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Saturday, September 12, 2009

EDITORIAL 12.09.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month september 12,  edition 000296 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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

















































































The Government of India periodically announces ‘austerity drives’, sometimes issuing one circular while the previous one has not been withdrawn. As such, several austerity drives often run in parallel. That is what makes the silly season controversy over which Minister is staying in which hotel and flying which class a little tiresome. First, Foreign Minister SM Krishna and his Minister of State, Mr Shashi Tharoor, were asked to move out of five-star hotels. They had been staying there pending the Central Public Works Department’s refurbishing of the houses allotted to them. Sections of the media have compared Mr Krishna and Mr Tharoor to other Ministers who have been staying in public sector guest houses or State bhawans, thus implying a sort of moral shortcoming. Is this entirely fair? Both Mr Krishna and Mr Tharoor have claimed that they have been paying their bills personally and not asking the Government to subsidise their residency of the hotels. If this is indeed the case, why is there a problem? Is a Minister bound to conform to showy, faux Gandhian-type symbolism and not live in a hotel even while the very media commentators who attack him would not think twice about doing exactly the same? There is a certain hypocrisy here that needs to be addressed. The problem is not individual Ministers but collective humbug.

The debate over flying economy class on domestic flights and business class on international flights is as much of a non-issue. Rather than impose ad hoc restrictions, it would be better if the Government were to devise norms for all times — austere and non-austere. For instance, most business corporations have rules that mandate for economy class travel for journeys of, say, up to two hours. Beyond that business class travel is permitted. As for international flights, perhaps rules could be set specifying business class travel as a standard and first class travel for, say, every third journey a Cabinet Minister undertakes. Many countries also have a system whereby the frequent flyer points accrued by public servants while on official travel are transferred to the Government and used to buy tickets for future journeys. India needs to put in place such a mechanism. Piecemeal controversies and reportage about what this or the other Minister said or did will not help. In the larger reckoning, it is inconsequential.

The problem with allegedly money-saving measures undertaken by the Government is that they bow to the need to appear politically correct rather than to actually rationalise spending. For example, almost any Government building in Delhi is riddled with window air-conditioners. It is well established that a centrally air-conditioned building is environmentally friendlier and also consumes less energy. Yet, central air conditioning would be frowned upon and seen as ostentatious. So first Ministers, then secretaries and then officials lower done the hierarchy were permitted to install window air-conditioners in their rooms! This is what comes from egregious austerity measures — they become counter-productive. There are presumably better things for the Cabinet to discuss than whether economy class seats are uncomfortable for a tall person with long legs (which they are). Rather than persist with such trifles, the Government should draw up a travel and other entitlements chart that is both realistic and saves the exchequer money where possible. It must then be adhered to at all times.







The horrific incident in which five girls were killed and 28 others seriously injured in a stampede in a Government school in the national capital exemplifies the pathetic condition of such tax-payer-funded schools in the country. On Thursday morning, students attending Government Girls Senior Secondary School at Khajuri Khas in north-east Delhi were inconvenienced by heavy rains the previous night which had flooded their classrooms. The school usually has two shifts — one in the morning for girls and another in the evening for boys. But since it was an exam day, both boys and girls were attending school together. Trouble began when the boys, sitting in water-logged classrooms on the ground floor, were told to shift to those on the first floor, which were occupied by the girls. The story goes that the boys, on reaching the first floor classrooms, started harassing and molesting the girls who then tried to escape through a narrow stairway. This resulted in a stampede. The tragic incident points to two things: First, the callous indifference of the school authorities towards the safety of the students. And, second, the lack of proper infrastructure in Government schools. There can be no doubts about the fact that the authorities of the school are primarily to blame for the deaths. It was their responsibility to ensure that the events that led to the disaster never happened. If school teachers and officials cannot ensure the basic security of their pupils within schools premises, they must be sacked forthwith.

Such callousness on the part of school teachers and staff is not a one-off incident. Only a few days ago a Class II student in an MCD-run school in Delhi was accidentally locked up in his classroom overnight and was freed only when the school opened the next day. The boy had apparently fallen asleep in the classroom and, therefore, did not leave along with his classmates. When he woke up he found himself locked in. This, in spite the fact that it is the duty of teachers to check classrooms before they are locked up for the day. It is an established fact that Government school teachers and officials take their jobs for granted. Neither do they have any sense of responsibility nor do they fear being punished for negligence and dereliction of duty. If this is the state of affairs in the nation’s capital city, one can only imagine the situation elsewhere. There has to be a concerted crackdown on teachers and school staff who keep on demanding — and securing — more money but are reluctant to earn their salaries. Of course, there are honourable exceptions, but these are few and far between. This is one of the many grim realities of our education system.



            THE PIONEER




The killing of Baitullah Mehsud, the head of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, has been hailed as a major achievement in Pakistan’s and the United States’s battle against terrorism. It has certainly been a significant development, as has been the arrests of Maulvi Umar, the TTP spokesman, and Saifullah, a TTP commander who was acting as a link between the TTP and the Al Qaeda, on August 17. Nevertheless, one needs to take with caution the claim by Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik on August 23 that the bulk of the terrorist network had been broken, as well as the statement by Pakistan’s Army chief, Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, on September 5 that the security forces had broken the back of the Taliban in Swat and other troubled areas of the region.

The killing of important commanders may not have a critical impact on a terrorist or insurgent movement, which may overcome such temporary dislocations as it may cause. In the present instance, the Afghan Taliban led by Mullah Omar and the Al Qaeda have a compelling interest in keeping the TTP alive because the latter’s presence facilitates its operations in Afghanistan from their sanctuaries in north and south Waziristan and other areas of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

They could not have possibly ignored reports about a succession war having been raging among various tribal commanders following Baitullah’s killing. It has been alleged that both Hakeemullah Mehsud and Waliur Rehman, the former commanding TTP forces in the Khyber, Kurram and Orakzai agencies of FATA, and the latter in south Waziristan, were killed in a fight among their followers. Even after the TTP had claimed on August 22 that Hakeemullah was the new leader, Pakistani intelligence officers continued to say that he was dead and his look-alike twin brother was being shown as him to prevent the TTP from disintegrating. On August 23, Mr Rehman Malik not only said this but also that the Government had obtained Hakeemullah’s DNA and would make a statement after verifying matters.

The question is: Why make a statement without verifying? Disinformation is an important component of insurgency and counter-insurgency warfare and the Taliban have accused Pakistan of spreading rumours to divide and confuse both their supporters and the people of Pakistan. But then, a disinformation campaign, however successful, does not by itself win a war. Rather, it can recoil and destroy the credibility of those resorting to it. The outcome of a war, conventional or unconventional, depends on other, and more important, factors.

It is important to remember here that Baitullah died in a missile attack by an American drone on his father-in-law’s house in south Waziristan’s Laddha sub-division, and not in combat with Pakistani troops. One can argue that the CIA, which carried out the drone strike, acted on intelligence provided by Pakistan. As of now, there is nothing to indicate that this was the case. But even if it was, providing intelligence to Americans is one thing, killing terrorists in operations is quite another. On their own Pakistanis could never have — at least as things are —even reached where Baitullah was killed.

Intelligence, doubtless, is a key factor in any fight against terrorism and/or insurgency. Since security forces cannot be present everywhere to prevent terrorist strikes, and since terrorists always have the advantage of surprise on their side, security personnel may not be able to foil their bids even when they are present. Intelligence about planned strikes and movements of leaders, leading to their arrest or elimination, is therefore, essential for the success of any counter-terrorism and/or counter-insurgency campaign.

Intelligence, however, has to be acted upon. Here what counts is the capability not only of the forces fighting terrorism/insurgency but the resources and capability of their opponents and the geo-political factors governing the conflict. While the basic principles of unconventional warfare, to which category terrorism and insurgency as well as the campaigns to contain them, belong, are broadly the same everywhere, deployment patterns of forces, the nature of intelligence-gathering and surveillance will differ in cases of urban and rural terrorism and insurgency in remote and inaccessible areas. So will the nature of the weaponry. Pakistan, for example, cannot even think of using helicopter gunships and artillery against terrorists in the densely inhabited areas of Karachi. It has been using both liberally against the TTP in FATA and North-West Frontier Province.

Two other critically important factors are the morale of the troops and credibility of the Government. Fighting terrorism is a slow, tortuous process, involving long waits when one is vulnerable to sudden attacks, and methods of interrogation which are often not nice. Morale is difficult to sustain. Equally, troops are prone to go berserk and explode in excesses, which in turn stoke anger and insurgency. Pakistani troops have yet to show that they can withstand the rigours of long and sustained operations in FATA and NWFP.

The importance of credibility stems from the fact that support of the population, in terms of intelligence yields and, sometimes, logistics, is important for both terrorists/insurgents and the Government. People will support the side that, they believe, not only stands for their interest but is also likely to win. In fact, the basic effort of terrorists is to resort to high profile strikes which receive widespread attention and undermine the people’s faith in the Government’s effort to defeat them. Equally, the Government seeks to project terrorists as a malevolent and divided lot which is on the run and is destined to fail. Pakistan’s Government as well as Army does not enjoy much credibility. Their claims of sweeping success, repeatedly made since the beginning of the operations in FATA and NWFP, have been repeatedly belied. People are still not fully convinced that both will persist with the war against the TTP and its allies, given the fact that an important section in the Government and the Army regards at least a section of the Taliban as a strategic asset.

Besides, a lot will depend on how the Americans, who are finding the going difficult, fare in Afghanistan. Jihadi morale in Pakistan will soar if they suffer setbacks or abandon Afghanistan altogether. It is too early for either Washington or Islamabad to celebrate. Both have a rough road ahead.







Be thankful for the qualities that have been bestowed upon you as they are not your own making. In the same way, it depends on the part that you have been given to play.

Say, in a drama, you are given the part of a villain, and you play that role perfectly. A villain always knows that when I am playing the role of a villain, it’s just a role I am playing.

There is a saying in Sanskrit, Durjanam Prathamam Vande Sajjanam Tadanantaram . First, worship the bad person, and then the good man. The bad man is falling and giving you an example, “don’t do what I did.” Do not hate a criminal in jail because he has given you such a beautiful lesson, and he has been given that role. He is just performing his role that way.

Your knowledge of a mistake comes to you when you are innocent. The knowledge of a mistake dawns in the moment when you are ‘out of the mistake’. However the past has been, whatever mistake has happened, do not consider yourself to be a sinner or the maker of that mistake. In the present moment you are new again, pure and clear. Mistakes of the past are past. When this knowledge comes that moment you are again perfect.

That’s what Krishna tells Arjun, “Arjun, you think you are not going to do what you are supposed to do? I tell you, you will do it. Even if you don’t want, you are going to do it!” In a very clever way Krishna puts it: “You better surrender to me directly.”

There are thousands of commentaries trying to make sense of the last few sentences, three contradicting statements. First, Krishna says surrender everything, I’ll do everything for you, or just do as I say. Then he says: Think, think and see what is right for you, do whatever you feel is right. And then in the third statement he says: But remember (anyway) you will do only what I want you to do.

All of our wanting to do, or ‘doership’, is there to eliminate the tamas or inertia in us. Once inertia is eliminated, then we are in activity. When you are acting you become a witness to the acting. Then you know you are not doing. Things are happening through you. This is the final level of realisation.

You can see this in every action of yours. In the beginning you think, “Oh! I have accomplished.” But your accomplishment becomes more and more and more and as time goes by, you will begin to feel, “no, it’s all happening. I did not do anything, I did not accomplish.”

Knowledge of the self is the only thing that can take you from imperfection to perfection.








Eight years after the United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan, the ‘peace’ the dream of lasting respite from terrorism is elusive. Perhaps the biggest irony this anniversary week of 9/11 is the fact that the fate of the people of the land of Taliban and al-Qaeda is hanging more dangerously than before because this time the threat is coming through democracy. Or a flawed version of what was imposed on a people not used to the concept.

The second Presidential election held in Afghanistan post 9/11 was marred by violence before, during and after the elections. While all that is passé for Afghans, what is unprecedented this time is the dangerous crossroads the country finds itself. The result of the election is vague and no clear leader has emerged. Added to that are suspicions of rigging and misdemeanor. Old clannish rivalries have found a new channel of expression.

It will take a few more days to have final results to be announced but President Hamid Karzai is likely to come back to power second consecutive time. Worldwide, many are viewing the Afghanistan election with preconceived notions. They have a set pattern in their mind about how elections are to be held and how they are to be won. But the Afghanistan situation cannot be considered anywhere close to ‘normal’. If viewed with the typical ‘activist’ outlook, then the just concluded election could be called a blot on democracy. Widespread and systematic fraud was witnessed. Police are blamed for shutting down polling stations at will and ensuring ballot boxes getting filled with only Karzai votes. It has been reported by international media that President Karzai had his say on issues directly and indirectly impacting elections. He had the state machinery at his service during the entire process of the election. There were reports of voter cards being made available for a price, local media muzzled and warlords bought.

However, a basic question needs to be addressed first and that is ‘what is the end result one expects?’ Do you want elections to prove the international efficacy of the so-called ‘model’ of democracy’ is an ideal ‘tool’ which could help, at least, partially bringing normalcy in the country? Unfortunately, the entire election process could be said to have failed on this count. Democracy and Karzai’s victory are not expected to bring any significant change to the situation. In fact, the grave question over the legitimacy of his government would lead to deepening of the terrorism crisis and challenge world peace. This one-time ‘friend’ of the United States has just demonstrated to the world the limitations of the NATO campaign right under its very nose. Therefore, Karzai getting a second phase will not be good news for the western powers.

The Afghans have been ruled by traditionalist and authoritarian rulers for most of their history. The region has been under the grip of terror and civil strife for many years. Its ethnic divides is legendary. The Taliban has succeeded in making significant gains despite the firepower of western forces. The administration is loosing its grip even over Kabul and drug money continues to play a significant role in various facets of life, including politics.

Is the glass of democracy half-full or half-empty? That’s the poser that defines Afghanistan today. To many, just the completion of an election process braving the huge limitations and Taliban threats is a positive step. To others, democracy itself has created those limitations. During the campaign process itself it had become evident that if Karzai succeeds in getting a second time by hook or by crook, the other candidates would be unlikely to accept the decision. Now, with huge irregularities seen during the election process and with the election commission receiving thousands of complaints, it seems unlikely that the coming days would witness peace on Afghanistan’s streets.

The security situation in Afghanistan is grim. Apart from the killing of foreign troops, between four and five Afghan policemen are getting killed every day. August 2009 has been one of NATO’s bloodiest months in the country, with 74 soldiers killed. With more than 300 deaths so far this year, the west is realising that the onus of finding a lasting solution, democracy or no democracy, lies with them. Washington is waiting with anxiety as a government commission goes over the investigation of more than 600 complaints of ballot-stuffing, intimidation and other allegations. The supporters of Abdullah Abdullah, who is currently at the number two position with around 35 per cent of the vote share, are not likely to keep quiet in case victoryis granted to Karzai.

Violence is expected to increase. Already, Afghanistan's deputy chief of intelligence has been killed. Under these circumstances the US special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, needs to have Plan B ready. They could think of asking Karzai to agree to a second round of elections.

Such a runoff may offer the election greater authenticity. It could also help soothing the threat of post-election violence.

For India, nothing would change either way. Karzai was once thought to be ‘close’ to India because of New Delhi’s support to him during his exile. But he had mollycoddled Pakistan. Abdullah Abdullah is not likely to bring in much change in Afghanistan’s policies towards India. Luckily, both are friends to India and New Delhi would be comfortable with either of them. India understands that it has limited options in Afghanistan’s policy towards India. For India, the only involvement in Afghanistan is as a contributor to its national reconstruction. India can only look on helplessly as the domestic fires of Afghanistan consume the entire region of northern South Asia. The region is not likely to witness peace for a long time and for this Pakistan’s India-phobia is directly responsible.

So, Afghanistan’s second election should be viewed mainly as part of a larger process. Democracy, it must be pointed out, has indeed begun to yield positive results. As per a recent UN report, opium production in Afghanistan, earlier a cottage industry, is found down by 10 per cent while the area under poppy cultivation fell to 22 per cent in 2009. For a ‘narco-state’, this is a significant achievement.

The writer is a Research Fellow with IDSA







From all accounts, the second Afghan Presidential election was marked by widespread vote-rigging. It was a ‘state-engineered fraud’ as alleged by Abdullah Abdullah, former finance minister and opponent of sitting President Hamid Karzai. As the allegations of rigging reached its crescendo during the counting, neutral observers and election commission officials advised last week to suspend operations till a through investigation is conducted into the grave charges. At the time, Karzai was leading, having secured about 45 per cent of the polled votes, while Abdullah drew about 35 per cent.

Phantom voters were everywhere. A tribal leader told the world media that not a single man or woman of his tribe went to the polling booths to cast votes. And yet, Hamid Karzai was found to have ‘polled’ 30,000 votes from there. This is a familiar story for voters in at least one state of India where the ruling party has managed to get ‘elected’ non-stop for 32 years, but you can’t get away with it in a country like Afghanistan where the stakes are high, not only for the Afghans but for the entire world. Understandably, the August 20 Afghan election had no dearth of media and independent observers. A leading news channel of Europe claims that it conducted independent investigations into complaints of frauds and intimidation of voters and found that these were not baseless.

Under the Afghan Constitution, a run-off election is mandated if neither side gets at least 50 per cent plus one vote. But the US and its allies are squeamish about it. They are so used to the ‘familiar thief’ (Karzai) and his tricks, however dirty, are so predictable, that the world community (read the US and allies) are quite unwilling to try out somebody like Abdullah Abdullah, who is likely to be of the same mould. Also, by insisting on a run-off, they fear they may end up ‘annoying’ the big man; their only safe bet and ignite ethnic clashes.

The US is known for pursuit of short-term goals. As of now, Washington’s primary concern is to win over the Muslim world to preserve, protect and promote its strategic interests in Africa, West Asia and Central Asia. Afghanistan provides a perfect setting to pursue that mission, where the White House and Pentagon increasingly see the need to build sustainable peace process through the joint efforts of Kabul and Islamabad to tackle extremism militarily and ideologically. Moreover, as Edward R Murrow, Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations remarks, American experts are convinced that there is no military solution to the Afghan insurgency, India has every reason to be worried. The standoff is extremely delicate for the stability of northern South Asia and exacerbating the tension are dangerous theories like one that says that the US, in a move to wiggle out of the region with a bloody nose, might end up agreeing to a Pakistan-backed ‘moderate’ Taliban-supported regime in Kabul.

Whatever be the official New Delhi’s view of Karzai regime, his rule had seen the reemergence of Taliban as a sophisticated and well-equipped militia. There was expectation that the ISI would be reduced to a shell after the fall of the Taliban regime in 2002, but Karzai only winked as the ISI bounced back, remote control in hand. Today Afghanistan is awash with arms of all kind. Religious orthodoxy has a fresh lease of life to the delight of mullahs. And, as clearly brought out by the think-tank, Centre for a New American Security, Taliban now has a heavy presence across three-quarters of Afghanistan’s nearly 400 districts, up from nearly only one-half-a-year back.

The past five years have seen Pakistan regaining a modicum of what it had set out to achieve under the policy of strategic thrust. The al-Qaeda played a role in the process for its own sake because of mutuality of interests. So did President Hamid Karzai for his own survival.

It is indeed surprising that Washington is allowing itself to be guided by Rawalpindi and its GHQ wisdom. Given the long years of their interaction, Pentagon and State Department should be privy to the world view of the proxy rulers of Pakistan. More so since they had benefited from such a world view not once but twice in the past.

There is no need for India to get carried away by recent ‘revelations’ on Pakistan’s nuclear war heads and its ‘rejig’ of American weapons.

Successive US administrations are known for such ‘leaks’ every time they need to arm-twist the Pakistanis to do Washington’s bidding. On their part, the generals have become wiser with experience. What they do to please their patron is simply perform ego-massage by offering an occasional prize catch, Baitullah Mehsud for instance, who was made a sitting duck for an American drone on August 5.

Afghanistan’s relapse into good old Mullah Omar days may not happen immediately, but cannot be ruled out in the medium term, as the White House goes about engaging with ‘moderate’ Taliban propelled into the frontline by GHQ Rawalpindi. Already egg-heads of different hue are on overdrive to sell the idea of talks with Taliban by reminding anyone willing to listen that Afghanistan is the graveyard of Empires and that Afghanistan could become the Vietnam of yesterday.

Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Stanley A McChrystal, the new US commander for Afghanistan, are out of sync with the administration’s thinking. Their sobering assessment, to quote the Washington Post, is that the situation is serious but salvageable with more American troops, funds for Afghan forces and other resources to engage the Taliban, which has ‘developed the ability to do some of the things that make up what you call a disciplined force’. President Obama is unlikely to fulfill their wish list. It may be worth recalling that the Bush administration committed the first blunder of not allocating adequate resources even after describing Afghanistan as America’s strategic and moral interest.

The US can easily find a way out of Afghanistan’s darkness if it can examine how Taliban are able to checkmate NATO. These are nowhere on the American radar. Instead it is guided by the ‘first term itch’, a characteristic feature of American presidency where the incumbent in his first term believes all that his predecessor did was wrong.

It is no solace to contend that Karzai has failed to deliver. He remained more or less a Nawab of Kabul. He did not broad base his political reach lest he disturbed the system in southern Afghanistan and thus displease his friends across the Durand Line. What is more, he showed no qualms about entering into politically amoral deals with unsavoury figures. He empowered Shia’ite men to refuse their wives food if they failed to have sex with them for four nights a week. The US, the champion torch bearer of freedom, did not interrupt him. Instead, it remained a mute spectator, much to the delight of the Lahore Club.

The writer is editor, South Asia Tribune







The ambiguous outcome of the August 20 election may plunge Afghanistan into a civil war. The atmosphere has been so vitiated by allegations, violence and the Taliban’s vicious opposition to the democratic process that either of the two parties would have a hard time persuading the people that it indeed enjoys the mandate to rule. So, democracy has deepened the schism in this already divided nation.

As usually happens in countries where the electoral combat is limited to just two parties, the losing side is often a bad loser. Under the winner-takes-all system, the party which squeezes through fails to realise that its opponent too had got a large number of votes. The insensitivity they show to the loser creates the first germ of antipathy. In Afghanistan, this mixes up with ethnic and warlord loyalties and threatens to create a highly combustible situation.

The Taliban threat did affect the voters' turnout: as against 70 per cent voting in 2005 this time the turnout was only 40 to 50 per cent. In 2005, Taiban had not yet reorganised themselves enough to challenge the elections. Also, till then the common Afghan had not been as alienated as today because of the government's failure to meet his needs and rampant corruption. The common man, who was jubilant when the Taliban regime was bombed out in 2001 by the US-led forces, is disillusioned and cynical today. Taliban are making best use of this situation to win back the support of the people.

The final result of the election are still due but allegations of rigging by incumbent President Hamid Karzai against his nearest rival and former cabinet colleague, Abdullah Abdullah, threatens to drag the country into another Pushtu verses Northern Alliance conflict.

The vote tally on September 3, when it was decided to defer the final announcement after government officials and neutral observers proposed a thorough probe into electoral misconduct, shows Hamid Karzai in the lead with 45.8 per cent of the votes polled against Abdullah Abdullah’s 33.2 per cent. The winner must get 50 per cent plus one vote to avoid a run-off. If Karzai wins, he would have to combat allegations of legitimacy in the face of the allegations of fraud.

How the Taliban are again making inroads into the Afghan society was revealed by David Kilcullen, a senior adviser to the US Commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, in Canberra recently. He said: “A government isn’t being out-fought, it is being out-governed. And that’s what is happening in Afghanistan.”

Kilcullen, an Australian military officer, said the Karzai Government was failing to maintain a rapport with local people who were now turning to Taliban for justice, education and even fair taxation assessments. A network of 15 Sharia courts in the Taliban-dominated South spent relatively little time on hardline issues, as Westerners usually believed, but instead focussed 95 per cent of efforts on civil issues, like land and inheritance disputes.

Kilcullen further said that the local people would laugh at the idea that they could go to the police if a bike or a goat was stolen. They would rather go to an ombudsman’s office set up by Taliban near the southern militant stronghold of Kandhar. “If the Taliban do something that offends you, you go to the ombudsman and you complain, and they hear the case. Sometimes they fire or even execute Taliban commanders for breaking the code of conduct.”

For some years now, the US and NATO Commanders have opined that it would be difficult to vanquish the Taliban. The latest among them is General McChrystal. He has sent a report to Pentagon and NATO headquartes calling for a new military policy. He wrote the last eight years had been disastrous. Now the focus should be on winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, not direct engagement with militants. “The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a review implementation of strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort.”

Imagine, this statement is coming from a general of the sole superpower in the world. The US has already spent billions of dollars in Afghanistan and Pakistan and has lost hundreds of its young soldiers to fight Taliban and al-Qaeda. Now, they are practically seeking an exit route without finishing the job they went to do in Afghanistan.

Americans have bungled in Afghanistan for the past about 15 years and in adjoining Pakistan always. In the early 1990s, it was the Americans who patronised Taliban. It doubly served Pakistan: Afghanistan earned Washington’s pleasure by openly supporting Taliban and also planned to use them for extending its influence on Afghanistan.

The present Afghan scenario is confused.

Whatever the ultimate result of the election, there might be no patch-up between Karzai and Abdullah. Having accused Karzai of electoral fraud, the latter and his Northern Alliance supporters may go on creating civil strife. This conflict can take Karzai closer to Taliban who, too, are Pushtu. It may be recalled that in the past too he made numerous attempts to make peace with Taliban.

Instability in Afghanistan is bound to have some spillover effect on Pakistan. The potential of a runoff means that we'll have another month to six weeks of political uncertainty in Afghanistan, which contributes to opportunities for militants to continue causing trouble. So, if the post-August 20 crisis is not resolved, we will see Afghanistan back to 1996 when the Pakistani Army installed Taliban as the rulers of most of Afghanistan. If that happens, Afghanistan will again become a cradle of terrorism — this time backed with nuclear knowhow.

The writer is Director of Media Studies, YMCA







Time was when dens of infamy depicted in Hindi films were invariably housed in five-star hotels. There, crooks and molls plotted heists to payroll lavish urban lifestyles. Meanwhile, a patriot-hero think Manoj Kumar eulogised Bharat, rural arcadia where Gandhian values and Nehruvian socialism met and flowered. Moral of such movies: communitarian frugality was good; taste for luxury, child of unbridled individualism, was positively villainous. We've come a long way from such black and white notions of personal morality, right? Wrong.

Congress higher-ups recently forced S M Krishna and Shashi Tharoor, foreign ministry faces, out of plush five star hotel suites. If that wasn't 'punishment' enough, the duo also won the rotten tomato sweepstakes of outraged public opinion. How dare public servants live it up when parsimony should be a political patent? Aren't Congress members taking 20 per cent cuts in salaries for drought relief? Don't Gandhi photos grace Congress offices? Haven't the doosra Gandhis made 'tyaag' and austerity a motto for all seasons?

But hold it. Hadn't the black sheep ministers spent their own, and not taxpayers', money? One of them reminds his critics that his hotel check-in didn't dent public coffers, surely a good reason to spare him the finger-wagging. Talk of naivete. Had netas ever made private-public distinctions when globe-trotting or building their own statues, taxpayers would be richer for it. Residents of Lutyens' Delhi's public-funded seven-star bungalows can hardly be expected to recall who foots the bill for VVIP privileges. Or to themselves shift into, as once proposed, more taxpayer-friendly modern apartment blocks. But look at the bright side. A foreign junket for goodwill-hunting MPs has been scuttled. And belt-tightening is now a must for sulking mantris, even those with waistlines too large to fly economy. If only governance issues raised as many hollers as pruned ministerial perks.

The Marxists doubtless scoff at such shallow 'ethics'. Their self-rectification plumbs the heart of darkness: the three Cs of consumerism, careerism and capitalism. These bourgeois vices, they say, must be shunned by new age comrades diagnosed with affluenza. The red brigade's waning fortunes, it seems, are due to erosion of "revolutionary" fibre. Opportunism, misgovernance, factionalism, Nandigram-type terror, a moribund Cold War worldview and insistence on being economic Neanderthals in globalising India: no, these aren't warts at all.

So, must ordinary folks ape self-proclaimed Spartan politicos who deny leading by disingenuous example? Or must people help a slowdown-hit country by going out and spending? Some netas say conspicuous consumption is toxic for the soul; others say it's tonic for the economy. So good citizens can sacrifice their souls for a noble cause: keeping the growth mill turning as healthy consumers. What neither category of neta will tell you is that conspicuous austerity is good political PR but decidedly pesky as political practice. Wah, tyaag.







Two recent deaths Michael Jackson in June from an overdose of drugs and Andhra Pradesh chief minister YSR Reddy this month in a helicopter crash have led to a number of suicides: the pop star's fans in one case and the leader's followers in the other. The world had witnessed a similar spate of suicides after Princess Diana's death in a car accident. Such large-scale suicides are very different from mass suicides in apocalyptic cults where a megalomaniac leader brainwashed his followers into embracing death, elevating the subconscious fantasy of 'dying together' into the highest goal of life. Jonestown in Guyana, where in 1978 the cult leader Jim Jones led 900 people into a mass suicide, is the most chilling example.

Suicides following the death of a folk hero or a leader who has attained that status are also different from Indian farmers killing themselves because they found themselves in a hopeless situation. Suicides in the wake of a folk hero's tragic, and dramatic, death invite us to reflect on the particular nature of the bond between the leader and his followers that lead some of the followers to take the extreme step of ending their own lives.

If i had to speculate about the suicidal followers of YSR, i would say their connection to him had become their most significant attachment, that they had no other human bonds except to the leader. Significant attachments make a fundamental contribution to our sense of identity and self-esteem, their loss plunging us into despair. Attachment to YSR also gave a meaning to his followers' lives. Someone has said that although the central human fear is fear of death, the fear of having lived a life without significance or meaning may be even more important.

In identifying with YSR, not the real person but the symbolic 'messiah of the poor' who would make it possible for the 'meek to inherit the earth', the followers had given a significance to their lives that disappeared with his death. Symbolic losses are no less real in their psychological consequences than real losses. Suicide can thus involve the fantasy of being united with the person who gave meaning to life. After his failed suicide attempt following Michael Jackson's death, a fan reportedly said, "I want to be with Michael."

I also believe the sudden and dramatic nature of YSR's death was not experienced by the suicides as the 'commonplace' death of a loved one. Ordinary losses lead to grief and mourning but a suicidal reaction is normally regarded as the extreme reaction of an individual who is flawed in some essential way. Even in the darkest depths of grief, our minds carry a dim awareness of social disapproval and stigmatisation were we to take our own lives. But if the whole community of followers reacts to a leader's death as a traumatic event, that is, outside the range of general human experience, then social prohibitions against suicide no longer apply.

Amplified by the contagious reactions of others testifying to the leader's death being an extraordinary experience of loss, suicide becomes a more acceptable and plausible reaction of grief. With everyone else around the psychologically fragile individual caught up in a frenzy of lamentation, there are no persons, no 'holding' environment offering solace and reassurance to the bereaved person who was already psychologically isolated and, thus, vulnerable before the event.

Suicides not only have individual and social dimensions, but also a cultural context; the strength of cultural prohibitions on suicide also determines its incidence. Islamic culture is most uncompromising in its opposition, considering suicide a sin worse than murder. Japanese culture, which esteems suicide as a way of preserving honour, is the most tolerant. Indian-Hindu culture lies somewhere in the middle, regarding suicide as a disaster for spiritual progress through the cycles of life and death, yet approving of the act if carried out for heroic or religious reasons, such as fasting to death in case of certain ascetics. Gandhi's 'fasts unto death', for instance, are thus not suicidal in the ordinary sense; they connect with this particular religious tradition.

Suicide, on the death of a leader, has been sanctioned in many cultures. In Japan, for instance, hara-kiri, with its 1,000-year-old history, though now officially forbidden, has been an honourable way of expressing grief over the loss of a superior. In some Brazilian tribes, it was customary upon the death of a chief for his retainers to kill themselves so that their souls might serve him in the spirit world. Nearer to YSR's home state, the Avippoli form of suicide in Tamil culture, in which warriors killed themselves on learning that their commander or king had died, is said to be deeply embedded in the Tamil psyche. Suicides after the death of a leader, especially one who had become a folk hero, are thus not only a pathological form of mourning as psychoanalysis would have it, but also need a social and cultural gloss for their fuller understanding.

The writer is a psychoanalyst and novelist.







Republican representative Joe Wilson's shout of "You lie!" at President Barack Obama's address on health care reform to a joint session of Congress a few days ago has had the unintended effect of reuniting America's two political parties. Politicians across party lines condemned Wilson's mid-speech interruption of Obama as a serious breach of protocol. Even Wilson recognised the severity of the misdemeanour he had committed, aided, no doubt, by the virulent reaction on his Twitter page. He later apologised to Rahm Emanuel, the president's chief of staff.

Given how strained relations between the Democrats and the Republicans are, that most Republicans denounced their party man's actions is a clear indication of how deeply Wilson violated Congress' informal code of conduct. America's level of discourse has deteriorated a great deal over the past year, what with guns being brought into Obama's town hall meetings. But what happened on the floor of the US Congress on Wednesday was a new low, a mockery of American democratic norms.

Some, particularly on this side of the world, don't understand what the fuss is all about. Indian parliamentarians routinely interrupt each other's speeches and vociferously register their displeasure even while an MP is in the process of explaining himself. And that's on a good day. Bad behaviour in this country has an entirely different definition, with our honourable MPs and MLAs indulging in outright brawls, complete with chair slinging.

But as we have written in these columns, there was a time when citizens expected and received more from their representatives than unruly behaviour. It is unbecoming of elected politicians to behave in a manner more suited to a school playground they are, after all, expected to set examples for their constituents. Whether it is India or America, lack of legislative decorum isn't kosher. It is sad to see a country whose politicians continued, until recently, to set standards for polite and civilised discourse, even while expressing disagreement, degenerate to a level where even the head of state cannot make his case heard without interruptions.







So what's the big deal if a Republican lawmaker called Barack Obama a liar when he was addressing a joint session of Congress? It is, judging by the hostile reaction to Rep Joe Wilson's remark. Democrats and Republicans have roundly denounced Wilson with vice-president Joe Biden saying he had "demeaned" Congress. Apparently, only snickering and making faces is acceptable behaviour when the US president is addressing Congress.

But just imagine if the same thing happened in the Indian Parliament when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was speaking. No one would have probably batted an eyelid. If anything, there would have been a slanging match between the Congress and the opposition inside the House itself. And that actually would be quite polite by the standards of our Parliament. How many times have we seen MPs shout slogans, rush to the well of the House and generally create a ruckus when burning issues of the day were being debated? Such behaviour is of course not restricted to India. In places like Taiwan and South Korea, lawmakers routinely pummel each other inside Parliament.

No one in his right mind would argue for a free-for-all inside Parliament. But we shouldn't be too stuck up on propriety inside the House. What is parliamentary debate without some good, old-fashioned heckling. Wilson didn't really say anything awful. He merely shouted, "You lie." That's something that Democrats and Republicans tell each other everyday. Wilson's fault was that he did it so dramatically and before television cameras.

Indeed, it could well be argued that had it not been for TV cameras, parliamentary behaviour might have been more restrained. There is evidence to suggest that parliamentary decorum has taken a hit in India ever since the proceedings began to be telecast. This is not surprising since politicians firmly believe in the dictum that any news coverage is better than none. So theatrics inside Parliament give an MP a better chance of featuring in the evening news than if he soberly debates issues. Just see what Wilson's outburst has done for him. From an unknown Congressman, he has been catapulted to worldwide fame.








WASHINGTON DC: Last week, we visited a gay bar in downtown Washington. We were curious, never having entered a gay club or bar before. Would it be very different?

But, you know what? It was not very different from a straight bar. Folks milled around, there was plenty of chatter, air kisses were being blown, friends hugged one another in greeting, the lights were cool, the waiters hip, and the cocktails as innovative as you would find in any trendy watering hole. Christian, who is French and gay, invited us there to meet his two friends, also gay, visiting from England. And meeting them was for my wife and me the most interesting part of the evening.

They were English, and yet neither would fit our usual expectation of what an Englishman might look like. One of them, Dominic, was born Vietnamese, grew up through school in Paris and has lived in London for years working for the British government. The other, James, Chinese in ethnic origin, has been in England most of his life. Dominic spoke Parisian French, said Christian, but they conversed with us and with each other in London English. The rest of us were, well, a couple of straight Indians and consequently in a state of racial and linguistic confusion a gay Frenchman, who had been raised in Tunisia by an Italian mother, an American gay man, and two other women, both straight, one pure French, the other a New Yorker and therefore not of this planet though she was born of German-French parents.

The microcosm of the company at our table that evening took me back to the future. I wondered, would this be what the world would look like to my grandchildren?

Identities are becoming diffused everywhere. Any primordial sense that many still have of who they are is becoming hard to sustain. Our grandparents had a clearer awareness of their cultural-linguistic-ethnic-religious-caste-regional-national identity than we have. Here in the north-eastern zone of the United States, and on the west coast, the variety of fluid identities, or sometimes the sheer lack of any, is more and more visible by the day. It is possible that much of the US will, in a few more decades, look and speak a lot like our company did at that bar in Washington.

Which brings me to the plight of the First Citizen of this town. He is African-American, born in Hawaii of a Kenyan father and a white American mother, was raised as a child in Indonesia, has the middle name Hussein, went to Ivy League universities, and now holds the most powerful job in the world. Barack Obama is the quintessential future American. Yet, even though he was elected president, or perhaps because of it, he is roundly despised by a lot of other Americans.

Opposition to a ruling party and its leader should be routine, and vitally important, in any democracy. But the way Obama and his policies are being opposed stokes an uneasy feeling that there's that other exclusivist, far less tolerant America, which we tend to overlook while marvelling at the evolution of a multicultural, tolerant society.

Obama was elected by a majority of the people but there is a significant minority that hasn't got over that watershed event in US history. Much of the diatribe on talk radio and the Fox News channel would seem to be against creeping "socialism" that might come if Obama succeeded in pushing through his policies, particularly his health-care policy. But, every now and then, stray voices scream out a deeper hatred.

Thus, we have the 'birthers', who are trying desperately to prove that Obama was not born in America and therefore cannot be president. There are religious loonies who say he is the Anti-Christ. But i was struck by the rant of one gentleman on TV last week when he bellowed that Obama was going to impose "Afro-Leninism". The 'Afro' is a giveaway. They hate him because he is a different kind of American.

Ah well, it seems the world will have to wait a bit longer for tolerant America to eclipse its darker side.








The sight of the Twin Towers crashing down brought home to the Americans that even their awesome intelligence apparatus could fail disastrously.


Eight years later, the US has been able to ward off another attack on its soil. But alarmingly, we in India do not seem to have learnt how crucial intelligence is to guard against the sort of threats to which we have time and again been victims.


Which makes the situation in India’s external intelligence-gathering agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), all the more alarming. All seven of its additional secretaries, who function as operational heads of crucial departments, have gone on protest leave over supersession issues. What the unprecedented act means is that the men who handle sensitive intelligence are sitting at home because the authorities who deal with top level personnel matters did not anticipate the fallout of bringing in an outsider to oversee their functioning.


The agency, which has its own R&AW Allied Services (RAS) cadre, with separate service rules, to which it draws personnel and professionals from the Indian Police Service and other agencies, including the armed forces, has been troubled by personnel problems for some years, culminating in this stand-off.


The subsequent demoralisation of its senior-level personnel will further undermine the agency and can only add to chances of it slipping up on crucial intelligence that could hold the difference between life and death for many of our citizens. We know the price we paid for the intelligence failure in Kargil, the humiliation of the Kandahar episode, the brazen attack on Parliament, the coordinated attacks on suburban trains and, the horrific 26/11 carnage in Mumbai.


While Home Minister P Chidambaram is in the United States to discuss best practices in intelligence-sharing and to sensitise the administration there on Pakistan’s failure to deliver on its commitments particularly post-26/11, the government would do well to begin setting its own house in order.


In the end, it’s clear that we will primarily have to rely on ourselves to protect the country. For this, we need our intelligence outfits up and running effectively.








One disservice to development that traditional economic theory has done is to place self-interest on a pedestal. One of the key propositions that Adam Smith had developed in his classic book published in 1776 was that, if each individual in an economy pursued his or her self-interest — consumers maximising utility, entrepreneurs maximising profit — society would automatically achieve optimality, with the “invisible hand” of the market doing the job. Smith made this claim with lots of provisos, but, over time, all the caveats fell by the wayside, and the invisible hand doctrine became an alibi for narrow economism and the single-minded pursuit of self-interest.


Fortunately, modern research in economics and psychology is making it clear that our other human qualities, such as altruism, personal integrity, and appropriate social norms and institutions are vital for economic development.


In India, today, there is worry about our high growth not being sufficiently inclusive, and leaving segments of the population abysmally poor. Some clues to this lie in our neglect of non-economic factors. Consider the simple act of trying to bring marginalised people into the mainstream of the economy. This is, of course, something that we should aim for; but, if this is done without giving these people basic education, a sense of their fundamental rights, a modicum of understanding of how the modern economy functions, and also some basic health facilities, there is a risk that they will get no benefit by being drawn into the market economy, and may actually lose out.


We have historical research documenting how the Native Americans lost their land to the settlers from Europe. There were battles, but much more important was the use of ‘voluntary’ contracts, where the natives were simply being outwitted or plain deceived. There was, first of all, wanton use of the age-old technique of giving superficially attractive loans and then when the borrowers could not pay back, foreclosing on their property — the sub-prime crisis of the 17th century.


The other method was to take advantage of the fact that Native Americans did not understand land sales since in their own society there was no custom of selling land. Hence, there were incidents, such as in 1755 in South Carolina, when more than 500 Cherokees met with a similar number of settlers. Gifts were exchanged and meals were served in silver bowls and cups. The Cherokees were very happy and declared that the tribe wished to give “all their Lands to the King of Great Britain” and make him “the owner of all their Lands and Waters”. This was a metaphorical use of language, a way to be nice to outsiders. This was especially clear when the Cherokees refused to take any payment for their offer. But the offer was too good for the settlers to allow qualms about metaphorical speech to get in the way. To make it into a contract, the settlers persuaded the Cherokees to take a small payment, which they accepted out of politeness. Little did they realise that they were about to lose all their land.


I mentioned at the start how altruism is important for economic prosperity but, in our literal interpretation of the invisible hand proposition, this has been overlooked. There is now a lot of research highlighting the importance of “pro-social” behaviour. Let me close by presenting the reader a game that I published in 1994 called the Traveler’s Dilemma. The game has come to acquire a bit of a life of its own, with laboratory experiments run on it in several American universities. What has, however, not been talked about enough is the role of altruism it highlights.

In the Traveler’s Dilemma, two travelers (who do not know each other) happened to have gone to a remote island and bought an identical antique each. When they arrive at their home airport, they discover that the airline has mishandled the baggage and that their antiques are broken. So they ask for compensation. The airline manager, not knowing the value of these “strange objects,” offers them the following payment scheme. Each passenger, without consulting with the other, has to write down a number (an integer) between 2 and 100. If they both write the same number, the manager will pay them both that number in rupees. If the two write different numbers, he will give both travelers the lower number but with a correction. He will give the “good” person who wrote the lower number an extra two rupees, and the “bad” person who wrote the higher number two rupees less. So, if person A writes 47 and B writes 60, A gets Rs 49 and B Rs 45.


If both players want to make the most money for themselves what should they write?


Note that if they both write 100, each gets Rs 100. But, in that case, if one player deviates to 99, he will get Rs 101. By this reasoning both will change to 99. But, now, if one player changes to 98, she can do better. By this logic both will switch to 98. This logic turns out to be relentless. If each traveler single-mindedly tries to make as much money as possible for himself, they will both end up writing 2 and earning only Rs 2. If each showed some respect for and altruism towards the other and not “ditch” the other passenger for a single rupee, they could both have earned Rs 100. The invisible hand of self-interest drives them not to prosperity but indigence.


Kaushik Basu is Professor of Economics and Chairman, Department of Economics, Cornell University








The Bengalis are famously mad about football, but the craziness recently seen at the Vedic Village resort near Kolkata is unprecedented. It began when the henchmen of a land shark lost a soccer match and attacked their opponents, local villagers whom they had earlier short-changed when they cornered their land for the resort. The villagers retaliated by setting Vedic Village on fire and the police grabbed the shark, Gaffar Mollah, who is now singing like a canary. He is laying bare a shameful nexus between politics, the administration, business and land mafias. We all know that it exists everywhere, but it is rarely paraded naked like this.


