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Monday, September 14, 2009

EDITORIAL 14.09.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month september 14,  edition 000297 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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










  1. IS IT A THAW?



  2. 78,000 MW QUESTION































































The widespread anger, disquiet and disbelief over last Friday’s judgement by a bench of the Allahabad High Court acquitting Moninder Singh Pandher of any involvement in the abduction, rape and gruesome murder of a 14-year-old girl, Rimpa Haldar, inside his plush home at Noida in Delhi’s eastern outskirts is understandable and perhaps even justified. Rimpa Haldar is one of the 19 children (there may have been more) from under-privileged families who were lured into Pandher’s house, subjected to unmentionable depravities and murdered. The ghastly ‘Nithari killings’ came to light in December 2006 when neighbours complained to the police about unbearable stench emanating from the premises of Pandher’s house. The subsequent search revealed the skeletal remains of the victims: Their bodies had been sliced into pieces by Pandher’s domestic help, Surinder Koli, packed into plastic bags and dumped in the space separating Pandher’s house from that of his neighbour. Both Pandher and Koli were arrested; the CBI was given the task of investigating and prosecuting the crimes; and, chargesheets were filed in 19 separate cases in the trial court. Curiously, while Koli was charged with murder in all 19 cases, the CBI framed relatively light charges against Pandher, prompting the parents of the victims to move court. In the case relating to the murder of Rimpa Haldar, the CBI did not press any charges against Pamdher on the specious plea that he was in Australia from January 30 to February 15, 2005, while the hapless girl was lured into his house by Koli and murdered on February 8.

The trial court had taken a dim view of this exoneration by the CBI, summoned Pandher and held him guilty on account of the fact that the crime had been committed in his house, that he had led the police to a murder weapon, and that he could not have been unaware of the stench of the rotting bodies dumped in his backyard. Pandher, along with Koli, was given the death sentence. Both appealed against the judgement in the Allahabad High Court which has now exonerated Pandher while upholding the death penalty for Koli. The High Court has taken a narrow, legal view of the matter and based its judgement, described as ‘bizarre’ by those who disagree with it, on two technical points: First, Pandher was out of the country when Rimpa Haldar was murdered; and, second, according to Koli’s confession, the murder weapon to which he had guided the police was not used for this particular crime. The High Court, however, has stressed that its judgement should not impinge on the trial in the remaining 18 cases.

That, however, is cold comfort for those whose children fell victim to the depravities of Pandher and his domestic help. In the popular perception, Pandher is equally, if not more, guilty of the horrendous crimes committed in his house. This is not an entirely unfounded assertion: After all, the master of the house cannot claim to be ignorant of what was happening there, right under his nose. Moreover, if Koli was the butcher, Pandher wasn’t exactly innocent as is being claimed by the defence counsel. To preserve faith in the law, justice should not only be done, it should be seen to be done. The trial court was mindful of this dictum while giving its ruling. Unfortunately, last Friday’s judgement has not helped strengthen faith in the law.







In light of the revelation that around 300 well-trained jihadis are waiting to cross the Line of Control into India from their bases in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, our security establishment has every reason to be concerned. Given the high number of infiltration bids that our security forces have come across in the last few months, it is becoming increasingly clear that Pakistan-based terror groups are desperate to send across as many number of their men as possible before the mountain passes are closed by snow during winter. It is also in this context that the increase in the number of ceasefire violations by the Pakistani Army in recent weeks has to be viewed. The desperation among the jihadis is in part due to the valiant efforts of our jawans who have managed to foil several infiltration bids throughout the summer, many a times making the supreme sacrifice for the country. The example of Major Akash Singh Sambayal bears testimony to this. The brave Major became a martyr trying to foil an infiltration bid in the border district of Poonch last Wednesday, but not before single-handedly killing two terrorists. It is because of soldiers like Major Sambayal that militancy in the Kashmir Valley in the first half of the year had considerably ebbed, leading to desperation among the terrorists and their Pakistani sponsors.

In view of these developments it would be safe to say that Pakistan is no closer to honouring its pledge to eradicate terror groups — specifically those operating against India — from territory under its control than it was before. All the homilies that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani expressed in this regard at the NAM summit in Sharm el-Sheikh stand thoroughly exposed. For the Pakistani establishment, dismantling the terror infrastructure of groups like the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed is akin to squandering away ‘strategic assets’ that facilitate its campaign of terror against India. And this is something that the Generals in the Pakistani Army, no matter how aloof they stay from civilian governance in that country, will not tolerate. The way the Pakistani authorities have treated Hafiz Mohammad Saeed further reinforces this theory. Despite having been provided with sufficient evidence by India regarding the LeT chief’s involvement in the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai in the form of exhaustive dossiers, Pakistani authorities are still unable to find ‘credible grounds’ on which to prosecute the terror mastermind. Nothing could be more of a sham. In light of the situation today, we cannot afford to be seen as letting down our guard, especially along the LoC. Also, given that the festival season is around the corner, our internal security mechanism needs to gear up to meet any and all threats. Meanwhile, all talk of reducing the presence of security forces in Jammu & Kashmir must end. Those who believe that Pakistan-sponsored terrorism is on its way out are living in fool’s paradise.



            THE PIONEER




The battle for Andhra Pradesh is in full swing after the tragic demise of YS Rajasekhara Reddy and we shouldn’t be surprised by the events as they unfold in the State. The media will have a field day in listing the assets of Mr Jagan Mohan Reddy. But all this has been known for the past few years, though no one in particular had highlighted them during the tenure of YS Rajasekhara Reddy, his Chief Minister father.

I sometimes wonder why we become moral hypocrites when we know that dynastic strains exist in most parties. Has anyone examined the assets and business interests of leaders of the DMK, the AIADMK, the TDP, the SP, the BSP, the RJD, etc? In a system where there is no transparency in political donations, should we be applying the ‘moral yardstick’ on a selective basis to individual leaders? There are exceptions to the rule but these are shrinking by the day and sadly every party, be it the Congress or the BJP or regional parties, will suffer as political power is no longer fuelled by public support alone but also by financial power and business interests. This is the ground reality in many States and the Congress ‘high command’ has to adjust to the situation.

The situation in Andhra Pradesh is very complex and sensible political decisions cannot ignore the possibility of regional formations once again dominating the political space in the State. We mourn the untimely demise of YS Rajasekhara Reddy, who undoubtedly was a remarkable political leader and did his party proud in Andhra Pradesh in the last Lok Sabha and State Assembly elections.

The helicopter accident involving YS Rajasekhara Reddy that also led to the loss of four other lives has brought back the focus on VIP air safety procedures. I sincerely hope that it results in a change for the better. In our system it is not unusual for politicians to bend the rules on account of their public office. Sadly, this has resulted in several fatalities over the years.

Meanwhile, the political battle will resume in Maharashtra where the Congress and the NCP are yet to iron out seat allocation issues. The NCP, after a weak performance in the Lok Sabha election, is on the defensive. This, along with the 206 seats secured by the Congress in the general election, has reduced the Congress’s dependence on the NCP as an ally. All this is bound to be reflected in seat-sharing between the two parties for the Maharashtra Assembly poll.

Political accidents can take place as each party will take extreme positions to secure the most benefits. But Mr Sharad Pawar is well aware of his limitations, and the Congress’s strength in the State will without a doubt increase. The Congress-NCP alliance will buck the anti-incumbency vote and win by a reasonable margin over the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance.

There is no contest in Arunachal Pradesh while in Haryana the Congress will prevail over the INLD and the proposed BJP-Bhajan Lal combination. Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is poised to win and I don’t see the three Opposition combinations making a dent in the Congress’s tally. The 18 by-elections in Bihar will also attract a great deal of attention as both the RJD and the Congress will try to blunt the JD(U)-BJP combine that won 32 out of the 40 Lok Sabha seats in the State.

The Congress may win all the three State Assembly elections but the issue of price rise can spring a surprise or two for the party. Besides, there has been a great deal of media attention on Minister for External Affairs SM Krishna and his deputy Shashi Tharoor’s three-month stay at five-star hotels since their official accommodations are undergoing renovation. This was a political blunder and I am surprised that the Government and the Congress needed a media report to initiate action. Without deflecting attention from the austerity drive and the attempts of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to deal with a difficult economic situation caused by this year’s drought and a paucity of funds for poverty alleviation schemes, there is a need for the party to be more vigilant on politically sensitive issues.

Times have changed and habits will take some time to adjust to a more austere situation. The media will no doubt focus on the foreign visits of our legislators, functions at five-star hotels and the use of helicopters and special aircraft. Political parties accused of such extravaggance should immediately express regret as criticism by the media should never be taken lightly.

Ministers and MPs concerned should bring this controversy to an end and if they are paying for the expenses personally then they should pay the market price and not avail of any ‘special discounts’ given by hotels. This will also set the right tone for the future.

I too have lived in Type VIII houses. But I cannot recall a single change that was made to Government accommodations back then. It is a sad reflection of the times that most of such houses have undergone alterations and additions in the past decade which are not legal while people face fines, demolitions and prosecution in similar situations.

Ministers a decade ago rarely used to stay at five-star hotels during domestic visits, and barring a few senior Ministers in the CCPA/CCEA, most of them stayed at Raj Bhavans and State Government guesthouses. Only a few used special aircraft for domestic travel. Our Prime Minister has set an excellent example in terms of integrity and austerity as have many other senior Ministers in the Government. However, a system has to be put in place to check indiscretions and to take timely corrective action.








The editorial “A contested inquiry” (September 9) has raised valid doubts about the credibility of Metropolitan Magistrate SP Tamang’s flawed conclusions in his report which claims that Gujarat Police officers faked the 2004 encounter killings of Ishrat Jahan and three others to win promotions and the ‘appreciation’ of Chief Minister Narendra Modi. In giving his opinion with jet speed he has established a dubious record which does not do credit to the judiciary.

It is appalling that the magistrate did not follow the due process of conducting a magisterial inquiry — rigorous examination of witnesses, meticulous examination of evidence on record by checking and cross-checking, affording reasonable opportunity to the accused to defend themselves. In this case he should have been extra cautious, for there were very strong circumstances for the police to have acted promptly on the intelligence inputs about the conspiracy and the antecedents of the terror suspects.

Moreover, he did not have the patience to go through the affidavit of the Union Home Ministry submitted in the High Court saying that all the four persons killed were linked to the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. This was done even while being aware of the fact that the SIT set up by the High Court was yet to give its report.

This reminds one of the Banerji Committee which was set up by RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav even as the Nanavati Commission was already probing the Godhra train burning incident. There too the committee showed haste in giving its ‘findings’ to pre-empt the Nanavati Commission’s report. It was a different matter that the Banerji Committee report was received by the public with the scepticism it deserved, and Mr Modi gained enormous support from Gujarat’s voters. The Tamang report will undoubtedly meet the same fate.

All that this report has achieved is that it has given a lot of cud to chew on to Modi baiters, assorted ‘secularist’ mob comprising media, certain NGOs which have made a business out of raising muck, and political parties opposed to the BJP.

If the Congress persists too much in pillorying Mr Modi on this issue, it will only embarrass itself since the encounter took place when it was in power at the Centre and the affidavit in the High Court was also submitted by the Union Home Ministry under the UPA Government. It’s good that the Gujarat Government has promptly announced its decision to challenge the magistrate’s report in a higher court.








Two international major events occurred almost cheek by jowl: President Pratibha Patil arrived in Moscow for what turned out to be a highly successful visit that will surely put the Indo-Russian relationship on the highest trajectory of promise and growth in the 60-odd years of its existence; while the anniversary of the outbreak of World War II was commemorated in Poland a few days earlier.

If the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany was an epic; Indian independence from British colonial rule was likewise a seminal development; together they have leavened a remarkable partnership.

US General Douglas MacArthur, consequent to the Battle of Stalingrad, remarked: “During my lifetime I have participated in a number of wars and have witnessed others, as well as studying in great detail the campaigns of outstanding leaders of the past. In none of them have I observed such effective resistance to the heaviest blows of a hitherto undefeated enemy, followed by a smashing counter-attack which is driving the enemy back to his own land. The scale and grandeur of the effort mark it as the greatest military achievement in history”.

There was a gathering of European clan in Poland to mark the outbreak of the war, Poland being the first country to suffer the German assault. But where there should have been the dignity befitting a tragic and shared experience, the occasion was diminished by an unseemly attack by the Polish President on the Soviet Union (and Russia) for the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact signed a few days before the commencement of hostilities.

British scribes, mostly rabble-rousing Thatcherite and post-Thatcherite Russophobes pitched in with their jaundiced take on history. Max Hastings, a former editor of the Right-wing Daily Telegraph and author of myriad titles on military history including ‘Armaggedon’, his narrative of the World War II, wrote nor uttered a monosyllable against the shameful Munich settlement of October 1938, whereby Britain and France forced Czechoslovakia to surrender part of its territory — Sudetenland — to Hitler’s Third Reich, thus starting the road to war.

Moscow had offered to send its Armies to the aid of the beleaguered Czechs, as part of a Soviet-Anglo-French condominium, a proposal swiftly turned down by London and Paris. Without Anglo-French cooperation, Czech President Edvard Benes was effectively paralysed. Besides the Polish Government of the day refused to grant Soviet forces the right of passage through Poland, preferring to leave Czechoslovakia to its fate. In fact, Joseph Beck, the Polish Foreign Minister, was better prepared to invest in German goodwill rather than seek an accommodation with Russia.

