the government, will only be a boon for those who make money in the school business, while it will be a disaster for those who have no access to education today. Unfortunately, that is what the rich and the ruling classes want. For education is the most important weapon of empowerment, and the best defence against exploitation.
To be truly independent as a nation, and to maintain national dignity, India needs a knowledge society in which every citizen has a minimum amount of knowledge. The country can do that only by decommercialising and decommodifying education and setting up a common school system (for which there has been a continuous demand since the days of the Kothari Commission in the early-1960s) in which the students of the rich and the poor in the same neighbourhood would be studying in the same school without paying any fees, and with a new curricular framework. That is the only way for us to ensure education security.
As regards health security, the lack of a sense of ethics in the medical profession (with some exceptions granted), and corruption in the Central Government Health Service, in the corporate health sector, and in the Medical Council of India, are matters of common knowledge. Inflated bills, pay-offs, unnecessary medical tests and a lack of general physicians are all well-known and well-documented phenomena. In Bhopal on September 24, 2008, a gas tragedy victim was denied medical assistance in the Bhopal Memorial Hospital which was permitted to be set up by Union Carbide expressly for the gas tragedy victims; he died the next day while waiting in the hospital. But who cares?
Our rural health-care scheme covers just a few diseases. Contrast our health-care efforts with that of China’s recently announced well-thought-of programme of spending $124 billion to modernise its national health-care system in the next three years.
We seem to really care only about the requirements of countries such as the U.S., the multinational companies, and the top 15-20 per cent of our rich and the powerful. According to an article in The Lancet (May 16, 2009), a small country like Ghana lost $60 million since 1951 which it spent on training health workers who have migrated to the U.S., the U.K. and Canada. The U.K. alone saved £103 million in training costs by importing Ghanians. It is unclear what the corresponding figures are for India and the U.S., but there is no doubt that the U.S. will be the winner.
Ironically, the Indian government can do everything required to ensure agriculture, education and health security. The Green Revolution was based on our own varieties and not seed companies’ hybrids. Some of the best schools in the country even today are the Central Schools, or Kendriya Vidyalayas. And many of the best institutes of higher learning in every sector are government institutions. Some of our best hospitals, such as the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi, the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, and the Christian Medical College Hospital in Vellore, are run by the government or a trust without a profit motive.
If the present Indian policies with regard to agriculture, education and health security continue to be pursued, there could well be a civil war in the next 10 to 15 years.
(Dr. P.M. Bhargava is former vice-chairman, National Knowledge Commission.)
U.S. SEEKS A FRESH START IN ANGOLA
A NO-GO ZONE FOR YEARS, THE OIL-RICH AFRICAN NATION IS BACK ON THE U.S. RADAR AS WASHINGTON TRIES TO EXPAND ITS SPHERE OF INFLUENCE IN THE CONTINENT.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Ms Clinton gave a gentle nudge to Angola on Sunday, urging this up-and-coming nation, a major oil producer, to push harder to democratise.
Ms Clinton said she was “encouraged by the steps the Angolan government has taken,” like the peaceful parliamentary election last year. But she said the country needed to go further, holding presidential elections and investigating human r ights abuses, sooner than later.
“We know opportunity and prosperity for the Angolan people depend on good governance and democracy,” Ms Clinton said, emphasising what has become the dominant theme of her seven-nation Africa tour.
For years, Angola was a no-go zone, the scene of one of the fiercest battles of the Cold War, in which American-backed rebels squared off against tens of thousands of Cuban troops in a jungle war that dragged on for more than two decades and killed hundreds of thousands of people.
The guns are quiet now, and a beat of life is returning to the streets of Luanda, the capital, a city with graceful architecture sprawled along the sea.
But once again Angola is a crucial battleground. This time, it is the contest for influence in Africa, largely fought between the United States and an increasingly powerful, resource-hungry China.
As if to underscore that, a Chinese forklift crew whizzed past Ms Clinton’s motorcade just as she pulled up to the hilltop presidential palace on Sunday afternoon to meet Angolan officials. Roads, bridges, schools, railways, phone lines — the Chinese are working on them all, lifting this country out of the ruins of war and hoping in return to secure the inside track on Angola’s crude oil reserves, which now have it tied with Nigeria for the title of Africa’s biggest oil producer. But Ms Clinton did not bite when asked to comment on American efforts to check the rising Chinese influence. “I’m not looking at what anyone else does in Angola,” she said at a news conference. “I’m looking at what the United States can do.”
The United States has had a sad history with Angola, the third stop on Ms Clinton’s Africa trip. In the 18th century, Angola was a major slave market, with countless Angolans shipped to the United States in chains. After Angola won independence from Portugal in 1975, the United States bankrolled what turned out to be a brutal rebel movement.
The rebels lost; the Communist, Cuban-backed movement won; and though the Angolan government today says that it has outgrown Marxism, the nation’s flag still looks much like the Soviet hammer and sickle.
“This is a history of missed encounters,” said Angela Braganca, an Angolan lawmaker.
American diplomats here said Ms Clinton would be the first Secretary of State to spend the night in the country.
With the nation recovering, America does not want to miss out on Angola’s oil bonanza. ExxonMobil and Chevron are already here, competing against Chinese firms for new deals. Last year, imports from Angola to the United States surged by more than 50 per cent.
But the oil money has cleaved Angolan society into the haves and the have-nots, a situation true in many African countries. Ms Clinton saw this firsthand. As she sat down for a luncheon buffet at the hilltop palace, the tables heaped with lobster and cakes, the rusty roofs of the teeming slums shimmered below.
Though Angola’s per capita gross domestic product is more than $4,000, a huge sum by African standards, the country remains at the bottom of U.N. development indices measuring quality of life. The average life span for an Angolan man is 37 years.
Part of the reason millions of Angolans remain so poor is corruption. According to Human Rights Watch, billions of dollars of oil money have simply disappeared. Opposition politicians told Ms Clinton that the Angolan government needed to be investigated and that there was no free press in the country.
Ms Clinton seemed quite aware of many of these issues, but again, her tone toward Angolan officials seemed more friendly than pushy.
“Corruption is a problem everywhere,” Ms Clinton said at the news conference, with the country’s Foreign Minister standing beside her. “It’s only fair to add that Angola has begun taking steps to increase transparency.” — © 2009 The New York Times News Service
RARING TO GO AHEAD ON THEIR OWN
AN INCREASINGLY CONFIDENT IRAQI ARMY TAKES THE LEAD IN SECURITY OPERATIONS AS IT MOVES TOWARDS INDEPENDENCE FROM ITS U.S. OVERSEERS.
“Yes, we are in charge now,” said an Iraqi army soldier, Sergeant Salman Fallah Jassim, as he led a mixed Iraqi and American patrol through the saw grass of a dried-up irrigation canal, sweeping the ground in front of him with the long wand of a metal detector. “But we need help all the time.”
The U.S. military, in fact, provided the metal detector, the explosives-sniffing dog and even transportation on a joint mission at the end of July to find a weapons cache in an area of Diyala province only recently cleared of insurgents.
Yet this Iraqi army unit, part of the 18th Brigade’s 4th Battalion, is filled with seasoned veterans — soldiers who American officials say can defend the state, even if constrained by the shortages of the country’s army. It is the kind of unit the American military has been training for years in the hopes of eventually turning over security control, which finally became a reality when American troops were required to pull out of all cities and towns on June 30.
“There would be some hiccups, but these guys would be fine,” said Captain Richie Santiago, who commands an American platoon equipped with large, bomb-resistant vehicles. “They don’t have the helicopters and all the stuff that we do, but they would make do without it.”
The Iraqis have begun asserting the sovereignty they longed for, with barely covered resentment and frustration on all sides.
“We are at the point where the Americans can go home,” said Private Haidar Fartos, an Iraqi soldier on the mission. “We have defeated the terrorists and insurgents, and we don’t need them anymore.”
It is statements like those — along with some episodes of tension and blurred command since the handoff — that prompted a top American military adviser to the Iraqis, Colonel Timothy R. Reese, to draft a secret memo. The memo, which was leaked last month, asserted that the June 30 deadline was a watershed moment in which the Iraqis realised that they no longer wanted American help and that, despite deficiencies, the Iraqi army could now do the job. The time has come, Colonel Reese wrote, “for the U.S. to declare victory and go home.”
Santiago, the platoon commander, acknowledged that the relationship had changed greatly since June 30.
“The SOFA has kind of emboldened them, and some units have had trouble partnering with their Iraqis,” he said, referring to the Status of Forces Agreement that outlines a schedule for American troop withdrawal. “These guys are really competent, though.”
His brigade’s commander, interviewed later, said that had been the case throughout Diyala. “When we started back up after June 30th, there were some challenges,” said Colonel Burt K. Thompson, whose 1st Stryker Brigade, out of Forward Operating Base War Horse near Baqouba, covers all of Diyala province.
Permission for a unit to escort contractors to a job site was denied, so reconstruction work was halted. The provincial police commander ordered police stations to refuse entry to American troops, even in rural areas; as a result, American training missions were suspended.
Angry residents and local police officers stopped an American patrol at a roadblock in Baqouba because it did not have an Iraqi escort, even though there are exceptions for force protection and logistics missions.
“Most of the problems were at the lowest levels,” Colonel Thompson said, adding that the issues were soon resolved. “One more step on this journey to sovereignty with these guys.” — © 2009 The New York Times News Service
U.S. MILITARY TARGETS AFGHAN DRUG CHIEFTAINS
BUT NATO ALLIES HAVE RAISED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE STRATEGY OF KILLING INDIVIDUALS WHO ARE NOT TRADITIONAL MILITARY TARGETS.
Fifty suspected Afghan drug traffickers believed to have ties to the Taliban have been placed on a Pentagon target list to be captured or killed, reflecting a major shift in American counter-narcotics strategy in Afghanistan, according to a congressional study to be released this week.
U.S. military commanders have told Congress that they are convinced that the policy is legal under the military’s rules of engagement and international law. They also said the move was an essential part of their new plan to disrupt the flow of drug money that is helping finance the Taliban insurgency.
In interviews with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is releasing the report, two American Generals serving in Afghanistan said major traffickers with proven links to the insurgency had been put on the “joint integrated prioritised target list.” That means they have been given the same target status as insurgent leaders, and can be captured or killed at any time.
The Generals told Senate staff members that two credible sources and substantial additional evidence were required before a trafficker was placed on the list, and that only those providing support to the insurgency would be made targets.
Currently, they said, there are about 50 major traffickers who contribute money to the Taliban on the list.
“We have a list of 367 ‘kill or capture’ targets, including 50 nexus targets who link drugs and the insurgency,” one of the Generals told the committee staff. The Generals were not identified in the Senate report, which was obtained by The New York Times.
The shift in policy comes as the Obama administration, deep into the war in Afghanistan, makes significant changes to its strategy for dealing with that country’s lucrative drug trade, which provides 90 per cent of the world’s heroin and has led to substantial government corruption.
The Senate report’s disclosure of a hit list for drug traffickers may lead to criticism in the United States over the expansion of the military’s mission, and NATO allies have already raised questions about the strategy of killing individuals who are not traditional military targets.
For years the American-led mission in Afghanistan had focused on destroying poppy crops. Pentagon officials have said their new emphasis is on weaning local farmers from the drug trade — including the possibility of paying them to grow nothing — and going after the drug runners and drug lords. But the Senate report is the first account of a policy to actually place drug chieftains aligned with the Taliban on a “kill or capture” list.
Several individuals with suspected ties to drug trafficking have already been apprehended, and others have been killed by the U.S. military since the new policy went into effect earlier this year, a senior military official with direct knowledge of the matter said in an interview. Most of the targets are in southern and eastern Afghanistan, where both the drug trade and the insurgency are the most intense.
Under the former Defence Secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, the Pentagon fiercely resisted efforts to draw the U.S. military into supporting counter-narcotics efforts. Top military commanders feared that trying to prevent drug trafficking would only antagonise corrupt regional warlords whose support they needed, and might turn more of the populace against American troops.
It was only in the last year or two of the Bush administration that the United States began to recognise that the Taliban insurgency was being revived with the help of drug money.
The policy of going after drug lords is likely to raise legal concerns from some NATO countries that have troops in Afghanistan. Several NATO countries initially questioned whether the new policy would comply with international law.
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the secretary general of NATO until last month, told the Senate committee staff that to deal with the concerns of other nations with troops in Afghanistan, safeguards had been put in place to make sure the alliance remained within legal bounds while pursuing drug traffickers. Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai is also informed before a mission takes place, according to a senior military official.
A major unresolved problem in the counter-narcotics strategy is the fact that the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan remains wide open, and the Pakistanis are doing little to close down drug smuggling routes.
A senior American law enforcement official in the region is quoted in the report as saying that cooperation with Pakistan on counter-narcotics is so poor that traffickers cross the border with impunity. “We give them leads on targets,” the official said in describing the Pakistani government’s counter-narcotics tactics, adding, “We get smiles, a decent cup of tea, occasional reheated sandwiches and assertions of progress, and we all leave with smiles on our faces.” — © 2009 The New York Times News Service
THE ASIAN AGE
ON CHINA, KEEP THE BLINKERS OFF
As the latest round of boundary talks between India and China in New Delhi last week would once again attest, the border-related exchange of views between the two countries is suspiciously becoming a dialogue of civilisations, whose main feature is its never-ending nature. The first round, really speaking, came about in 1962 — and not 2003 as is commonly supposed — when the Chinese guns did the talking in NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh) and the ill-prepared and hastily-got-together Indian armed forces did the listening. The protracted negotiations on the boundary that began following agreements in 1993 and 1996 do not appear to have gone beyond the state of settling the principles for the conversation, with "mutual understanding and mutual accommodation" (MUMA) being the Chinese-inspired sutra. On the positive side of the years that have rolled by while awaiting a satisfactory conclusion is that the border has remained "tranquil", barring occasional contretemps that are not worth blowing up. Economic and trade relations between the two countries have, meanwhile, grown by leaps and bounds, with two-way trade being $52 billion. As a confidence-boosting measure, the two have now also agreed to establish a hotline between their Prime Ministers, an idea originating from Chinese President Hu Jintao. Only with Russia does India have a similar arrangement. The irony in this is not likely to be missed. About a year ago, when the tortuous negotiations were going on to finalise the civil nuclear agreement with the United States and India was keen to acquire Beijing’s support at the IAEA, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had declined to take Manmohan Singh’s phone call.
It is good that the world’s two most populous countries, which also share a long border, should maintain a positive bilateral relationship. This requirement should not, however, blind us to the reality that there is little to suggest that China proposes to show the slightest flexibility on the border question. In India’s understanding, with which China appeared to go along until the 1962 flash attack, the McMahon Line between Tibet and India is the boundary. The Chinese have accepted the British-era demarcation in dealing with Burma. But with India, it is "nyet", or nearly so. The appearance of a dialogue will be disturbed if this is put in peremptory terms. This did not stop Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, from saying the day the 13th round of discussions began in New Delhi on August 7 that China did not accept the "illegal" McMahon line. In Chinese thinking, Arunachal Pradesh is southern Tibet, and that’s that. Earlier this year, the Chinese state media had mounted a scathing attack on India for proposing to place an Army mountain division and an Air Force squadron in Arunachal Pradesh. In the period since 1989 when Deng Xiaoping signalled to Rajiv Gandhi that the two countries de-freeze their relations, Beijing has engaged in a massive exercise to establish "multi-dimensional" relations with "all" countries of South Asia, the military facet being the most prominent. In keeping with its "string of pearls" strategy, it has acquired deep-sea ports in Baloch Pakistan (Gwadar) and Sri Lanka (Hambantota), and in Burma with which an incipient nuclear relationship is also thought by some to be in the offing. This does not amount to encircling India but in undermining its diplomatic and cultural space in the Indian Ocean area. While carrying on with all the good work on the economic front, New Delhi will have to pinch itself and be reminded that Beijing was dead opposed to its nuclear testing and de facto nuclear power status, opposed to the civil nuclear arrangement with the United States, and inflexible on the boundary question.
THE ASIAN AGE
CAN CHINA SAVE RISING ASIA FROM RECESSION?
Before the global financial crisis intensified in September 2008, the "decoupling" hypothesis was very popular among mainstream economic commentators. This essentially argued that China (and to a lesser extent India) by virtue of their recent rapid growth and even more potential for future growth, had emerged as alternative growth poles for the global economy, and could take up the slack if and when growth in the United States and other developed economies faltered.
The immediate aftermath of the crisis proved that thesis to be misplaced, as the developing economies of Asia were significantly hit by the slowdown in world exports. Indeed, the subsequent synchronicity of growth rates across the different regions of the world was so marked that it was unprecedented in the long history of booms and slumps in global capitalism.
But very recent trends in retail sales and output have once again created a perception that developing Asia will buck the trend, and come out of the downswing faster onto a new growth trajectory. In particular, recent economic indicators from China have been so robust that they have inspired both awe and optimism. The view is gaining ground that even if the Chinese economy is still too small to act as an engine of growth for the world, it can play that role for the Asian developing region. This is reinforced by the increasing trade and investment integration of China with other countries in developing Asia, especially in east and southeast Asia.
Certainly it appears that the fairly large fiscal stimulus of the Chinese government, along with other measures to ease interest rates and increase credit access, have worked in terms of increasing both domestic demand and economic activity in China. Thus, while exports have slumped in response to the global trend, domestic demand and retail sales have picked up. As a result, preliminary data for the second quarter of 2009 suggest that gross domestic product (GDP) is growing by nearly eight per cent at an annualised rate, and industrial production in June was 10.7 per cent higher than it was in the same month of the previous year.
Of course, the question remains of the extent to which the extent to which this growth in China will translate into growth in developing Asia as a whole. This region is currently the most export-dependent part of the world. China is the most striking example of this, but most other countries, even those that are currently running trade deficits, see exports as the engine of their growth. Yet exports have slumped quite sharply, turning negative across the region and especially so in southeast Asia.
The view that China can generate external demand for other countries in Asia comes from the shift in the direction of trade that has been occurring over the past two decades, and especially since 2000. The share of China and other intra-Asian trade in the exports of developing Asia increased very sharply between 2000 and 2007 while the share of the main developed countries (US, European Union and Japan) fell. China and other developing Asian countries now account for more than half the exports of southeast Asia, 42 per cent of the exports of east Asia and nearly 30 per cent of the exports of south Asia. This has led to the view that export-led growth can continue to be the strategy for this region, but with a redirection of exports within the region and especially to China.
However, there are several reasons to consider such a view to be excessively optimistic. To begin with, China’s exports and imports have tended to move together, and this is largely because an increasing share of exports (more than 60 per cent in 2007) consists of processing exports, in a process which uses imported raw material and intermediates from other countries to transform into final goods for export. In fact, while Chinese exports have declined because of the slump in global trade, Chinese imports have fallen even faster! As a result, the trade surplus is actually increasing, to reach a projected level of around $370 billion in 2009.
The other reason to be sceptical of the ability of China to become an alternative growth engine for the region as a whole is because most of the trade, both imports and exports, that is occurring within developing Asia (including China) as a whole is part of a vertically disintegrated production process that is producing final goods for export to developed countries.
Recent research has shown that in terms of final demand, only around one-fifth of the entire region’s exports end up within the region. Nearly 60 per cent of exports are intended for final demand to the Big Three: the US, European Union and Japan. So the slump in imports in these major markets, which is likely to continue for some time, will definitely affect the region. Looking at only the gross exports of other countries in developing Asia to China without considering the role such exports played in the production chain for final export to the developed world will not provide the correct picture.
This does not mean that China’s recent economic expansion will not have any positive impact upon the other developing countries in the region. Certainly it will provide some relief especially to raw material and some intermediate goods exporters. But it would be foolish for developing countries in Asia to see this as a reason for continuing with the earlier strategy based on very high export dependence, since this is likely to prove unsustainable.
SCHOOLS, OR SHOPS?
SC BID TO END EXTORTIONS
Harried parents of school children facing arbitrary fee hikes by private unaided schools will heave a sigh of relief with the Supreme Court reaffirming that unaided schools in Delhi could raise tuition and other fees only with the prior consent of the government. The verdict, in principle, would be applicable to all such schools in India. The apex court last Friday dismissed review petitions filed by several schools against its 2004 verdict under which such schools had to obtain permission from the Director of Education for hiking the fees.
The step will go a long way in ensuring that commercialisation of educational institutions stops and there is no profiteering. What the schools that had sought a review of the 2004 verdict should have recognised in the first place was that schools are not shops where lessons are sold for money and that any move to hike the fees should be rational and reasonable, not be aimed at increasing the owners’ margins. The schools will now have to maintain accounts on the principles of accounting applicable to non-business and non-profit organisations, prepare financial statements every year and file these with the education director.
In another pro-student decision, the Supreme Court has held that private unaided schools cannot charge capitation fee either. Capitation fee was another convenient device to swindle the parents, which has been held illegal. But in view of the rising input costs, the schools have been permitted to charge development fee not exceeding 15 per cent of the total annual tuition fee. Hopefully, the school owners will not take it as a licence and extract this additional charge without any real development of the school.
At the same time, the apex court has strengthened the autonomy of recognised unaided private schools and modified its 2004 order so that if more than one private school was under a single management, then surplus funds of one school could be transferred to another. Such administrative freedom is necessary for efficient management, but any attempt to fleece the parents has to be forcefully nipped.
WEST BENGAL CONTINUES TO SUFFER
West Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi touched a raw nerve last week when he voiced his anguish at the “veritable tandava of political violence” in the state. In many parts of West Bengal, political workers are abducted and killed with impunity by political rivals. Failure of the law enforcement agencies, coupled with tacit support of political parties, has brought infamy to the state, where political arguments are sought to be settled by killing the rivals.
The wanton political killings are not a novelty to the state. The last decade has been marked by an increasing retaliatory violence in which no holds are barred. Entire families have been set on fire; throats of old men have been slit; houses have been ransacked and demolished and young, college-going youth have been shot dead, all because of their association with political rivals. The Governor, who had publicly spoken of his “cold horror” over the violence in Nandigram two years ago, summed up the current situation by pointing out that “ not a day passes without someone somewhere getting killed for his politics”.
Stung by Gopal Gandhi’s assessment that violence has not abated because people “who can act” have failed to do so, the Left Front government has accused him of being partisan and the CPM has declared that the Left would not like him to continue as Governor once his term comes to an end later this year. But while there is little doubt that the Governor is pained at the failure of the state government to maintain law and order, to curb the growth of illegal arms and to bring perpetrators to book, it is equally clear that he holds all parties responsible.
He has pointedly asked why violence has not abated though all parties claim to be victims of violence and say they are ready to help in restoring peace. It is possibly too late for the state government to act and take steps to retrieve the situation, restore peace and end the culture of political violence that has done the state enormous damage.
BUT IT’S NO LOSS TO TOURNAMENT
England’s “unfortunate” decision to suddenly pull out of the World Badminton Championship that began in Hyderabad on Monday reflects poorly on the understanding of the English team managers. They went by the Union Home Ministry’s routine security alert which had no specific mention of any threat to the tournament, considered the world’s most prestigious championship after the Olympic Games. The security alert was issued in view of the coming Independence Day celebrations. “There were no specific intelligence reports about a terror alert particularly for this event”, as Andhra Pradesh intelligence chief has clarified. The tight security arrangements that have been made at Hyderabad’s GMC Balayogi Stadium are meant to ensure that the players and spectators feel totally safe.
Badminton England Chief Executive Adrian Christy’s assertion is surprising when he says that the English side went by the advice of their Foreign Office and the British High Commission in New Delhi on what it saw as a “specific Lashkar-e-Toiba threat”. If the British had any credible information they should have shared it with the Government of India. Their panic reaction is not going to make much of a difference, as the English team does not have top players in the singles category. “Safety is of paramount importance”, as Mr Christy says, but creating uncalled for scare is not a sign of maturity.
Badminton England refused to send their players in April, too, to participate in the Indian Open Grand Prix at the same venue in Hyderabad, but all the other participants did not bother about the English decision, which was clearly based on unrealistic threat perception. The event went on well. The current tournament will also conclude undisturbed in the same manner. Terrorists continue to pose a threat to peace almost everywhere in the world, including Britain, but this does not mean that all kinds of activity should come to a halt.
MEHSUD KILLING RESULT OF BETTER INTELLIGENCE SHARING
BY ASHISH KUMAR SEN
A U.S. missile strike that reportedly killed Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in Pakistan on Wednesday was the result of a high-level intelligence sharing between the U.S. and Pakistan. Both countries' intelligence agencies have increasingly collaborated in recent months, resulting in missile strikes by unmanned U.S. Predator drones that have eliminated threats to the Pakistani state. Now, U.S. analysts say, the big challenge is for Pakistan to provide intelligence that will help the U.S. forces go after the Taliban operating in Afghanistan.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer and currently at the Brookings Institution's Saban Centre for Middle East Policy, believes the operation against Mehsud reflects a better cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan over threats to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's government. Mehsud is suspected in the December 2007 assassination of Mr. Zardari's wife, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
"The next challenge is to get better Pakistani cooperation against the threat to the NATO forces in Afghanistan, especially the Quetta Taliban shura and Mullah Omar," Mr. Riedel said. Marvin Weinbaum, a Pakistan scholar at the Middle East Institute, notes there is only so much the U.S. military can do with target imagery. "Eventually you need the kind of information that you get from intelligence sharing between the Pakistanis and the Americans," he said.
The Taliban's advances in the Swat Valley marked a turning point in Pakistani public opinion away from the militants and led to enhanced intelligence sharing. But Mr. Weinbaum believes there is a quid pro quo: "One suspects that at the highest levels it was decided that they would assist more and in exchange for that the Americans would give them more intelligence."
Over the weekend, Taliban commanders refuted reports of Mehsud's death. Three Taliban fighters - Hakimullah, Qari Hussain, who is known for training suicide bombers, and Taliban spokesman Maulvi Umar - called Associated Press reporters and insisted their leader was alive. "The reports about his death are false," Hussain said, adding that "I will take revenge against the Pakistan government for celebrating the false news of Baitullah Mehsud's death."