As the debacles at Singur, Nandigram, and Lalgarh unfolded, it seemed that the Left Front regards West Bengal as its private property. But now, as the names of powerful people involved in the Vedic Village scam come tumbling out, it is clear that the nexus of greed cuts across party lines — Mollah apparently derived his clout from a Trinamool Congress MLA.

Mamata Banerjee is defending her man as she prepares to turn a Singur-Nandigram trick again. Meanwhile, the government has had to cancel plans for an IT hub in the area, disappointing giants like TCS, Infosys and Wipro. It could have simply written to the companies involved, but it publicly announced its failure and invited responses. Its transparency has favourably impressed the public, but it may be too late to arrest the slide in the Left’s fortunes.


Where does the state go from here? Everyone is involved, so nothing will change even if Mamata Banerjee unseats the Left Front in the 2011 polls. People are looking forward to the fall of the red giant after three decades in office, but it’s with mixed feelings — glee tempered by the fear of internecine violence. And the very real anxiety that if Mamata Banerjee takes over, the communists who have their tentacles everywhere will turn saboteurs and paralyse the administration.

Governments are mighty leery of land reform. It arbitrarily changes ownership patterns, and therefore voting patterns. It creates vote banks of grateful new landowners, freshly liberated from feudal allegiances. But it raises the hackles of the landed class and dismantles the reliable vote banks they provide. Governments which venture into these treacherous waters deserve to be decorated for courage beyond the call of duty.


The Left Front in West Bengal is widely applauded for Operation Barga, perhaps the most successful reform movement in India, which has turned lakhs of sharecroppers into landed farmers. And it’s incredibly ironic that the Left seems to be doomed to lose the Assembly elections in 2011 because of a failure to manage the greed that land unfailingly inspires in the human heart.


Other states should look closely at West Bengal. The politics of land ownership is becoming increasingly important. Repeated fragmentation of holdings and pressure from land-hungry industry and infrastructure projects are marginalising farmers. In the absence of local options, they are forced to become migrant labour. The future belongs to parties which commit to educate villagers and generate local employment outside agriculture. In West Bengal, the Left Front has failed to do both. On the contrary, it has behaved like a real estate mafia, and it is now paying for it.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine








In a major new speech, RBI Governor D. Subbarao — beginning his second year in office — marshals many facts to make a long and complex argument with but one conclusion: there is nothing wrong with the role and function of the RBI. So much so that one is reminded of similar speeches from the agencies of socialist India, whether it was the old Controller of Capital Issues, the old MRTP, or the old DoT: brave speeches were made featuring all kinds of complicated analyses, which always concluded that everyone else in the world should reform, but not my own agency. Better was expected of Subbarao, an outsider to the RBI when appointed governor. Remember the heart and soul of the RBI is the RBI Act of 1934, which lays out its functions. Drafted by the British in the ’20s, it features an unlikely collection of functions dumped into one agency — a product not only of the underdeveloped economics of the ’20s but also perverse colonial incentives.


The right way to plan the RBI’s future is to look for a combination of political independence coupled with tight accountability. This requires us to do four things: first, narrowing down the RBI’s functions to a core, where independence is actually required; second, achieving a high transparency in its decision-making; third, publicly disclosing the monetary policy rule as is recommended in the best-managed economies; and fourth, having the accountability mechanism of achieving a target rate of inflation in the medium term. Subbarao’s speech was worryingly silent about any form of accountability. There is, of course, the problem of maintaining financial stability, an issue that he rightly is concerned about. But there are excellent arguments that have not yet been answered — either by the RBI or by Subbarao in this speech — about the location of an authority that would oversee financial stability. In particular, should it not be closer to the finance ministry than the central bank? After all, the quantum of stability desired is a political variable, and one that should perhaps not be entrusted to the unelected senior echelons of the RBI.


Just as the DoT spent many years blocking change, and was ultimately subject to explosive change from the outside, the RBI has chosen to dig in and prevent change. But change is inevitable. There is no role in India’s fast-growing future for a central planning agency that micro-manages finance.







It took the government’s own to show up the gaping hypocrisy in its austerity drive. At a meeting of the Union cabinet Thursday, ministers asked questions about their newly-formatted travel and entertainment allowances. Their questions pertained to the government’s order that, to show solidarity with the people of India suffering the effects of a drought economy, ministers must here on fly economy domestically and business class overseas. At his height, submitted Farooq Abdullah, folding himself into an economy-class seat would be difficult. Dayanidhi Maran contrasted these austerity measures with the entitlement of a few ministers to the expensive luxury of special aircraft. Sharad Pawar asked if the suggestion was that visiting delegations could not be hosted at “five-star” hotels. However, as even Congress ministers like Kamal Nath and Anand Sharma objected to the new measures, any rethink was ruled out.


The ministers should perhaps have been more straightforward in stating their objections, explaining that in actual economic terms these measures are meaningless. Nonetheless, their voice from within adds to the perception of the austerity drive as little more than a spectacle, a cloak made up of token measures to hide the inability to reform government to make it less flabby. It need not take a drought and the increasing fiscal deficit to alert the government to the urgency of cutting extraneous expenditure. Since the focus is on ministers’ and MPs’ expenditure, closing or scaling down obsolete ministries like, say, I&B, or demanding a focus on the jaunts of parliamentary committees would bring economic benefits that are more significant and long-lasting. And even in boom-time, India cannot afford to postpone reform of its often mis-targeted and leaky subsidy regime.


This is not to say that ministerial solidarity with the aam aadmi should be churlishly rejected. On the contrary. But flying coach will not be a meaningful enough way to do that. The day we see our ministers, and other state beneficiaries, rejecting their privilege of toll-free travel (thereby depriving the treasury of some revenue) and standing in line with the rest of us for security checks, we’ll be more comforted. As it stands, however, the government’s austerity drive is made up of a dangerously self-perpetuating hypocrisy.








In the wake of Thursday’s stampede deaths at a government school in Delhi’s Khajuri Khas, the inadequate infrastructure and negligence of authorities (notwithstanding longstanding court warnings) are in the spotlight again. There’s no gainsaying that India’s state school infrastructure is often abysmal. Lack of toilets, potable water and electricity, or open electrical wirings that are death traps, or classrooms in tents — these are the substance of a national shame. Now, what exactly triggered Thursday’s tragedy is subject to varying claims. If the stampede indeed resulted from the panic-stricken girls’ attempt to get clear of boys molesting them, some draw the inference that a broader stairway might have saved lives.


In this context, a larger case can be made for scientific disaster management and instituting drills to sensitise people — especially, those in command, like teachers — about the utility of discipline in escaping perceived or real danger. Since instinctive human behaviour could be counted on to be anything but rational in such circumstances, it becomes imperative to train people. In a country where “temple crushes” make seasonal headlines or where relief distribution can trigger stampedes, human disaster management must be taken seriously.


Of course, large crowds, typically in religious pilgrimages, call for professional disaster management with barriers, traffic control and elevated observers thrown in; nor is it very realistic to expect millions of people to file out on their own without panicking. But the inculcation of this little discipline can spell the difference between successful evacuation and unnecessary deaths in schools, theatres, places of worship, etc. None of this is to exonerate the criminal lack of basic infrastructure such as fire escapes and broader stairways in our government schools or old-style theatres — indeed, anywhere. Such drills will not excuse that negligence, but should complement other necessary precautions in case disaster strikes.










China may have recently returned to our headlines — at least on some news TV channels — and we can argue about whether the threat on the border is real or exaggerated. But, for a moment, think the unthinkable. Could it be, could it just be, that we are a nation deeply scared of China? Not merely Sinophobic in the sense that many other major nations like the US, Japan and Korea may be, but genuinely scared. Since the short, sharp and disastrous war of 1962, could it just be that we have brainwashed two or three generations of Indians to live in dread of the dragon? We glare at Pakistan all the time, we look the US in the eye all the time now. But China? Just mention the word and we start talking trade, culture, shared values, centuries-old contacts and so on. Have we, over the decades, internalised, and institutionalised, a psychology of pretending a Chinese challenge, economically, politically and militarily (I have chosen that order deliberately) does not exist? And believing that, if it does, we can do nothing about it?


We flatter ourselves often enough comparing ourselves with China, we feel flattered when, rather occasionally, we are mentioned in the same breath as China. We were obviously so thrilled when some in the global financial community started saying, particularly when they came visiting India, that China “and India” were now key to a global recovery. But let’s be honest. Do facts on the ground justify that ranking? Consider just one fact. Since the governments around the world initiated stimulus packages exactly a year ago, the Chinese banking system has pumped an additional Rs 70 lakh crore of credit in their economy. Compare this with the total credit currently outstanding in our entire economy: just about Rs 27 lakh crore. So the Chinese, in less than a year, have shored up their economy and manufacturing by releasing additional credit that is two-and-a-half-times all credit of all times in India. And we, at the same time, are so self-congratulatory, we want to teach financial regulation to the world, and our central bank is fighting so fiercely to guard its bureaucratic turf it might be an interesting idea to send some Mint Street troopers to sort out the Chinese on the Ladakh border.


The idea here is neither to justify our fear of China, nor to exacerbate it. I am only making a case for a reality check. Because it is only when we face the truth that we can hope to find answers. For nearly half a century we have dealt with China with a sense of escapism, barring, probably, two occasions. One, when Rajiv Gandhi made a bold move towards reconciliation, and second when Vajpayee gave it a fresh impetus. By and large, otherwise, we have been hiding behind an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach. How escapist we have been shows in the minimal, if any, protest on our part over China’s arms supplies to Pakistan, while we go ballistic if the US even offers to upgrade a few squadrons of old PAF F-16s. We complain only in whispers when the Pakistanis modify Chinese missiles and nuclear weapon designs, but are so outraged when they fiddle with American Harpoons. The argument here is not whether this is the right approach or not. Maybe, rather than under-reacting to China, ours is a case of over-reacting to Pakistan and America. But the general approach is, say or do nothing to provoke the Chinese. Yet China never leaves our mind as our most serious security threat.


If that was not the case, why would we be so paranoid about growing Chinese involvement in what, normally, should have been entirely virtuous business, building our roads, power plants, telecom? We are now worried that too many of our new power producers are buying equipment from China. What do you expect them to do when your domestic manufacturers cannot fulfil even a fraction of the demand? We have wasted two decades of reform protecting one PSU Navratna and rapacious but rent-seeking government utilities rather than help the private sector build real turbine-making capacity. So how do you react? By delaying visas for Chinese workmen and engineers. Then how do the Chinese respond? By painting a few rocks red along the border in Ladakh. And we go into panic again: do or say nothing to provoke them. And let’s hope they are not watching the two-and-a-half of our utterly illiterate TV channels that, having failed to stir up a war with Pakistan after 26/11, are checking out the Chinese now.


You don’t have to over-react. But the time has come for us to look inwards for the solution to our half-century fear of the Chinese. We use the “Chinese threat” to justify our nukes. But have we shown any of the focus or determination required to build our economy, political system and military might (again, deliberately in that order) to be at least China’s near-equal? The disparity in our economic strength is well known. Politically, we show waffling and confusion where the Chinese display focus and firmness. If you were a Chinese analyst in Beijing, you would have read with so much delight the foreign policy section in the CMP which became the agenda of UPA-I. It dismissed the US and Russia in half a sentence each while it held forth on China in language that would do no sovereign foreign policy any credit. Just that reference, obviously put in to please the Left, had the word “supplicant” written all over it.


And militarily? We have not been able to buy a new artillery gun in 22 years. The bulk of our anti-aircraft artillery is still the six-decade-old L-70. Our navy’s missiles are blocked by just a whiff of scandal which looks more and more like no more than arms bazaar skulduggery and cynical politics. Our air force has waited 10 years to even hold proper trials of a new fighter. We are so politically muddled; and we think we can continue to be like that because the only military threat we instinctively think of is Pakistan. Meanwhile, the Chinese are engaged in the greatest military modernisation in the history of mankind.


We have to head neither for the bunker in fright, nor to the battlefield. We have to start a process now of ridding ourselves of this irrational and uncalled-for fear of China. China may be almost a superpower now, but it is not an irrational power. It has as big a stake in stability as we do. Its economy, finance, exports are all much more globalised than ours, so do not expect it to rock the boat just because it felt like picking up a fight in the neighbourhood one day. It might enjoy, however, reminding you occasionally of how far it has left you behind. But it is not about to start pushing things on the borders, nibbling territory and risking skirmishes as some of the crude and militaristic scare-mongering in some of our media suggests. We have to act like grown-ups, not think “border” or “threat” the moment somebody mentions China. We cannot exorcise the demon unless we come to terms with the defeat of 1962. One reason we have brought up two-and-a-half generations of Indians on the fear of China is that we have avoided a fair appraisal and understanding of 1962. The greater the inclination on the part of a nation, a family or even an individual to hide from an unhappy truth, rather than look it in the eye, the greater the fear that it will return. We, the people of India, need an honest process of truth and reconciliation with 1962 — and there is no better way of starting that than making the report of the Henderson Brooks commission, which probed that debacle, public. It’s only when you face up to the truth that you can learn to deal with it, particularly when the fears that haunt you lurk in your mind rather than on your borders.







The recent controversy over the Gujarat government’s ban on Jaswant Singh’s book is sadly illustrative. On the one hand, proponents of the ban relied on hackneyed arguments to justify it — raising fears of law and order concerns, asserting that the book undermined the image of long-dead luminaries, or that it hurt “patriotic sentiments”. Given that each of these grounds is mirrored in provisions of the Indian Penal Code, one may fault the Gujarat government for demonstrating a lack of imagination, but not a lack of strategic judgment, in defending the ban. What is more perplexing, however, is the uninspired nature of the response to the state government’s decision. For the most part, the liberal response was wholly reactive to the justifications supporting the ban. Liberals argued the ban was bad because law and order concerns were insufficient to justify restricting free speech, that the concerns of the dead should not trump the speech rights of the living, and that the term “patriotic sentiments” was not sufficiently definite to justify curtailing expression. They rarely offered their own justifications for the defence of free speech. This reactive defence of free speech is problematic, because it makes the right to speak one’s mind dependent on empirical factors, like the possibility of riots, not on normative considerations.


It is interesting to compare the poverty of the liberal response to state censorship of expression with the invigorating defence of Delhi high court’s reading the IPC’s Section 377 down. Liberal commentators employed a two-pronged analysis then: on one hand, countering the arguments of reactionaries who believed that homosexuality violated India’s social fabric, and on the other, making a strong positive case for the value of same-sex relationships. You never got the impression from that debate that the sexual freedoms of millions depended on the paucity of convincing homophobic arguments.


The failure to put forth an affirmative case for politically controversial speech is particularly surprising given that the basic ground for protecting gay rights also extends to protecting such speech. The demands of minority protection, as the Delhi high court superbly demonstrated in its judgment, undergird all our fundamental rights: “public animus and disgust towards a particular social group or vulnerable minority is not a valid ground for classification” which singled that group out for discrimination by the state. The constitutional guarantee of equal protection under law, the court held, requires at the very least that all citizens be capable of enjoying their fundamental rights and civil liberties equally, without being arbitrarily subject to the coercive apparatus of the state. Subjecting gays in particular to the rigours of a criminal law, and in effect rendering them second-class citizens, is a manifest denial of their constitutional right to equality.


The high court could not have reached this conclusion if it did not first take a position on the moral significance of sexual identity. In order to show that the sexual identity of gay men was linked to their feelings of self-worth and dignity, the court treated sexual identity as being fundamentally constitutive of who we are, and hence deserving of special treatment in light of the Constitution’s commitment to protecting human dignity. A very similar argument can be made for protecting expression which offends the sensibilities of large chunks of our population. The freedom of expression is not a constitutional guarantee which exists solely for the purpose of ensuring that citizens are kept informed about the activities of their government. Like the right to equal protection of the laws, expression deserves heightened protection because the espousal of one’s views and beliefs is regarded as being fundamental to one’s identity. Since human beings rarely exist in a social vacuum, our ability to communicate to others, and be receptive of their responses, is an important determinant of who we are. Much like one’s sexual orientation, therefore, one’s ability to disseminate one’s views should not be subject to censorship where it contradicts the views of others, and causes them offence. In such a case, the constitutional mandate of equal protection will be violated, for one’s ability to express one’s identity will be made entirely subservient to the demands and feelings of one’s community. A state which permits individual freedoms to be restricted in this manner is not a state which respects liberty. Such a state is also incapable of respecting equality.


If we truly cherish liberty and equality, then it is important that we recognise the similarities between the protection of sexual identity and of offensive speech. They are protected not because the arguments for their proscription are unsound or illogical, but because, in a liberal constitutional system, the expression of one’s identity is treated as being of the highest possible value. It is time we stopped allowing the moral police to set the agenda, and the limits, on discussions about the extent of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.


The writer is in the department of government at Harvard University








TWO people are sitting in a news TV studio. One is asking questions. The other is answering. One looks utterly at ease, maybe a little bored and maintains eye contact throughout. The other looks somewhat nervous, also somewhat excited, and doesn’t quite maintain eye contact all the time.


Yes, yes, you are saying, so this is a news TV interview, happens all the time, the interviewer is always at ease, and sometimes looks bored when answers are boring and the interviewee is frequently nervous at the prospect of interrogation, but also excited to be on national news TV—what’s my point? This: In a remarkable and intriguing CNN-IBN interview with Salman Khan, the nervousness and excitement were all on the part of the interviewer.


Frankly, I would have switched channels when the interview came on because (a) most news TV interviews of A-list actors is pap and (b) at that time of the evening news cycle Salman Khan didn’t rate high on my list of news consumption priorities.


But, and allow me to compliment myself just a little bit, experience counts. All this time spent watching news TV has sharpened my antennae. From the time the interviewer said ‘hello’ and ‘welcome’, I knew this was different.


Did Salman also know this was different? Because when asked about Khan vs Khan Bollywood tales he replied: “You ask me questions and I am promoting Wanted (a film)…So you ask me questions on just about everything but not about Wanted. So I either just keep quiet or answer it as honestly as I can. You asked me so I answered as honestly as I can. You asked me, I would not bring it up. I do not talk bad, always wish well.”


If you ask me what that meant, why the interviewer was satisfied, indeed seemed delighted with that answer, I will only say I do not talk bad about news TV, I always wish it well, mostly because very few other sources offer such delights.


Delights as in News 24’s exposition on the Chinese ‘threat’: Anchor declaiming, martial music playing, and the background animation showing para forces landing, aircraft buzzing—if I were a Chinese diplomat posted here tasked with monitoring the local media I would secretly yearn for democracy. Only a free society can permit such fun.


There’s a caveat, though. In free societies, at least in our free society, broadcast journalism has much more fun than print. This paper does a story on the senior and junior foreign ministers that demonstrate that MEA’s political leadership has exquisite taste. The next day my colleagues were doing what print media types do—following up their story, monitoring political responses, making calls, hunting for more info. Boring stuff, guys. The fun was in news TV.


Star News had checked into a nicely appointed hotel room to show us what high living means. India TV, to my mind the best exemplar in this country of the potential of freedom of expression, went to the heart of the matter via animation: You book a fancy hotel room/suite. But how do you pay for it? Credit/debit card? Cheque? Nah. You carry a suspicious looking attaché case to the front desk and take out stacks of currency.


What utter, super fun. And after this, to paraphrase Salman again, how can you talk bad of news TV?








The coalition between Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has not only been a marriage of convenience, it has also been a somewhat unwilling liaison, given the past record of divorce and marriage. For starters, the NCP was Congress (S) in its previous incarnation. Post-emergency, there was a split in the state Congress when one group led by Y.B. Chavan formed a separate Congress party opposed to the Indira Gandhi-led Congress, known since then as the Congress (I) at the all-India level. From the Chavan group (variously called as Congress-Urs/Congress-Reddy), Sharad Pawar broke away in 1978 with 18 MLAs, formed the Congress (S) and allied with the Janata party and the Peasants’ and Workers’ Party to form a coalition government of the Progressive Democratic Front (PDF). This Congress (S) finally merged with the Congress (I) in 1986. The relationship between the Pawar faction and the ‘loyalist’ Congress was never very cordial after this merger. But given his skills and abilities, Pawar became chief minister in 1988 and again in 1990, and soon rose to national prominence in post-Rajiv Congress politics. The rest is (more recent) history — the formation of the NCP in June 1999, ostensibly on the issue of Sonia Gandhi’s place of birth. This party, in formal Election Commission parlance is ‘National’, but its life and soul reside in Maharashtra.


NCP-Congress alliance:

Swiftly adapting to the post-election scenario, the NCP and Congress decided to come together and form a government in the state after the 1999 assembly election that took place along with the Lok Sabha election. In 2004, both parties decided to enter into a pre-election alliance for both the parliamentary election in April-May and the assembly election in October. While this was part of Sonia Gandhi’s larger game plan of building a coalition to bring the Congress back to power, for Pawar, this was a chance to survive in national politics and also facilitate power-sharing for his followers at the state level. This alliance continued in the last Lok Sabha election as well.


Then why has one section within the Congress kept up sustained pressure for severing the alliance?


While this can be attributed to the long history of local factionalism within the Congress, the immediate cause is the not-so-impressive performance of the state NCP in the recent Lok Sabha elections. The records of segment-wise assembly leads show that the Congress gained a lead in 81 assembly segments while winning 17 seats to the Lok Sabha. The NCP, winning only 8 seats, could gain a lead in 50 assembly segments. This is in contrast to the 71 seats won by the NCP in the 2004 assembly, more than the 69-seat tally of the Congress. For the Congress, there are two parts to the argument: one, there is goodwill for the Congress nationally; riding on that and capitalising on the performance in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, this may be its one chance to get rid of the coalition and yet win around 110+ seats. The Uttar Pradesh strategy may be the model. The next-best scenario will be to use this as a bargaining counter to push the NCP into accepting fewer seats in the coalition and later accepting less important portfolios. Knowing that the NCP has no alternative but to stay with the Congress — Pawar’s national-level politics depends on the alliance with the Congress — the Congress wants to make the most of the NCP’s predicament. In the event of a pre-election alliance, a chastised NCP can be forced to accept much less than what they contested last time, or what they can legitimately claim on the basis of current leads and runner-up positions. Last time, after driving a hard bargain, Congress could get 157 seats to itself and NCP could get 124. It is another matter that the winning ratio of the two partners was different: for the Congress, it was 44 per cent, and for the NCP, 57 per cent.

NCP on the backfoot:

This time, the Congress won 17 seats out of the 25 it contested and the NCP won 8 out of 21 (excluding the two RPI candidates fielded by the alliance). It is evident that the success rate of the Congress is much better. But of the 150 assembly segments from where the Congress was contesting, it emerged runner-up in 56 segments while NCP was runner-up in 71. This means that though its success rate is lower than the Congress’, the NCP managed to retain the ‘number two’ position in 56 per cent seats , while the Congress did the same in 37 per cent of seats (besides the seats where they led). In terms of seat-sharing negotiations, it means that the Congress can claim five seats where the NCP contested and failed to be even runner-up; by that same logic, the NCP can claim 13 such seats from the Congress, if the Lok Sabha result were to be the basis of seat sharing.


Can there then be a divorce in the ten-year old alliance? Hardly. Leads by assembly segments mentioned above conceal more than what they reveal. All political parties in the state need to take into account the crucial factor of margins or distance from their nearest contestant. Only 72 of the 288 seats are ‘safe’ , with the margin of the leading party 20 per cent or more of the total votes polled. In 137 assembly segments, the leads (whichever party may be leading) are less than ten per cent. And, in as many as 66 assembly segments, the difference between the leading and runner-up candidates was less than the votes polled by a third candidate. Given this deeply fragmented electorate, it’s a difficult call for the Congress. Going it alone could also mean going into political wilderness in the state!


The writer teaches political science at the University of Pune








Pakistan appears to be preparing the ground for putting Indo-Pak peace talks on the fast track. Referring to the Mumbai terror attacks, Dawn reported Pakistan’s foreign office spokesman as saying on September 7: “India should not doubt our sincerity in handling this case. Instead of leveling allegations, they should provide us with concrete proof so that we could take this case forward in a meaningful way.” Another report in The News on September 11 added: “Interior minister Rehman Malik said India needs to give Pakistan a chance to investigate and stay away from allegations. Rehman urged India to respect Pakistani courts, saying, ‘India said that their courts have forbidden to leak the information. “ An editorial in Daily Times on September 7 stated that talks are the only way out. “PM Yousaf Raza Gilani says a delay in the resumption of Indo-Pak talks only benefits the terrorists. His foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, adds ‘a positive response from India was the key to resuming the composite dialogue process.’ Meanwhile, let us not kid ourselves that the terrorists’ gain because of lack of dialogue will be equally harmful to India and Pakistan. The truth is that the terrorists are located inside Pakistan. There is also the issue of Balochistan where Indian interference is mixing dangerously with the Baloch insurgency. Any balanced assessment would be that Pakistan may lose more if the dialogue with India doesn’t resume ‘on a new basis’. Former national security adviser Mehmud Ali Durrani has recommended [that since ] the two sides think terrorism is a common enemy, their security agencies should work together. The truth, however, is that terrorism is not considered a common enemy by the two countries. A recognition of commonality usually lays the ground for cooperation through normalisation.”


Learning from Lanka

Dawn reported on September 7: “Gilani said during his recent meeting in Libya, the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa had told him there were indications that elements in Sri Lanka were linked to incidents of terrorism in Pakistan, including the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore.” An editorial in Daily Times on September 8 was informative: “Despite the fact that world cricket was reluctant to visit Pakistan, Sri Lanka had sent its national team on a tour to Pakistan. This was how Sri Lanka wanted the world to treat Pakistan.” The piece ended with: “Perhaps the most meaningful lesson for Pakistan to draw comes from the way Sri Lanka has dealt with the terrorism of LTTE. It tackled the long-term Indian involvement inside Sri Lanka on behalf of the nationalists of Tamil Nadu by ‘normalising’ its relations with New Delhi, signing a free-trade treaty with it, and then confronting an increasingly isolated LTTE and putting an end to it.”













The only major policy institution that remains unreformed post-reforms has clearly and strongly argued that it does not need reform. Speaking for the institution he leads, Duvuuri Subbarao said in a speech on Thursday that all things considered, things are not just okay, but positively fine, and advocates of RBI reform simply don’t get the point. This is worrying at three levels. First, this signals that the benefit of doubt given by many to Subbarao was an injudicious investment. As an outsider, as a smart bureaucrat, he carried hopes that he would start, if not with a bang then via discernible incremental changes, the process of reviewing the optimality of RBI’s vast empire. A year into his term, this seems to have been a hopelessly naïve assumption, of which these columns now stand guilty as well. Governor Subbarao is the kind of governor that RBI’s vast bureaucracy rather likes. The second point to note is a lesson from history, indeed recent history: those who say we are the exception, we do things so well that we don’t have to worry are often the victims of that hubris. RBI says the financial crisis and its aftermath shows that RBI exceptionalism in terms of policy architecture is a thing of marvel, no changes please. Remember what American finance and financial regulators used to say before the crisis? That the American model is a marvel, that American exceptionalism in terms of finance is brilliant, that good times will carry on. RBI has spent a great deal of intellectual energy over the last year poking RBI-style fun at American finance. The more important lesson is that in finance, saying whatever we are doing is good for all foreseeable times to come is a very risky bet.


The third point relates to RBI’s implicit message that there’s no crisis in Indian banking. Actually, there is. It’s just that it’s not a spectacular event that the media can feast on. It’s a low-burn crisis that’s sapping India’s economic potential—this is a massively underbanked country, this country has a monetary policy whose signalling system doesn’t work well (low short-term interest rates and high lending rates, for example), this country has an inefficient sarkari banking system and Kafkaesque micromanagement of banks. Just because these don’t make headlines doesn’t mean they don’t need change. One can debate the direction of change. Although even there RBI is on weak ground—how can it support the system of over-the-counter financial instruments and critique American finance when one of the biggest lessons of the crisis is that exchange-traded products should become the norm? But RBI doesn’t think there’s anything to debate. RBI says RBI is fine. Are we supposed to take that as a serious policy position? The political class must wake up.









Output, prices and employment are the three most important pieces of economic data in any modern economy. These are critical in any understanding of the trends in the real economy.


A monthly release of such data with a lag of no more than a couple of weeks from the end of the month would be ideal. This would provide a reasonable understanding of the current trends in the economy to help governments and businesses take appropriate decisions.


India’s record in providing these elementary statistics has been dismal in recent times. Bad measurement, bad choices and ignorance describe most aptly the malaise afflicting the measurement of output, prices and employment. We have only one monthly measure of output—the Index of Industrial Production (IIP). We need to have a comprehensive measure that includes at least the organised services sector to measure output correctly. However, even the IIP that covers a mere quarter of the economy is badly measured.


The IIP suffers from inclusion of archaic products, the use of inappropriate weights, the application of an outdated computational methodology and a patchy response rate. The Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) is working on a new IIP. But, this seems to be taking longer than it takes for industry to go through a structural change. As a result, it is quite likely that by the time the new IIP is released, it will already be outdated.


In the meanwhile, the current IIP seems to give us a false sense of a revival. According to IIP, the manufacturing sector recorded a 3.3 per cent y-o-y growth in output in the quarter ended June 2009 after a 0.5 and 0.3 per cent growth in the preceding two quarters. However, the inflation-adjusted sales of listed manufacturing companies shrunk by 0.4 per cent in the same period. Inflation-adjusted sales of manufacturing companies show a y-o-y shrinkage for three consecutive quarters ended June 2009. The IIP for manufacturing does not show any shrinkage at all.


In general, the IIP fails to capture the amplitude of the growth cycle adequately. It failed to capture the fall in the last three quarters adequately as it failed to capture the rise sufficiently in the preceding three quarters. We need a new IIP urgently. And, we need to move to dynamic frames and chain-linked index computations. Dynamic frames and chain-linked computations apply to all index computations. In the current system, the index is computed only from those units that existed in the base year. New units do not get added and weights are fixed in the base year. If the economy undergoes structural changes and the base year remains unchanged for too long, such a methodology systematically underestimates growth. A chain-linked index methodology overcomes this problem.


The bad measurement problem of the IIP (output) also applies to the measurement of inflation (changes in prices). We have a popular wholesale price index (WPI) and several not-so-popular consumer price indices (CPI). The WPI does not include the services sector and its weights do not reflect anyone’s consumption pattern in particular. Yet, the WPI is taken as our measure of inflation. This is a bad choice.The choice of the WPI has in the recent past led to bad policy interventions. RBI raised interest rates and squeezed out liquidity during the first half of 2008-09 when high international commodity prices propelled the WPI. But, the CPI in those days was much calmer and did not justify RBI’s tough measures. Today, we are possibly misunderstanding the inflationary pressures in the economy by seeing a near-zero WPI growth when the CPI-IW is touching a shocking 12 per cent.

Why do we have four different CPIs? There is one each for industrial workers, agricultural labourers, rural labourers and urban non-manual urban employees. Are their consumption patterns so dramatically different that there cannot be just one representative consumer price index? I think the bi-modal distributions—rural & urban and industrial & non-manual workers, etc—are not relevant anymore.


There isn't much to discuss on employment—literally. Our experience in measuring employment (or unemployment) is brusque. We simply do not measure them in a meaningful sense. There are no monthly releases of unemployment rates and so there are no discussions. Ignorance ensures bliss. The ministry of labour & employment made a brave attempt to measure the impact of the global liquidity crisis on employment. It did measure job losses during the period but it was a limited exercise. Building statistical systems needs a more sustainable machinery. We need a stronger CSO that takes full responsibility of delivering reliable statistics.


All macroeconomic analysis, forecasting models and strategic planning are rendered futile by bad data. Output, prices and employment (the ones discussed here) are the most elementary pieces of economic data. We need to worry beyond these. How good is the data on private consumption expenditure, on capital formation and even savings? India’s statistical system deserves a lot more top-level and meaningful attention than it gets currently.


Lord Kelvin said “If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it.” But, what if we measure it (the economy) badly? Then, we run the risk of ruining it. This is one risk that can be and should be avoided.


The author heads the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy








According to AC Nielsen Global Faces and Networked Places Study, 2009, visiting social sites is the 4th most popular activity ahead of personal email. The study reveals that on an average a user spends 10 % of his time on Internet on social networking sites. Given that 2/3 of the world Internet population visits social media sites and spends considerable time on it underlines the importance of social media.


Is it, therefore, worth advertising/doing other marketing activity on popular social media sites such as Facebook, Orkut, Twitter, Blogs, chat rooms and forums, etc? Our research with Internet users in India suggests that despite the growing popularity of these sites, the return on marketing expenditure is still questionable though the potential is enormous. The research done by us among highly active Internet users (with above 15 hours of usage per week) found that Internet (22.03%) is the second most important medium after television (29%) from where they consumed advertisements. Another encouraging aspect is that social media users in India are young with 82% users in the age group of 19-35 years with high disposable incomes, forming an attractive market segment for marketers and advertisers.


India has recorded steady progress across all forms of social media. The total Internet penetration is low at 47 million; but amongst active Internet users the usage of social media is increasing. According to Universal McCann Wave research 2009, 78% of online Indians are managing social network profiles where their main activity is visiting friends’ social network pages (82%) and uploading photographs—(77%). 73.0% users watch videos. 63.1% read blogs. Online media one one hand represents a cost effective and efficient way to reach out to the consumers. On the other hand the online social media has democratised communication and resulted in a shift of power towards the consumers.


The good news is that social media is a great influencer in purchase decision as the information in social media flows from a social context and appears to have greater credibility. On our survey results, “Recommendation by online experts”, a mean value of 4.33 on an interval scale of 7 was rated the second biggest influence after recommendation by family and friends (5.344/7). Users were not as much influenced by banner advertisement on social networks as reviews on blogs and user forums. The influence factor on a 7 point interval scale was 4.2 for television, 2.487 for online banner ads and 2.634 for social media advertisements.


The good news is also that according to our survey, information search was the most common purpose for using the Internet (mean score of 8.51 on a scale of 10) followed by communicating/networking (7.41), entertainment (6.66), and shopping (5.14). Social media provides the top three purposes of Internet use and thus perfectly fits into the reasons why people use Internet and why marketers should be using the Internet and online social media more.


Consumers on Internet are in control and they pull information that they need rather than being pushed with information that a marketer feels he/she should have.


Moreover, 33.93% of the users were found to have written about their experiences with products and services in online social media therefore contributing to the extensive ‘meta-knowledge’ in the social media. Arguably, listening and monitoring this mass of meta-knowledge would allow marketers to observe naturally occurring conversations between consumers about products, brands and companies without them having to ask explicitly. This technique of listening to conversations may well capture context and emotion better than traditional methods of asking through survey.


The not-so-good news is that the steady growth of social media in India has not evoked the same kind of response from the marketers and the advertisers. Only 8% of marketers currently are using Internet and therefore social media for ‘selective targeting’ and ‘contextual targeting’ and are mainly using it as a direct marketing tool.


According to Web Chutney Digital Media, the current spend on online advertising is a meager 5.4% of total advertising spend with 13 % of that going to social media initiatives. It amounts to a mere 0.7% of total advertising spend on social media destinations where 37 million social media users exist; in comparison, 51.4% of advertising spend is chasing 467 million television users. The contrast becomes ironical considering that these 37 million social media users in India spend more time on social media than on television and have a much higher disposable income than the remainder of the population.


Are marketers missing a trick here?


The author is professor of marketing, IIM Ahmedabad. This article is co-authored by Mohit Kumar Lohia







Can the mobile telecom revolution that has stormed the country go beyond the numbers game ? The subscriber base has reached 450 million and the search for more subscribers and growth will push mobile telephony to penetrate rural markets. The rural mobile teledensity is expected to go up from around 13% currently to 36% by 2013. This network and connectivity could turn out to be a big opportunity to deliver development. Information asymmetry is one gap waiting to be filled. Farmers have shown willingness to pay for some timely and relevant information. This is being seen as a business opportunity.


A two-year pilot project in Maharashtra has been able to demonstrate that there is a need for such services and the cheapest way to deliver them is the mobile network. A mobile phone-based information service has succeeded in delivering personalised agriculture information to 1,10,000 farmers in 10,000 villages. A farmer is offered taluka-specific weather forecasts, prices of crops of their choice from the mandis they want, crop-related information and news through SMS in their own language. This is backed by a call centre operation that works in the local language and interacts with farmers. Timely, accurate and personalised information are expected to help them achieve better yields and secure better prices. There is a database of 150 crops types and coverage of 500 markets and links for expert inputs. They get this for a subscription fee of Rs 75 per month.


Unlike what normally happens to such experiments, this project is now all set to be scaled up and go pan-India. And for this , RML is using the mobile network of Idea. For a company that sells information products from $400 to $4,000, this under $1.5 product is an innovation to find a market at the bottom of the pyramid. They are now taking this to the Philippines, Argentina and other emerging markets. CK Prahalad is impressed enough to include this in his book. The London Business School is also studying this case for its impact on the farming community.


This service can drive up rural mobile teledensity and higher density only will drive the market to provide more services to farmers.








Panic situations are near-impossible to prevent, but not difficult to manage. No matter what causes the panic, some basic precautions and effective supervision can protect people from its consequences. The stampede at the Government Senior Secondary School at Khajuri Khas in Delhi, in which five girls died and 35 students were injured, could have been easily avoided had the school authorities put in place proper examination-time arrangements and ensured monitoring of the t wo batches of students. Initial reports suggest that the stampede happened when a large number of girl students rushed down a narrow staircase after some boys misbehaved with a few girls. Anything from a rumour to a natural disaster can trigger panic situations, and the circumstances that led to Thursday’s stampede will become clear only after a comprehensive investigation. But more than what caused the panic, what is of concern is that there was no teacher supervision of the students outside the classroom. In an emergency situation that arose out of real or imagined fears, the school authorities were not at hand to restore calm. Under the circumstances, the girls, who were on the first floor of the school building, and who sensed some immediate danger, must have felt that their only option was to rush out. As a large number of them took a narrow stairway in panic even as some others were making their way up, the stampede was only too likely to happen.


Safety issues in schools have not received adequate attention from regulatory authorities. Following the 2004 fire tragedy in a school in Kumbakonam (Tamil Nadu), some efforts have been made towards making school buildings fire-safe. But there is still inadequate awareness on the ways of handling emergencies. Although the Delhi school tragedy belongs to a different category, it should awaken the authorities to the need for introducing mock drills in disaster management and dealing with emergencies. At present, students in most schools have no idea about evacuation procedures during emergencies. Teachers, who are responsible for the minors under their charge, are not trained in ensuring orderly exit from classrooms in an emergency situation. As suggested by the Supreme Court, safety audits must be prescribed in schools for assessing the extent of adherence to the stipulated safety tasks. Such audits can be used to expose deficiencies in infrastructure and ensure high safety standards. Unless safety issues are considered in all their aspects, Indian schools will remain vulnerable to avoidable tragedies.






In the early hours of September 4, German troops, going by the United States aerial reconnaissance images, ordered an air attack by U.S. jets on two hijacked fuel tankers in the northern province of Kunduz. According to a NATO fact-finding team, 125 people were killed in the attack, of whom at least two dozen were not members of the Taliban; Afghan rights groups say 70 civilians died. The death toll would have been even greater had the U.S. air coordinator not rejected the German request for 2000-pound bombs, opting instead for 500-pound ones. The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has severely criticised the attack and asked why ground troops were not sent in, adding that General Stanley McChrystal, the new NATO commander in Afghanistan, had telephoned him to apologise and to confirm that he did not order the attack. The Kunduz governor, Mohammad Omar, has supported the attack but the episode has exacerbated tensions within NATO.


German criticism of other members’ combat operations in Afghanistan has not been welcomed by its allies, and now U.S. commanders are castigating their German counterparts for relying on the telephoned word of a single Afghan informant who insisted that all at the Kunduz site were insurgents. German commanders also failed to verify the facts on the ground by not sending troops to the site immediately after the air attack; instead, next morning they sent a pilotless aircraft to take photographs. Now they are angry that a Washington Post photographer was allowed to accompany the NATO team to the site, and see that as helping the U.S. press to criticise the German level of commitment. The consequences reach far abroad too, with the German domestic reaction now threatening the re-election prospects of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat Union (CDU) party. Other NATO allies will also be affected, as support for the NATO presence in Afghanistan is declining in both the U.S., where a recent poll put it at 47 per cent, and the United Kingdom, where a poll shows 59 per cent in favour of a troop withdrawal by Christmas 2009. Even senior military officers in the U.S. and the U.K. have expressed concern about their situation in Afghanistan. Meanwhile the conduct of NATO troops there remains a serious problem. Neither the attack on the tankers nor the recent incident in which U.S. troops rampaged through a Swedish charitable hospital in Wardak province will do anything but turn ordinary Afghans against their purported NATO helpers. The main issues, however, have to do with what NATO is trying to achieve at all in Afghanistan; eight years after the NATO invasion, that question still awaits an answer.









Foreign policy is an instrument at the disposal of a country to protect and promote its national interests. The core of the national interest is constant — defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty, enhance the economic and social well-being of the people, promote opportunities for profitable trading relations with other countries, and exploit the ‘soft power’ through propagation of the cultural assets. While the national interest would be forever, its content will vary with time and circumstances. It follows that the policy has to be flexible and must keep in tune with changing international, as well as national, environment. Rigidity will ruin the very purpose the policy is meant to serve. Setting up a committee to define national interests would not necessarily serve much useful purpose.


‘Independence’ in foreign policy suggests that the government must take positions on international issues guided solely by national interests, without worrying about how other governments might react to its stance or what action they might take should they feel unhappy. In the real world, it is impossible for any country, however powerful, to follow such a purist concept of independent policy. George Bush tried it for eight years but failed in achieving what he set off to achieve and, in the process, alienated even close friends and allies. In general, it would perhaps be fair to suggest that the stronger a country — economically, militarily and socially in terms of its domestic cohesion and sense of values — the less difficult it will be for it to pursue a relatively independent foreign policy.


At the same time, the government has to take cognisance of the fact that people do seem to want their leadership to follow an independent policy; they feel resentful when they perceive that foreign influence or pressure is leading the government into directions that they regard as going against national interests or compromising independence. There is nothing unique about Indian public opinion in this regard. The British public lambasted Prime Minister Tony Blair as ‘America’s poodle’ when he led Britain into the attack on Iraq in the spring of 2003, even though Mr. Blair might have genuinely believed, as he continues to maintain he did, that it was in his country’s best interest to go all the way with the Americans. Democracies cannot be impervious to public sentiments for long; autocratic regimes might get away with it for a bit longer.


It is the prerogative, or rather the responsibility, of the government of the day to decide what is in the national interest at a given time. A successor government might overrule the decision or modify it. UPA-I concluded the civilian nuclear deal with the U.S. even though significant sections of public opinion, including, reportedly, some within the ruling coalition, were not fully convinced of the reasonableness of what they saw as the concessions the government had to make in order to secure the deal. Similarly, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is pursuing a line with Pakistan which, he seems convinced, is in India’s — and Pakistan’s — best interests. Some other leaders might take a different view.


It should be recognised that ‘independence’ works in different ways. When India voted against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency, many people in the country were unhappy with it. It is acknowledged by nearly everyone now that a negative vote was not necessary to keep the Americans happy; abstention would have served the purpose. At the same time, ‘independence’ has also to be exercised against a non-superpower. If in the exercise of our ‘independence,’ Iran or some other country gets displeased, that ought not to influence our decision in a particular case. In a democracy, there might be an anti-U.S. lobby as well as a pro-Iran lobby; the government has to walk a tightrope. It would be a mistake to proceed on the assumption that going along with China or Russia or the amorphous non-aligned group is the only way to assert independence.


It follows that what is needed is pragmatism or realism. Preconceived concepts of foreign policy are not helpful. Jawaharlal Nehru fathered the policy of non-alignment (though if you ask the former Yugoslavs or Egyptians, they would not agree with us), but was highly practical. Recognising the importance of the Soviet Union’s support to us, including in the United Nations Security Council on the question of Kashmir, he somewhat muted India’s criticism of Soviet intervention in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Indira Gandhi similarly did not join the universal condemnation of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan for pragmatic reasons, even though it made most people in India unhappy, since we did not seem to follow an ‘independent’ foreign policy on those occasions. One occasion when we should not have taken a so-called independent stance was at the time of Saddam Hussein’s attempt to swallow Kuwait in 1990. The notion of national interest at the time, namely the welfare of the Indian community in Kuwait, was flawed. In fact, it was clearly in our interest to have gone along with the international community in condemning Saddam’s action; it would not have, in any way, put the Indian community in the Gulf in any danger. The countries of the Gulf, particularly Kuwait, are not likely to forget our position at the time, though they too will not hold that against us forever since their national interests would demand pragmatism on their part.