The last throw of the dice was the procrastination of the Anglo-French delegation in negotiations in Moscow in July 1939 — a manifestation of bad faith, surely — on a common configuration against Nazi Germany. “Keep the Russians in play” was the advice of British foreign secretary Lord Halifax, whose Government, together with that of France, had given Poland a guarantee of support in case of German aggression, even though neither country shared a common frontier with the intended victim, and was thus incapable of making good its promise of military aid.

British diplomacy in the year leading to World War II was predicated on double dealing and deceit. Responding to secret German feelers, the Soviet Union agreed to a non-aggression pact with its mortal foe. It sent the Neville Chamberlain Government in London into deep shock much as a poker player confronted with an opponent’s royal flush. The pact bought Joseph Stalin valuable time, as he explained later to Averell Harriman, President Roosevelt’s wartime Ambassador to the USSR, for the inevitable conflict with Germany, which duly came with Hitler’s invasion of the USSR in the early hours of June 22, 1941.

A possible parallel can be drawn between the security challenges faced by newly sovereign India in 1947 and pre-war Czechoslovakia: Jammu & Kashmir for Sudetenland.

At a further remove was the pressure applied by Britain and America on India to surrender this State to the Islamic Reich of Pakistan. So began the extension of the Cold War — and its continuation by other means — into the Sub-continent.

The threat posed to Czechoslovakia was direct and dire, but it emanated from a single source. India, in contrast, was confronted by multiple challenges of direct and indirect nature; they have ebbed and flowed with the global and regional political tides. For example, the US-China entente, following the Nixon-Kissinger visits to Beijing in 1971-72, “caused the United States and China, with the help of Pakistan, to contain India,” wrote US author Donald L Berlin (Naval War College Review, Spring 2006, titled ‘India in the Indian Ocean’).

With the altered Indo-US relationship the policy of containing India within the sub-
continent has undergone a sea change; nevertheless ambiguities remain, with the US and the UK, and the West generally, still investing heavily in Pakistan’s future as a strategic and diplomatic pawn. However, China’s mentoring role in Islamabad is now the principal menace facing India. Which is where the Czechoslovak parallel starts to break down.

Today, India commands military and economic strength unimaginable a few decades ago (Olivier Zajec, ‘India: a giant in full flight’, Le Monde Diplomatique, September 2009). Panic calls from certain Indian voices at home and abroad to enter a lend-lease arrangement with the US on its wartime model with the UK belong to the national theatre of the absurd.

A final take on the Czech parallel: The pre-war Prague Government had friendly relations with the Soviet Union, but was unable to take full advantage of this due to circumscribing circumstances. India breached its strategic and economic barriers through a remarkably productive relationship with the former Soviet Union, which it has taken exponentially forward with the present Russian Federation.

Modern Russia — immensely powerful and self-confident — lies astride the Eurasian heartland. Its tectonic shift from hobbled agrarian behemoth to military and industrial goliath was Stalin’s great achievement. His reach as warlord — arguably the most compelling in history — and national leader exceeded Napoleon’s grasp. As Shakespeare said of Julius Caesar, each doth bestride the narrow world/Like a Colossus.

Both men were the products of world-historical events: The French revolution in Napoleon’s case, the Russian in Stalin’s. But France, greatly reduced after Napoleon’s debacle in Moscow and his denouement at Waterloo, was re-absorbed into a state system designed initially by Britain and controlled subsequently by America.

Stalin died unvanquished, and despite the vicissitudes of the USSR’s dissolution, so is Russia, rising phoenix-like, unconquered. It is once again a determining force in international politics. A geopolitical Indo-Russian alignment should secure India’s future.








US President Barack Obama doesn’t seem to understand how quickly and easily his diplomatic ‘generosity’ and readiness to make concessions becomes a trap and also how his self-professed reluctance to do anything tough turns into a terrible vulnerability. Now he faces being outmanoeuvred by Iran.

The Tehran regime has taken three of Mr Obama’s policies — engagement with enemies, global nuclear disarmament, and partnership over leadership — and turned them against the US Government. The score today is Iran: 3, United States: 0. And all three of Iran’s scores are actually America’s ‘self goals’.

First, Mr Obama has talked a great deal about engaging Iran, claiming this would show the world America’s good intentions and thus clear the way for tougher sanctions. By the time sanctions are imposed, if they are, the Obama Administration will have wasted all of 2009 on this process.

But guess what? The Iranians can play that game also. At the last minute, Iran has come up with an offer, obviously just a stalling tactic. Some in the American media have fallen for the trick, with the Los Angeles Times saying that it doesn’t matter if the offer is a trick; the US has to play along!

Second, the Iranian regime has said that it won’t talk about its own nuclear programme. Instead, it has proposed that all nuclear weapons in the world be eliminated.

Now where did they get this idea? Why, from Mr Obama of course! He proposed this in his Cairo speech (I had then warned that this would happen) and he is about to chair a UN session on this very point. In fact, at Mr Obama’s request, the session has been changed from a debate focussing on immediate nuclear weapons’ threats (Iran and North Korea) to a general one about ridding the world of nuclear weapons. The Iranians will have a field day.

And that’s not all! For this credibility through engagement thing works both ways. When Mr Obama says the US must show the world that it has tried to engage Iran, he’s being not just Eurocentric but Western Eurocentric. There’s a flip side. Now Iran is offering to talk and the US is refusing. This will make the US look hypocritical in the Muslim-majority world and other places outside of Western Europe.

Third, the Russians have accepted it. Jumping at the chance for an excuse not to impose sanctions, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said there won’t be any new sanctions because he thinks the Iranian proposals are just dandy and more time should be spent (wasted) on more meetings.

The Russians have been talking this way for months. Yet, while the danger was clear, the Obama Administration ignored it, pretending all was well with Moscow. There was never any chance of Russia, or China for that matter, supporting the US strategy. Isn’t Mr Obama going to look like a fool when his grand strategy on Iran is shown to be hollow?

In the end, though, the Obama Administration has decided to step into the trap and negotiate with Iran. Why? Here’s the key statement:

“Officials said their expectations were extremely low. They also said their willingness to proceed was based in part on a recognition that some form of talks had to take place before the US could make a case for imposing far stronger sanctions on Iran.”

But why do there have to be some kind of talks? Who is going to care? How long are these going to take, no doubt well into 2010. The Iranian regime will use all sorts of other issues as distractions.
the writer is director of the GLORIA Centre, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal.







We should not be over-pessimistic,” said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the prevailing drought conditions in the country at the Planning Commission’s first meeting held recently after the new Government took over. Mr Singh is optimistic that since “our food stocks are very high, consequences of drought could be managed.” He meant the situation would not be too inflationary.

But deputy chairman of the commission, Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, is of the view that the growth as recorded in the official documents of the first quarter is to gradually come down and taper off in the last quarter.

The Reserve Bank of India too observed that the “spectre of inflation is expected to rear its head by the end of the current financial year, which could pose a major challenge.” According to the RBI, “Deficient monsoon could affect the inflation outlook more than the growth prospects.” It says that easing the base-effect and possible strengthening of fuel and food prices would take inflation to higher levels, which in turn would pose a threat to the process of economic revival.

The Prime Minister has the onerous task of keeping the nation’s morale high. But one only hopes that he is not following Queen Elizabeth II, who in July asked why nobody had predicted the great recession. She did not know that dozens of economists and journalists had warned repeatedly that the world suffered from unsustainable asset bubbles, imbalances and debt.

We often try to ignore realities. Three days after the new trade policy was announced targeting $ 200 billion exports in 2010-11, July exports fell by 28 per cent. Along with that came the news of further fall in US unemployment — an indication that global economy is not doing well and the hopes for the export growth is more utopian.

The Prime Minister expected that there would be a growth of 6.3 per cent against what the RBI had repeatedly said — “not more than 5.75 per cent”. The recent slowdown in core sector industries comprising steel, cement, coal, electricity and oil to 1.8 per cent as steel products and petrol refinery production fell, is a grim indicator that the nation might again slip of its growth target. The core sector accounts for close to 27 per cent of total industrial production.

The electricity sector, which continues to be a bottleneck, registered a meager 3.3 per cent growth, down from 4.5 per cent a year ago. The Confederation of Indian Industry has expressed concern that electricity generation and capacity increase have not matched the growth in demand. In the previous two plans, the addition was much less than anticipated. The Eleventh Plan is also not expected to bridge the gap. In contrast, China adds far more capacity every year.

The steel industry merely managed to edge upwards with a 1.2 per cent growth compared to 6 per cent growth in July last year.

Only cement and coal registered growth. Cement grew by 10.6 per cent up from 5.5 per cent in July 2008 and coal segment expanded by 9.7 per cent. It is too early to say whether this is indicator of any revival.

The Prime Minister has based his projections and optimism on a positive global growth. The RBI in contrast cautions that if global growth revives, demand for food items and petroleum products too could rise and result in higher inflation.

The Government is certainly passing through the most difficult economic phase. Keeping the morale of the nation high is a challenge in itself. But high food stocks unless used properly would not bring the prices down. With projected 20 per cent fall in kharif production and likely fall in rabi output, it is expected that the Government would have difficulty in building up the food buffer next year. According to estimates, the food production may fall by 25 million.

Clearly, though the Prime Minister’s call may be seen in sync with keeping the country’s morale high, trends are nowhere near being optimistic.

The writer is a senior economic affairs journalist.








Martin Menzel. That is the name of the German sailor who fired the first shot to start War World II in Europe 70 years ago. Menzel was serving on Schleswig-Holstein, an old, pre-World War I battleship visiting Poland, when it opened fire without warning on a Polish munitions depot on the Vistula River on September 1, 1939.

To mark this world tragedy, recently 20 leaders from different nations gathered at Westerplatte in the Polish port city of Gdansk to commemorate those who died and to seek forgiveness.

“Let there never again be war,” said a 94-year-old Polish veteran of the Westerplatte garrison, one of three still alive, to the audience at the dawn ceremony. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also fully acknowledged German responsibility for the war’s outbreak and the Holocaust, saying she “bowed before the victims.”

With all eyes reportedly on him, when his turn came to speak, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin however disappointed his listeners by continuing to whitewash the crimes of the Soviet era. Mr Putin was expected by Poland and other former Soviet bloc countries to make a statement of atonement for the Soviet Union’s carving up eastern Europe with Adolph Hitler under the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

The pact, signed on August 23 and named after the two countries’ Foreign Ministers, gave Hitler the green light to attack Poland a week later, starting World War II. Carrying out their side of the agreement, the Soviets followed up the Nazi assault with their own invasion of eastern Poland on September 17, 1939.

In his address to the guests, Polish President Lech Kaczynski angrily referred to this attack, when Poland was fighting desperately for its survival against the Nazis, as “a stab in the back”. The Soviets then went on to attack Finland and occupy the Baltic countries and parts of Rumania under the Pact’s secret protocols.

But while Mr Putin admitted in his brief speech that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was “immoral”, he disappointed his listeners by not admitting any Soviet responsibility for the conflict. He also did not once mention Stalin’s name or any Soviet atrocities committed in the eastern European countries that came under Soviet occupation. The most infamous of these crimes was the execution of 15,000 Polish officers in the Katyn Forest.

But the Katyn victims were just the tip of the iceberg. While the Nazis were deporting and exterminating people on the basis of race hatred in western Poland, the Soviets were doing likewise in eastern Poland and other Soviet-occupied countries but using class enmity as their criteria. In their side-by-side crimes against humanity in Poland, these two totalitarian regimes proved they were identical in mindset and cruelty.

Instead of expressing any responsibility or guilt at the Westerplatte ceremony, Mr Putin instead sought to deflect blame. While admitting the Soviet Union’s role in the war’s origin, he also indicted France and Great Britain with an indirect reference to the Munich Agreement.

“All attempts to appease to the Nazis between 1934 and 1939 through various agreements and pacts were morally unacceptable and politically senseless, harmful and dangerous”, he said.

In a letter Mr Putin wrote before his Gdansk trip that was published in a Polish newspaper, he even rationalised the pact. He stated it prevented the Soviet Union from having to face a war on two fronts — against Germany and Japan. He also blamed the Western countries non-cooperation with the Soviet Union at the time and their Munich Agreement with Germany for the Soviet-Nazi alliance.

As for invading Poland, Mr Putin reminds the Poles in his missive they helped Hitler dismember Czechoslovakia. He also offsets the Katyn Forest Massacre with an alleged killing of Red Army prisoners by Polish forces in the 1920 Polish-Soviet war. But nowhere does Mr Putin explain or apologise for the loss of Polish, and other eastern European countries’, independence after 1945 when the Nazi danger had passed and for continued Soviet atrocities.

In reality, Mr Putin’s letter was meant for foreign consumption. A week before his Polish trip, on the date of the pact’s signing, a state-owned television station in Russia aired a documentary that claimed Poland was going to invade the Soviet Union with Japan and Germany. With such displaced responsibility, it’s a wonder Mr Putin even called the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact immoral.

The documentary was preceded by other whitewashing measures concerning the war. Last May, the Russian Government established a commission “for counteracting attempts to rewrite Russian history.” Its first ‘success’ is a Grade 11 history textbook that “tries to justify Stalin’s crimes of World War II”, including the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The book publisher’s name, by the way, is ‘Enlightenment’.

Foreigners are also not excluded in this battle to preserve the reputation of Russia’s ‘glorious’ Soviet past. Last May, a bill was submitted in the Duma by Mr Putin’s United Russia Party that would send people to prison for up to three years for “accusing the Red Army of atrocities or illegal occupation during World War II.”