However, these claims could be a ploy to buy time until a new leader is named. Until Mehsud makes a public statement or is shown on a new video we have to presume that he is dead. "It serves his interest, at this point, to tell his followers he is alive and well," said Mr. Weinbaum, adding, "It doesn't serve his interest not to deny his death."
Hakimullah is seen as the most likely Taliban commander to succeed Mehsud as the chief of the Pakistan Taliban. "Hakimullah would be the strongest choice because he has got a record which indicates that he is a pretty aggressive figure and if they want someone in the mould of Mehsud I think he would come the closest," said Mr. Weinbaum.
But on Saturday evening, hours after he had refuted reports of Mehsud's death, questions swirled about Hakimullah's own fate following reports of a firefight with Waliur Rehman, another powerful Taliban commander. Pakistan officials said one, if not both, fighters had been killed.
If reports of the firefight are true it would be a confirmation of Mehsud's death and an indicator that this development has triggered a battle for control of the Taliban. The death of a likely successor would be a significant blow to the Taliban.
"If Mehsud's demise is a setback to the Taliban network, the death of Nos. 2 and 3 would obviously further that process of disintegration of the Taliban," said Mr. Weinbaum. C. Christine Fair, a South Asia analyst at the RAND Corp., contends people in Waziristan had no great affection for Mehsud and would no doubt welcome his demise.
"While he did not directly operate against Afghan, NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, he offered a hospitable terrain for Jalaluddin Haqqani and other Taliban," Ms. Fair said in an e-mail interview from Afghanistan, referring to the leader of the Haqqani network of militants.
The decapitation of the Taliban's upper echelons will open two options for the Pakistani government to pursue. First, the military can, from a position of strength, offer a political solution to the demoralised and broken Taliban.
Second, and this is an option analysts believe would be most agreeable to the U.S., the military can use this opportunity to destroy the movement. The second option would also eliminate Pakistani Taliban support for the Afghan Taliban of Haqqani and curb the influence of al-Qaida. The ball is now in the Pakistani court.
NEED TO CONTROL FOREST FIRES
BY KK GUPTA
Forest fires during the period April-June every year have become a common occurrence, particularly in the pine forests of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and J&K. The estimated direct financial loss on account of these fires during the current year (till July, 2009) in Himachal Pradesh alone has been computed by the HP Forest Department at more than Rs 2.72 crore. The consequential ecological and environmental damage on account of such fires is not only many times the financial loss but at times is irreparable. As per the HP Forest Department statistics for the year 2006-07, the area under chir pine is 1346 sq.km. and the growing stock is approximately 12.50 million cubic metres.
Every year nearly 30 per cent of the total area under chir pine gets affected due to forest fires. Though chir pine is considered a fire-hardy species but it has been observed that complete recovery is not possible and further recurring fires, particularly in consecutive years in the same patch, cause almost a killing effect. These fires (coupled with the widespread impression that chir pine prevents growth of grass underneath) have created an obvious repulsion in the minds of the people, especially farmers against further planting of chir pine.
Before suggesting any remedies to control the menace of forest fires, it is important to put things in right perspective so that misgivings do not come in the way of appreciation of these suggestions. The chir pine forests exist over nearly 25 per cent of the total wooded forest area in Himachal Pradesh while the extent of the area under broad-leaved species and the conifers (other than chir pine) is approximately 38 per cent and 37 cent respectively.
Owing to the existence of vast barren areas in the state, there is ample justification for planting nearly 30 per cent of the total planting area in Himachal Pradesh with chir pine during the period 1950-2007. Since there remained a good market for rosin (processed from chir pine resin), until recently, there was also economic sense in maintaining the chir pine forests as pure blocks and not considering about the next step of succession i.e. conversion into broad-leaved forests.
In this backdrop, the following are some of the remedies suggested to control the increasing menace of forest fires in chir pine forests: It is time the Forest Department starts a massive plan to convert the chir pine forests into the broad-leaved (preferably oak) forests as a long-term strategy to control the menace of forest fires. Apart from the oak, the planting of wild-fruit plants is extremely significant as that would vitally help in mitigating monkey-menace as well.
This task is not easy because of the practice of open grazing of a large cattle population in almost all areas covered under chir pine. Secondly, the broad-leaved species are not hardy and cannot withstand the hazards of draught, fire and adverse biotic interference etc. Thirdly, the cost of planting would be higher compared to chir pine planting and that need be fully appreciated by the government. Fourthly, the survival percentage could be lower and a particular area would need tending and protection for longer duration in comparison to the conifer species. In view of these factors, a policy decision is required to be taken at the highest level in the government to duly factor the costs as well as the hardships likely to occur to the people on account of restrictions, so that this programme gets implemented smoothly rather than in a slip-shod or ad-hoc manner.
The cleaning and silvicultural operations in chir pine forests have to be done very meticulously and regularly so that highly inflammable pine needles are removed before the onset of the fire season (April) every year and the thinning of the congested crops is done on a regular basis as per the norms of scientific forestry. Since local inhabitants from the adjacent areas do not collect these needles from the entire chir pine forest, there has to be specific and ample budget a allocation for this task to clear the entire stretch. The prevalent policy of a complete ban on green felling needs a serious review.
The extension work has to be undertaken quite aggressively to educate people about the adverse effects of forest fires on their life and property, particularly on their livelyhood-base of farming and agro-pastoral practices. The currently prevalent myth about having good grass growth as a result of burning of the ghasanies has to be wiped out of the mind of the farmers. The system of engaging fire-watchers during the fire season needs to be strengthened and may be it should get linked to some NREGA-like scheme of the Central government in order to provide sustenance to the fire protection programme in chir pine forests.
The fire-lines need be created and properly maintained in all the chir pine forests in order to put in place fire control systems so that the spread of the fire, in case of its occurrence could be prevented from engulfing the entire stretch, thereby threatening the life and property of the adjoining inhabitants. Technological advances made the world over in the field of forest-fire fighting should be made use of and proper infrastructure (machinery & equipment) should be provided to the Forest Department. Also, a training and skill development programme should be undertaken to have a professional manpower ready to fight and control forest fires without endangering their lives.
Appropriate penal provisions have also to be provided in the relevant Acts (Forest Act as well as Cr.PC/IPC) to deter the recalcitrant elements. It is time for all sections to make a beginning to undertake the remedial measures to control the ever-increasing menace of forest fires in the chir pine areas before it is too late and the menace becomes monstrous.
The writer is a retired IFS officer and former PCCF (Wildlife), Himachal Pradesh
BSP, SP TOO CLOSE TO FIGHT
IN the Lok Sabha these days the BSP and the SP find it a little difficult to mount the kind of attacks they used to on each other. The reason is simple — leaders of the two political parties are seated right next to one another in the first row of the Lower House.
SP chief Mulayam Singh’s best efforts to stall the move notwithstanding, the seating arrangement had BSP parliamentary party leader Dara Singh Chauhan sitting at an arm’s length to the SP stalwart, much to the discomfort of the arch-rivals, who would have preferred some distance considering proximity can calm the best of enemies.
No wonder, a lot of stuff between the two that would normally generate heat waves in the House gets cooled these days simply because one of the two ends up laughing at the end of a tirade. Like Dara Singh Chauhan did the other day.
He simply smiled and gave up when Mulayam Singh instructed him to “sit down” and not interrupt. The SP chief was seeking SC reservation for 16 castes in Uttar Pradesh, something which Mayawati recently undid.
ADVANI’S DAUGHTER ON THE RISE
Even as L.K. Advani expressed his resolve the other day to continue leading his BJP brigade from the front, an alternative plan is also in place. His scions are getting ready to take over just in case the Sangh prevails upon Papa to let go. Son Jayant has already expressed his intent to queue up for the party ticket soon, ostensibly from Advani’s constituency, Gandhinagar.
But Advani dotes more on his daughter. The other day the release of the Urdu version of his autobiography “My Country, My Life,” saw a subtle and discreet launch of daughter Pratibha.
She made her debut by addressing a gathering of Muslims at the FICCI auditorium on this occasion. Speaking in chaste Urdu, she defended Papa’s secular credentials by beginning her speech with a famous Urdu couplet: “Mera paigham mohabbat hai, jahan tak pahunche.
All praise for Jairam Ramesh
Just when his ministerial colleagues were facing the Opposition’s heat in both Houses of Parliament, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh gave an impressive account of himself in the Upper House.
His reply to the debate on the working of the Environment Ministry was so exhaustive that Deputy Chairman K Rehman Khan had to time and again ask him to finish his speech.
However, Opposition members were so hugely impressed by the detailed replies being given by the minister to their questions that even they appealed to the Chair to allow Ramesh to continue speaking. “Sir, he is getting compliments from everyone,” the CPM’s Brinda Karat remarked. To this, the minister said: “I thank my former ally and now an estranged ally.”
Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, who also was in the House for the next item on the agenda-a discussion on price rise-also quietly asked Ramesh to carry on with his speech. “Cricket ‘samrat’ bhi keh rahe hain ki main bol sakta hoon,’’ Ramesh told the Chair as Pawar gave him a sheepish look while other members had a hearty laugh.
Contributed by Aditi Tandon, Faraz Ahmad and Ashok Tuteja
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
It is a positive sign that major industrial houses of the country including Tata, Godrej, Birla Mines etc have expressed their desire to invest in Assam, which will go a long way in overall industrial development of the State in the days to come. However, the Government must create a climate for investment in the State to rope in investors as only holding of meetings with the industrialists alone will not be enough to instill confidence in their minds. It is now a well established fact that the law and order situation in Assam is a major deterrent in the way of industrial development as the investors are concerned about the situation and to instill confidence in the minds of the potential investors, all out efforts should be made by the Government to ensure fool-proof security and at the same time, efforts should be made to explode the myth that Assam is not a safe destination for investors. The Government must try to improve the power scenario as availability of quality power supply is one of the keys for industrial development and at the same time, efforts should be made to rope in investments in the power sector to reduce the dependence of Assam on power procured from sources located outside the State. The Government has established an investment cell in the Industries and Commerce Department to deal with the investment proposals and the Chief Minister or the Industries Minister should carefully monitor the activities of the cell to ensure that such proposals are not kept pending in the cell for long periods. Availability of suitable land is another key issue to be resolved as there have been instances in the past when the delay in land acquisition delayed implementation of various projects and the Government should identify plots of land that can be allocated for different industries even before receiving proposals to expedite the process.
With unemployment problem in Assam assuming alarming proportion, private investment can play a major role in reducing the problem as it is not possible for the Government to deal with the problem by giving appointments in Government departments. The decision of the Tata group to set up a campus of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences will play a major role in human resource development and the Government should provide a suitable plot of land for setting up of the institute without further delay. The Tata group is also all set to set up a Five Star hotel in Guwahati, while, Mahindra group is also keen on investing in hospitality sector. If such major group of companies come forward to invest in hospitality sector, it will give a major boost to the tourism sector. The Government must try to train up local youths to work in the hospitality sector so that they become suitable to work in such places. In fact, the Government should give stress on human resource development so that the local youths can be trained up to work in all the industries that will come up in the State.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
After a long delay the Assam Government had finally appointed D.N.Dutta,retired IPS officer who held the post of the Director General of Police, Assam as the Chief Information Commissioner in the vacancy caused by the resignation of R.S. Mushahary, the first Chief Information Commissioner on his appointment as the Governor of Meghalaya. R S Mushahary brought dynamism in the functioning of the Assam Information Commission and he upheld the rights of the citizens to get information from public functionaries and penalised those who failed in their duties to provide information sought by the citizens under the Right to Information Act,2005.We hope the new Chief Information Commissioner would be equally forceful and make the Assam Information Commission effectively implement the Right to Information Act,2005 to usher in probity and transparency in all government actions. Dutta rightly observed the difficulty faced by the general public in the location of the office of the State Information Commission in the highly protected old Secretariat area and favoured its relocation. This demand has been consistently made by all the activists of Right to Information movement and the sooner it’s done the better it would be.
The Right to Information Act 2005, though completing more than three years has not been implemented in all sincerity by many State governments. A survey conducted by the Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) found many deficiencies in the implementation of the Act. The State Information Commissions in Bihar, Gujarat, Orissa, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala have poor disposal rates and people have to wait several months before their appeals are heard. In some States, the Commission passes one line orders without explaining the facts of the appeal and is reluctant to impose penalties on Public Information Officers. A new evaluation study of the Rajasthan Information Commission found the first appellate authorities established under the Act wanting in providing relief defeating the very purpose of establishing the appellate bodies. The functioning of the Assam Information Commission compared to other states was satisfactory. Recently it has penalised two SEBA officials for their reluctance to provide information under the Right to Information Act,2005.Not only public awareness ,all public functionaries should be trained about their duties under the Right to Information Act,2005.It would not be an exaggeration to state that most of the government functionaries at lower level had no knowledge of the Right to Information Act,2005.It is the responsibility of the State Government to teach them the duties under the RI Act, 2005.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
MAYAWATI’S MAYHEM IN UTTAR PRADESH
SAIKH MD SABAH AL-AHMED
The year was 2007; April-May 2007 to be precise. India’s most populous State of Uttar Pradesh (UP); home to a sixth of India’s total populace, was abuzz with frenzied political activity with the UP Assembly elections just round the corner. The Samajwadi Party (SP) led by Mulayam Singh Yadav, who also happened to be the hitherto incumbent thirty-first Chief Minister, had already hit the campaign trail full throttle, with the now ‘infamous’ slogan of Amitabh Bachchan proudly roaring, UP mein dam hein, kyon ki jurm yahan kam hain, which in essence, was more of an obsequious endorsement of the so-called ‘performance’ (read abysmal performance), of the Mulayam Singh Yadav government on law and order front, rather than a statement that hardly smacked of any raw, realistic, responsible utterance. As regards Amitabh Bachchan’s closeness with the Samajwadi Party, especially, general secretary Amar Singh, the less said, the better. The political euphoria and cacophonic brouhaha vis-a-vis the Samajwadi Party’s campaign had already reached its zenith. A few overzealous psephologists had even predicted a victory for the Samajwadi Party in their so-called ‘detailed and dissected exit-polls’. But destiny, it seemed, had other plans! A surprise elegy; a political requiem!
Contrary to pre-poll predictions, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s dream of becoming the Chief Minister for a record fourth time came a cropper after the Samajwadi Party suffered a huge loss at the hands of their most potent rival, the Dalit-centred Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by his perennial bete noire, Kumari Mayawati, who went on to not only become the thirty-second Chief Minister, but had also achieved that crowning glory for a record fourth time. The entire gargantuan exercise of profusely glamourising the Samajwadi Party’s 2007 poll campaign with the likes of Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Prada seemed to have boomeranged hard on them, their fresh lime political tactics proved too tangy for the UP electorate. The BSP had won a majority, the first such majority by a single party since 1991 State Assembly elections; the last two decades were mostly dominated by various coalitions among the Samajwadi Party, Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party. Mayawati had managed to successfully magnetise support from a plethora of communities, hitherto sidelined; Brahmins, Thakurs, Muslims, Other Backward Classes (OBC’s) et al had all voted for the first time for a Dalit party, partly because it (BSP) had offered seats to people from these variegated communities. In fact, the BSP’s unexpected majority status in 2007 Assembly elections was this very amalgamation of ‘priceless’ Brahmin votes into this Dalit-centred party, as opposed to the decades-old trend of deep-rooted electoral dichotomy in the state among Dalits, Upper Castes, Muslims and different OBC groups, which generally tend to vote in strictly isolated blocks. Mayawati had won 206 seats out of a total stipulated 403 in the State Assembly. She took the oath of office and secrecy as Chief Minister on May 13, 2007 from Governor TV Rajeswar. The ‘infamous’ slogan of Amitabh Bachchan was now gradually on the wane; it was now aptly replaced by a colourful slogan: Haathi nahin, Ganesh hain, Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh hain: The elephant (BSP’s symbol) is really the wise ‘Ganesh’, the Trinity of Gods rolled into one.
Thus the great pageant of the 2007 UP Assembly elections had once again catapulted the great behemoth-like Behenji (sister) figure of Mayawati into the very fabric of its overtly caste-ridden politics. This time though, Mayawati seemed to have grown much ‘wiser’, having had ample time to cool her heals, recuperate from her past lacerations and fling herself once again into the political arena with an even more potent sense of exuberant vindictiveness against her sulking adversaries. She immediately swung into action by suspending two IAS officers for non-performance alleging that they had failed to maintain the Ambedkar Park in Lucknow. It was widely believed that these officers were close to the erstwhile government of Mulayam Singh Yaday. She had also opened case files related to land deals of Amitabh Bachchan in Barabanki. This apart, she had launched a major crackdown to cleanse the entire UP police department, a move seen by her rivals as nurturing corruption by creating a team of obsequious minions who would operate under her personal diktats. The cretaceous bureaucratic mandarins in UP, for all its practical purposes, are not only quasi-redundant, but also meekly servile. This in itself was just ‘the begging of the end’; an end that had all the potentialities of profusely overflowing dictatorial ramifications. The sum-total of all her vindictive acts, were self-deprecating, to say the least. These indeed, were ominous omens.
Mayawati and her minions had hitherto been unleashing a terror-like reign, silencing all and sundry who had dared to raise even a whisper, nay a voice, against her. The recent incident of arresting Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee Chief, Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who had uttered certain derogatory remarks against Mayawati at a rally on July 15, 2009. at Moradabad, really smacked of Mayawati's vice-like grip upon the entire State machinery. Although, Rita Bahuguna Joshi’s remarks were totally against the very dignity of women, and were not at all justified. an act for which she had hastily apologised, but what was equally unjustified was the brazen alacrity to not only arrest her, but shamelessly incite a bunch of hare-brained BSP ruffians to force their way into her house in Lucknow, set a portion of it on fire vandalising property and vehicles. The brazenness shockingly doesn’t end here. The BSP leader, Intezaar Ahmad Abdi, who had allegedly ransacked Rita Bahuguna Joshi’s home, was rewarded with a plump post, by being appointed chairman of Ganna Sansthan (State sugar corporation). It was utter mockery of sane civil society, nothing else!
Mayawati remains a pugnacious personality in the convoluted realm of UP’s messy, rustic caste politics; predominantly an agrarian feudal State. Her brand of aggressive vindictive politics has even attracted worldwide attention of political observers. In an article in The New York Times, Amy Waldman, its Co-Bureau Chief in New Delhi, India, had wrote in 2003: “In a state where Dalits are nearly one quarter of the population, Mayawati has used caste as a mobiliser, building on a social and political revolution 50 years in the making. It is a phenomenon that has reshaped the politics of India”. But despite a long political career, Mayawati has had only a few achievements to her credit. A few brownie points could at least be appended to her political resume for having championed the cause of the hitherto ostracised Dalits like a self-styled 'caste-crusader’, though, her obsession to erect scores of statues of prominent Dalit leaders like Dr BR Ambedkar, her mentor Kanshi Ram, the founder of the BSP and even herself was a clear vindication of her hollow snobbery, nothing else! Mayawati wanted to project herself as a sibyl; a fairy Godmother, even a Cinderella among the Balits, but instead turned out to be somewhat like the scary Greek gorgon, Medusa; that too, in a state where a freedom fighter like Sucheta Kriplani became the first woman to be elected Chief Minister (October 2, 1963-March 13, 1967) of any Indian state. Mayawati’s UP, seems to be slowly but surely, transforming itself into an Ulta Pradesh, (topsy-turvy province), rather that her once acclaimed Uttam Pradesh (Excellent Province). Sadly, where political institutions are scrawny, politics in states like UP tend to be highly personalised; identity, rather than policy, takes centre-stage in Indian politics, more so in UP. Mayawati has only herself to blame for this.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
PRIORITY TO NE TOURISM SECTOR
Tourism is one of the few sectors that can bring about a real growth to the economy without creating significant regional or economic disparity. It is a very important source for maximising scarce foreign exchange earnings for not only developing countries of the Third World but for many developed countries of the world. Tourism is also being recognised as a source of employment. It is a highly labour intensive industry offering employment to millions and millions of both semi-skilled and unskilled people. Being a service industry it creates employment opportunities for the local population. It is a major source of income and employment for individuals in many places deficient in natural resources, which cannot readily contribute to economic prosperity of the area except through the medium of tourism. This aspect of employment generation becomes more important in a developing country where the level of unemployment and underemployment tends to be high. Besides providing employment to a large number of people tourism can be the instrument of regional policy aimed at achieving on equitable balance between industrial areas and the rest of the country. Tourism also makes tremendous contribution to the improvement of social and political understanding. Travel in different countries fosters a better rapport between people of various stocks. Personal international contacts have always been an important way of spreading ideas about other cultures. Tourism is thus an important means of promoting cultural exchange and international cooperation. The experienced gained through travel have a profound effect upon the life of the individual as well as upon society as a whole. Travel exercises a very healthy influence on international understanding and appreciation for other people’s lifestyle.
The North-East with its scenic beauty, rich flora and fauna, and a variegated culture could be a sizeable destination for the tourists. But what’s needed is concerted efforts from the government and proper planning. The entire North-East is a region replete with endless possibilities for turning it into a heaven for adventure, wildlife, heritage and rural tourism, and all this needs the urgent attention of the authorities concerned. The role of private participation in tourism promotion is extremely critical and the government not acknowledge this fact and play the part of a proactive facilitator and catalyst to bring in the desired level of private sector involvement. In the case of India, while many states have shown the required urgency to promote tourism as a major industry, it seems that the North-East though endowed with immense natural wealth and a unique cultural heritage, is yet to wakeup to its enormous tourism potential and harness it in a sustainable manner. Despite the government’s oft-repeated proclamation about the North-East being a paradise for visitors, in reality the region is having a very marginal flow of tourists. Infrastructural bottleneck and the lack of even the minimum facilities in tourists spots have been the major deterrent affecting the flow of tourists to this otherwise most beautiful part of the country that is also home to the most hospitable people. Besides, North-East needs to attract more foreign tourists, whose number has dipped after the economic meltdown. The tourism sector has a lot of challenges apart from attracting foreign tourists to North-East.
Projecting the North-East as an ideal destination was a priority with the Union Tourism Ministry, and the region has of late been receiving enhanced Central assistance for tourism development. In this regard the North-Eastern States received an amount of Rs 319 crore for tourism infrastructure development during the 10th plan, an amount of Rs 160 crore was released in the financial year 2007-2008. The government has taken steps to create awareness on the potential of the tourism sector among the masses and called upon the young generation to enter the sector. By the end of March 2010, Assam would get a total facelift in its existing tourism infrastructure as well as see the completion of the new ones to make it the most sought after destination amongst the back packers. This was revealed by Tourism Minister Rockybul Hussain at a function held on the occasion of the World Tourism Day. Hussain revealed that the State has been able to manage a grant of Rs 40 crore from the Centre to develop the tourism sector. The government informed the minister is concentrating on dividing the tourism assets of the State into lower Assam, Barak Valley and Hill districts, upper Assam and Guwahati. For developing the Barak Valley and Hill districts, an amount of rs 6.5 crore has been sanctioned. The minister said that, to attract the tourists both domestic and foreign, it is of utmost importance to provide services of international standard to the visitors. Besides in 2000-2001, twelve projects were sanctioned for infrastructural development of North-East. Crores of rupees were sanctioned to develop the National Park and Wildlife sanctuaries. Recently, the Government of Assam took the bold step of distributing luxury vehicles among unemployed youth, especially for tourists. But they should be taken in a much more planned manner by the Government, as well as by the various tourism organisations, where well-skilled personnel from the tourism field are an utmost need. Besides our tourism department should give adequate publicity through news papers, magazines and TV channels to draw the attention of the domestic and foreign tourists to the natural beauty of the North-Eastern region, where virgin paradise remains unexplored in the valley of the mighty Brahmaputra. Because the entire North-Eastern region has tremendous potential for developing tourism industry. The rich natural beauty, serenity and exotic flora and fauna of the region serve as invaluable resources for the development of tourism in the region. The entire region is endowed with diverse tourist attractions and eash state has its own distinct features. For example Arunachal Pradesh, which is popularly known as the land of the rising sun, is the remotest and one of the loveliest States in the region. Meghalaya, the ‘home of the clouds’ is known as Scotland of the east, because of its resemblance to the scenic beauty of Scotland. Similarly, Assam is famous for one horn rhino, mighty Brahmaputra river, the world’s largest river island, green forests, tea garden and Kamakhya temple. Besides Kaziranga National Park in Assam is the first National Park to be listed in the UNESO’s world heritage site.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER!
After weeks of refuting the possibility of a widespread drought, the government finally faced up to the ugly truth last Saturday. At his meeting with state chief secretaries, the prime minister admitted “the monsoon has been delayed and in many places has been deficient...Agricultural operations have been adversely affected in several parts of the country causing distress,” and called for a contingency plan to deal with its fallout.
In a country with close to 25% of the population below poverty line and more than 60% dependent on agriculture-related activities for their livelihood, this is easier said than done. Nonetheless, to the extent the government is no longer in denial about the true state of affairs — this is the first time the government has formally acknowledged the failure of the rains — half the battle is won.
It is now possible to conceive of measures to reduce the distress. The Centre has already asked the states to impose licensing and stock holding limits on traders for various commodities. And the PM has urged state officials to ensure effective enforcement of these measures and take action against black-marketers in a bid to hold the price line.
However, implementation has always been our Achilles’ heel. Consequently, a crackdown on hoarding and black-marketing alone will not achieve much. It must be supplemented by measures to make foodgrains available to those in distress. Luckily, our buffer stock position of rice and wheat is very comfortable.
Ideally we should be able to use the buffer stock to increase availability through the public distribution system (PDS). Unfortunately, however, the reach of our PDS is very poor, especially in the poorer eastern parts where the distress is likely to be the worst.
Hence it might be better to adopt a two-pronged approach: sell directly in the open market from the buffer stock (thereby lowering open market price) and supplement this with food stamps, ideally as part of the NREGA payment. That’s as far as ameliorating human distress is concerned. For the rest, efforts to improve the rabi output to compensate for the kharif shortfall must be put on a war-footing. Only then will our present distress be short-lived.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
COSMETIC SURGERY WILL NOT DO
Air-India’s ambitious turnaround strategy needs more substance, as it fails to provide answers to the key question of a hugely bloated workforce.