Subsequently, when India was a member of the Security Council in 1991-92, we did manage to largely undo the damage by adopting a more realistic attitude and casting votes even though at times it was galling for us to do so. A case in point is our affirmative vote on Resolution 687 which, inter alia, arbitrarily and mandatorily, fixed the Iraq-Kuwait boundary. (It was anticipated even then that the problem was only being postponed. The present Maliki government of Iraq has reopened the whole question.) We expressed strong reservations about this provision of the resolution but supported it.


Thus, the national interest will always trump independence in foreign policy and most people who do not have ideological hang-ups would appreciate such compulsions. What is required is for the government of the day to make an extra effort to explain to the people what it is doing and why, how the national interest demands a particular course of action.


Some analysts have persuaded themselves that Sharm-el-Sheikh — the term has become a part of India-Pakistan diplomatic lexicon and does not need explanation — was at least partly influenced by extra-regional considerations. This perception is impossible to prove or disprove. It is, nevertheless, worth repeating that in a vibrant and alert democracy such as ours, the government must take people into confidence.


Media reports suggest that the backchannel diplomacy on the Kashmir question made a lot of progress. Pervez Musharraf even went so far as to claim publicly that everything had been sewn up and that the deal would have been signed had Dr. Singh gone to Islamabad and had the unfortunate-for-him-events in Pakistan not taken place. However, till date, the people of this country have no idea of the contents of the deal. Bits and pieces have been leaked and reported in the media, but cannot be given credence. Of course, the government would wish to treat the whole exercise as confidential, because any kind of publicity would probably kill all prospects of successful negotiations.


At the same time, any agreement would have to be shared with Parliament and people at some time; it would be worse if the suggested deal is discarded for lack of public support. Kashmir is not the same thing as the nuclear deal. It is a highly emotional and politicised issue on which all Indians have definite views and which impinges on our sovereignty and territorial integrity. The nuclear agreement, when all is said and done, did not get the aam aadmi involved to any significant extent and was difficult for most people to fully comprehend.


There is more to foreign policy than U.N. or IAEA. Of equal or more importance from the national interest perspective are the negotiations on climate change and the Doha round of WTO. The outcome of these negotiations will have an impact on India’s security for decades to come. Even close allies of the U.S., members of the EU, do not fight shy of taking the American corporations to court in WTO when hard interests involving jobs and security for their peoples are on the line. The Indian government has so far been resisting American and other pressure on the relevant forums and has refused to agree to any proposal which will adversely affect either our right to develop or the interests of our farmers.


‘Independence’ in conducting foreign affairs is highly cherished by peoples. Nobody is happy when the government is perceived to be acting to accommodate the interests or demands of other governments. The perception might not necessarily be justified and might be influenced by propaganda by ideologues of various persuasions. It is always worthwhile for the government to invest heavily in educating public opinion about the rationale of its actions whenever there is a possibility of people drawing such perceptions.










Amid the seizure-inducing neon on Times Square in New York and the King Kong-sized supermodels pouting at the shuffling armies of commuters and tourists, there is a poster paying homage to the latest addition of the vampire genre on cable TV.


“Love Sucks,” it declares. A red eyed teenage girl with a trickle of blood oozing out of the corner of her mouth leers Lolita-like at the surroundings. Creepy stuff.


Today they need posters to scare people. A year ago, Times Square provided its own real life horror show.


Standing square-jawed in its north-eastern corner is what once was the headquarters of Lehman Brothers, the 158-year-old firm that survived the American Civil War, two world wars, the Great Depression, the Cold War and 9/11 but not the sub-prime mortgage bubble which it helped to inflate.



Looking up from the pavement, you have to squint into the flinty September sky to see the 31st floor where in spring 2008 Lehman’s bosses, led by Richard Fuld, peddled billions of dollars worth of bundled sub-prime mortgages every month and made a mint from fees and commissions.


Apparently, the floor was an Aladdin’s Cave of fine dining, Impressionist masterpieces and colossal greed, where the Masters of the Universe insulated themselves from the reality that was to bring them, their bank and the global financial system crashing down.


Lehman had gambled the house on the assumption, backed up by historical precedent, that in America property markets had never ever declined by more than 5 per cent Until last year.


But then they had also never ever risen by 100 per cent over just a few years, and they had never before thrived on the curious notion that all you needed to qualify for a mortgage was a pulse.


We all know now how foolish that was. And although there was a small coterie of economists, pin-striped Cassandras and whistle-blowers, no one was really listening to the sound of a few feeble whistles when the profits roared like waterfalls and the going was oh-so-good.


The institutions that were meant to keep an eye on the children let loose in the toy shop of high finance failed. Self regulation was not working when most people were raking it in.


And even Alan Greenspan, the man who had warned about irrational exuberance, did precious little to rein it in.



The day after Lehman collapsed, I rang my bank in the U.K. to hear a recorded message reassuring me that all deposits were safe. When they have to resort to a digital voice to calm depositors down, you know that you are in trouble.

In the ensuing months, the world economy crashed. The sub-prime crisis lit a fuse that went from California or Southern Florida via New York to Iceland, Hungary and Japan.


The virus spread through the intricate arteries of the world’s financial bloodstream. Trust broke down between banks, as no one knew just how much money they owed.


In this crisis we were all in it together — and much of the developing world ended up suffering the most. A semi-employed truck driver in Tampa could default on a $500,000 mortgage (on a dream house he should never have been able to afford) and a textile worker in Cambodia would lose her job as a result.


The only country that seemed to soldier on obliviously was Stalinist, hermetically-sealed North Korea.


The memories are raw. Shut your eyes and they flood back. But back on Times Square, the veneer of normality seems to have returned.


Lehman and its gleaming corporate castle are now owned by the British bank Barclays. The beefy security guards wear a turquoise tie now.


And the much-maligned bonuses are creeping back into fashion. Goldman Sachs made $3.4 billion in the second quarter of 2009. The executive jets are coming out of mothball storage and capitalism is inclined to strut down Wall Street declaring that reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated.


But some things have changed. The pulse may have returned to high finance, but the real economy is still shaky.


Unemployment in America is nudging 10 percent. And experts believe millions of people have not even been counted because they have stopped looking for jobs altogether.



It is President Obama who now has to clean up a mess created on his predecessor’s watch. After more than seven months in office, this is now his crisis and his solution.


The fact that the injection of some of the $787 billion of stimulus money has not yet delivered as many jobs as many had hoped is damaging him. He has taken his impassioned mission to reform healthcare back to the barricades, with this week’s speech to Congress.


But if it drags on much longer, many Americans will see the healthcare debate as a futile distraction when the economy continues to stagger. And on the other side of the world, China is steaming back with 8 per cent growth. Millions of Chinese are being rehired in jobs created by government money designed to build bridges, motorways and green technologies.


China has lunged at the future, while America is still grappling with the past. The collapse of Lehman helped Barack Obama to get elected, because he kept his cool while his opponent flustered.


But the financial crisis continues to deliver unintended consequences. — © BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate









The Gujarat High Court has stayed Metropolitan Magistrate S.K. Tamang’s report on the killing of Ishrat Jehan and three others. Also, it has directed a probe into his conduct on the premise that in submitting his report even as an SIT investigation ordered by the High Court was under way, he had overstepped his limits. The fact of the SIT investigation — a police investigation albeit one ordered by itself — seems to have persuaded the High Court to subject a subordinate judicial officer to this unusual course of action.


Ishrat Jahan and three others were shot dead on June 15, 2004 by the Gujarat police which claims to have killed them in an ‘encounter’ to foil an assassination bid on Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The NHRC took suo motu notice of the incident within three days and directed the State government to comply with the NHRC 2003 Guidelines on Encounter Deaths. The guidelines require a magisterial probe as well as a police investigation into all encounters.


Independently, a petition was filed by Isharat’s mother in the Gujarat High Court. By an affidavit sworn in September 2004 the State informed the High Court that “the fact and genuineness of the police action on June 15 in which Ishrat and 3 others were killed, is being enquired into by the Addl. DGP CID (Int) Gujarat State and also separate Magisterial inquiry is being conducted in this regard by the SDM, Ahmedabad. ....(sic)”


Ishrat’s mother was, in fact, asking for a transfer of the police investigation to the CBI. It was in response to this prayer that the High Court, four years later, on August 13, 2009, entrusted the police investigation in ‘FIR No. C.R. No. I-8 of 2004 registered with DCB Police Station, Ahmedabad City’ to the newly constituted SIT of three senior police officers. Though clearly aware of the magisterial probe, the State government does not seem to have ever asked for any order, much less a stay on that probe. The High Court, confined itself to transferring the FIR to a newly constituted police investigation, that is, the SIT. Though informed of the magisterial probe, the High Court, while dealing with the petition, seems to have said not a word on it.



Investigation by the police and an inquiry by a Magistrate are distinct but simultaneous procedures and this fact does not rest on the NHRC Guidelines alone. In general, every unnatural death entails an inquest under Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). The inquest is to ascertain the apparent cause of death. In the presence of witnesses, there is a detailed examination of the marks of injury, wounds, spot of occurrence and all else that could indicate the cause of death. An honest inquest would record the mode and cause of death, whether it was by bullet or other injuries, whether fire was close range or distant, whether the fatal wound was accompanied or preceded by any other violence and so on.


‘Apparent’ does not mean cursory. It means such circumstances of the death as can reasonably be assessed at that stage. Gujarat’s claim that the only purpose of an inquest is to assess whether the death was natural or unnatural is absurd. An inquest occurs only when there is reason to believe that the death is unnatural. Any ‘encounter death’ is an admission that the police have killed and can only be an unnatural death.


Inquests under the CrPC are normally conducted by an Executive Magistrate who is often part of the police. In its 152nd report, the Law Commission noted that such inquests had proved unsatisfactory in cases of custodial deaths. The CrPC was amended in 2005 keeping in mind the concerns expressed by the Law Commission. Section 176(1A) was added to the Code, prescribing that every death, disappearance or rape while in the custody of the police must, of necessity, be subjected to an inquiry by a Judicial Magistrate or a Metropolitan Magistrate. Furthermore, such an inquiry is in addition to an inquiry or investigation held by the police. The inquiry into the death of Ishrat and the others referred to in the state’s affidavit as being held by the SDM, an Executive Magistrate, was later completed by a Judicial Magistrate, presumably in compliance with the CrPC Amendment.


All deaths in custody, and not merely those in admitted or legal custody, have to be inquired into. If the police version of an encounter is false, it is evident that the deceased must have been in police custody sometime prior to her or his death. In which case, it is death in custody. Only an inquiry will establish whether it was, in fact, a genuine encounter or a death in custody as Magistrate Tamang’s inquiry has found the case of Ishrat and the others to be. Therefore, Gujarat’s argument that an encounter death is ruled out of the operation of Section 176(1)(A) of the Code really begs the question. It is like an accused saying that he must not be put on trial because he is innocent, when only the trial will prove him guilty or innocent. If encounter killings are ruled out of the pale of such inquiry, all that needs to be done (and has often been done) to avoid scrutiny is to kill someone in custody and fake it off as an encounter.



Aside from such a judicial inquiry, the Code provides for police investigation into all cases of homicide. Encounter killings are surely homicide. Whether culpable or justified as self-defence is a matter for the judge. The law gives the police no higher privilege to use lethal force than what it gives to a common citizen by way of the right of private defence.


The law provides for three things. First, an inquest to record the circumstances of any unnatural death. Second, a judicial inquiry into deaths in custody. And third, quite apart from inquests and inquiries, that all cases of homicide be registered as offences, investigated and submitted in the form of a report to the court for further action. Even when the police report suggests that case is of justified self defence, the court may send the case for trial. A Judicial Magistrate scrutinising an investigation report performs a different office than one inquiring into a death in custody.


The NHRC Guidelines collate the law as it stands into a workable checklist of the steps that must follow a supposed encounter death. This was necessitated by the spate of encounters going unchecked. The Supreme Court is yet to rule on whether every encounter death must indeed be registered as an FIR,. One thing is clear though: The Judicial Magistrate’s inquiry, when held under Section 176 (1) (A), is independent of and in addition to, any police investigation under other provisions of the Code.


Inquiries and trials based on police investigations have been known to proceed side by side. The Code distinguishes between ‘inquiry’ and ‘investigation’. The former is done by a court but is not a trial. The latter is done by the police and may lead to a trial.


There is nothing in the concept of sub judice or in any proposition on contempt of court that requires any suo motu restraint by judicial authorities on their functions. Unless it is brought explicitly to their notice that there is a valid stay or that the same nature of relief has been invoked elsewhere. S.K Tamang had not, on the date of his report, been injuncted by any superior authority nor was he substituting himself for the police investigation. It is unknown for magistrates to petition higher courts for permission to do tasks entrusted to them by the law. All that the High Court had done on August 13 was to change the investigating officers of an existing FIR. One that was under investigation even when the magisterial probe began The state government did not once seek to halt the magisterial process. What is it beefing about now?


Though it cannot sit in appeal over his findings, the High Court is certainly within its writ powers to correct any jurisdictional error in Magistrate Tamang’s proceedings. As yet, however, it is unclear, where any misdemeanour on his part lies.


(The author is a Supreme Court advocate.)








This refers to the article “Dalits, the poor and the NREGA” (The Hindu, August 28) in which an apprehension is expressed over the amendment in schedule I of paragraph 1, Sub paragraph (iv) which reads as follows:


“(iv) Provision of irrigation facility, horticulture plantation and land development facilities to land owned by house holds belonging to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes or below poverty line families or to the beneficiaries under the Indira Awas Yojana of Government of India or that of the small farmers or marginal farmers as defined in the Agriculture Debt. Waiver and debt relief scheme, 2008.”


Here in the schedule I, besides Tribals, Dalit, BPL families under the Indira Awas Yojana, and the beneficiaries of land reforms, the government has added the small and marginal farmers as defined in agricultural debt waiver scheme, 2008.”


The apprehension expressed is that by adding the small and marginal farmers, the focus of NREGA will change from tribals and Dalits to small and marginal farmer.


The focus of NREGA as expressed in its objective is to “enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at 100 days of guaranteed wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work,” and hence to enhance livelihood security in rural areas as mentioned in the objective is to provide work, and as reported many times, only a minuscule percentage of people could get complete 100 day’s work. This means that either people were not demanding the work, or the administration was not opening the work despite demand for work by the people and was delaying. By adding the small and marginal farmer’s land for work and irrigation work, I am sure, that the demand to open new work under NREGA will increase many fold.


It is presumed that the amendment in the schedule I may take away focus on improving the land, and creating irrigation facilities for Tribals and Dalits and other categories of the farmers mentioned in the unamended provision under section IV of schedule I.


Let us examines this:


First of all let me say that the tribals are also small and marginal farmers. However we — mainly those who argue for the tribals — have not seen them as farmers, or even describe them as farmers. Once we begin to see them as farmers, our perception towards their priorities and needs will change. Let me also say that in tribal areas agriculture is a principal activity to meet the livelihood needs, followed by forest related work and labour.


Dalits too are small and marginal farmers, but large number of them are landless, and hence they work on some one else’s land as agricultural labourer.


The amended provision of small and marginal farmers defined under agricultural debt waiver scheme 2008, will bring large number of OBC farmers in its fold who are also poor, and a large majority of them also have job cards to work on NREGA. A large OBC population lives in the villages with scarce facilities of irrigation and land development. In fact they are farmers cum - labourers and work whether there is drought or not. They live mainly on rain - fed farming. Their inclusion will create more demand for work under NREGA, and will also increase the agricultural wage or it’s own in rural areas and will provide work to the landless masses. If must be remembered that the proportion of agricultural labourers in the total labourers in India (2006) is 26.55 per cent and they must have a choice whether to work on NREGA, or in some farm — work during the agricultural months. I think, the inclusion of small and marginal farmers in the schedule would provide that situation leading to wage hike in agriculture.


Besides, the population of tribals in the country is 8.20 per cent, while that of the scheduled caste is 16.20 per cent, and the OBC percentage is more than 37 per cent. The first two communities, given the attitude and delivery mechanism of the various states, can’t absorb even the budgeted amount under the NREGA. The inclusion of small and marginal farmer will ease that situation.


It is argued that by inclusion of private land owned by small and marginal farmers will affect the work on common property resources on which the landless and other communities depend. Let me say that the most of the common property resources are in the hands of govt. departments and many government departments are doing the work on improving the common property resources like forest, waste lands, and grazing land. The village panchayat can take up the work on common property resources under the NREGA and since the opening of work is demand driven, and as repeatedly emphasized by the government of India that — the NREGA will not suffer due to resource crunch, the opening of new works will not be held back due to lack of money. The Government of India has allocated Rs. 30,000 crore in the Revised Estimate of 2008-09 and Rs. 39,100 crore in the budget of 09-10. It remains to be seen how much of this allocation can be utilised by the states from these allocated amounts in these years.


A fear is also expressed by some that in the village situation SCs/STs’ land will not be taken for improvement, or that the irrigation facilities will get lesser priority for the land belonging to SCs/STs against the small and marginal farmers by the village panchayat, or by the programme officer under NREGA. I suggest a priority list can be prepared by the programme officer. This priority could be as follows for opening the new work on demand:


A. Work on Common property resources.


B. Work on the land of SC/ST etc.


C. Work on the land of Indira Awas Yojana beneficiaries.


D. And work on the land of marginal farmers and small farmers.


I am sure this priority can be decided in the state rural employment guarantee council. Finally, I hope that inclusion of small and marginal farmers in schedule I may result into the stopping of farmer’s suicide in the country.


I welcome the amendment of inclusion of small and marginal farmers.








Human resources development minister Kapil Sibal has summoned the appropriate sentiment and the right words in denouncing Thursday’s horror in New Delhi when five schoolgirls were suffocated to death in a stampede on the narrow staircase of their school. Many more girls are said to be in a critical state from the injuries they suffered. Mr Sibal said what any civilised human being would in the circumstances — that the incident was "shameful" and "unacceptable". But since he is in government, he needs to follow up his words with action, although education is a state subject and the basic responsibility of ensuring that children are in a secure environment when they go to school rests with the state administration. Typically, when disaster strikes, the motions of an investigation are gone through, narrow accountability is not arrived at, and the system reverts to its customary slovenliness and negligence, sometimes even criminality. This is the state of affairs in government schools in Delhi. There is little reason to believe that the situation is any better in other states. In Delhi in the past few years, there have been numerous reports of girl students in government-run schools being sought to be sexually exploited by unscrupulous teachers. Corporal punishment is rampant, and at least on one recent occasion it ended in death. Sometimes little girls are humiliated by being made to strip as punishment. In the end all such episodes are really hushed up. A basic fear of school gets to be ingrained in the girl child from an early age. This is bound to scar their personality for life and make them timid in facing the world, especially since in most cases they also come from economically insecure homes. Although the matter is still to be investigated, some reports suggest that Thursday’s stampede in northeast Delhi’s Khajoori Khas locality was triggered by rowdy boys physically misbehaving with young girls in a confined space.


Any which way one looks, government sector education, particularly schooling, is in a poor way. A forward-looking and progressive 21st century India cannot be built on such a basis. If China and Vietnam have made such huge strides economically in a relatively short time, it is because their school education did not go under even during periods of transition, and education of reasonable quality was universal. Even a generation ago, things weren’t quite so bad in India although the school numbers may have been smaller. The long-term decline in administration cannot have left education untouched. But the general apathy of the political and the bureaucratic class to schooling in the government sector has ensured that even satisfactory school buildings do not exist. The quality of teachers is abysmal, and the curriculum is antediluvian. In a broad sense, much of the time spent in school is a waste as it prepares students neither for university nor for a trade. This is where Mr Sibal can seek to make a difference. So much is said every other day from the highest quarters — we heard the Prime Minister earlier this week and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi shortly after on overhauling the social sector, which means particularly education and health — that it would be a shame if the HRD minister didn’t seize the opportunity to get state education ministers around, think of a doable restructuring plan, and help states with additional funds, where needed. The mantra behind the Eleventh Five-Year Plan is uplift of the social sector. The shaft-light of education cannot be passed through India on the basis of the private sector alone, given the substantial levels of poverty and backwardness in the country. The government must come forward to be counted.











I swear I am not making this up. The day Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy’s (YSR) chopper went missing and the media was going overboard with the coverage, there was a typical Mumbai soiree on in full swing at one of those dark and terribly chic lounge bars where black is the only colour worth flaunting and the cocktails are customised.


Someone stupid, but trying to sound intelligent, mentioned that YSR was missing in action. The initial blank looks were soon altered to more suitably informed ones. "But I thought he died some months ago?" exclaimed a lady wearing a bum-scraping dress and lots of pearls. More blank looks. She giggled, "I’d seen the funeral pics in Vogue… Harper’s…. somewhere". The man in too tight jodhpurs and black bandgala, coughed discreetly, "No. You must have seen it in Vanity Fair — that double issue dedicated to him". Ms Bubble Dress looked seriously worried, before adding, "You are right, ya… I was at the salon… no… nail spa… flipping through some mags and saw it there… too sad… but the tributes were great… especially Carla Bruni’s".


The original bright spark who’d been silly enough to bring up the subject in the first place, swallowed yet another designer cocktail (vodka-based), and coughed some more. Someone else had joined the conversation by now, "Wasn’t he the one who invented the LBD and put women in tuxedos? That’s just so cool!" Huh? Were they talking about the same man?


Oh oh… before any more faux pas were committed, Bright Spark swiftly interjected, "YSR, ya. Not YSL". It was the turn of all the Bubble Skirts to swing around and chorus in unison, "WHO?" Bright Spark was trapped. He mumbled apologetically, "Politician. Andhra Pradesh. Chief minister. Chopper crash. He may be dead". Blank stares. Finally, one of the Bubble Dresses broke the silence by saying, "Oh… really? Okay… but we don’t know any politicians. Of course, we know Praful… but he’s a buddy. Who’s YSR?"


This is no exaggeration. Few people in Mumbai had heard of YSR. To put things in perspective, the same lot has not heard the name of Maharashtra’s chief minister, either. YSR’s existence was a matter of no consequence. But YSL’s is. Their fashion quotient is judged on how well they know YSL’s contribution to couture and how well up they are on his breakthrough collections over the years. If they goof up on that, they are finished — dead meat in the fashion circles they court, obsess over and revel in. Never having heard of a dynamic chief minister is a bonus. It shows how isolated they are from the "dirty world" of politics. And a reflection of the pride they take in their self-imposed isolation. This is a growing breed in urban India, and in order to better understand the mindset of the mindless, it is key to figure out why the politics of this country does not touch them at all.


The same set of super elitist idiots can be found in the grand salons of Delhi and Bengaluru. They know nothing beyond their fashionably-fixed noses. And are unabashedly, unapologetically ignorant. The YSR tragedy merely highlighted the extent of their apathy. In response to an innocent question as to how they can live in a blind alley, their indignant riposte says it all — "How does it affect our lives, ya? Whether it is YSR or any other politician. We are sure YSR must have been one hell of a dude. But puh-leeze, can we change the subject now?"


The worry lies embedded in that single line — "Can we change the subject, now?" It has become a common refrain across India. With attention spans shrinking, nobody wants to look beyond the next development that is directly connected to their own lives. That, and the distressing media habit of remaining steadfastly focused on trivia and trivia alone, have resulted in an overall deadening of what’s going on in the rest of the "boring" country.


I would have glibly blamed it on stepped up regionalism (some truth in that argument), but it goes well beyond that sort of narrow mindedness. Most of us really and truly do not give a damn. If people in Mumbai fail to understand the mass hysteria unleashed across Andhra Pradesh in the wake of YSR’s death, and state confidently, "It would NEVER happen here", it is equally true that folks in Andhra Pradesh would not "get it" or care if anything were to happen to one of our local icons. But if a top Bollywood hero copped it…? Hmmm.


What is far more interesting is Amitabh Bachchan’s new role as a pop psychologist in the Bigg Boss. Rani Mukherjee’s hot new bod in a bikini. Akshay Kumar’s tough talk in Khatron ke Khiladi, Shahid Kapur’s new puppy/parrot/kitten/tortoise, Saif Ali Khan’s latest gift to Bebo. Bebo’s latest gift to Saif. All this is breaking news. It breaks several hearts. Everything else can wait.


But at least, a few key priorities do manage to slip in between Bollywood gup shup. The proposed multi-crore statue of Shivaji Maharaj, for example. It is being avidly debated by the chattering classes. And this is a positive trend. One of the many alternative suggestions involve using the same funds (even half the staggering amount will do) to set up a meaningful and permanent memorial to those who lost their lives during the 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai. This could be a hospital or a shelter that provides a much-needed service to the city that is perpetually reeling under various threats. It is an excellent suggestion, but guaranteed to find no takers in government circles. It is so much simpler to erect monumental statues at a monumental cost.


Granted, Shivaji Maharaj is Maharashtra’s greatest hero. But imagine how much greater he would be seen if, along with him, we could also honour some of our other heroes — people like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Mahadev Govind Ranade — who fought valiantly for India’s freedom? Why not a pantheon of Greats? A gallery with impressive statues of all those mahaan individuals who brought glory to Maharashtra. Or is that asking for too much from a political establishment hell bent on propagating and perpetuating a single name?


It’s a question worth asking Mayawati — the statue queen. It’s also a question YSR’s followers should bear in mind before the craze to erect his statues all over Andhra Pradesh goes completely out of hand.


We love to deify our leaders and turn them into modern day Gods and Goddesses. But these attempts to create personality cults need to be curbed right at the start. Here’s hoping the good people of Andhra Pradesh show the way.


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Perhaps it was the mellifluous song, O Sajna, Barkha bahar aayi (Parakh, 1960) which brought the heavens down. It was a wet and windy evening in Kolkata and we were celebrating the life and times of the marvellous cinematographer and director, Bimal Roy. Somehow the shamiana withstood the "Madhumati" weather and even the governor of West Bengal, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, was kind enough to sit through the storm along with us.


Our suspicion was that the location, the normally sedate and very pukka Tollygunge Club, may have been situated a little too close to the studios, New Theatres, where Roy had shot some of his greatest hits. So could Bimal Roy and his equally-talented colleagues such as Salil Chowdhury and Nabendu Ghosh be now battering at the air around us from the spirit world? It was an intriguing thought. Usually it is T-shirted golfers with their chota pegs and koi hai culture who inhabit the club and its rolling greens. But perhaps our presence, around 200 besotted Bimal Roy admirers, had changed the atmospherics? It was also 14 years since Salil Chowdhury died last week — so the incessant rain and howling winds bore powerful reminders of the wonderful era which has slipped away... I don’t think we can quite take credit for the floods in Kolkata which subsequently followed this blustery weekend but definitely that evening the mood, the music and the memories were closely intertwined with the rain.


Rinki Roy Bhattacharya was the catalyst for the evening — she is the daughter of Bimal Roy and has now brought out a diverse collection of essays on her father written by both those who knew him independently and others who have been deeply influenced by him. The subsequent book, The Man Who Spoke in Pictures, is a sensitive tribute — because it bypasses the usual hagiography which is churned out by children of famous people by inviting "others" to write. So the evening bore a true Kolkata warmth and friendliness and many of the children of "old timers" were present — such as the daughter of Nitin Bose, and the son of the founder of New Theatres. In fact, it was sobering to remember that only a few decades ago, as Dilip Sircar, the present owner of New Theatres put it, Kolkata was a prolific hub of cinema production. It was equal to Mumbai and Pune — and the films produced were aimed at the national market.


Sircar recollects that in the quarter century after its establishment, New Theatres alone had churned out 150 films. But with the Partition of Bengal, and the loss of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), a lucrative market, New Theatres found the going difficult and ultimately sank into receivership. So began the migration of talented filmmakers such as Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee to Bombay (as it was then known). Had that not happened, Kolkata today would have been a major production centre of films — not just in Bangla but also in Hindi.


Kolkata in many ways is a city with a soul — with many who are devoted to cinema and the arts despite the vitiating environment. However, while other metros, such as Mumbai and Delhi, are now at least struggling to get their development agenda off the ground, Kolkata, right from its grotty airport with its filthy bathrooms, is still mired in the 80s. There is little sign of the much-touted attempt by politicians such as Jyoti Basu to push public-private partnerships, to encourage capitalism or entrepreneurship. The taxi-ride from the airport is a distressing pastiche of mounds of uncollected garbage and people tip-toeing about, trying not to get their feet wet in the smelly mix of rainwater and sewage. Despite the people’s government, the slums are as I remember them, 20 years ago. It seems as though many opportunities have been missed and the city has not been able to reconcile itself to the loss of a glorious past. Everywhere you go, the over-25 years of the Communist regime is being discussed with a sense of despair — but there is no hope for the future either.


Despite her deliberately cultivated humble look, Mamata Banerjee’s brand of politics is equally feared. Everyone alleges that she is being supported with money both from the Congress and industrialists who would prefer a more "protectionist" regime. If true, this would be simply another cynical ploy — to win elections and regional hearts. The money-bags would not like to see "outsiders" such as the Tatas come in and succeed, so they would rather all fail together.


There is not much difference between the son-of-the-soil arguments of the Shiv Sena and the hushed murmurings one hears about Trinamul Congress. But no one wants to say anything openly as there are political thugs on both sides who will be happy to settle scores with a gun. The daily drip-drip of stories in the media of corruption among the Communist cadres has not helped either. If you could get rid of the politicians out here, is the common lament, Kolkata could be a city of joy once again.


Perhaps nothing brings this message home than a visit to Jorasanko, that houses the once-beautiful Thakur Bari of Rabindranath Tagore. The imposing red structure with its Venetian balconies, intricate wrought-iron balustrades and grand Grecian pillars is almost hidden in a maze of dirty bylanes, and the final approach does not prepare you for the destroyed splendour you can now only imagine. Why should the bari of a poet laureate, celebrated all over the world, have unkempt gardens, birds nests and trees growing out of the structure? Parts of it have been wrecked by the setting up of government offices for its nonchalant keepers. The brooding bust of Tagore overlooking a messy patch of green shrubs bears a weary look: for someone who had created the vibrant culture of modern Bengal, actually changed its lifestyle and attitudes towards women — there would be no reason to hold his head high.


Nothing symbolises our disastrous approach to development more than our disregard for our cultural history. Jorasanko represents all that is wrong with our polity and social consciousness. Those who make their living by evoking the name of Tagore, and those who are busy writing tomes and getting Ph.Ds by cannibalising his work, do not have the time or the patience to fight to restore his home. On the contrary, they blame the "government" for the disregard. The "freedom" that his country has awoken to may, indeed, not be the same that Tagore dreamt about.


The writer can be contacted at









"You place your faith in prayer?

I trust the strength of metals —

If twittering birds can sing

Then so can boiling kettles..."

From Foolish Proverbs by Bachchoo


Air travel is a pain in the neck and in other parts of the body. I am still not over the resentment I felt when, having delivered a lecture at a German University I was gifted two bottles of perfect, mature Rheinland Riesling which were confiscated by security at Frankfurt airport when I tried to carry them aboard the aircraft in my hand luggage. The problem was that I only had hand luggage for my overnight trip, an elaborate computer bag with space for a change of clothes, a toothbrush etcetera and two vintage bottles and it didn’t occur to me to check it in. The securitywallahs wouldn’t let me turn back and check it in. They simply removed the wine. So with a sinking heart and contained German swear words stuck in my gullet, for fear of torture by the present equivalent of the SS, I watched as they threw them into a deep metal bin into which the perfumes of the Arab lady before me had also been deposited. I am sure that the securitywallahs recovered them from the bin when no passengers were looking and took them home for "analysis".


I would have loved to analyse the expensive Riesling myself, but have fallen back on the consolation that the Arab lady’s perfume was quite possibly a bomb and German official vigilance saved the my life and the day.


On Monday last, three Muslim men were convicted in Woolwich Crown Court, Southeast London, of a conspiracy to smuggle explosives in Lucozade bottles onto seven planes leaving London for America and Europe. If their plot had succeeded they would have killed perhaps 2,000 people. It would have been another 9/11 perpetrated this time by the namak haram of Britain who grew up in this country, were educated and fed by it and turned to plotting crazed and meaningless mass murder.


The would-be bombers are to be sentenced next Monday and, having been convicted by a jury, which was shown their self-recorded suicide/mass murder videos of hate, they will not be treated as felons who exceed the speed limit on the highways or refused to pay their TV license. They’ll get it in the neck. Even so, British justice has in the past convicted and sentenced 40 terrorists and would-be murderers and plotters who have now served their sentences and are, in the same week as that in which the Lucozade bombers will begin their sentences, to be set free. The less scrupulous newspapers have headlines which publicise the fact in panic-striking terms: "40 Terrorists to be set loose on our streets" and so on. That’s British justice and the British press.


As for the British government, it has used the conviction of the Lucozade Three to repeat its claim that the war in Afghanistan and the death of 200 British soldiers and the maiming of several thousand more is being prosecuted to make the streets, airports and planes flying from them safer. The fabric of this propaganda has worn very thin.


There is an established connection between the Lucozade Three and a man of British origin called Rashid Rauf who was held in Pakistan. The prosecution in the Lucozade case established that these foiled bombers had been in communication with the man Rauf who was apprehended in 2006 in Pakistan by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). They had reason to believe that he was a British terrorist who had come to Pakistan, the country of his birth, in order to escape a murder investigation in Britain in 2002. His uncle had been stabbed and Rauf fled the country soon after as the Birmingham police were looking for him and would, they say, have charged him with the murder.


Rauf is believed to have been an Al Qaeda "facilitator" and the British government spokesmen have told the press that MI5 and MI6, the United Kingdom’s internal and external intelligence agencies, have records of his communications with the Lucozade conspirators. The Pakistani intelligence services shared this knowledge with the British and with the Americans. It became evident after 2004 that Rauf was an important terrorist link and was, the intelligence services allege, in touch with the high command of Al Qaeda.


In 2006, a bus in which Rauf was travelling was stopped by armed gunmen of the ISI who took him into custody. The British Intelligence services were not in favour of this early arrest as he was proving useful as a tracer to terrorist cells in Britain and they wanted to leave him free until they gathered enough evidence to round these cells up.


The Americans nevertheless forced the hand of the Pakistanis and the tripartite surveillance was interrupted by Rauf’s arrest. Rauf’s lawyers allege that he was brutally tortured by the ISI and disappeared from a mosque where the ISI agents say they had allowed him to pray alone. The lawyers allege that the ISI disposed of him and are using the story of escape from the mosque as a cover for his murder.


There is no other evidence connecting the Lucozade Three to any Al Qaeda "high command".


Neither is there much evidence to show that such a high command exists. It is a notion that the British and American governments will not surrender or provide proof for.


They are embroiled in a war with Afghanistan about which their populations feel increasingly sceptical. Why are British and American soldiers dying? To bolster the corrupt government of Hamid Karzai? To combat the heroin trade? To bring democracy to a place which may not have the prerequisites of such government?


The British government at any rate says it is to ensure that the Al Qaeda high command don’t use Afghanistan as a base to plot terror in Europe.


The Lucozade bombers may have acquired the arts and strategy of their murderous plans from instructors in Pakistan, but their links with any global terrorist high command are very tenuous.


Nevertheless, just as the British government seems to, these terrorists want to believe that such a high command

exists and that they are under its instruction. It gives their random acts of murder a pattern and a greater purpose than the simple slaughter to which they dedicate their well-nurtured British lives.











The shocking stampede in a government school in northeast Delhi that snuffed out at least six innocent lives and caused injuries in varying degrees to over 30 others on Thursday was a tragedy of errors. It is a pointer to the callousness with which such schools of the underprivileged are run and of the hardships the children studying in them have to contend with. Sadly, it is a reflection of the paucity of schools for the poor that this school had as many as 5,000 students on its rolls in two shifts, with only a 30-minute gap dividing the shifts. When the tragedy occurred, there were 1,200 students in the school with the boys on the ground floor and the girls on the first. What led to the stampede was the announcement for the boys to go upstairs since the hutments where the examinations were usually held were flooded.


Since the girls were at that time vacating the rooms upstairs and had to come down by the same narrow staircase as the one from which the boys were going up, the least that the teachers needed to do was to be at hand to control the situation. It was indeed shocking that not a single teacher was there to supervise and that the school did not have any guards. It is small wonder then that with such callous indifference of the school authorities eve teasing was rampant. In fact preliminary reports say that the stampede occurred as the boys began to tease the girls as they were descending. There are also reports that some rumours were spread that the water surrounding the school was electrified, and that created panic.


The Delhi administration must get to the root of the tragedy swiftly and act decisively. Responsibility must be duly fixed as to why the school had no security guards, why no measures were taken to stop eve teasing despite past complaints by girl students and their parents and how baseless rumours were given a free run. The terrible tragedy must spur the authorities to ensure basic amenities for all schools and an environment in which the girl students are not harassed and teased.








The 1 per cent subsidy on home loans up to Rs 10 lakh is intended to stimulate demand for small homes costing less than Rs 20 lakh. A pickup in demand in the construction industry directly helps steel and cement units as well as boosts labour employment. The effect may be seen more in smaller cities than in the metros where house prices have skyrocketed despite inputs getting cheaper. The government’s earlier special home loan package, announced in December last year when the interest rates ruled at 11 per cent, has delivered favourable results. According to the RBI, the housing loan disbursements by banks grew 353 per cent from March to May this year. In the previous three quarters the loan applications had declined by 53 per cent.


Making cheaper loans available is one part of the plan to promote affordable houses for the poor. Land prices have risen sharply in the recent past in and around cities. This has inflated the costs for the government as well as the home buyers. If reasonable infrastructure is provided and jobs are created in rural India, the exodus to cities may ease and control pressure on urban land and civic amenities. A holistic approach, therefore, is required to provide affordable houses to the needy.


The latest subsidy will save each loan taker Rs 10,000 in a year. There is a catch, however. The benefit of the subsidised interest rates will be available only for one year. Thereafter, the market rates will be charged. Those getting tempted to take loans now must bear in mind the increased cost a year later. For the banks too it is dangerous to lure home buyers into such traps. All terms and implications need to be explained clearly before loans are disbursed to avoid defaults later. Otherwise, the banks would further add to their growing burden of non-performing assets.







The Congress had gone in for early elections in Haryana purely on the basis of its good showing in the recent Lok Sabha elections when it captured nine out of 10 seats. Given the advantage it enjoyed, it had seemed natural that the opposition parties would marshal their resources to give it a credible fight. But all talks to form an alliance have failed. Why, even the earlier alliance that existed between the BJP and the INLD has come a cropper. The one forged two months ago between the Haryana Janhit Congress and the BSP too has proved a non-starter. And finally, the talks between the HJC and the BJP too have failed. The end result is that each party would fight on its own. That hands over considerable advantage to the ruling party.


Apparently, each party has an inflated notion about its own strength. That is why they even argued that the Chief Minister would be from their party after the election. The situation was quite similar to the tall claims of the so-called Third Front before the parliamentary elections. Opposition parties in Haryana should have remembered that in those elections, the Congress secured 41 per cent votes. How the INLD, the BJP, the HJC and the BSP take on the ruling party in a five-cornered contest would be interesting to watch.


It is another matter that there is factionalism within the Congress itself. The predominant position of Bhupinder Singh Hooda is sought to be challenged by Birender Singh, Kiran Chaudhary, Kumari Selja as well as Rao Inderjit Singh. But since the Congress takes all cues from the high command, this friction might get diluted when the election date draws near. The polling is still a month away, after all.
















The Afghans who exercised their right of franchise on August 20 did so with the hope that only a democratically elected government could change their life, which has been full of misery. That is why they took the risk of reaching the polling booths despite the Taliban threat to chop off the finger that had the indelible ink mark, showing proof of participation in the polls. As expected, the voting percentage was small. But the very fact that people cast their vote even in the Taliban strongholds was not a small achievement.


The Afghans have faced one crisis after another for a long time. They saw the Taliban capturing power in the late nineties by using strong-arm tactics. The Taliban ruled the country for a few years by terrorising everybody, including the tribal thugs. They minimised poppy cultivation and ensured that their writ ran in most parts of Afghanistan. But they got intoxicated by power and turned Afghanistan into a nursery of global terrorism.


Taliban rule was one of the darkest periods in Afghanistan’s history, but people still refer to it because there was little fear of atrocities by tribal chieftains. They wanted the Hamid Karzai government not only to rein in the Taliban saboteurs but also to deal sternly with tribal warlords. But the warlords continued to prosper during Mr Karzai’s tenure that has ended. There are clear indications that no harm will be caused to their interests in the future also with Mr Karzai almost set to form the new government.


Contrary to people’s wishes, Mr Karzai forged alliances with dreaded warlords like Abdur Rashid Dostum (Uzbek), Mohammad Qasim Fahim (Tajik), Haji Mohammad Mohaqqiq (Hazara) and Karim Khalili to win the elections. The incumbent President knew it well that nobody could go against the dictats of these warlords in their areas of influence.


The warlords helped Mr Karzai improve his victory chances considerably, but in the process he suffered big erosion in his public image. All the warlords have blood of innocent people on their hands. They have their private militias and control large areas of the country.


One can understand Mr Karzai’s problem, as his electoral victory was doubtful this time. There could be no comparison between the situation now and in 2004, when the first democratic elections were held in Afghanistan. In 2004, Mr Karzai was invincible and everybody knew it. But in the just concluded elections, his former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah put up a serious challenge to Mr Karzai’s position despite many factors being in the latter’s favour, including his Pashtun background.


Being divided on tribal lines, the Afghans cast their vote accordingly. There were Pashtun candidates other than Mr Karzai, but they could not make much of a difference to his position because he had got the image of being the most formidable contestant. Even Dr Ashraf Ghani, a strong Pashtun candidate, could not do much harm to Mr Karzai. People have a tendency to support a candidate likely to win. They were unhappy with Mr Karzai for his failure to provide an effective and corruption-free government, but ignored this because of the stronger tribal factor.


Mr Karzai is believed to have left no trick unused to win the elections. The allegations levelled against him of having indulged in unfair practices tell their own story. How the Election Complaints Commission finally handles the situation remains to be seen. But the charges against Mr Karzai are unlikely to alter the outcome of the polls, which is yet to be declared. The Independent Election Commission’s preliminary announcement shows that he has got more than 50 per cent of the votes polled, whereas the share of Dr Abdullah Abdullah, his main challenger, is over 28 per cent.


Dr Abdullah has warned of a massive protest in case the incumbent President is finally declared the winner. However, his threat is being interpreted as a tactic aimed at striking a deal with Mr Karzai from a position of strength. He is reportedly waiting for an opportunity to share power.


Dr Abdullah has had solid Tajik support. Since he is half Pashtun and half Tajik, he got some Pashtun votes too. He was one of the confidants of the late Ahmed Shah Masood, who led the Northern Alliance. But he does not have a clean image. He is alleged to have been responsible for the killing of thousands of residents of Kabul between 1992 and 1996.


He may do all he can to be in the government in the name of Afghan national unity. Mr Karzai, once he is successful, may also need the support of all kinds of people to take the writ of his government beyond Kabul.


But will he be able to run the government effectively with the highly demanding warlords as his allies? The warlords will insist on getting their pound of flesh after the government is finally established. They may create all kinds of problems for Mr Karzai to force him to accept their demands. This shows that the President will have to spend more time on saving his government from being wrecked by his allies than on taking up the problems of people. It will not be easy for Mr Karzai to keep both the warlords and the people happy at the same time because of their clashing interests.


There was rampant corruption during the previous Karzai regime. As things stand today, corruption is unlikely to be controlled with the warlords being associated with the government. The masses will be the ultimate sufferers, but who bothers about their interests once the elections are over?


The US-led multinational forces in Afghanistan are also contributing to the woes of the new government. The indiscriminate killing of men, women and children in the name of fighting the Taliban is bound to further alienate the people from the government, adding to the instability prevailing in the strife-torn country.


The Taliban may find it easier to exploit the situation to their advantage. Efforts may be made to win over some of the Taliban factions to weaken the extremist forces. That will be an interesting development if this really comes about. The international community will have to show increased interest in the economic reconstruction of Afghanistan. There is an urgent need to pump in more money for the revival of economic activity throughout the country. A number of infrastructure-related projects are being implemented, but their pace is too slow. The implementation of these projects must be speeded up to make the people lead a normal life. This is necessary to prevent the growth of the Taliban and other anti-peace forces.