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev also chose not to attend a 75-year memorial to the ‘Holodomor’, the Stalin-induced famine that caused millions of Ukrainian deaths. He sent a letter condemning the event, while a Duma deputy claimed the Great Depression in America and the Georgian mafia were responsible for the tragedy.

Observers believe there are reasons other than just hurt pride playing a roll in Russia’s denial of the Soviet war record’s worst aspects. One is that by laying the blame on the Nazis and others, it can play down its own war crimes and prevent the rewriting of history in its own country and intimidate the rewriting of history in the former Soviet republics. Another is that the ongoing argument replaces any meaningful political debate in the country that sorely needs it. Minimising Soviet wrongdoings also allows Mr Putin to rehabilitate the Soviet era, which he pines for. And, last but not least, it seemingly helps restore so-called ‘Russian pride’, which has been called central to Mr Putin’s legitimacy.

The writer is a contributing editor at









The Supreme Court has turned the heat on the Mayawati government. In a strongly-worded directive the apex court has asked the Uttar Pradesh government to immediately stop work at seven sites where memorials to Bahujan Samaj Party and Dalit leaders, including Mayawati herself, were being constructed. The order came after several reports in the media that the UP government had gone back on its undertaking before the court to halt construction. The directive seems to have had its effect.

It's a pity that it took a Supreme Court order to remind Mayawati of the absurdity of spending Rs 2,600 crore of public money on building memorials, including statues of herself and her mentor Kanshi Ram. Such megalomania has rarely been seen in India or indeed in any democracy. Being an astute politician, Mayawati should have realised that spending several thousand crores from the public exchequer cannot possibly do any good to her image.


She possibly believes that building memorials to Dalit icons would consolidate her core vote bank. But that seems a flawed idea as surveys have repeatedly shown that voters don't want bells and whistles but their basic needs addressed. The UP government's lawyers have argued that the Congress has for years named projects after their leaders. But there is a difference between naming airports, roads or stadiums after party leaders and actually building statues and monuments in their memory.

UP is one of the worst states in India on every count, be it the economy, law and order and human development indices. The per capita income of Uttar Pradesh is among the lowest in the country; the growth rate of the state is well below the national average. And on social indicators like health and education it is among the worst performing states. To top it all, parts of UP are reeling under drought. There was time when UP was clubbed along with Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan as the 'Bimaru' or sick states. But over the past few years all the Bimaru states, with the exception of UP, have improved their act.

In neighbouring Bihar, chief minister Nitish Kumar has reversed decades of stagnation by focusing on good governance. Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan too have made dramatic strides in the recent past. With an overwhelming mandate in the last assembly election, Mayawati had a great opportunity to turn around UP. Instead she has chosen to splurge public money on building monuments to herself and her party. She should follow the example of other CMs who have concentrated on governance. Otherwise she might find voters putting their faith somewhere else in the next election.







It's a symptom of India's short-sighted foreign policy that reports of an important visit by Bangladesh foreign minister Dipu Moni were tucked away in the inside pages of newspapers and pushed down television news run orders. South Block goes on a publicity overdrive when it wants to splash developments related to the US but is not so bothered about promoting neighbourhood news, unless of course it happens to concern Pakistan.

It is undoubtedly in India's interest to take its strong relationship with the US further, but it is also past time that we pursued mutually beneficial relationships with our neighbours.

Bangladesh and India have, for decades, shared a tense equation. The two countries had potential to become natural allies after 1971, but that opportunity was wasted thanks to hostility and mistrust nurtured by sections of the population on both sides. Things only got worse over a considerable period of time, with disputes over water sharing, dam building, trade tariffs, transit routes and terrorism overshadowing opportunities for mutual benefit. It appears that the deadlock has been broken with both countries coming to agreement on a range of contentious issues.

External affairs minister S M Krishna and his Bangladeshi counterpart are reported to have reached consensus on water sharing, connectivity, trade and, significantly, on combating terrorism jointly. Moni has described her four-day visit to India as "groundbreaking" and we agree. India will allow Bangladesh access to Nepal via Indian territory, and our neighbour has agreed to open up the Ashuganj port for India. This is a huge step forward, given the gridlock that existed for so long. The agreement over sharing Teesta river waters could pave way to sort out other water and dam disputes. India will build a power plant in Bangladesh, border markets are set to be revitalised, and both countries are aiming to crack down together on illegal drug trafficking.

From India's point of view, getting Bangladesh on board the anti-terrorism drive is particularly important. It's no secret that our neighbour on the western border uses Bangladesh as a base in its attempt to destabilise India. If the proposed exchange of sentenced individuals between India and Bangladesh comes through, it would help our efforts to counter anti-India operatives. Obviously, the floodgates of goodwill between the two countries will not be opened overnight. But at long last we are headed down the right path together.







JERUSALEM: It is no surprise that President Barack Obama has asked for a complete freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem as proof of Israel's sincerity to restart the moribund peace process. Equally unsurprisingly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has dug in his heels and made no clear commitment.

The question of settlements goes to the heart of the issue who has the right to live where and why. The settlements are deemed illegal under US policy, UN resolutions and international law and Palestinians obviously demand they be dismantled. But in Israel there is ambivalence and an entirely separate vocabulary to handle this hot potato. Using the Bible as a diplomatic hammer and occupation as cover, Israel over decades has allowed the slow but sure expansion of Jewish settlements in what the world hopes would be the future state of Palestine. Israel does not want to reverse a policy that bolsters its diplomatic muscle, effectively increases its land mass and pushes the Palestinians to fight for a smaller and smaller state. It is war by other means.

With overt and covert assistance from the state, Jewish settlements have sprouted in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, protected by an elaborate and confusing bureaucratic web of policies and controversial court decisions. The sprawling, concrete apartment blocs, complete with schools and shopping centres, stand on land snatched by a variety of means discriminatory laws, subterfuge, subsidies, pure muscle and intimidation. There is nothing transitory about them. Israel supplies water and electricity, builds roads and parks and engages with them as if they were legal entities. The Jewish blogosphere offers daily justifications ranging from the obvious to the obscure.

More than 3,00,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank in 121 settlements while nearly 2,00,000 occupy parts of East Jerusalem, the supposed future capital of Palestine. The number includes economic settlers who find lower rents helpful. Just over the past month, Netanyahu's government presided over the eviction of Palestinian families from an East Jerusalem neighbourhood with support from the Israeli supreme court and handed over an old hotel building to settlers.

Israeli courts routinely support Jewish claims on property going back to the Ottomon days but dismiss Palestinian tenancy rights. Since 1967, when Israel got control of East Jerusalem, it has expropriated 35 per cent of the land and built 50,000 housing units for Jews and only 600 for the Palestinians. For the record, most Palestinians can't buy property in the Jewish West Jerusalem but they can watch East Jerusalem slowly slip away.

Pressure from Washington and the many admirers and friends of Israel seems ineffective against the runaway train the settler movement has become today. It fuses romance, religion and illogic into a dangerous mix, creating a cocktail that can intoxicate both the young and old. The settlers cite the Bible as their proof (some Israeli diplomats do too, for that matter), refer to the West Bank as Judea and Samaria and feel they have the divine right to all the land. Intervening events and peoples are but a nuisance, an irrelevant abomination. Awash in this craziness, teenage boys establish "frontier outposts" in the West Bank hilltops which over time are legitimised into settlements.

Good negotiators the Israelis are, they have clogged the Americans in legalisms and detail. True, facing down the settlers is a huge political challenge for any Israeli government but it has been done in the past. Ariel Sharon as prime minister dismantled 21 settlements with 8,000 people in 2005 in the Gaza Strip. Resistance from the settlers was manageable.

Today, the militant settlers have put a "price tag" on eviction. Any time an "outpost" of temporary structures is destroyed by the Israeli military, young settler boys go on the rampage against Palestinians, stoning their cars, burning their fields and smashing their windows. After a few days, they come back and rebuild their post. It is "settler Zionism", a far cry from the original Zionism, which was socialist and secular. And once the militants were just a few dozen but now they number in the hundreds and are backed by rabbis and political leaders. Any comprehensive peace deal will most likely incorporate the large settlement blocs closer to Jerusalem into Israel in exchange for land for the Palestinians elsewhere because evicting so many thousands would spell political disaster.

But the hardcore settler leaders oppose any such exchange because they actively want to prevent a viable, contiguous Palestinian state with their mosaic of housing, roads, industrial parks and security zones that criss-crosses through the West Bank. Young families, many of them ultra-orthodox and frontrunners in the demographic war against the Palestinians, are in alliance. Many Israelis who live in the settlements and have grown up there don't necessarily identify with the movement but consider life in the settlements "normal".

Controlling the settlers is not only imperative for peace but also for the kind of society Israel wants to be. If the militant margins determine politics and the future of the peace process, how can Israel claim to be superior to its interlocutors?

The writer is a senior journalist.






Kabul : During the Mujahideen-Soviet war, Edward Girardet made five clandestine trips to Afghanistan. Since then he has travelled across the country. His several years in the country resulted in Afghanistan-The Soviet War, a 1986 book that investigated the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and its aftermath. Now back in Kabul to wrap up another book on the ongoing war, Girardet spoke to Shobhan Saxena about what's gone wrong in Afghanistan:

What was your first book about?

My book basically looked at the war as it developed from a civil war to the Mujahideen as a movement. I also looked at the international aid that was coming in and at the refugees' issues. The book is relevant today as there is a great similarity between what happened in the 1980s and what's happening now. It's all about outside interest. Whether it is Pakistan, US, India, Russia or Iran, everyone is here for their interest. The parallels are numerous.

Are old mistakes being repeated?

The Mujahideen never fought fixed battles. The same thing is happening now. There's a problem with a conventional army trying to fight a guerrilla war. So when i hear the ISAF claiming that they have cleared an area of Taliban, it reminds me of the days when the Russians would make similar claim about the Mujahideen. And the truth is that you don't have the population on your side. Also, the Americans put a lot of money into aid but it was not monitored. All these things are happening again.

So, for Afghans, it's a kind of deja vu...

Yes. Experienced people have been telling the international powers here to 'go slow, don't throw money at them, let Afghans consult Afghans, and get the community involved', but none of the big donors here have any patience. So it's not going to work. The Afghans are not dumb. They know exactly what's going on. And the most shocking thing is that most of the people in the higher and middle positions have no idea what this country is all about. My thesis is that no one can win a war in Afghanistan. You can win peace with development.

So, should the western powers pull out their forces?

If the international forces pull out now, there will be chaos. What they really have to do is to train the police and army well and pay them well. What we need here is a good Afghan army and not international forces. Right now, there is no coordination among the many armies here.

Do you think peace talks and not war is the right solution?

Absolutely. I think there is a reluctance to talk to the Taliban. But, my point is: forget about the Taliban and start negotiating with the local communities and leaders and give them plans for development. You are not going to win this country militarily. You have to work with the people.






As a child, i used to hate the second half of Hindi films. Before the interval, things were fun with the hero and heroine pouting prettily while they chased each other on hills, boats and public parks and the comedian doing his thing. But after the dreaded interval some tragedy or the other reared its ugly head as we found out that the hero was the driver's adopted son or worse, the heroine's mother was not exactly married and everyone began screaming, crying or sulking while the slow version of a once happy song played in the background. The implicit mental model at work here was that life was essentially meant to deliver unhappiness and that brief moments of sunshine, when they occurred, were destined to give way to tear-stained reality.

Most of the comedy films of the time worked not because they were that funny (barring a few very honourable exceptions) but simply because they were consistently light. This stood out at a time when everything around us, particularly all forms of public representations were heavy with self-importance. Editors propounded, schoolteachers spoke in homilies, parents lectured, leaders frequently asked us to "rededicate ourselves to the task of nation-building" and even television interviewers asked everyone, including starlets, as to "what their message to the youth of the country" was.

If we look at the kind of things we find funny, they comprise of either gross caricatures or of cultural stereotyping. We saw this at work with 'sardarji' jokes and south Indian accented representations in cinema and the 'nagging wife' jokes told by the likes of Surendra Sharma.

The same phenomenon is at work today with 'Gujju' representations, jokes about homosexuality and those narrated with a Lalu accent. We also find that jokes in India have more to do with sounds than with the meaning of words, not surprising given the diversity of languages and dialects we have. No wonder the pun is not a well-developed art form (apologies to Dada Kondke) while mimicry is the bedrock of humour across the country. It is only in English that we took to humour that was founded on language the Indian fondness for the deliciously circumambulatory wordplay of P G Wodehouse being a case in point.

And yet, it wasn't as if there was no laughter in everyday Indian life. Families frequently came together under the canopy of loud backslapping laughter, exchanging easy banter and revisiting some oft-repeated incidents. Things could be laughed at even if they weren't particularly funny; the aim was to find something to laugh about. And it is here that we came up short we were wired in a way that made the production of humour a problem.

The highly stratified social structure in India made jokes about social groups difficult. Given that identity was created at a highly granular level, with caste, sub-caste and village affiliations determining where one came from, it was difficult to find common currencies of humour. That is why it was so easy to make fun of sardarjis not because there was any particular reason to make fun of this well-liked community, but simply because they represented a handy shorthand for a visibly culturally distinct community.