Its plans to mainly convert to a low-cost carrier, too, lacks any conviction as it has many legacy issues that would make it difficult to achieve this transition.
The strategy largely hinges on reducing costs through loan restructuring, retiring leased aircraft, and shifting employees to four subsidiaries, none of which is easy to implement. Instead of thinking up ways of trimming its 31,000 strong workforce, which is to be rendered even more workless if the airline goes ahead with plans of retiring leased aircraft, it wants to park the employees in new strategic business units — maintenance and repairs, cargo, ground handling, and engineering.
If these are to remain subsidiaries of Air India then this would be mere window dressing. Besides, it is not clear how the airline can persuade the highly unionised staff to move to these units, especially if it plans to induct strategic partners in them.
The proposal to morph into a largely a low-cost carrier may be a non-starter. The key to low-cost carriers is not just cutting down on frills or services, but also standardising operations and building efficiency by cutting overheads to the bones. Typically, low-cost carriers operate one type of fleet to ensure that employees are able to handle all aircraft and repairs, handling and maintenance costs are cut down drastically.
With its myriad fleet of Airbus and Boeing of all types Air India would lose out on the key saving. The government ownership may facilitate debt restructuring but terminating aircraft leases will not be easy. The airline needs a more pragmatic plan.
It has to prune the workforce through more drastic measures such as VRS and redeployment. Fleet plan, too, needs a rethink, especially if it plans to go down the low-cost carrier route. The government must pitch in by enabling the airline to clean up its balance sheet and list on the stock exchanges. It should allow the airline to function on commercial terms through a professional management, without political or bureaucratic interference.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WHO WANTS TO BE PM?
There is something to be said for this very British farce being played out right now. The prime minister has gone off to Scotland for that very British institution of a summer holiday, much like the sahibs in India would retire to the cooler climes of Simla even though their sense of duty would not let them put government on hold.
The Britain of today, alas, cannot afford to move government lock, stock (of Tamiflu) and barrel to Scotland so that the PM can enjoy a busman’s holiday, so instead a rota of available senior Cabinet ministers to act as stand-ins has been instituted in London.
For each week that Gordon Brown is on holiday, a senior Cabinet minister — with an obvious eye on the main job, given the incumbent’s dire (and dour) prospects — has a go at being caretaker PM. For those who know better, it is seen as one week to pitch for the soon-to-be-vacated post.
The first of the caretakers, Harriet Harman, Labour Party’s deputy leader and minister for women and equality, struck her colours by insinuating, rather inaptly, that had Lehman Brothers been Leh(wo)man Sisters, the whole financial crisis could have been (wo)managed better.
After a week peppered with interviews and TV appearances, she retired to her holiday and was succeeded by business minister Lord Mandelson. Piquantly, his presence offshore at financier Nathaniel Rothschild’s Corfu mansion did not come in the way of taking charge — which most people think Mandelson is anyway, as he sits on 35 of the 43 Cabinet committees, compared to Brown’s 12.
To disarm those who fear an eventual party coup d’etat, Mandelson has begun by declaring to the nation of pet-lovers, via the media, that he is a “kindly pussycat”. The blandishments of the two other Cabinet minister-caretakers, chancellor Alistair Darling and justice minister Jack Straw, are awaited.
It is a pity that Indian PMs are normally workaholics and scarcely take a holiday, leaving no chance for their senior Cabinet colleagues to legitimately demonstrate their talents as stand-ins, and eventual successors. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate reality TV contest?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
IS INDIA READY FOR DEBT MANAGEMENT OFFICE?
SIDDHARTH SHAH, CHITTARANJAN DATAR & NIRVAAN GUPTA,
Debt management has over the years become a specialist job and administrations the world over have resorted to branching this activity under a separate authority. In the US, debt management falls within the Treasury’s domain, while the Federal Reserve, the US government’s central bank, deals with monetary policy. Most of the jurisdictions worldwide, like UK, Sweden, Brazil, have a separate entity managing debt and in-charge of raising and managing debt for the respective administrations.
Presently, the Reserve Bank of India carries out both the debt management and the monetary policy implementation functions, for the central government. Therefore, a case for a separate DMO is being made out mainly on the ground that the central bank is conflicted when it acts both as the government’s banker trying to borrow as cheap as possible, and also as the prime authority responsible to enforce the monetary policy with the prevalent interest rates.
Contrary to popular belief, a separate DMO is unlikely to increase in forced mopping of government securities (G-Secs) by public sector banks anymore than already be. With ever-decreasing global interest rates, higher yield of Indian public debt anyways remains very alluring.
Importantly, the development of the G-Secs market is essential for any economy to come of age. It requires dedicated professional management and carving out a separate DMO may be the correct approach. Another factor to consider is India’s debt rating that is just about investment grade or thereabouts. A dedicated approach towards debt management will help in improving the disappointing debt rating.
With the Indian government taking on its biggest public debt raising exercise till date of approximately close to $ 90 billion or Rs 4.5 lakh crore, the presence of a vibrant and dynamic debt and G-Secs market involving participation from all class of investors (and not only from a few institutional players, as is the case now) has become paramount. Due to the severe global credit crisis, the Indian government, like most other governments the world over, was pushed to walk the path of an expansionary fiscal policy.
The Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, 2003, which lay policy targets for both the fiscal deficit and the revenue deficit up to 2008 and aimed at institutionalising fiscal management to bring about greater fiscal discipline, had to be consequently put in suspension. Taxes were lowered and expenditure increased to stimulate (a) the sagging economic sentiment; and (b) increase the money flow to thwart the adverse effects of credit crunch which has resulted in India’s present fiscal deficit reaching alarming levels.
Therefore, the need for a sound public debt management strategy has become even more pressing. It is the need of the time to lower the cost of public borrowing, while balancing it with extant monetary policy initiatives and refinancing risks inherent in any government borrowing plan.
Is there a downside? Absolutely, every change has the potential to be catastrophic. It is contended that there exist three pre-conditions to separation of debt management, namely, (a) reasonable control over fiscal deficit; (b) development of financial market; and (c) legislative changes.
The first two pre-conditions are moot as they pose the chicken and egg problem. The third one is entirely achievable. There are some issues that must necessarily be addressed during the process of setting-up the DMO. The seamless integration for efficient debt management and coordination of the DMO with the other limbs of the Indian government is the pivotal concern.
Sustainability analysis for public debt should incorporate appropriate mechanism for reporting from on-ground debt managers, thereby drawing upon their market intelligence and understanding. The ongoing credit crisis has proven that the once infallible are also fallible. Countries can little afford defaulting on their sovereign debt obligations as there is unquantifiable reputational risk associated with it. Legal enforceability of debt obligations in both, domestic and international markets, and understanding the legal implications of various complex structured transactions becomes essential. Adequate measures are necessary in this regard.
Creation of DMO has to adhere to a proper constitutional procedure that empowers the DMO to bind and be bound on behalf of the Indian government. Clarity in delegation of this power and function is indispensable. It is rather impossible to foresee all future situations for such a wide function. Thus, the regulations must not be too detailed. They should clearly state the main activity of DMO, provide operational guidelines and establish a seamless coordination mechanism.
Indian regulators, RBI and SEBI, have been casted away for towing a conservative approach over the years, but the same dogged approach tempered with sensible pro-action, like in the Satyam fiasco, has largely served in shielding India from the Asian financial crisis and the present global credit crisis.
Nevertheless, the creation of DMO will not be frivolous, as it shall result in removing the conflict with monetary policy management and provide the much needed stimulus to debt markets. In any case, divestment of the debt management function from RBI to a separate authority is likely to involve multiple phases, with adequate check-posts at each phase. If worked out with adequate precaution, the DMO can serve as a change agent for the development of the Indian debt markets.
(The authors are with Nishith Desai Associates, a Mumbai-based international tax & legal counseling firm)
ON CHINA, KEEP THE BLINKERS OFF
As the latest round of boundary talks between India and China in New Delhi last week would once again attest, the border-related exchange of views between the two countries is suspiciously becoming a dialogue of civilisations, whose main feature is its never-ending nature. The first round, really speaking, came about in 1962 — and not 2003 as is commonly supposed — when the Chinese guns did the talking in NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh) and the ill-prepared and hastily-got-together Indian armed forces did the listening. The protracted negotiations on the boundary that began following agreements in 1993 and 1996 do not appear to have gone beyond the state of settling the principles for the conversation, with “mutual understanding and mutual accommodation” (MUMA) being the Chinese-inspired sutra. On the positive side of the years that have rolled by while awaiting a satisfactory conclusion is that the border has remained “tranquil”, barring occasional contretemps that are not worth blowing up. Economic and trade relations between the two countries have, meanwhile, grown by leaps and bounds, with two-way trade being $52 billion. As a confidence-boosting measure, the two have now also agreed to establish a hotline between their Prime Ministers, an idea originating from the Chinese President, Mr Hu Jintao. Only with Russia does India have a similar arrangement. The irony in this is not likely to be missed. About a year ago, when the tortuous negotiations were going on to finalise the civil nuclear agreement with the United States and India was keen to acquire Beijing’s support at the IAEA, Chinese Premier Mr Wen Jiabao had declined to take Dr Manmohan Singh’s phone call. It is good that the world’s two most populous countries, which also share a long border, should maintain a positive bilateral relationship. This requirement should not, however, blind us to the reality that there is little to suggest that China proposes to show the slightest flexibility on the border question. In India’s understanding, with which China appeared to go along until the 1962 flash attack, the McMahon Line between Tibet and India is the boundary. The Chinese have accepted the British-era demarcation in dealing with Burma. But with India, it is “nyet”, or nearly so. The appearance of a dialogue will be disturbed if this is put in peremptory terms. This did not stop Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, from saying the day the 13th round of discussions began in New Delhi on August 7 that China did not accept the “illegal” McMahon line. In Chinese thinking, Arunachal Pradesh is southern Tibet, and that’s that. Earlier this year, the Chinese state media had mounted a scathing attack on India for proposing to place an Army mountain division and an Air Force squadron in Arunachal Pradesh. In the period since 1989 when Deng Xiaoping signalled to Rajiv Gandhi that the two countries de-freeze their relations, Beijing has engaged in a massive exercise to establish “multi-dimensional” relations with “all” countries of South Asia, the military facet being the most prominent. In keeping with its “string of pearls” strategy, it has acquired deep-sea ports in Baloch Pakistan (Gwadar) and Sri Lanka (Hambantota), and in Burma with which an incipient nuclear relationship is also thought by some to be in the offing. This does not amount to encircling India but in undermining its diplomatic and cultural space in the Indian Ocean area. While carrying on with all the good work on the economic front, New Delhi will have to pinch itself and be reminded that Beijing was dead opposed to its nuclear testing and de facto nuclear power status, opposed to the civil nuclear arrangement with the United States, and inflexible on the boundary question.
WITH PAK, IT’S BETTER TO ‘VERIFY, THEN TRUST’
BY BY SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY
Is Pakistan’s next “26/11” already under way?
Even as the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan were meeting at Sharm el-Sheikh on July 16, Pakistan opened another front in its proxy war with a sustained economic offensive on India’s financial and commercial infrastructure, with large volumes of high-quality forged currency infiltrated into the Indian market through armies of couriers. The new assault, routed through Dubai and Nepal, has an enormous potential for long-term damage, perhaps even greater than the devastating but episodic acts of terror witnessed so far.
“Doveryai no proveryai” — the Russian original of Ronald Reagan’s favourite aphorism — “trust, but verify” — which the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, resurrected in his reply to the parliamentary debate on the Indo-Pakistan joint statement at Sharm el-Sheikh, is attributed to Mr Felix Dzerzhinski, the founder of Cheka, the forerunner of the KGB. President Reagan was a resolute practitioner of cold war confrontation, who ultimately wore down and demolished the Soviet Union, causing its eclipse as a world power. His adversary, Mr Mikhail Gorbachev, pursued peace through unilateral concessions which ultimately broke up Soviet Russia, for which he was rewarded with a Nobel Prize for Peace by a triumphant West. Is there some kind of a lesson for India in all this?
Indo-Pakistan relations also remain essentially in a cold war mode, primarily because Pakistan’s India policy is formulated primarily by the general headquarters of the Pakistan Army even when an elected civilian government is in place. Indo-Pak diplomacy has as a result been a spectator sport, watched almost as keenly as hockey or cricket between the two countries, arousing the same intensities of emotion and passion. It is thus natural that public opinion in India is seething over the sudden gush of sentimental bonhomie at Sharm el-Sheikh that brushed aside rational realities in framing the “badly drafted” joint statement and gifted the gratuitous self-goal of Balochistan. Even Pakistanis must have been taken aback at this sudden windfall. The Prime Minister propounded his vision of extreme and unilateral reconciliation with Pakistan to a stormy Lok Sabha, delinking action against terrorism from progress in dialogue. The ambience was uneasily reminiscent of the “bhai-bhai” enthusiasm whipped up during Jawaharlal Nehru’s Chinese honeymoon in the 1960s, which all ended in 1962 on the windswept slopes of Rezangla and the Sela Pass. Meanwhile, almost in counterpoint to the Prime Minister’s surrealistic idealism, the Pakistan military delivered a quick reality check through the Chief of the Pakistan Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, one of the “big three” in that country, who declared in an interview to a foreign newspaper: “Of course there is a real threat from India”.
So when the Prime Minister of India enunciates “trust, but verify” as the operative precept of India’s Pakistan policy, the question that naturally arises is: who is to be the object of that trust in Pakistan? Elected civilian governments that reign, but do not rule? Or the pathologically hostile Pakistan military and its covert agencies, who are the de facto principals? Do we have the capabilities to monitor and verify Pakistan’s intentions?
Successive failures in Kargil in 1999, Mumbai on 26/11 and now with the economic jihad have demonstrated to a sceptical nation the inadequacy and indeed inefficiency of our intelligence capabilities. The Indian leadership shrinks from promoting foreign relations through military power centres and looks to civilian interlocutors to achieve its objectives, but the Pakistan Army has sent a clear and unequivocal message through Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha, director-general of Inter-Services Intelligence, during his interaction with Indian defence attaches in Pakistan: that if any substantial issues are to be discussed, the Pakistani military would have to be part of the dialogue between the two countries. So in this context, the smiling Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan posing for photographs at Sharm el-Sheikh are perhaps of less significance than the unsmiling impassivity of Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in Islamabad. Does this deafening silence indicate disapproval of excessive civilian bonhomie? The Pakistan military is a totally unknown entity to the Indian political class and civilian diplomats, who have little or no worthwhile contact, let alone influence, with the source of ultimate authority in Pakistan. The Indian military too is not much better off in this respect, having been totally sequestered by the government from the policy planning process, other than routine contacts at the departmental level between the directors-general of military operations of the two armies. But regardless of the communication gap, the time might perhaps have come to seriously “Know your Army” — in this case the Pakistan Army — if the Indo-Pak composite dialogue is to be nursed along. One thing for sure — it will not be easy for our mandarins to adjust to the Pakistani military mind. The Indian defence forces are aware of the mental processes of their long-time adversaries, with whom they share some commonalities of backgrounds and attitudes, even though adverse. But given a chance, the Indian military can contribute fruitfully to any Indo-Pak discussions.
Kashmir will undoubtedly remain the core issue in any bilateral dialogue in the foreseeable future, to which Balochistan will now surely be added, given the triumphal reactions in Pakistan to the joint statement. A state of constant confrontation in all spheres for over six decades have machined Indo-Pak relations into their present shape, and only radical surgery or broad spectrum antibiotics which leave Pakistan with a sense of vindication can have any curative effects at this stage.
To the Pakistan Army, this of course implies victory in Kashmir, which it equates with revenge for Bangladesh. Is India prepared to accommodate a Gorbachevian approach on this issue? Highly unlikely! Conversely, can any elected “bhai-bhai” government in Pakistan be capable of terminating the Pakistan Army’s proxy war against India? Equally unlikely!
Many questions, few answers. “Trust, but verify?” The portents are certainly not propitious. Perhaps “Verify, then trust” might be more appropriate under these circumstances.
Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury (Retd) is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament
US ECONOMY BACK FROM THE EDGE OF ABYSS
BY BY PAUL KRUGMAN
So it seems that we aren’t going to have a second Great Depression after all. What saved us? The answer, basically, is Big Government.
Just to be clear: The economic situation remains terrible, indeed worse than almost anyone thought possible not long ago. The nation has lost 6.7 million jobs since the recession began. Once you take into account the need to find employment for a growing working-age population, we’re probably around nine million jobs short of where we should be.
And the job market still hasn’t turned around — that slight dip in the measured unemployment rate last month was probably a statistical fluke. We haven’t yet reached the point at which things are actually improving; for now, all we have to celebrate are indications that things are getting worse more slowly.
For all that, however, the latest flurry of economic reports suggests that the economy has backed up several paces from the edge of the abyss.
A few months ago the possibility of falling into the abyss seemed all too real. The financial panic of late 2008 was as severe, in some ways, as the banking panic of the early 1930s, and for a while key economic indicators — world trade, world industrial production, even stock prices — were falling as fast as or faster than they did in 1929-30.
But in the 1930s the trend lines just kept heading down. This time, the plunge appears to be ending after just one terrible year.
So what saved us from a full replay of the Great Depression? The answer, almost surely, lies in the very different role played by government.
Probably the most important aspect of the government’s role in this crisis isn’t what it has done, but what it hasn’t done: Unlike the private sector, the federal government hasn’t slashed spending as its income has fallen. (State and local governments are a different story.) Tax receipts are way down, but Social Security checks are still going out; Medicare is still covering hospital bills; federal employees, from judges to park rangers to soldiers, are still being paid.
All of this has helped support the economy in its time of need, in a way that didn’t happen back in 1930, when federal spending was a much smaller percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). And yes, this means that budget deficits — which are a bad thing in normal times — are actually a good thing right now.
In addition to having this “automatic” stabilising effect, the government has stepped in to rescue the financial sector. You can argue (and I would) that the bailouts of financial firms could and should have been handled better, that taxpayers have paid too much and received too little. Yet it’s possible to be dissatisfied, even angry, about the way the financial bailouts have worked while acknowledging that without these bailouts things would have been much worse.
The point is that this time, unlike in the 1930s, the government didn’t take a hands-off attitude while much of the banking system collapsed. And that’s another reason we’re not living through Great Depression II.
Last and probably least, but by no means trivial, have been the deliberate efforts of the government to pump up the economy. From the beginning, I argued that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the Obama stimulus plan, was too small. Nonetheless, reasonable estimates suggest that around a million more Americans are working now than would have been employed without that plan — a number that will grow over time — and that the stimulus has played a significant role in pulling the economy out of its free fall.
All in all, then, the government has played a crucial stabilising role in this economic crisis. Ronald Reagan was wrong: Sometimes the private sector is the problem, and government is the solution.
And aren’t you glad that right now the government is being run by people who don’t hate government?
We don’t know what the economic policies of a McCain-Palin administration would have been. We do know, however, what Republicans in opposition have been saying — and it boils down to demanding that the government stop standing in the way of a possible depression.
I’m not just talking about opposition to the stimulus. Leading Republicans want to do away with automatic stabilisers, too. Back in March, Mr John Boehner, the House minority leader, declared that since families were suffering, “it’s time for government to tighten their belts and show the American people that we ‘get’ it”.
Fortunately, his advice was ignored.
I’m still very worried about the economy. There’s still, I fear, a substantial chance that unemployment will remain high for a very long time. But we appear to have averted the worst: Utter catastrophe no longer seems likely.
And Big Government, run by people who understand its virtues, is the reason why.
CAN CHINA SAVE RISING ASIA FROM RECESSION?
BY BY JAYATI GHOSH
Before the global financial crisis intensified in September 2008, the “decoupling” hypothesis was very popular among mainstream economic commentators. This essentially argued that China (and to a lesser extent India) by virtue of their recent rapid growth and even more potential for future growth, had emerged as alternative growth poles for the global economy, and could take up the slack if and when growth in the United States and other developed economies faltered.
The immediate aftermath of the crisis proved that thesis to be misplaced, as the developing economies of Asia were significantly hit by the slowdown in world exports. Indeed, the subsequent synchronicity of growth rates across the different regions of the world was so marked that it was unprecedented in the long history of booms and slumps in global capitalism.
But very recent trends in retail sales and output have once again created a perception that developing Asia will buck the trend, and come out of the downswing faster onto a new growth trajectory. In particular, recent economic indicators from China have been so robust that they have inspired both awe and optimism. The view is gaining ground that even if the Chinese economy is still too small to act as an engine of growth for the world, it can play that role for the Asian developing region.
This is reinforced by the increasing trade and investment integration of China with other countries in developing Asia, especially in east and southeast Asia.
Certainly it appears that the fairly large fiscal stimulus of the Chinese government, along with other measures to ease interest rates and increase credit access, have worked in terms of increasing both domestic demand and economic activity in China. Thus, while exports have slumped in response to the global trend, domestic demand and retail sales have picked up. As a result, preliminary data for the second quarter of 2009 suggest that gross domestic product (GDP) is growing by nearly eight per cent at an annualised rate, and industrial production in June was 10.7 per cent higher than it was in the same month of the previous year.
Of course, the question remains of the extent to which the extent to which this growth in China will translate into growth in developing Asia as a whole.
This region is currently the most export-dependent part of the world. China is the most striking example of this, but most other countries, even those that are currently running trade deficits, see exports as the engine of their growth.
Yet exports have slumped quite sharply, turning negative across the region and especially so in southeast Asia. The view that China can generate external demand for other countries in Asia comes from the shift in the direction of trade that has been occurring over the past two decades, and especially since 2000.
The share of China and other intra-Asian trade in the exports of developing Asia increased very sharply between 2000 and 2007 while the share of the main developed countries (US, European Union and Japan) fell. China and other developing Asian countries now account for more than half the exports of southeast Asia, 42 per cent of the exports of east Asia and nearly 30 per cent of the exports of south Asia.
This has led to the view that export-led growth can continue to be the strategy for this region, but with a redirection of exports within the region and especially to China.
However, there are several reasons to consider such a view to be excessively optimistic. To begin with, China’s exports and imports have tended to move together, and this is largely because an increasing share of exports (more than 60 per cent in 2007) consists of processing exports, in a process which uses imported raw material and intermediates from other countries to transform into final goods for export. In fact, while Chinese exports have declined because of the slump in global trade, Chinese imports have fallen even faster! As a result, the trade surplus is actually increasing, to reach a projected level of around $370 billion in 2009.
The other reason to be sceptical of the ability of China to become an alternative growth engine for the region as a whole is because most of the trade, both imports and exports, that is occurring within developing Asia (including China) as a whole is part of a vertically disintegrated production process that is producing final goods for export to developed countries.
Recent research has shown that in terms of final demand, only around one-fifth of the entire region’s exports end up within the region. Nearly 60 per cent of exports are intended for final demand to the Big Three: the US, European Union and Japan. So the slump in imports in these major markets, which is likely to continue for some time, will definitely affect the region. Looking at only the gross exports of other countries in developing Asia to China without considering the role such exports played in the production chain for final export to the developed world will not provide the correct picture.
This does not mean that China’s recent economic expansion will not have any positive impact upon the other developing countries in the region.
Certainly it will provide some relief especially to raw material and some intermediate goods exporters. But it would be foolish for developing countries in Asia to see this as a reason for continuing with the earlier strategy based on very high export dependence, since this is likely to prove unsustainable.
JOE’S ‘NEVER SAY DIE’ SPIRIT
BY BY JEREMY CLARKE
I hoped Joe was following me down the cliff path. It was unusual for him to lag behind. Normally he likes to lead the way. Perhaps he’d stopped off to self-medicate at the bank of tall grasses where he sometimes likes to browse and bite off a few individual stems, making judicious choices like a careful shopper.
Perhaps he was feeling particularly seedy today and he needed to stop off. Certainly his rolling, spastic gait was more pronounced, so he must have been feeling his arthritis.
I was about to call him, when he came careering around the bend in the cliff path, grinning at me. The path at this point is a foot wide and bordered by brambles on one side and tall stinging nettles on the seaward side.
He was coming down the hill not quite sideways but on the skew. And instead of keeping to the path, he was crashing through the tall nettles. Joe is not normally one for barging through undergrowth. Not his style at all. The grin wasn’t quite like him either. Unlike the smiles of other dogs I’ve known, there is nothing obsequious or ingratiating or silly about Joe’s smile.
Joe’s is intelligent, self-possessed, even ironic. He’s the first collie I’ve known, and if he is representative of the breed, I think it must be true that collies are brighter than most. But Joe’s grin, as he came blundering through the stingers towards me, was uncharacteristically fatuous.
Because he is such an understanding and responsive dog, I rarely speak to him when we’re out unless I have something pertinent to say. I don’t nag him, for example. I give the old timer his independence.
But seeing him galloping towards me through the stinging nettles and grinning like that, I thought perhaps I ought to congratulate him on his exuberance. And I was about to ask him what he was being so cheerful about, when he collapsed on his side with his legs thrashing, as though he believed himself to be still upright and running. Then he began to tremble violently, his eyes rolled up inside his head and he started convulsing.
It looked to me as if he was having a heart attack and that the convulsions were his death throes. So this was it, I thought. I squatted down and smoothed his face with my hand and told him how much I had enjoyed his company. His eyes were now tight shut and his tongue lolled hideously out of his mouth and lay on the broken nettle stems as though disassociated from its owner. He seemed to be enduring a terrible agony and I wished it could be over for him more quickly. But when I thought I’d seen his last kick, another convulsion would seize him, and his death agony was drawn out still further.
Gliding lazily by, a herring gull saw us and cocked his head inquisitively. On the naturist beach far below us it was knocking-off time.
Windbreaks were being dismantled and rolled up. I could hear a car start in the car park. Then I saw a lone figure making his way up the steep, overgrown path towards us. From his mahogany complexion I gathered that he was a nudist now reluctantly back in his clothes and heading back up to the village. He had to step carefully around us.
“Is he all right?” he said, pausing to look at my collapsed, convulsing dog. “I think he’s dying from a heart attack”, I said.