However, all the efforts to use development as a weapon against the extremist elements can fail if law and order remains ignored. If people are eagerly looking for opportunities of employment, they also want the new government to take care of the security aspect more seriously. After all, everything is useless in the absence of law and order.








READING about the dwindling avian population, particularly of the local varieties, I broke into a discussion with my friend Ujjwal Jha, a lawyer of the Supreme Court, recently. He was visiting my village in Hoshiarpur district after many years.


“Where have the sparrows gone? I remember when we came here during college days, the little birds seemed to me coming out from nowhere,” he said. I chuckled gently: “Not just the sparrows, even crows, doves, parrots and vultures also seem to have shifted their residential colonies from the rural landscape. The sparrows have moved out of the houses because small gaps between the roof berms, in earlier constructions, which seemed natural setting for their nests are gone in new houses. Sparrow population has also been affected by the pesticides and weedicides used in the farms.


Ujjwal said: “I remember when we went out to the fields, we would watch a swarm of vultures hovering over our heads searching for their meals, particularly of dead animals. A particular variety of falcons could manage a stationary position in the air and then swoop down on the fields and fly away with their catch, largely a mouse”. 


He remembered my father cautioning us to tread gently on the earthen erections for partition in the fields in the outskirts of our village during our morning walks. “Remember, uncle used to signal us to stop when he saw a black partridge. He asked us to watch the gait of the bird, carefully, when it started. The bird took two steps and then halted, briefly. It looked left and right, raised its neck and rendered a shrieking sound  “Bhagvan teri kudrat.”


In retrospect, during my vacations at my village Nangal Ishar, a normal day progressed with the sound of the birds. The ‘che che’ of the sparrows was the first sound that forced me out of the bed. I would walk into the kitchen where my mother sat near the ‘chullah’ (earthen stove). She made small morsels of last night’s leftover ‘chapattis’ for the early morning visitors.


Seeing the morsels, the sound of the birds got louder with the mixing of the ‘kaw kaw’ of the crows. As the family rested in the afternoons, the most prominent bird sound was a gentle crooning of the doves. The evening air was rented with chuckle of hundreds of birds flying back to their nests, particularly parrots and mynahs.


My father interrupted our conversation saying: “Nature, it seems, has ordained a new cloak of trees and birds. The traditional trees, particularly the ‘tahli’ and ‘kikkar’, have become a rare sight. A large number of birds, including bulbuls and ‘shikras’, seem to be on their way out, as well”.


He took us to the ‘haveli’ and opened the gate. A couple of black partridges was sitting on the wall, adjoining a kitchen garden.” Ujjwal said: “Uncle, you said these were the birds which stayed away from the human population”. In a seeming reply, a partridge wailed “Bhagvan teri kudrat”.








In a week of political uncertainty threatening civil war in Bangkok and three terrorist attacks in a week in the South, the only one smiling was Ms Thailand for being declared the most photogenic at the Miss Universe contest.


But tourist cameras were out and did not mask the political travails in a country that has faced 18 coup d’etats, the last in 2006 which unseated the charismatic Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who is at the heart of the ongoing instability.


Described as a fugitive former Prime Minister, he is a self-made millionaire, turned billionaire hopping from the UAE, Eritrea to Montenegro.


His supporters who wear red  shirts call themselves the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship had collected 3.5 million signatures seeking a royal pardon for Shinawatra from  King Bhumibol Adulyadej at 81, the world’s longest-reigning monarch and the real pivot in Thai politics.


This surprisingly, after military officers in 1932 ended the feudal era of absolute monarchy. The colour of Thaksin’s opponents is yellow ,they go by the name of People’s Alliance for Democracy and are protesting against any royal clemency.


Kick-boxing is a popular sport in Thailand. Contesting the battle for Bangkok are the underprivileged farming community in the red corner and in the yellow, also the colour of monarchy, the elite.


The three earlier rounds were fought in the last 12 months on the streets of Bangkok with the yellows prevailing, their unelected Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva  riding on their backs. So far he has handled the red protests with firm restraint under the benign gaze of the monarch.


But when his bete noir, Shinawatra, appeared on a video link at a Bangkok noodles restaurant before thousands of his supporters, Abhisit saw red. He did not want the planned yellow rally to take place for fear of the unexpected.


Surprising his critics who called him weak and indecisive, Abhisit did the unexpected: invoked the Internal Security Act. This allows the Prime Minister wide military powers especially when the incumbent distrusts the police.


The ISA has never been used without the declaration of the emergency nor has the army been used to preempt a peaceful protest. The Bangkok Post banner headline of August 28 read : “City Goes into Lockdown”.


Prominent dates in the history of bloodshed on the streets are October 1973, October 1975 and May 1992. In each case, it was either intelligence failure or more likely intelligence manipulation that led to a bloody crackdown and a regime change through a military coup. Fearing violence, the Reds postponed the rally indefinitely, probably till the Asean summit in October.



The next round in the unresolved class conflict will be decisive, people say. Mr Thaksin, the only Prime Minister in history of Thai democratic politics to run his full term, has changed not just the colour of politics but also forced change in tactics of royal patronage. Two successive pro-Thaksin governments that followed his ouster were brought down by questionable court judgments.


While the youthful Abhisit hangs on to power, which is lacking in legitimacy, his influence is yet to be felt. Real power rests firmly in the hands of the Army Generals, retired and serving, and captains of business and industry.


Mr Abhisit called on former General and Prime Minister Prem Tisulanonda,  President of the powerful Privy Council on his 89th birthday.


According to Red Shirts, he’s the man behind Thaksin’s removal. The King has taken a fancy to the Eton and Oxford-educated Abhisit. He is more malleable than Thaksin but he has not shown he is his own man and can deliver.


He needs to deal with the Muslim insurgency which has attracted  grave charges of abuse of human rights by security forces at Tak Bai. Even a Muslim Army Chief appointed in 2006 could not pacify the rebels who have grown in strength.


Attacks on police stations and car bombs have increased in frequency and intensity following the Iraqi model. Lt Gen Pichet Wisaijorn, the Commander of Yala province, has pressed in helicopter patrols to spot planters of IEDs and to jam remote control devices. Three attacks in six days claimed 13 lives in an insurgency where 3,500 people have died in five years of violence.


Political instability, a climate of civil war, an ailing economy and festering insurgency are a combustible mixture for conflict. Nick Nostitz’s Red Versus Yellow: Thailand’s crisis of identity encapsulates pictorially the record of Thai protest politics. He identifies with the Reds, he calls the underdogs of Thai society and says unless a compromise can bridge the divide, violence will shatter the fabric of Thai society.


In times of crises, the King is known to have applied the healing touch. Thais fear Prince Vajiralongkorn, who is the heir apparent to the throne. Unlike his revered father, the Prince is believed to be fun-loving and carefree.


Thailand has traditionally been looked upon as a role model for South East Asia, being one of its leading economies. Last month, India’s Look East Policy was consummated with the signing of the FTA with Asean.


The main thrust of our LEP is economic integration and energy security, besides helping evolve a more even strategic balance given Chinese predominant shadow over Asean.


The restoration of political stability in Thailand during the reign of King Bhumibol is essential for strategic and economic well-being of  the region. A free and fair election at an opportune time is vital for this.








India takes pride in its demographic dividend and the people factor has propelled India into a new opportunity landscape, thus creating a niche for itself in knowledge services. The population issue, which has been seen mostly as a burden, is now seen as a positive parameter, if we can find a smart way of turning this to our advantage.


According to the BCG report, in the year 2020, when most countries in the world would have a shortage of talent, India will have surplus talent accounting for the highest number, i.e. 47 million.


The moot point is: how is India going to be able to take advantage of this surplus and service global shortage for talent? The answer lies in making such resources equipped with skills that are in short supply today and are likely to be in demand in the next decade.


In order to make the resources employable, systematic planning and implementation involving various agencies and building a whole new ecosystem to support this would be essential.


While Indian professional talent has been recognised the world over, the reality is when it comes to skills, its track record has been far from satisfactory. The population percentage amongst youth that is single skilled is 96 per cent in the case of Korea, 28 per cent in the case of Mexico and 22 per cent in the case of Botswana. India’s skill base stands at just over 5 per cent amongst youth and that is a cause for concern.


What is also of interest is to take a look at the sectored employment status in India over the years. The slant is now towards the manufacturing and service sector with the share of agriculture dwindling. This clearly highlights the urgent need for creating a robust skilled framework — one that would enable youth to become employable and more productive.


Historically, skills in Indian society have been passed on from one generation to another in a trade or profession and the need for formal training and education in imparting skills has been limited.


With industrialisation, the need for technical and manufacturing skills was felt which resulted in the setting up of industrial training institutes and polytechnics. Training that is being imparted through these institutes is either limited to a few people or the quality and contents of programme do not meet the requirements of the industries.


As far as the requirements of the service sector are concerned, the education system is not geared to anticipate and proactively address them in time, leaving a yawning gap between supply and demand. This gap has been seen in almost every sector of the service industry — be it IT, ITES, retail or hospitality.


Organisations have had to spend huge amounts of money on repair and rework on already trained/ educated resources once they are brought into the fold of the corporate sector, thus delaying their productive contribution towards economic value creation.


Further, in many industries, due to a limited availability of talent pool, it leads to attrition and increase in compensation, thus adding to the costs of operations.


While there is a concern about the size of the talent pool available, quality is equally an important issue. For example according to NASSCOM, out of 10 lakh IT professionals trained each year, only 20 per cent are really employable. There are many reasons for this, some of which are enlisted below:


l Lack of integration of industry needs with the academic curriculum


l Inability to find good teachers in various parts of the country in large numbers


l Input quality is far from satisfactory, making it infeasible to make the output of reasonable quality


l Lack of proper planning in developing the framework of education for the services sector, leading to thousands of students graduating as MCAs or B.Techs, or MBAs whereas the need is more for skilled resources in specific areas rather than generalists in the field of study


If India wishes to emerge as a front-runner in the new world, it has to strategise how best to make use of the huge resource pool and provide the right skill sets to make them employable. The enormity of challenge and opportunity ahead is immense.


Therefore, it is imperative that bold and innovative approaches and solutions should be considered for quick wins and creating a significant impact.


Delivering quality with scale would be important as opposed to making small changes over a period of time. The trend of industry and academia partnering should continue and should also lead to an active interaction on curriculum adaptation as well as internships and on-the-job training. The use of technology to deliver quality and standardised content at remote locations without total dependence on teachers would be necessary. Unique formats of learning need to be developed in order to make learning come alive and be enriched with simulations of real life experience.


The formats of entertainment that youth are comfortable with should be explored in making learning fun, especially with Gen X students being exposed to computers, games and television even before they come to school.


Thus, there is a need for exploring new paradigms in imparting learning that would also have to factor in the implications of social networking and how collaborative working and sharing of information would impact students’ mindset about career choices and resultant desire for acquiring right skills.


Tomorrow’s employers will increasingly become comfortable with employees working from remote or from their homes in large numbers and this will pose a new challenge to knowledge workers to adapt to the organisation culture which they will have to learn to experience virtually most of the times.


Finally, parents have to encourage students to value their skills much more than their degrees or diplomas as skills alone will be the currency of the future.








Those who thrive on public misery during a situation of shortage and scarcity are called black marketeers. Normally, petty hoarders indulge in this abominable practice. But during the recent strike by Jet Airways pilots, many other airlines also turned into Shylocks.


They charged thrice and even four times as much fare as they normally do. On the Delhi-Mumbai sector, Kingfisher charged up to Rs 17,000 during peak hours for a ticket which otherwise costs Rs 4,500. What is worse, even Air India emulated it, charging up to Rs 14,000.


A Kingfisher Delhi-Bangalore ticket peaked at Rs 18,000 versus the normal Rs 5,000. Air India charged between Rs 6,000 and Rs 20,000.


Kingfisher, which usually charges Rs 4,500 on the Delhi-Chennai sector, charged between Rs 6,000 and Rs 18,000. Prices of Air India were also up equally drastically.


This was exploitation pure and simple and presented the air carriers in an extremely poor light.


Nor was this the first time that such a situation had developed. During the 2007 strike by Indian (Airlines) exactly the same tactics was employed.


If such high-profile companies become mercenaries, can the traders be blamed for jacking up prices in an hour of crisis?


The exploitation became so brazen that on September 10, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation had to issue notices to all domestic airlines to charge fares on a par with those of the week ending September 6.


After all, the cost of operation of scheduled airlines had not undergone any significant change in this week as compared to the previous week. Mr Lalit Gupta, a director at the DGCA, admitted that the steep fair hike was “excessive in nature”.


This was for the first time that the DGCA had to invoke Rule 135 of the Aircraft Rules of 1937. It is good that the provision to apply this rule to domestic airlines was made recently, otherwise they would have continued to milk the harried passengers.


Their argument that it is all a question of demand and supply is totally hollow. It is understandable if they charge full fare instead of discounted on a day when the demand is heavy. But to jack up the price three to four times on various metro routes on a day when there is strike in one airline and hundreds of flights are cancelled amounts to daylight robbery.


They get away with such activities merely because they cartelise their operations. Even in normal times, they charge exorbitant fares on sectors where only one or two airlines are in the picture.


Yet, when they are in the red themselves, they have the cheek to rush to the government pleading for a bailout from the taxpayers’ money. Why should the public pay for their inefficiencies and extravagance?


While the DGCA is expected to watch the interests of the public, the passengers too must hit back by not succumbing to their arm-twisting. The Air Passengers Association of India (APAI) established in 1990 must step in to safeguard the interests of the passengers.








The latest government data published on August 31, 2009 appears to indicate that the economic upturn has already started in India with its year on year growth registering a 6.1 per cent rise in the first quarter of current fiscal, the fastest ever rate of increase since the global financial crisis began almost a year ago. This has inched up the official expectation of annual growth to 6.5 per cent for 2009-10. The rise of first quarter growth to 6.1 per cent from 5.8 per cent in the previous quarter and 5.3 per cent recorded in the quarter before that bears out the fact of government stimulus packages are helping create large demand. Though the consumer spending in economy records a decline during April-June, 2009 in comparison to the corresponding period a year ago, the government share of total expenditure in the economy due to stimulus spending made more than good the decline. The sentiment is also expressed in the stock market of the country with Bombay Stock Exchange sensitive index surpassing 16,000 mark as on the last day of the first week of current month due to larger profit booking. Not only India but also the major economies of the world also seem to be recovering from the global down turn. Thanks to strong economic fundamental and huge bail out packages, accompanied by sufficiently well capitalised banking sector to help credit growth, the emerging economies including India, China, Brazil, South Korea, Mexico, Russia and a few South-east Asian nations now appear to be slowly returning to economic recovery mainly through their growing domestic demand. The optimism over revival of Asian economy is further strengthened by the better performance of industrial sectors in export oriented economies of Japan and Singapore though, however, Indian export sector has suffered a lot for one full year. It is important here to note that the stimulus packages of developed countries such as USA and West European nations did help more the Asian nations than even themselves though they are also now appearing to be on the recovery track.

However, one need not be highly optimistic about India’s growth out look nor should perhaps try to read much from the recently published growth data. We have to take into account the longdrawn drought factor into consideration. The economic growth may turn even worse in the current and next quarters. This is the reason why UPA government is set to revise the growth target for eleventh five-year plan-period down to 7.8 per cent. The plan panel has projected the growth in 2009-10 at 6.3 per cent against the earlier estimate of 7 per cent, taking into account the probable impact of drought on agricultural sector. One could also argue that the projected growth rate may undergo even further revision. The expected growth profile to be realised will have to meet yet other important conditions like efficient public distribution system, honest implementation of infrastructure projects including State-run ones, corruption-free public expenditure programme and implementation of National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, proper control of prices of the essential commodities and of course demand generation from increased private consumption within the country.







The poignant story of the Kabuliwalla languishing in Tezpur jail for months together even after completing his period of sentence due to bureaucratic bungling, far away from his home and near and dear ones only exposes the insensitivities of the officials of both the Assam Government and the Central government because there appeared to be no one interested to follow up his case in the corridors of power. The Assam government could have deported the Afghan national under the powers vested in it by the Foreigner’s Act, but to be on the safe side referred the matter to the Home Ministry. The Home Ministry in its usual fashion advised the State government to take up the matter with the Ministry of External Affairs. Correspondece with the MEA is currently going on while the Kabuliwalla continues to remain in jail without any orders of the court. It was strange that no one thought of bringing the matter to the notice of the Afghan Embassy which could have provided necessary assistance to the beleaguered incarcerated Kabuliwalla.The Resident Commissioners of Assam stationed in Delhi could have been utilised to follow up the case in Delhi.

Such bungling in deportation of foreigners had been going on in the State since the promulgation of IMDT Act in 1983.Foreigners are pushed back at the border stealthily and these illegal migrants re enter the State within a few days. It was thought that with the repeal of the IMDT Act deportation would be easier. However from statistics made available nothing much had improved. Foreigners Tribunal are short staffed, police personnel are overworked in counter terrorism activities, borders are not completely sealed. Therefore the most important work of the government, namely detection and deportation of foreigners had not been given top priority. The recent visit of the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh to Delhi is reported to have marked a new beginning in the relationship of Bangladesh with India and a proper procedure of deportation of Bangladeshi nationals should be evolved.








Unless the BJP again takes to the politics of passion and mass mobilisation, it’s likely to become a rump party, much like the Jana Sangh, albeit bigger in its Lok Sabha presence than the latter, with its 20-35 seats.

The strife and bloodletting in the Bharatiya Janata Party has turned out to be far more prolonged, violent and self-destructive than the party’s most inveterate critics had expected. Not a day passes without senior BJP leaders calling their colleagues names. As “the party with a difference” suffers painful organisational upheavals, its cadres pour scorn over their bosses, lampoon them as Humpty Dumpty, Tarzan and other cartoon characters, bay for the blood of those who have “betrayed” the BJP, and hoarsely exhort party loyalists to “bombard the headquarters”, imitating Mao during the Cultural Revolution–perhaps with equally disastrous results.

Many observers are dismayed at this explosion of virulent recrimination in the BJP. Some even rue that the party is blurring its line of demarcation from the Congress, which lacks a culture of inner-party debate. This betrays astounding naivety. The BJP has never had such a culture. Its core political and organisational concepts derive from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is profoundly undemocratic and doesn’t ever elect its leaders.

The truth is, the BJP simply cannot comprehend the causes of its second consecutive defeat in national elections in structural or strategic terms linked to changes in the balance of social forces, economic processes, Hindutva’s receding appeal and the attraction of inclusiveness in a society as badly divided and afflicted by deprivation, and hence in need of healing, as India is. The Congress made just this appeal, and won. The BJP remained stuck in Hindutva, too-cleverby-half leadership projection, caste arithmetic and image management. It’s now blaming individuals for its losses.

The person who has been most ruthlessly attacked and suffered the greatest loss of stature is none other than the BIP’s tallest functional leader, perennial Prime Ministerial aspirant LK Advani. Jaswant Singh has pilloried him for his “consuming ambition” which prevented him from defending his long-standing colleague against summary expulsion for writing a book on Jinnah. Arun Shouric, aware that he’s unlikely to get a BJP Rajya Sabha ticket again, has accused him of being a prisoner of a self-serving coterie. Yashwant Sinha has mercilessly mocked him. And “adviser” Sudheendra Kulkarm has deserted his camp.

The “Iron Man” has become an object of ridicule and the butt of inner-party jokes. Worse, he has been told by RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat that he must stop pretending that he’s the shadow Prime Minister and quit as the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. The RSS is also clear it wants Rainath Singh to make way for a younger leader once his term as BJP president expires.

This is not, as it might seem, a way of levelling the two competing power centres that exist in the BJP: one around the unelected Core Group dominated by the Advani faction, and the other controlled by the party president’s loyalists. Rajnath Singh will complete his full term as party president at the end of 2009. He cannot have a second term unless the party constitution is amended. And Singh, a provincial petty-minded politician devoted to intrigue, lacks the leadership qualities and stature to bring this about.

The RSS’s real target is Advani, who breached his understanding with the RSS reached last year that he would be the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2009 general election, not beyond. When the election results came in, Advani offered to step down as the Leader of the Opposition, but unilaterally decided to re-usurp that position. The RSS has treated Advani with apparent deference, but the thrust of its message, that he must hold no office by virtue of his “leadership” of and past stature in the party, is clear and unequivocal.

The BJP is in the grip of its worst-ever crisis. At its heart is more than a power struggle, vicious and no-holds-barred as this is. Its true dynamic lies in a total collapse of organisational authority, political disorientation and strategic bankruptcy. There are no institutional mechanisms, mediating agencies or leaders in the BJP which can arbitrate between its warring leaders and end the night of the long knives.

This has allowed the RSS to dictate terms to the BJP openly and brazenly. The RSS decided that the BJP must make a transition to leaders aged 55 to 60 years. And four such leaders duly landed at Bhagwat’s feet. The RSS decided to read the riot act to Advani. And its top officials descended on New Delhi to do so. The RSS wants the choice of the next party president to be extended beyond the Advani coterie of Arun Jaitley, Venkaiah Naidu, Ananth Kumar and Sushma Swaraj. So Manohar Parirkar, Nitin Gadkari and Shivraj Singh Chauhan are suddenly in the running.

The RSS is now micrormanaging the BJP. It will probably insist on vetting all candidates to the party’s organisational posts. And it’d be a surprise if it doesn’t demand veto power over the party’s political line. In some ways, this function is new.This doesn’t deny that the RSS has overtly intervened in the BJP’s affairs in the past. There was sarasanghachalak KS Sudarshan’s famous “midnight knock” in 1998 insisting that Prime Minister Vajpayee not swear in Jaswant as his Finance Minister the next morning. 1n 2002-03, the RSS thrust the Ram temple construction agenda down the government’s throat (although the Supreme Court put paid to that). In 2002, party president Jana Krishnamoorthy reorganised the BJP regionally under RSS pracharaks. It has remained under their organisational influence ever since.

What is new about the present RSS-BJP relationship, shaped by the BJP’s election defeat and the unprecedented turmoil in the party, is both the scope and quality of the RSS’s interference in its day-to-day affairs. Even BJP leaders without an RSS background like Shourie accept this. Indeed, Shourie pleaded for it, when he said to Shekhar Gupta that the RSS should “take over” the BJP. Although the RSS responded by saying it cannot run a party, its expanding influence is a stark reality.This inaugurates a new phase in the BJP's evolution. As long as the Vajpayee-Advani duo was in a position of strength, and especially while the BJP held power at the Centre, they could carve out a certain degree of autonomy from the RSS in the day-to-day running of the party and government–without breaking with Hindu communalism ideologically, or the RSS organisationally. Neither leader had the courage of conviction to put the BJP patl: of moderation or turn it into a conservative Right-wing party–comparable to, say, European Christian Democrats–while discarding its Hindu-communal baggage.

The RSS adopted a low profile, but remained the BJP’s mentor, political guide or hegemon and its organisational gatekeeper . It coordinated relations with the rest of the Sangh Parivar. It conceded some policy space to the BJP in governance, especially in economic matters. But behind the scenes, it always asserted its overall primacy, especially that of the Hindu-nationalist agenda. A key to this was the BJP’s dependence on RSS pracharaks to mobilise votes for it during elections through door-to-door campaigning.

That means the RSS will overtly and blatantly tighten its hold on the BJP, further damaging the party’s credibility. Unless the BJP again takes to the politics of passion and mass mobilisation it’s likely to become a rump party, much like the Jana Sangh, albeit bigger in its Lok Sabha presence than the latter, with its 20-35 seats. Even such a party cannot be written off. But it’ll be a far cry from a force that’s about to come to power.








A quintessential academic at the first impression, an outstanding teacher of mathematics and statistics and an excellent human being who maintained a cordial relation with his students, colleagues and friends as well till his demise at the age of 80, was born on October 4 in the year 1909 in Sind, then under the colonial rule of Britain. Many of us have fond memories of Professor VD Thawani who was the founder Head of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics of the Gauhati University, and also the founder President of the Gauhati Science Society, later transformed into the Assam Science Society. In the later part of his active career, he served the United Nations in the FAO for several years with great distinction. I had close association with Professor Thawani beginning as one of his students in the B.Sc. Statistics pass course along with Physics Honours and Mathematics and Statistics as subsidiaries during 1951-53 in Cotton College. The Gauhati University which was established in January 1948, introduced for the first time in the State, undergraduate courses in several subjects like, Statistics, Geology and Geography in the Pass and Honours along with Cotton College. Some of us were fascinated with Statistics, and one reason was definitely the fact that Professor Thawani whose reputation as a teacher was already spread far and wide, happened to be also a senior wrangler of Mathematical Tripos of the prestigious Cambridge University.

Before joining Gauhati University as Professor and Head of the Department of Mathematics, Thawani was Agricultural Statistician under Government of India in the Agriculture Department. Among peers in his fields of studies, great personalities of the stature of P.V. Sukhatme (Statistics) and V.V. Narlikar (Mathematics) were among his well meaning friends. One of our great oriental scholars of international fame, Krishna Kanta Handique was the founder Vice Chancellor of the Gauhati University, who held the position for three terms from 1948-1957. Handique accepted the challenge of building the new and the first university of our State with all seriousness. As a student of the premier university of the country, the Calcutta University, he was surely inspired by the legacy of brilliant teachers like, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Chandrasekhar Venkata Raman, and the great visionary, Sir Asutosh Mukherjee, the then Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University who picked such luminaries to adorn the faculty of his University. The Bengal Renaissance, which was the Indian Renaissance of culture and education, had its far reaching impact on Sir Asutosh, who wanted to bring Calcutta University to similar stature as a world class university by choosing scholars of eminence from across the country to man the various Departments of his University including those of the newly established University College of Science. Handique had a similar vision, who picked such talents like, Professor Thawani, Professor P.C. Tomas, Professor Sarangapani, Professor Baji, and others as faculty in several Departments of the new University.

Professor Thawani’s teaching of Mathematics and Statistics was a talking point among students and intellectuals in the society. His command over different areas of these two subjects, conceptual clarity and exposition in a homely environment with his students and his inimitable linguistics skills were truly the hallmarks of his method of teaching. The radiating expression of his face and the cool organized wisdom to enable steer through any circumstance whether in affairs related to the functioning of the new university or in other situation were always unmistakably impressive.

Professor Thawani, not only enjoyed teaching, he maintained a very affectionate regard for his students, past and present and also he endeared himself with equal cordiality with his colleagues and friends at the family level. His wife, Ratane, predeceased him a few years ago. Sir would ask me to stay in his house even after his wife’s death, when I visited Jaipur where he settled after retirement. I remember, he would not hesitate to prepare the morning cup of tea himself in such occasion.

While glancing through old volumes of Phil. Mag, Proc. Royal Society, Phys. Review, etc, in the library of the Physics Department of Cotton College, I came across a few papers written by Sir in the Proc. Royal Society, all communicated by Fellows of Royal Society. I could perceive that the work reported in these communications were mostly applications of high level theories of Mathematics and Statistics. I would imagine that this was noticed, especially by PV Sukhatme who served for years as a senior statistician with the FAO, United Nations. It was perhaps due to Sukhatme’s persuasion that Prof Thawani became inclined to serve the UNO as a statistician of FAO in several stints. He first joined the FAO in 1962, in Kathmandu, Nepal, and then left for Africa for a short period. As he was not very happy health wise while in Africa, he asked for relocation, and was then placed in Bangkok from 1963 till around 1974 with a brief interim posting for a few months in Rome. He worked in Baghdad from 1974 to 1977. After Bagdad he came home, and stayed with his son, Ghanshyam’s family at Calcutta. He in fact wanted to take retirement forthwith. However he was given one more assignment in Jakarta in 1979 and stayed there for about nine months. He finally relinquished his UN assignments, and was entitled to good amount of tax free pension till he called it a day on 19th of August, 1988.

Two things appeared to be in his daily routine: first, to write letters to his numerous friends, relatives and past students and colleagues, and secondly to dole out donations to institutions, mainly for educational and social concerns.

A perfect blend of an academic with a humane face and a theosophist at heart, Professor Thawani’s cherished memory is a source of inspiration to all who had been fortunate to come in contact with him in one way or the other. With Assam Science Society, Sir had his abiding faith in its effectiveness and in the pursuit of its primary goals and objectives. He donated funds for the creation of two endowments for a Fellowship, the V.D. Thawani Fellowship to recognise outstanding achievements in the Physical Science Group, and a research award to provide incentive for pursuing research by younger talents. The last occasion he visited Assam was in March 1978, when he attended the Silver Jubilee Annual Conference of Assam Science Society at Goalpara College as the Chief Guest.

(Published on the occasion of birth centenary of VD Thawani)








The Mahatma has inspired not just Munnabhai. The other day, while addressing American schoolchildren, US President Obama stated that his ideal dinner guest would be Gandhi. The Mahatma’s emphasis on fighting oppression through non-violence had, Obama said, inspired Martin Luther King in his struggle against racial discrimination.

Obama quipped that a dinner with his ideal guest would have to be a small meal since Gandhi did not eat all that much. As the Mahatma once said, “I eat to live, to serve, and also, if it so happens, to enjoy, but I do not eat for the sake of enjoyment.” The Mahatma was also a man of action and not just words and there were days when he did not speak at all.

The foreword to his autobiography says, “My life is my message.” Which could be another reason why Obama chose the Mahatma as his ideal dinner guest. A good listener who can say a lot in a few words is an ideal dinner guest, especially when the menu has just a few courses! Obama has obviously read quite a bit about the Mahatma even though he was born 13 years after the latter was assassinated.

The Mahatma is not the only Indian an American celebrity has been comfortable with. The Hollywood star Greta Garbo became so much of a recluse that, even when she was staying with friends, she would walk out of a room if a stranger entered. One of the few exceptions was the Indo-Anglian author R K Narayan.

Garbo may have read Narayan’s books or felt that he was a calming influence. She may have also realised that here was one person who would respect her privacy and not convert a quiet conversation into a newspaper article. Which could also be a reason why Obama chose Gandhi as his ideal dinner-guest! As Fred Allen once quipped, “A celebrity is a person who works hard all his life to become known, then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognised.”







Investment promotion bodies like Invest India can do little to attract foreign investment into the country if the government continues to dither on reforming regulations and governance at both the central and state level. Investment decisions are determined by market potential — an opportunity to make money from operations, and not so much by the hardselling by such bodies, even if it is government backed.

Also, the ease of doing business in a country plays a critical part in attracting foreign money. The government surely would be conscious that investors are aware that investment promotion bodies cannot assure them of, or even facilitate, timely clearances from various authorities at the central, state and local level. For that matter, it is a shame that India ranks far lower than many of its neighbours on competitiveness. The latest World Bank-International Finance Corporation’s Doing Business report ranks neighbours such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, which are more politically volatile and relatively more dangerous places to live in, much higher.

But it is also true that given its vastness and demographic profile of its population, India offers immense potential for multinational companies looking to expand their operations. Also, given the stage of development of the country and its corporate sector, foreigners would find good value in buying out existing businesses and thus gain easier entry rather than establish greenfield operations. This is reflected in the numbers. Despite the contraction in the developed world, particularly OECD nations, the country attracted $10.5 billion as FDI between April and July 2009, compared to $12.3 billion in the corresponding period last year.

The robust FDI and FII numbers should not make the policy makers complacent. Such inflows have been achieved in spite of unfriendly rules and regulations. Imagine the potential with improved procedures and governance. So the government must not be under any delusion that India Invest can do what counterparts such as China Investment Promotion Agency achieved. The government has the mandate to carry out far-reaching reforms, and it should do so without wasting much time.






It was a novelty for India when the newly elected government announced a work programme for its first 100 days, through the President’s inaugural address to the 15th Lok Sabha in its joint session with the Rajya Sabha. Novelty wears off, inevitably. Inspiration and vision give way to the tedium of routine, unless firm political resolve converts initial enthusiasm into sustained passion to perform.

A handful of ministries have turned in creditable performance: education, home, finance. A worthy project to create unique identity numbers for all Indian citizens has been kicked off, roping in high quality private sector talent for the purpose. Some ministries are trying hard: highways, commerce, law, rural development. The majority of ministries and departments have only excuses and explanations for non-performance to offer. The petroleum ministry, instead of implementing the recommendation of past several expert committees to free up retail pricing of petrol and diesel, has set up yet another committee on the subject.

The telecom ministry is caught in its own time warp and has not yet finalised its policy on third generation telecom, even as the technology is racing ahead to 4G. There has been little will to redeem the bold promise made by the President to move on from the present system of a right to information to a system in which the government has a duty to publish all save select, confidential information. Action on the most widely experienced obstacle to expansion of industry or infrastructure — inability to acquire farmers’ land for non-farm use without convulsing the landlosers into violent protest — waits upon the political convenience of a mercurial ally within the ruling coalition.

Governance is not what governments do. Governance can be delivered only by bringing political will to bear on the state machinery, and that political will is articulated not just through sustained attention of the leadership but also through mobilisation of the people. The UPA and its key member, the Congress, have to assume responsibility for galvanising governance. Three months and ten days is too short a period for assessing the performance of the government. But then, 100 days is a long time in politics.







Pandit Rajeev Taranath starts his sarod recital with a story. “Hanuman became worried after he burnt Lanka,” says the distinguished maestro of the Maihar Gharana. Ravana’s demonic horde had set fire to Hanuman’s tail. The Monkey God sent the entire city up in flames with it. But Sitaji, Sri Rama’s consort, an incarnation of the Goddess Lakshmi, was also being held captive in Lanka. “Hanuman became worried about her safety,” Pandit Taranath explains.

“In that poignant state of mind the Monkey Grammarian went on to create a raga called Lankadahan (burning of Lanka) Sarang to console himself.” With that prelude, the maestro who learnt sarod from the late Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, begins to strum his instrument and quickly goes on to build up an emotionally surcharged atmosphere with the notes of Lankadahan Sarang (which subtly mixes the raga Desi with Sarang).

After the concert, Pandit Taranath answers questions about his music and tradition. He says his late Ustadji often spoke of himself as a ‘mere messenger’ carrying out what his father, Baba Allauddin Khan, had expressly asked him to do and that was to take “my music wherever the Sun and the Moon shone”. “That effectively covered the whole earth,” Pandit Taranath chuckles.

“Fullness” is the singular word he chooses to describe his Khansaheb’s towering musical genius. His exposition on music and its meditation on fullness, on what lies between notes, is particularly intriguing. For your columnist it resonates with the aesthetics of the gap or the sandhi articulated by Kashmir Shaivite masters.
When we mention Sri Abhinavagupta, the 10th century Kashmiri Tantrik-polymath, Panditji immediately names the Master’s commentary on Anandavardhana’s treatise on poetics. (Panditji had been a topper and had a bright future in academics when lightening struck in the form of Ali Akbar Khan’s music. He gave up as many as 14 jobs to pursue his passion full time.)

“It’s in the movement between notes that you discern one culture, whether it is Mozart’s or Maihar, from another,” he adds. What does he have to say about the 10,000-hour rule that Malcolm Gladwell presents in his Outliers? (“What separates elite violinists from merely good ones is 10,000 hours of practice.”)
What about innate talent? “That matters too; but sadhana, what Sri Krishna in the Bhagvad Gita describes as abhyasa (practice), is crucial,” he replies.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL





Human resources development minister Kapil Sibal has summoned the appropriate sentiment and the right words in denouncing Thursday’s horror in New Delhi when five schoolgirls were suffocated to death in a stampede on the narrow staircase of their school. Many more girls are said to be in a critical state from the injuries they suffered. Mr Sibal said what any civilised human being would in the circumstances — that the incident was “shameful” and “unacceptable”. But since he is in government, he needs to follow up his words with action, although education is a state subject and the basic responsibility of ensuring that children are in a secure environment when they go to school rests with the state administration. Typically, when disaster strikes, the motions of an investigation are gone through, narrow accountability is not arrived at, and the system reverts to its customary slovenliness and negligence, sometimes even criminality. This is the state of affairs in government schools in Delhi. There is little reason to believe that the situation is any better in other states. In Delhi in the past few years, there have been numerous reports of girl students in government-run schools being sought to be sexually exploited by unscrupulous teachers. Corporal punishment is rampant, and at least on one recent occasion it ended in death. Sometimes little girls are humiliated by being made to strip as punishment. In the end all such episodes are really hushed up. A basic fear of school gets to be ingrained in the girl child from an early age. This is bound to scar their personality for life and make them timid in facing the world, especially since in most cases they also come from economically insecure homes. Although the matter is still to be investigated, some reports suggest that Thursday’s stampede in northeast Delhi’s Khajoori Khas locality was triggered by rowdy boys physically misbehaving with young girls in a confined space.

Any which way one looks, government sector education, particularly schooling, is in a poor way. A forward-looking and progressive 21st century India cannot be built on such a basis. If China and Vietnam have made such huge strides economically in a relatively short time, it is because their school education did not go under even during periods of transition, and education of reasonable quality was universal. Even a generation ago, things weren’t quite so bad in India although the school numbers may have been smaller. The long-term decline in administration cannot have left education untouched. But the general apathy of the political and the bureaucratic class to schooling in the government sector has ensured that even satisfactory school buildings do not exist. The quality of teachers is abysmal, and the curriculum is antediluvian. In a broad sense, much of the time spent in school is a waste as it prepares students neither for university nor for a trade. This is where Mr Sibal can seek to make a difference. So much is said every other day from the highest quarters — we heard the Prime Minister earlier this week and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi shortly after on overhauling the social sector, which means particularly education and health — that it would be a shame if the HRD minister didn’t seize the opportunity to get state education ministers around, think of a doable restructuring plan, and help states with additional funds, where needed. The mantra behind the Eleventh Five-Year Plan is uplift of the social sector. The shaft-light of education cannot be passed through India on the basis of the private sector alone, given the substantial levels of poverty and backwardness in the country. The government must come forward to be counted.








 “You place your faith in prayer?

I trust the strength of metals —

If twittering birds can sing

Then so can boiling kettles...”

From Foolish Proverbs by Bachchoo


Air travel is a pain in the neck and in other parts of the body. I am still not over the resentment I felt when, having delivered a lecture at a German University I was gifted two bottles of perfect, mature Rheinland Riesling which were confiscated by security at Frankfurt airport when I tried to carry them aboard the aircraft in my hand luggage. The problem was that I only had hand luggage for my overnight trip, an elaborate computer bag with space for a change of clothes, a toothbrush etcetera and two vintage bottles and it didn’t occur to me to check it in. The securitywallahs wouldn’t let me turn back and check it in. They simply removed the wine. So with a sinking heart and contained German swear words stuck in my gullet, for fear of torture by the present equivalent of the SS, I watched as they threw them into a deep metal bin into which the perfumes of the Arab lady before me had also been deposited. I am sure that the securitywallahs recovered them from the bin when no passengers were looking and took them home for “analysis”.


I would have loved to analyse the expensive Riesling myself, but have fallen back on the consolation that the Arab lady’s perfume was quite possibly a bomb and German official vigilance saved the my life and the day.


On Monday last, three Muslim men were convicted in Woolwich Crown Court, Southeast London, of a conspiracy to smuggle explosives in Lucozade bottles onto seven planes leaving London for America and Europe. If their plot had succeeded they would have killed perhaps 2,000 people. It would have been another 9/11 perpetrated this time by the namak haram of Britain who grew up in this country, were educated and fed by it and turned to plotting crazed and meaningless mass murder.


The would-be bombers are to be sentenced next Monday and, having been convicted by a jury, which was shown their self-recorded suicide/mass murder videos of hate, they will not be treated as felons who exceed the speed limit on the highways or refused to pay their TV licence. They’ll get it in the neck. Even so, British justice has in the past convicted and sentenced 40 terrorists and would-be murderers and plotters who have now served their sentences and are, in the same week as that in which the Lucozade bombers will begin their sentences, to be set free. The less scrupulous newspapers have headlines which publicise the fact in panic-striking terms: “40 Terrorists to be set loose on our streets” and so on. That’s British justice and the British press.


As for the British government, it has used the conviction of the Lucozade Three to repeat its claim that the war in Afghanistan and the death of 200 British soldiers and the maiming of several thousand more is being prosecuted to make the streets, airports and planes flying from them safer. The fabric of this propaganda has worn very thin.


There is an established connection between the Lucozade Three and a man of British origin called Rashid Rauf who was held in Pakistan. The prosecution in the Lucozade case established that these foiled bombers had been in communication with the man Rauf who was apprehended in 2006 in Pakistan by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). They had reason to believe that he was a British terrorist who had come to Pakistan, the country of his birth, in order to escape a murder investigation in Britain in 2002. His uncle had been stabbed and Rauf fled the country soon after as the Birmingham police was looking for him and would, they say, have charged him with the murder.


Rauf is believed to have been an Al Qaeda “facilitator” and the British government spokesmen have told the press that MI5 and MI6, the United Kingdom’s internal and external intelligence agencies, have records of his communications with the Lucozade conspirators. The Pakistani intelligence services shared this knowledge with the British and with the Americans. It became evident after 2004 that Rauf was an important terrorist link and was, the intelligence services allege, in touch with the high command of Al Qaeda.


In 2006, a bus in which Rauf was travelling was stopped by armed gunmen of the ISI who took him into custody. The British Intelligence services were not in favour of this early arrest as he was proving useful as a tracer to terrorist cells in Britain and they wanted to leave him free until they gathered enough evidence to round these cells up.


The Americans nevertheless forced the hand of the Pakistanis and the tripartite surveillance was interrupted by Rauf’s arrest. Rauf’s lawyers allege that he was brutally tortured by the ISI and disappeared from a mosque where the ISI agents say they had allowed him to pray alone. The lawyers allege that the ISI disposed of him and are using the story of escape from the mosque as a cover for his murder.


There is no other evidence connecting the Lucozade Three to any Al Qaeda “high command”.


Neither is there much evidence to show that such a high command exists. It is a notion that the British and American governments will not surrender or provide proof for.


They are embroiled in a war with Afghanistan about which their populations feel increasingly sceptical. Why are British and American soldiers dying? To bolster the corrupt government of Hamid Karzai? To combat the heroin trade? To bring democracy to a place which may not have the prerequisites of such government?


The British government at any rate says it is to ensure that the Al Qaeda high command don’t use Afghanistan as a base to plot terror in Europe.


The Lucozade bombers may have acquired the arts and strategy of their murderous plans from instructors in Pakistan, but their links with any global terrorist high command are very tenuous.


Nevertheless, just as the British government seems to, these terrorists want to believe that such a high command exists and that they are under its instruction. It gives their random acts of murder a pattern and a greater purpose than the simple slaughter to which they dedicate their well-nurtured British lives.








Ramzan is the month of rededication to the Creator and the best way to come closer to the Almighty God is to understand the problems, troubles and plight of fellow human beings. To help others is one of the ways of rededication to God. Ramzan is also the occasion of giving. And giving something out of your pocket recharges you spiritually, while benefiting the not-so-fortunate fellow beings.


The month of Ramzan is special and near to my heart, as is the case with every devout Muslim. I make it a point to perform Umrah (minor pilgrimage to Mecca) every year in this fasting month. I choose Ramzan for Umrah because visiting the holy Kaaba in Mecca and performing Umrah during this period is equal to the main Islamic pilgrimage, the Haj.


I thank Almighty God for giving me yet another opportunity in the form of Ramzan to observe fasting and pay zakat (obligatory charity). This holy month gives me an opportunity to introspect self and develop sympathy, affection and love for the poor and the down-trodden sections of society.


When I observe fast, without eating and drinking water from pre-dawn to dusk, I understand the difficulty and pain the poor and the less privileged go through without food and water. For a Muslim to really judge whether his devotion during Ramzan has been successful or not, the best parameter is to see how he behaves through the next 11 months of the year.


The month of Ramzan teaches how to be compassionate towards family, friends, relatives, neighbours and other fellow beings. There are so many social evils prevailing among Muslims. One of them is the scourge of dowry. The fasting month gives an opportunity to change for the better and continue to be pious all through the year.


Besides offering the mandatory prayers five times a day, I also follow the Sunnah (Prophet’s tradition) prayers. I try my best to offer as many voluntary (nafeel) prayers as possible to keep my spiritual tempo high. I also try to give more time during Ramzan for reciting the Holy Quran in Arabic and reading its meaning and interpretations to understand the God’s message better. I pay zakat without fail. Islamic traditions hold that prayers and charity offered during Ramzan carry 70 times more reward (sawab) with God.