As we extricate ourselves from the lives we lead, perhaps we will be able to laugh at ourselves with a little more freedom. I think is was Horace Walpole who said "Life is a comedy for those that think, and a tragedy to those that feel." Caught up as we have been, in a surfeit of emotion about life, we did not have the required detachment to find things funny. Now as life eases a bit, and the need for reverence abates, perhaps we will look beyond pat stereotypes and crude caricatures in our quest for a laugh. Till we can laugh at ourselves, we can perhaps not laugh at all. And we are beginning to do just that.

The writer is an advertising and brand consultant.





Hearing our civil aviation minister refer to Air India (AI) as "our baby", touched a chord and brought back memories of a time when, as a student in London, one was excitedly preparing for the first trip back to India after a year. That was also the fateful day when liquid bombs were seized at Heathrow airport, which threw the characteristically unruffled Brits into a frenzy over their encounter with air-borne terrorism. All London airports were on high alert and flights were being cancelled dime a dozen. I had been busy in my hostel room cramming suitcases when a call from AI enquired if, owing to current circumstances, i wanted to postpone my travel as my flight might not take off. I declined, feeling duty-bound as an Indian to disregard a terror threat with extreme nonchalance.


I landed at Heathrow with an overflowing suitcase and a brimming sense of pride at not having cowed to terror. As if in answer to my call to arms, Heathrow was packed with Indian passengers that day, devoid of any sense of alarm. I was approached by a polite AI rep who explained that AI was still awaiting clearance to fly. Meanwhile, the staff ensured that passengers were able to inform fretting families back home of their well-being. As luck or leverage would have it, our flight was one of only two airlines leaving Heathrow that day, the other being Britain's flagship carrier.

I have, since then, made many trips on the Maharaja carrier, albeit not always feeling like a king. I am always struck by the Indianness of AI, be it the jostling travellers displaying an innate 'if i don't get in first, i might not get in at all' fear all Indians harbour when they board flights, or the way an airhostess once uprooted a broken seat only to replace it with cushions for a makeshift chair leaving a foreigner completely baffled by her singular display of resourcefulness, or the egregious safety standards. Dissenters say that AI aficionados have abysmally low expectations.


Sure, Air India has more than its fair share of woes. But none of them matter when you are a student overseas, who managed to get the only ticket available, at the only price affordable, for the only airline flying that day. After a traumatic day in a terror-struck world, just getting home seems to be the right expectation to set.








For a land-locked city like Delhi, everyone is surprisingly talking about brushing up their sailing skills. No, not the paper boat variety, but the real ones with oars, maybe even a motor. Okay, we made that up. But the way the civic infrastructure of the Capital city of India (put special emphasis on those words when you read this) is collapsing and making driving through flooded roads a daily chore, buying a boat could well be a feasible option. Or perhaps an amphibious vehicle. At least, a ‘high-clearance’ vehicle if you still insist on driving your good old jalopy down what once used to be a road.


About 13 roads — including really busy ones — caved in within six hours of the downpour on Friday. So what did we do? Most of us tightened our seatbelts and gave the Himalayan Car Rally drivers a run for their money. If you thought this was bad enough, add a healthy dose of that legendary Delhi temper, and you get complete mayhem. While some did manage to find a slim strip of tar and felt like Moses crossing the Red Sea, others were not so lucky. The calmer ones among us, of course, saw the brighter side to all this traffic chaos: they spotted new water bodies along their routes and were amazed to find the Delhi government so committed to water harvesting. Of course, their amazement was short-lived when they were told that those water bodies actually used to be busy roads once a upon a time.


The men in charge of these roads were, however, not losing any sleep over all this. As always, they dumped the responsibility on the metro rail construction. The drainage system has been all clogged, they said. So why did the roads collapse? Maybe under the weight of our expectations, for such things can never happen in the Capital city of India (with the emphasis again, please!).







From the looks of it, India will be the first major economy to shrug off the global recession: both output and prices are poised to accelerate. Factory output, most affected by the meltdown, is displaying remarkable resilience despite languishing exports. Industrial output grew by 8.2 per cent in June and 6.8 per cent in July this year and initial indicators for August — car sales and power generation — suggest that the momentum is gathering. June-September should be able to post decent numbers before we go into a quarter where a statistical phenomenon called the base effect comes into play. Last year’s crisis hit India in October 2008, plunging manufacturing growth rates over the next two quarters. If Indian industry keeps barreling on, its performance over the next six months will appear magnified against the low base of a year ago.


The base effect — this time with the opposite impact — also comes into play for inflation. Negative wholesale inflation for some weeks now owes itself to the spike in prices last year. The high point was reached in August 2008, after which inflation tapered off. This year, we are now moving into positive territory for wholesale inflation and the tempo will pick up in the October-December quarter. This will be aided by very high food inflation that is not captured in the wholesale price index. The impact of deficient monsoon rain during the summer sowing season is still being evaluated, but be prepared for a surge in headline inflation after January.


Earlier this month, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee argued at a G-20 meeting in London against premature withdrawal of coordinated fiscal stimuli. His view was in the majority. Yet, D. Subbarao, Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, who also attended the meeting, argues for an early exit because “inflation has come upon us much sooner than other countries”. The street is speculating the central bank could raise its key policy rates as early as January. India’s stimulus package has a large component of income redistribution built in, and it pre-dates the financial crisis, so rolling it back will not be easy. Monetary tightening will have to accompany the government’s ambitious borrow-and-spend programme. We just might be able to pull it off if India reaches steady-state growth before either prices or interest rates begin hurting too much.








The countdown to elections in three states has begun. Though the Congress seems confident of retaining power, the central government’s failure to curb rising prices could prove to be a costly proposition. The superior position of the Congress appears to be on account of a divided Opposition. Add to this the infighting in the BJP where its current leadership looks determined to defy the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.


But things may not be smooth sailing for the ruling party and there is no cause for complacency. There is evidence to suggest that there could be a shift in the public mood since the parliamentary polls. For instance, in the four Assembly by-elections in Uttar Pradesh, the Bahujan Samaj Party won three and the Rashtriya Lok Dal one. In Delhi, of the five municipal corporation seats, the BJP won three, the Congress, one, with one going to an Independent candidate. In the Delhi University Students’ Union polls, which the Congress has usually won, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad and its rebels caused a major upset. Similarly, in the DU teachers’ elections, the Congress candidate came fourth. In the by-polls for two Assembly seats in Delhi to be held shortly, political observers give party dissident Ramvir Singh Bidhuri  a winning chance in Okhla. It would seem that Sheila Dikshit’s magic is wearing off. People in the Capital have started looking at issues more realistically.


In short, the seemingly favourable position of the Congress is only on paper. It may not necessarily translate into victory unless the party bosses distribute tickets with the intention of winning and refrain from giving nominations to their favourites. In the past too, the Congress has lost because of the faulty distribution of tickets.


In Maharashtra, the delay in even deciding on the tie-up with the NCP has not gone down well with people. The party has appointed Sushil Kumar Shinde as the chairman of the campaign committee, clearly because he had proved a winner last time. He virtually rescued the Congress and delivered 69 MLAs, besides three of the CPI(M) who won thanks to him. The NCP, which got the winning seats, ended up with 71 MLAs. But political intrigue led to Shinde being shunted out as Governor of Andhra Pradesh and Vilasrao Deshmukh  being re-appointed as the CM.


The Maharashtra government is at present headed by Ashok Chavan but there are leaders in Delhi who think that Vilasrao should be sent back after the polls despite the fact that the present CM is Rahul Gandhi’s nominee. The issue that can hurt the Congress in the long-run is the Sharad Pawar factor. Ever since the UPA returned to power, several leaders have been taking pot shots at the Maharashtra strongman. He has kept quiet as he is both mature and astute. But he will show his true colours once the election results are out. He may contest the polls along with the Congress. But his options on what to do later will always be open, even if he says that he will stick with the alliance. This is something, which may have far-reaching ramifications.


In Haryana, the Congress seems to be heading for a big win. The Opposition is totally divided and a four-cornered fight suits the ruling dispensation more than it does anyone else. Bhupinder Singh Hooda has provided good leadership to the state and is looking forward to another term. However, if rising prices become the primary issue, the results may surprise everyone. The mandate, in that case, would be against the Centre’s failure to check the costs of essential commodities.


In addition, the Congress has to face fresh challenges, the latest being its decision to install a successor to Y.S.R. Reddy in Andhra. It may be on the backfoot if the party loses the two Assembly seats in Delhi, where things seem to have gone awfully wrong (with rains playing havoc, given sub- standard infrastructure). The USP of the Congress over the years has been its ability to identify with the common man (aam aadmi). Rising prices are distancing it from its core constituency. Between us.








Now that each member of the Andhra Pradesh cabinet has already taken the oath of office a second time, the legal issues arising from Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s death have receded. But the larger constitutional issue remains: is it obligatory for each member of an existing Council of Ministers to take the oath a second time upon the sudden demise of the head of that council — the chief minister?


The answer to this somewhat novel constitutional question is in the negative. There is no explicit or implied constitutional or statutory provision prescribing any procedure for a second oath upon the sudden demise of the chief minister. Further, no provision or court judgement suggests that the sudden departure of a chief minister has the automatic or inexorable legal effect of dissolving the cabinet or diluting the initial appointment of each minister. Dissolution, in any event, is a concept relevant for legislatures and not to a council. If the existing Council is neither legally nor factually dissolved, it is inexplicable as to why its existing members require fresh validation through a fresh oath.


Each member of the council secures legitimacy by virtue of his/her original oath and the oath taken separately by the earlier (deceased) chief minister has no effect or consequence upon the validity of the oath taken by other members of the Council. So, it is not as if, upon the sudden demise of the existing chief minister, a legal or factual vacuum is created. The law tolerates no vacuum. Nor does any vacuum arise factually since, upon the sudden demise of the incumbent, someone else is immediately sworn in as chief minister (whether temporarily or otherwise). The new chief ministerial appointee (even if interim) undoubtedly requires an oath. But it does not follow that the other members of the Council also require a fresh oath.


Although the executive head of a state is called a chief minister (corresponding to the prime minister at the Centre), he/she is constitutionally only the first among equals. He/she is like any other minister but designated as the ‘Chief’ of the Council. Despite the enormous de facto power he wields, it cannot be said that it is his physical existence that imparts constitutional legitimacy to the Council.


Articles 163 and 164 of the Constitution (and similar articles pertaining to the government at the Centre) provide that the Council of Ministers in a state shall be headed by the chief minister; the Council shall aid and advise the Governor. The chief minister is appointed by the Governor; the ministers are appointed by the Governor on the advice of the chief minister and a minister holds office during the pleasure of the Governor.


It is thus clear that as long as ministers have been validly appointed, to begin with, they shall continue to hold office till such time as the pleasure of the Governor is withdrawn. Death of an incumbent chief minister who recommended their initial appointment cannot be regarded as the withdrawal of the Governor’s pleasure, collectively, for the entire pre-existing Council. Withdrawal of the Governor’s pleasure (even assuming the Governor to mean the chief minister) must necessarily be a conscious, deliberate and voluntary act. An accident of fate (e.g. death), being involuntary, would not qualify as ‘withdrawal of pleasure.’ A new chief minister (even if interim) is sworn in and that new chief minister cannot be said to have withdrawn the pre-existing advice of the deceased chief minister given earlier to the Governor.


Finally, such an interpretation would unnecessarily raise serious questions of practical administrative exigency. For example, if the taking of a second oath by the existing Council is a constitutional imperative, there will be serious doubts raised about the validity and legitimacy of acts performed and decisions taken by the members of the existing Council in the inevitable interregnum between the sudden demise of the chief minister and the taking of the second oath. Significant and urgent decisions taken during the interregnum would then come under a cloud.


Tragic accidents sometimes definitively raise important questions pertaining to constitutional law. The death in office of three incumbent Indian prime ministers (Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Indira Gandhi) and three chief ministers (Dayanand Bandodkar, M.G. Ramachandran and Beant Singh) have not been able to provide an answer to this question. In many cases, not only was a new prime minister or chief minister sworn in, but also a new Cabinet.


In some cases, only a new chief executive was sworn in but the issue of a second oath was not raised. In Gulzarilal Nanda’s case, when he acted as Prime Minister  in 1964 and 1966, the previous Cabinet continued without any fresh oath but the constitutional issue was not raised. Following Beant Singh’s death, the old Cabinet continued without any fresh oath.


The actual course of action adopted in Andhra Pradesh should not, therefore, be allowed to set a legal precedent for the future. Constitutional law is sometimes created by fact and it is, therefore, necessary to evaluate it very carefully and cautiously lest it generate more confusion and less clarity for the future.


Abhishek Singhvi is an MP, National Spokesperson of the Congress party and Senior Advocate. The views expressed by the author are personal.









That the Iranian administration has distributed a proposal addressing political issues titled “Cooperation, Peace and Justice” is interesting news in itself. But, when the proposal draws a positive response from the United States within a mere forty-eight hours and sets the stage for a possible thaw in a 30-year standoff, it acquires a certain urgency. The proposal, though already discredited for its failure in not addressing the nuclear issue, has the possibility of laying down the foundations for future talks. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has indicated that “should conditions be ripe, there is a possibility of talks about the nuclear issue.”


The nuclear issue has been the main point of departure between Tehran and the international community. While the nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the United Nations fear that Iran’s nuclear programme is both hostile and in defiance of the NPT, Iran has carried forth with uranium enrichment and developing its key sites. The country has thus been subjected to a further tightening of the sanctions regime. Tehran’s traditional response to calls from the international community is that a nuclear programme is their “undeniable right” and is for “peaceful purposes only”.