Obviously a man of appropriate, readily accessible emotions, the naturist looked absolutely devastated. “Oh, the poor darling!” he wailed. “Can’t we do something for him?” “He’s old”, I said. “We’ve been expecting something like this to happen. In a way it couldn’t be a better way for him to go, out for his walk”.
Joe opened his eyes. He’s always reacted extravagantly to the word “walk”. Could it be that the word would now raise him from the dead? Incredibly, Joe staggered to his feet, wagged his tail by way of a greeting, shook himself, and trotted off, very unsteadily, down the path. “Well, I thought it was a heart attack, anyway”, I said, a little deflated.
It was an epileptic fit, said the vet when I rang him and described what had happened. Nothing to worry about, apparently.
A daily tablet will stop it happening again. Joe could go on for years yet, he said. And then he laughed — at yet another example of the amazing resilience of old dogs, I suppose.
By arrangement with the Spectator
BASIC FLAWS OF GDP
BY BY ERIC ZENCEY
If there’s a silver lining to the US current economic downturn, it’s this: With it comes what the economist Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction”, the failure of outmoded economic structures and their replacement by new, more suitable structures.
Creative destruction can apply to economic concepts as well. And this downturn offers an excellent opportunity to get rid of one that has long outlived its usefulness: gross domestic product (GDP). GDP is one measure of national income, of how much wealth Americans make, and it’s a deeply foolish indicator of how the economy is doing.
Since 1991, it has become probably our most commonly cited economic indicator, the basic number that we take as a measure of how well we’re doing economically from year to year and quarter to quarter.
But it is a miserable failure at representing our economic reality.
To begin with, GDP excludes a great deal of production that has economic value.
Neither volunteer work nor unpaid domestic services make it into the accounts. Nor does it include the huge economic benefit that we get directly, outside of any market, from nature.
A mundane example: If you let the sun dry your clothes, the service is free and doesn’t show up in our domestic product; if you throw your laundry in the dryer, you burn fossil fuel, make the economy more unsustainable and give GDP a bit of a bump.
In general, the replacement of natural-capital services (like sun-drying clothes) with built-capital services (like those from a clothes dryer) is a bad trade.
But in GDP, every instance of replacement of a natural-capital service with a built-capital service shows up as a good thing, an increase in national economic activity. Is it any wonder that we now face a global crisis in the form of a pressing scarcity of natural-capital services of all kinds?
This points to the larger, deeper flaw in using a measurement of national income as an indicator of economic well-being. In summing all economic activity in the economy, GDP makes no distinction between items that are costs and items that are benefits. A similarly counter-intuitive result comes from other kinds of defensive and remedial spending like healthcare, pollution abatement, flood control.
Expenditures on all of these increase GDP, although mostly what we aim to buy isn’t an improved standard of living but the restoration or protection of the quality of life we already had.
The amounts involved are not nickel-and-dime stuff. Hurricane Katrina produced something like $82 billion in damages in New Orleans, and as the destruction there is remedied, GDP goes up.
Consider the 50 miles of sponge-like wetlands between New Orleans and the Gulf Coast that once protected the city from storm surges. When those bayous were lost to development GDP went up.
The bayous were a form of natural capital and their loss was a cost that never entered into any account — not GDP or anything else.
Wise decisions depend on accurate assessments of the costs and benefits of different courses of action.
If we don’t count ecosystem services as a benefit in our basic measure of well-being, their loss can’t be counted as a cost and then economic decision-making can’t help lead us to undesirable and perversely un-economic outcomes.
The basic problem is that GDP measures activity, not benefit. If you kept your chequebook the way GDP measures the national accounts, you’d record all the money deposited into your account, make entries for every cheque you write, and then add all the numbers together. The resulting bottom line might tell you something useful about the total cash flow of your household, but it’s not going to tell you whether you’re better off this month than last.
Because we use such a flawed measure of economic well-being, it’s foolish to pursue policies whose primary purpose is to raise it. Doing so is an instance of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.
When you’re feeling a little chilly in your living room, you don’t hold a match to a thermometer and then claim that the room has gotten warmer. But that’s what we do when we seek to improve economic well-being by prodding GDP.
Several alternatives to GDP have been proposed, and each tackles the central problem of placing a value on goods and services that never had a dollar price. The alternatives are controversial, because that kind of valuation creates room for subjectivity — for the expression of personal values, of ideology and political belief.
Common sense tells us that if we want an accurate accounting of change in our level of economic well-being we need to subtract costs from benefits and count all costs, including those of ecosystem services when they are lost to development.
Nature has aesthetic and moral value as well; some of us experience awe, wonder and humility in our encounters with it. But we don’t have to go so far as to include such subjective intangibles in order to fix the national income accounts.
Given the fundamental problems with GDP as a leading economic indicator, and our habit of taking it as a measurement of economic welfare, we should drop it altogether. We could keep the actual number, but rename it to make clearer what it represents; let’s call it gross domestic transactions. Few people would mistake a measurement of gross transactions for a measurement of general welfare. And the renaming would create room for acceptance of a new measurement, one that more accurately signals changes in the level of economic well-being we enjoy.
Our use of total productivity as our main economic indicator isn’t mandated by law, which is why it would be fairly easy for President Barack Obama to convene a panel of economists and other experts to join the Bureau of Economic Analysis in creating a new, more accurate measure. Call it net economic welfare.
On the benefit side would go non-market goods like unpaid domestic work and ecosystem services; on the debit side would go defensive and remedial expenditures that don’t improve our standard of living, along with the loss of ecosystem services, and the money we spend to try to replace them.
We’re in an economic hole, and as we climb out, what we need is not simply a measurement of how much money passes through our hands each quarter, but an indicator that will tell us if we are really and truly gaining ground in the perennial struggle to improve the material conditions of our lives.
Eric Zencey, a professor of historical and political studies at Empire State College, is the author of Virgin Forest: Meditations on History, Ecology and Culture and a novel, Panama
By arrangement with the New York Times
Indian politicians are known for destroying, rather than rebuilding, systems and institutions. For a long time, Bihar was the worst example of this. The Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen, is not the first to point out that things have changed in that state. But his certificate to that effect is certainly the most precious one that the chief minister, Nitish Kumar, has received so far. Mr Sen did not elaborate on what exactly has changed in Bihar and how. But it is generally agreed that the big change is Mr Kumar’s sincerity in restoring the administration, which had collapsed during earlier regimes. The small steps he has taken seem to have restored the people’s confidence in the rule of law. If caste riots and murders or kidnappings for ransom are no longer daily occurrences, it is not because caste has ceased to matter in Bihar or politics is now free from crime. The improvements in law and order that Mr Kumar has been able to achieve are due to his government’s simple strategies. In essence, these mean that the police and the bureaucracy are allowed to work in accordance with the law and not made to perpetually look the other way or, worse still, aid politicians and their criminal associates.
Bihar’s hope of a return from the brink has a message for other states. It is that real changes come, not from high-sounding policies, but from a political will to let the system work. Both Mr Kumar and his predecessor, Lalu Prasad, were once in the same “socialist” camp. Mr Prasad’s long reign reverberated with loud calls for social justice, while the state slowly plunged into an abyss of criminality, corruption and administrative collapse. Mr Kumar’s Bihar has a long way to go. No one would know that better than Mr Sen, for whom social progress means better opportunities for school education, healthcare, gender equality and freedom from hunger. But all these would be beyond the reach of the majority of the people if there is no rule of law. What Mr Kumar has achieved is still rather tentative and may prove elusive. The recent incident in Patna, in which a woman was molested by a crowd in a public place, shows how much more things have to change in Bihar. The state remains one of the poorest in India, and poverty is always a threat to peace and stability. If Bihar’s law and order is better than what it has been for a long time, Mr Kumar should use the opportunity to tackle bigger issues.
It is a telling commentary on the work culture in India that the Supreme Court has to remind people of their basic duties. In the Anuradha Saha medical negligence case, the Supreme Court upheld the acquittal of the three doctors accused of criminal negligence, but reportedly stated that doctors were bound to tell their patients of the risks involved in the treatment being followed, especially since patients were likely to be ignorant of the hazards of the medicines and techniques being used. Whether or not such information had been provided would be considered in each medical negligence case. While the court’s firmness is welcome, it should be embarrassing to the medical community that the Supreme Court should have to instruct them in so obvious a matter. Not all doctors are the same, but it is true that there are many among them who do not bother to keep either the patient or — when that is impossible — the people responsible for the patient in the know about the various aspects of the treatment being followed. They seem to be unaware that they are accountable to the people they have been trained to heal. This is a failure of medical ethics that should be unthinkable in a civilized country.
India produces some of the best doctors, whether in the cities or from the countryside. But the tendency to take patients and their families for granted has complicated social, cultural and economic causes. In the quasi-feudal, paternalistic society of independent India, training in medicine exuded a hieratic aura, and doctors were noble beings who always knew best, especially when most patients were poor and unlettered. Distorted traces of this tradition linger. Transparency never comes easily to Indians. Besides, the doctor may be in a hurry because he has too much to do (the pressure on the Indian doctor is truly amazing), or because he wants to earn more. Sometimes, there is an unconscious arrogance, born of special knowledge and a sense of power, as well as of a disguised disdain for the poor and ignorant.This last is common in Indian society in general, as is the peculiar ignorance about rights. Patients’ rights, beyond the very obvious ones, may be as mysterious to certain doctors as a child’s rights may be to its parents. Perhaps it is fitting, after all, that the Supreme Court provided a reminder.
THE PM MUST LOOK INTO THE GOINGS-ON IN THE PETROLEUM MINISTRY
WRITING ON THE WALL - ASHOK V. DESAI
The dispute between the Ambani brothers has hitherto progressed only in the courts. The weapons in courts are counsels’ pleadings. Indian counsels tend to throw in all possible arguments — good, bad and indifferent — into their briefs. Once the briefs are filed in court, they are in theory public and anyone can get hold of them. But, in fact, they are extremely difficult to get. The warring parties sometimes release the briefs to their friends in the press; but legal expertise is low and space limited in the press, and briefs are seldom fully reported. As a result, it has been extremely difficult to follow the Ambani dispute.
Anil Ambani has done a public service by explaining to the shareholders of Reliance Natural Resources Limited in its Annual General Meeting the issues as he sees them. He made four specific charges. First, he accused Reliance Industries of refusing to honour its gas-supply agreement with RNRL. Second, he said that the price of $4.20 per million British thermal units that RIL proposes to charge customers is too high and would enable RIL to make exorbitant profits. Third, he accuses the petroleum ministry of siding with RIL in the gas dispute. And finally, he argues that India is going to have enough gas for its needs for years if not decades, that the costs of exploiting it are low, and that for the sake of its development, gas should be priced low — even lower than the $2.34/MMBtu that is stipulated in the agreements between RIL and NTPC and RIL and RNRL.
Mukesh Ambani, through a faceless spokesman, replied that he did not wish to reply to Anil’s “baseless, malicious and wrong accusations”. This is actually a reply, though he may not realize it. It also comes straight from the pen of a legal hack — just the kind of thing mindless lawyers frequently say in courts. Last year, Anil sued Mukesh for what he said in an interview to New York Times. It was a pretty innocuous interview; it is difficult to see what was defamatory about it, unless it was Mukesh’s jocular statement that when the two divided up Reliance, Anil took with him the department in the business which spied on people in the government. For that Anil is suing him for Rs 10,000 crore. So Mukesh has grown cautious. In any case, Mukesh is a man of few words. He is a master of action, not of words; and it is action that Anil was referring to in his speech in the AGM.
The specific action is that the two brothers signed an agreement in 2005 under which RIL promised to supply to RNRL gas from the Krishna-Godavari basin at $2.34/MMBtu. RIL has not delivered gas to RNRL as required by the contract. This is a simple fact; Mukesh cannot claim that he has delivered any gas. Hence it is a simple breach of contract. RNRL has sued RIL for it. RIL contends that the contract is superseded by the terms under which the government has given the lease of the K-G basin to Reliance, under which the sale price of gas has to be approved by the government. I do not know about the particular agreement with RIL. But I do know that there is no such stipulation in the conditions publicly laid down by the government for the New Exploration Licensing Policy VII, under which RIL has got its lease. Whatever evidence RIL had for its contention that the government was the arbiter was rejected by Bombay High Court on June 15, when it directed RIL to sign a contract with RNRL within a month which would promise RNRL 28 million cubic meters a day of gas for 17 years. RIL appealed to the Supreme Court against the High Court’s verdict. The Supreme Court heard both sides on July 30, and postponed the hearing to September 1. So far, RIL’s filibuster has succeeded.
And as to Anil’s allegation that the petroleum ministry is hand-in-glove with RIL, the ministry filed a petition in the Supreme Court asking it to annul the agreement between Anil and Mukesh. The agreement is not in force at present; RIL has refused to comply with it. The benefit of the agreement, and consequently the loss from its non-implementation, are entirely Anil’s. Thus the petroleum ministry’s intervention is against Anil.
It could argue that the intervention is equally against Mukesh, who would lose K-G gas if the government got its way. For what the government asked for is that it should be allowed to nationalize K-G gas, which it calls a “national resource”. On that logic, it could take away anyone’s private property. By giving oil concessions under NELPs, the government has created private property in mineral resources. It shares rights to that property in the form of oil-sharing arrangements that it has specified in the NELPs. It cannot then take away the private property by claiming that it is a “national resource”. Many of the oil concessions are given to joint ventures; for example in K-G, Reliance is in partnership with Niko Resources. Tomorrow the government will trick Niko Resources out of their rights in the concession on the ground that it is a national resource. This is not a legal argument; but more important, it is inconsistent with the rule-based capitalist system of which the government of India is supposed to be the guardian.
The ministry of petroleum launched the eighth round of NELP on April 9. It has just extended the last date of submission of bids; that suggests that it was disappointed with the response. The response may have been poor because the hydrocarbon markets are down just now. But there may be other reasons. One could be the experience of those who won concessions in earlier rounds — for instance, the Ambani brothers. The Central government has repeatedly intervened in the lawsuits relating to their dispute. It has repeatedly taken positions that implicitly supported one brother. And now it claims that hydrocarbons are a “national resource” subject to its absolute disposal — that it can arbitrarily, and at any time, abolish the private rights to the hydrocarbons that it promises in NELP to create.
That is how I would read the petroleum ministry’s maneuvers in the Ambani affair if I were Shell, Exxon or any other foreign oil company. I would note that Indian ministers have no qualms about working in favour of or against particular Indian industrialists, and of bending the rules if necessary. I would note that my legal rights vis-à-vis the government would be insecure, and that the judiciary would allow enormous delays in delivering justice. This was the reputation of India before the 1991 reforms; in one sphere — hydrocarbons — it remains unchanged.
The Prime Minister has gone far beyond the reforms and is absorbed in higher matters these days. Having made friends with George W, he is courting Gilani now. But if he comes down sometimes from the higher reaches, he would do well to look into the machinations of his petroleum minister. In this case, it may not be enough to look into the matter. He may have to remove the minister.
REWRITE THE POLICIES
MALA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH
Our South Asian neighbourhood has become so volatile that it has made a complete mockery of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, and the block of nations that could have played a significant role for one another. India, being the ‘Big Brother’ and therefore, being rather arrogant and dismissive of the smaller nations such as Myanmar, managed to successfully antagonise virtually all the countries and made the alternative, Chinese intervention, smooth and easy. As India wastes time playing predictable, old-time divisive politics, China uses the opportunity to boost its confidence by building world-class highways and by forging other economic partnerships. In a changing world, the Chinese are gaining ground rapidly, and India is seen as a big bad bully that has not built an equal, strong partnership, with mutual respect as the first criterion.
This moribund attitude has already become a dangerous reality across all our borders, where a strong and emerging world power like China sits as the crown in the north. Had we evolved a creative, dynamic and non-bureaucratic foreign policy for our region and for West and Southeast Asia, we could well have diluted the influence of China in our part of the world. Our compatible relationship with the West and with the United States of America could have ensured that India became the ‘Asian giant’, the Eastern power. But with our holier-than-thou stance and an archaic, almost rigid approach to a changing world, we have lowered our position internationally. What with all the rather unintelligent bickering in Parliament that is seen by all on television, India comes across as a weak and confused State whose self-serving politicians — overwhelmed by their greed and power, lacking in knowledge of critical issues — are not capable of ‘leading’ Asia.
Prime ministers of India in the decades since Independence have been people with integrity and good minds. They have had some colleagues in their various cabinets who have shared that privilege. There have been some bureaucrats of remarkable intellectual stature who gave the necessary sustenance to political decisions. Unfortunately, foreign policy debates in our Parliament have revolved around a strange and limited nationalism verging on jingoism and not around creative, out-of-the-box thinking. Opposition parties seem to react in the opposite way even if the government is right. It comes across to the public as immature politics.
Ideally, we should have had a SAARC visa by now much like the Schengen. Instead, we have China fishing in our troubled waters, steadily building its presence in South Asia. Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, even Myanmar have increased business and dealings with China. India is besieged by this new ‘alien’ that is beginning to ‘colonize’ all the spaces on the other side of its long border. We are to blame for this. We have allowed alien interventions. We have been ineffective and careless. Our leadership — collectively, without fighting one another — needs to pull the nations out of this quagmire fast. For South Asia to become an appendage of China or of the US or any other country in this millennium would amount to stupidity and signal a lost opportunity to lift our people out of the morass they have been drowning in for centuries.
Helping people combat the growing power of China could be the new foreign secretary’s primary agenda, one that could make her a chapter in the history of Indian overseas policy. Having just returned from a successful tenure in China, having understood that country and its leadership well, and having been there at a time when China had been flexing its muscles not only in South Asia but also in Africa, she is best placed to ‘rewrite’ the SAARC agenda.
MEDIUM: THE WAY TO BUILD HEALTHY SOCIETY
THE LANGUAGE SPOKEN AT HOME GETS INTO THE SYSTEM OF A CHILD. IT GROWS WITH THE LANGUA-GE LEARNT IN THE WOMB.
BY G K GOVINDA RAO
The judiciary is expected to uphold the law in accordance with the Constitution, but I am not sure that a profound issue like the medium of instruction can be resolved in a court of law.
The Constitution guarantees the right of a citizen to choose the language in which he wishes his children to be taught. But the court’s ruling, if it finally goes in their favour, cannot be taken as a victory for those appealing in favour of English.
It will not have solved the more important issues that are at stake. The question here, as I see it, is one that concerns our understanding the objectives of education. What do we want our children to be, and the question becomes all the more critical as our children are to be citizens in a democratic, secular country.
It is important not to lose sight of the fact that our children will themselves be fathers and mothers one day and we should be equally concerned about the quality of parents they would make. In others words, we should know we are not bringing up or educating our children in a vacuum. This question includes our concern for civilisation and culture — individual as also collective.
A COLLECTIVE VISION NEEDED
I am one of those who strongly believes that medium of instruction in Karnataka should be, between the standards one and four, Kannada, with English taught as one of the compulsory subjects. This cannot be made into a law. It should be made possible by the collective vision of a people.
But the question is why the mother tongue? why is it, I have always wondered, in the first place called mother tongue? It cannot be for want of some other expression. It has significance and deep meanings from the time the baby is in the woman’s womb. It is pure instinct. The instinct which says the child is growing already in a context and the language spoken at home keeps getting into the system of the child. Hence, we grow with the language learnt in the wombs of our mothers and it is breathed into us as naturally as air into our lungs. That is the law, we call it our mother tongue.
As we begin to grow it is only through our mother tongues that we can find, or at least struggle to find expressions for our feelings and emotions and thousand other kinds of responses to the world outside. It is only when we are able to find expressions can our experiences become clear to us and our personalities begin slowly to reveal to ourselves, although it is not at all certain that we succeed wholly or satisfactorily to find words for the deep-most stirrings in our hearts and minds.
And in this attempt to find words we would also be extending our horizons of understanding along with that of our own selves but also of the world. Our tolerance for and learning to live with fellow human beings all depend on how well we are able to comprehend and express and thus clarify for ourselves our deepseated fears and prejudices and inhibitions inherited or secretly cultivated.
This is not possible in a language I acquire, however competent I may become in the use of it. English would ever remain an acquired language, language of intellect, barring, of course, very rare and brilliant exceptions. Mother tongue is there in our system, in our blood veins and nerve centres and language we learn would ever remain outside of us.
Can it be, I have wondered, that we are drawn to and fascinated by the acquired language because we have a very deeply rooted unconscious urge to be running away from ourselves, and avoid facing our feelings and instincts and experiences?
It is true that English opens windows to the world outside and that is absolutely welcome and necessary, but ignoring or bypassing mother tongue would shut out the doors and windows into our deep and subterranean selves, which would mean in the long run fatal. Loss of language, which in other words, is running away from our natural selves would lead to violence, violence in thought and words and in our relations with fellow beings, which is far worse than literal physical violence that terrorists cause.
And indubitably it is when our children are in tender ages of six and ten that we should nourish and let what is naturally already instilled in the wombs burgeon in to a colourful and fruitful mother tongue — language of self-expression and creativity.
Thus, court’s verdict is not what we should look forward to, but our own sense of what it is to bring up children and thus also, in a manner of speaking, build a healthy society.
MOONSTRUCK FOR EVER
AS CHILDREN, WE WAITED EAG-ERLY FOR ‘CHANDAMAMA’, OUR FAVOURITE BOOK OF STORIES.
BY HARISH BHAT
The moon has recently been making headlines. First, it was Michael Jackson’s moonwalk playing everywhere when the King of Pop suddenly left for neverland. Then came the 40th anniversary of man’s first moon landing. Thereafter, news about Chandrayaan, our own desi mission to the moon. And the grand finale last month, when the moon eclipsed the sun completely in the longest solar eclipse of this century.
The moon must be pleased with all the attention, though I still believe the best news ever about it is contained in the delightful Pink Floyd album ‘Dark Side of the Moon’. Songs which are now several moons old but blow your mind splendidly each time you hear them. Of course these numbers work particularly well if you are as high as the planets themselves, and since we could not afford whisky in college, bootlegged moonshine was our only option to making this happen.
It was different as a child, of course. We waited eagerly for ‘Chandamama’, our favourite monthly book of stories named so aptly after the moon. We heard scary stories of wolves howling at the moon. And we smiled as we heard how Lord Ganesha, chronicler of Mahabharat, hurled his tusk at the moon.
But my most memorable encounter with the moon was on a summer’s night in Dodital, a beautiful Himalayan lake. I had trekked up from Uttarkashi, and was spending the night in a makeshift cottage by the lakeside. There was a full moon in the sky. It cast a luminous spell of light on the grey waters. In the distance, snow capped peaks shone silently in the shadowy light. The lake was the maiden and the moon her tiara.
Then, within an instant, I saw the waters open and two golden trouts jumped right out of the lake. All of a sudden, the rays of the moon appeared to envelop the two frolicking fish. Their bright gold and rainbow scales were magically lit up by the silver sheen, and the rest of the lake appeared to go totally dark. It was as if the moon had been waiting patiently just to spotlight this playful dance. As the fish leapt up again and again, the moonlight danced with them everywhere. It was the most magical sight, more mesmerising than Jacko and Neil Armstrong appearing together. After all, I thought, the moon is the real thing and they are merely pretenders to its glory.
Suddenly, the fish went back into their icy cold waters, and at exactly the same moment the moon retreated behind a cloud. In the sheer darkness, the beautiful haunting images remained. The moondance of Dodital had taken less than a minute to play out, but I was moonstruck for ever.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
FAIR HOUSING IN THE SUBURBS
When one thinks about segregation, the suburbs of New York’s Westchester County don’t immediately come to mind. Unless, of course, you’re a minority resident searching in vain for an affordable place to live.
Westchester County has now announced an agreement to spend more than $50 million to build or acquire 750 affordable housing units — 630 in towns and villages where the black population is 3 percent or less, and the Latino population is less than 7 percent.
The agreement, which needs to be ratified by the county Board of Legislators, settles a 3-year-old federal lawsuit, filed by the Anti-Discrimination Center, accusing the county of taking tens of millions of dollars in federal housing grants while falsely certifying that it was living up to its legal requirement to provide affordable housing without reinforcing racial segregation.
At the time, the county called those accusations “garbage,” and said it was powerless to force communities to integrate. But in February, Judge Denise L. Cote ruled that between 2000 and 2006 the county had, indeed, misrepresented its actions and had made little or no effort to place affordable homes in overwhelmingly white communities where residents objected.
Those objections have been fierce. And we fear the battles are far from over. In the 1980s, Yonkers nearly bankrupted itself trying to fight a federal judge’s order to integrate public housing. There are currently 120,000 acres of land in Westchester where integration is lagging, including in Bedford, Bronxville, Eastchester, Hastings-on-Hudson, Harrison, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, New Castle, Pelham Manor and Scarsdale.
Westchester County officials insist that they have invested a lot of money and effort to identify potential affordable-housing sites and invite communities to do the right thing. But toothless plans setting community-by-community targets clearly will not be enough. With federal help and forceful oversight, the county must use all appropriate power, including lawsuits if necessary, to make sure that its communities work to solve a problem that has been too long ignored and resisted.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
MORE THAN MISSILES
With the apparent killing of the Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud by an American drone, President Obama seems to be having some success with his military policy for Pakistan. He is having less luck in Washington.
Congress left town for its summer recess without passing a long-promised bill to triple American economic and development assistance to Pakistan — the centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s plan to win the hearts and minds of the Pakistani people.
The drone strike came after months of improved cooperation between American and Pakistani intelligence officials. Mr. Mehsud and his network have orchestrated a bloody reign of terror across Pakistan and are blamed for the 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister, and last year’s bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, which left more than 50 people dead. Permanently removing him from the picture would be an obvious victory.
However, force alone will not be enough to defeat the extremists. During the 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama rightly criticized the Bush administration for overinvesting in Pakistan’s army while doing far too little to help build up its civil society — the schools, courts, hospitals and roads that are essential to stability. Mr. Obama pledged to support legislation — which was initially sponsored by then-Senator Joseph Biden and Senator Richard Lugar — that would provide Pakistan with $7.5 billion in development assistance over five years.
The aid — and particularly its pledge of five years of uninterrupted help — is intended to demonstrate that this time Washington is in for the long haul. Many Pakistanis still accuse the Americans of using and then abandoning them after the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan. We fear that any more delay on the promised assistance would only reinforce that suspicion and bitterness.