Ramzan used to be different when I was a child. Sahriwalas used to wake us up right from 2.30 am up to the Saher-ending time. I still remember three Sahri-awakers who used to come to our house. One used to carry a jhunjhuna (rattle) in his hand. Another had a drum. The third one used to recite verses from the Holy Quran loudly to wake up people for the Saher.


This tradition, unfortunately, is dying down as not many Sahriwalas are to be seen around these days. The advent of gadgets like alarm watches and telephones/mobiles with alarm facility, I consider, to be one of the reasons for lack of encouragement for Sahriwalas or Zohridars.


When I was a child, Iftar parties were simple. The culture of Iftar parties was there then too, but they were devoid of pomp and show. An aura of spirituality used to surround the iftar parties. There was no political show-off. Nowadays, everyone wants to host an Iftar party for personal or political mileage.


As every other working Muslim, I sleep less during Ramzan. I am an elected representative and have to dedicate time to my constituency and voters. Being the president of the AIMIM, I have to perform duties come what may. I become more hardworking in this holy month.


I hardly get time to break fast with my family at home. I manage to give time for two or three Iftars to my family during Ramzan. The remaining Iftars are with people and those who love me. During the last 10-days of

Ramzan, I get invitations even for Saher. I thank Allah for giving me such a good family as they understand my nature of work and they never complain. Instead, they have been more supportive.


The writer is member of Lok Sabha from Hyderabad and president of the All India Muslim Ittehadul Muslimeen








I swear I am not making this up. The day Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy’s (YSR) chopper went missing and the media was going overboard with the coverage, there was a typical Mumbai soiree on in full swing at one of those dark and terribly chic lounge bars where black is the only colour worth flaunting and the cocktails are customised.


Someone stupid, but trying to sound intelligent, mentioned that YSR was missing in action. The initial blank looks were soon altered to more suitably informed ones. “But I thought he died some months ago?” exclaimed a lady wearing a bum-scraping dress and lots of pearls. More blank looks. She giggled, “I’d seen the funeral pics in Vogue… Harper’s…. somewhere”. The man in too tight jodhpurs and black bandgala, coughed discreetly, “No. You must have seen it in Vanity Fair — that double issue dedicated to him”. Ms Bubble Dress looked seriously worried, before adding, “You are right, ya… I was at the salon… no… nail spa… flipping through some mags and saw it there… too sad… but the tributes were great… especially Carla Bruni’s”.


The original bright spark who’d been silly enough to bring up the subject in the first place, swallowed yet another designer cocktail (vodka-based), and coughed some more. Someone else had joined the conversation by now, “Wasn’t he the one who invented the LBD and put women in tuxedos? That’s just so cool!” Huh? Were they talking about the same man?


Oh oh… before any more faux pas were committed, Bright Spark swiftly interjected, “YSR, ya. Not YSL”. It was the turn of all the Bubble Skirts to swing around and chorus in unison, “WHO?” Bright Spark was trapped. He mumbled apologetically, “Politician. Andhra Pradesh. Chief minister. Chopper crash. He may be dead”. Blank stares. Finally, one of the Bubble Dresses broke the silence by saying, “Oh… really? Okay… but we don’t know any politicians. Of course, we know Praful… but he’s a buddy. Who’s YSR?”


This is no exaggeration. Few people in Mumbai had heard of YSR. To put things in perspective, the same lot has not heard the name of Maharashtra’s chief minister, either. YSR’s existence was a matter of no consequence. But YSL’s is. Their fashion quotient is judged on how well they know YSL’s contribution to couture and how well up they are on his breakthrough collections over the years. If they goof up on that, they are finished — dead meat in the fashion circles they court, obsess over and revel in. Never having heard of a dynamic chief minister is a bonus. It shows how isolated they are from the “dirty world” of politics. And a reflection of the pride they take in their self-imposed isolation. This is a growing breed in urban India, and in order to better understand the mindset of the mindless, it is key to figure out why the politics of this country does not touch them at all.


The same set of super elitist idiots can be found in the grand salons of Delhi and Bengaluru. They know nothing beyond their fashionably-fixed noses. And are unabashedly, unapologetically ignorant. The YSR tragedy merely highlighted the extent of their apathy. In response to an innocent question as to how they can live in a blind alley, their indignant riposte says it all — “How does it affect our lives, ya? Whether it is YSR or any other politician. We are sure YSR must have been one hell of a dude. But puh-leeze, can we change the subject now?”


The worry lies embedded in that single line — “Can we change the subject, now?” It has become a common refrain across India. With attention spans shrinking, nobody wants to look beyond the next development that is directly connected to their own lives. That, and the distressing media habit of remaining steadfastly focused on trivia and trivia alone, have resulted in an overall deadening of what’s going on in the rest of the “boring” country.


I would have glibly blamed it on stepped up regionalism (some truth in that argument), but it goes well beyond that sort of narrow mindedness. Most of us really and truly do not give a damn. If people in Mumbai fail to understand the mass hysteria unleashed across Andhra Pradesh in the wake of YSR’s death, and state confidently, “It would NEVER happen here”, it is equally true that folks in Andhra Pradesh would not “get it” or care if anything were to happen to one of our local icons. But if a top Bollywood hero copped it…? Hmmm.


What is far more interesting is Amitabh Bachchan’s new role as a pop psychologist in the Bigg Boss. Rani Mukherjee’s hot new bod in a bikini. Akshay Kumar’s tough talk in Khatron ke Khiladi, Shahid Kapur’s new puppy/parrot/kitten/tortoise, Saif Ali Khan’s latest gift to Bebo. Bebo’s latest gift to Saif. All this is breaking news. It breaks several hearts. Everything else can wait.


But at least, a few key priorities do manage to slip in between Bollywood gup shup. The proposed multi-crore statue of Shivaji Maharaj, for example. It is being avidly debated by the chattering classes. And this is a positive trend. One of the many alternative suggestions involve using the same funds (even half the staggering amount will do) to set up a meaningful and permanent memorial to those who lost their lives during the 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai. This could be a hospital or a shelter that provides a much-needed service to the city that is perpetually reeling under various threats. It is an excellent suggestion, but guaranteed to find no takers in government circles. It is so much simpler to erect monumental statues at a monumental cost.


Granted, Shivaji Maharaj is Maharashtra’s greatest hero. But imagine how much greater he would be seen if, along with him, we could also honour some of our other heroes — people like Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Mahadev Govind Ranade — who fought valiantly for India’s freedom? Why not a pantheon of Greats? A gallery with impressive statues of all those mahaan individuals who brought glory to Maharashtra. Or is that asking for too much from a political establishment hell bent on propagating and perpetuating a single name?


It’s a question worth asking Mayawati — the statue queen. It’s also a question YSR’s followers should bear in mind before the craze to erect his statues all over Andhra Pradesh goes completely out of hand.


We love to deify our leaders and turn them into modern day Gods and Goddesses. But these attempts to create personality cults need to be curbed right at the start. Here’s hoping the good people of Andhra Pradesh show the way.


Readers can send feedback to [1]








Perhaps it was the mellifluous song, O Sajna, Barkha bahar aayi (Parakh, 1960) which brought the heavens down. It was a wet and windy evening in Kolkata and we were celebrating the life and times of the marvellous cinematographer and director, Bimal Roy. Somehow the shamiana withstood the “Madhumati” weather and even the governor of West Bengal, Gopalkrishna Gandhi, was kind enough to sit through the storm along with us.


Our suspicion was that the location, the normally sedate and very pukka Tollygunge Club, may have been situated a little too close to the studios, New Theatres, where Roy had shot some of his greatest hits. So could Bimal Roy and his equally-talented colleagues such as Salil Chowdhury and Nabendu Ghosh be now battering at the air around us from the spirit world? It was an intriguing thought. Usually it is T-shirted golfers with their chota pegs and koi hai culture who inhabit the club and its rolling greens. But perhaps our presence, around 200 besotted Bimal Roy admirers, had changed the atmospherics? It was also 14 years since Salil Chowdhury died last week — so the incessant rain and howling winds bore powerful reminders of the wonderful era which has slipped away... I don’t think we can quite take credit for the floods in Kolkata which subsequently followed this blustery weekend but definitely that evening the mood, the music and the memories were closely intertwined with the rain.


Rinki Roy Bhattacharya was the catalyst for the evening — she is the daughter of Bimal Roy and has now brought out a diverse collection of essays on her father written by both those who knew him independently and others who have been deeply influenced by him. The subsequent book, The Man Who Spoke in Pictures, is a sensitive tribute — because it bypasses the usual hagiography which is churned out by children of famous people by inviting “others” to write. So the evening bore a true Kolkata warmth and friendliness and many of the children of “old timers” were present — such as the daughter of Nitin Bose, and the son of the founder of New Theatres. In fact, it was sobering to remember that only a few decades ago, as Dilip Sircar, the present owner of New Theatres put it, Kolkata was a prolific hub of cinema production. It was equal to Mumbai and Pune — and the films produced were aimed at the national market.


Sircar recollects that in the quarter century after its establishment, New Theatres alone had churned out 150 films. But with the Partition of Bengal, and the loss of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), a lucrative market, New Theatres found the going difficult and ultimately sank into receivership. So began the migration of talented filmmakers such as Bimal Roy and Hrishikesh Mukherjee to Bombay (as it was then known). Had that not happened, Kolkata today would have been a major production centre of films — not just in Bangla but also in Hindi.


Kolkata in many ways is a city with a soul — with many who are devoted to cinema and the arts despite the vitiating environment. However, while other metros, such as Mumbai and Delhi, are now at least struggling to get their development agenda off the ground, Kolkata, right from its grotty airport with its filthy bathrooms, is still mired in the 80s. There is little sign of the much-touted attempt by politicians such as Jyoti Basu to push public-private partnerships, to encourage capitalism or entrepreneurship. Despite the people’s government, the slums are as I remember them, 20 years ago. It seems as though many opportunities have been missed and the city has not been able to reconcile itself to the loss of a glorious past. Despite her deliberately cultivated humble look, Mamata Banerjee’s brand of politics is equally feared. Everyone alleges that she is being supported with money both from the Congress and industrialists who would prefer a more “protectionist” regime. If true, this would be simply another cynical ploy — to win elections and regional hearts. There is not much difference between the son-of-the-soil arguments of the Shiv Sena and the hushed murmurings one hears about Trinamul Congress. But no one wants to say anything openly as there are political thugs on both sides who will be happy to settle scores with a gun. The daily drip-drip of stories in the media of corruption among the Communist cadres has not helped either. If you could get rid of the politicians out here, is the common lament, Kolkata could be a city of joy once again.


Perhaps nothing brings this message home than a visit to Jorasanko, that houses the once-beautiful Thakur Bari of Rabindranath Tagore. The imposing red structure with its Venetian balconies, intricate wrought-iron balustrades and grand Grecian pillars is almost hidden in a maze of dirty bylanes, and the final approach does not prepare you for the destroyed splendour you can now only imagine. Why should the bari of a poet laureate, celebrated all over the world, have unkempt gardens, birds nests and trees growing out of the structure? Parts of it have been wrecked by the setting up of government offices for its nonchalant keepers. The brooding bust of Tagore overlooking a messy patch of green shrubs bears a weary look: for someone who had created the vibrant culture of modern Bengal, actually changed its lifestyle and attitudes towards women — there would be no reason to hold his head high.


Nothing symbolises our disastrous approach to development more than our disregard for our cultural history.


Jorasanko represents all that is wrong with our polity and social consciousness. Those who make their living by evoking the name of Tagore, and those who are busy writing tomes and getting Ph.Ds by cannibalising his work, do not have the time or the patience to fight to restore his home. On the contrary, they blame the “government” for the disregard. The “freedom” that his country has awoken to may, indeed, not be the same that Tagore dreamt about.


The writer can be contacted at [1]








No matter who is ultimately certified as the winner of Afghanistan’s presidential election, the vote was plagued by so much fraud and violence, and had such low turnout, that it is inconceivable the Afghan people will regard the victor as a legitimate leader. And if a majority of Afghans do not consider the President and his government to be legitimate, the military campaign now being waged by the United States and its allies is doomed to fail, regardless of the number of troops deployed.


Current discussions about cobbling together mistrustful factions into a new power-sharing government will produce neither enduring democracy nor short-term peace. The slate must be wiped clean.


Afghans need to start again from scratch and choose their leader by a fresh process that restores legitimacy to the national government.


Fortunately, such a process already exists — one that is both highly respected by the Afghan people and recognised in the Afghan Constitution: the convening of an emergency loya jirga, or grand assembly.


The loya jirga has been called in times of national crisis in Afghanistan for centuries. In 1747, such an assembly in Kandahar selected Ahmad Shah Durrani as the first king of Afghanistan, uniting a patchwork of contentious tribal entities into the modern Afghan state.


The loya jirga, moreover, is not only deeply rooted in Pashtun tradition, but is also consistent with notions of Western representative democracy.


Afghan society remains predominantly illiterate, agrarian and tribal. Indeed, the last king of Afghanistan, Mohammad Zahir Shah, often referred to himself as the “chief of all tribes”. Local disputes are routinely resolved by tribal elders seated on the ground in a circle, a gathering known as a jirga (or a shura in non-Pashtun regions). A loya jirga is, essentially, the same process on a much grander scale: an immense assembly of esteemed tribal leaders designated to debate issues of utmost national importance. Unlike presidential elections, which strike most Afghans as alien and fundamentally suspect, jirgas of all sizes are trusted and utterly familiar institutions.


According to the Constitution (which was itself ratified by a loya jirga in 2004), such a council can be convened “to decide on issues related to independence, national sovereignty, territorial integrity as well as supreme national interests”. Doing so does not depend on the support of any particular individual or group, including the President. While historically it was the king who most often initiated the process, the House of People, one of the two houses of Parliament, can directly convene a loya jirga at any time.


The Constitution further states that neither the President nor his ministers nor members of the Supreme Court have voting rights in a loya jirga; those are reserved for members of both houses of the Parliament and the provincial and district leaders. While in session, it trumps all other bodies of government. As the Afghan Constitution unambiguously declares: “The loya jirga is the highest manifestation of the will of the people of Afghanistan”.



Afghanistan faces a number of crises, any one of which would alone justify convening a loya jirga as soon as possible. But the most compelling reason for doing so is to have Afghans from disparate tribes, regions and ethnicities come together, outside the acting government, to select a President who will be considered legitimate by the people.


No other process — not a presidential decree, a special commission, a court ruling, an elections committee, an act of Parliament or an internationally sponsored conference — could accomplish this.


Certainly, a loya jirga is no panacea. The emphasis on achieving consensus can cause discussions to drag on interminably. The process may not be immune from political intimidation or even violence. During the loya jirga that considered the Constitution, ethnic factions argued so vehemently that some Westerners feared the nation would splinter. In the end, however, such worries proved groundless. The Constitution was ratified. The loya jirga worked.


The debacle of last month’s election underscores a basic flaw in the efforts by the United States and other Western nations to solve Afghanistan’s problems: the country is simply not ready for direct presidential elections or a presidential system of government transplanted from a Western model of democracy.


A political structure like India’s, with a Prime Minister, would be a much better fit. And the proper mechanism for converting the Afghan government along these or any other lines is the loya jirga, rather than ad hoc political appointments (like anointing a chief executive to serve under the President), as some have suggested.


Because it is a unifying, time-honoured and uniquely Afghan mechanism, a loya jirga offers the best hope for hitting the reset button and rapidly transforming Afghanistan’s political landscape. This would give the Afghan people a badly needed dose of optimism about the future of their beautiful, ravaged country.


Ansar Rahel, a lawyer, advised King Mohammad Zahir Shah’s loya jirga committee. Jon Krakauer is the author of Into Thin Air and the forthcoming Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman.










IT is difficult to establish a link between Thursday’s “stimulus package to revive the economy” and the Centre’s express objective to hold the price line. One will neutralise the other. The festival package provides a five per cent increase in the dearness allowance for Central staff and pensioners, entailing an additional expenditure of Rs 4,355 crore. To that will be added the remaining 60 per cent of the Sixth Pay Commission arrears and the total burden will be a fair amount indeed. The other sop of a one per cent interest subsidy on housing loans of up to Rs 10 lakh on property value of up to Rs 20 lakh is bound to boost the real estate segment, increasingly sluggish after the recession. The government will be saddled with an additional expenditure of Rs 1,000 crore. This is not to grudge the entitlement of those in the service of the Republic, only to stress that there will be a sharp increase in the money supply at a critical juncture. Specifically, when both the national and state governments are groping to tackle the extensive drought, the scattered floods and the steady increase in the cost of living index. Despite the decline in the wholesale level, the administration has lost control over the ballooning retail market, even over the prices of basic nutrients. The Rs 5,355-crore package, comprising the additional DA and housing loans, is bound to neutralise any savings that might accrue through curbs on profligacy, such as business class air travel and meetings in five-star comfort. In the net, inflation is likely to spiral further. It also flies in the face of the Reserve Bank’s belt-tightening measures to restrict the money in circulation, notably by cutting the interest rates on bank deposits. While such measures, unavoidable as they often can be, affect the populace in general, the periodic bouts of sarkari benevolence benefits only a segment thereof.

The singular aspect of Thursday’s package that was overdue and will be generally welcomed is the two per cent subsidy on farm loans. It ought to have been announced at least three months earlier and in the wake of the spate of suicides among kharif farmers in Vidarbha and Andhra. While banks have been asked to increase the loan target, the success of the scheme will hinge largely on the government’s ability to control the mahants ~ the collective rock on which the loan-waiver has floundered.







THE decision of the National Mission on Monuments and Antiquities (NMMA) to create a database of art and antiques ought to get an impetus from the latest fiddle at Visva-Bharati. The fairly ambitious Rs 90-crore project of the NMMA is directed primarily against theft and smuggling; but scientific documentation of the art treasures across the monuments and museums will help prevent the sort of wheeler-dealing that plagues Rabindra Bhavan yet again, five and a half years after the theft of Tagore’s Nobel medal. As exposed by this newspaper, as many as 25 copies of Tagore’s drawings were lent out to a publishing company, an irregularity that was compounded when the Visva-Bharati authorities readily accepted a blank cheque in return. In a word, it was a two-in-one criminal offence. So studiously crafted an unofficial deal suited both the publisher and the Central university, which must now be directly accountable for the crime in this showpiece museum. The scam is still more intriguing as the director of Rabindra Bhavan is said to be ignorant of the transaction. Of a piece with that ignorance is the attempted cover-up that has now been mounted: the transfer of two museum employees, a fairly routine exercise at VB and worse, the special officer pleading that a blank cheque was accepted because the value of the paintings had not been assessed. Both the scam and its response should make the university stew in its own juice. Going by past records, the authorities can be trusted to reduce any investigation to a fizzle. Should the probe start from conclusion to premise, Visva-Bharati scarcely deserves to be included in UNESCO’s world heritage list.

It is fervently to be hoped that the National Mission on Monuments and Antiquities will be able to curb, if not end, the frequent tendency to treat museums as objects of plunder and loot. Not that hardened smugglers are always directly involved. Thefts in Kolkata’s Indian Museum and at Santiniketan point to a collusion between local fixers and the staff. For good reason, the NMMA is presently focussed on Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu ~ states where both the theft and the haul have been phenomenal. West Bengal needs urgently to be added to the list.It is the network of private collectors and the museums that must first be exposed and broken.







TASKED as it is with the onerous job of trying to re-rail the game, the last thing recently-formed Hockey India needed was the kind of challenge thrown up by 50 of 55 participants in a training camp being declared overage after their wrists were x-rayed as part of an age-determining medical process. Many were over 20, but were in the running for selection to represent the country in an Asia Cup for under-18s. In a way it was fortunate that the coaches were suspicious and advised the tests, had the age-fudging been detected at the tourney in Yangon it would have been a huge national embarrassment and the credentials of Hockey India would have come under the international scanner. How the sport’s fledgling governing-body deals with the situation will be carefully monitored, it will serve as a benchmark. Scrapping the camp and calling for fresh aspirants to the national side is only a first step. For there can be no backing off from a duty to rid the sport of what is nothing short of cheating: that the malaise has been evident for some time now is no solace. Some of Hockey India’s key personnel have done some loud thinking about banning the offending players, creating a database of juniors to keep tabs on them. Good, yet not good enough.

The players did not turn up for the Bhopal camp like those “reporting” at an army recruitment rally. They were sent there by various academies, training centres and sports hostels run by state governments, the Sports Authority of India, and known promoters of sport like banks. It is difficult to accept that those who recommended them did not doubt their age, and surely they were dutybound to check that basic requirement. There is reason to suspect that they conspired with the players in the skewed belief that their unit’s reputation would be boosted if its wards donned national colours. So Hockey India must begin its clean-up down there: no easy way out is open to AK Mattoo & Co. They must send out a clear signal that this is crass cheating, akin to the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs ~ both seek unfair advantage over the opponent.







AFTER the Soviets departed from a devastated Afghanistan in 1989, Zbigniew Brzezinski, former Secretary of State (under Jimmy Carter), exulted openly about the sly US role in luring the USSR into a Vietnam debacle of their very own. Even before the Soviets invaded, the US ~ with Saudi and Pakistani aid later ~ secretly backed Afghan mujahedin factions. The more militant they were the better because, as a CIA handler later explained, “warriors of God” fought more fiercely against those godless commies. That these holy warriors thought no more highly of infidel Yanks was irrelevant at the time. The typical time horizon for such experts seems to be formed by the childhood board games they used to play, and was reinforced by the exigencies of crude realpolitik. The game ends and there simply are no consequences, no spillover, no reprisals, no repercussions.
This childishness is what informs the views of haughty policy-makers who like to believe that they possess depths of wisdom denied to the rest of the human race. Like anyone else in an advantaged position, they imagine they are privileged because they deserve it and not because circumstances, luck, flexible morals, and the right parents put them there. The contempt with which the average foreign policy expert regards the public is revealed mostly in inner sanctums where other dignitaries are presumed to share their high opinions of themselves.


SO now the same policy sages who cackled over the Soviet loss are using Obama’s victory ~ widely regarded as a repudiation of everything that George W Bush did ~ as a means to bury the US deeper in the Afghan morass. Their wisdom is, shall we say, inscrutable. There obviously are material motives ~ most likely, pipeline politics ~ behind the deepening engagement, but leaders aren’t revealing them. The standard answers they feed the media are absurd.

Osama bin Laden is either dead or dying of laughter. Osama might as well be a dues-paying member of the US military-industrial-energy complex because no one else has served their purposes so handsomely.
Yet in Afghanistan the Taliban are the ones who are surging. Why not? Yank and NATO invaders clearly run what little there is of a country to run. Counting “contractors,” there are well over 100,000 military personnel in Afghanistan, with more pouring in. The Afghan elections were a travesty. After eight years of combat the country is spiraling downward in every respect except in the ingenious heads of those who are paid to say otherwise.

Obama cannot explain why ravaged Afghanistan is remotely a threat to US security. The Taliban meanwhile benefit from the American way of war, which is cloaked for purposes of the domestic consumption as ‘surgical’ counter-insurgency operations but always result in high civilian casualties. Veteran journalist Patrick Coburn finds the American and British forces are only exacerbating the conflict: “The Taliban, once vilified as Pakistani puppets, are having some success in re-branding themselves as Afghan nationalists.”

Three recent US opinion polls display growing majorities against the Afghan adventure. So the official persuasion machine has been cranked up a notch. “There is a limited time for us to show that this is working,” says Defence Secretary, Robert Gates. General Stanley McChrystal, top US commander in Afghanistan, concluded an assessment of strategy with a request for more troops. By way of preposterous justification, Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen claimed “the numbers that count most are the numbers of Afghans we protect.”

The scores of Afghans recently killed in an air strike on oil lorries do not bespeak such tender care. Obama, who behaves like the Republicans won the last US election, just ignores public opinion. Why are American citizens so powerless? An Argentinian general in the 1970s provided a clue when he said he cherished democracy because it made people imagine they, and not elites, were in charge and, therefore, they would be more obedient. If this were not the case in all likelihood, some cynics say, democracy would not exist because the wealthy do not want average people making decisions, including whether elites can keep all their money and power.

This is why democracy is so radical in concept and often so pathetic in action.

Americans probably are the most brainwashed people in the world. Not even the Soviet people swallowed the lies about their old system that many Americans believe about their own. Still, the good news is that most Americans manage to see through the deceptions. They just can’t do very much about it since powerful players block the way. Neither can a solid majority enjoy the same national health system as Britain or Canada, a goal which is regarded as utopian, if not Satanic, because of corporate resistance.

Speaking of utopian goals, in 1950 one of us, while an undergraduate in Lahore, met Maulana Maudidi, founder of Jamaat-i-Islam. Asked if he proposed in the 20th century to cut off hands and stone human beings, he replied: “An Islamic society means that nobody has to commit theft because he is going hungry. Every young man should be economically independent so he is able to marry. Unless the society provides these things to the population, they cannot implement these sentences.” Maudidi’s followers, however, flocked to Zia, installed the Hudood ordinance, and discarded his social ideals.


THE Taliban does not acknowledge humane Islamic values. The Hudood ordinance, in spite of democratic successors, survives in Pakistan where even ordinary laws are widely flouted. The blasphemy rule recently was used in Punjab by a mob, including criminals, to kill Christians. Like puritans everywhere they punish people regardless of circumstances and despite the ample shortcoming of societies that their rulers run so badly.

As for Afghans, their fate depends on Iranian-American relations. Iran slowly regained status as a small regional power with influence in Lebanon, in Syria, and with Hamas (despite being Sunni) and now in Iraq. Iran undergirded the Northern alliance until the Americans entered in November 2001. Gone, though, are the days when Israel was in cahoots with the Shah’s Iran under the US umbrella.

Now Obama, already rebuffed by Israel, has to satisfy Iran by striking a deal regarding the settlements and withdrawal from the West Bank, and regarding the use of nuclear facilities. If Obama were to reach such an agreement the Israelis and the Saudis would be extremely agitated, each for different reasons.

Bush aimed to acquire a monopoly of power in the region. Can Obama settle for a different arrangement? If the Middle East pressure cooker eases then so too does the need for troops in Afghanistan. Although even if this positive scenario occurs, a fundamental problem remains. The leaders of the Western democracies want to put up a facade of democracy wherever they operate; and the Islamicists want to maintain the facade of Islam. No leader genuinely believes in democracy or Islam where they pose barriers to the exercise of their power.








There is a societal cost for keeping a leader poor, as Sarojini Naidu once jokingly reminded Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The finance minister’s austerity measures, welcome though they are, might have hidden costs. This might lead to the bizarre situation of losing in the swings what has been won in the roundabout. Ministers have been asked to travel by economy class. The point has been raised by Sharad Pawar that it might be difficult, if not an ordeal, for an obese minister to fit himself into an economy class seat. It might even be impossible to squeeze such a person into a seat in the unlikely event of a minister being assigned a middle seat. It could be argued that an over-large minister would have to go through a programme of weight and diet reduction before he is able to fly economy class. Rapid weight reduction in a gym or in special clinics is an expensive proposition. What the government would save by making ministers fly economy could be offset by bills coming in from gyms and spas. The issue posed by Farooq Abdullah before the cabinet is insoluble. He asked what would happen if the minister was tall and needed extra leg space? Frequent fliers should begin to get used to the idea of the first row of the economy class on aircraft being reserved for ministers and other VIPs. These problems raised by ministers may appear risible but they actually point to other areas where austerity could be more easily enforceable.


In Indian political circles, the line between party and government has become blurred; in many cases, it has been erased. Why should a minister, when he is going on party work or to the party office, use his ministerial car? He should use the party car or his personal car. It is a common sight to see ministers and important bureaucrats using their official cars for private purposes. This kind of misuse increases official expenditure. Unless there are serious security considerations — such considerations should be restricted to the prime minister and a handful of others — private use of official vehicles and drivers should be stopped. It is worth recalling that when Manmohan Singh had to renew his driving license he drove his own Maruti 800 to the licensing office. Mr Singh was then the prime minister of the country. Ministers in the United Kingdom are regularly seen driving their own cars while doing their own private work or attending private functions. The number of pilot cars that lead and follow a minister’s white Ambassador has become the new status symbol. This can easily be curtailed and some money saved.


The finance minister should ask his office to look into these costs. There must be other similar items as well. These, he will find, are more easy to implement than asking a fat colleague to squeeze into an economy class seat in an aircraft. Austerity, like charity, must begin at home. The car at home might be a better place to start than the plane in the hangar.










Before and after August 15, 2007, there was much talk in the press about this country’s imminent arrival as one of the world’s superpowers. This was prompted in part by the resilience of Indian nationhood — the fact that it had survived 60 testing years of freedom; in part by the robustness of Indian democracy — the fact that elections were held regularly and fairly— and in part by the recent surge in the Indian economy, as manifested by annual growth rates of eight per cent and more.


These anticipations of India’s rise to greatness were most powerfully expressed in two cities — New Delhi and Bangalore. Politicians and journalists in the former city, and businessmen in the latter, were in a visible mood of self-congratulation. Long beset by an inferiority complex vis-à-vis the West, they thought that India’s democratic credentials and information technology boom would now jointly ensure that at places such as the World Economic Forum in Davos, they would be treated with as much respect — not to say reverence — as leaders, entrepreneurs and editors coming out of Paris, Berlin, London or (especially) New York.

Willing along this superpower talk were the non-resident Indians, particularly those resident in the United States of America. In the past, they had been somewhat embarrassed about their native country, its poverty and inequality especially. At the same time, by virtue of their colour and religious affiliation, they had not been entirely at home in their adopted country either. Now, the expansion of the Indian economy and the listing on the New York Stock Exchange of some Indian companies encouraged positive feelings about India, which — if articulated energetically enough — could perhaps get the Americans to treat them with greater seriousness and respect than in the past.


Delhi and Bangalore are the two cities I know best, and I do visit the US once a year on an average. In 2007 and in 2008, I heard this ‘India as an emerging superpower’ talk all around me, and I was not impressed. In the summer of 2008, I published a long essay outlining seven reasons why India would not become a superpower. These reasons were: the rise of left-wing extremism in the very heart of India; the rise of fundamentalist and illiberal tendencies in all of India’s religions; the corruption and corrosion of the democratic centre; the growing gap between rich and poor; the superficiality of the mainstream media; the rapid pace of environmental degradation; and the instability engendered by multi-party coalition governments.


Soon after my essay was published, the economic recession set in. Its effects were felt most palpably in the countries of the West, but India was by no means immune, with jobs being laid off in the thousands. In November 2008, as the recession deepened, terrorists struck in Mumbai, with their success exposing both the fragility of our security systems and the amoralism of our political elite (as in the visit by the Maharashtra chief minister to the ravaged Taj Hotel, his actor son and the director, Ram Gopal Varma, in tow). These twin shocks put paid, for the moment, to superpower talk. Through the winter of 2008-9, the mood in the press, the political class and the business elite was more sombre than it had been in recent years.


In April-May 2009, the republic of India held its 15th general elections. No pundit anticipated its outcomes —namely, the decline of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the retreat of the caste-based parties and substantial gains for the centrist Congress. A national government more stable than anyone had expected was in place. Meanwhile, it appeared that Indian industry was picking up once more — projected growth rates were in the region of five to six per cent, well above the global average. These recoveries have led to the renewal of the idea that India, and Indians, are on the verge of claiming world leadership. Once more, the ‘S’ word has begun to appear in conversations in television studios and private living rooms alike.

Consider in this connection the special issue of the Delhi newsmagazine, India Today, August 24, 2009. The editor of the issue writes that “it’s wonderful to believe that the Indian awakening is the next big global bang, but our aspiration is not yet matched by the actions of our political class”. In other contributions, a political scientist speaks of how “India has become a place where Indians want to be”, and of how “this new self-belief and confidence in things Indian, and in this country, is felt especially among the young”. He goes on: “Among young Indians, there is a growing sense that India has to further its entry into the global domain — that self-isolation is not the way forward.” An article by a professor of management argues that we are now moving from “soft state to superpower”; that, by championing “justice and compassion from a foundation of multi-dimensional strength”, India “will lead nations towards cooperation and inclusion. We will help the world heal, and the earth heal”. Meanwhile, an Indian entrepreneur begins his article in this exultant vein: “When I think about India’s emerging economic clout on the world scene, I am reminded of Victor Hugo’s famous quote: ‘No power on Earth can stop an idea whose time has come’.” He continues: “Today, many global observers perceive a sense of inevitability about India’s rising economic status alongside China in the long run. I have no hesitation in weighing in with this rapidly growing group.” Since “the contours of the global power balance are set to be realigned”, argues the entrepreneur, “as a nation, we have to stand up and take destiny in our hands and make it happen”.


These anticipations are resoundingly endorsed by the one non-Indian contributor to the issue, the Singaporean diplomat, Kishore Mahbubani. He thinks that “both China and India have an extraordinary opportunity to shake off two hundred years of incompetent performance to become the world’s two greatest powers… It is also clear that all of Asia wants China and India to succeed”. Mahbubani ends with this exhortation:“This is why the moment has come for the Indian establishment to engage in deep reflection on India’s future in the next 100 years. Such moments of historical opportunity as we are experiencing now never come easily. A favourable correlation of forces has opened a new window of opportunity for India. And if India can engage in new and bold strategic thinking and slay several sacred cows along the way, the Indian dream may finally be realised.”


In my view, such talk is premature, perhaps even foolish and utopian. The seven structural problems I identified in my 2008 essay remain —six in full force, the seventh marginally attenuated (for, as the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s extraction of profitable ministries demonstrates, the Congress is by no means immune to blackmail by coalition partners this time around). On reflection, I would add three more problems — the disturbed neighbourhood (with Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka all mired in internal conflicts of their own); the unreconciled borderlands (consider the discontent in Manipur, Nagaland, and Kashmir); and the shocking incapacity of our public institutions, as manifest in the malfunctioning of our universities, our law courts, our hospitals, and our civil services.


There are therefore 10, not seven, reasons why India will not become a superpower anytime soon. But I would call into question the ambition itself. Should not nations judge themselves by their own standards, rather than seek to participate in some kind of global 100-metre race, the winner to be judged by number of billionaires in the Forbes list or size of nuclear arsenal? Rather than seek to dominate or tower above other nations, the republic of India must seek to be less discontented and less divided within.










It would not be fair to come to any conclusion about the charges levelled by the CBI based on the alleged confession made by Sarabjot Singh about his demanding huge sums of money from contractors to persuade his father Buta Singh to drop cases pending against them.

The CBI is known to prosecute innocent people at the behest of people in power. Buta Singh knows this as he was once home minister. Amongst the charges is Sarabjot having three revolvers without licences for any of them. If Sarabjot is able to produce these licences as his father claims he can, the CBI’s credibility will take another knock. On the other hand if the charges are sustained, both father and son should be prepared to pay heavy fines and time in jail.

It is permissible to conjecture why there are very few takers for Buta Singh’s version when he and his son are in such an unholy mess. The simple answer is that he has forfeited his trust; few people believe in what he says. His entire political career has been marked by party-hoping and charges of loyalties.

When he was first elected MP from a reserved constituency, many people hoped that Mazhabi Sikhs and Dalits had got a new messiah. But Buta Singh showed little concern for the down-trodden outcastes. His sole interest was in promoting himself.

He was the only Sikh who approved of ‘Operation Blue Star’ and, against the wishes of the community, got Santa Singh Nihang to rebuild the Akal Takht. It was demolished and built again by the community. Buta Singh was declared a ‘tankhia’ and ostracised from the Khalsa Panth.

When the political climate changed, Buta Singh also changed. He tendered abject apology to the Panth and asked  to be forgiven. After cleaning Sangat’s shoes he was pardoned and re-admitted to the Panth.

He rang me up and said: “You don’t know how I suffered when I was excommunicated from  my community.” It sounded hollow.

A few days later I happened to be listening to Keertan from Gurdwara Bangla Sahib on Doordarshan. There was a stream of worshippers coming in but the camera focussed on Buta Singh arriving, bowing his head and entering the Gurdwara. It was evident it had been pre-arranged by him. I lost the little respect I had for him.

He was not even loyal to political parties he belonged to or people he served. I met him last a few months after the 1984 holocaust of Sikhs in Delhi. Rajiv Gandhi as prime minister asked me to attend a small meeting to consider steps taken to rehabilitate families which suffered loss of lives and property. He asked Buta Singh who was his home minister to tell what had been done Buta Singh assured us that families of all victims had been rehabilitated and given compensation.

I could not hold back and interrupted him: “That is not true,” I said emphatically and listed names of victims who had suffered heavy losses and the customs holding back money sent by Sikh organisations to me to be distributed among sufferers.

Rajiv Gandhi ordered immediate action. The next day custom authorities and other officials concerned cleared all the goods and money to be given to whomsoever they were meant. Buta Singh had nothing to say. How can anyone be concerned about his fate now?


The following news item appeared in ‘The Hindustan Times’ on May 13. It escaped my notice but an Englishman Keith Whittan, sitting in London spotted it and sent to ‘Private Eye’ which published it in its column ‘Funny Old World’. It is indeed very funny.

“It is true that I have not brushed my teeth or bathed in water for the past 35 years,” Kailash Singh Kalau told reporters in Chatav, “but I tell you that I am not unclean. Every evening villagers gather to watch me perform ‘Aoni Snan’, which is just like taking a bath, except I use fire instead of water. I light a bonfire, smoke marijuana, then stand on one leg in the smoke for an hour, praying to Lord Shiva. Fire baths help to kill all the germs and infections in the body. It was so long ago that I started doing this that I cannot now remember why I began my nightly fire ablutions, but I continue out of love for my country. I shall only end my vow when all problems confronting my nation end.”

However, his neighbour Madhusudan Singh had a different take on events. “Kalau has seven daughters, who are all grown up now, but he always wanted a son, Thirty-five years ago a seer told him that he would be blessed with a son if he refrained from bathing in water, so he stopped washing and started bathing in fire instead. At that time he owned a grocery shop, but the stench from his unclean habits soon drove all his customers away. He is still hoping for son, but his wife is well over 60 now, so I don’t think his wish is ever going to come true.”


A highly sexed cock with evil intent was chasing a virgin hen. She ran as fast as she could, but he was closing in on her. In desperation she tried to run across the road and was killed by a speeding car. The rooster crowed triumphantly: “Margayee par izzat bachaa lee — she died but saved her honour.”

(Contributed by Harjeet Kaur, New Delhi)










Recently on HBO we happened to watch Brad Pitt bring the Greek legend of the Achilles heel to life in the movie ‘Troy’. An Achilles heel refers to the weak or vulnerable factor in a person’s physical make up.

And if you are to read about the legend of Achilles, apparently, he was dipped into the river Styx by his mother Thetis, with the aim of making him invulnerable. Since she held him up by his heel, that was not covered by the water and he was later killed in battle by an arrow wound to his heel. The movie brought the legend to life and over the centuries the story is now used as a metaphor for vulnerability.

All of us have our Achilles heel: That one vulnerable spot which can be used to bring us down during difficult times. Like Thetis, I have always felt that for a mother, her Achilles heel are her children.

Like Thetis I would like my sons to be invincible, untouched by hard times, have only the best in life. If they are threatened, like a tigress I am there to stand up for them, which can be embarrassing at times for them.

My second son had joined the best medical college in Bangalore a couple of years ago. He had got the seat on merit and my cup of joy was filled to over flowing. One evening I received a call saying he would be slightly late as the seniors were ragging him. ‘Ragging?’ the word conjured up fearful images of torture and near death with all the  media coverage of ragging in colleges.

Without a thought, I picked up the phone, called his principal and in a matter of seconds my son’s reputation was changed to ‘squealer’. He was upset with me. “How could you Mum?” he asked.

“All they did was made me roll around in a puddle of rain water cause they said since I had been a champion swimmer I had to show them my champion strokes in the puddle.” He did take some time to live that down but even so it has been very hard for me to avoid jumping in with both feet, even now when my sons are involved in anything, no matter what!








The United States and the other major powers have given Iran until late September to begin substantive negotiations on restraining its nuclear program. And Tehran has now announced that it is ready to resume talks, and the Obama administration says it is ready, too. Unfortunately, there is no sign that Iran is serious about doing much more than buying more time.


On Wednesday, Tehran presented a proposed agenda with vague suggestions about dealing with global issues — there is a lot to discuss, including Afghanistan — but insisted that the file on its nuclear efforts is closed.


In the seven years since its covert nuclear fuel program was revealed, Iran has managed to split the world powers and deflect any real punishment by promising to talk. It continues to defy a United Nations Security Council order to stop producing nuclear fuel and has largely shrugged off three sets of watered-down sanctions that either failed to target Iran’s economic vulnerabilities or were listlessly enforced — especially by Russia and China.


American and European officials say they are now developing a more persuasive list of sanctions if Tehran continues to resist; a ban on new energy investment in Iran and a possible cutoff of gasoline exports to Iran are two leading possibilities. If Washington and Europe cannot get Russia and the Security Council to go along, they must be ready to move on their own this time.


Most experts agree the Iran has already produced enough low-enriched uranium for at least one bomb, but they disagree — often vigorously — on how close Iran is to building an actual weapon. There is almost no disagreement on Iran’s ultimate goal. Even the top nuclear inspector for the United Nations, Mohamed ElBaradei, who too often gives Iran the benefit of the doubt, has acknowledged a “gut feeling” that Tehran wants the technology to build a bomb.


Iran’s economy is vulnerable. Unemployment and inflation are high; foreign investment is low. Banking sanctions imposed by the United Nations and separately by the United States and Europe have had some bite. The incentives package on offer from the major powers — including an end to diplomatic isolation and carefully monitored cooperation on peaceful nuclear energy — should be re-emphasized. Iranians need to see that there is a real choice.


Iran’s stolen presidential elections and the brutal crackdown that followed has deepened fissures in Iranian society and complicated engagement. But President Obama is right to remain open to broader talks.


That is not meant to legitimize the government. If done deftly, it could undercut the mullahs’ attempts to blame the United States for their own failures and make clear the price of continued obstructionism.


There is not a lot of time left for the world to forge a common position. The negative rumblings out of Russia — which is again playing down the need for sanctions — are disturbing. We are seriously worried about the growing drumbeat in Israel for military action.


An attack on Iran would be a disaster. So would allowing Iran to build a nuclear weapon. The United States should never have to choose between those two disastrous courses. If diplomacy shows promise, it should continue. But if Iran is playing the same old game, the major powers must be ready to impose a real economic price this time.







California’s online sex-offender registry is full of information about Phillip Garrido of 1554 Walnut Ave. in Antioch — a 6-foot-4 white male, born April 5, 1951, with blue eyes, brown hair, a scar on his abdomen and a rape conviction. But in the 18 years that Mr. Garrido dutifully met his obligations as a registered offender — checking in with the state every year — authorities charge that he kidnapped and held Jaycee Dugard, fathering two children with her and imprisoning them all in his backyard.


His case is a reminder that the solutions to sexual predation are not solutions at all, but frustratingly inadequate, and often ethically and legally murky, tools.


Continuing to hold offenders, after their prison sentences are completed, under the guise of “treatment”? This punishes people for crimes they have not committed, awaiting cures that never happen, at huge expense. Following them around forever? All states require offenders to register, but few have the resources to constantly monitor everyone.


In some places, “monitoring” only means an offender has to mail in a yearly postcard. Tens of thousands move away to who knows where. Authorities are often less likely to keep close tabs on offenders whose addresses they know — like in the case of Mr. Garrido.


None of these efforts, of course, address the reality that the overwhelming majority of victims are assaulted by

people they know, who never appear in any database.


Meanwhile, an attempt to create a national registry — part of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act passed in 2006 — has faltered badly. States fretting about the costs and legal complications all missed the deadline to comply, which was then extended to July 2010. They worry that the registry would create an overwhelming monitoring burden and that it uses crude means of assessing the likelihood that offenders might repeat their crimes. The list of offenders is so large as to be almost useless. It is supposed to include not only rapists and kidnappers but also flashers and teenagers who had consensual sex.


While officials ponder what to do, many states and cities have adopted another flawed and dangerous strategy: severely limiting where offenders may live. The idea is that children in schools, parks, playgrounds or libraries will be safer if offenders are not allowed to live more than a specified number of feet or yards away.


That faith in buffer zones ignores the fact that offenders move around and that zones drive predators into ghettos or homelessness. Sick people living marginal lives, away from the stability that jobs, medication, parole officers can ensure, are more likely to offend again, not less.







The Bloomberg administration has moved decisively to deal with a burgeoning scandal in the industry that tests the strength and durability of concrete used in public and private construction projects in New York City.