Ahead of the United Nations General Assembly in which Iran’s nuclear programme will be discussed along with the case for renewing sanctions, talks between the Security Council plus Germany and Iran are likely to take place. The Obama administration has from the beginning talked of constructive engagement with Iran; this can be seen from the Nowruz message, Cairo speech and Obama’s first interview as president to an Arabic television channel. This departure from Bush era politics has created an environment whereby Iran could be induced to come to the table. This rapprochement can yield far-reaching benefits if the countries concerned act in good faith.







If these were the number of classes attended in a college course, she would have had to repeat the year. But such are the perks of politics, that Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee’s attendance record for Union cabinet meetings — she has not attended seven of the 12 meetings held since the UPA regained power — will not lose her any sleep.


It should. Banerjee’s nonchalance about her cabinet responsibilities speaks of her obvious priority to win the 2011 West Bengal elections — even at the cost of her ministerial work. This was clear, quite literally, from the early days of this government, when Banerjee spent 20 of its first 31 days in Bengal. This was also clear from her vociferous opposition to the proposed changes to the Land Acquisition Act (voiced in one of the few cabinet meetings that she did, in fact, attend). The proposed changes are more sensitive to the rights of land-holding farmers than the law, as it currently stands, is. But such is Banerjee’s fear of squandering her electoral chances in Bengal that acquisition in any form is a no-go. Her hard-line (which she followed by not attending the next three cabinet meetings) resulted in the new bill being moved to cold storage — precisely at a time when an updated law is required most. And reports suggest that in the latest, September 10, cabinet meeting that Banerjee skipped, on the agenda was her own ministry’s proposal seeking a Japanese loan for one of its flagship projects. This is in addition to several key appointments in the railway ministry that are yet to be made.


Banerjee is hardly the only Central minister to be preoccupied with her own state. New Delhi has a rich culture of ministers using their national pedestal for narrow political ends. It was hoped that with the new UPA government less beholden to regional allies than the previous Centre was, rent-seeking and hostage-holding would be diminished. But her opposition to the land reform law, and her evident non-interest in her ministerial portfolio, flies in the face of any such hope.








On Monday a year ago, the world woke up to a Wall Street irrevocably (or so we thought) changed. In the course of one hectic weekend, two of the four great broker-dealers that had been the pillars of finance had vanished: Merrill Lynch was absorbed by the Bank of America and Lehman Brothers collapsed. That collapse probably served as a catalyst for a chain reaction of panic and freezing up of credit that spread worldwide and caused the fears of a repeat of the 1930s depression we have lived with for all this time.


A year later, perhaps the most worrying thing is how little reform has penetrated the sector that started it all. The frailties of high finance are a little better understood, and investment bankers are a little less popular at parties; but other than that there are few behavioural differences. Banks have changed their payment structure little: they still set up perverse incentives for their employees to max out short-term gains while taking on long-term risk — a problem well-known enough in the industry to be referred to casually as “IBG” or “I’ll be gone” (by the time the effects of my actions fully manifest). Processes of securitisation — which caused the freeze-up by making it extremely difficult to judge who was carrying what risk — have hardly changed either, even though all experts, even those who maintain that the formulae that govern the slicing-and-dicing of risk are at heart correct, have said that without reform the methods will lead to chronic instability. And while the crisis caused a pull-back in the indebtedness of the large firms, what they call a reduction in leverage that now means $1 with them is lent out 14 times rather than 26, that is not a real behavioural change, but just a response to a tighter market. On the other hand, blaming the crisis on Lehman’s fall has encouraged the sense that some financial institutions are “too big to fail” and thus they can use that implicit government guarantee to take on extra risk.


Something that started a year ago can really no longer be a called a “crisis”. But it hasn’t ended either. The real effects, on producers of goods and services worldwide, continue very much in evidence, with jobs and profits still threatened. But it is possible to claim that now, the coordinated actions of governments and central banks have averted the worst. But until international finance genuinely changes its structure and behaviour to better fit the essential job it has to do, all that security will remain permanently under threat.










Last week, conservationists, international geneticists and ecologists gathered amidst the sands of Rajasthan to discuss how the cheetah could be brought back to India, and if it would stalk those very sands.


The idea of bringing the African cheetah to the Indian wild has the same romantic fascination resurrecting the Mammoth or archaeopteryx would: the belief that human intervention can reverse history, or that human will can even erase history.


In India, the open scrub grassland habitat of the cheetah has historically overlapped with the lion’s range, and significantly, the reasons why the cheetah should not be brought back are the same which have dismantled lion conservation in the country. A proposal to move a handful of lions from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh — a sort of insurance policy against the threat of epidemic in Gujarat — has been gathering dust since 2004 even as a Supreme Court case rages; Gujarat, the state to have the last wild population of Asiatic lions in the world, has a mantle it does not want to share. But it’s also symptomatic of the larger illness that plagues all wildlife conservation in the country: the fact that despite having several national parks, no protected area is actually “national”.


While the Centre provides crores of rupees in funds, unlike in other schemes, it cannot point out where states are going wrong. And just the past four years have shown us that many states are stuck in a time warp where symbols continue to be larger than animal protection itself. Madhya Pradesh, which calls itself the “tiger state”, lost its last tiger in Panna this year. At a national conference this year kicked off in New Delhi by the prime minister, Gujarat officials insisted the lion was their (exclusive) “pride”. In MP, where Panna’s tigers were lost to poaching, in some instances in connivance with locals, an astounding 5,500 villages are within two kilometers of protected areas. Unsurprisingly, amidst elaborate welfare and human relocation exercises, the state turned a deaf ear to calls from the Centre that its tigers — above 35, between 2002 and 2009 in Panna — were being poached. And the existing structure, with the actual animal, protected or not, being to its last claw a property of the state (unlike, say, the US, where national parks have some federal control) meant


the Centre can do little but write letters.


And our present Central and state-level conservation policies also show us that we have no tolerance for stray animals: in the past one year, straying tigers, leopards and elephants from forests in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh or West Bengal have been shot or locked in zoos, the most famous being the Lucknow man-eating tiger which, after being allowed to range over UP for six months, was shot in February this year. This is because Project Tiger, Project Elephant, Project Snow Leopard make no concessions for strays; we expect our animals, like us, to follow the neat lines of our power point presentations. The moment the animal crosses the lines of the protected area or state borders, its survival is dependent on the whims of local officers.


Bringing the cheetah back to India will mean us taking a hard look at our conservation policies, which repeatedly seem to believe that a) animals should never, ever go extinct and b) they should always stay in protected areas, and definitely not over-run state borders. Another argument goes that we should save our tigers before we fantasise of bringing in any other good-looking big cat. (In the past 300 years, 800 species of plants and animals are believed to be extinct and can no longer be found in the wild. Apart from the cheetah, the Himalayan quail, the pink-headed duck, and the two-horned rhino are no longer recorded, but clearly it’s the lure of a top predator which has excited machineries into action.) The pro-cheetah argument believes that bringing back the cheetah will help protect its rolling grassland habitat, establishing precisely that conservation in India should not be about tigers. But this is an issue which has actually nothing to do with the browbeaten tiger, unwittingly the touchstone of Indian conservation. Bringing the cheetah back will be reversing the hunting ills the country once had. Cheetahs were shot easily with modern rifles, the last one being shot in Chhattisgarh in 1968. The identified cheetahs to be brought here are from Namibia, with about 5,000 years of separation from the Asiatic cheetah, now only found in Iran. Bringing them here will be changing history, being India’s first decisive, and definitely romantic step, towards bringing back an extinct animal. It will be a paradigm shift.


But the shift cannot and should not be made unless we take this opportunity to mark a similar paradigm shift in our conservation policies. In this case, human money can’t help the animals. Only that feted human quality: intelligence and adaptation, in creating radical new policies, can.








September 15 marks the big anniversary for the world of finance. On this day last year, one of America’s oldest investment banks, Lehman Brothers, went bankrupt, and triggered the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. In hindsight, the collapse of Lehman was easily preventable. But for reasons rooted in the unlikely combination of populist politics (no bailout for fat cats) and orthodox free market economics (bad eggs have to go), Lehman was allowed to fail. Of course, that stance was fortunately reversed soon after the severe repercussions of Lehman were felt. That changed stance, along with other proactive fiscal and monetary measures taken (globally) to stem the downward spiral, is probably what saved us from another great depression, turning this into a great recession instead. But the one thing that remains badly scarred, and robbed of credibility, is finance.


The chief villains of the peace, at least if the vast literature on the subject is an indicator, were highly sophisticated financial products and the investment bankers who peddled them to clients all over the world. And now, in September 2009, it’s all too easy to forget how most of the world made merry courtesy the very products and people we now vilify.


Consider, for example, the enormous benefits of the now maligned process of securitisation. This is the process of financial engineering in which a bunch of loans (house loans, auto loans, credit card loans) are bundled together and sold off to an interested investor. Securitisation took loans off the liability side of the balance sheets of banks and brought in funds from those who bought the securitised assets — that enabled them to give even more loans, creating a virtuous cycle of liquidity. Combined with the diversification of risk that securitisation enabled, consumers and businesses were able to access finance cheaply — cheaper than ever before. It’s no surprise then that while the party was on, no one was objecting, not even the subprime borrowers who subsequently lost their homes and savings. Even outside the US and UK, the benefits were enormous. Borrowers (particularly firms) from abroad were also able to access cheap finance and emerging economies like ours were flush with funds propelling growth to levels never seen before.


Needless to say, there were flaws in the system, which we now understand. But none are fatal enough to warrant fear of liberal finance, provided the right regulation is in place.


The basic flaw in securitisation arose from the fact that the bank which gave the loan to a consumer or business sold it off as an asset to someone else. Because the loan didn’t stay on the balance sheet of the bank, they did not usually have sufficient incentive to check the quality of the loans they were sanctioning. Also, the investor who bought the bundled asset did not have the information to check on the quality of the loans in his asset.


The system would still have worked efficiently if credit rating agencies did their job, of carefully examining and appropriately rating the bundled assets, properly. But because they often had a conflict of interest — they were paid by the same people whose assets they were rating — they let too many suspect securitised assets pass with top (AAA) rating. When the history of this financial crisis is written, credit rating agencies will be the villains that got away. Somewhere, inexplicably, policymakers seem to have ignored the catalytic role that credit raters played in precipitating the crisis — no one is even talking about regulating credit raters, forget about controlling their pay. So, securitisation can certainly work in the future if there is an appropriate intermediary (who can accurately and neutrally rate assets) between the originators of loans (banks) and those who buy securitised assets.

In India, though, a year after Lehman, we seem smug about and satisfied with our more rudimentary and unsophisticated financial system where regulation is very tight, securitisation and other complex derivatives are largely disallowed, and banks behave conservatively. Of course, the Indian financial system has been widely praised for its resilience in the crisis, but before we get carried away by the accolades it is important to note the costs of an unsophisticated financial system, which may outweigh the benefits of conservatism.


We can boast all we like about the resilience and profitability of our banks, but profitable banks are not an end in themselves. Banks can make profits by parking their money in safe government securities and relatively safe mutual funds, which is what they have in fact been doing in India since the crisis began. But if, motivated by excess conservatism, they refuse to channel money (savings) to productive sectors of the economy for investment, or to consumers for consumption, they fail in their most basic function, and do little to further the cause of faster GDP growth.


Of course, if we are content with 6 per cent growth then conservative banking is okay, but if we want 9 per cent growth then conservative banking of the kind we have isn’t good enough, especially when one considers that the global environment isn’t conducive to foreign capital flows. Even before the crisis, think of the kind of interest rate you paid on your home loan, auto loan, or the loan for your small business (or perhaps you never got one at all) and compare it with what the average American consumer or business paid (and always got), and you’ll see the benefit of a more sophisticated financial system.


An under-developed financial system like ours extracts another price — it blunts the effectiveness of monetary policy in a slowdown because of a weak transmission mechanism. The RBI has cut the two policy rates — repo and reverse repo — repeatedly and not insignificantly during the slowdown, but prime lending rates of commercial banks haven’t nearly matched the depth of cuts made by the central bank. In fact, at many points in the slowdown, the double-digit prime lending rates were consistent with the higher repo rate from the boom time.


In more sophisticated systems, a cut in rates by the central bank almost immediately translates into a corresponding fall in the lending rates of commercial banks. Unfortunately, until determined policy action is not taken to liberalise and deepen the bond market, the derivatives market and the currency market, this transmission will, to the peril of our economy, continue to remain weak.


This why, one year after Lehman, even as the rest of the world discusses ways to regulate over-liberal finance, we in India still need to talk about liberalising over-regulated finance. And we can do it right learning the right lessons from this crisis.







n My guest this week is former national security adviser of Pakistan, a former general, a Track Two peacemaker and, most of all, an honourable professional soldier. Major General Mahmud Ali Durrani, welcome to Walk the Talk.


Thank you very much.


n You fought in the 1965 war.


Proudly and in one of the toughest battlefields, Chawinda.


n Chawinda in Sialkot sector. What we call Sialkot sector, you say Sialkot Samba sector.


Exactly. It was the biggest armour battle after World War II.


n Rival claims apart, was it that battle or that war which first convinced you that the two countries have to find peace.


No. I was a young officer, at the threshold of my profession. As I grew in life and in the profession, I reflected upon the 1965 war and saw the futility of it — very honourable people on both sides getting killed. What did we achieve? I got more experienced when I travelled with Zia-ul-Haq as his military secretary. I saw the rest of the world. It is all this combined experience that brought me to the conclusion not only regarding the futility of war but also the fact that I needed to do something about it.


n Musharraf was in the same war.