The House and Senate did manage to pass bills authorizing the aid, but with significant differences.
Both versions contained sound conditions and benchmarks to try to measure the effectiveness of the help. But the House added a variety of other provisions, including earmarks for military projects that favored American contractors and bullying language on Pakistan’s nuclear program that would inevitably increase tensions with Islamabad and alienate the Pakistani public. We, too, are very concerned about Pakistan’s history of nuclear proliferation. But this aid bill is clearly not the vehicle.
Inexplicably, the White House, which insists that bringing stability to Afghanistan and Pakistan is a top national security priority, did not press the leadership to finish the legislation. By the time negotiators managed to find a compromise, it was too late for a vote.
When Congress returns in September, lawmakers and the White House must make passing the aid bill a top priority. Congress must also pass long-stalled legislation to establish special trade preference zones in parts of Pakistan to help create jobs.
As President Obama said when he endorsed the aid bill, “Al Qaeda offers the people of Pakistan nothing but destruction. We stand for something different.” It is time to show the Pakistani people that the United States has more to offer than missile strikes and empty promises.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE CHINO PRISON RIOT
Around 200 inmates were injured, 55 seriously, over the weekend in an 11-hour prison riot in California that appears to have had strong racial overtones. Officials are still investigating, but a major cause is already clear: 5,900 men were being held in a facility designed for 3,000. The violence should serve as a warning to officials across the country not to try to balance state budgets by holding inmates in inhumane conditions.
California has already ignored too many warnings. In 2007, a state oversight agency declared that “California’s correctional system is in a tailspin.” That same year, a prison expert warned that the California Institution for Men in Chino, the site of the recent riot, was “a serious disturbance waiting to happen.”
Last week, just days before the riot, a three-judge federal panel ordered the state to reduce its prison population of more than 150,000 by about 40,000 within the next two years. That was the only way, the panel ruled, to bring the prison health care system up to constitutional standards.
The 184-page order painted a grim and alarming picture — with some state prison facilities at nearly 300 percent of intended capacity and some prisoners forced to sleep in triple-bunk beds in gymnasiums. “In these overcrowded conditions,” the court said, “inmate-on-inmate violence is almost impossible to prevent.”
California’s problem — like much of the nation’s — is a mismatch between its harsh sentencing policies and its willingness to pay to keep so many people locked up for so long. A few years ago, it went to the Supreme Court to defend its right, under the state’s three-strikes law, to sentence a shoplifter to 25 years to life.
Given the serious budget problems that California is facing, there is not a lot of extra money available. The state could, however, divert offenders into drug-treatment programs and other nonprison environments, which are less expensive than incarceration and better at rehabilitation. It could also do more to give prisoners job skills and help them re-enter society — so they don’t end up back behind bars.
The riot in Chino and the federal court ruling contain the same message for state officials everywhere: they must come up with smart ways of reducing prison populations and they must do it quickly.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A CENTURY-OLD PRINCIPLE: KEEP CORPORATE MONEY OUT OF ELECTIONS
BY ADAM COHEN
The founders were wary of corporate influence on politics — and their rhetoric sometimes got pretty heated. In an 1816 letter, Thomas Jefferson declared his hope to “crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
This skepticism was enshrined in law in the early 20th century when the nation adopted strict rules banning corporations from contributing to political campaigns. Today that ban is in danger from the Supreme Court, which hears arguments next month in a little-noticed case that could open the floodgates to corporate money in politics.
The court has gone to extraordinary lengths to hear the case. And there are worrying signs that there may well be five votes to rule that the ban on corporate contributions violates the First Amendment.
The origins of the ban lie in the 1896 presidential race, which pitted the Republican William McKinley against William Jennings Bryan, the farm-belt populist. Bryan was a peerless orator, but McKinley had Mark Hanna — the premier political operative of his day — extracting so-called assessments from the nation’s biggest corporations and funneling them into a vast marketing campaign.
McKinley, who outspent Bryan by an estimated 10 to 1, won handily, proving Hanna’s famous dictum: “There are two things that are important in politics. The first is money, and I can’t remember what the second one is.”
Popular outrage over corporate contributions reached a high point in the 1904 election.
The defeated candidate, the Democrat Alton Parker, charged — accurately, it turned out — that his opponent had been bankrolled by large life insurance companies. “The greatest moral question which now confronts us is,” Parker insisted, “shall the trusts and corporations be prevented from contributing money to control or aid in controlling elections?”
In 1907, Congress passed the Tillman Act, the first federal law barring corporate campaign contributions. States adopted similar laws.
Since then, Congress has repeatedly ratified the federal ban. In 1925, it folded the Tillman Act into the Federal Corrupt Practices Act. In 1947, it made clear that the ban included not just corporate contributions, but corporate expenditures on campaigns — and that it also applied to labor unions. In the 2002 McCain-Feingold law, Congress once again underscored that corporations cannot contribute to campaigns.
It is inconceivable that Congress would now try to lift the ban. Americans are far too angry at Wall Street and the obvious failure of government regulations. But the Supreme Court has decided to force the question: It took a case, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the ban on corporate contributions was not a central issue; told the parties to prepare legal briefs on the ban’s constitutionality; and rushed to put oral arguments on the calendar in September before the new term even starts.
The court’s conservative majority has been aggressively championing the rights of corporations, but overturning the contributions ban would take it to a new level. Corporations have enormous treasuries, and there are a lot of things they want from government, many of which clash with the public interest.
If the ban is struck down, corporations may soon be writing large checks to the same elected officials whom they are asking to give them bailouts or to remove health-and-safety regulations from their factories or to insert customized loopholes into the tax code.
If the conservative justices strike down the ban, they would be doing many things they disavow. They would be substituting their own views for the will of the people, expressed through Congress. They would be reading rights into the Constitution that are not expressly there, since the Constitution never mentions corporations or their right to speak. And they would be overturning the court’s own precedents.
The only hope is that the court is listening to Americans. As it weighs the constitutional issues, it should be mindful that this is another historical moment in which the public is committed to strengthening the wall between government and big business, not tearing it down.
I. THE NEWS
WHO NEEDS DRONES?
So no senior Taliban leader is dead, there has been no gun battle between the parties assembled to select a successor to the undead leader, nobody was killed in the gun battle that did not take place and according to Maulana Noor Syed and quoted on the BBC news website; Baitullah Mehsud is 'gravely ill' but still in the land of the living. His illness has no connection whatsoever with the drone strike last Wednesday that killed his second wife. To say that the Taliban are in some disarray about the matter of Baitullah Mehsud, his on/off switch, and precisely who is friends with who is something of an understatement. Early on Sunday Pakistani officials said they had "credible evidence" that Baitullah Mehsud had been killed, and interior Minster Rehman Malik was saying on Monday that DNA confirmation of the Most Wanted Man's demise would be available within 48 hours. A senior Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud contacted the BBC to say that his boss was alive and well; which further confused matters as assorted government officials were saying that Hakimullah himself was one of those killed in the gun battle that did not happen at the meeting that did not happen and all in the dark depths of South Waziristan. Another one of the dead - Mufti Wali-ur-Rehman – has had a miraculous reversal of fortune and has (allegedly) said that both he and his rival Hakimullah are fighting fit and would be delighted to take tea and biscuits with anybody who could accurately determine the coordinates of their location. He was speaking to a Reuters reporter who has had previous contact with him, which may add some substance to the report.
Claim and counterclaim now swirl about in a confusing mix. None of the claims are verifiable; all are made by people who have a long track record of making unsubstantiated claims about any number of matters often with a desire to confuse and deceive. Whatever the truth of any of them – and there does seem to be an increasing body of anecdotal evidence that Baitullah Mehsud is indeed dead – it is clear that there is huge disarray among the ranks of the Taliban. They have never been a homogenous body anyway, and given the propensity for inter-familial and inter-tribal bloodletting in the tribal areas from which they primarily originate, it is no surprise that things have quickly deteriorated once the command cohesion supplied by Mehsud has disappeared. The government is doubtless looking upon all this with a benign detachment. They are not in the frame for blame – it was the Americans who attacked Mehsud – and any internal squabbles the Taliban may have are, of course, no business of the government. Indeed, they may almost have arrived at a position not dissimilar to that adopted by the British at the latter end of the Great Game, defined as 'masterly inactivity'. Whether Mehsud is alive or dead is practically immaterial, the reality is that the mere rumour of him being dead has provoked internal feuding and a power struggle for possession of the treasure that the Taliban have accumulated. This will play out over the coming days and weeks as a set of bloody encounters and yet more denial and rebuttal. Drones? Who needs 'em? Let the beast that is the Taliban consume itself.
I. THE NEWS
LYARI AFTER REHMAN DAKAIT
Rehman Dakait is being mythologised in death as he was in life. Wanted in over 80 cases he and three accomplices died in a shootout with the Karachi police – maybe. Whilst there is no dispute that he is dead the circumstances of his death are already the subject of debate, with some claiming that it was a 'fake encounter' and that his death was, in effect, an extra-judicial execution. Dakait was no 'Robin Hood' character, robbing the rich to redistribute their wealth to the poor. He was an old-fashioned criminal gangster who used his power to intimidate the population of Lyari which was his home base and to conduct a very public and bloody war with his rival Arshad Pappu. Between the two of them and their followers they reduced the population of this already-underdeveloped and neglected township to a state of terror no less than the Taliban have done elsewhere. It is to be hoped that with the demise of Dakait Pappu does not move to fill the vacuum and that he is swiftly captured (rather than dying in a mysterious 'police encounter').
With Dakait gone and Pappu hopefully in the bag sooner rather than later, it is once again time to turn our attention to the needs of the wider population of Lyari. Poor, under-resourced, living in polluted and cramped conditions with few of the services needed to sustain even the most basic of existences, their lives are bleak indeed. There have been any number of 'initiatives' aimed at Lyari, many of them from the private sector and the NGOs that struggle against often appalling odds (and gangsters) to do what they can for the people there. Successive governments have made desultory and un-sustained efforts, but nothing ever gets finished even if it gets started in the first place as the political tide ebbs and flows – the money and will along with it. Politically, Lyari is in the pocket of the PPP, and provides it with a very significant vote-bank. It is high time the PPP started putting its money where its mouth is as far as the residents of Lyari are concerned. Decorating the nation's flagpoles with its party banner in the run-up to August 14 – when we might have thought that the national flag was more appropriate – is one thing; but the rolling up of political sleeves and the bending of political backs in a little honest labour to the benefit of Lyari is another.
SURVEY REVEALS PAKISTANIS’ THREAT PERCEPTION
CONTRARY to general impression that India is being viewed as the biggest threat in Pakistan, a survey commissioned by Al-Jazeera and conducted by Gallup Pakistan, reveals that an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis consider US as the main security threat. Its findings show that there was a widespread disenchantment in Pakistan with the United States for interfering with what most people consider internal affairs.
In a related development, Jamat-e-Islami is organizing protest demonstrations against growing American interference in the country. And it seems Pakistanis are not alone in feeling like that as almost similar sentiments prevail in many other countries including India. In an interview, Indian Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has pointed out that “gut anti-Americanism is a problem in India”. Similarly, American standing in the Gulf is abysmally low where the lone superpower of the world is openly favouring repressive policies of the Jewish state and has become a major hurdle in the way of a just resolution of the Middle East problem, which is desire of the entire world as reflected in scores of resolutions passed at the UN. As for the survey in Pakistan, one may say that these are usually not very dependable but even then they show a general direction. It is also a fact that one doesn’t need to carry out surveys or public opinion polls to know about feelings of the Pakistani people about the United States that is grossly interfering in its internal affairs. Apart from what the Americans are doing to complicate things for Pakistan in the so-called war on terror, they are also providing unsolicited advice on purely internal political matters. It is commonly believed that governments come and go in Pakistan with the tacit approval of Washington and nowadays its representatives do not care about sensitivities of Pakistani people and make public comment on domestic situation and politics. It is cumulative effect of all these things that the US is considered as the bigger threat than the traditional enemy India with which Pakistan has fought four wars and there still exist reasons for continued tension. But unfortunately, the United States seems to be totally oblivious of its image problem and continues with the same berserk policies that create more resentment and hatred. It is an inherent problem with powers that are armed to teeth as they do not bother about public opinion and continue their headstrong policies even if they meant ultimate weakness of the entire system. President Barack Obama was known for his humane approach to all issues but unfortunately he too has not been able to make a break with the past. We would urge them to take into account the sensitivities of the public opinion in different countries and regions of the world and adjust American policies accordingly.
LORD NAZIR’S INFLAMMATORY STATEMENTS
EVER since his landing in Pakistan, Lord Nazir Ahmad is churning out inflammatory statements of all sorts portraying himself as head of a major political party of Pakistan who feels pain more than anyone else. At a press conference in the Capital on Sunday he challenged the former President to muster courage, return to Pakistan and face cases in the courts.
Lord Nazir, who has acquired the reputation of a shrewd politician, also went to the extent that he was exploring ways and means to file a case against former President in Britain. Realizing that any statement made against Pervez Musharraf was being prominently displayed in the electronic and print media, he very cleverly chose this theme with the purpose of getting his self-projection and earning goodwill of anti-Musharraf forces. Why we thought it appropriate to comment on Lord Nazir is that he is a UK national and member of the prestigious House of Lords. He is not supposed to take political sides and utter any word that incites people for an uprising in the host country. His tirade against former President could also be due to some personal grudge otherwise whatever right or wrong Pervez Musharraf did in Pakistan is none of his business. Still if he feels like that, he should have mustered enough courage and challenged Musharraf when he was at the helm of affairs. Being member of the House of Lords, he must have enough knowledge that it is for the people of Pakistan, the Parliament and the Judiciary whether to take any action against him or not. We firmly believe that instead of indulging in mudslinging, he must first have a deeper soul-searching as to how much he himself is a law-abiding citizen. We would remind Lord Nazir that he was sentenced to 12-week jail for violating laws. He was lucky that the appeal court suspended the sentence allowing him to go free. We would therefore advise Lord Nazir not to meddle in Pakistan’s internal affairs and enjoy the hospitality of his friends as his uncalled-for utterances are hurting the good image of House of Lords and Britain.
EVEN NEWBORN BABIES ARE BEING ABDUCTED
THE instances of abduction and kidnappings for ransom are regrettably on the rise and there are reports every other day of unfortunate happenings in different parts of the country. This is more so in the NWFP and Balochistan where militants frequently abduct people and officials and release them only after getting ransom or fulfillment of their demands.
It is, however, ironical that for quite some time there are also instances of abduction of newly born babies from maternity wards of the private and government hospitals. On Sunday, a mother from Karachi was shown on television screens wailing and crying after her day old baby was abducted from the hospital. Similar incidents were reported by the media in the recent past in which new born babies were taken away from hospitals of even Islamabad and Rawalpindi. It is regrettable that the authorities concerned and specially the hospital managements have miserably failed to check this growing trend. It is believed that majority of such incidents take place with active connivance of the hospital staff. Apart from this there are numerous reports of wilful changing of babies to suit gender requirement for their parents and obviously this is going on by way of palm-greasing of the hospital staff. These are crimes of the worst order and demonstrate callousness of those involved in such dastardly acts. They are also reflective of the fact that moral values of the society are on the nose-dive and, therefore, we ought to ponder over the situation on the event of the Independence Day.
The parliamentary standing committee on expatriates' welfare and overseas employment has asked the manpower recruiting agencies of Bangladesh, better known by its acronym BAIRA, to lower the cost of transaction for migrant workers. It observed with consternation that the cost of getting an overseas job was the highest in Bangladesh. It also suggested a number of measures including reduction of travel and other costs for those going for jobs abroad. The chairman of the committee, Barrister Anisul Islam Mahmood, assured newsmen that the proposed Expatriates' Welfare Bank would be operational by the end of the year. The Bank will not only deal with expatriates' money but will also engage in normal banking activities and will have branches throughout the country.
All these are very welcome developments and we certainly hope that this will yield results. As it is, our expatriates are getting a very raw deal. They pay a lot to procure a job and get the worst of wages. Besides, they have little of consular services. But ironically the country's economy depends on the money they send home. An estimated seven to 10 million Bangladeshi expatriates send almost 10 billion US dollars through official channels, every year and twice as much is estimated to be coming through informal channels. For the first time the government is thinking of taking some concrete steps to change this situation. But the challenge of governance is a ubiquitous one in Bangladesh and it may take some time before the benefits seep through. But the persistence must be there.
Earlier, the prime minister had promised that banks would provide loans, repayable in easy instalments, to people seeking jobs abroad, in exchange of remitting through those banks. But so far nothing has been heard about its progress. Even if the paltry sums that are needed to get jobs abroad are not returned, the country or the concerned bank, do not lose much, assuming that the loans are genuine, as the service charge, gained, will far outweigh the initial cost. Currently, Western Union and other foreign organisations are getting the benefit of our remittances. Is it not time we dipped into this treasure trove, as well? It will yield many times in returns, both at the micro and macro-levels.
The triumphant 8-wicket victory of the Tigers against Zimbabwe in the first match of the five-match One-Day International (ODI) series at Bulawao on Sunday is indeed worth celebrating as far as the Tigers' consistent performance is concerned. As before, Bangladesh team's success was extremely precarious, as it had to wait a long time for the flash of brilliance that calls for uninterrupted celebrations. Although the current adversaries of Bangladesh are relatively weak - a makeshift West Indies side and a low ranking Zimbabwean team -- yet it is a feat that the Tigers had failed to achieve in the past.
The double "Banglawash" of West Indies, both in the Test series and the ODI, answered the critics of Bangladesh cricket who had raised questions about Bangladesh's Test status. These critics are now hopefully silenced. Bit by bit, Bangladesh cricket is indeed making headway.
At the individual level, Bangladesh is also producing some brilliant cricketers. The country's cricket team now boasts of having the world's present number one all-rounder, Shakib Al-Hasan, whose captaincy in absence of Mashrafee, led to the "double" wash of the West Indies. The consistent recent batting performance of the former Bangladesh skipper, Ashraful, is also quite impressive. His unbeaten ton in Sunday's match against Zimbabwe, along with three fifties in the previous ODI series against West Indies, is clear proof of his talent. He has, therefore, rightly earned the unique distinction of being the first Bangladeshi cricketer to join the exclusive club of 3,000 ODI-run getters.
Bangladesh will have to play four more ODIs in this series against Zimbabwe and we certainly hope that they will keep up the winning streak, if not always, at least, most of the time.
WHERE WOULD THEY LOOK?
A story I used to hear on my mother's knee was that of a young Jesus suddenly being lost at the age of twelve. His worried parents looked all over for him and finally find him in the temple. But what made the story interesting was his reaction when found: He asked his parents why they needed to search anywhere else but in the temple. And a thought flashes in my mind: What about you and me? Where would people search if we were lost? I had an uncle who passed away last year: Many years ago this uncle and my aunt took my brother and me out for lunch and some shopping in the busy Grant Road area in Mumbai. Suddenly we realised that uncle was lost. "Don't worry," said an unperturbed aunt, " You'll find him outside a watch store!" And good enough, we did, standing outside a shop selling watches, peering hungrily at the watches they had on display.
What would people say if you were lost? "Ashok's lost!"
"Yeah, disappeared! Any idea where he'd be?"
"There's a temple nearby!"
"Not Ashok, he wouldn't waste his time in a temple, is there a super market?"
"Supermarket and my Ashok?" shouts his wife, "When was the last time he bought anything for the home from a supermarket!" With that outburst from an angry, worried wife, his friends move in, "Maybe he's gone to those sleazy shops behind!"
"Yes he could be there!"
"Let's check those shops!" The shops around are checked and one or two friends are seen looking at each other a little uncomfortably, then whispering, "Is there anybody from the group missing?"
"Yeah I thought of that also, there's that young chick, the buxom girl, she seems the type Ashok would have the glad eye for! Is she missing too?"
"No there she is with the others, but old Mrs Kapoor isn't here!"
"I don't think she's Ashok's type!" Suddenly there's a commotion and his friends look back to see a boy running after them, "There's a fellow behind who's slipped and fallen, is he one of yours? He seems a bit hurt!" Of course it's Ashok, and luckily with a glass of water and a hot cup of tea, he's dusted and patted all around and joins the group none the worse for wear. "Didn't you guys look for me?" asks Ashok later to his wife and friends.
"We did!" they all say looking down at the ground shamefully. What about us? Where would our friends, relatives and others who know us look? Would they search in the nearest shop selling erotic literature, or would they rush to the nearest temple?
CHAIRWOMAN’S VISIT TO NK
HYUNDAI CHIEF MAY THAW CHILLED INTER-KOREAN TIES
Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jung-eun embarked on her visit to North Korea on Monday. Her mission came after former U.S. President Bill Clinton traveled to Pyongyang last week to win the release of two American journalists. The timing of her visit is raising expectations that the Kim Jong-il regime might ease its hard-line stance and hostility against South Korea as well as the United States.
It is still too early to predict that North Korea will soon reverse its anachronistic policy of nuclear blackmailing and saber rattling in the wake of Clinton and Hyun's visit to the reclusive country. But it seems that Pyongyang is trying to send a signal of making a breakthrough in its relations with Seoul and Washington which have worsened to the point of military clashes since the North's long-range missile launch in April and its second nuclear test in May.
Most of all, the Kim regime has certainly begun to feel pain from new U.N. Security Council sanctions against the North's missile test-fire and atomic bomb test. Especially, the North must have felt a sense of crisis since China has joined international efforts to impose an arms embargo and financial sanctions on the recalcitrant nation. In this context, there must be a caution that North Korea may intend to neutralize the sanctions against it by making ``peace gestures" to the U.S. and South Korea without giving up its nuclear ambition and provocative actions.
North Korea should realize that it has gone too far in its nuclear gambling and provocation. Thus, it ought to go back to the six-party nuclear disarmament talks and then move toward complete and verifiable denuclearization before seeking better ties with other countries. The Kim regime needs to recognize that the United States and South Korea will no longer play into the hands of the world's last Stalinist country, although Clinton and Hyun's trip could serve as a catalyst to bring a thaw to the Korean Peninsula.
Hyundai Chairwoman Hyun's first priority is to secure the freedom of an employee who has been detained in North Korea since March 30. The detainee is identified by his surname Yu, and had been working for Hyundai Asan, the operator of the inter-Korean industrial complex in Gaeseong. The Seoul government has been under criticism for doing little to set him free, especially since Clinton came back home with the two American journalists ― Euna Lee and Laura Ling who were sentenced to 12 years in a labor camp for crossing the North Korean border.
There may be a possibility of Hyun meeting with Kim Jong-il. If the meeting takes place, she could deliver the Seoul government's intention to break the deadlock in inter-Korean ties to him. She is also expected to discuss with North Korean officials ways of resuming the suspended Mt. Geumgang tourism business and tackle thorny issues related to the Gaeseong complex.
We hope that Hyun will produce successful results to encourage the North to go back to the negotiation table and discuss measures to ease tensions and bring reconciliation to the peninsula. It remains to be seen whether she will play a role similar to that played by Clinton.
RESURGENT HOME PRICES
NEED FOR ANTI-SPECULATIVE STEPS CANNOT BE OVEREMPHASIZED
While officials talk big about Korea's ``exceptionally" rapid escape from global recession, rising housing prices here are offering another meaningful exception.
Unlike most other cities of the world, the prices of for-sale apartments in upscale southern Seoul districts are soaring now to approach the levels of 2006, when record-high home prices prompted the then-Roh Moo-hyun administration to come up with various anti-speculative steps. The outstanding amount of mortgage loans also jumped 4.5 trillion won to total 337 trillion won ($275 billion) in July in another sign of the reviving housing market.
So the government is right to consider reintroducing the so-called DTI, or debt-to-income, ratio that links the banks' lending ceiling to borrowers' annual income, especially since the other anti-speculative weapon of ``LTV" (loan-to-value) ratio seems to have done little to curb the rising property prices.
There will likely be complaints not only from housing developers and real estate brokers but also from prospective home buyers, as the resurgent housing boom has yet to spread to most other regions of the country. This requires the government's policymakers to work out meticulous criteria in applying the two schemes by pinpointing the areas and their residents' income levels.
Still others may say the seemingly premature combat with speculators could nip the recovery in the bud ― a claim the policymakers should hit back by all means and logics. Efforts to stimulate the economy through a construction boom can neither be successful in the long run nor desirable in view of their various adverse effects. After all, this is a country where the economy's dependence on real estate is abnormally high, various properties account for up to 80 percent of individuals' assets, and even ordinary families buy and sell homes not for residential but for investment purposes.
Sadder still, the economy's undue reliance on properties has left an increasing number of Koreans expecting to live on unearned income instead of honest labor, while widening further the income gulf in a rich-get-richer, poor-get-poorer society.
Which forces us to compare the real estate policies of the previous and incumbent administrations. The Roh administration almost betted its fate on curbing property speculation and lowering home prices, but later faced a complete fiasco due mainly to a failure to rein in overflowing liquidity at home and abroad. But its policy based on heavier taxation, transparent transaction and supply of inexpensive homes to those who actually need them went in the right direction, helping to prevent Korea from falling into a trap like the U.S. subprime crisis.
The Lee Myung-bak administration, however, has all but reversed these policies by removing almost all regulations on property markets under the pretext of reviving the economy, whose benefits were shared by its major supporters ― wealthy individuals, construction firms, realtors and even large newspapers heavily relying on apartment ads.
It's time for the government to rethink not just its real estate policy but overall economic policy and redirect the flow of money to more productive sectors ― away from land and homes changing hands ― which does nothing for the income of hard-working people.
The government should never repeat the mistake of making hasty attempts to get out of the slump that only result in a perpetuating crisis-prone economy.
CLINTON’S DANGEROUS SUCCESS
BY ANDY JACKSON
Perhaps I have been in Korea too long but, upon seeing Euna Lee and Laura Ling depart their plane on American soil with former President Bill Clinton, I found myself hoping that the first words from them would be a ``sincere apology" for getting themselves in a position that necessitated his going to Pyongyang to spring them.