The city’s decision to create a laboratory to evaluate concrete for city building projects will help to fend off shoddy building materials that could shorten the lives of public structures and that could potentially leave them vulnerable to catastrophic failure. Beyond that, a new unit in the Buildings Department will audit the work of the three dozen or so companies that the department licenses to evaluate concrete used in construction.


These changes come in the wake of a widening investigation by the office of the Manhattan district attorney, Robert Morgenthau, which has already charged two testing companies as well as some executives with fraud for allegedly falsifying concrete testing results for both public and private structures. Investigators have also uncovered documents that suggest possible collusion between a tester and contractors, who are said to have ordered overnight delivery of test reports that are supposed to take 28 days to complete.


The investigation is still in the early stages and could yet uncover pervasive fraud in this crucial industry.


The city testing laboratory will be located in the Bronx and operated by the city’s Department of Design and Construction. In addition to testing concrete for a wide range of city agencies and projects, the lab will also help the Buildings Department audit concrete tests performed by private companies.


The city’s plan represents an excellent start for dealing with a thorny problem. But the city’s solution does not cover the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which builds and maintains bridges, tunnels, subways and transit stations under one of the largest capital budgets in the nation. To protect the costly and mammoth projects under its purview, the M.T.A. should consider emulating the new system that is being adopted by the city.









It’s not easy cruising the North Fork wineries of Long Island and wrestling with all the pompous nuances of taste (aromatic suggestions of “crushed rock, lime zest, cantaloupe, fossilized oyster beds,” etc.). All the more merciful to gulp a frigid jolt of LiV vodka, neat and jargon-free. LiV is poured 80-proof strong in the tasting room of Long Island Spirits, the only hard-stuff distillery amid the dozens of vineyards that have replaced most of the island’s once vast potato farms.


There’s poetry enough in the vodka. It is made from the best of the remaining potatoes first developed by the East End’s postwar wave of Polish farmers. They knew a thing or two about home brewing, but the vodka distillery is far more complex, with 28-foot copper stills and painstaking enzyme rationing, blending and tasting. Rich Stabile, a longtime summer resident and home winemaker, opened his micro-distillery in Baiting Hollow last year. He packs only unpeeled Marcy white russet potatoes into his mash cooker.


It’s a further relief from all the winery talk of grape subtleties to hear the Marcy was developed for potato chip making. They are peerless for premium vodka-making, says Mr. Stabile, declaring: “We’re very happy to pour against Stoli Elit, Chopin, Grey Goose, Belvedere.”


His friend and neighbor, Martin Sidor, supplies Marcys from his nearby farm where he produces North Fork Potato Chips. You can nibble them in the tasting room, where, it turns out, Mr. Stabile can’t resist verbalizing his product after all. “Distinctive nose, buttery feel, aromatics on it — vanilla, citrus — nice viscosity,” he exults. Well, I guess. My limited expertise in vodka tasting was in Russia during the fall of Communism, a very thirsty time. I can attest that LiV would go down quite smoothly in Siberia.









Let’s take a moment to rejoice in our country’s infinite capacity to surprise.


I’d have been willing to bet that we had a national consensus on the undesirability of a congressman yelling out “You lie!” during an address by the president of the United States. But no. It turns out there are quite a few people who think this is a good idea.


Joe Wilson, who will be forever known as the “You lie!” congressman, unless he does something even weirder in the future, has a lot of fans this weekend at the Taxpayer March on Washington. This is an anti-Obama demonstration organized by FreedomWorks, the group that helped bring us the summer town hall meeting protests.


Those were, of course, the events where we learned that we did not actually have a national consensus on the inadvisability of bringing loaded weapons to places where the president is speaking.


Among the co-sponsors of the march are the Tea Party Patriots, who helped bring us those anti-tax rallies last spring, during which we learned that there are some patriots who love the country so much that they would like to see their state secede from the union.


And now they also love Joe Wilson. “People need to stop being afraid and not bite their tongues,” one of the marchers told the newspaper The Hill. Actually, fear of self-expression does not seem to be that big of a problem with this group, but Wilson undoubtedly appreciated all the supporters who honored him by yelling “Liar!” as often as possible.


The tea party movement activists range from geeky Ron Paulists who obsess about the money supply to conspiracy theorists who believe that Barack Obama is a noncitizen brought here by people who hate this country and had the foresight to plant a birth notice in a Hawaiian newspaper 48 years ago, just in case they ever needed it.


The one thing that unites them seems to be a sense of inchoate rage. Although mentioning it makes them really, really mad.


Perhaps that’s why they like Joe Wilson. (His actual name is Addison Graves Wilson Sr. Where do the Republicans find all these faux Joes?) After his outburst, he explained that he had been so furious when the president said illegal immigrants would not be covered by the health care reform bill that he “let my emotions get the best of me.”


This does not seem like a great excuse. Wouldn’t you rather admit it was a plan than say you had so little self-control that hearing the president make a frequently stated claim about a much-debated bill caused you to create a spectacle on national TV? Obviously, this is not a guy you want to let in the room if Hugo Chávez ever comes to town.


Perhaps Wilson is just given to mood swings. He seemed somewhere between mild-mannered and zombielike in a follow-up video, in which he stared into the camera and promised not to be muzzled if people would send him contributions. “Health care is a matter of life and death for so many,” he intoned. “I choose life with health insurance reform.”


Not all that catchy, but who knows what works these days?


The Republicans are pointing out that Democrats made unfriendly noises during George W. Bush’s 2005 State of the Union address. This is true, although the difference between that and “You lie!” is about the same as the difference between calling an opponent wrong and accusing him of “hatred of America,” as Wilson did in a TV debate with a congressman opposed to the Iraq war.


After a certain amount of arm-twisting by Republican leaders, Wilson did apologize for his behavior. Now we are going to move on to arguing about the apology.


The Democrats are demanding that Wilson apologize all over again, on the floor of the House, or face the wrath of their official disapproval. Meanwhile, just to make sure nobody else ever goes off the rails like this again, the Senate Finance Committee is changing its version of the health care bill from one that does not provide benefits to illegal immigrants to one that absolutely, positively, for sure does not provide benefits to illegal immigrants.


Over at the Taxpayers March, people wanted the Republicans to apologize for asking Wilson to apologize. They seemed to be taking a cue from Rush Limbaugh, who said he was “ecstatic” when Wilson yelled at the president, since he himself had been shrieking “liar” at his TV throughout the speech.


Tea Party Patriots, do you really want your members of Congress doing something just because Rush Limbaugh does it? The next thing you know, they’ll be abusing prescription drugs and comparing the Abu Ghraib tortures to a fraternity initiation.


Interestingly, very few of Wilson’s defenders have noted that in the British Parliament, members shout insults all the time. They are probably loath to unfavorably compare Congress with a legislative body that supports inhumane and murderous practices like national health care.








In Barack Obama’s memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” he recalls a scene in which he reassures his mother after one of his friends is arrested.


“I had given her a reassuring smile and patted her hand and told her not to worry, I wouldn’t do anything tupid.”


This was in part a tactic that he adopted to satisfy people — being a “well-mannered young black man who didn’t seem angry all the time.”


In his Wednesday address, the president tried to turn this tactic on its head — to reassure us that he could get angry.


Seven times in his speech, he began his thoughts with the words “I will not. ...” I will not back down. ... I will not let up. ... I will not waste time. ... I will not stand by. ... And, I will not accept the status quo. Boom boom pow.


It was interesting, but an affectation. The president wears outrage like another man’s suit. It doesn’t quite fit. He’s a hand-patter, not a knuckle-rapper. A mollifier was what the country needed in the waning days of W., but is it what we need right now?On the campaign trail, candidate Obama was fond of saying “this is our time,” but the question is: Is it his?


He’s an idealist in an age of cynicism, a conciliator at a time of cleaving. He strives to appeal to a dwindling body of better angels in an increasingly bifurcated country. It’s noble and inspirational, but will it be effective?


In some ways, he is a throwback to a gentler time of civility and commonality, when compromising on issues wasn’t viewed as compromising on principles. We now live in a post-“Survivor” America, where the ill intentioned form expedient alliances and vote those who are too nice or too naïve off the island.


Just after the election, many of the president’s most strident opponents seemed willing to take a wait-and-see attitude. They’ve waited, and they don’t like what they’ve seen. So they’ve developed a rigor mortis-like resistance to change, and hope has become a four-letter word. According to an Associated Press-GfK poll released on the day of the president’s address, the percentage of respondents who said that they strongly approved of the way he is doing his job has dropped from 41 percent in December to 24 percent now. The percentage who said that they strongly disapproved has gone from 6 percent to 35 percent.


Many of these people now view any modicum of success on the part of the president as moving us an inch closer to the dissolution of the republic.


That is the political environment in which he must operate. It requires a fighter. But I’m not sure that that’s this president. He seems to prefer the high road. Only time will tell where it leads.


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There’s a lot to appreciate in the latest incarnation of the Democrats’ Sisyphean-like campaign to overhaul the nation’s health care system. In the current environment, matters are growing worse almost by the hour.


Horrendous job losses and an economy that is in shambles are driving up the number of people without health insurance. “Every day,” said President Obama in his speech to Congress this week, “14,000 Americans lose their coverage.”


This is occurring at the same time that the immense baby boomer generation is approaching retirement age, the age when even under the best of circumstances the need for health care steadily rises.


Even those with health insurance frequently find themselves on shaky ground, worried that they will lose it if they lose their jobs or that the coverage will not meet their real-world needs.


So most Americans are prepared to listen when the Democrats try to make the case for changes that would, among other things, prevent insurance companies from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions, prevent them from engaging in the perverse practice of canceling policies when the policyholder gets ill, put an end to arbitrary caps on annual or lifetime coverage and limit what policyholders could be charged for deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses.


When you factor in the explosive costs of health care, which are making American businesses less competitive and threatening to bankrupt the government, the case for reform would seem to be a slam dunk.


But there’s a wild card out there undermining the chances for real reform, and it’s not the crazies who have been disrupting health care forums or the disrespectful space cadet legislators like the South Carolina Congressman Joe (“You lie!”) Wilson. It’s the ordinary working men and women of America who are struggling with the worst economic downturn they have ever seen and who are worried that the big new plans that the Democrats have in store may not be in their best interests — and may not be affordable.


Many of those folks already have health insurance, and many voted for Barack Obama. But they’re scared to death now as the economy continues to hemorrhage jobs and the budget deficits unfolding before their eyes are being counted in the trillions.


To get meaningful health care reform this time around, the Democrats will have to get that constituency on board. They haven’t yet.


For one thing, the various proposals are not at all clear to the general public and the average citizen is clueless as to how any of them would be paid for. To say that people are skeptical is the grossest understatement.


When the administration talks about getting hundreds of billions of dollars in savings from Medicare to help finance health care reform, it sends a shudder not just through Medicare recipients (who like their coverage just fine and don’t want anyone tampering with it), but also through younger individuals concerned about elderly relatives on Medicare.


The president said in his speech that the savings would come from eliminating “hundreds of billions of dollars in waste and fraud” and the elimination of some unwarranted subsidies. But to the finely tuned ear of the general public, that’s exactly what politicians always say: We’re going to get rid of waste and fraud.


The administration would contend that this time will be different. One can understand why some will remain unconvinced.


The president also said, as he estimated the cost of his proposal at $900 billion over 10 years, that he “will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits — either now or in the future.”


I’m sure he means it. But I have not spoken to anyone, either on Capitol Hill or elsewhere, who believes that is

doable. Now it may be that the public should not be so worried about the deficits. They had to be jacked up to get the country through this terrible economic crisis. And health care reform — real reform — is essential if long-term deficits are to be brought under control.


But people are worried about it. And just saying that health care reform will not add to the deficits is not enough

to allay those fears.


What’s missing from all the talk about reform is how the runaway costs of health care, and all the dire consequences associated with them, can be reined in without a strong public insurance option and other big-time cost-saving initiatives.


If the government requires everyone — or nearly everyone — to have health insurance, the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry will reap a bonanza. What the Democrats still have to make clear to ordinary working men and women is how this latest incarnation of health care reform will be cost effective and broadly beneficial to them and to their government.








THEY came early in the morning, about seven o’clock. In Tehran on Sunday, June 21, at his 83-year-old mother’s home, agents of the Iranian government seized Maziar Bahari. As his mother looked on, Mr. Bahari — a 42-year-old Newsweek journalist and documentary filmmaker who has been accredited by the Iranian authorities for over a decade — was arrested and taken to Evin prison, where we believe he is being held in isolation. He has not been allowed to see a lawyer, nor has he been formally charged. He is awaiting the birth of his first child.


Mr. Bahari, a dual Canadian-Iranian citizen, has found himself an unwilling player in a frightened regime’s attempt to explain away the demonstrations that took place after Iran’s contested June 12 presidential elections. The government tries to justify these kinds of arrests by asserting that the Western news media were helping to drive the unrest in hopes of fomenting a “velvet revolution.”


Mr. Bahari’s case might be of limited interest save for one thing: the regime denying him his most basic rights is an aspiring nuclear power. If Iran can so easily become a totalitarian caricature, imprisoning journalists and mostly peaceful protesters, what else is it capable of?


This is more than a rhetorical question. The United States and several partner countries are preparing for talks with Iran. Tehran ultimately wants to continue enriching uranium, and this will only be acceptable if the world can verify that no nuclear material is being diverted to a weapons program. Verification will be difficult, however, if international inspectors could at any moment be accused of spying and taken prisoner.


If Mr. Bahari’s experience is any indication, this could easily happen. His arrest demonstrates that the regime tends to overreact when it feels threatened. Iranian state media have printed a “confession” Mr. Bahari is said to have given at a news conference (which seems never to have been broadcast). In this confession he supposedly described the ways in which the Western news media had helped fuel unrest in Iran.


After an appearance at a show trial on Aug. 1, he was presented at another news conference. There he repeated some of the same things about how the Western news media had supported the West’s plots. He also apologized and asked for a pardon from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Since then, nothing.


As the three-month anniversary of Mr. Bahari’s arrest approaches, the outside world has an unusual opportunity to express its disapproval of Tehran’s human-rights abuses. On Sept. 23, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is to speak at the United Nations General Assembly. The Iranian president seems to love to appear before this audience of nations. But it is outrageous that Mr. Ahmadinejad would come before this body even as his government is detaining a citizen of another country for nothing more than the pursuit of work as a journalist.


Mr. Ahmadinejad is likely to be greeted by protesters in New York, and as usual, he will dismiss them. But this year the real protest should take place inside the chamber, with governments condemning the arbitrary and unjustified detention of a foreign journalist. If Iran wants to be taken seriously on the world stage, it needs to adhere to international standards. Journalists need to be free to report within the legal framework of the country. Foreign governments need to be granted consular access to their citizens. Prisoners need to be granted access to their lawyers, and either charged or released quickly.


According to its charter, the United Nations was founded “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.” If there is one place on the planet where the spirit of the charter ought to prevail, it should be inside the United Nations chamber.


Jon Meacham is the editor of Newsweek.














A detailed report by a reliable and respected journalist in this newspaper has once again highlighted the ambiguity of the relationship between the military and the Taliban, and as events begin to unfold on Friday the 11th it is looking increasingly like a 'win' for the military and the government. Attempting to extract the truth from the various reports and statements is slightly fraught, as both the Taliban and the government are masters of the arcane art of spinning. What does seem to be clear is that by whatever means – guile and deception or plain-old good intelligence – the army has bagged within twenty-four hours a significant slice up the Taliban upper echelon. The biggest fish – Fazlullah – remains at large but allegedly minus a leg according to the fitfully-reliable Interior Minister Rehman Malik.

The tale as originally told was that the Taliban had said that five of their leading members were on a mission to do a deal with the military, and that their previous attempts to do a deal with the civil administration had failed because of a 'lack of sincerity' on the government side, thus precipitating what became the Swat operation. These five peacefully-inclined Taliban were said to have gone AWOL, taken into custody by the very people they were attempting to negotiate with. The negotiations were allegedly brokered in part by one Kamal Khan, a resident of Deolai village in Swat now settled in America. A Major Abdullah was said to be the contact person for undertaking the peace negotiations with the Pakistan Army – and moreover he had been thus engaged since June. By Friday afternoon military spokesman Major Athar Abbas was reported by a private TV station as saying that Muslim Khan and Mahmood Khan had been arrested by security forces during the course of a successful security operation in Swat – which is not quite the same as the story being parlayed by the Taliban.

Definitive clarity does not at this stage appear possible and we must wait for further statements and reports from all sides, but what does seem clear is that significant figures in the Taliban hierarchy are in the bag. A Taliban spokesman named as Salman has hinted that there were suspicions that the purported negotiations were 'a trap' – and what the army was actually doing was running what has proved to be a successful 'sting' operation. If this does transpire to be the case then considerable credit accrues to our military forces in accomplishing a result that millions of dollars of head-money has failed to do. We await with interest further detail.







The UN's humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan has said only three per cent of the US $58 million needed for IDP rehabilitation have been received. He has warned that people who have returned to conflict-hit zones would not be able to survive more than two weeks without help. According to assessments by international agencies, these people have suffered the destruction of lands, crops and livestock. They have no means of livelihood and the fact that many factories and other units remain closed adds to the difficulties faced by them. Unemployment has emerged as a huge issue. The scarcity of water reported in many areas of Swat including Mingora, the lack of healthcare and food supply shortages do nothing at all to help – with women and children in many ways the worst affected.

Over two-thirds of the 2.7 million people displaced by the conflict are reported now to have returned. The fact that they face such despair is not something that builds confidence about the future of these areas. The need to persuade people of the concern of government for their welfare as part of a strategy to regain trust has been extensively discussed at both the official and unofficial level. Sadly it seems the fears that had been voiced about a crisis that cannot be tackled are coming true after all. At the government level, Islamabad must ask why its allies have not come to its aid. The UN's warning highlights just how much still needs to be done. It must also be done urgently; two weeks is not a long time at all. Rather than pointing fingers at other countries we need also to ask what we have done at home to help our own people. There needs to be greater sustained effort at home to cope with the problem. The capacity of ordinary citizens for philanthropy is immense. This is especially true in the month of Ramazan. The government and organizations based in the private sector, whether they are NGOs, charities or businesses must do what they can to help solve a colossal national nightmare that could affect the future of everyone in the country.








The mystery of the Greek volunteer taken away from the museum he had set up as part of an effort to preserve the unique culture of the Kalash continues. There has been no trace of the man and it is unclear what efforts are being made by police to recover him. People in Chitral have protested official indifference outside the police station, demanding that a resident of their area who had worked for their welfare over 15 years and arranged for visits by Greek doctors be returned.

The abduction of the foreigner highlights also the issues of the Kalash. Much of their culture has vanished, destroyed by zealots who have forced conversions and destroyed symbols of the pagan traditions followed by the Kalash. Some people familiar with the region say the Greek national who had set up base here had recently been warned against protecting 'infidels' and helping them resist efforts to abandon their lifestyle. It is possible the action against him is linked to this. So far there have been no reports of a ransom demand. It is in many ways sad too that people from other lands must take the initiative in saving a culture that in many ways enriches us as a nation and adds to the colour and diversity that exists within our boundaries. At a totally human level too, the man taken away by unknown elements was attempting to help poverty-stricken people who have almost no access to basic needs. This places a greater responsibility on the state to rescue an individual who was attempting to help and who was clearly a figure who the Kalash looked upon as a friend.









In his famous book, Coffee and Power, Jeffrey Paige provides a vivid illustration of how a single commodity, coffee, is sufficient to explain the power structure of Central America. Despite the varying political complexions of its regimes, Central America has one thing in common: they are all ruled by coffee elites. For decades, Central America's coffee elites have thrived on state patronage, rent seeking, and distortion of private markets. As Jeffrey Paige concludes, these elites have generated in this process "unprecedented wealth for the few at the expense of the general impoverishment of the many". Despite this, the coffee elites have been remarkably resilient in Central America, surviving periods of both revolutions and authoritarian rule.

In terms of its links with political power, sugar is Pakistan's parallel for coffee. Sugar industry is Pakistan's second largest agro-based industry. Its linkage with politics, patronage and protection sets it apart from other industries. Available evidence suggests that it is economically inefficient, enjoys one of the highest rates of protection, and is dominated by a small number of political influential owners, making it an excellent illustration of the interconnection between business and politics. The analysis of sugar markets in Pakistan, and their manipulation therefore opens up a fascinating window into how the economic interests of our political elites are strongly entrenched in the current power structure. The operation of sugar markets in Pakistan offers a telling story of how both markets and public policy are routinely captured by vested political interests.

Ostensibly, the current sugar crisis has its immediate origins in the mismatch between supply and demand. Sugar production in Pakistan has fallen to around 3.7 million tonnes this year, a reduction of nearly 1 million tons compared to that of last year. This is further complicated by rising sugar prices in international markets. This raises four important questions: despite sugar being a profitable industry, why has there been a short fall in sugar production? Why was sugar not timely imported in anticipation of this shortage? Why is the impact of every global commodity shock amplified when it hits Pakistan? And, finally, why do these sugar crises tend to have a recurring nature? I shall try to address these questions in a series of articles in the hope of informing the public debate and steering it in the right direction.

As it happens, answers to these questions are rooted in the domain of politics, not economics. This is because the genesis of Pakistan's recurring sugar crises is essentially political. If there is one industry that best reflects the underlying power structure in Pakistan, it is sugar. The role of politics is central; from the sanctioning of a sugar mill to its financing and operation. It is instructive to take a look at the ownership structure. Of the nearly 78 sugar mills, at least 50 per cent are owned by politicians or their family members. They sit on all sides of the political divide, represented in cabinet, treasury and opposition benches.

The list of owners includes such influential political figures as President Asif Ali Zardari himself, Speaker National Assembly Dr Fehmida Mirza, Sind Provincial Minister Zulfiqar Mirza, Jam Mashooq Ali, the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, Pir Pagaro, Humayun Akhtar, Jehangir Tarin, Manzoor Wattoo, Nasrullah Dareshak, and members of the Sharif family. To comprehend the nature of political stakes involved, consider just two illustrations. President Zardari has financial stakes in the following sugar mills: Sakrand Sugar Mills, Nawabshah; Ansari Sugar Mills, Hyderabad; Pangrio Sugar Mills, Thatta; and Bachani Sugar Mills, Sanghar, and Mirza Sugar Mills, Badin. His main political contender, Mian Nawaz Sharif's family owns Ittefaq Sugar Mills, Ramzan Sugar Mills and Brother Sugar Mills.

But political leadership can't be squarely blamed for this state of affairs alone. The sugar cartel has also operated with impunity under military dictators. The nation has witnessed at least two sugar crises when our self-proclaimed father of good governance, General Pervez Musharraf, was safely ensconced in power. The last time we had a similar sugar crisis was in 2005-06. Clearly, the sugar tycoons have their moles in bureaucracy, political parties and parliament. They have often been willing supporters of dictatorial regimes. The presence of Humayun Akhtar, the son of another military general, Jahangir Tarin and other stalwarts of the PML-Q in General Musharraf's cabinet ensured a smooth sailing for sugar interests.

The politics of sugar has its roots in the late 1980s when sugar mills were sanctioned through political connection and state-owned commercial banks extended money to finance these. This political patronage reached its new heights in the 1990s when successive regimes sanctioned sugar mills to politicians and their kith and kin and offered them generous credit lines from public banks. The bulk of these loans were later written off in what modern analysts term as daylight robbery of public resources. Many of our current sugar barons are beneficiaries of the infamous debt write-offs of the 1990s.

In Nawaz Sharif's first government, when sugar related corruption reached its apogee, the Heavy Mechanical Complex (HMC) was barred from producing sugar plants, making Ittefaq Foundry as the main provider of sugar plants. A controversial aspect of these dealings was the way in which the unit pricing of sugar plants was systematically increased to benefit Ittefaq Foundry, whose over-priced sugar plants were now being financed by commercial banks. This was indeed a clever way of transferring public resources into private pockets. As is clear from the above discussion, the sugar industry is founded on the very notion of political corruption. The act of both sanctioning and financing of sugar mills required political connections. It was not a level playing field in which ordinary businessmen could compete in a free and fair manner. Majority of sugar mills were thus set up not by aspiring entrepreneurs, but by politicians presenting themselves as businessmen. Clearly, far from generating new business opportunities, public money was actually dished out as a way of transferring resources to political incumbents.

No wonder, profit making through healthy competition is not their operating principle. They thrive by exploiting farmers and by capturing public policy in their favour. Today, Pakistan's sugar industry is one of the most economically inefficient in the region. The industry will find it hard to survive in the absence of state support. Industry insiders reveal that there are at present more mills than required. Had it not been for this state patronage, the more inefficient mills would die their natural death. The sugar sector enjoys one of the highest nominal rates of protection. It is sheltered from international competition and has remained largely untouched by nearly two decades of trade liberalization. The sugar lobby manipulates trade policy to their advantage. When sugar prices fell in international markets, the sugar cartel convinced the government to impose additional regulatory duties, denying the benefit of this price fall to ordinary consumers. Ironically, the reverse happened when sugar prices recently soared in global markets. The mill-owners were now quick to pass on the price increase to consumers.

Apart from being insulated from foreign competition, the industry faces limited pressure to increase its efficiency. It has made few attempts, for instance, to slash its costs by developing other by products of sugar, such as molasses, beet pulp and cane wax. As has been tried in other developing countries, the sugar industry can also be gainfully used for the generation of electricity. Few such market-driven pressures exist in our sugar market. Perhaps, it is far more profitable to manipulate the market and derive uncompetitive rents than to engage in domestic and foreign competition. This might offer one reason why the sugar industry faces persistent shortages and lives in a perpetual state of crisis. In subsequent articles, I shall describe the structure of agrarian incentives, the defective nature of policy responses and implications for the wider society.

(To be continued)

The writer is the Islamic Centre lecturer in development economics at the University of Oxford and a research fellow at St Peter's College, Oxford. Email: adeel.malik@qeh.







Pakistan's higher judiciary has at last offered penance for validating dictatorship repeatedly in the past. The Supreme Court's judgment in Sindh High Court Bar Association versus Federation of Pakistan is atonement for its black decisions in Dosso (1958), Nusrat Bhutto (1977), and Zafar Ali Shah (2000). The apex court has also thrown down a gauntlet to the PPP government to prosecute Pervez Musharraf for high treason. But the only hands that can reach Musharraf's neck are crippled by compromise, known otherwise as National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO).

"The failure here is not of the Constitution, not of the Parliament but of the executive Government and that too since 1973 of not giving a salutary Constitutional provision a meaningful content and operational mechanism, thereby frustrating it altogether," the Supreme Court has observed.

The law on high treason is plain. Clauses 1 and 2 of Article 6 of the Constitution are renowned. The lesser known Clause 3 calls upon Parliament to "provide for the punishment of persons found guilty of high treason." Parliament provided the High Treason (Punishment) Act in 1973.

The 1973 Act reads: "A person who is found guilty (a) of having committed an act of abrogation or subversion of the Constitution in force in Pakistan at any time since March 23, 1956; or (b) of high treason as defined in Article 6 of the Constitution; (c) be punishable with death or imprisonment for life. No court shall take cognisance of an offence punishable under this act, except upon a complaint in writing made by a person designated by the federal government in this behalf."

The Criminal Law Amendment (Special Court) Act, 1976, further provided that, "An offence under the High Treason (Punishment) Act, 1973, whether committed before or after the commencement of this act, shall be tried by the special court in accordance with the provisions of this legislation."

Section 4 of the 1976 Act reads, "The federal government shall set up a special court composed of three persons, each of whom is a judge of a high court, and shall nominate one of them to be its presiding officer." Clause 14 of the Schedule of the FIA Act of 1974 provides explicitly for inquiry into and investigation of "offences punishable under the High Treason (Punishment) Act, 1973."

Parliament thereby completed its work more than three decades ago. No resolution is needed. The onus – of forming the special court, assigning a prosecutor, filing the complaint, and investigating – lies absolutely and solely on the federal government. The question is not of a parliamentary resolution but of the PPP's resolve. There is none. To be sure, there are arguments against trying Musharraf for high treason. Those against the prosecution either advocate amnesty or demand prosecution of everyone who collaborated with Gen Ayub, Yahya, Zia and Musharraf.

The amnesty argument is a spate of clichés – let bygones be bygones, let sleeping dogs lie…. "The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting," Milan Kundera has written. Prosecuting a usurper transcends law. To make Pakistan a true republic, to heal the profound wounds of nearly four decades of autocracy, to forestall adventurism, and to give the gift of a living Constitution to future Pakistanis, Musharraf must face trial. Only then will Jinnah's values be vindicated, his vision realised.

The demand for prosecuting all collaborators is a ruse to spread Article 6 so wide and shallow that the undeniable facts of Musharraf's crimes slip into the background. Yes, there are legions of official, military, civilian, and political collaborators that deserve punishment. We must nonetheless begin with the individual who single-handedly subverted the Constitution and whose actions of Nov 3, 2007, uniquely remain to be validated by Parliament.

The amnesty brigade fails to realise that no matter how sensational the revelations of the past crimes of intelligence agencies and collaborating politicians, these cannot justify Nov 3, 2007; a crime more heinous than the whole penal code.

There is also reference to the necessity not to antagonise the establishment. Necessity, William Pitt reminds us, is "the argument of tyrants, the creed of slaves." The establishment must face the history of its involvement in power politics, from April 17, 1953, to Dec 16, 1971, to Nov 3, 2007. It must face the same accountability and accept the same liability that the nation demands from its elected rulers.

A resurgent electronic media is educating the public. Seventy-one percent of Pakistanis favour punishing Musharraf. One of the two largest political parties is carrying the banner for Article 6. Most importantly, the judiciary has ended its half-century complicity with the military establishment.

Musharraf's trial for high treason will not be a unique event. Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was tried shortly before his death. Many Argentinean generals were prosecuted for their crimes during their country's "dirty war." Pakistan is not so fortunate. Asif Zardari has neither the will nor the vision to prosecute the dictator whose reign saw the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Prime Minister Gilani on the floor of the National Assembly called it a "dead issue," not "doable."

The question is not Musharraf's person, not forgiveness, not revenge, not even punishment – it is justice. This issue is not dead because Akbar Bugti and the victims of Jamia Hifsa are dead. In Karachi, burning of lawyers and the casualties of May 12 are dead. This issue is alive because Dr Aafia Siddiqui and hundreds of missing persons are alive. This issue cannot die because innocent victims of drone attacks and suicide bombings continue to die. This issue lives because 170 million Pakistanis' right to govern themselves was taken away twice. These crimes are neither in Prime Minister Gilani's nor in President Zardari's power to pardon.

"We have it in our power to begin the world over again," wrote Thomas Paine. Had he chosen to prosecute Musharraf, Asif Zardari could have begun over again what was started by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1973: a civilian-led constitutional democracy. The PPP has tainted itself forever with its failure to prosecute Musharraf. It has also exposed itself, the nation, and a hard-won, nascent democracy to future takeovers by force. NRO may forgive, but history will not.

The writer is a PML-N MNA. Email:







The present dispensation is the direct result of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto's murder. It is believed that the deal sponsored by the Americans between Musharraf and her, was "Plan A." She deviated from this on her return to Pakistan and had to be eliminated. This is a view recently supported by Gen (Retd.) Aslam Baig, former chief of army staff. Thus, the standby "Plan B" came into operation and her long-estranged husband came on the scene. A controversial and often-questioned will emerged, according to which Asif Ali Zardari was made co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party.

It is not astonishing or surprising that Plan B has worked. The rot that set in with Zia's success in corrupting not just politics but the very mindset of people, and is a practice advanced by all his successors to facilitate a shortcut to power. Thus even the most sceptical elements in the PPP found it expedient to climb onto the Zardari bandwagon. High offices, membership of assemblies, advisory positions and access to the corridors of power was just around the corner, and it became imperative to pretend that the emperor was fully clothed. "Democracy is the best revenge" was the absurd slogan coined to bury the murder of Benazir, while referring the matter to a UN tribunal was done to seek a permanent closure of this sordid chapter.

Thus began the journey to Olympus at the foot of Margalla Hills fuelled by the endless use of the "Jiay Bhutto" slogan and crocodile tears for Benazir. Meanwhile, people continued to be fed the stale promise of not only their supremacy but the forty-year-old clichés of roti, kapra aur makan and that democracy was gospel and Parliament sovereign. To this was added the concept of reconciliation and change of the system. So at the end of a year of Zardari's presidency, let us see where we stand:

The negation of the promise of the supremacy of the people is the unkindest cut of all. They have been abandoned to murderers, thieves, kidnappers and highly corrupt jiyalas and bureaucrats who are on the rampage. Instead of making policies and initiating reforms that bring progress and prosperity, addiction to begging is being spread through the Benazir Income Support Programme. For a paltry one thousand rupees a month, men and women are made to prostrate themselves in the heat and dust, most of them returning empty-handed. As for provision of cheap flour this is nothing short of an insult to the people since the majority get nothing even if they are lucky enough to escape a beating by the police. Moreover, this is not enough: when they get home there is no electricity and water while education and medical treatment remains only for the fortunate. Other basic amenities are also scarce and the whole administrative edifice has collapsed. Yes, there is plenty of roti, kapra aur makan, but only for the rulers and their sycophants.

As for democracy, there is none. What we have is only a change of faces from the Musharraf days. Almost two years have passed but both the 17th Amendment and Article 58 (2)(b) of the Constitution are still there. The repeated promise to restore the superior judges was fulfilled only after the pressure of the long march was too much to bear. As for the powers of the president and the prime minister, currently they are being exercised all by the president. The president undertakes trips to sign commercial deals, which is normally the job of federal secretaries. He has taken trips to China where he received no presidential protocol. He went to France to sign an agreement to purchase submarines, even though it was reported in the newspapers that cheaper subs were being offered by Germany, and that such a deal was reportedly in its final stages. And then there are the frequent mysterious trips to Dubai and London. All this raises serious question since on many trips the president is accompanied by individuals who in the past had been accused of corruption, and some were even convicted – but then exonerated thanks to the immoral and unconstitutional NRO.

As regards the supremacy of Parliament this has become a cruel joke. Laws are continuously being made not by legislation but by presidential ordinances – and this is being done even when Parliament is in session. Another issue is the prosecution of Musharraf under Article 6 which, for some reason, has been made contingent upon a unanimous resolution in Parliament despite the fact that the consent of the institution's members is not at all need for such action.

Vital problems, issues and questions of policy, relating to the dismal and rapidly deteriorating state of affairs in the country, are not brought on the floor of the House, which is also debilitated by the doctrine of reconciliation. This has all but put to rest the safeguards and checks provided by a valid and effective opposition, and the result is that the government has a free run to do whatever it likes. At the same time, another consequence is that Parliament is reduced to just being a heavy burden on the exchequer with each member enjoying pay and perks amounting to around half a million rupees a month. Ninety ministers and advisers in the centre alone, where only twenty have been enough, with each costing a hundred thousand rupees per day, is also an aspect of this "reconciliation."

As for the change of system, it seems that for the president this means to replace all of the Musharraf era's favourite officers with his own. The country is still caught in a highly centralised and dictatorial mode of governance – something which has led to its break-up in the past and which is generating dangerous fissures now as well. Pakistan is no longer free. It is sinking deeper into foreign control and into a war in its northwest which is not of our own choice and can never be won. The writ of the central government does not operate in Pakhtoonkhwa, Balochistan and Punjab, while Sindh is in the grip of criminals as personified by the late Rehman Dakait. The government is totally helpless – and there is no better example of this than its abject failure in controlling the price of sugar and advice by ministers to eat less sugar (on the apparent grounds that it is bad for health).

Some other shocking facts are: The country is barely surviving on earnings of Pakistanis abroad and internal and external loans. No aid is available despite the president's overseas visits (with a begging bowl, of course). The Friends of Pakistan Forum, set up to bail out Pakistan, has not been forthcoming in its help and is also said to be having doubts on how Pakistan will spend the funds given to it. As for aid from America, it is now being promised in small instalments, and only after each instalment has been checked with regard to its utilisation. Transparency International has disclosed that in 2004 around 45 billion rupees were lost as a result of corruption and that by 2009 the figure will have risen to 195 billion rupees. The Fund for Peace located in Washington has placed Pakistan at number ten on the list of failed states while previously it stood at number 12, reason for this being lack of leadership and dubious measures such as NRO.

This epitomises one year of Zardari's rule as president – quite possibly the worst this unfortunate nation has endured in its sixty-two years of existence.


The writer is chairman of the Sindh National Front.







There has been, for a number of years, a sustained criticism of Imran Khan for being "too close" to the religious parties, especially the Jamaat-e-Islami. Most of these critics come from an urban secular background. But this particular criticism of Imran is erroneous and carries little weight.

Perhaps their disappointment results from their false perception that Imran is moving towards a theocratic path espoused by parties like the Jamaat. Imran has also been called a mullah at heart and a closet fundamentalist by some cynics.

As perhaps the most articulate national political leader of the country and the most sought-after by the electronic media, Imran has been widely watched and micro-examined by political observers. His very limited association with the Jamaat leaves little doubt that most of this criticism has been grossly exaggerated, and when compared to the PPP's association with the JUI it pales in comparison.

As fellow members of APDM, the leaders of the PTI and the Jamaat have met a number of times. But there has been no further political cooperation and very little contact between party functionaries. The incident at Punjab University last year, if anything, increased the distance between the two parties. Imran has also openly opposed and criticised Jamaat's stand on the 17th Amendment. On an individual basis Imran has admired Qazi Husain Ahmed the former Amir of Jamaat as a person of character and immense courage. This admiration has been mutual.

On the political front, while Imran Khan was forcefully and openly advocating sovereignty as the basis of our foreign policy, he found little support amongst the main political forces of the country like the PPP, the MQM and the ANP, which saw subservience to Washington as the key to political success. The Jamaat was one of the very few political forces which endorsed this principle and joined Imran Khan in calling for opposing the American policies in Afghanistan.

Imran has never approached national issues from a theocratic point of view. He has sought to assert the importance of our religious and cultural heritage as a means to understanding and resolving many of our national issues, but advocates a completely modern and progressive approach on nation-building. Imran supports the adoption of successful economic, political and social models from all over the world, but is critical of many decadent western values.

Contrary to what many "liberals" believe, Imran is not a rightist. His views reflect a progressive "left of centre" slant on virtually all major issues. Imran is against feudalism and imperialism. Imran is a strong believer in the dignity of common man and considers the widening gap between the rich and the poor.

Imran believes in maximum provincial autonomy, more decentralisation and a strong Centre. To him it is the state's primary responsibility to ensure full and free provision of healthcare, education and welfare for all its people. Imran rejects the modern-day theorists who advocate increased dependence on the west as our way forward. He strongly believes in the philosophy of self- reliance.

Imran Khan believes that there is a strong coterie of the English-medium chattering classes which have found solace in cynical expressions of disdain about everything which is Pakistani. These are the people who stay away completely from the political process, yet indulge incessantly in confused outpourings about political issues. Their contact with the masses is virtually nonexistent and their pronouncements one-sided. Imran has often wondered if this is an extension of the colonial mindset.

Imran also rejects religious "extremism" and "fundamentalism" as a distortion of the true spirit of Islam. He believes that Islam truly encompasses the philosophy of tolerance and the pursuit of enquiry and interpretation. To him Iqbal is the true philosopher of Islam. Imran frequently recalls the golden age of Islam when the Muslims led the world in science, the arts and scholarship. He believes that we need to broaden the spirit of religious education in Pakistan by extending its approach to history, philosophy, the arts and sciences and other disciplines. Imran believes that such an approach could produce new generations in Pakistan who would do the country proud.

Imran believes that the vast majority of Pakistanis is neither liberal nor fundamentalist and the issues facing the country are so complex that a wider ideological spectrum is required to resolve them. Imran's own personality is reflective of the multiple aspects of a strong family background, foreign education, a rediscovery of Islam in his early forties, high accomplishments nationally and internationally. He is perfectly at ease at prestigious international forums as well as in interaction with religious figures at home. He has friends amongst the very poor and the very rich. Imran's life has been enriched by enormous success and adversity, by hard work and struggle. The immense diversity of his experience has enabled to him to develop a comprehensive view of our society and the world at large and remains the basis of his decision to dedicate his life for a better Pakistan.

The writer is a member of the central executive committee of the PTI. Email: naeemul_








The Supreme Court's commitment to uphold the Constitution, defend the independence of the judiciary and implement the National Judicial Policy with determination, as reaffirmed during a ceremony marking the commencement of the new judicial year, is reassuring. There is hardly any dispute over the proposition that the strength and independence of the judicial branch needed to uphold the rule of law must be bolstered, and not eroded. While our reconstituted court continues to bask in the respect endowed by this nation as a consequence of the successful rule-of-law movement, we must not forget that the perilous and daunting process of establishing the credibility of our courts as fearless arbiters of the law, and winning back the trust that chambers of justice ought to inspire amongst people, has only just begun.

The conduct of our superior courts in the coming judicial year will determine whether we have turned a page in our journey towards rule of law, or if we are back into the depraved zone of complacency where expediency reigns supreme. The faintest impression that our superior court might be forfeiting its responsibility and authority as interpreter of the Constitution by shying away from hard cases on the one hand and exhibiting excessive eagerness to take cognisance of populist issues that belong to the realm of political policy on the other would not help reconstruct the perception of independence. What is it that judges do in courts within the common law system has been a long-standing query in the realm of jurisprudence. And at the risk of simplifying the debate, there is general consensus that, notwithstanding the doctrine of stare decisis (that makes judicial precedents binding), judges do not make law but only interpret and apply it.

In other words, when it comes to enforcing the Constitution and upholding the rule of law, a judge can only be a purist. He or she has no discretion to determine whether or not the opportune moment to mete out justice in a particular instance has arrived. The debate regarding whether or not it is in the larger national interest to strictly enforce provisions of the law and the Constitution that could possibly have political repercussions has no place within a chamber of justice. In a private dispute between two individuals they can mutually agree to settle the matter amicably. But when in comes to upholding constitutionally guaranteed rights and responsibilities, no individual or institution has the right to determine that a certain amount of deviation from the Constitution can be acceptable, or that one can let sleeping dogs lie in order to invest in the longevity of the political process.

The judiciary is the primary institution mandated with the task of administering the Constitution. Not touching hard cases – hard not because of the involvement of complex questions of law but because of the linked political consequences – may seem strategically expedient at times. But in the end there is hardly any sensible distinction between shirking responsibility in enforcing the law against the high and the mighty and condoning unconstitutional acts. Within the wide scope of dereliction of duty, it is only a matter of degree that separates crimes or commission and omission. We have had long periods of constitutional deviation, not because people misunderstood the law, but because they thought it was all right to breach it, and that they would get away with their malfeasance. Consequently, we have a large number of high-profile cases pending in courts that have blatant unconstitutionality writ large on them. The skeptics then wonder why such cases pending for years, or even decades, remain consigned to dingy record rooms of our apex court without making it to the cause list, while others get heard and decided in a matter of days.

There certainly exists an opinion that the independent-minded judges now returned to their high offices should focus on consolidating themselves and their court and not meddle in controversial matters. But is this not the same mindset that led to the demise of an independent judiciary in the first place? If the court is vested with no discretion to refuse taking judicial cognisance of legal controversies and crimes, can turning a blind eye to cases involving serious constitutional infractions be explained in terms other than strategic expediency – the accredited author of the doctrine of necessity? Have we gone around in circles because men in robes have been unable to find effective ways to make the Constitution a living document, because they were too timid to do so, or because they simply didn't want to? These are thorny questions. But our reconstituted apex court must address them if it wishes to liberate rule of law from the clutches of expediency.

Statements from the bench claiming that the doctrine of necessity is dead will not be enough to change the mindset that keeps bringing this perverted doctrine back to life every couple of decades. It is not hard to come up with a short wish list of judicial actions that could help dismember the doctrine of necessity.

One, the apex court needs to clearly propound a doctrine of constitutionality in its detailed decision in the PCO Judges Case. It has been opined that the judgment must overrule not only the Tikka Iqbal case that validated Nov 3, but also the Zafar Ali Shah case and others before it that justified military coups. This can only happen with the court clearly determining the limits of its own jurisdiction. The court needs to state unequivocally that it is a creature of the Constitution and deriving its mandate from this fundamental law, it simply possesses no authority to validate any action that is unconstitutional. The fiction that a constitutional court mandated with interpreting the Constitution can somehow assume the authority to justify or validate acts prohibited by the same document, must be put to rest.