He was junior to me.


n When did you decide that you have to now start working actively for it?


I think this was in 1994-95. I was coming close to my retirement age and I made this commitment because I was very clear about the futility of the acrimony between the two countries. For the good of Pakistan and for the good of our future generations, I decided that the rest of my life I was going to devote myself to the peace process between India and Pakistan.


n And you got a lot of gaali...


Yes, even from my family.


n And the Urdu media gave you a name — Gen Shanti — to mock you.


I took it as a compliment. Here is a soldier with 37 years of military experience behind him, proud of the wars he has fought, and now he wants peace.


n Are you now disappointed, or you think there is a work in progress?


I think it’s both. I am disappointed that time and again we start accusing each other. But I know it is also work in progress. An overwhelming number of people on both sides want peace. It’s a very small segment of people who don’t want peace. It’s also a disappointment that there are people who can arouse emotions and do things to put off the peace process.


n How big a setback was 26/11?


26/11 is more in the minds in India. I see that particularly during my trips here. It has hit India more than it has hit Pakistan.


n That’s because India was the victim.


Pakistan sees it as something bad that happened in Mumbai. Something sad happened, innocent lives were lost. But they did not blame themselves. Here in India, it seems that the blame is being placed on Pakistan, particularly the security service and the government of Pakistan.


n Where does the truth lie?


The truth lies in the fact that it is the spoilers who don’t want good relations between India and Pakistan,

they’ve done it. It suits them. And with due respect, people here have jumped on that bandwagon. And they say, ‘ISI has done this’, which is sad because I’ve spoken to our people in the intelligence and they have assured me that they have not been informed.


n When this happened, were you the national security adviser?


Yes. I called up my counterpart, M K Narayanan, and I sympathised. I said, ‘I feel very bad’. I said we should move together on this. I still believe that we need to field a joint investigative team rather than doing one bit here, one bit there and a lot of mistrust in between. I feel that we should get together and find out the whole truth.


n When you called Narayanan just after 26/11, what was his response?


He was very courteous. But after that I think there was a deliberate act on the part of the government of India to back out from this. My reading is that at that time they were unhappy and angry.


n If you can reconstruct those three days for us — were you watching TV, how did you get to know this?


I saw it on an Indian television channel. We saw the carnage and the effect and the burning. It was very sad. I

hoped that this does not cause another rift. I was still in service, we got some readings and, rightly or wrongly, the statements coming out of India were more belligerent and tough. We were worried. We tried to defuse the situation, but the temperatures here were very high and with due respect to you, the media went to town and played it up. In both our countries, the media has become very important. They don’t reflect public opinion, they form public opinion. Our intelligence was following the activities of your forces. We got some kind of feeling that there are some preparations and this was reinforced from what was coming out in terms of statements and in terms of public sentiment. Then there were some actual ground preparations and we thought India might conduct some surgical strike. We had it conveyed that God forbid, if you do that, Pakistan will have no option but to react. It would escalate. You know our people, the emotionalism, and once you climb the escalatory ladder, you never know where it’s going to lead you to.


n Were you also angry that some people have really spoiled the game?


I was upset. I am now getting close to 70, so anger is not a part of my character, it’s more anguish. But after that I could not communicate to Narayanan. I called once or twice again and was told that he’s out of office and he’ll call me, but that never happened. No reflection on my friend, he is a good man.


n Did you pick up the phone and ask the ISI, Pakistani army, the powers that be, ‘what the hell is going on’?


Yes. I was assured that there is absolutely no such thing. They asked me, ‘what is the advantage for Pakistan in this? None’.


n It could benefit someone insecure about the peace process.


But that wouldn’t be the establishment because the establishment was working hard to develop a good relationship. I can speak for the political leadership. Although I parted company with them, but in all fairness to them, they were on the path towards peace with India.


n What led to your very unfortunate departure from the scene?


I can’t go into too much detail. I don’t want to wash dirty linen in Delhi. What happened was that I made a statement on Kasab, and the prime minister took umbrage to that.


n You made an honest statement. There was no point in hiding the fact, because the whole world knew it by then.


Let me tell you one thing. Our agencies are blamed the most. But they said, ‘Sir, we need to tell the world. The

world thinks we have something to hide, we are certain that he is a Pakistani’.


n It was not a happy statement, it was embarrassing for Pakistan.


I think we have to be upfront with each other. Yes, Kasab is a Pakistani and we are not proud of what he did, but this is a fact.


n Was there a failure on the Pakistani side in preventing this?


No. It’s a huge country and we have mega problems, particularly regarding terrorism. At that time, our total focus was on FATA and Swat. This thing happened not because of us, but in spite of us. I can assure you, had our intelligence any inkling about it, this would not have happened. And I say it as Mahmud Ali Durrani, ex-NSA.


n We all know you were a soldier in the civilian administration, but your heart was in democratisation and strengthening the civilian authority in Pakistan.


I believe that democracy is the sole answer to Pakistan’s problem. It’s not easy, it’s messy. We have not reached that level of maturity. And that includes bringing civilian authority to the top of the pyramid.

n Even though they are the ones who removed you.


That doesn’t matter.


n You are the first general the civilian government in Pakistan has removed successfully.


That just shows I am a lesser mortal.


n There was a suggestion that the ISI chief could come to India and then there was withdrawal of that suggestion.


It shouldn’t have been said (ISI chief coming here on a visit). It was an impromptu thing. When they looked at it a little deeper, they said, ‘oh, this will give wrong signals’. So they withdrew.


n After that there was also the delay in the trial, the movement, though there was a lot of reassurance

here when the Pakistan dossier came in. People thought the Pakistani side is now being honest, but again the delay in the trial...


It is a one-sided thinking here. The dossiers came in bits and pieces. There were delays. I was told yesterday that some of the statements which were given to us initially were in Gujarati or Marathi. It took a couple of weeks before they were translated and sent to us. We were given DNA samples. But it was only one sample and two copies of that were given. Contrary to popular belief here, Pakistan moved really fast. Today, there is a trial. You have given us five names. There are seven people under trial. We added two more based on our investigations.


n But what adds to the mistrust here is the sight of Hafiz Saeed moving around freely. We know he is the founder of Lashkar.


But we are investigating the Mumbai terror attacks. Don’t go back into history. I am told by our people that they have found no link.


n This is contrary to what Chidambaram has been saying.


I disagree with him with due respect. I do think the sixth dossier was a rehash of previous dossiers.

n Hafiz Saeed is an internationally wanted man. There is an international Red Corner notice against him.


That means he should be kept under watch, which he is. It doesn’t mean anything more than that. Pakistan does not want him or anybody to do anything subversive against India.


n Even though you are outside the system, you think they are honest about it.


I think so. They want peace because it is good for Pakistan. That is the fundamental argument.


n Does the Pakistani army accept that peace is good for Pakistan?




n So this idea that inevitability of a decisive war with India...

No, that’s not the reality. There were times when the situation was such, but people have grown up, seen the world, relationships have progressed and there is a realisation that if we keep on having the acrimony that we have with India, Pakistan is not going to make progress. The biggest problem is mistrust. We have to take action to remove that.


n The biggest mistrust on our side is that we don’t know if the civilian government is in control in Pakistan.


They are very much in control. Let me throw the ball into your court. India should say, “Ok, in future,

Pakistanis will get the same visas as the Arabs or the British. Open things up. Let there be greater cooperation. There should be a Pakistani journalist in your newspaper and somebody from your newspaper can go and sit with Najam Sethi. We are from the same soil, but because of the 60 years of acrimony we don’t know each other. People in Pakistan think that there are saffron-clad people here running after Muslims. And there is a perception here that in Pakistan everybody is Talibanised and the women in burqas are walking three feet behind them. The sullenness has to go.


n Sharm-el-Sheikh was a step in that direction.


It was. But again what happened in India...


n That’s because there is anger every time we see Hafiz Saeed.


Why are you after Hafiz Saeed? Rather than seeing the glass half empty, see it as three-fourth full.


n We talked of Track Two diplomacy, but that’s among retired people. Would you then recommend more contact between people who are not retired?


There should be contact between intelligence officers.


n Do you think the Pakistani side will be willing to do this? Can the ISI chief and his counterpart meet here?


I am sure they will be willing.


n Have you ever spoken with them?


When I say that they’ll be willing, I must have a good reason to say that. Similarly, the military should meet.


n One of the great confidence-sapping developments in the week after 26/11 was your removal. People said, ‘there was one person whom we thought was trustworthy and they have removed him’.


That was at a political level. It was not related to what I said in terms of India.


n One-line description of Zia-ul-Haq.


He is still an enigma to me. He was extremely modest, patient, courteous with everybody. But he used religion to his advantage.


n And Musharraf.

He was a friend. Musharraf was a cowboy, he was impetuous.


n What next for you?


I will continue my journey of peace between India and Pakistan. That’s my commitment, irrespective of what impact I make.


n All I can say is we need more of you on both sides. I hope we keep meeting again so that you can tell us great stories but happy stories.


Thank you very much.


Transcript prepared by Sharika C













The collapse of Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008 brought a simmering crisis to boil. The rest, as they say, is history. But one thing is certain a year from then—those who questioned capitalism then were either overexcited or overpanicked. There was never a question mark on capitalism. And, it can be said now, even the big questions on a great and prolonged slump seem to have been driven by, albeit understandable, fear. Of course, plenty of help from governments has helped. Governments became proactive in rescuing flailing financial institutions after recognising the blunder of letting Lehman go. Central banks adopted expansionary monetary policy with interest rates in major economies falling below 1%. And then governments weighed in with massive fiscal stimuli to make up for some of the fall in consumption and investment. But to say that this proves capitalism is fallible and prone to crisis is a waste of intellectual energy. Capitalism is prone to occasional crises and government acts as stabiliser. This is hardly the first time that governments have intervened to shore up capitalism. Keynesian spending theories rescued the world from the Great Depression. And governments, since then, have regularly intervened to stave off crisis situations. This won’t be the last time either. It is simply that capitalism is the best system for organising economic affairs. It isn’t perfect—but what is? That is why while governments are now major shareholders in Western banks, they don’t want to run banks and financial institutions forever. Memo, therefore, to those in India who applaud this country’s nationalised banks.


Of course, this still leaves open the question of appropriate regulation of financial capitalism. But that’s a much smaller question than the one that was about the basic nature of capitalism itself. The G-20 heads of government meet in Pittsburgh in ten days’ time to thrash out questions about regulation. It will be unfortunate if this discussion is dominated by the issue of bankers’ pay. As we have argued in these columns before, that isn’t really the core issue moving forward. A better approach would be to focus on adequate capitalisation of banks and appropriate regulation of securitised assets without blanking them out all together. Incidentally, investment banks have shown incredible resilience and many have bounced back with handsome profits in the most recent quarter. Of course, this has been aided by cheap government finance, but once they are back in prime health, expect investment banks and other financial institutions to begin taking more risks. That will be hard for any government to prevent and they shouldn’t try to prevent it either—risk taking is the core of capitalism. In India, we have been sitting comfortable in the safety of our banking cocoon. No one knows when this comfort with our small, little world will change. The financial crisis was scary. But scarier is the prospect of Indian finance remaining unreformed.





The list of problems that confronts the power sector seems to be never ending. According to the official projections, the country is once again set to miss power targets; a 20% shortfall in 11th Plan’s 78,000 mw target. The reasons are many and familiar: time overrun in construction, inadequate coal and the Rs 5 lakh crore shortfall in funding. Figures for the first four months of the current year show that additions are only 60% of the targeted capacity. Achievement varies significantly across the private, central and states sectors: success rates are 88%, 75% and 14% respectively. Public sector power agencies blame equipment suppliers and inadequate coal supply. They argue that the delay in getting super critical technologies and low indigenous manufacturing capabilities have delayed the supply of the contracted machinery. And the total coal supply of 363 million tonnes is to fall 41 million tonnes short of demand in 2009-10.This means power companies will import as much as 28 million tonnes. Domestic suppliers have not been able to deliver the promised volumes. July’s statistics show that thermal plants with low coal supply numbered 9 in the northern region, 20 in the western region and 31 in the eastern region. Captive coal blocks? Those allocated to power projects remains bogged in procedural, environmental and transport bottlenecks.


The scenario is even worse on the financial front. Growth of credit from the banking sector has slowed down from 68% in 2007-08 to 34% in 2008-09. This is because most banks have exhausted or are close to the maximum sectoral and group exposure limits ordained by RBI. Similarly, requirements of prudential norms dampen enthusiasm of term lending institutions. Poor returns on equity continue to discourage FDI investors in power sector whose share in infrastructure FDI is just 18% as compared to the 47% share of the telecom sector. Tackling these problems would require a massive step up of reforms. Consider the fact that even basic changes like open access and power trading facilities face hurdles even now. Also consider the fact that UPA-II has the same power minister as UPA-I had for most of its term, and the ministerial record then was unimpressive.








The decoupling debate has never been so vigorous. On one hand, the ongoing recession has been unnervingly synchronised across real and financial markets in all major economies. On the other, Asian economies registered the global crisis much later than the US or EU, remaining relatively insulated in the period between 2006 and the first half of 2008. Similarly, they have rebounded sharper than developed economies, with several Asian countries showing signs of recovery, even posting double-digit growth rates in the second quarter of 2009. Proponents of decoupling argue that the Asian recovery heralds a new era of Asia-led growth, whereas “coupling” theorists argue that the synchronicity of the global downturn is telling, and that the Asian recovery is not sustainable given Asia’s high export exposure to the developed world. This leads to the question of whether academic evidence has examined this issue and if theoretical and empirical evidence supports or opposes the decoupling hypothesis.