During a conversation I had with a journalist with National Public Radio several months ago, she mentioned that her employer prohibited her from trying to cross into Burma to do a report. Either Current TV, Lee and Ling's employer, does not have the same level of professional standards or the two crossed over without authorization. In either case, their arrest and any information that North Korean authorities may have gained from it could have put the lives of North Korean defectors in jeopardy.
Every government, even one as odious as North Korea, has the right to determine when or if foreign nationals may enter its territory. It is now apparent that Lee and Ling deliberately crossed into North Korean territory, where they were apprehended. If not for the grossly disproportionate sentences they received, the most appropriate response of the American government would have been to simply wait until they served their time.
Of course, Pyongyang did not want justice in the case. It wanted to use Lee and Ling as diplomatic weapons to use against Washington. That in turn necessitated President Clinton's going to Pyongyang to pay homage to the Dear Leader.
In the narrowest sense of the word, Clinton's trip to Pyongyang was a success. He went to North Korea to pick up Euna Lee and Laura Lee and he came back with them. For that, at least, we can be grateful.
However, there is a real danger of misinterpreting that success in ways that will make it even more difficult to successfully deal with Pyongyang in the future.
First, the Clinton factor in the release of Lee and Ling has created a potentially damaging misconception that big, bold overtures are what is needed in dealing with Pyongyang. The early drafts of an emerging myth of a Clinton diplomatic triumph can be seen in stories like ``Let the Big Dog Run," a column by Maureen Dowd in the Aug. 4 issue of the New York Times. The gist of their argument is that Bill ``Big Dog" Clinton succeeded where normal diplomacy failed.
In fact, Clinton was more of a show pony than a ``big dog." His visit was a term worked out in negotiations using the same back-channel process Washington and Pyongyang have been using for years.
Daniel Sneider at Stanford University's Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center noted that Clinton ``didn't go to negotiate this, he went to reap the fruits of the negotiation."
That is not to say that Clinton did not do anything. His connections in the business world allowed him to pay for the private jet and other expenses related to his trip without the use of taxpayer money. It also took someone of his stature visiting Kim Jong-il (former vice president Al Gore had offered to go but Pyongyang rebuffed him) to close the deal. But it is important to point out that his role has been over-hyped.
The danger here is that President Obama, egged on by those inside and outside of his administration and enamored by ``Clinton's" success in freeing Lee and Ling, may fall into the trap of seeking the one big gesture and grand agreement that will untie the Gordian Knot of diplomacy with Pyongyang.
Alas, most such gestures or big deals, including Clinton's own Agreed Framework and Bush's taking North Korea off of the list of state sponsors of terrorism, have failed to end North Korea's nuclear programs.
There is simply no substitute for painstaking, methodical negotiations in concert with America's allies in the region. North Korea being what it is, there is also no substitute for strictly and consistently applying sanctions and other forms of pressure on the Kim regime
There is also the danger of Seoul trying to repeat the formula of the Clinton visit to save South Koreans (a Hyundai Asan employee detailed at the Gaeseong Industrial Complex and a fishing boat crew that drifted over the Northern Limit Line in the West Sea) being held by Pyongyang or for other inter-Korean issues. Unfortunately, Pyongyang will likely seek more substantial concessions from Seoul than a photo op.
Appeasement, like other forms of bribery, can work but only if the appeased can stay bought. As such, it is a diplomatic tool that should only be used for limited, short-term goals.
The Clinton visits worked because it was for a specific short-term return and will have little to no impact on larger issues between Pyongyang and Washington. The danger is that Washington or Seoul will try to emulate his small success in other aspects of relations with Pyongyang with larger forms of bribery.
As Seoul has discovered after a decade of the Sunshine Policy, once Pyongyang has had a taste of appeasement, its appetite only increases.
Andy Jackson has taught courses on American government and has been writing on Korean politics and other issues for four years. He is the chairman of Republicans Abroad-Korea. He can be reached at email@example.com.
DISGRACE AND HUMILIATION
BY ALEXANDER WASHKO
I would like to talk about my recent experience concerning the constant battle of Korean culture vs. fear of English teachers. This is a completely true account of events last week that I am seeking legal action against.
I am raising this issue so that other people can be mindful of what they may have to deal with entering Korea from their much needed vacations.
Upon returning from a weeklong vacation in Malaysia, my excitement to return to my new home in Korea turned very ugly, very quickly. I was randomly pulled from the customs line of about 200 people and asked if my bags could be searched. Being filled with only dirty, sandy clothes, I did not see a problem. Then things turned strange.
The customs official took out every piece of clothing from my bag, leaving my roommate's untouched. My dirty underwear was now on display, and even on the floor of Incheon International Airport. But I let it go, and knew I had nothing to hide, save a few smelly bits of clothing.
Then, a man took our passports for a brief moment and asked us to go into a small side room with him and two others. When he closed the door, he claimed I had ``drug residue" of MDMA (the compound that makes ``Ecstasy") on my passport. My roommate's passport (which had been in the same bag or pocket for most of the return flight) was clear, leading me to believe it was all faked. Confused and knowingly innocent, we asked for more information and what this meant. To this, we were given no answer other than we had to give up our wallets and watches for tests, which came back ``positive" as well.
Then they framed me: They wanted to test my hands for ``drugs." After two tests that came back ``negative," they told me to hold my passport before the third test, to which I naturally refused as that would leave ``residue" on my hands. After trying to force the passport into my hands, they simply swabbed the passport, my watch, then my fingers and walked out, while I was screaming to my roommate, ``They are framing me! Look! Help!"
Of course, they returned to tell me I had drugs on my hands as well. We were horrified. Next, I was stripped to my underwear and told if I had to use the bathroom, I would need a chaperone. Little did I know this chaperon would stand in front of me, fighting the stall door open, and watch me defecate while chatting on his cell phone, laughing and pointing at me. It was the most humiliating moment of my life, not to mention the most uncertain.
I was then led back into the room, where my roommate was waiting, as they left him alone this whole time. They told me, verbatim, ``All English teacher use drug on vacation, we know it. We cannot trust you, you do drug."
Astonished at this generalization and lack of chance to prove my innocence, as I do not use drugs, I simply stammered they must test my blood or urine. To this suggestion, they refused. In their frustratingly broken English, they told me I could not be released from the airport, to which I replied ``But I live in Korea." They responded, ``You must go to home country!"
They were threatening me with deportation, flat-out. I was unable to speak or to defend myself. Everything I said was met with ``NO" and ``English teacher do drugs." And then it was over. He told me not to use drugs next time I go on vacation and to leave. And I left, disgraced and humiliated.
I could rant about the far-reaching cultural implications this has for Korea: perpetuating their xenophobic habits and their thinly-veiled solidarity against English teachers (and all foreigners), but all of that should be obvious. Inhumane treatment is illegal and disgusting. It does nothing to bridge the gap between foreigners and their national cohabitants. It just made me very sad to be back in Korea, a place I used to think was my home.
The writer is working for a highly respected school system, and has lived in Korea for more than a year. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CHINA HAS NO RIGHT TO CENSOR IN AUSTRALIA
THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT HAS MADE IT MORE THAN PLAIN TO CANBERRA THAT IT DOES NOT LIKE UIGHUR ACTIVIST REBIYA KADEER SPEAKING HERE.
The Australian ambassador to Beijing was ticked off when she was granted a visa. And now the Chinese embassy is demanding the National Press Club cancel Ms Kadeer's scheduled address today. China has made its point, and it is time for the Australian government to respond. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith should call in Chinese ambassador Zhang Junsai and ask him to convey an equally plain reply to Beijing: butt out. Mr Zhang must be told heavy-handed attempts to stop a woman who has broken no laws in Australia and who Canberra considers constitutes no threat to either this country or the peace of the world are unacceptable. And when he conveys that message, the ambassador could explain to his superiors that even if the Australian government wanted to stop Ms Kadeer from addressing the Press Club, it is not its decision to make, that in Australia freedom of speech is a fundamental right, not a privilege conferred and withdrawn by the state. Mr Zhang could also add that the Australian people will never accept a foreign power seeking to censor information and suppress criticism here.
But it seems unlikely Mr Zhang's superiors would listen to any argument that they should ever accept criticism anywhere and not seek to silence the speakers. While China's government has embraced the idea of the market economy, in its treatment of dissenters it remains an authoritarian state, intransigent in its attitude to dissent. In some cases, this is due to Han Chinese nationalism -- Beijing is determined to ensure ethnic and religious minorities, such as Ms Kadeer's Uighur people, a mostly Muslim minority from the country's far west, do not challenge the central government. In others, it is born of anger at anybody who upsets the status quo designed for, and by, the Communist Party elite. While we do not known what Stern Hu, the Australian businessman under arrest in Shanghai, may have done, the fact he has been held in detention without charge for a month demonstrates the regime's attitude to the rights of anybody who annoys powerful people. Above all, the Communist Party leadership and its supporters follow the ancient imperial tradition of always imposing order, lest it appear incapable of dealing with criticism of their regime, wherever it occurs.
In March, party propaganda chief Li Changchun lobbied the ABC to ensure China's views on Tibet were covered -- at a time when the broadcaster was applying to broadcast news in China. That he received a polite but non-committal response from a government-owned organisation interested in doing business in China must have puzzled Mr Li, who is used to agencies of the state doing what they are told. His colleagues will be even more perplexed that the Australian Government has not shut Ms Kadeer up -- it is what the country's great trading partner wants. But as this has not happened, the Chinese government and its supporters are trying to do the job themselves. There were attempts to stop a film about Ms Kadeer screening at the Melbourne Film Festival, and now her press club address is being denounced. This contempt for freedom of speech and utter disregard for the values of other countries demonstrates that China is still a dictatorship.
HEAT IS ON TURNBULL
MALCOLM TURNBULL HAS SHOWN INITIATIVE IN PUTTING FORWARD AN ALTERNATIVE EMISSIONS TRADING SCHEME AIMED AT REDUCING THE IMPACT ON CONSUMERS AND SAVING JOBS IN CRUCIAL INDUSTRIAL REGIONS.
Politically, however, the Opposition Leader will faces severe difficulty gaining traction, given the outright opposition of MPs such as Liberal backbencher Wilson Tuckey and Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce to any carbon reduction scheme. The Nationals are moving to set up their own policy on the issue, but however populist they believe their stance to be in their heartland, it is foolishly allowing the Rudd government to wedge the Coalition as effectively as John Howard wedged the Labor opposition on controversies such as border protection. They have made it easy for Kevin Rudd and Climate Change Minister Penny Wong to play up Coalition disunity and paint them as irresponsible climate change deniers.
Senator Joyce and Mr Tuckey, among others, seem to have forgotten that the scheme before parliament is similar to the proposal Mr Howard took to the last election almost two years ago, devised by Peter Shergold, former secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. It is a market-based scheme to be phased in gradually, which can be ramped up in the unlikely event of a global consensus at Copenhagen.
For all the angst and instability over the ETS within opposition ranks, it has given the government bipartisan support for the carbon emissions target it will take to the Copenhagen conference in December -- a minimum reduction target of 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020, up to a conditional target of 25 per cent, depending on global agreement. Yesterday, Mr Turnbull went one better, proposing a scheme that he says would produce
10 per cent cuts by 2020, making up the difference by buying many more permits internationally. Judging by the way the government is playing the issue, the numbers it is most interested in cutting are those on the opposition side of parliament. While the opposition has offered bipartisan support for the government's proposed 20 per cent renewable energy target (RET), which Access Economics believes will create 28,000 new jobs in the next decade, the government refuses to uncouple the RET from the ETS to see it passed as soon as possible. This is a tactic to increase the stakes in Thursday's Senate vote.
Ms Wong claims Mr Turnbull's proposed scheme has "the distinct taste of magic pudding", does not add up, is overly complex and would not work. On paper at least, the scheme sounds appealing. As well as doubling the minimum target to reduce emissions by 2020, it proposes lower imposts on electricity generators and consumers, with less compensation and government "churn" to offset its impacts. It also excludes agriculture. If modelling by Frontier Economics is correct, the cost to GDP would be
40 per cent less than the government's scheme, which is sufficient reason alone for it to be given proper consideration.
Mr Turnbull is yet to secure the backing of his MPs for the scheme, which makes it a political risk as he attempts to claw back some ground as opposition leader. As The Australian's Paul Kelly said at the weekend, the Liberal Party is beset by panic, confusion, disunity and right-wing ideologues on climate change who have none of Mr Howard's pragmatism. For this reason, Mr Turnbull will find it difficult this week to turn the heat on climate change back on the Rudd government.
A VERY SAD SUBJECT
AS AN EFFECTIVE CHAIRMAN OF BEYONDBLUE, FORMER VICTORIAN PREMIER JEFF KENNETT HAS ACHIEVED A GREAT DEAL SINCE 2000 TO ENCOURAGE THE SENSIBLE AND REASONABLE DISCUSSION OF DEPRESSION AND MENTAL ILLNESS.
It appears inconsistent with that open approach for the organisation to be opposing current affairs program 60 Minutes airing a segment on teen suicide at a Geelong high school. Mr Kennett obtained an injunction on Sunday blocking the segment, and the matter will be heard again tomorrow when 60 Minutes will apply to have the injunction lifted.
Youth suicide is a tragic blight that can sometimes appear to spread through peer groups. But there is concrete evidence to suggest that suppressing discussion and information does no good. In 1996, the Press Council convened a seminar at which child and adolescent psychiatrist Graham Martin, then deputy chair of the Youth Suicide Prevention Advisory Group, noted that the suicide rate in Australia dropped substantially in the month after the death of rock star Kurt Cobain in 1994: "Could it be that young people were switched off perhaps by the circumstances of his death, which were widely reported?"
Any reporting, of course, must be highly responsible and sensitive, and should not glamourise the manner of the departure. But by imposing a blanket ban on the coverage of people who take their own lives, the media would be complicit in silencing debate about suicide, which is responsible for more deaths each year than road accidents. Open discussion and responsible reporting, on the other hand will, encourage those at risk to seek help.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
CHINESE SPOOKS IN THE MARKET
MORE than four years ago, Australia and China agreed to start negotiations on a free trade agreement. This was based on Australia accepting the Chinese demand that it be recognised as a market economy. Judging by the evermore bizarre case being built up around the detained Rio Tinto executive Stern Hu, this premise was and is somewhat premature.
Hu, now into his second month in a Shanghai prison, is victim of a collision between the notion of markets based on informed buyers and sellers and political monopoly power. It's getting more and more apparent how absurdly the odds are stacked against Hu, and how far away is a Chinese economy based on fair and transparent rules.
For a start, the arresting agency is the Chinese political police, the Ministry of State Security. That means even the meagre rights of the accused under normal Chinese law don't apply. Hu isn't entitled to legal advice while being investigated. A trial will be closed to the public, and possibly Australian diplomats, and his lawyer will not be allowed to cross-examine prosecution witnesses. Already, Beijing's spokesmen routinely assume Hu's guilt.
Perhaps most critically, the defence can't challenge any prosecution assertion that information Hu gathered was a state secret. What is a state secret is set by the National Administration for the Protection of State Secrets, not challengeable by courts. In the past, even collating or analysing published material has been said to produce a state secret, so any commercial effort at market analysis could conceivably be defined as espionage.
Now the State Secrets agency says Hu illegally won Rio Tinto a bigger margin on its iron ore sales to China than its total gross earnings from such sales. This could perhaps be dismissed as nothing more than a job application by an obscure branch of Chinese spookdom totally out of its depth in the global economy, but for the facts Hu still faces a Stalinist show-trial based on its say-so and the effort to nail him started in the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, supposedly the proponent of the market economy.
Australia gave a visiting Chinese Communist Party official, Liu Jieyi, and his assurances about the ''independence of the judiciary'' a polite enough hearing. But along with the hamfisted intervention in the Melbourne Film Festival, which sent audiences flocking to the exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer in reaction, the latest twist in the Hu case suggests it's now time to advise Chinese officials a lot more bluntly how counterproductive is their behaviour.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
SOME STATES MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS
THE state Treasurer, Eric Roozendaal, is trying to convince the federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan, that new Grants Commission rules on how to divide up revenue from the GST are unfair - and not just to NSW. He has right on his side.
The Grants Commission decides how much the rich states will subsidise the poorer ones. Put that way, its task seems straightforward; it is anything but. NSW, the richest of all, routinely - and quite rightly - subsidises smaller states. But in recent years, as the mineral boom has boosted income in the big mining states, Queensland and Western Australia, it has appeared more and more incongruous that NSW and Victoria should still be handing over such large shares of their GST revenue.
The draft rules are the result of one of the commission's regular reviews of its own methods. It attempts to equalise across all states the cost of providing an average level of service, taking into account both the states' differing capacities to raise revenue, and relevant differences between their settlement patterns, terrain and other circumstances which are not connected with government policy. The extraordinary complexity which this comprehensive approach produces is probably unique among the world's federations, and the present draft review of revenue sharing is an attempt to simplify things a little.
Unfortunately, as NSW has found, it will lead to even greater unfairness than the system it replaces. The reason: the basis for calculating grants has been altered so that it includes support not just for an average level of services but for associated infrastructure as well. The effect is that states with fastest population growth (Queensland, WA) benefit most, because new infrastructure is assumed to be needed with every new immigrant. Yet this is clearly false. If a family moves interstate, the state where they move does not necessarily have to build a new dam for them, or a railway line. Infrastructure needs do not move in lock-step with population, but arise irregularly.
The effect of the new rules, though, will be that slower-growing NSW will receive up to $500 million less in 2010-11 than under the old rules, and the shortfall will grow into the future. Not only will NSW and Victoria be paying more than they should - and even more than under the existing unsatisfactory arrangements; it is estimated that the smaller states - South Australia, Tasmania - will receive less than in the past, too. On any impartial assessment, that is a bad result. Canberra should shelve this particular draft.
BABY P: NAMES, SHAME AND A CHILD
Whatever claims might be made for the wisdom of crowds, little good ever comes out of a vengeful mob. The most immediate effect of the naming this morning of Tracey Connelly and Steven Barker – the mother and stepfather of the abused child who last year became known throughout the land as Baby P – may be to encourage fresh baying. After all, there are 68,000 members of a Facebook group calling for the pair to be tortured. Already in a segregation unit, as a female implicated in the death of a child, Connelly will face especial vitriol. There will be risks throughout her remaining time in jail, and on release she may need to be granted the right to conceal her old identity. Then there is the question of innocent relations, some of them children, who could end up paying an unjust price for guilt by association.
All of this no doubt caused Mr Justice Coleridge to hesitate before he ruled that the identities could be published. Yet in the end he said the names must come out – and was right to do so. While powerful, the arguments for keeping Connelly and Barker behind a veil of anonymity would apply to most serious crimes. Where is the notorious perpetrator whose conviction did not attract dangerous enemies or bring shame upon the family? The right to free expression and public confidence in criminal justice – confidence inspired by openness – are two important general principles that can over-ridden only in truly exceptional cases, and it is not obvious that this is one. Comparisons with the 1993 murder of James Bulger are awry, since the perpertrators then were primary school-age children, whereas the fatal abuse of Baby P, who can now be referred to as Peter Connelly, was carried out by adults.
Openness could have grim consequences, but then so too has the secrecy that has applied until now. It was imposed for understandable reasons, including the risk of complicating a separate rape trial, which ended in a fresh conviction for Barker in May. But the appalling story of Baby P somehow became all the more emotive – and so produced even more of a frenzy – because the little boy in the sad photograph was for so long a little boy without a name. While Connelly and Barker were anonymous, public anger did not go away, but – with the help of the red tops – it searched out an alternative target. The head of Haringey's children's social services, Sharon Shoesmith might reasonably have been expected to carry the can for some though not all of the professional failings in the case – missed injuries, interventions not taken and questions not asked. But instead of being held to account for her department's shortcomings in doing its difficult job, she was hounded as if she had ordered the death of the child herself, enduring death threats and being driven to contemplate suicide.
Public anger, then, was not dispelled by secrecy, instead it was displaced. With openness, the hope must be that the mood may eventually start to cool. Once appalling new details concerning the pair – such as Barker's alleged assault on his own grandmother, carried out together with his brother, Baby P's third abuser, Jason Owen – have been absorbed, attention may at last turn to the roots of the tragedy. The neglect and exploitation in Barker's and Connelly's own life stories are an all-too-familiar example of abuse begetting abuse.
Counter to claims that they got away lightly, the pair are rightly behind bars. They are facing such stiff sentences that the attorney general concluded there was no chance of getting them increased. They have also become, quite understandably, hate figures for the public. They thus stand properly and thoroughly condemned and there is nothing to be gained in condemning them any more. It is now time to invert the cheap slogan John Major used in the Bulger case – and to condemn a little less, in the hope of understanding just a little more about how such a monstrous thing could happen.
IN PRAISE OF... RED GROUSE
As the courts thrash out how many millions the posthumous image of Michael Jackson is worth, red grouse must be fuming that they lack access to the same sort of justice. The rusty breast and the natty red comb above the male's eye creates an attractive look that shifts whisky by the bucketful and entices tourists to beauty spots. But this reticent creature is expected to contribute more than snapshots to the economy – it is asked to absorb real shots too. Tomorrow brings the start of the annual assault, the so-called glorious 12th – a date set in statute since 1831. Despite being a native of these islands, grouse stand out among game for not being allowed to see out the summer in peace: partridges are protected until September, and pheasants for a month after that. The ranks of hunters, who admire the way grouse spring rapidly up out of their hiding and then parachute gracefully down, will this year be swollen by wealthy foreigners who are finding the weak pound makes a moorland killing spree more affordable. Enthusiasts at the Countryside Alliance claim, unsurprisingly, that shooting is in the bird's own interest. Certainly, those who hope to profit manage moorland to boost numbers ahead of the 12th, and it is true that the life of a grouse shot for food beats that of a battery hen. But to take pleasure in sinking this beautiful bird from the sky is perverse. The truly glorious date is not the 12th but the 10th – 10 December when the season ends, and the guns trained on the grouse fall silent.
PAKISTAN: PREMATURE CLAIMS
One certainty emerges from the fog of war enveloping Waziristan, in Pakistan's remote tribal areas. Whether or not Baitullah Mehsud was killed in the drone attack on his house last week, or is, as his supporters claim, severely ill, Tehrik I Taliban is in some crisis. The group was last night under pressure to prove their leader had risen from the rubble of his home by issuing a video of him. But even that would be unlikely to quell the violent power struggle between deputies vowing for his place. There have been heated denials that a shoot-out took place between Hakeemullah Mehsud, a fiery young commander, and Wali ur Rehman, a militant cleric, at a shura meeting to decide Mehsud's succession.
The untested assumption behind drone attacks is that, if you behead the monster, the talons of the beast itself will stay still. If, in addition, drones are used against enemies of the Pakistani state, rather than just the Afghan one, the theory is that they will become more acceptable to the Pakistani army, which anyway secretly colludes with their use. Neither necessarily follows. There are signs that drone strikes may encourage tribal leaders to turn on militant groups who use foreign fighters because they attract too much trouble.
But that does not mean the Pakistani Taliban are a spent force. Even with Mehsud allegedly gone, the component parts of the Pakistani Taliban are still in place. Mehsud held sway over a cluster of about a dozen groups – more of a business franchise than a company – some of which have defied his orders. With Mehsud gone or going, the cohesion could be reduced further. But that could herald an increase in bombing and shooting, as each outlet of the franchise competes for exclusive rights. Besides, Mehsud's outfit was only one of a number of groups that comprise the Pakistani Taliban.
The Taliban's power struggle has triggered a wider debate in the Pakistani military establishment. Should it go for broke in Waziristan, as it did in Swat, prising open the cracks that have begun to surface between rival commanders, or should it sue for peace, knowing that this time it would be negotiating from a position of strength? The old realities of the logic the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) used about the Taliban still pertain. If and when foreign forces leave Afghanistan – and the flurry of statements last week about seeking a political end to the conflict only encourage that view – the ISI will still seek to have purchase over the Afghan state. That will be delivered by its Taliban proxies, as it has been in the past. Mehsud's mistake was to declare war on Pakistan. But those of his deputies who don't could still find themselves coming to an accommodation with it.
THE JAPAN TIMES
BREAKTHROUGH WITH NORTH KOREA?
The release by North Korea of two Korean-American journalists is a welcome event. The two women broke the law, but incarceration was excessive punishment and their release was long overdue. The delay suggests the fate of these two women was determined by forces much larger than the details of their particular "crimes." The key question now is what comes next: Is this gesture part of a larger strategy by Pyongyang to re-engage the world, and the United States, in particular, and how will Washington and other nations respond?
Ms. Laura Ling and Ms. Euna Lee were arrested earlier this year when they crossed into North Korea from China as they reported on the fate of North Korean refugees. After a brief trial, they were convicted and sentenced to 12 years of labor, but they remained in a state guest house rather than being sent to prison. That alone suggests that North Korea planned all along to release the two women when circumstances were right.
Washington reportedly began back-channel discussions with Pyongyang to win their release immediately after they were detained. The arduous process was made immeasurably more difficult by North Korea's nuclear and missile tests, its withdrawal from multilateral denuclearization talks, United Nations sanctions, and injudicious remarks about the North Korean legal system and North Korea by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Add reports of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's ill health and efforts to secure the succession of his son and it is a wonder that the women were ever released.
Hints that Pyongyang might be ready to deal surfaced in late July when North Korea announced that it was prepared to talk to the U.S. "about the current situation." Messages were sent to the U.S. indicating that the right envoy would be given a visa, and the North suggested that former U.S. President Bill Clinton would fit the bill. He went, met Mr. Kim, and returned with the women.
The identification of Mr. Clinton as the right envoy is interesting and ironic. The only other former U.S. president to visit Pyongyang was Mr. Jimmy Carter, whose intervention defused the first U.S.-North Korea nuclear crisis in 1994 — reportedly much to the consternation of the Clinton administration. Washington and Pyongyang then agreed on a nuclear pact that froze the North's nuclear program as well as a missile moratorium. Then Secretary of State Madeline Albright visited Pyongyang, making her the highest-ranking U.S. official to make that trip, a gesture that was reciprocated by the visit of Gen. Jo Myong Rok to Washington in 1999. As he left office, Mr. Clinton was contemplating a visit to Pyongyang himself, but it never materialized.