And, two, there are at least four crucial legal controversies that the court must not ignore in the new judicial year: the ISI case of creating the IJI, the missing persons' case, Musharraf's unconstitutional actions of Nov 3, and the NRO cases. That the ISI case is a can of worms might be an understatement. But refusing to address the fundamental constitutional issues that it throws up is to concede as acceptable the failure of congruence between the law as announced and its actual administration. This case relates to matters as basic as the separation of powers between state institutions, our civil-military imbalance despite constitutionally mandated civilian control of the military, the political culture of deals, deceit and kickbacks, the military culture that imbibes senior khakis with a god-complex and the ability of the ISI to play godfather with maddening audacity.

Had the ISI case been decided a decade or so back, we might not have a missing persons' case. But we now do and it is imperative to not just recover the missing individuals but also take action to undo the depraved procedures as well as sociology that vitiate the basic guarantee of personal security and due process promised to each citizen by our Constitution. The Musharraf case is the simplest, and yet hard enough. It is simple because the apex court has already declared his actions in question unconstitutional. It is hard because it involves the former incumbent of an office that is reputed to be the most powerful in the country. The NRO and the Musharraf case have the same fundamental issue in common: is law the handmaiden of the mighty or is it equally applicable to all citizens notwithstanding their standing in the society?

The restoration of judges was never seen as an end in itself. The rule-of-law movement was fuelled by the optimism that restoration would resurrect an independent judiciary, which in turn would breathe life into the sacred promises of our Constitution. The question before the court in this new year is whether it will act smug on challenging legal issues or discharge its responsibility in ensuring that the Constitution remains a live social contract between the citizens and the state, and not a dead letter.









The first time I saw Ejaz Butt was more than half a century ago. Earlier this year I saw him again. I was seized with the sea change that age, fatigue and stress had wrought on the man who ruled over hearts at the Lahore Stadium, long before Zulfikar Ali Bhutto renamed it the 'Gaddafi Stadium.' Butt made a picture-perfect pose when he batted. A ball once smacked his face giving him a bloody nose. The whole stadium stood up in hushed silence. We cried.

No one is crying for Butt today facing imminent collapse. Instead newspaper editorials want him sent back to the pavilion. Butt seems to have lost control over the cricket board affairs entrusted to him by Asif Zardari just over a year ago. Remember the mini-czar Dr Nasim Ashraf? The fellow was a successful kidney doctor living outside Washington DC. Bored stiff tinkering with American kidneys, the peripatetic surgeon sought more pizzazz in his dull life. Big czar Musharraf handed him the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) carte blanche to play with as he wished. It was a bad move. Ashraf played havoc. His predecessor, ambassador (retd) Shaharyar Khan (president 2003-06), patched up the bang-ups brought upon by Gen (retd) Tauqir Zia (1999-2003). And before Tauqir we had Mujibur Rehman, the flashy businessman and brother of Saifur Rehman, Nawaz Sharif's notorious right-hand man.

Our masters treat the PCB as their handmaiden. Zardari gave Butt the job allegedly to compensate his brother-in-law Ahmad Mukhtar who was not made the prime minister. Scroll down the PCB's chief executive list and you'll find a businessman, a general, an ambassador, a physician and a test cricketer-turned tycoon in the last ten years. Other than the ambassador (he too earned media flak towards his end), all have proved to be knuckleheads. Some months ago I asked Air Marshal (r) Nur Khan, president PCB (1980 to 84) why everyone rated him the best president. "It's got nothing to do with cricket," said the octogenarian. "It's all about good governance." He listed some 'must-do' measures undertaken by him to make the PCB as strong as he had made the PIA when he was its chairman. "I never let politics interfere with merit. I never played favourites. I kept my eye on the ball. And I practiced what I preached."

Everything can be fixed if you take politics out of the equation and concentrate on good governance. This was the wisdom l I received from Nur Khan along with a rap that afternoon when we met at lunch. "I don't like you (the media) painting a doom-and-gloom picture of Pakistan today," he gave me a look as cold as steel. "It's wrong to spread such negativity." Instead, he wanted the press to hammer away at demanding 'good governance.' I tried to defend myself by saying that good governance could only be had if people at the top were honest, sincere and hardworking, adding "the way you were." Unconvinced, Nur Khan shook his head and said "there are still institutions blessed with good governance. Write about them."

President Zardari boasts of being a businessman first, a politician later. He well knows how Pakistan can mine the billion-dollar cricket industry. His wife Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto put him in charge of the 1996 World Cup. The First Gentleman converted his secretariat into a moneymaking machine pulling off a deluxe bonanza for his country. In those halcyon days we all came together and were proud to be Pakistanis.

What now should the patron of cricket do? Give Ejaz Butt another job and go in a huddle with cricket experts to vote on who should head the PCB.

Email: &








IN the backdrop of persistent reports that India was preparing grounds to carry out more nuclear tests, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has categorically stated that in such an eventuality Pakistan was fully capable of safeguarding its national interests. He, however, added that Pakistan would formulate its response if India did go for more tests.

There is debate in India whether or not nuclear devices detonated in May 1998 were successful in achieving the parameters set by the scientists and policy-makers. Though at that time India claimed that it successfully carried out a thermo-nuclear test or in plain words hydrogen bomb experiment but according to analysis by independent sources it was just a fizzle. Therefore, the ongoing debate in India is quite understandable and there are reasons to believe that New Delhi would go for more nuclear tests in the near future especially in view of the renewed American interest in pushing forward talks leading to signing of the Fissile Material Cut off Treaty (FMCT) and compliance of CTBT by all States. Under these circumstances, there is every reason for Pakistan to be ready to exercise every possible option in order to authenticate fine-tuning or upgrading of its nuclear capabilities. The statement of the Foreign Minister was, therefore, not commensurate with the nuclear realities in the Subcontinent and was too diplomatic. But we can foresee that if India goes for further nuclear tests, then Pakistan will be left with no option but to carry out tests of its own. A cursory glance over nuclear history of South Asia would show that it was 1974 nuclear test by India that forced Pakistan to launch its nuclear programme while Pokhran tests of May 13, 1998 compelled Pakistan to test its own device. Therefore, one can easily predict the response of Pakistan if India again resorted to provocation. As India’s nuclear adventurism would surely trigger a fresh nuclear race in South Asia, which would not only be not in the interest of the problem-ridden region but also the world peace, the international community especially the UN and IAEA should exert pressure on New Delhi to desist from the tendency of accelerating the nuclear arms race in the region. It is also regrettable that Indians are contemplating to pursue a course that would raise tension in the region and that too at a time when Pakistan was making forceful pleas for resumption of dialogue to promote peace and amity.







PRESIDENT Asif Ali Zardari has represented true feelings of the Pakistani people by rejecting the Obama administration’s strategy of linking policy on Pakistan and Afghanistan in an effort to end a Taliban insurgency and bring stability to the region. In an interview with Financial Times, he pointed out that Pakistan and Afghanistan are distinctly different countries and cannot be lumped together for any reason.

Though Pakistan has been expressing its displeasure from the very beginning over coining of the term Af-Pak by Washington, yet regrettably the Obama administration is unmoved. And instead of taking practical measures to demonstrate their sincerity, officials of the administration are merely explaining why they are clubbing the two countries together. In this backdrop, the President has done well in rejecting the term and we hope that he would not confine himself to press statements but take up the matter in all seriousness with his American counterpart to convey strong resentment of people of Pakistan on the issue. American intentions became absolutely clear when they designated a special envoy for the two countries betraying earlier understanding with Pakistan that Richard Holbrooke’s responsibilities would include India as well. Pakistan’s point of view was quite understandable because if you take the issue of extremism and terrorism in regional context then Kashmir and Indian interference in the internal affairs of its neighbours cannot be ignored as these are the breeding grounds for the menace. However, the Obama administration easily fell prey to Indian machinations and excluded India from the mandate of its special envoy. Otherwise too, linking two sovereign States merely on the basis of American strategic and security view is reflective of the designs of those who intend to impose their imperialistic agenda on different countries and regions. Policy-makers in Washington are in the habit of launching fanciful ideas like dividing Iraq in three parts, redrawing map of the Middle East and cutting different countries to size to match American desires. We hope that the President and other officials of the Government would raise the issue forcefully during their interaction with American leaders telling them plainly that it was unacceptable and derogatory term.








ACCORDING to a report, there is strong concern among residents of the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi over growing levels of pollution and apathy of the Government towards much-talked-about green transport plan. The population of the two cities has increased tremendously and the problem of pollution too has increased proportionately because of lack of interest and commitment on the part of the Federal and Punjab Governments.

The problem, in fact, is not Islamabad-Rawalpindi specific as people are living in pitiable conditions in major cities and towns due to rapid environment degradation. As population is increasing, the volume of smoke-emitting traffic on roads is also increasing and absence of any efficient, coherent and scientific waste disposal system has multiplied the environmental problems. We have been hearing since long introduction of CNG buses but the plan remains unfulfilled because of reasons best known to those at the helm of affairs and the bureaucratic circles. Our neighbouring country India has been quick in turning New Delhi green and pollution free but no plan is in sight to get rid of environmental problems even in Islamabad, a city that should serve as a model for the purpose. This is despite the fact that we have full-fledged Ministry of Environment but regrettably its plans are limited to monitoring of development schemes. Our civic bodies are also not performing their job satisfactorily and instead of controlling the pollution they are contributing themselves towards its degradation by dumping the solid waste on roads and open spaces. Similarly, industrial activities in and around residential areas and faulty sewerage and drainage systems are to be blamed for water pollution, which has become a major cause of rapid spread of Hepatitis in the country. Federal and Provincial Ministries concerned should join their heads to formulate coherent and sustainable policies to overcome the problem in the interest of health of the citizens.







Because of dependency syndrome due to the inept policies of the governments in 1950s, and also to curry favour with the super power, Pakistani leaders have had the proclivity to concede to any unreasonable demands made on Pakistan by members of the US administration to remain in the saddle. For some time, President Obama and members of his administration have been trying to convince Pakistani leadership that it has no threat from India, and President Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in their statements started saying that the real threat was from the extremists and terrorists and not from India.

The problem with Pakistani leaders is that they continue with the internecine conflicts and America takes advantage of the situation by playing one leader against another. Anyhow, President Asif Ali Zardari seems to have learned the ropes and is reported to have rejected the Obama administration’s strategy of linking policy on Pakistan and Afghanistan, what it says, in an effort to end a Taliban insurgency and bring stability to the region.

In an interview with the Financial Times on anniversary of his first year in office President Zardari said: “Afghanistan and Pakistan are distinctly different countries and cannot be lumped together for any reason.” President Zardari’s comments reflect Pakistan’s unwillingness to be aligned in a joint policy framework with neighbouring Afghanistan, an approach referred to as “AfPak”. President Zardari must have noted that members of Obama administration on one hand give a pat for eliminating terrorists in Swat and Malakand Division, and on the other cast aspersions on Pakistan’s intelligence services. Anyhow, President Zardari’s comments reflect Pakistan’s unwillingness to be aligned in a joint policy framework with neighbouring Afghanistan, an approach referred to as “AfPak” because there can be no comparison between Afghanistan a failed state shattered by decades of civil war and Pakistan with functioning institutions, diversified economy and a powerful national army.

Though Pakistan has successfully demolished terrorists’ infrastructure and network in Malakand Division and Swat, yet pressure is being mounted to start operation in Waziristan when Pakistan has devoted to rehabilitate the internally displaced persons and to destroy the vestiges of terrorists. But the US government functionaries continue with the policy of carrot and stick, which is hallmark of the US administration. Defence Secretary Robert Gates in a television interview harped on the same old tune when referring to Pakistani leaders he said: “I think they have always thought of India as the existential threat to Pakistan, but I think they are beginning to understand that the extremists in the ungoverned spaces in their west have become an existential threat. Going forward in the Middle East, the United States will be looking for ways to strengthen its partnership with Pakistan such as helping the country with some of its economic problems”.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen in the same programme said: “The Pakistani government also understands that if US citizens are attacked, and there’s reliable information it originated in Pakistan, the United States will respond. “It’s a conversation I’ve had many times - not just with military leadership, but also with political leadership - that any president of the United States would respond to an attack on US citizens,” Mullen agreed that success in Afghanistan must involve a multi-layered diplomatic solution”. One cannot visualize in what context he has given this statement but this is not the right way of dealing with friends. The US and other donor countries are taking their time and do not understand the urgent need of funds to continue military operation and also financial support to expedite the rehabilitation of displaced persons. In fact the US has not paid $1.6 bn with regard to coalition support fund for the last one year.

What Americans should compare between Afghanistan and Pakistan is what 120000 strong US, NATO and Afghan forces could not achieve during the last eight years, Pakistan has been able to achieve within months. Pakistan army has been able to establish the writ of the state in Swat and Malakand Division within months including rehabilitation of internally displaced persons. There is also need to compare collateral losses in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. They must realize that 80 per cent of the supplies to those forces in Afghanistan come via Pakistan. They must also appreciate that holding of smooth presidential elections in Afghanistan would not have been possible without Pakistan’s support. But despite all that they are suspicious of Pakistan and its agencies who took extra pains to discourage movements on the porous Pak-Afghan border.

In fact, terrorism in Pakistan is the result of joining the war on terror and which is being supported by Afghanistan and India – the former to cover up its failings and the latter to advance its agenda to destabilize Pakistan. It is an established fact that the US and NATO forces could not control the situation in Afghanistan because of corruption, drug trafficking and not giving the majority Pushtuns the right to share power. Quite a few western analysts consider poppy production in Afghanistan more lethal and dangerous than terrorism, as narcotics are illegally exported to Europe, the US and Latin American countries. Despite various reports that members of Karzai government, warlords and even President Karzai’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai were involved in drug trade, President Hamid Karzai always dismissed the allegations as politically motivated. But the White House believed that Afghan President’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai was involved in “drug trafficking” and American officials had repeatedly warned President Hamid Karzai “that his brother is a political liability,” the New York Times said in a report in 2008.

It has to be mentioned that Taliban had completely stopped poppy production, and now it is under Afghan government and on its backers’ watch that production had increased to establish world record. Country representative for UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Christina Orguz had told the reporters that powerful drug lords could go scot-free merely by making a telephone call to senior authorities in the Afghan government. In 2007, Afghan farmers were reported to have cultivated poppy on a record 477000 acres to produce 93 per cent of the world opium.

In an article in New York Times magazine Thomas Schweich an anti-narcotics official in State Department wrote: “Narco-corruption went to the top of the Afghan government”. A team of journalists working with English daily had said that members of the Northern Alliance, who are known for their direct links to the production of opiates, constitute a considerable portion of the government at all levels. In this backdrop, the members of the Karzai government and Northern Alliance warlords would not like to see peace in Afghanistan, because atmosphere of violence and turmoil help them in achieving their objectives of making huge profits from drug trafficking. If the US and NATO forces cannot establish the writ of the government; if they cannot stop production of poppy and drug-traficking, then they should sit together and chalk out an exit strategy from Afghanistan, and stop making Pakistan a whipping boy and scapegoat.







The victory to PM Yukio Hatoyama and his Democratic Party has ended conservative Liberal Democratic Party rule, which was spread over five decades. The change in Tokyo-Washington relations was an important part of Hatoyama’s election promises of change. Hatoyama had promised end of American-dominated globalization and reorient Japan toward Asia. Democrat Party’s campaign manifesto also called for an “equal partnership” with the United States and a “reconsidering” of the 50,000-strong American Marine Corps’ presence on Futenma Airfield on the island of Okinawa in Japan. The Democrats also opposed the American-led war in Iraq, and promised to end the Japanese Navy’s refueling of American and allied warships in the Indian Ocean.

However, Hatoyama’s reaffirmation of Japan-U.S. alliance as the foundation of Japanese foreign policy has undermined his message of change, a blow to restructuring of country’s ailing economy; adopt independent foreign policy and eviction of US Marines from Okinawa Island. In a way, it has revived 1990s Japanese era of shock politics (The New York Times 27 Nov. 94). Hatoyama’s u-turn on election promises has undermined the very basis of social contract that governments and voters agree to uphold thorough an election. Social Contract is an agreement between people and government that outlines the rights and duties of each party. It derives from the ideas of Hobbes, Locke and social scientist Rousseau and involves people giving up freedoms in return for benefits such as social, economic and state protection. Japan’s economic and political developments in last five decades offer crucial lesson for Islamabad to overcome country’s economic, political and governance challenges. In terms of economy, American educated Hatayama’s article re-circulated in The New York Times (Sept., 4 Japan) calling Japan’s ailing economy a victim of American-led globalization has allowed deep insight into Pakistan’s Washington Model based (top-down consumerism based trickle-down economy) economic challenges. PPP government headed by PM Gillani needs to uphold its end of social contract with the voters instead of challenging media reports about its failures to control mega corruption, increasing unemployment and poor law and order to avoid political accountability.

Japan’s current economic recession-despite being world’s second largest economy backed by its huge exports in automobile and electronic sector- shows that an economy cannot deliver without appropriate economic model. The history of Japanese economic “W” and “V” growth curves since 1990s clearly shows that Washington Model can only grow in bubbles but cannot offer sustainable and predictable economic growth. The economic recession in Japan (and west) also shows that education, strong export infrastructure and availability of cash does not guarantee economic sustainability and in turn prosperity at grassroots. Reportedly, older Japanese have stashed away billions of dollars in matters and pro-consumerism Tokyo is unwilling to end the deadlock by offering traditional banking services to bring that money in the market.

In economic terms, Pakistan needs to replace export and consumerism based Washington Model with indigenous agri-cum saving based economic model to reduce poverty, cut debt to GDP ratio and control inflation. Pakistan has to revive its economy through traditional agriculture and allied value addition exports backed by traditional banking to deliver at grassroots instead of loan based artificial bubbles mimicking economic growth. Pakistan should nationalize and subsidize agriculture subsidy to sustain its economy, generate jobs and kick-start the economy. Reportedly, India, US along with many other nations refused to abandon agriculture subsidies in Delhi before the Doha Round. Washington is not ready to abandon subsidy to protect 253 million US farmers. US Farming Industry earned $87.2 bn in 2008. However, despite allocating $3 trillion for banking sector G-20 nations have failed to revive Washington Model based global economy. PPP government as part of its end of social contract and manifesto needs to ensure “equitable distribution of wealth” instead of compromising country’s economic strength due to pro-west foreign and economic policies. Price hikes, corruption and hoarding will only end if government opts for de-globalization policies to end foreign meddling in domestic affairs.

IMF has allocated $250 bn for 186 member states. In addition, under Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), “there is no conditionality on the use of this allocation,” the IMF office in Pretoria said in a statement. The cases in point are IMF loans conditions for Pakistan and imposition of Washington Model on developing world including fifty-five Muslim countries with only six percent share in world exports. The cheap imports of foreign goods coupled with weak currencies are the very basis of unemployment, poverty and corruption in these countries. Pakistan cannot adopt WTO policies due to low export volume of $15 bn in 2009. The Washington Model deepens divide between “haves” and “have-nots”, which has adverse effects on the society. In terms of global financial services and globalization, the failure of G-20 finance meeting to come up with a global financial regulatory framework (GFRF) including bankers’ pays and bonuses leaves no option for Islamabad but to replace global banking with traditional banking and bring back banking sector salaries equal to national pay scale. Pakistan cannot go on paying twenty-three lac monthly salary to a bank president while 90 percent of country’s population is surviving below one-dollar a day. The fact of the matter is absence of GFRF and failure and lack of transparency in self-regulation by State Bank, Treasury and SECP has destroyed local financial institutions. Islamabad has to restore saving based banking system to end dependence on foreign currency loans and end foreign meddling in domestic economic and foreign policies.

The police should be reverted under the control of DC. Government can control corruption in police department by: a) Allowing insurance companies and private detectives to deal with theft, robbery and property disputes directly through court system. b) Legislate laws to allow ordinary citizens to register FIR against police, scrap departmental accountability system and allow courts to directly deal with police just like ordinary citizens. Across the board scrapping of departmental accountability system should help end corruption in the country. Finally, PPP government-instead of blaming media for running anti-government campaign- as part of upholding its end of social contract must make use of history to serve public, de-globalize to revive the economy and protect national interests. It should adopt traditional banking system to sustain saving based economy to generate jobs and support agri-sector growth to free the country from foreign meddling and loans. The local governments should be replaced with bureaucracy to end corruption, mafias, cartel, pricing issues, improve public services including security at grassroots. Lastly, it is hoped that Hatoyama will fulfill his election promises and deny provision of nuclear fuel to India under Indo-US deal, which is a violation of IAEA’s NPT.







Baitullah Mehsud caught public eye after the death of Abdullah Mehsud in July 2007. Within a short period of five months little known Baitullah managed to spread his influence in all seven tribal agencies of FATA and established Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in December 2007. After nominating commanders in each tribal Agency, he then began to spread his sway in neighboring settled districts of NWFP and created his tentacle under Afridi in Darra Adamkhel. Links were established with militants in Southern Punjab as well.

In early 2008, Fazlullah, heading TNSM in Swat got himself affiliated with TTP and declared his allegiance to Baitullah. Taliban commanders brooked no dissent and under the garb of Islam pursued ruthless policies to eliminate their opponents and to terrorize locals. TTP made Pak Army and not occupation forces in Afghanistan its chief target. Massive funds, armaments and guidance were provided by their patrons in Afghanistan to enable them to pay handsome salaries to their fighters, suicide bombers and handlers, win over neutrals and to confront the Army. Knowing their love for big money, CIA and RAW drenched them in pool of dollars to make them dance to their tunes. In order to build up image of Baitullah, Times magazine of early 2008 placed him among 100 most influential people of the world. Newsweek described him more dangerous than Osama bin Laden.

From June 2008 onward, focus of attention of US leaders shifted towards FATA. It was described as a breeding ground of terrorists and suicide bombers where top leadership of Al-Qaeda were housed and from where cross border terrorism into Afghanistan was taking place. It was declared as most dangerous place and hub of Al-Qaeda; Bush as well as Obama and other senior US-Nato military leaders maintained that unless FATA was neutralized, turbulence in Afghanistan could not be controlled. Pakistan came under tremendous pressure to do more to control militancy. Pak army and ISI were accused of being linked with Taliban. Ignoring its own dismal failures, Pak army was ridiculed that it was incapable of confronting extremists challenge. US military adopted an aggressive posture and drone attacks were intensified in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) and South Waziristan Agency (SWA). Angoor Adda in SWA became chief target where a security post was plastered and a ground raid was carried out by Marines in September 2008. Reason for ire was that unlike Baitullah led Taliban, fighters of Hafiz Gul Bahadur in NWA and Maulvi Nazir in SWA preferred to wage Jihad in Afghanistan.

The new Af-Pak policy was formulated by USA in which area astride Pak-Afghan border of two neighboring countries was made into single battleground. It included eastern and southern Afghanistan, FATA and Pashtun belt of Balochistan. While Pak Army was nudged to intensify its operations in Bajaur, Swat and Waziristan, US-Nato forces duly beefed up with additional 21000 US troops from Iraq planned to launch decisive hammer to eliminate all extremists elements within dangerous battle zone. US top leaders repeatedly expressed their intention to step into FATA to hunt for wanted leaders of Al-Qaeda and Mullah Omar and exerted pressure on Pakistan to accept the plan of joint operations. Pak military leadership put its step down and made it clear that it would not accept any intrusion of foreign troops on its territory. Plot thickened when on 14 April, Holbrooke secretly met Gulbadin Hikmatyar, former blue-eyed of CIA. In the wake of dangerous designs of Af-Pak strategy, Baitullah saw through the double game of USA and considered it prudent to swear allegiance with Mullah Omar and accept him as Ameer-ul-Momineen. He forged an alliance with Maulvi Nazir, Haji Gul Bahadur and with Maulana Faqir Muhammad in Bajaur Agency.

This declaration irked USA and on March 26, 2009, FBI declared Baitullah most wanted terrorist linked with Al-Qaeda and announced $5 million head money. Earlier on, USA had declared bounty of $25 million each for Osama and Zawahiri, and $10 million for Mullah Omar. Pakistan followed suit and announced reward of Rs 50 million for Baitullah on 27 June. It had also announced reward money for 21 absconding leaders of Swat chapter of Taliban under Fazlullah. Baitullah’s inability to come to the rescue of Fazlullah, or to activate South Waziristan front because of his declining health and shrinking liberty of action were other reasons of American displeasure. His boast to attack Washington and claim that his men had undertaken terrorist attack in a village near New York further antagonized them. His position in Shrawangai village was hit by drone for the first time on 14 February 2009, which caused reunification of two bitter rivals Maulvi Nazir and Baitullah but split off Qari Zainuddin Mehsud from Baitullah. Zain belonging to Baitullah clan joined hands with Haji Turkistan Bhittani in Tank and the two decided to jointly battle Baitullah. On 7 April, Nazir who had all along remained pro-government accused the Army of planting homing devices on local militant leaders for destruction by drones.

When the Army refused to rely on him and did not remove check posts in his area of influence, he became non-cooperative and started to play a double game. When troops in South Waziristan started creeping forward towards Baitullah area to encircle him, it became essential for CIA to eliminate him before he got captured or voluntarily joined hands with the Army since latter knew the whole game plan of USA. From the time CIA had started using drones as a means to intimidate people of FATA, disrupt peace deals between Army and militants and to stoke resentment against the government, it had never targeted Baitullah’s strongholds. On three occasions, six figure grid reference of his location was given but he was not targeted. US selective use of drones against pro-government elements had become a cause of friction. Once Baitullah became a liability for CIA and it feared that he may be captured by security forces or he himself may spill the beans about activities of CIA in FATA, it was decided to eliminate him. Mounting suspicions of Pakistanis of its secret alignment with Baitullah had also to be dispelled. These considerations impelled USA to give a green signal for his elimination. First serious attempt was made in June and the other in July. On both occasions, missiles missed Baitullah. He was finally targeted on 5 August in the house of his father-in-law Ikramuddin where he had gone to spend a night with his second wife.

His death led to reprisals in form of killing of Ikramuddin and seven other family members. His sudden departure created leadership crisis since each of the top contenders Hakimullah Mehsud, Waliur Rehman, Maulvi Faqir Muhammad and Qari Hussain thought he was better than others to takeover reins of TTP. Although Hakimullah has been pronounced the new TTP chief, there are veritable reports that he had got killed in a gun battle with Waliur-Rehman in August and an imposter (probably his brother) had been presented to media. None of them enjoy authority and standing as that of Baitullah to keep TTP as a single entity. Successful operation of Army in Swat and its pro-active role against militants in other areas has otherwise severely curtailed liberty of action of TTP and is on the defensive. When Maulvi Nazir got besieged, he signed accord with all other sub-tribes of Ahmadzai Wazirs on 3 September and pledged to cooperate with Army. While situation in Swat to a large extent has been normalized, ongoing operation in Khyber Agency against Mangal Bagh and TTP is producing good results. It is likely that Army would exploit ongoing disarray of Mehsud Taliban in South Waziristan and strike in coming weeks.

The writer is a Rawalpindi-based defence and political analyst.







On August 27, 2009 in an interview with Times of India K Santhanam, senior scientist and DRDO representative at Pokhran II admitted that the only thermonuclear device tested was a “fizzle”. In nuclear parlance, a test is described as a fizzle when it fails to meet the desired yield. Santhanam, was director for 1998 test site preparations in Pokhran test range, has stated hat the thermonuclear explosions conducted at that time were ‘actually of much below expectations and the tests were perhaps more a fizzle rather than a big bang’. This is the first time some Indian senior scientist gave some reservation about the nuke programme.

He was the closely associated with the 1998 tests. The government officials did not endorsed Santhanam’s point view. In this connection Interior Minister R. Chidambaram was in state of confusion while talking to the journalists after the meeting of Lok Sabha Chidambaram, who was the Chairman of the Department of Atomic Energy in 1998, totally dismissed the scientist statement and said that there is no controversy over the yield of Pokhran-II nuclear tests. The world’s analysts have number of times raised questions about the security of Indian nuclear programme. British nuke experts have challenged the claims while saying that the actual combined yield for the fission device and thermonuclear bomb was not more than 20 KT. Santhanam’s view was shared by nuclear scientist Subramaniam, who said “there was something wrong with the seismic signals which seemed pretty weak to me then… so I would tend to agree with Santhanam”. The Santhanam’s disclosing uncovered the face of Indian leadership. In short the recent revelation of senior nuke scientist put the question mark on the credibility of Indian nuke prgramme. Indian nuclear controlling authorities yet to formulate elaborate arrangements to control and secure their nuclear programs. But the biggest dilemma is that US and Russia have concluded number of nuclear deals with India while ignoring all international rules and regulations in relation to the safety features of nuclear programme.

At present she has 35 – 45 nuclear arsenals of various yields but security aspects of these weapons always remained concern to the world community and sincere Indian officials too. According to the Uranium Information Center (UIC), India’s program extends from uranium exploration and mining through fuel fabrication, heavy water production, reactor design and construction, to reprocessing and waste management. India, the UIC says, has a small fast breeder reactor and is about to build a much larger one. It is also developing technology to use its abundant resources of thorium as a nuclear fuel. It has 14 small nuclear power reactors in commercial operation, nine under construction - including two large ones, and more planned.

It’s an eye opener and point of concern to US nuke experts that Indian nuke progrramme is one of the most risky programme. There are 152 financial corruptions and theft cases of uranium have also been reported and registered with the police since 1984. The cases include crimes like abductions and murders of staff, stolen of uranium, transfer of technology to other countries through underworld, smuggling of weapons and electronic equipment being used for preparation of nuke arsenals and disappearance of complete shipment of uranium. The increase in rate of incidents in is becoming great security hazard to the mankind and threatening regional security too.

According to, a US-based information clearinghouse, radiation emitted from the country’s nuclear reactors is three times higher than international norms allow. Of its 14 nuclear power reactors, only three reportedly meet international standards. Indian governments always tried to hide about leaks and accidents from the reactors. An Indian scientist who prefers not to be named reported, “An estimated 300 incidents of a serious nature have occurred, causing radiation leaks and physical damage to workers.” The reports further reveal those famous politicians, top brass of intelligence agencies and scientists those remained involved in illegal smuggling and transfer of nuclear technologies to other countries and local extremists Hindu organizations. On June 13, 2009 Indian famous nuke scientist Lokanathan Mahalingam found dead from Kali River. The scientist had been mysteriously disappeared from the Kaiga Atomic Power Station on June 8, 2009. The Kaiga plant is located near one of the biggest naval bases, Project Seabird. The scientist was working on the atomic plant since last eight years. So he had knowledge of working of the reactor. Earlier too on November 11, 2006, Director of Uttaranchal Space Application Centre, Dr Anil Kumar Tiwari, was also shot dead by an unidentified person near his residence. About six weeks ago, another NPC non-technical employee Ravi Mule was found dead in the township. He too had gone for morning walk. Police have not cracked the earlier cases and similarly still is clue less in the current case of scientist. According to the South India Tribune, India has ordered two plants shut over the last two years because of safety reasons in the face of plans to generate 20,000 megawatts of nuclear power by 2020. Serious accidents and shortcomings have been reported starting in 1969 at the Tarapur, Rajasthan, Madras, Narora and Kaigba Atomic. In 2008 Russian President Medvedev and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed nuclear co-operation accord for construction of the four new plants at Kundankulam stipulated under the Russia. Similarly Washington too has finalized 123 Nuclear Civil deal with New Delhi. However, in this regard only some procedural issues and formalities are left in the way of implementation of the accord. French, Russia, America and IAEA are having double standards over nuclear programmes. The revealed countries and UN nuclear watch dog IAEA always tried to put sanctions and criticized over Pakistan peaceful nuclear programme.

Iranian nuclear programme which was started with the support of US in 1950 has only been targeted after Iranian Islamic revolution. India has always neglected international laws in relation to its nuclear programme. She has refused to signed CTBT and NPT. But US, Russia and America too have never respected the opinion of the world humanity and went for agreement with India while putting side security concerns of nuke experts. In short the recent statements of K Santhanam, repeated incidents and nuke proliferation have made the Indian Nuke Programme, the world’s most dangerous one. IAEA should carry out detail inspection of her civil and military nuke plants. US, Russia and French should reconsider their decisions of further continuation of pacts without elaborate security arrangements and establishing Indian Nuke command control authority. Indian authorities should devise some system to enhance security arrangements to minimize the incidents at their nuke plants.







On Wednesday night, Barack Obama delivered the finest speech of his presidency. The exposition of his health care views was clear and lively. The invocation of Teddy Kennedy was moving and effective. The rumination at the end about the American character and the role of government was the clearest summary of Obama’s political philosophy that he has yet given us. Best of all for those of us who admire the political craft was the speech’s seductive nature and careful ambiguity. Obama threw out enough rhetorical chum to keep the liberals happy, yet he subtly staked out ground in the center on nearly every substantive issue in order to win over the moderates needed to get anything passed.

First, Obama rested the credibility of his presidency on what you might call the Dime Standard. He was flexible about many things, but not this: “I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits — either now or in the future. Period.” This sound bite kills the House health care bill. That bill would add $220 billion (that’s 2.2 trillion dimes) to the deficit over the first 10 years and another $1 trillion (10 trillion dimes) to the deficit over the next 10 years. There is no way to get from the House bill to deficit neutrality. The president’s speech guarantees that the more moderate Senate Finance Committee bill will be the basis for the negotiations to come. The Dime Standard also sets off a political cascade. Since the Congressional Budget Office is the universally accepted arbiter in such matters, the Democrats have to produce a bill that the C.B.O. says is deficit-neutral, now and forever. That means there will be a seller’s market for any member of Congress, Republican or Democrat, who has a credible amendment to cut costs. It also means the Democrats will have to scale back coverage and subsidy levels to reach the fiscal targets.

Second, the president accepted the principle of capping the tax exemption on employer-provided health benefits. The specific proposal he embraced is a backdoor and indirect version of the cap. But what’s important here is the movement and the concession on principle. Soon moderates and Republicans will produce amendments to impose a cap directly. The administration will now have no principled argument to reject them. Third, the president accepted the principle of tort reform to reduce the costs of defensive medicine. Once again, the specific proposal Obama mentioned is trivial. The important thing was the concession on principle. There are already amendments being drawn up to create separate malpractice courts and to otherwise reform the insane malpractice system. The president is going to have a hard time rejecting these amendments just because they might reduce campaign donations from tort lawyers to the Democratic National Committee.

Fourth, the president introduced the public option to its own exclusive Death Panel. As Max Baucus has said, the public option cannot pass the Senate. On Wednesday, the president praised it, then effectively buried it. White House officials no longer mask their exasperation with the liberal obsession on this issue. Fifth, the president also buried the soak-the-rich approach. The House Ways and Means Committee came up with a plan to raise taxes on the rich to pay for health reform.

That’s dead, too. Health reform will be paid for by changes within the health care system. The president underlined his resolve to cut $500 billion from Medicare and Medicaid. This is a courageous move that moderates appreciate.Finally, people in the administration and moderates in Congress would like to beef up the “game changers.” These are the wonky but important ideas like bundling hospital payments and increasing price transparency that might lead to a more efficient system down the road. In short, the president can read the polls just like anybody else. He has apparently recognized the need to pull back to get something passed. He is, characteristically, trying to rise above old divisions in search of a pragmatic sweet spot. He has opened up many opportunities for intelligent Republicans and moderate Democrats to constructively offer amendments to improve the bill and bring it closer to fiscal sanity.

Which is not to say that this is effective health reform. The only risible parts of the speech came when Obama said that parts of the system work (they don’t; they’re unsustainable) and when he said he would be the last president to take on health care (we still await a president willing to take on fundamental perversities in the system). For whatever reason, President Obama has decided not to be that president. He has decided to expand the current system, not fix it. His speech on Wednesday, and the coming legislative changes, make it much more likely he will achieve his goal. —The New York Times











Under the draft National Education Policy, as proposed by its formulation committee, one important recommendation concerns the holding of a primary school-ending public examination in the country. About the merit of the proposed examination there is hardly any argument. But the education minister wants its implementation right from this year and preparation is reportedly going on for holding this new examination in December next. Many, however, are against rushing with this planned examination. They argue, and convincingly so, that the three months of the academic year left will not be enough for making the required arrangement for such a massive task. Also the students will need some more time to get familiarised with the new system of examination. Besides, it has come as an after-thought well before the official approval of the proposed education policy.   

We do not want that a ground-breaking public examination for young learners proves counter-productive simply because of any flaws due to rush implementation. True, students of class V have been appearing at an evaluation examination after completion of their school-based annual examination. Those who are in favour of introducing the proposed nationwide examination from this year refer to those examinations in some selective subjects for scholarships held centrally but carrying only 100 marks. However that examination, hardly taken seriously, cannot be compared with the proposed one. Students of class V all over the country will have to attempt the same set of question papers and also their results will determine if they qualify for scholarships or not. Notably, there will be no separate scholarship examination under the proposed system.

Clearly, at stake is not just the reputation of the system but also the fate of the high achievers among the students, who are now preparing for the class V scholarship examination. Also, no guidelines of the examination have yet been announced, so the teachers and guardians keep their fingers crossed. As it appears, one has the impression that the administration is putting the cart before the horse. We think the introduction of the examination should be postponed till next year for better preparation.   








Pigeon lovers will love this. In South Africa carrier pigeons are being used to ferry data from place to place. Computer experts at a South African firm said it took six hours to transfer four gigabytes of encrypted data from Durban to a call centre 50 miles away near Pietermaritzburg over internet but by attaching a memory card to the leg of a pigeon called Winston, it took just over an hour. Carrier pigeons are specially bred for their ability to find their way home from wherever they are released. Believed to have been used for the first time in an organised manner in the twelfth century by Chenghis Khan, they were later used extensively during World War I to send messages between trenches on the Western Front. 

Kevin Rolfe, the boss of Unlimited Group, said: 'It might sound crazy in this day and age, but we're always looking for new ways to move our business forward and we think this might just work." Now aided by his time-efficient feathered friend Kevin Rolfe can send information across a lot more quickly.  However, the service is not without its problems because, apart from heavy weather conditions, predators like hawks are among the obstacles Winston may face. But Kevin says, 'With modern computer hacking, we're confident well-encrypted data attached to a pigeon is as secure as information sent down a phone line."

Broadband internet is not widespread in South Africa, although recent advances in technology have seen it rolled out in most major cities. But it remains costly to use and the service can be blighted by adverse weather conditions and power cuts. Does that sound familiar? We in Bangladesh need not emulate Kevin but hope for the service to improve and cost to come down.










"Hey dad? You're not flying today?" Dad, "I'm on sick leave, son!"

Son scans his father, "You don't look sick, dad!" Dad explains, "You don't need to be sick to go on sick leave, son!" Surprised son, "No?" Dad, "No!" Son, puzzled, "So what do you have to be to go on sick leave, dad?"


Dad, "You're asking too many questions, son!" After a pause, "Dad, when you fly that big ship in the sky do all the people trust you?" Dad, "Of course they do, if it wasn't for me the plane would crash!" Son asks, "And when you hit an air pocket?" Dad, "They know it's okay!" Son wants to know, "Why dad?"

"Because they know I'm there my son, I'll take them out of danger and back to a stable flight!" Son, "They believe in you right?" Dad, "Right!" Son asks, "Would they suddenly have doubts?" Dad smiles, "They wouldn't!" Son, "Why not?" Dad firmly, "Because they know I'm a pilot! A man who's clocked hundreds of hours flying, who's done so many courses, flown so many planes…"

"That's what you say!"

"What do you mean?"

"Maybe they wouldn't believe you anymore, since they know you're a liar? Maybe next time your plane hits an air pocket they'll have fear in their eyes, they may ask to see your flying license dad before they board your plane the next time..."

 "I'm fighting for a cause dammit, I've told a lie because I'm on strike!"

"Your strike is illegal dad! The courts have said so!"

"Whose side are you on son?"

"The truth dad, and the truth is that you are not sick and you say you are sick, you can't go on strike and you've gone on strike! The truth is you are lying dad!"

"Dad what would happen if the instruments lied to you when you were on flight?"

"We would crash son!"

"So you've got to see that the altimeter and all the other meters are set right isn't it?"

"Yes my son!"

"I think you need to check the altimeter within you father, it seems to be veering on the side of falsehood and you know that leads to a crash, a huge crash of character dad...!" 









ON September 15 last year, one of the world's biggest banks, Lehman Brothers, collapsed. The next day, Malcolm Turnbull was elected to lead the federal opposition. The two events were unconnected. But a year later, Mr Turnbull's fate is locked into the spectacular global fallout from the failure of that merchant bank.


The next election will be won and lost on competing stories about the management of the crisis. The problem for Mr Turnbull is that he has achieved little traction on the issue. And, despite his effort to spell out an agenda in his interview with The Weekend Australian, he is struggling to find another big idea to sell.


At a time when we are moving from the politics of abundance in the Howard years to the politics of austerity, Mr Turnbull must find a way to get an edge over the government if he is to succeed. The opposition can attack Labor's deficit-and-debt legacy and promise $14 billion in spending cuts each year but the government is one step ahead, having locked itself into holding spending growth at 2 per cent as soon as the growth trend returns to normal.


Having failed to keep to a consistent message on spending and debt, the Opposition Leader is now trying to carve out some ground on industrial relations with a suggestion he may return to individual workplace contracts. Mr Turnbull is correct about the need for a flexible labour market, but it is hard to see votes in this for the Coalition, given the beating it took over Work Choices in 2007. Mr Turnbull risks alienating electors at a time when unemployment could worsen and people are concerned about the future.


He has also struggled to master the politics of climate change. Rather than build a story around his personal convictions in an area where there is strong electoral support, he has allowed the government to paint him into a corner on the proposed emissions trading scheme. A strategy to reclaim the Right has left his party looking more conservative on climate than the Howard government. This is despite the fact that the Shergold plan taken to the last election by Mr Howard and Mr Turnbull as his environment minister was, in fact, the forerunner of the Rudd government's market-based scheme.


The shortcomings of the schools stimulus package could have given Mr Turnbull something to play with, but it is this newspaper that has made most of the running here, with no help at all from the opposition. Coalition MPs have been content to be part of photo opportunities, rather than recognising that detailing the program's waste was not only an important public duty but could help them politically.


What the opposition seems to be missing is some basic attention to who it needs to win back to achieve government. For a start, it must seduce the "utemen", the socially conservative tradespeople who previously voted for John Howard but who switched to Kevin Rudd in Queensland and NSW sunbelt seats in 2007 and who are now a prime Labor target group. Mr Turnbull's challenge is to woo them away, despite the fact that they are beneficiaries of the stimulus package, and to stop them, or their employees, from rejoining unions. He must show them they are better off as contractors under the Coalition than as unionists under Labor.


As he struggles to articulate a policy framework, Mr Turnbull also has the political problem of a popular Prime Minister who increasingly adopts a presidential stance, leaving the heavy lifting of defending policy to his Deputy Prime Minister. Unlike Bob Hawke or Paul Keating who actively sold policy, Mr Rudd has positioned himself above the political fray and seems more comfortable talking about the G20 than the ETS.


Mr Keating laments the "new class of professional politicians" no longer motivated by "policy objectives and social passions". That may be so, but the Opposition Leader has been outmanoeuvred by a government that argues it has saved Australia from a 1929-style Great Depression. It does not matter that this is hyperbole and that Mr Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan have exaggerated the case for a $42 billion stimulus. The government now has a good tale to tell, one that rebrands Labor as the party of responsible economic management.








HEALTH Minister Nicola Roxon has a point when she says Coalition and crossbench senators' opposition to cutting the private healthcare rebate for middle- and high-income earners is costing the health system $2.5billion. Generally, The Weekend Australian is a strong advocate of removing subsidies and middle-class welfare. The size and scope of the problems of our badly managed state health systems, however, are such that retaining the rebate might be the most cost-effective option, at least for now. Such an outcome would prevent hospital systems being further strained by an influx of patients' abandoning medical insurance.


As with schools, Australia needs strong public and private health systems to sustain services. As our population ages and medical science becomes increasingly sophisticated, the nation's healthcare costs are expected to increase from about 9 per cent to 12.5 per cent of gross domestic product in the next 20 years. The only workable system is one where as many people as possible take responsibility for their own care through insurance.


After falling to 30 per cent in 1998, private fund membership increased in the Howard era to 45 per cent with such carrot-and-stick measures as the Medicare levy surcharge, lifetime loading and the rebate.