Theoretically, there are several channels through which increased trade and financial openness induce business cycle co-movements. The first is intuitive—higher trade linkages imply higher reliance on external demand. Similarly, as financial integration increases, capital flows in different countries are synchronised through various channels of financial contagion. More nuanced channels include commodity price linkages—demand from larger economies such as the United States or China drive oil prices, which then affect cyclical fluctuations of smaller oil-importing countries. Similarly, cyclical fluctuations in advanced economies affect private remittances to developing countries. Despite these theoretical channels for coupling, there is no clear empirical consensus that greater openness increases business cycle co-movement. A recent paper by Julian Giovanni and Andrei Levchenko of the IMF extends this analysis, accounting for vertical linkages in production as well as differing levels of synchronisation across sectors. They find that increased trade linkages do strengthen sectoral co-movements, especially in sectors that are tightly vertically linked. They estimate that these linkages explain up to one-third of the overall impact of bilateral trade on aggregate co-movement. However, their sample does not cover the 2006-2008 period, where much of the decoupling story is sourced.


Similar to the debate on trade is that on finance. Given floating exchange rates and high levels of capital account openness in many Asian economies, it is difficult to prevent equity and foreign exchange market synchronisation, which have significant impacts on household and firm net worth. Michael Hutchinson of the University of California investigates linkages in capital markets between emerging and developed countries in the current crisis, and finds that financial and real news of US economic events transmitted strongly to Asian equity markets in the second half of 2008, although Asia remained relatively insulated until summer 2008. However, financial linkages are often more deep-rooted than equity price or foreign exchange synchronisation, as foreign investment also takes the less cyclically-sensitive form of direct investment. Empirical evidence on the growth effects of this form of financial integration has not focused on the decoupling hypothesis.


One possible resolution for the mixed empirics is the definition of co-movement. Sebastian Walti of the Swiss National Bank argues that the issue of trend decoupling must be separated from that of cyclical decoupling. While globalisation has resulted in a greater convergence in cyclical fluctuations, the divergence in trend fluctuations masks this in the data. This is especially seen in developing Asia, where countries like China and India have seen a significant acceleration in trend GDP due to structural domestic economic reform that unleashed growth potential. Using a conventional decomposition of growth into trend and cycle, he maps out an index of decoupling between a given set of emerging and developed economies, and studies the trend of this index over time. He finds little evidence to support the decoupling hypothesis, as the index of decoupling does not decline with time for any set of emerging markets.


This method, however, does not take into account trend-cycle interaction effects. In several emerging economies, especially export-led East and South East Asia, positive or negative shocks to cyclical fluctuations has been documented to affect trend growth. Similarly, ongoing cyclical fluctuations in the US and the EU are touted to permanently lower long-term trend growth. Separating trend and cycle effects may actually remove the important transmission channel from short-term fluctuations to longer-term growth.


Overall, there is no clear empirical consensus on decoupling, although theoretical channels support the hypothesis that increased globalisation and trade would result in increased business cycle co-movements.


The author lives and works in Singapore








The recent judgement by the US Department of Justice (DoJ), rapping Pfizer with a $2.3-billion settlement is being referred to as the ‘largest healthcare fraud settlement’ in the department’s history. The lawsuit was slapped on Pfizer for promoting off-label use in Bextra and payments to physicians involving Zyvox, Geodon and Lyrica, as well as nine other Pfizer drugs. The DoJ’s investigation was triggered by whistleblower lawsuits and the DOJ says that “six whistleblowers will receive payments totaling more than $102 million from the federal share of the civil recovery”. While Pfizer will pay the criminal fine, its subsidiary, Pharmacia & Upjohn, will plead guilty to a charge of felony misbranding (since Bextra came to Pfizer when it acquired Pharmacia in 2002).


Pfizer is by no means the only pharma company involved in over-zealous marketing practices. In January this year, Eli Lilly was hauled up by the DoJ on similar charges involving its Zyprexa and paid $1.4 billion. The settlement was a record among whistleblower cases at the time, but the Pfizer settlement clearly overshadows the January case.


The role of whistleblowers in both these cases cannot be overemphasised. In fact Judge Mark Rindner deliberating on the Eli Lilly case in Alaska in March 2008, went so far as to say that lawsuits play a vital role in drug safety and without them, claims of safety problems “might well go unaddressed”. Evidence the State of Alaska presented in the course of the lawsuit shows that the FDA “isn’t capable of policing this matter”, he said.


In fact, reactions to past articles in the press have opened up a can of worms, with medical students saying their professors are on the take and calling for a ban on ‘pharma freebies’ on campus.


Here in India, industry observers and patient activists NGOs have grimly observed the increasing ways in which pharma companies are wooing doctors. For instance, in a field like medicine which is advancing so rapidly, the concept of Continuing Medical Education (CME) programmes is sound, but unfortunately, this is grossly misused. The Pfizer settlement clearly shows the way forward.








The one thought I have on the first anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse is whether 9/15 was more harmful than 9/11. The latter episode has changed the way we travel, the way we view the world, especially the Muslim world, and it has heightened all sorts of authoritarian tendencies in the erstwhile liberal societies. In this sense, Osama bin Laden was a change maker. Yet there has been no repeat of 9/11 on American soil, though around the world, Bali, Bombay, Madrid, London we have had terrorist attacks. We do not need to dispute any longer whether the world is globalised.


When Lehman Brothers collapsed , we were not unprepared as we were before 9/11. After all the recession in output growth and employment had started in the second quarter of 2007 in the US. Commodity price inflation had led to a tightening of interest rates and the slowdown in house price inflation had begun. The UK had already faced the Northern Rock collapse in September 2007.


By March 2008 we had the Bear Stearns takeover and AIG followed soon. Famous names were being gobbled up by other famous names—Merrill Lynch, for example. There was fear in the air and to echo the words of Chuck Prince the embattled head of Citibank, the music had stopped.


Still the collapse of Lehman Brothers triggered a panic which was as unprecedented as it was unexpected. Here was a brokerage firm and as such it was like a signalling system at the centre of a vast and complicated set of transactions. When it went, the machine juddered to a standstill. Credit dried up. There was a meltdown. The banks could fail and other banks could buy them. But the failure of a middleman firm wreaked havoc.


It was at this point that the conflation of an output recession and a financial system failure led to great anxiety. Comparisons were made with the Great Depression. Economists were denounced (often by fellow economists) as myopic, overpaid arrogant peddlers of implausibly unrealistic theories. Mathematics, the assumption of rationality, the evil genius of Chicago economists and many other villains were cited. Some were even more hopeful that here was the collapse of Capitalism itself.


The sight of George W Bush’s Treasury Secretary asking for $800 billion to buyout banks raised the joyous spectre of bank nationalisation. Could socialism be far behind ?


Now, a year later, it all seems back to normal. The OECD economies appear to have turned the corner and a V-shaped recovery is on the cards. Though it is yet not certain, there is unlikely to be a double dip recession. As crises go , the 2007-09 recession is comparable to the 1980s , not the 1930s. The financial system meltdown was a new factor and globalisation made it spread across the world. But the system has proved resilient. Capitalism is alive and well and dwells in the restored fat bonus packages of American and British bankers.


Where did it all go so right? Why have Left parties made few gains politically across OECD countries and why have market friendly parties survived? The answer lies in the new breed of central bankers in the US and UK at least, but also elsewhere who are all by and large academic economists with sufficient knowledge and confidence to be able to innovate when necessary. Mervyn King at the head of the Bank of England and Ben Bernanke at the Federal Reserve had learnt the lessons of the 1930s as pointed out by Milton Friedman in his classic study (jointly with Anna Schwartz) of US monetary system. Liquidity had to be poured into the system regardless of fiscal scruples. Keynesian remedies had been absorbed long ago by way of built-in stabilisers and governments stepped in to provide extra fiscal stimulus. It took time to unwind the commodity price inflation and restore enough liquidity in the system to stave off the worst effects.


Even the intervention by which central banks and governments poured money into private banks was not the old fashioned nationalisation but the smarter way of demanding preference shares against the money loaned. As the stock markets revive, the governments are getting their money back, with a capital gain as well.


Of course, some things such as the balance sheets of banks will take time to recover their previous health. Every previous innovation—railroads for instance—led to a bubble and its collapse. But then the innovation did not die out but became a part of the improved economy. Financial innovations such as securitisation and hedge funds will be the same. Read Schumpeter.


The G -20 may yet get around to imposing tighter regulations on the financial system but the speed at which the market has recovered is far faster than the pace at which politicians move to reform the system. Don’t hold your breath. Enjoy the recovery.


The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer








Although described in some quarters as a shocker, the Allahabad High Court’s acquittal of Moninder Singh Pandher is hardly surprising. When a special court in Ghaziabad sentenced in February the businessman and his domestic help Surinder Koli to death in one of the most gruesome Nithari killings cases, the verdict was greeted with a reflexive endorsement, even displays of public celebration. Lost in this unthinking eruption of joy was a simple question — was there enough evidence to establish Pandher’s guilt? The Central Bureau of Investigation, which probed the killings after the cases were transferred to it from the Uttar Pradesh police, was fairly clear on this question. Resisting public pressure and in the face of acute media scepticism, it did not chargesheet Pandher in the case, which relates to the murder and rape of 14-year-old Rimpa Haldar. The businessman was summoned as an accused by the special court, using its powers under Section 319 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the court eventually passed a judgment that seemed influenced more by public sentiment than by the dispassionate requirement of the law. In acquitting Pandher of murder and rape, the Division Bench of the Allahabad High Court has drawn attention to obvious facts (for example, Pandher was not even present in the country when Haldar was killed) and refrained from extravagant hypotheses (such as the special court’s contention that his “hedonistic lifestyle” created the environment for Koli to commit murder).


What does the High Court ruling mean for the other Nithari cases? The Bench has made it clear that it will not affect decisions, at the trial court level, in other Nithari cases, of which Pandher is a co-accused in five. But it would be hard to ignore the reasoning of the High Court, which took into account facts such as Koli’s confession, which did not implicate Pandher at all. Or for that matter, the cell phone records in the possession of the CBI, which indicate that Pandher was not present in his Noida residence when 16 of the gruesome murders took place. Few crimes in this county have been marked by such inhumanity as the Nithari killings, a story of abduction, rape, murder, and necrophilia. That news of the killings was greeted with gross public revulsion and subject to acute media scrutiny is understandable. But the demands of criminal law require that cases be dealt with objectively and that guilt is determined not on the basis of public sentiment or inspired leaks but on the basis of proof beyond reasonable doubt. This applies to horrific Nithari killings as well.






Scrapping of the Class X public examination of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has been under discussion for several years now, since the NCERT recommended it as part of a reform process and to reduce the stress on students. In recent times, academic performance has emerged as the almost exclusive determinant of one’s career and, as a consequence, the pressure on students, both at home and in school, to score very high marks and figure in the top bracket increased manifold. In extreme cases, failure to perform to the expected level drives students even to commit suicide and, ominously, the number of such suicides is on the rise. It was in this context that the NCERT came up with the suggestion that the public examination at the Class X level be dispensed with and a grading system of performance evaluation introduced. Such a reform will, however, be impracticable at the Plus Two level, which marks the take-off point for graduation courses, particularly because even a 0.25 per cent difference in the cut-off mark can make a huge difference to joining the professional stream.


It has been announced that, from 2011, taking public examination at the Class X level will be optional in the CBSE schools and it will be offered on-line and off-line. Strangely, more than the schools and teachers, students seem to resist this change. They would like their performance to be assessed at the State or national level through a public examination, rather than be evaluated at the school level. Internal assessment, tried out in the past, has thrown up questions of credibility, objectivity, and uniformity in standards. The grading system, as proposed now, recognises nine levels of performance — from ‘outstanding’ to ‘unsatisfactory.’ It is crucial that a system of evaluation which is viable and qualitatively exemplary is put in place. At the end of Class X, CBSE students in certain regions tend to switch to the State board system for the Plus Two course with the specific aim of scoring higher marks and they may need a record of performance in a public examination. Further, CBSE students do not generally terminate their studies at Class X level. Since Education is a concurrent subject under the Constitution, States are free to have their own system. Not many States appear inclined to fall in line with the CBSE initiative. It remains to be seen what proportion of Class X students end up skipping the examination. The Central government will do well to work for a national consensus on such far-reaching reforms, especially at a time when the country is preparing to open the doors to foreign universities.









Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao arrives in Kathmandu on her maiden visit today, at a time when Nepal is grappling with its most serious and prolonged political crisis since the peace process began. India has to make certain difficult policy choices, reconcile the contradictions between its stated aims and actions, determine whether it remains committed to the process it helped facilitate, and use its leverage accordingly.


The fragile Madhav Nepal-led ruling coalition faces a severe crisis of legitimacy and a belligerent Maoist opposition. The Maoists have boycotted the legislature-parliament, paralysing government business to the extent that the budget has not yet been passed. They have demanded a house discussion on President Ram Baran Yadav’s “unconstitutional action” over-riding the Maoist government’s decision to sack the then Army Chief General Rukmangad Katawal in early May — a demand rejected by the other parties in government who see no wrong in what the President did. The Maoists have also launched a street movement, with the slogan of instituting “civilian supremacy” and a “Maoist-led national government.”