The symbolism of Mr. Clinton's visit is two fold, and targets two different audiences. The first signal is to the Obama administration and the message is that Pyongyang is ready to do business and the relationship of the Clinton years — the high point of U.S.-North Korea relations — is possible. Also, rumors of Mr. Kim's ill health are exaggerated and he is in charge. The second message is for North Korean audiences. It draws a parallel between Mr. Clinton's visit and that of Mr. Carter: It cloaks Mr. Kim in his father's legacy, showing that he too commands international attention and that, like the Great Leader, only he can navigate the country through difficult diplomatic waters.
How will the U.S. respond? Thus far, the administration insists that there has been no change in its policy. The release of the women and North Korea's nuclear programs are separate issues. Washington demands that Pyongyang return to the six-party talks and honor pledges it made in that forum to completely eliminate its nuclear weapons program and give up its nuclear arms. Meanwhile, North Korea has said that it will not return to the six-party talks, that it will not give up its nuclear weapons until the U.S. abandons its "hostile party" — whatever that means — and it is only prepared to talk to Washington bilaterally. Looking at the two positions, it is hard to see common ground.
Humanitarian or not, we expect Mr. Clinton made the case for North Korea to return to negotiations and to change its behavior. We hope the U.S. is telling the truth when it says that Mr. Clinton's visit was private, that he made no deals, and that the U.S. remains committed to the six-party process and its goals. Resolution of the North Korean situation depends on the other five parties to the talks speaking to Pyongyang with one voice and insisting that it honor its promises. Maintaining that united front requires trust among the five. That asset had been dwindling, especially between Washington and Tokyo and Seoul. It also requires a common understanding of the situation — an understanding that becomes more difficult when Pyongyang demonstrates flexibility.
Some will look to the Clinton visit for ways Japan can handle its problems with North Korea, in particular the fate of the abductees. But the parallels are inexact at best, misleading at worst. The most important lesson is to keep focused on the big goal — North Korea's denuclearization. While keeping priorities straight, Japan should do its utmost to find ways to solve the abduction issue.
THE JAPAN TIMES
SEVEN TOPICS FOR A SUMMER DAY
BY HUGH CORTAZZI
LONDON — As Japanese lawmakers campaign for the Aug. 30 Lower House election, British members of Parliament are in recess and Prime Minister Gordon Brown is on holiday. Papers and weeklies are scraping the barrel for something to write about. Many fill their columns with so much sports that foreign readers might begin to think that British life revolves around football and cricket.
Perhaps we and the media should be giving more serious thought to the major challenges facing us as we approach the end of the first decade of the 21st century. Here are seven challenges to provide food for thought over the summer holidays:
• The huge change in Europe's political structure since communism ended as a political force. The symbol of this change was the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago. Countries in Central Europe have joined the European Union, which itself has changed significantly. But much remains to be done in Europe to make certain that peace and prosperity can be maintained within a democratic framework.
• Stabilization of relations between the EU and Russia. The Russian autocracy is in a truculent mood. Russian supplies of oil and gas give it a strong hand, but Russia also needs the European market.
• The challenge to Europe, America and the developed world from terrorism and militant elements of Islam. The idea of an Islamic world caliphate is absurd; yet some young men and women are so indoctrinated that they are willing to destroy themselves, other innocent Muslims and followers of other religions in jihads against the West.
We may have made some progress in exposing the myths, but we have a long way to go before we can be confident that terrorism has been reduced to a containable nuisance.
Afghanistan is not the only source of terrorism. As Lord Malloch-Brown, who recently resigned from the government, reminded us, the threat of terrorism in Pakistan and Somalia is as great as, if not greater than, that from the Taliban in Afghanistan's Helmand province, where British forces have in the past month suffered the largest number of deaths and serious injuries in decades.
• The unprecedented financial crisis of the past two years. Unemployment in developed countries continues to grow. Bank lending has not yet recovered and demand remains weak. Some lessons seem to have been learned about the origins of the crisis, but few believe that the controls being refined are adequate enough yet to prevent a financial relapse. We certainly have not eradicated the fundamental threat stemming from human greed.
• The danger to our civilization from climate change. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was one of the first politicians to see it. For too long, wishful thinking and prejudice were allowed to dominate policymaking. Now, under President Barack Obama, it looks as though opinion in the United States is at last becoming more farsighted.
Still, the debate on what steps should be taken to deal with the growing threat of global warming often seems dominated by squabbles about who was responsible for past failures. Too little thought is given to finding solutions, which must include helping developing countries reduce their carbon emissions.
Demographic changes complicate the challenge from global warming. In developed countries, birthrates have fallen while life expectancy has grown dramatically as a result of improved living standards and advanced medical procedures. Populations in all developed countries are aging and, in some, already declining, thus placing increased burdens on working-age people.
Climate change will increase pressures to migrate to developed countries in temperate climatic zones. The extent to which immigration should be permitted is a highly charged political issue in many developed countries, but the pressures of those seeking asylum from corrupt and autocratic regimes or just seeking a better life free of the grinding poverty prevailing in the least developed countries will only grow.
Grants of development assistance are not just acts of charity; they serve real national interests. Governments in developed countries must persuade their electorates of the need to maintain and increase development assistance.
• Ethical issues raised by medical and scientific breakthroughs, as in genome research. How far should cloning research go? Another issue, which is quite topical in Britain now, is to what extent assistance should be lent to those wishing to end their lives because of pain and suffering.
• Dangers of child pornography and fraud on the Internet, despite the immeasurable benefits to mankind from information technology such as faster and easier communication. Authoritarian regimes such as China's and Iran's have tried to impose restrictions and censorship, fortunately, with only partial success.
Tackling these seven major challenges requires intelligent dialogue that can be successfully developed only among an intelligent and well-informed electorate. This in turn depends on improving our educational systems where weaknesses are only too apparent.
Hugh Cortazzi, a former British diplomat, served as ambassador to Japan (1980-1984).
THE KOREA HERALD
NO POLS IN CABINET
Former National Assembly Speaker Lee Man-sup warned in a TV interview that people would be grossly disappointed if President Lee Myung-bak recruited a few politicians for a Cabinet reshuffle "because politicians now stand for fighting day and night."
True, admitting any number of ruling party lawmakers in the Cabinet can hardly be a welcome move to create a trusted administration with the chaotic scenes of partisan clashes in the Assembly chamber over the legislation of media laws fresh in everyone's memory. Yet, President Lee is likely to accede to the pressure from the party to pick some Grand National Party members for the Cabinet.
The GNP's new floor leader Ahn Sang-soo has openly demanded that three to four Cabinet portfolios be offered to the ruling party "in order to improve communication between the party and the administration and better reflect people's wishes in governance." Also conspicuous are the calls from the minority faction loyal to Park Geun-hye to appoint at least one of its members into the Cabinet for the cause of intra-party reconciliation.
President Lee, who has only a short, unfinished legislative term on his resume, has maintained distinct aloofness toward partisan politics and he thoroughly excluded politicians in the formation of his first Cabinet. But while running a "depoliticized Cabinet," he has been advised by his Blue House aides and party leaders about the need for more political considerations in policy making as his government faces increasingly tough opposition challenges.
After all, 18 months is a long term in Korea's political calendar and warrants the replacement of ministers even if they do not have any particular faults. Moreover, a Cabinet post is still regarded as a great political spoil with which the president can reward a loyalist or appease dissenters within his own party. Several names are circulating in the corridors of Yeouido as possible ministerial appointees, including some who President Lee reportedly wants to groom as next-generation leaders.
However, as Lee Man-sup and other friendly critics point out, inclusion of politicians in a reorganized Cabinet would not assure a smoother and more effective administration, given the extreme partisan confrontations over the past year and a half, not to mention the feuds within the GNP. A stable administration is easier to attain with ministers keeping their chairs for two, three or five years, though it has become a rarity in successive Korean governments after the restoration of democracy.
Especially, the idea of Cabinet reshuffles as a means of reconciling intra-party disputes is hardly acceptable. What good will there be if a pro-Park Geun-hye lawmaker is given the post of, say the minister of knowledge and economy or that of health and welfare, when administrative operations need uninterrupted implementation of established policies in these trying times?
An additional misgiving is that the poor track record of the Blue House in making background checks on candidates for high government positions could cause another serious embarrassment to the president through the belated exposure of financial or other improprieties. This is quite likely with regard to potential appointees from the party.
Presidential aides say that a major Cabinet reshuffle is necessary to freshen the face of the administration, shed public fatigue with governance and seek harmony and reconciliation in the political environment upon wrapping up the second year of the five-year term. Their explanation, however, cannot clear the impression that the president is making a useless compromise for political expediency, and slighting public interests.
THE KOREA HERALD
Having just watched former U.S. President Bill Clinton get two journalists out of North Korea after months in detention, President Lee must feel somewhat envious of such cooperation between retired and incumbent leaders. It is unfortunate that Lee's immediate predecessor committed suicide, and another former president two terms ahead of him is fighting for his life in hospital.
Doctors at Severance Hospital reported that former President Kim Dae-jung is in stable condition after he passed a critical moment Sunday night. The 83-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner was admitted to the hospital on July 13 for pneumonia and has been under intensive care with his blood pressure and other vital signs showing wild fluctuations.
Reflecting the turbulent political history of the Republic of Korea, the title of "former president" incurs mixed sensation. Syngman Rhee, who could have been put on the pedestal of a founding father, died in exile after his dictatorial rule ended in a student-led revolution. Park Chung-hee was assassinated and his two successors were convicted of treason and corruption. Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo have yet to make full forfeiture of their illicit money. The latter, gravely ill, is mired in a financial dispute with his brother.
Kim Young-sam stays relatively healthy, although his time at the top ended unhappily. Regrettably, he has not reconciled with Kim Dae-jung, his collaborator/rival in the long, hard struggle for democracy. "YS" sent an orchid to "DJ" wishing his recuperation and people hope that it is a genuine sign of friendship between the two men.
Presidents in Korea enjoy immense power even under the democratic constitution of 1987, and the system has proved dangerous to the personal peace of whoever occupied the Blue House. President Lee fulfilled his campaign promise by donating all his assets except for his house. He must be wishing to create a new image of a president who, after retirement, can still be relied upon for a national task. But he should know that the remaining three and a half years is plenty of time for a stain to develop on the character of a president.
THE KOREA HERALD
OWNING UP TO ISRAEL'S NUCLEAR BOMBS
TEL AVIV- President Barack Obama's vision of a world without nuclear weapons and the recent agreement he signed with Russia aimed at cutting back the nuclear stockpiles of both countries, enhances his moral and political leadership. But how will his campaign against nuclear proliferation affect Israel, widely seen as the world's sixth nuclear weapon state and so far the only one in the Middle East?
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller's recent call for Israel to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which would require it to declare and relinquish its nuclear arsenal, has incited fears that America's diplomatic umbrella for Israel's nuclear status is ending. From now on, it appeared to Israelis, the United States will treat all states the same when it comes to nuclear weapons. Israel is especially concerned that Obama might be willing to address Iran's nuclear ambition by equating it with Israel's nuclear status.
The intellectual foundations of the new American attitude were laid down in a famous article by Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, George Schultz and William Perry entitled "Toward a Nuclear-Free World." In calling upon the world's nuclear powers to preach by example and dramatically reduce their nuclear arsenals, the article was also a call for equality among nations in the nuclear domain.
Bruce Riedel, who until recently headed the Obama administration's strategy review for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and who is by no means hostile to America's unique relations with Israel, has been explicit about this. "If you are really serious about a deal with Iran, Israel has to come out of the closet. A policy based on fiction and double standards is bound to fail sooner or later. What is remarkable is that it has lasted so long."
But it was a recent statement to Congress by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that was especially shocking to Israelis. He expressed understanding for Iran's desire to acquire nuclear weapons because, as he said, the Iranians are surrounded by nuclear powers such as Pakistan, India, Russia and Israel.
Israel is bound to fight against this emerging new American doctrine that equates it with Iran, or even with India and Pakistan for that matter. Political contexts matter, the Israelis will argue. Not only has Iran developed its nuclear capabilities while a party to the NPT, the Israelis will say, but it also has put Israel's destruction high on its agenda. Israel's nuclear deterrence is its ultimate defense against an existential threat. Across-the-board nuclear equality can, in the end, only boost to Iran's nuclear claims.
India and Pakistan, unlike Israel, which has been committed to a strategy of nuclear opacity, both see themselves as nuclear states and want the world to accept that status. Moreover, Israel never tested a nuclear weapon and has unequivocally accepted the Nuclear Suppliers Group guidelines, which seek to stem proliferation through the control of nuclear exports.
Israel expects the Obama administration not only to appreciate the unique context of its ambiguous nuclear status, but also to recognize that it cannot be forthcoming in assuring its neighbors or the rest of the world regarding its nuclear program unless the Middle East political environment changes in a radically positive way. Here, a change in Iran's pattern of behavior toward Israel is an absolute prerequisite.
The potential for export of nuclear material and know-how by countries such as Pakistan - and perhaps one day Iran - is also a matter of concern for Israel. Indeed, Israel insists that it is, after all, Iran, not Israel's supposed nuclear capabilities, that triggered the current Middle East nuclear arms race.
But, as with the issue of the West Bank settlements, the Obama administration seems to be moving definitively away from an automatic endorsement of Israel's understandings with previous U.S. administrations. A revision of U.S. policy towards Israel's nuclear status can by no means be ruled out. Gottemoeller's declaration, as well as Gates' explicit recognition of Israel's nuclear status, should be interpreted within the context of the Obama administration's broader disarmament agenda.
Israel's policy of nuclear ambiguity has remained practically unchallenged for almost 50 years, not least within Israel itself, where the issue has been a sacred taboo. But the changing international environment, the threat of uncontrolled nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and the new policies being worked out in the U.S. might all be good reasons for Israel to consider revising its nuclear doctrine. After all, the current strategy has not really worked either as a deterrent against conventional attacks (which persisted throughout the years that Israel supposedly developed its nuclear arsenal) or as a warning to rivals (such as Iran) against developing a nuclear weapon.
Israel's official policy is that of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction. By abandoning ambiguity and taking its own bomb out of the "basement," Israel might be able to affirm its capacity for nuclear deterrence more convincingly and, more importantly, enhance a serious debate about the urgency of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.
Shlomo Ben Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, now serves as vice president of the Toledo International Centre for Peace. He is the author of "Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy." - Ed.
THE KOREA HERALD
WHAT MAKES A GLOBAL FINANCIAL CENTER?
We grow up thinking the world is balanced - that good cancels out evil, that assets equal liabilities, that life is a simple bell-shaped curve. But it is not. There is a lot of inequality around. We like buying, but we do not sell that often, except if forced to. Risks in the financial world are like that.
George Soros recently pointed out a simple fact that I had taken for granted, but realized: That common sense is not common. The reason why financial markets are dangerous is because the risks of going long (buying only but not selling) is not the same as going short (selling or borrowing what you do not have). If you buy anything and the price goes to zero, all you lose is your asset. However, if you borrow or you short a product, you can lose not only everything you have but owe far more than you realize.
This was the common sense that AIG failed to appreciate. If you insure cars or life, you are working with the law of large numbers. As long as your premium covers the estimated losses, you are still making money. But if you insure banks (which are highly leveraged institutions) or borrowers, which is what the derivative trading subsidiary of AIG did in London, the losses are amplified by the embedded derivatives. Imagine anyone trying to insure the recent global bank losses of nearly $3 trillion. The banks lost a lot because they are highly leveraged institutions. The lower the price of assets that they hold, the more they became bankrupt. So AIG needed more than $180 billion to bail out, compared with the initial request for funding of only $10 billion.
This brings us back to the use of domestic currency as international reserve currency. When a domestic currency is circulating only within its own country, it is one citizen lending to another. The left hand is borrowing from the right hand. If someone does not pay his debt, there are laws to protect the lender and even if the corporate sector over-borrowed and collapsed, the state can intervene by either nationalizing the debt or taxing the rest of the population to pay for the losses. In the 19th century, Asians have not forgotten that foreign debt was enforced through gunboats and also military invasion. So, it does not pay to owe foreign debt too much, because a central bank cannot print foreign currency.
So why should a country want its currency to be an international reserve currency? There are two basic reasons. The first is seigniorage, which is the fact that anyone who issues currency is actually borrowing money without interest. All central banks earn seigniorage from the currency issue. In a sense, it is the premium citizens pay to the central bank for safeguarding the value of their currency. Therefore, the country that issues a global reserve currency enjoys seigniorage from foreigners who hold its currency. This amount can be very large indeed, as the United States clearly is in that position.
But the actual benefits received for trade and commercial services when the currency is the reserve standard are larger. In the days of the British Empire, London benefited hugely from being the financial center for sterling, as well as the trading center for commodities, international loans and related legal and commercial services. Although sterling lost its role as a major reserve currency to the U.S. dollar, London became the center for the offshore Euro-dollar market and also an important complement to New York. The biggest commercial banks, brokers, fund managers and insurance companies were located in both London and New York, because they shared the same language, common law and also similar business practices.
So what makes an international financial center? After working in Hong Kong, I finally understood that an international financial center must satisfy three basic conditions - it must protect property rights, it must have lower transaction costs and thirdly, it must have high transparency.
The first condition is obvious and yet not so obvious. Most Western economists say that London and New York have superior property rights because they have well accepted common law and excellent and fair judiciary. But protection of property rights is more than just laws and enforcement. Protection of property rights means also political stability, the absence of nationalization, predatory taxation and the power of a strong military. To put it bluntly, no successful international financial center operates in a war zone or a banana republic.
The second condition of low transaction costs is very important. No financial center will succeed if it is not convenient to do business with low regulatory costs, with good communications infrastructure. The best financial centers have excellent telecommunication, transport and living conditions. Transaction costs are also associated with geography. It is no coincidence that New York dominates in the American time zone and London dominates in the European and African time zone. Asia has no dominant financial center for reasons that I will discuss later.
The third condition is high transparency, because markets thrive on information. If information is not accurate, timely and accessible, investors do not know how to protect their funds and make good decisions.
Next, I shall look at why Japan failed to make yen a dominant global reserve currency.
Andrew Sheng is a professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing and University of Malaya. He was formerly chairman of the Securities and Futures Commission, Hong Kong. - Ed.
(Asia News Network)
A GOOD START IN MONTREAL NORTH
The anniversary of Fredy Villanueva's death passed off with a little inflammatory rhetoric but no serious trouble in Montreal North on the weekend. That's good news because violence, and the tension of potential violence, are inimical to the social progress Montreal North so badly needs.
The 18-year-old was shot by a police officer Aug. 9, 2008, in an incident that seems to have reflected bad judgment all around. We don't know precisely what happened, because the coroner's inquest still hasn't started, following a ridiculous dispute about the city paying for lawyers for witnesses. That should not have been an issue, but after the kid-glove treatment meted out to the police officers involved, the issue came to be perceived as one of fairness.
The weekend's events - a march through the streets, a vigil, a "social forum," and a concert among them - attracted moderate crowds and took place without violence. That does not mean, however, that Montreal North is now a haven of serenity - one night in June police arrested nine youths in the neighbourhood after some young people went on a rampage, throwing things at police, breaking windows, and damaging parked cars.
The young man's death and the ensuing disorders a year ago prompted city hall to look into the social pathologies which make the neighbourhood such a tinderbox. One year on, there has been some evidence of action. Mayor Gérald Tremblay, who curiously chose to stay away from Montreal North this weekend, says the city's eight task forces set up after the trouble have produced some 159 recommendations, which the city is now working with community groups to prioritize.
Strangely, Tremblay understated what the city has done so far. Last fall he announced an extra $2.2 million for a new playground, soccer pitches for pickup games, and more books and video games for the local library, and for various support programs for youths in difficulty. That was useful. The police, too, have taken some modest steps to improve community relations. As our police reporter Paul Cherry wrote last week, the force has added some more experienced officers and some better operational guidelines to Groupe Éclipse. This is the quick-response and anti-street-gang police unit some called heavy-handed after last year's troubles in Montreal North.
Those steps should have been enough to allow Tremblay to show his face. And with city elections coming this fall, plenty of politicians did show up. Tremblay's principal mayoral rival Louise Harel was there, as were other municipal prominents and the local MP and MNA. Some suggest that Tremblay was trying to avoid any gesture that might displease the police rank-and-file.
Whatever the reason, it is unfortunate that he chose not to attend, because the central message the people of Montreal North need to hear is that their neighbours are aware of their problems and are willing to help.
Fighting poverty and exclusion, and reining in disorderly elements, require co-operation among local people, local and city officials, and the police. Some progress has been made in this regard, as the relative tranquillity of the weekend suggests. But there's plenty more to do.
SORRY, MR. RASMUSSEN, CANADA HAS DONE ITS BIT
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, new secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, says the Afghanistan combat role of the Canadian Forces should be extended beyond our scheduled 2011 withdrawal date. "From an alliance point of view," the former Danish prime minister said, "I would strongly regret if (withdrawal) became the final outcome" for Canada.
Sorry, Mr. Secretary-General, but you're reminding us of that comic-strip label: "People unclear on the concept." No Canadian political party would even hint at extending the 2011 deadline, which was only barely accepted in Parliament. The Conservative government, the clearest supporter of the mission, instantly rebuffed Rasmussen's gambit.
"From an alliance point of view," Mr. Rasmussen, we regret that certain major members of NATO can't be prevailed upon to fight. After the U.S. and U.K., Canada has had the highest number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Bigger countries, notably France and Germany, have troops deployed under restricted conditions which usually keep them safe - and ineffective.
True, withdrawal has its problems. CanWest News Service reported last month that in Uruzgan province where the Netherlands has an important combat presence, a local leader has warned the Dutch that if they withdraw on schedule next July he will have to flee the country or do a deal with the Taliban. The inherent danger of any military "sunset clause" is that it tells opponents they can wait us out.
The U.S., preparing to leave Iraq, has already added manpower in Afghanistan, and Pentagon leaders are reportedly ready to ask for thousands more men. But expecting the U.S. to go it alone is ultimately impractical and even shameful. Still, asking Canada to re-enlist is just not reasonable.
REDUCE WRONG CASES
Innocent people being prosecuted and sentenced is the last thing a society with a mature rule of law should tolerate, but no judicial system can be free of wrong cases. What matters is a mechanism to reduce the rate of wrong cases to the minimum. So it is laudable for China's judicial experts to admit that judicial workers are fallible and that the mechanism must be improved to reduce the number of wrong cases to the minimum.
A research report by criminology experts with Renmin University of China reveals that at least 164 innocent people were tried and sentenced to different years of imprisonment in the past three decades. Their research finds that most of them were prosecuted on charges such as murder, rape, robbery and drug smuggling. This coincides with an investigation of wrong cases by the Supreme People's Procuratorate in 2004.
In a forum attended by more than 100 prosecutors nationwide last week, they pointed out that most of the wrong cases were revealed by coincidences and then amends made. This underscores the lack of an effective mechanism to re-examine the tried cases.
In one of the most sensational ones, a man named She Xianglin was arrested on charges for murdering his wife, who went missing. He was tortured to confess and sentenced to 15 years in 1994. Fortunately, his wife showed up 11 years after he went behind bars. He was rehabilitated and paid 450,000 yuan ($66,170) in compensation in 2005. He would have never been rehabilitated had his wife not surfaced.
As some prosecutors suggest, unreasonable pressure from some government leaders on judicial departments to crack serious cases within a given period or connection between the number of cases cracked and the bonuses paid to police officers have, to some extent, contributed to hasty conclusion of a number of wrong cases.
In spite of the stipulation that extorting a confession by torture is a crime, torture is believed to be one of the major causes behind most wrong cases.
China has made a lot of effort to prohibit the police from using torture and there were reports about police officers being arrested and sentenced for torturing inmates detained.
In January this year, inspection teams of prosecutors were organized in some localities to regularly visit detention centers and interview inmates to see whether they are tortured. Police officers who are found to torture inmates will be punished according to law.
The Supreme People's Procuratorate will soon release a document on the re-examination of evidence in cases involving death sentence, according to the forum. Evidence found to be obtained through torture will not be used against defendants; and, neither will evidence collected by illegal means, according to the new document.
To strengthen the re-examination of the legitimacy of evidence against defendants would be an effective way to prohibit police officers from extorting confessions by illegal means including torture, and this will undoubtedly reduce the possibility of innocent people being punished.
The 13th round of Sino-Indian border talks held from Friday through Saturday yielded no substantial result, but its significance should not be downplayed.
The meeting drew unusual attention as it came at a time of so-called border tensions, marked by reported acts of muscle-flexing by India such as additional troops and strike aircraft deployment.
Media reports on possible compromise China was about to make over disputed territory before the talks - which created an uproar on the Internet and was immediately rejected by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - testify to the sensitivity of this long-lasting issue.
The latest round of talks, however, served to dispel worries about any escalation of tension, with officials of both countries pledging to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas before a "fair and reasonable solution acceptable to both" is found.
This message of peace is what leaders of both countries have always tried to emphasize. By reiterating this long-held stance, the two giant neighbors, which have forged a strategic cooperative partnership, were telling the world in unison: war should always be excluded as a solution to disputes.
Pessimists tend to dwell on the brief border war China and India fought in 1962 (the only one in their long history) to interpret any move by either side as an attempt to get the upper hand over the other. They fail to understand that the areas of agreement between the two largest developing nations far outstrip their differences.
Indeed, Sino-Indian relations are too important to be interrupted by the single issue of border disputes. They share a wide range of common positions in international affairs and are coordinating closely on issues such as global financial crisis and climate change. The two also face the same pressing task of developing their economies and improving people's livelihood.
Yet against this background, mutual understanding, particularly at the level of common people, remains disproportionately low. For example, how many people know that China is India's biggest trading partner since 2007, and Sino-Indian trade is set to cross the $60-billion threshold next year, a 30-fold jump from the 2000 figure?
If only the two countries could deepen and strengthen mutual understanding and trust, nothing can prevent them from forging even closer ties.
The two ancient civilizations of China and India should show enough political wisdom to find a peaceful solution to the thorny issue of the boundary dispute, which is a legacy of colonialism.