Despite the increase, mismanaged state systems remain under pressure. This is seen in long waiting lists and yesterday's revelation by FOI editor Sean Parnell that public hospitals are relieving pressure on their budgets by encouraging patients to elect to be treated privately in the public system. Public hospitals are even offering to pay patients' out-of-pocket expenses to sweeten the deal. Queensland benefited from privately insured patients by $34 million in 2007-08 and in Ballarat, pregnant women have been offered up to $600 to use a public maternity ward and bill their health fund.


As opposition leader in 2007, Mr Rudd looked into a television camera and pledged that as far as health and hospitals were concerned, "the buck stops here". On the election hustings, his promises to reform the workings of the Council of Australian Governments won voters' approval because he also promised better health and education services. In general, his government is yet to force the states to lift their performances. But with a period of economic austerity ahead as the nation's debt is paid down, greater efficiency is essential. Until it is achieved, giving taxpayers an incentive to drop private insurance might pose too great a risk of further overcrowding of public hospitals.








TO a generation of teenage readers, and many of their parents, John Marsden's classic novel Tomorrow, When The War Began and its sequels are gripping, inspirational stories. The books, now being made into a film, tell of a group of teenagers' courage under pressure as they resist an army that has invaded Australia to "reduce imbalances within the region".


But former West Australian premier Geoff Gallop sees darker, political undertones in Marsden's work that evoke "the very images in Asia that we don't want to have in Australia". His criticisms, made directly to Marsden on the ABC's Q&A program on Thursday, are a depressing return to the stultifying world of political correctness that we hoped was behind us.


Mr Gallop claims that Marsden cannot "escape from the politics" of a "very, very strong racist undercurrent" deep within Australian history towards Asia. Citing "Western imperialism and colonialism defined by race" he suggested "bringing race into the question of ... the invasion of Australia is quite dangerous".


In fact, the Tomorrow novels, with strong characters and fast-moving plots, do not identify the invading army. Nor are they racist. In a nation that grew up and gained confidence during the vigorous debates of the culture wars, Mr Gallop's views remind us of the arid arguments that shut down debate for a decade or more and fostered resentment among those who don't share such arrogant assumptions. While it would be instructive to see Mr Gallop's approved abridged version of Marsden's novels, we doubt if they'd sell.











THE global financial crisis which began in earnest this time last year is slowly undoing changes wrought by the long boom years which preceded it.


For much of the time the Howard government was in office it was criticised for increasing the gap between rich and poor. There is argument about whether that effect was as great as some Howard critics have asserted. But if the gap was indeed widened during the boom, it appears to be closing now, as the Herald's series After the Meltdown, suggests. Unlike other recent downturns, which affected the real economy first, the global financial crisis which began 12 months ago started on international markets. Its biggest effects have been not in construction or manufacturing, but on those with the largest stake in financial markets - bankers and financiers, and those with large share portfolios including, of course, superannuation funds.


As a consequence, this recession has fallen heaviest on different geographical areas than those past. In Sydney, it is the wealthier suburbs of the north shore, the east, and the inner west which are most likely to be experiencing its deadening effects. Less affluent regions may even be seeing something of a boom, as lower interest rates, and lower petrol prices - both by products of the worldwide slowdown and government initiatives to assist the economy - put more disposable income in the hands of consumers.


That assumes of course, that those consumers have kept their jobs. They probably have, because the grimmest forecasts have not been met - but the good news on employment is qualified. Unemployment has not hit as hard as predicted. Thursday's figures showed it holding steady at 5.8 per cent of the workforce for the third month in a row - suggesting it may have peaked. The Treasury had forecast it might rise to 8.5 per cent. But that generally healthy-seeming overall picture is undermined by other trends. The total of hours worked is falling; a record proportion of workers, 7.8 per cent, want more work than they have; and discouraged workers are leaving the workforce, pushing the participation rate down.


For NSW - in recent times the state of economic disaster - there is even moderately good news on jobs. Employment rose by 12,700 (although ominously, employment fell in the past month) Victoria was the only other state to record job growth. That points to another effect of the boom which is being undone - if only a little. The mining-boom states are now feeling the effects of the bust a little more heavily than elsewhere, though that effect is no doubt temporary.


As the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, keeps saying, this country is not out of the woods yet. Even so, Australia is in a remarkably good place.


As Peter Hartcher writes today, Australia has been lucky as the effects of the recession have rolled through the world's economies. Growth slowed, but not as much as elsewhere. Unemployment is not as bad as elsewhere. Banks and financial institutions have seen their profits fall - and steeply in some cases - but their stability has not been in question and neither have the savings and investments of their clients.


The danger in contemplating Australia's relatively unscathed passage through this worldwide turmoil is that the country will become complacent, and believe that this country can survive anything, that its success is inevitable, and that no particular care or effort need be taken in order for Australians to maintain their luxurious and ease-filled life. The opposite is the case. The Great Depression blunted the aspirations of an entire generation, but it also taught them the danger of excessive debt. It would be a great pity if no similar lesson were learnt now.


The generation which grew up and entered the workforce during the boom's tight labour market acquired attitudes and assumptions which suddenly no longer match their circumstances.Jobs may not be as scarce as predicted, but neither are they to be had for the asking, as of right.


Far greater challenges lie not too far ahead - the greatest being the response to climate change.That will almost certainly require widespread changes in behaviour and attitudes. If the global financial crisis does indeed prove to be milder than originally feared, Australia can count itself twice lucky: first, because it came through relatively unscathed, and second, because it was given a gentle introduction to the pain of adjustment to radical change.









GOOD news this week for overweight people with parts missing: your fat can be used to make good many physical deficiencies, according to researchers from Stanford University. Stem cells in fatty tissue can be reprogrammed to grow into something useful - stomach lining, say, or new heart tissue, or fabulous firm buttocks like J-Lo's. Not only that, but fat stem cells are more easy to work with than stem cells from other sources such as blood or skin. We like to think working with fat stem cells might involve highly paid surgeons with years of training behind them putting both hands in a big bowl of the stuff and squishing really hard till they squeeze it out in long sausagey things between their fingers. Although the Stanford researchers are still keeping the details under wraps, we suspect however that this is not how it is done, and that the actual process involves growing anonymous blobs in Petri dishes. Stem cells or anything else, that's the trouble with fat. It kills all romance.






WHEN Lehman Brothers, the fourth-largest investment bank in the US, filed for bankruptcy on September 15 last year America's high-risk lending practices and collapsing real-estate bubble finally triggered a global financial crisis, a crisis that has not ended. It seems appropriate, then, that next Tuesday's anniversary falls between the G20 finance ministers' meeting earlier this month and the forthcoming G20 leaders' summit. Before the credit crisis began to proliferate, meetings of the Group of 20 leading economies had been overshadowed by the smaller but more influential G8, the dominant economic powers.


It was apparent, however, that concerted international action to prevent the crisis hardening into a 1930s-scale depression would require a forum with broader reach.


So the G20 acquired new significance, if not new clout. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown described the first summit in the wake of the crisis as ''Bretton Woods II'', alluding to the conference held in the closing stages of World War II that created the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other global institutions. US president George W. Bush qualified that judgment after the summit by observing that a meeting was ''not going to change the world''. The former president was not noted for his prescience, but a year down the track his modest view, rather than Mr Brown's optimistic one, seems a more accurate assessment of the G20's achievements, and perhaps its potential.


When the G20 finance ministers met in London last week, they talked about making bankers more accountable. If the meeting's proposals are endorsed by the leaders' summit in Pennsylvania on 24th-25th, banks will be required to hold larger capital reserves and the rules governing bonus payments to executives will be linked more closely to their institutions' financial soundness and risk management. That is no small part of what needs to be done to prevent a repetition of the subprime property debacle that began it all in the US, but it is hardly comprehensive reform of global capitalism.


If Bretton Woods II is not yet in sight, the G20 can, however, cite real achievements. The global recession

spawned by the credit crisis has not yet passed, and the ''green shoots'' of recovery discerned by US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke are not found in all economies. But the plunge into a second Great Depression that was feared a year ago has not happened, and the reason it has not happened is because of the massive fiscal stimulus measures taken by most of the G20 governments and the easing of monetary policy by central banks.


That achievement has been most palpable in Australia, which this month reported a 0.6 per cent rise in gross domestic product in the year to June, making it the only advanced economy to record positive growth for the period. And, this week the Bureau of Statistics announced that overall unemployment remains unchanged at 5.8 per cent. These figures vindicate the Rudd Government's stimulus measures. What they do not do is lend credence to Opposition claims that it is time to apply the brake and wind back the stimulus.


The astonishing thing about Australia's continuing debate about the stimulus is that it is entirely politically driven. There are no prominent economic analysts, here or in other G20 economies, calling for an end to stimulus measures. Economists tend to divide instead over the question of whether the worst is over, as Mr Bernanke believes, or whether there will be a ''W curve'', or double-dip recession. The green shoots are tiny, and may yet wither.


Even Australia's apparently buoyant economic indicators bear out the fragility of the recovery. The static unemployment rate, for example, masks the fact that reviving business activity is still not being reflected in job creation. In the past year, the number of jobs fell by 0.25 per cent and hours worked dropped markedly, by 2.5 per cent. The youngest workers are bearing the brunt, with the number of school leavers in full-time work falling by 20 per cent over a year. Other indicators also emphasise the sluggishness of recovery: in July, retail sales fell by 1 per cent.


Maintaining the stimulus is a no-brainer. The hard question is the one to which the G20 has yet to devise an answer: how to ensure that future asset bubbles do not lead to a general credit crunch when they burst. The world has escaped depression, and may really be on its way out of recession. The roller-coaster ride that the global economy has taken since the fall of Lehman Brothers, however, is a trip no one wishes to repeat.









When governments steal elections, voters can hardly call the police. International monitors may not necessarily be able to prevent fraud, but they can expose it, as they have in Afghanistan. The European Union observation mission has been prominent among the bodies charting the faking and ballot-stuffing which marred the vote, as a result of which there may well have to be a second round of voting. Led by the chief observer, Philippe Morillon, a former general and MEP, the EU's team spread itself across the country from eight Afghan cities, a dangerous job. Such observers make a difference, even when refused entry. To reject them, as Iran did, or to hamper their work, as Zimbabwe did, suggests there is something to hide. More people than ever now have the theoretical right to vote their rulers in and out of power. Monitors ensure by and large that polls are fair, or, if they are not, that those who fix them are named and shamed. The OSCE watches over its member states, and will have its eye on Germany next, while two American groups, the Carter Group and the National Democratic Institute, send observers worldwide. Many spend months preparing for polls, trying to educate voters and officials. Carter Group people have already spent a year in Sudan, with another six months to go. Election monitors may only have the right to watch, encourage and speak the truth, but they have the capacity to strip away the democratic disguise which dictators and autocrats so often try to don.







When Vladimir Putin became prime minister in 1999, few thought he would last long. In those days in Russia, premiers were in and out of office like people coming through a revolving door. But Mr Putin went on to the presidency, prevailing with apparent ease over those who sought to discard him, to use him, or to challenge him. Ten years later he is still effectively in power, now as prime minister again. He had luck, in that Russia's rising oil revenues gave him lots of room for manoeuvre. He was also tenacious, ruthless, and shrewd. And he had a simple, straightforward ideology.


Russia was a great power, and would remain great. What it had it would hold, including a special interest in the states and territories which had once belonged to the Soviet Union or had been part of its sphere of influence. It would oppose and criticise a high-handed America as long as that country continued, as Mr Putin once observed, to "behave like a Roman emperor". Mr Putin insisted that Russia should be a power to be reckoned with. For him the greatest sin is to be weak. "We showed weakness," he told Russians after the Beslan school massacre, "and weak people are beaten."


It was never likely that a man with this sense of mission would bow out of politics, and it is therefore no surprise that he was ready yesterday to speak of taking a joint decision with President Dmitry Medvedev over which of them would stand for the presidency in 2012. There are no prizes for guessing whose is likely to be the more decisive voice. Under Russia's amended constitution, the next president could serve two six-year terms, and so Mr Putin – but who had ever doubted it ? – could be with us for a very long time to come. At the annual conference of the Valdai Club, a gathering of academics, journalists and experts on Russia from around the world, Mr Putin was in typical form. He knows how to deal with western questioners in particular, and – as you might expect of a judo enthusiast – he has his counter-move going almost before an opponent has started. Thus, anticipating a critical attitude to a second transfer of posts between himself and Mr Medvedev, he snappily noted that Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair without any intervention by the British electorate.


How much of a team he and Mr Medvedev really are is still not easy to read. The day before Mr Putin offered his upbeat assessments, Mr Medvedev put out a mournful blog post bemoaning the country's economic deficiencies, its weak democratic institutions, its serious social and health problems, and its failure to contain a spreading insurgency in the Caucasus region. Indeed, the two men could almost have been speaking of two different countries.







Despite the sunshine, yesterday's conversation at the Chequers lunch table between the prime minister and his trade union guests will not have been cheerful. These are grim times for trade unionists and grim times for the government, but they are grim in different ways. Next week's TUC congress in Liverpool will be dominated by worries about privatisation, public sector cuts and joblessness. The number out of work last month was approaching double what it was at the same time last year, and next week's figures will be worse.


All that adds up to fewer members and smaller revenues for the unions, and an unpopular government, wrestling with war and recession, has little to offer that might cheer them up. Plenty of trade unionists, surveying the wider political scene, think the government is part of the problem. Plenty of Labour politicians feel pretty cool about trade unionists. Not for the first time after a period in power, the two pillars of the Labour movement look on one another with a mutual sense of betrayal.


It is almost exactly 40 years since Harold Wilson invited his troublesome union barons Jack Jones and Hughie Scanlon to Chequers and told them to "get your tanks off my lawn". Nowadays bankers are much more frequent visitors than trade unionists to the Buckinghamshire countryside. This week's New Statesman is more interested in the anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers than next week's TUC; trade unions, and trade unionists, have almost vanished from mainstream political debate, allowed into the headlines mainly to threaten revenge on what they see as an unfriendly government.


One recent poll suggested that almost as many trade union members would vote Conservative as would vote Labour. A recent written answer in parliament revealed that a fifth of Unite members have opted out of paying the political levy. Fifteen years after a Blairite predicted that the historic union link would be allowed to wither and die, it really looks as if it might. But not yet.


First, the trade unions need to acknowledge that, even if much is left undone, over the last 12 years Labour has delivered workplace reforms that would never have come from a Conservative government. The business minister, Pat McFadden, was justified when he complained to the reform group Unions 21 earlier this year that they rarely give the government credit for its achievements, let alone campaign for them as unions do for the Democrats in the US. Trade unionists dwell on what has not been done (repeal of all the Thatcher trade union laws) or what should be done next (import more European working conditions), and they are too slow to acknowledge the constraints on government. The Labour leadership might more readily acknowledge the indispensable role that trade unions play.


Both sides might gripe, but trade unions not only pay for the party machine, they provide grassroots organisation and grassroots connectivity, as Labour membership slumps by half from its 1997 high. There should be more invitations to Chequers. Though Bob Crow of the disaffiliated RMT might continue to talk darkly of a new voice for working-class politics, the truth is that no one else is in the game.


At least not now. In five years' time it might look quite different. Theorists of progressive politics want to rethink the way politics is done. Organisations like Compass look enthusiastically at, the antithesis of the cumbersome bureaucracy of the British political model.


The trade unions, disproportionately concentrated in the public services, risk being weakened by another round of public sector cuts and privatisations. In the short term, the impending election will bring an outbreak of peace. But unless both sides make the most of it, politics will never be the same again.








Komeito, the junior partner of the LDP-led coalition government that was ousted from power in the Aug. 30 Lower House election, has chosen policy chief Mr. Natsuo Yamaguchi as its new leader and election campaign chief Mr. Yoshihisa Inoue as secretary general.


The new leadership has its work cut out. The party emerged from the election with 10 fewer seats in the Lower House, leaving it with just 21. All eight of its candidates in single-seat constituencies, including party leader Akihiro Ota and secretary general Kazuo Kitagawa, failed to win. To reconstruct the party, it is essential for the new party leaders to review Komeito's performance in the coalition and draw the right lessons.


In 1999, Komeito joined a tripartite ruling coalition made up of the LDP, Komeito and the Liberal Party. At the time the LDP hoped that the coalition would allow it to regain a majority in the Upper House. The Komeito leader at the time, Mr. Takenori Kanzaki, stressed the importance of stabilizing politics when he accepted the LDP's call to join the coalition. Later the Liberal Party withdrew from the coalition.


Komeito's main slogan is "social welfare and peace," but such ideals hardly saw the light of day during the party's partnership with the LDP. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who came to power in 2001, pushed for structural reform that has widened the gaps between the rich and poor and weakened the nation's social fabric. He also sent Self-Defense Force units to Iraq and the Indian Ocean. His successor, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, enacted a law for procedures to amend the Constitution and revised the Fundamental Law of Education to instill patriotism into children.


By placing priority on the coalition's survival rather than its own ideals, Komeito ended up eroding its own support base. The party would be wise to view its defeat in the Lower House election as an opportunity to return to its principles of protecting the socially weak and promoting peace.









The leaders of the Democratic Party of Japan, Social Democratic Party and New People's Party (Kokumin Shinto) agreed Wednesday to form a coalition government. It will ensure that the DPJ, which holds fewer than half of the Upper House seats, has smooth sailing in the Diet. However, the parties appear to have papered over some difficult issues and the new administration may have a tough time.


During negotiations, the SDP called for revamping the U.S.-Japan agreement to move the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station to another part of Okinawa and for revising the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement. The DPJ opposed such a goal because of the problems it would cause DPJ leader Yukio Hatoyama, who, as Japan's next prime minister, will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama later this month.


The two parties finally agreed to adapt a sentence originally included in the DPJ's election manifesto by adding a reference to Okinawa. The agreement now says that the new administration will "propose revising the SOFA and take a stance toward reviewing the realignment plans for U.S. forces as well as the U.S. base situation in Japan with a view toward reducing the burdens on Okinawan residents."


As Kokumin Shinto demanded, the agreement mentions a drastic review of postal service privatization, but without details.


The DPJ rejected a call by the SDP to establish a mechanism for policy discussions among party policy chiefs. The DPJ insisted on concentrating policy-related decision making in the Cabinet. It was eventually agreed that the leaders of the three parties will coordinate views on policies in a Cabinet-level panel. But the relationship between this panel and the National Strategy Bureau to be created under the prime minister is unclear.


Since the agreement appears to contain the seeds of future friction, it is all the more important that each party in the coalition restrain itself and cooperate toward achieving their grand goals — ending bureaucracy-led politics and restructuring the economy.










What's going on in Taiwan? A year ago, there were serious concerns about the viability of Taiwan democracy. The Nationalist Party (KMT) had achieved an overwhelming majority with a sweeping victory in Legislative Yuan elections and had regained the presidency as a result of a landslide victory by its chosen candidate, former Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou.


Many expressed concern that the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), embarrassed by corruption scandals and branded as inefficient and incapable of governing, would fade into the background, with the KMT running roughshod over the political process, implementing its policies at will.


What a difference a year makes! Today, the DPP is resurgent and seems to have the Ma administration and KMT on the ropes. It may not have been very good at running the country, but it has proven itself to be a formidable force when it comes to its more traditional opposition role. One is tempted to tip one's hat to the DPP, except for one slight matter: its success is increasingly coming at the expense of Taiwan's economic recovery and potentially at a risk to its security as well.


Take its latest political maneuver, for example. In the wake of Typhoon Morakot, local DPP political leaders from the seriously stricken region decided to invite the Dalai Lama to come and provide comfort to the victims of this devastating natural disaster. The DPP's central leadership quickly — and disingenuously — called on President Ma to approve the visit and "not to politicize the event."


All well and good, except that the DPP leadership was fully aware that the mere invitation of the Dalai Lama, seen as a "dangerous splittist" by Beijing, would invoke the ire of its giant neighbor and create a lose-lose situation for Ma. Either Ma gives in to predictable Chinese objections and denies the Dalai Lama a visa or he allows the visit and awaits Beijing's anticipated retribution.


Politically speaking, this was another stroke of genius for an opposition party that seems to have the majority running scared, especially in the wake of negative publicity over its initial handling of typhoon recovery operations.


Ma had little option other than to approve the Dalai Lama's visit. Beijing, for all its anger and complaints, was likely to be more understanding and forgiving than the Taiwan electorate. The Chinese leadership has figured out what the DPP is up to, but finds it hard to resist reacting. What it has not yet figured out is that it is China's predictable protests against any action, however benign, by the Dalai Lama that makes his visits the politically charged events that they have become.


Thus far, the Chinese response has been muted: ritualistic protests and the cancellation of a number of events aimed at highlighting improved cross-strait relations. But there is a real danger that Beijing will at some point reach the conclusion that the Ma administration is too weak and incompetent to deal with and revert to its old tactic: marginalizing Taiwan and limiting its political and economic opportunities.


This could put at risk Taipei's attempts to negotiate an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA)

in effect, a cross-strait Free Trade Agreement (FTA) — with China. Such an agreement is not only significant in its own right, as a boost to Taiwan's economic recovery, but is expected to open the door for similar FTAs between Taiwan and many of its Southeast Asia neighbors and, perhaps, even with the United States.


Unnecessarily and deliberately antagonizing Beijing just to score political points in Taiwan may have its domestic political benefits, but it could end up costing Taiwan dearly, both economically and in terms of cross-strait political stability.


Perhaps the time has come for the DPP to understand that the role of a responsible opposition is not just to oppose everything for the sake of embarrassing the party in power but to craft policies that serve both the party's and the people's interests.


It also seems hard to believe that the KMT, for all its political clout, has been unable to take its case to the people of Taiwan and has instead allowed the DPP to seize and keep the initiative. A more enlightened attitude on the part of Beijing toward the Dalai Lama in the future would also help.


Ralph A. Cossa is president of the Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu. He has just returned from a weeklong visit to Taipei and Beijing.









Mostly ignored and overlooked as an element of culture, food is often seen merely as something to fill the belly with. But by dipping into the histories and presence of food, we can pretty much see the mixture of culture and how globalization is proceeding.


In a classic Betawi song by Benyamin Sueb, titled "Ape Kabar?" (How are you?) Benyamin asks a friend living abroad how it feels to live far from home.


"You must've eaten cheese every day, and forgotten the taste of terasi *shrimp paste*," he sings with Ida Royani. From this song, we can guess that the perceptions Benyamin and Ida shared about living in Western countries were deeply related to a totally different pattern of food consumption.


Cheese, hamburger, steak, pizza and pasta to name a few, are one of the "Western" types of food, whereas, Indonesians "should be" more accustomed to rice, noodles, cassava and of course, sambal (spicy sauce).


Having learned about the "West versus Indonesia" opposition since I was young, it came as a surprise to me to notice that Belgians use bawang goreng (fried onions) in their burgers. Going under the brand "Bicky Burger", these are sold by small vendors on the streets. After putting the slice of meat and cheese in between the bread, they pour the already-prepared fried onions. It gives a crispy sensation against the soft warm bread and meat. Served with French fries or snacks such as sate and lumpia, this kind of burger accompanies most frietjes or chip vendors in Belgium.


Lumpia (eggroll), the snack most Indonesians believe originated in Semarang, Central Java, is sometimes also served as a side dish to accompany the fries, salad and mayonnaise, while we can always find nasi goreng (fried rice) in Chinese restaurants in Belgium.


Even though lumpia and nasi goreng have a strong Chinese Hokkien influence, those are now claimed to be "real" Indonesian food. Nasi goreng, for instance, definitely has Indonesian etymology.


So whose taste is whose? And what is authentic? Is bawang goreng an Asian taste ripped from its root and invaded by the mighty burgers? We have heard what burgers can do to a nation.


The endless invasion of fast-food restaurants and franchised caf*'s in Indonesia is just one of them. George Ritzer (1999) calls it "McDonaldization", a homogenization of taste according to the Western tongue and standards, where every service is valued and uniformed based by the Americans.


But then again, aren't we able to find rice and sambal in those fast-food restaurants? Aren't we able to choose to eat burgers from the burger man honking his horn down the street? According to an anthropologist on globalization and consumption, Richard Wilk (1999), this is what globalization is all about. It is about the encounters of culture and the mix of taste. The idea that lumpia was brought from China to Semarang centuries ago, for instance, before it continued its journey even further to the West to small cities in Belgium, is an illustration of how globalization is an inevitable continuous process that has happened ever since.


These encounters create hybrid food, a mix of cultures embedded in a portion of dish. It is not only to be found in places miles from Indonesia, but is written all over the country's cuisine. Taking the vivid example of cassava and cheese, this snack is thought not to have existed before the 1980s. As proved by the song, "Singkong dan Keju" (Cassava and Cheese) by Bill and Brod, it tells the story of a man who likes cassava and a girl who likes cheese.


"We wouldn't be able to be together, our tastes are poles apart," the song claimed twenty years ago. Cheese back then was the ultimate symbol of the West, whereas cassava was the symbol of traditionalism, poverty and modesty.


It probably didn't occur to Bill and Brod that only a few years since that song, people were actually able to unite the two symbols of modernity and traditionalism. Nowadays, not only is cassava a food to be eaten by almost all classes in big cities - deconstructing the idea of poverty and deprivation - but cheese is a food widely consumed not only by the West.


This brings us back to the first question of whose culture is whose? Using Wilk's assumption that globalization is an act marked by the encounters of culture and has existed for centuries - an act that is intensified nowadays due to the improvement of technology - it would be difficult to determine that this taste and culture is entirely mine and that is entirely yours. Like the bawang goreng inside the burger or the cheese on top of the cassava, it began once upon a time, when cultures met along the way and influenced one another.


A total occupation of culture by another is thus impossible, as - let's face it -the Dutch who colonized Indonesia also took home some culture from Indonesia back to their country: sate, nasi goreng, pisang ambon or bawang goreng, to name a few tastes.


Taking this into account, it would be absurd to view the newest debate over the stealing of culture between Malaysia and Indonesia. It would be difficult to claim that a culture or a taste is entirely mine and definitely not yours, or vice versa. Authenticity of a culture is thus never at stake, but on the other hand, culture - like taste - is a result of a never-ending continuous conversation.


The writer is doing her master's degree in culture and development at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, and a freelance writer.







Twenty-five years ago, Sept. 15, 1984, or three days after the military brutally cracked down on Muslim protesters in Tanjung Priok, North Jakarta, on the order of president Soeharto, The Jakarta Post wrote in the last paragraph of an editorial, “Nothing can compensate the wretched losses of the innocent victims of this tragedy, But, if we can learn some painful lessons from this experience, their sacrifice may not have been in vain.” This newspaper also reminded the government “that prompt and full disclosure of the facts behind such a social disturbance, which the government provided in this instance, is the most effective means of containing this kind of explosive [situation].” Has this newspaper’s appeal been answered?


The editorial was quite courageous, knowing at that time that Soeharto and the military had absolute control of any elements of the nation, and the media was tightly scrutinized. Under Soeharto’s 32-year tenure, only the president and the elite members of his regime could determine the truth. Laws were in their hands and anyone who questioned their absolute power, like the Tanjung Priok protesters, would be severely punished. Even after Soeharto’s fall in May 1998, the military’s brutality remains untouchable until now.


And now who cares about the loss of the civilians lives? Perhaps only their relatives, and their number continues declining because of the time factor and also because the government and those who were directly involved with the killings used money to “silence” the poor victims, or their poor families.


According to the official military version, which was announced Sept. 14, 1984, nine protesters were killed and 50 were injured when anti-riot troops dispersed about 1,500 protesters. They were marching to the local military office to demand the release of  their friends. According to human rights and civil society groups, the number of victims was much higher than the military version. According to the Post’s report, the violence erupted in the wake of tension-charged speeches in Tanjung Priok’s Rawa Badak Mosque by three Muslim preachers reportedly criticizing the government and agitating the congregation.


The Sept. 12, 1984 riots then triggered a wider anti-government movement. Soeharto accused the movement of being subversive and brought several retired military officers and civilian leaders, including the late Lt. Gen. H.R. Dharsono, to court, accusing them of masterminding the movement. A famous group of government critics, the Group of 50, became prominent after the Tanjung Priok incident. With Lt. Gen. (ret) Ali Sadikin, former Jakarta governor as its informal leader, this group consistently criticized Soeharto’s government although they had to pay a very expensive price for their courage. Most of them were economically destroyed and their civil rights were denied.


To be honest, there is little hope that this newspaper’s appeal for full disclosure of the incident will be heard. It is saddening to see the tendency of this nation to cover up pains, wounds and to delete negative memories. If asked now, many Indonesians show indifferent attitudes towards past gross human rights violations, like the 1965 anti-communist riots and the May 1998 riots which forced Soeharto to step down, and many other tragedies.


Many of the victims of the Tanjung Priok tragedy and their relatives may feel hopeless in their search for justice. And we as a nation, who are proud of Indonesia as the world’s third largest democracy, should feel ashamed with them, because we have failed to give them the justice they need.








The trading of apartments has come to a near standstill in Seoul since the government tightened the spigot on housing finance on Monday. Property brokers say there are few trades, though many inquire about where housing prices will be headed in the months ahead.


On Monday, the government extended regulations on housing loans from banks from Seoul's three wards south of the Han River to Seoul's metropolitan area - Gyeonggi Province and Incheon as well as the entire capital. But it is too early to conclude they will dampen housing prices.


In an attempt to forestall speculation in the premium residential districts south of the Han River, the government has in the past banned a household from borrowing from banks for the purchase of a home beyond the limit set at 40 percent of its income. Now the debt-to-income restrictions are being applied to the rest of the capital, Gyeonggi and Incheon, though at higher rates.


The government expects the new regulations will lower home-backed loans 20 percent to 30 percent. The debt-to-income restrictions should help curb apartment prices that have been rapidly increasing, particularly in the districts south of the Han.


It is necessary for the government to restrict home-backed loans to prevent property bubbles forming again. Banks will be exposed to a great risk if property prices plummet. Falling property prices will have a direct impact on households as well, with real estate accounting for 80 percent of the total assets held by an average household.


Moreover, households cannot afford to take on more debt because their income is not increasing. According to a report from the Bank of Korea, outstanding household credit amounted to 697.75 trillion won at the end of June, up by a historic high of 5.7 percent from a year before. On the other hand, the nation's disposable income grew a mere 0.2 percent to 502.8 trillion won during the first half of this year, the lowest rate of growth since such statistical figures were first made publicly available in 1970.


Home-backed loans account for half of all household debt. They stood at 341.4 trillion won at the end of August, with as much as 4.2 trillion won added in the one month. No wonder the government has extended the debt-to-income restrictions to Seoul's entire metropolitan area.


Worse still, interest rates are rising. The annual rates applied to new household loans averaged 5.58 percent in July, up 0.11 percentage point from the previous year. The debt-payment capacity for households will be further undermined when the central bank decides to raise its benchmark rate.


Experts believe the central bank, which is keeping the rate at 2 percent, will increase it late this year or early next year to siphon off excess liquidity from the market. The Samsung Economic Research Institute is warning that the nation will be exposed to a household debt crisis if no action is taken. Its impact, the institute says, will be similar to that of the 2003 credit card crisis.



As experts claim, the debt-to-income restrictions alone may not be able to push down home prices. They rise when supply fails to meet demand in the housing market. That is the reason why the government will have to help provide more homes at low prices than it is planning now. Households will seek to skirt the debt-to-income restrictions and borrow from non-bank lenders at higher rates if they are convinced that home prices will keep rising.


The government will have to ease restrictions on building homes and, by doing so, help supply more homes, particularly in the districts south of the Han River, where demand is the highest.









It is a ritual for the government to promise, several weeks ahead of national holidays such as Chuseok, to curb prices of food and other daily necessities. The government has done so again this time. But it will prove to be an uphill battle, as it has been in the past, to put rising prices under control.


The tools to be used in the fight against price increases are almost the same. Among them is a tariff quota, which permits imports of a certain amount of a commodity duty-free or at a lower duty rate for a set period of time. The government also promises to release some of its stockpiles to the market and crack down on price rigging.


All these efforts should help moderate price increases. But their effects are only marginal when demand surpasses supply, as it does during the holiday season. Moreover, food prices have already risen at a record pace.


According to reports from government agencies, the prices of food items gained 9.5 percent on average last month from a year ago - the highest in 11 years. The impact of food price increases may not have been as severe as previously thought because the overall consumer price index stood at 3 percent.


Still, the food price increases must be all the more painful for President Lee Myung-bak, because many of the food items are among the 52 daily necessities whose prices he promised in March last year to put under strict control. By controlling the prices, he wanted to make life easier for the working class.


But controlling prices is easier said than done. There are few short-term solutions to the problem of stabilizing prices. A better way would be to stabilize the exchange rate and tighten monetary policy. A weak won and more money in the market drive price increases.








I always find it strange that people should debate whether the renminbi should be a reserve currency when it is officially still under exchange control. We still remember that as late as 1993, China used foreign exchange certificates.


As we have seen from the experience of the yen and the euro in the previous articles, there are both advantages and disadvantages for a national currency being used as a reserve currency. The obvious advantage is the seigniorage, but in a world of almost zero interest rates, this benefit is very small indeed. The second is the increase in financial services and commercial business that comes from the global use of the reserve currency. New York and London benefit considerably as international financial centers that trade financial products denominated in global currencies. The third advantage is the prestige of having a reserve currency.


There are also disadvantages. A reserve currency means that foreigners will hold large amounts of the currency that can freely move in and out. Hence, one of the preconditions of any reserve currency is the ability of the issuing central bank to control the value of the reserve currency through appropriate monetary policy. This implies a stable exchange rate and also a low level of inflation.


This is precisely the problem faced by the U.S. dollar, called the Triffin Dilemma - the tension between national monetary policy and global monetary policy. In 1998, when the Fed realized that the world was plunging into a global crisis, it lowered interest rates and reflated not only the U.S. economy, but also the global economy. The U.S. could do that because it was fundamentally strong and U.S. consumption was the real engine of global growth.


But continuous deficits add up to excess borrowing that is unsustainable. The dilemma is that in a world of free capital flows, any central bank that raises interest rates to control domestic borrowing will invite in a ton of hot capital flows, creating more asset bubbles. If the country maintains flexible exchange rates, the country will not only have exchange rate appreciation that encourages imports, but also worsening a current account deficit funded by short-term capital inflows.


In other words, the Triffin Dilemma imposes large costs on the reserve currency country, because if the world demands greater liquidity, the reserve country must run a deficit in order to increase global money supply. But if the reserve country runs too large a deficit, then a financial crisis is inevitable. There is no free lunch.


Can we solve the problem by creating a global central bank and a global super-regulator? The answer is no, because if we have a global monetary policy, some regions and sectors will be winners and some others will be losers. Thus, the precondition for a global central bank is a global fiscal mechanism that is able to tax the winning sectors to compensate the losing sectors. Without such a fiscal compensatory mechanism, no sovereign country will be willing to cede its monetary policy to a global central bank without some assurance that they could receive some fiscal assistance. The euro can work with the European Central Bank because such a fiscal mechanism exists in the EU.


A further issue for any currency becoming a reserve currency is that this is not a policy issue, but really a market decision. Ultimately the market decides if the currency becomes a reserve currency. The yen experience shows that if there is high volatility in the exchange rate, the market will not use the currency extensively as a reserve currency. With a zero interest rate policy, the central bank cannot use interest rates as a tool to stabilize the exchange rate, so that speculative forces, largely the yen carry trade, move the exchange rate.


This is where the present decision to establish several pilot renminbi clearing centers in Hong Kong and border cities is a pragmatic move to facilitate market needs. Trade in the border areas of China with other countries is facilitated when the traders are willing to use the renminbi as a convenient medium of exchange. The renminbi swap arrangements with various central banks are also trade-facilitating moves to help the use of domestic currencies on a bilateral basis.


Some people think that high foreign exchange reserves are a precondition for reserve currency status. Central banks used to measure foreign exchange reserves in terms of months of imports. But this is an outdated measure. Annual world merchandise exports amounted to $15.8 trillion in 2008, whereas foreign exchange transactions amount to $3.2 trillion daily or roughly $800 trillion annually. This means that exchange rates are determined not by physical trade, but by capital market flows.


In other words, one of the conditions for opening up the renminbi is whether the exchange rate is stable over the long term. This requires very skillful monetary policy to sterilize speculative flows, supported by strong fiscal conditions with very resilient and strong domestic financial systems that can absorb external shocks. In an era of global zero interest rates, it will not be easy to manage market stability because of hugely leveraged speculative flows. At near zero interest rates, the cost of speculation is very low, but the costs to each economy of destabilization are very high.


Who else wants to be a reserve currency?


Andrew Sheng is the author of forthcoming book published by Cambridge University Press, "From Asian to Global Financial Crisis." - Ed.


(Asia News Network)







RAMALLAH - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to approve new Jewish settlements on the eve of a possible settlement freeze is the latest round in a cycle that has been repeated so many times over the past 40 years that it would seem mundane if it were not so dangerous.


The cycle goes something like this: American or international pressure mounts on Israel to stop settlement activities in the occupied territories. Israeli settlers and their supporters then gather even more energy to expand onto more Palestinian land, build more exclusively Jewish settlements, and destroy more Arab homes before the so-called "freeze" comes into effect.


The peace process, not surprisingly, becomes a joke while this happens. Eventually, world pressure subsides and the freeze fails to materialize. In the end, more Jewish settlements appear. Indeed, the great paradox of this cycle is that more settlements are built during times of negotiations than during times of conflict.


This pattern can be traced to 1967. Israelis understand that the only reality in politics is the reality on the ground. So long as Israeli soldiers control the occupied territories, the idea of a settlement freeze will not take root. In fact, the demand for a settlement freeze is nothing more than a call to arms to a wide group of Israelis and their supporters to go and build on stolen Palestinian land.


When Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was preparing for his historic visit to Jerusalem, a group of settlers created the settlement of Elon Moreh near Nablus, the most populated West Bank city. When former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker began his shuttle diplomacy for peace, his ultimately unsuccessful efforts actually resulted in more settlements, with a new one started just hours before he was due to arrive for talks.


Baker postponed his visit and later vented his frustrations to the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations. He resented "being greeted" every time he came to the Middle East with yet "another settlement." Baker's efforts eventually led to the Madrid peace conference in 1991, but that, too, failed to resolve the conflict. And, while Palestinians and Israelis did reach a secret agreement a few years later that was publicly declared at a White House ceremony, construction of Jewish settlements didn't stop. In fact, since the 1993 Oslo Accords the number of Jewish settlers in the occupied territories has doubled.


The creation of new settlements has often been accompanied by hostile media reporting - even within Israel - as well as international condemnation, yet the settlement train has not stopped. It continued to race ahead even during the days when Israel's government rotated between Likud's Yitzhak Shamir and Labor's Shimon Peres between 1984 and 1990.


The Shamir government would be defeated at the polls, and the incoming Labor government would declare a freeze on all settlement construction, even on buildings that had already been started. But, despite the decrees, ways were found to continue building, to absorb new residents, and to increase the settler population.


For the United States, the settlements have proven to be an equal-opportunity obstacle, obstructing both Republican and Democratic diplomacy. The Clinton administration attempted to put brakes on then-Prime Minister Netanyahu's efforts to construct a new settlement near Bethlehem. After a short hiatus, construction resumed. The Bush-Cheney Administration, the most pro-Israeli in memory, fared no better. Today, Har Homa, built on Jabal Abu Ghnaim with the aim of cutting off Bethlehem from Jerusalem, is home to 19,000 settlers.


This cycle has become so bizarre and confusing that Palestinians are not sure whether they should hope for continued tensions with Israel (which usually means no new settlements) or for continued negotiations (which usually provide cover for building settlements). On Jan. 5, 2007, the day Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to discuss a new round of talks, the Israeli Construction and Housing Ministry issued a tender for the construction of more units in Ma'ale Adumim, an exclusively Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank.


Of course, whenever the Israelis defy the world over the settlements, as is now once again happening, U.S. and other officials "denounce" and "regret" the decision. But, at the end of the day, despite these few statements and perhaps even a U.N. resolution of opposition, the pattern established over the past 40 years is clear: the decision stands.


Jeff Aronson, a senior researcher at the Washington-based Foundation for Middle East Peace, concludes that Israeli leaders will continue to be able to fool their American counterparts on this issue. Some Israeli right-wing leaders like Menachem Begin, Shamir, and Netanyahu trumpet their settlement achievements. Others, including Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, and Ehud Olmert "talked left and built right."


Palestinians are caught in a catch-22: if they insist on a settlement freeze, Israel preemptively begins to build new settlements. Unless and until Israel pays a heavy price for its illegal activities in the occupied territories, it is hard to imagine a successful peace process taking shape.


Daoud Kuttab, a former professor at Princeton University, is general manager of the Community Media Network. - Ed.


(Project Syndicate)









Montrealers and their mayor can agree: If the city's $355.8-million water-management contract is tainted by corruption, even in part, it should be cancelled.


Mayor Gérald Tremblay has said repeatedly that he is poised to scrap the pact with the Génieau consortium if the city auditor-general's report, due Sept. 21, says there were irregularities during the process of awarding the contract, two years ago.


Tremblay is understandably impatient to settle this, and get out from under relentless news about allegations of impropriety in the water contract, a city housing agency, and elsewhere. This week, the Sûreté du Québec arrested a career civil servant and an outside consultant, charging them with defrauding the city of millions in an alleged phony-billing scheme within Montreal's computer-systems division.


With barely a week before the official start of the city election campaign, Tremblay needs more than anything else to position himself as the man who's cleaning up city hall.


This is a tall order given that a number of the deals now under investigation were made while Tremblay himself was at the helm.


But there is truth to the mayor's claim that he is putting ethical concerns front and centre. He made the decision to call in the SQ after a contractor working on the roof of city hall complained that a mafia figure had attempted to extort money from him, saying it would be used to bribe two members of the city's executive committee.


And now he has reportedly asked the Quebec government to set up an economic-crime squad, which would probe municipal corruption cases among others.


True, on these measures his hand has been somewhat forced. But everyone acknowledges that the mayor, whose personal integrity is unchallenged, would be much happier running a spotless administrative machine than he is presiding over a swamp of suspicions.


Corruption, like rust or rodents, cannot be deterred by solemn oratory, nor rooted out by closing one's eyes. Constant vigilance and preventive maintenance are essential.


It would be disingenuous to pretend that City Hall was squeaky clean before Tremblay and his team arrived. And it is quite believable that the mayor has until recently been innocently nonchalant about some rather doubtful practices during his time in the big office.


So now he is pulling on a crime-fighter's cape, making himself into Mr. Clean the corruption-buster. The question now is which of these two Tremblays the voters will recognize on election day.









Premier Jean Charest could shelter David Whissell no longer, and so Quebec now needs a new labour minister. Neither man could deny the conflict of interest inherent in being both a giver and a receiver of paving contracts. Whissell did not personally award contracts to his family business, but the potential for abusive conflict of interest was too big to deny.


And for once we agree with Pauline Marois: Whissell must now choose between his business and his National Assembly seat.


Beyond this case, we hope Charest has learned that the bad old ways won't do any longer. He was wrong to say "the appearance of integrity is as important as integrity itself," because real integrity out-ranks the image of integrity. But why can't we have both?


Great seats for the big show


For all our frustrations with medicare, very few Canadians, we believe, would willingly abandon it and switch to a U.S.-style system.


But President Barack Obama's push for more comprehensive medical care has generated huge opposition - much but not all of it from vested interests. It's a gripping battle to watch, and Canadians have ring-side seats.


Good news from down east


The Beaverbrook Gallery in Fredericton, and all Canadians, have won a welcome victory: an adjudicator's final ruling means an important collection of 133 paintings will remain in New Brunswick's provincial gallery. A British foundation run by the heirs of Max Aitken (1879-1964), the first Lord Beaverbrook, had been claiming since 2003 that the Ontario-born industrialist, press baron, and wartime British cabinet minister had only loaned the paintings to the gallery that bears his name. Nonsense, said the adjudicator.


The collection is an artistic jewel. We're delighted to know it will stay right here.




Canada has awarded refugee status to Brandon Huntley, a South African, on the grounds that as a white man he would be persecuted if sent back to South Africa.


With a level of fatuous credulity rare even at the immigration board, one William Davis accepted the claim on the goofy grounds that Huntley "would stand out like a 'sore thumb' due to his colour, in any part of the country." Huh? There are 4.5 million whites in South Africa; that's a lot of thumbs. How do these immigration people get their jobs, anyway?


South Africa's government is rightly angry about this, and the ruling African National Congress calls the decision racist.


South Africa has its problems, but to pretend that it's a hell-hole for white people is idiocy of a high order. At least Ottawa is challenging the ruling; but as we know that usually means years of delay.








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