If the problem cannot be solved by this generation, the two giants can leave it to the next generation. There is no other option for both sides than living in peace and developing side by side.
SINO-US TIES NEED TREATIES
China and the United States are in desperate need of a binding treaty framework to put the world's most complicated and unruly bilateral relations on a steady and manageable development track.
As the world's largest developing and developed nations, the two have managed to deal with each other under the three joint communiqus, i.e. the Shanghai Communiqu, the Communiqu on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations and the August 17 Communiqu that were issued respectively on Feb 28 of 1972, Jan 1 of 1979 and Aug 17, 1982.
The documents signed between the two governments, the communiqus have never been submitted to both countries' legislatures for approval as binding treaties because of reasons from the US side. In sharp contrast, the US Congress rushed to pass the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979 as the Carter administration decided to shift its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the Chinese mainland.
Most of the time in past decades, the unilateral American bill has been placed higher than the three joint communiqus Washington signed with the Chinese mainland in the former's handling of the US-Chinese mainland-island trilateral ties. Due to the lack of binding treaties, Sino-US relations have remained particularly fragile and precarious. Periodic US presidential elections have had their own impact and repercussions on the ties.
China has accumulated abundant experience and tactics over the past decades on how to deal with the US administration, from former US president Richard Nixon to incumbent Barack Obama. Relevant administrative departments of the two countries have also established growing contacts during the past 30-odd years. Compared with the ballooning government-to-government ties, exchanges between the two countries' legislative bodies have lagged far behind, which makes the US Congress the largest uncertain element in Sino-US relations.
In recent years, China has increasingly realized the role of the US Congress and attached more importance to developing ties with it. The visit to China in May by Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, has boosted to some extent the long-sluggish ties between the two parliaments. Frequent exchanges have also made China better understand the enormous differences with the US in terms of political and social establishments. This makes it particularly necessary for the Asian nation to further adopt a more fruitful diplomatic approach toward the US Congress and expand its knowledge about the sole superpower's political operation mechanism to lay the groundwork for a steady and treaty-bound bilateral relationship.
China and the US have failed to forge a formal and treaty-based alliance to bolster bilateral ties over the past decades although in-depth exchanges and cooperation have been set up on all fronts. In the economic domain, the two countries have established a de facto alliance, an ad hoc-alike partnership that is very popular in international relations.
From 1971 to 1989, Beijing and Washington both regarded how to join hands to deal with the former Soviet Union, a common threat to both countries, as the common interest to build up bilateral relations. In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the US launched a campaign of "civilization clashes" in a swathe of regions across the Middle East to Central Asia and South Asia, the so-called global Balkan Belt initiated by strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski. This has added to the US reliance on China. Washington also needs a helping hand from Beijing in its outstretched anti-terror war campaigns.
However, the cornerstone for the ad hoc-alike ties between China and the US is not based on their joint efforts to deal with the former Soviet Union threat or anti-terrorism, but is based on China's increasing openness and its accelerated integration into the US-dominated global economic system.
Sino-US relations have also been built on shared interests, including interest in peace, security and stability in general sense. It is exactly such common ground that has helped bilateral ties survive a lot of tension and conflicts over the past decades and that finally contributed to US diplomatic elites' decision to develop ties with China driven by common interests.
A steadily-advancing Sino-US relationship is also built on China's strategic "compromises" with the US, including China's decision not to challenge the US dominant position and the Asian nation's intention to adapt to a world peace "under Washington's governance". China has also shown an interest in learning from American experiences on how to play a big role in world affairs.
The global financial crisis augurs the decline of absolute US hegemony. Despite its status as the world's sole superpower, it is still difficult for the US to promote unchallenged unilateralist acts in the international arena. After three decades of rapid development, China has become an influential world power, although it faces a number of problems and challenges at home and abroad. The Asian nation's growing international clout, in step with a declining US, makes it possible for Chinese leaders to use their wisdom to adapt the country to the ever-changing world's situations and keep the momentum of China-US relations balanced.
The author is a professor with Renmin University of China.
DEVELOPING EMISSIONS AGENDA FOR GOVT RESPONSIBILITY
It is obvious that developed countries have been responsible for sending up most of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere that are causing anthropogenic climate change and that, therefore, they must bear the major share of the responsibility for its mitigation. It is equally true that per capita emissions are much higher in the developed world, which means it cannot in justice unduly pressure developing countries to undertake binding emission-cut targets.
But that's just one part of the story. Two other things must be recognized if we are to succeed in our fight against climate change. The first has to do with the inequities inherent in class-bound societies and the second with bad politics and irresponsible governance. India and, particularly, Kolkata, its eastern metropolis, showcase both these problems. Let's begin with the latter.
For the past few years, there has been an attempt through judicial intervention to clean up Kolkata's befouled air - the city's air quality is among the worst in the world. Last year, the provincial high court passed orders to effect two changes: phasing out of all carbon-belching commercial vehicles more than 15 years old by July 31, 2009, and replacing all two-stroke three-wheelers running on diesel and petrol by four-stroke vehicles running on cleaner fuels - LPG or CNG - by Dec 31, 2008. The latter deadline was missed and extended by the court to July 31, 2009. This is where the irresponsible politics of the provincial government of West Bengal, where Kolkata is located, and the opposition parties kicked in. The government, for long held hostage by the associations of public transport vehicle owners and workers' unions, did nothing to ensure that the three-wheeler deadline was met. Egged on by the provincial opposition parties as well as the ruling Left Front coalition, three-wheeler owners and drivers launched a violent agitation when the deadline came by. The government asked the court for an extension and got it. The next seven months were taken up by more procrastination and as the new deadline approached the situation remained as shambolic as it was in 2008. In fact the government itself tried to scuttle the changeover.
With the deadline approaching bus owners declared an indefinite strike. But faced with a new sense of resolution on the part of the government and public willingness to bear some inconvenience, they called off the strike and announced that the impugned vehicles would be pulled off the road.
The new deadline has finally been enforced. The transport associations have appealed to the Supreme Court, India's highest court, but have been given no relief. Another hearing has been scheduled, but given the fact that the Supreme Court itself initiated measures to clean up urban pollution it is very unlikely that it will rule in favor of the polluters.
Kolkata's air quality meanwhile has improved dramatically. The transport sector is coming around to the realization that it will have to comply with the new regulations. The point in all this is simple. This rigmarole has been perpetrated because the provincial government does not take palpable health concerns and climate change seriously. Similarly, the opposition is interested in pandering to sectional interest at the cost of the larger public good. The cities of New Delhi and Beijing have demonstrated that this need not be the case.
India's capital changed over to CNG for its entire public transport system in 2001 because of a Supreme Court order despite the government's initial reluctance to act boldly.
In the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games, Beijing put in place stringent measures to control vehicular transport and its emissions to ensure blue skies. Other cities in India are following the examples of New Delhi and Beijing - if not in so holistic a fashion.
The second issue is intra-national inequities. The reason why per capita emissions in developing countries, especially the emerging economies, are low is because the large number of the poor consumes and emits very little. The growing middle class and the affluent are the largest source of GHG emissions. In the arena of urban transport it is up to the government to put a lid on such emissions by designing and encouraging mass transport systems, and discouraging the use of private vehicles through punitive fiscal measures. It is especially important that hidden subsidies, for instance, for parking are phased out through market-based pricing regimes and taxes introduced on gas-guzzling vehicles like SUVs. Stricter GHG emission standards must be imposed, too - for fuel and engines both, or through a blanket and stringent tailpipe emission norm.
Free rides must go as developing countries strengthen their moral and logical case to help bring greater pressure to bear on the developed world while negotiating on climate change.
The author is a veteran journalist and political commentator based in Kolkata, India.
THE JAKARTA POST
If DNA tests prove that the Indonesian police have indeed shot dead the region’s top terror suspect, not many here would feel relieved for long. Since the first major terrorist attacks in Bali in 2002, Indonesians have come to understand that it doesn’t really take an international conspiracy, as some would hope to believe, to have suicide bombers in our midst, or to have a considerable pool of potential recruits. They are both rich and poor, urban and rural people, blinded by a so-called holy cause.
This was all unthinkable before, as reports of suicide bombing only came from places like the Palestinian territories. Now we even have an 18-year-old identified as one of the attackers in last month’s bombing of the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels. Both the teenager and another suicide bomber were identified by police as “new recruits” in the local terrorist network.
The former top figure in the network who was shot dead by police, Azahari, was a Malaysian like the current man in the news, Noordin M. Top. But their nationalities make little difference to the average resident here. The latter figure is known for his recruiting and motivating skills. How many such “new recruits” are there exactly? What are the “old recruits” up to? Has it been only a handful that were arrested and executed? Although we share the President’s gratitude of the work of the National Police, these troubling questions remain — regardless of whether Noordin is dead or alive.
Also, motivation makes little difference when it comes to the safety of civilians.
The recent presidential election was mentioned as one suspected motivation for the latest bombings.
Police then said President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono himself was a target, as he was considered responsible for the execution of the “Bali Three”, the main perpetrators of the bombings in Bali. But if it wasn’t the elections that prompted the attack, it could have been for any number of reasons. If the common theme is the struggle against a Godless government in the eyes of these misled criminals, whether they are inspired by al-Qaeda or Sept. 11 or anything, then we are all vulnerable.
Police have said the hunt for suspects is still on, with the National Police chief remarking that “aggressive media coverage” contributed to the failure of operations in Surakarta, Central Java, where suspects were alerted and escaped police detection.
Our instinct is to leap here to the defense of the right to know.
But a casual look at the headlines throughout the weekend would confirm nagging doubts that public interest was the sole motivation of our “aggressive” coverage. Shootouts make for grand, audience-ensured coverage, even if they have to be repeated all day. Close-ups of anyone remotely related to suspected perpetrators are also great, so good that one was left wondering who was safeguarding the ethics of coverage as minors related to the suspects were thrust into the spotlight.
The police need greater assistance learning how to deal with public curiosity, and people are not only entitled to dramatic news but updates on an issue which affects their daily well being. We in the media should also take the criticism in stride or be ready to account for our contribution to public exposure to those intent on waging terror.
THE JAKARTA POST
INDONESIA: THE PROMISED LAND
Indonesia is no stranger to the presence of transnational underworld organizations such as the Chinese Triads, Japanese Yakuza, Russian Organisatziya and Italian La Cosa Nostra.
There is even growing evidence that this country is becoming a “hotspot” for international criminals and terrorists to develop relationships and help each other out with their needs and operations.
The most attractive business in Indonesia is, of course, the vast quantity of logs, subsidized fuel and coal that can easily be smuggled onto black markets abroad.
The trafficking of illegal drugs, firearms, toxic waste and prostitutes continues unabated as there are huge amounts of money to be made from these illicit businesses. Last but not least, there is a lot of dirty money in this country that needs laundering too.
Security experts have warned that Indonesia must take quick and decisive measures to combat trans-national organized crime groups operating within its territory.
Globalization, experts claim, has given unprecedented freedom to transnational criminals wishing
to expand their operations worldwide, and many groups have begun using Indonesia as a base for their activities.
As expressed time and time again by the director of the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), Sandro Calvani, globalization benefits terrorists because they can develop relationships with organizations similar to their own and branch out their operations.
One example often referred to is how illegal drug manufacturers and traffickers hire terrorists to protect their interests.
It is easy to imagine where terrorists would go to spend their money. Bombs could be purchased by the Russian Organisatziya, high-tech telecommunication devices could be bought from Yakuza, fake passports could be provided by the Triads and money laundering could be left to the Italian Mafia.
Despite striving for different outcomes, terrorist groups and transnational criminals are able to forge a bloody alliance based on their similar traits. They both rely on ruthless methods such as kidnapping, murder, extortion and armed robbery.
The Indonesian Police (Polri) have dealt spectacularly with terrorists, but we should remember that our domestic situation is often ideal for breeding criminal activity, and terrorist groups are beating our armed forces when it comes to racing for armament.
Just look at the performance of our bureaucracy and law enforcement institutions, as well as the
alleged involvement of the Indonesian Military (TNI) in illegal businesses. These conditions can create fertile breeding grounds for illicit activities.
From a historical and anthropological perspective, the Indonesian culture of crime is very complicated and cannot be dealt with easily.
In fact, organized crime has played a very important role in Indonesian history and is deeply rooted in our culture. One of our most influential pre-colonial states was founded by a gangster.
The state, the Tumapel kingdom, was founded in 1222 by prominent criminal Ken Arok.
During the colonial era, organized crime operated widely in rural areas. A report by tobacco planter C. Armand in 1872 showed cattle theft, extortion, robbery, opium smuggling, violence and widespread intimidation were daily phenomena.
Tragically, thanks to democracy, the pattern of crime continues and has even worsened. Due to rampant money politics, many questionable individuals have managed to win parliamentary elections, be crowned as heads of local governments and occupied strategic positions in major political parties.
Shamelessly, they also often camouflage their operations under various social organizations such as youth and ethnic solidarity, and even religious movements.
Smuggled prostitutes from mainland China, Central Asia and Eastern Europe are now become a major part of the night life in Indonesia. An ever increasing number of people are dying from drug overdoses, and a black market for firearms is blossoming. Deforestation, irresponsible mining, industrialization and environmental destruction have continued at an ever quickening pace across the country.
Terrorists are of course pleased by such anarchic situations. It allows them to easily intertwine with other criminal groups to switch ID cards and driver’s licenses, find hiding places and recruit new members to carry out missions.
It is for this reason that even the most wanted terrorist in the country, Noordin M Top, managed to marry four women despite a massive manhunt being underway for him by security forces nationwide.
Under such circumstances, it is no wonder that the threats to security outlined by the UN are still prevailing in Indonesia: the trafficking of illegal drugs, terrorism, environmental degradation, armed political conflict and transnational organized crime flourish.
However, these threats are inseparable from the fact that around 240 million Indonesians still live in massive poverty, while the divide between rich and poor continues to grow wider.
The writer is a journalist and former head of Tempo Magazine’s International News Desk.
THE MOSCOW TIMES
ONE BIG LESSON THE KREMLIN HASN’T LEARNED
It has often been said that defeat is an excellent teacher. But this rarely applies to victory. Perhaps this is true because rather than teaching, victory tends to make the victor dizzy with success. Take, for example, Russia’s victories over Napoleon and Hitler, after which the army’s development and modernization was halted for 50 years. The post-World War II Soviet military strategy, which focused on maintaining tens of thousands of tanks and from 3 million to 5 million army personnel, was a glaring anachronism in the nuclear age.
Considering this historical legacy, Russia’s leaders deserve credit for having drawn certain lessons from last year’s victory over Georgia. Putting a halt to the wave of patriotic chest-thumping and jingoistic cheers following Russia’s victory in the Georgia war, the Kremlin began planning a major restructuring of the country’s outdated, highly inefficient army. This is because Russia’s leaders understood that if the armed forces were to continue in their current state, their so-called victory over tiny Georgia (with an active military of about 36,000 personnel) would have surely been their last.
Most striking was the fact that all of the military equipment Russia used in the conflict — tanks, airplanes and armored vehicles — was manufactured 30 to 40 years ago. The Russian army had practically no modern reconnaissance equipment, such as drones. As a result, military units were caught in ambushes several times during their approach to South Ossetia’s capital, Tskhinvali. What’s more, officers could not even issue basic orders to their subordinates because of their antiquated communications equipment.
To their credit, Kremlin leaders understood that there is a direct connection between the sophistication of an army’s weaponry and the ability of officers and generals to organize and command the armed forces. In other words, the way the army is organized and commanded should be as modern and sophisticated as the weapons it uses. If there is a gaping hole between the two factors, you could equip forces with the most modern weaponry available, but they wouldn’t be able to exploit the hardware.
Until recently, the Russian army was organized based on the mass-mobilization concept. This meant that in the event of a conflict, millions of reservists would be called to active service. Since it was obvious that reservists would not be able to utilize sophisticated weaponry, there was no need to supply them with such arms. That is one reason why there are so many decrepit, rusty tanks on Russian military bases — and why half of the tanks sent to Tskhinvali never made it to their destination because they broke down along the way.
What’s more, many commanders in that war had spent most of their careers in so-called “paper units” that contained almost no soldiers during peacetime. That explains why General Staff chief Nikolai Makarov was so exasperated when he said the commanders of these units turned out to be completely incapable of participating in a real conflict. It is also why the decision was made to cut the number of officers by two-thirds, from 355,000 to 150,000, as well as to eliminate all paper units and divisions.
It is no coincidence that the most radical restructuring of the armed forces started in the aftermath of the Georgia war. The weak performance in the five-day war demonstrated that military divisions designed for large-scale wars were too unwieldy for local conflicts. As front-guard Russian forces entered Tskhinvali, the rear guard of the same division was only just leaving the capital of North Ossetia, 100 kilometers away.
Unfortunately, the ability of the Kremlin leaders to draw objective, rational conclusions — and to admit their mistakes — was confined to military matters only. By contrast, their foreign policy did not undergo the slightest change over the past year. On the first anniversary of the war, President Dmitry Medvedev declared that Moscow’s recognition of South Ossetia’s and Abkhazia’s independence and its stationing of troops there was justified because Georgia had attacked Tskhinvali last August.
But world opinion is shaped by numerous factors, such as which side gained territory as a result of the war. Recall the 1974 military conflict between Greece and Turkey over Cyprus. This is perhaps the closest parallel with the Russia-Georgia war. Formally, the Greek Cypriots were the aggressors since they were the ones who staged a military coup. Moreover, the coup’s leader threatened to resolve the island’s “Turkish problem” through violence. In entering the war, the Turkish army supposedly came to the aid of their fellow Turks. But three decades later, the world community still shows no inclination to recognize the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus that was created as a result of Turkey’s military victory in the conflict. In the end, most people believe that Turkey was and remains the main aggressor.
Both Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin insist that they had no other option except to recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In addition, they assert that the war with Georgia did not seriously harm Russia’s relations with the West.
In reality, however, the situation has hit a dead end. It is obvious that no other states will ever recognize the independence of Georgia’s two breakaway regions. Even the former Soviet republics that are economically dependent on Russia refuse to recognize South Ossetian and Abkhaz independence. The main reason for this is that they fear that the same military means could one day be used against them. If Russia’s so-called allies in the CIS fail to support the Kremlin, it is safe to assume that the rest of the world will never recognize the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
The worst part is that Russia has doomed itself to years of being at the mercy of the corrupt and reckless South Ossetian regime. Moscow has backed itself into a corner because it will always be held accountable for any criminal action committed there. In the same way, Moscow blamed Washington for Georgia’s night attack on Tskhinvali, even though it was widely known that U.S. diplomats had done everything in their power to dissuade Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili from launching military operations.
Although Russia’s leaders learned some valuable lessons from the country’s poor performance in the Georgia war, they continue to ignore one huge flaw in the country’s military and foreign policy: Russia wants to have a modern army capable of fighting new 21st-century battles while at the same time it pursues its 19th-century imperial ambitions. This is an recipe for disaster.
Alexander Golts is deputy editor of the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal.
THE MOSCOW TIMES
DISHEARTENED WITH THE WEST
BY ALEXEI PANKIN
Back in January 2003, I read the following opinion on the Kreml.org web site, an analytical forum that had just been created: “We will never be accepted in [the West’s] world or recognized as equal partners in their innumerable communities. Russia may have many allies in the West, but from our Western partners’ standpoint we will always be viewed as different, strange, somehow improper and eternally guilty of something.”
When I published that quote in my Moscow Times column on Jan. 28, 2003, I used a bit of irony in referring to that Russian mindset as an “anti-Western inferiority complex.”
A few days ago, I read an interview on Slon.ru with Vladimir Sungorkin, editor-in-chief of Komsomolskaya Pravda, one of the country’s most popular and influential newspapers. “If you do not support this country,” he said, “this regime and this president, then you automatically support outside forces that have an interest in weakening and destroying the state.” Rather than offering a rebuttal, I now accept those words as a simple fact.
The West’s attitude toward Georgia’s war against Russia a year ago became a moment of truth for me and for many of my colleagues. The immediate response to the war by Western media and officials, as well as by the overwhelming majority of post-Communist European nations, could by summed up as follows, “Out of the blue, an aggressive Russia attacked Georgia without cause to suffocate the budding democracy.”
This bias underscores the West’s presumption of Russia’s guilt, regardless of circumstances. That is probably why U.S. President Barack Obama received a rather cool reception during his recent visit to Moscow, while in other capitals he has been met with rousing applause.
It was, of course, disheartening for me to have to give up my pro-Western illusions. Yet it was even more disappointing that many of my friends and colleagues — who, like me, had joined the bandwagon of perestroika reforms in the late 1980s in the hopes of rebuilding Russia along Western lines — were smart enough to lose faith in the West much earlier than I had.
On the other hand, it made me closer to the Russian people. After the Russia-Georgia war, the stance taken by the intelligentsia coincided with mainstream public opinion — a rare event in Russian history.
Some might say such an evolution in thinking is similar to the changes U.S. neoconservative writers such as Norman Podhoretz or Irving Kristol underwent in the 1970s and 1980s. After initially defining themselves as firm leftists in their writings, they later became apologists for U.S. dogma and provided powerful ideological support for the administration of former President Ronald Reagan. For a Western intellectual and former Trotskyist such as Kristol, this radical switch is tantamount to a psychiatric disorder.
Maybe, having cast off their illusions, they displayed the same fanaticism in joining the global ideological struggle against their former idols. As Adolf Hitler once said, “Social democrats don’t make good fascists, but Communists do.” It is natural for Russian intellectuals who had been enamored of Western values to experience a similar reaction and for our disaffection not to have been especially heart wrenching. We respect the West’s values, but in our country we will live according to our own traditions, values and world outlook.
P.S. I’m off now to reread Vladimir Putin’s 2007 Munich speech.
Alexei Pankin is the editor of WAN-IFRA-GIPP Magazine for publishing business professionals.
THE MOSCOW TIMES
MY PLAN TO DROP THE BOMB
BY BAN KI-MOON
The destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 marked an end and a beginning. The close of World War II ushered in the Cold War, with a precarious peace based on the threat of mutually assured destruction.
Today, the world is at another turning point. The assumption that nuclear weapons are indispensable to keeping the peace is crumbling. Disarmament is back on the global agenda — and not a moment too soon. A groundswell of new international initiatives will soon emerge to move this agenda forward.
The Cold War’s end, 20 years ago in the fall, was supposed to provide a peace dividend. Instead, we find ourselves still facing serious nuclear threats. Some stem from the persistence of more than 20,000 nuclear weapons and the contagious doctrine of nuclear deterrence. Others relate to nuclear tests — more than a dozen in the post-Cold War era, aggravated by the constant testing of long-range missiles. Still others arise from concerns that more countries or even terrorists might be seeking the bomb.
For decades, we believed that the terrible effects of nuclear weapons would be sufficient to prevent their use. The superpowers were likened to a pair of scorpions in a bottle, each knowing a first strike would be suicidal. Today’s expanding nest of scorpions, however, means that no one is safe. The presidents of Russia and the United States — two countries that hold approximately 95 percent of all nuclear weapons — recognize this. They have endorsed the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons and are seeking new reductions.
Many efforts are under way worldwide to achieve this goal. Earlier this year, the 65-member Conference on Disarmament — the forum that produces multilateral disarmament treaties — broke a deadlock and agreed to negotiations on a fissile material treaty. Other issues it will discuss include nuclear disarmament and security assurances for states without nuclear weapons.
In addition, Australia and Japan have launched a major international commission on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. My own multimedia “WMD — WeMustDisarm!” campaign, which will culminate on the International Day of Peace (Sept. 21), will reinforce growing calls for disarmament by former statesmen and grass-roots campaigns, such as “Global Zero.” These calls will get a further boost in September when civil society groups gather in Mexico City for a UN-sponsored conference on disarmament and development.
Though the United Nations has been working on disarmament since 1946, two treaties negotiated under UN auspices are now commanding the world’s attention. Also in September, countries that have signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty will meet at the UN to consider ways to promote its early entry into force. North Korea’s nuclear tests, its missile launches and its threats of further provocation lend new urgency to this cause.
Next May, the UN will also host a major five-year review conference involving the parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which will examine the state of the treaty’s “grand bargain” of disarmament, nonproliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy. If the test-ban treaty can be introduced and if the nonproliferation treaty review conference makes progress, we would be off to a good start on its journey to a world free of nuclear weapons.
My own five-point plan to achieve this goal begins with a call for the nonproliferation parties to pursue negotiations in good faith — as required by the treaty — on nuclear disarmament, either through a new convention or through a series of mutually reinforcing instruments backed by a credible system of verification. Disarmament must be reliably verified.
Second, I urged the UN Security Council to consider other ways to strengthen security in the disarmament process and to assure non-nuclear weapon states against nuclear threats. I proposed to the Security Council that it convene a summit on nuclear disarmament, and I urged states that are not signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to freeze their own weapon capabilities and make their own disarmament commitments. Disarmament must enhance security.
My third proposal relates to the rule of law. Universal membership in multilateral treaties is key, as are regional zones free of nuclear weapons and a new treaty on fissile materials. U.S. President Barack Obama’s support for U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is welcome. The treaty only needs a few more ratifications to enter into force. Disarmament must be rooted in legal obligations.
My fourth point addresses accountability and transparency. Countries with nuclear weapons should publish more information about what they are doing to fulfill their disarmament commitments. While most of these countries have revealed some details about their weapons programs, we still do not know how many nuclear weapons exist worldwide. The UN Secretariat could serve as a repository for such data. Disarmament must be visible to the public.
Finally, I am urging progress in eliminating other weapons of mass destruction and limiting missiles, space weapons and conventional arms — all of which are needed for a world free of nuclear weapons. Disarmament must anticipate emerging dangers from other weapons.
This, then, is my plan to drop the bomb. Global security challenges are serious enough without the risks from nuclear weapons or their acquisition by additional states or nonstate actors. Of course, strategic stability, trust among nations and the settlement of regional conflicts would all help to advance the process of disarmament. Yet disarmament has its own contributions to make in serving these goals and should not be postponed.
It will restore hope for a more peaceful, secure and prosperous future. It deserves everybody’s support.
Ban Ki-moon is secretary-general of the United Nations. © Project Syndicate
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