The Constitution-writing process is in limbo, with the Constituent Assembly changing its timeline for the sixth time, raising serious doubts whether the statute can be prepared by May 2010. The peace process lies dormant, with little progress on the integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist People’s Liberation Army, presently in United Nations-supervised cantonments. The political polarisation in Kathmandu has left the state weak and unreformed, further fuelling semi-militant ethnic movements of Tharus in western Tarai, Madhesis in eastern Tarai, and Limbus in eastern hills.



The present crisis, result of the ouster of the Maoists from the government in May, has domestic roots.


There is a deep trust deficit between Nepal’s older political parties and the Maoists. The former feel that the Maoists have not changed the ultimate aim of “state capture” and are not committed to multiparty democracy. The inability of these parties, both the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist Leninist), to challenge the Maoists politically has added to their insecurity. The Maoists see the others as “stooges of feudals and reactionaries,” unable to reconcile themselves with the popular aspirations of change, and to accept that Maoists are legitimately the strongest political force in Nepal.


Add to this the trust deficit between the Maoists and the Nepal Army, especially under the previous chief, General Katawal, who the Maoists had sought to dismiss. The top brass of the army sees the Maoist intentions to integrate the PLA as an attempt to “politicise” and “take over” the army. Maoist dogmatists see the army as the final pillar of the old state that has to be reoriented drastically. The more moderate politicians, across the spectrum, recognise the need to “democratise the army” as stated by the peace accord, and “integrate” a part of the PLA — but then develop cold feet, fearing this would mean one less balancing force against the Maoists. The elevation of the more sober and restrained Chhatraman Singh Gurung as the first Janajati Chief of the Army this week has had a positive effect though, reducing tension levels.


It was this alliance of the parties and the army that led to the ouster of the Maoist government and the resulting stalemate. But India was at the centre of the crisis in May — actively opposing the Maoist move to dismiss the chief, backing the army, and then helping Madhav Nepal cobble together a majority in the house. The Indians had warned the Maoists not to “touch the army” and felt this was a Maoist move to take over all state institutions. New Delhi was increasingly uncomfortable with the Maoists’ increased engagement with China, the anti-India rhetoric of top Maoist leaders, and developed doubts about their commitment to democracy.


Since then, New Delhi has actively backed the present Madhav Nepal government — hosting him during a five-day India visit, telling interlocutors not to destabilise the present arrangement, and helping to smoothen intra-coalition differences.



India has a choice. It can continue to let its suspicion of the Maoists be the over-riding objective of its Nepal policy, and see the country slide into confrontational politics and greater anarchy. Or it can seek to build bridges, and play a pro-active role in engineering the kind of consensus it has done since 2005 to veer Nepal back towards a stable trajectory. But for that, policymakers have to ask themselves difficult questions.


Is India still committed to Nepal’s Constitution-writing and peace process? If yes, how does it reconcile that with the opposition of powerful sections in the Indian establishment to the integration of even a part of the PLA in the Nepal Army, as stated in peace accords? Would they prefer the present drift where the country has two armies? Or are they banking on the PLA splintering off into lower level extremist groups, which looks unlikely given the strong chain of command and party discipline?


How does sustaining the present government aid the process? Does India recognise that as long as this government is in place, Maoists may not cooperate in drafting the Constitution, and without their numbers, no statute can be passed? What are the implications, for Nepal and for India, if the Constitution does not get written on time? In fact, how does encouraging a Kathmandu power structure that excludes the Maoists square up with the political reality on the ground where they are immensely strong?


How does fragmentation of the Madhesi mainstream political parties — recent moves by Delhi have added to their divisions — help the cause of stability in the Tarai? Does India still believe in using the Tarai and the Madhes movement as a counter to the Maoists and a strategic lever? Is there a recognition that continued semi-anarchy in the Tarai and a weak state right across the border could imperil India’s own security interests?


The point is not to place the onus on all that is happening in Nepal on India. Of course, domestic actors have been irresponsible. There is a deep disconnect between Maoist intentions, actions and rhetoric, and dogmatists within still dream of a communist republic. There is lack of clarity within the Nepali Congress and the UML. Factionalism is rampant. Short-term interest based politics has trumped the larger commitment to the process. And no solution can be imposed from outside.


Nirupama Rao will get acquainted with political actors, make the right noises, and back the present government during her Nepal stay. But her visit would be truly successful if she uses the trip to publicly reiterate New Delhi’s commitment and support to past political and peace agreements; tell all actors that no form of authoritarianism, right or left, is acceptable to India; build bridges with the Maoists; privately reassess India’s approach to the present power alignment; and encourage a creative roadmap to get the Nepali process back on track.


(Prashant Jha is a Kathmandu-based journalist.)










Balijas, Reddys and other upper or dominant castes working on improving the lands of Dalits? It’s happening here in Kondama Naiyuni Palayam village of Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh. Call it necessity. Call it NREGS. The heavy late rains may have brought relief to Rayalaseema region in terms of fodder, and drinking water. But they also devastate the short duration crops that people have sown. So this village and its neighbours are heavily NREG dependent.


“We work together, all of us, and not on a caste basis,” say E. Ravi and K. Maheshwar, both Balijas. NREGS work priorities are clear here. The land development programme under it must first exhaust dalit and adivasi households before serving the others. In places like K.N. Palayam, where the villagers are organised, this actually gets done. It is not the same everywhere. And it would be rash to conclude that the NREGS is breaking down social hierarchies big time. It is certainly calling them into question, though.


There is also economic necessity. “Even people with 25 acres in our rainfed farms seek NREGS work, says Narasimha Reddy in Palacherla village. Yes, he confirms, most landowning Reddy households in this village of 350 families are reporting for NREG work — a big shift in attitudes. About 400 people — an equal number of men and women — go to the NREG site.



Within limits, says Malla Reddy, a 35-year veteran of NGO activism here, the NREGS does impact on social structures. Now, when landowners call Dalits or Adivasis to work, they are relatively more respectful. Because the labourers have the option of Rs. 100 a day work here.”


In K.N. Palayam, groups like the Rural and Environment Development Society have sharpened that impact. REDS has managed a creative interpretation of NREG rules locally. “You’ll find several households that have exceeded 100 days work,” says C. Bhanuja, President of REDS. We did.


It isn’t all quite simple, however. Both, the programmes’ own problems and those within the economy and society surface often. A full fifth of those seeking work in K.N. Palayam are over 60 years of age. S. Kadhar Wali, who is well over 70, puts it simply: “Why work at 70? You may as well ask, why eat at 70.” He and his wife S. Bibi have been doing NREGS work from 2006. This year, Bibi dropped out after a bout of typhoid. “We returned to work as the rise in food prices has destroyed poor people these past few years.”


In Aiyaram Gopalapadu, Kurnool, ex-Sarpanch C. Sankaraiah, clings to the old hierarchies. “I won’t do it,” he says, dismissing NREG work. “I own nine acres. It’s insulting.” But what about those 30-acre rainfed farmers in Anantapur, spotted at NREG sites? “Anantapur politics are very different from our politics here.” But one of his sons is working at the very site he leads us to.


Contradictions do plague the NREGS in its present avatar. One, between landowners and landless labourers. “This Rs. 100 a day wage is killing us,” grumble many of the bigger landowners. Actually, most workers average Rs. 80. But the bigger owners are hostile. And then there are the small and medium land holders. They employ wage labour — but also work at NREG sites themselves to make ends meet. “This wage is hurting our farming operations and driving the price rise,” goes the chorus in Palavai, Palacherla and elsewhere.

The same voices protest when asked what they would do if the NREG wage fell to Rs. 50 tomorrow. “How will we survive? We need this wage.” These are people owning between 5 and 8 acres.


The late rains stoke the farmer-labourer contradiction. The farmers want NREGS put on hold so they can attend to their fields and find labour for them. The landless cannot afford to go without work for any length of time. That’s when migrations surface again, though overall, the programme has reduced them considerably. That’s the case in K. Nagalapuram in Kurnool, where we run into many labourers leaving for Bangalore. Another universal complaint is about payment delays. “These are killing,” says Somappa as he departs for Bangalore.


There is also the odd village where the NREG has been captured by local mafias determined to keep the wages down. As In Harekal in Kurnool district where NREGS work vanished for months. (However work resumed the next day following a report in Eenadu after our visit.) Or in Pothireddypalli in Mahbubnagar, where the priority for work on Dalit lands is being subverted. Tractor owners evade land development work on Dalit farms. “Our bills will never be settled,” claims one of them. In Anantapur, the Lambada adivasis of Kareddypalli tanda are bogged down by bureaucratic quibbles and local tensions. “Our tanda is in Kadiri Mandal [rural],” points out T. Nagesh. “But our fields are just yards away in the next, Nallacheruvu mandal. The people there won’t let us work and the officials do nothing.” And so several in the tanda have migrated — to Kerala.


And there is the work itself. The broad success of NREGS in states like Andhra has seen some romanticise it. You only have to attempt the body-sapping work that a hungry malnourished people do, in sizzling temperatures, to swiftly abandon such ideas. Hearing of NREG “boycotts” in villages like Sanevaripalli in Anantapur, we went there. “What boycott?” asks Nagappa, who owns five acres here. “They give us impossible work. See this rocky land. Don’t tell us about trenching and digging, just try it yourself in this hard and dry soil. And what will it achieve? Why can’t they give us sensible work which we can do.



“These are not insurmountable problems,” says Malla Reddy. “The people of this village themselves are showing us alternatives within the NREGS.” They show us large tracts of land that can be made cultivable removing the small but heavy rocks that dot them. “Then there is the development of common lands with vegetation and fodder. Farm ponds could also prove crucial. You have to be imaginative and use diverse approaches across regions. In Anantapur for instance, we have forests without trees. The regeneration of those could be a major work. In zones like these, rain-fed horticulture development would help. And in fact, we should be creating work for landless and small farmers round the year. We need very strict enforcement of priorities that demand Dalit and Adivasi lands be the first to benefit. Finally, it means dumping the 100-day per household yearly limit on work. All this can only happen when you move from piecemeal action to integrated, long-term planning.”









* Athletes left the realm of the natural a long time ago

* The science of sport has outpaced the philosophy of sport


Sex, drugs and prosthetic legs. Who would have thought they could have so much in common? Yet all three are posing ever more challenges to sports officials, and all have at their root the same conundrum: What is sport really about?


Restrictions on testosterone, on prosthetic limbs and on men competing in women’s sports are meant to protect athletes from unfair advantages.


Some may say they protect against unnatural advantage. The idea is that, at its essence, sport is about one human competing against another to see who is naturally the strongest, the fastest, the most skilled.


But athletes left the realm of the natural a long time ago. Running barefoot may be a growing fad, but no one expects all athletes to go without high-tech footwear. No one even expects them to all use the same type. And forget about telling teams they can’t use NASA-quality machinery and dietetics during training. FINA, which oversees international swimming competitions, recently banned swimsuits that aid “speed, buoyancy or endurance.” This shows that some technologies are seen as going too far. But why ban innovative swimsuits and not innovative goggles?


Put another way, when a whole lot of “unnatural” technology is permissible, what justifies the rules that say that a baseball slugger cannot use synthetic testosterone to improve his swing? If the logic is that the technology must at least stop where it meets the athlete’s skin, why is Tiger Woods allowed to use Lasik eye surgery? What makes vitamins, vaccines and protein shakes fair game? In the case of testosterone injections, some have argued that the issue is safety. Fair enough; steroid use can be dangerous. But surely sport is not fundamentally about the safety of athletes. If it were, we’d probably have to ban professional football, right after boxing.


The safety argument against steroids may be a good one, but let’s be honest. It isn’t the one that motivates most officials and fans to frown on steroids. Steroid use does not just seem risky or unnatural, it seems to disrupt the level playing field.


So let’s consider the possibility that the level playing field is at the heart of sport. That is why some people think the South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius should not be allowed to compete on his prosthetic legs in the Olympics. They argue that the prosthetics’ springiness confers on Pistorius an unfair advantage.


Caster Semenya, the South African 800-metre world champion whose sex is in question, faces similar opposition. Perhaps her biology is just too male to entitle her to compete on the women’s playing field. Specifically, maybe she makes too many androgens, those “masculinising” hormones.


But the medical commission of the IAAF, the world governing body for track and field, knows that women naturally vary substantially in their androgen levels. In fact, IAAF policy allows a woman with adrenal tumours — who may make more androgens than the average man — to compete as a woman. When asked to explain its reasoning, the IAAF did not respond.

The IAAF even allows a woman with testicles to compete, as long as she doesn’t have too many cellular receptors for the testosterone she makes. Her androgen insensitivity means she will receive the benefits of only some of her testosterone. How many receptors are too many? Again, the IAAF won’t say.


Meanwhile, the World Anti-Doping Agency confirmed that it allowed waivers, known as therapeutic-use exemptions, for men who successfully argued that they did not make enough testosterone naturally to stay healthy. Exemptions have been granted to men born with XXY chromosomes, a disorder called Klinefelter syndrome, in which the testes make lower-than-average levels of testosterone. Any male athlete who successfully argues that he doesn’t make “enough” testosterone can take more, even though the medical benefits of raising testosterone to average levels from “low” are questionable. (Being low on testosterone does not pose anywhere near the danger of serious asthma, for which athletes can obtain waivers to take performance-boosting medicines.)


In the end, the fundamental problem isn’t with any individual policies on sex, drugs and prosthetics — although the policies do sometimes seem capricious. The fundamental problem is that the science of sport has outpaced the philosophy of sport.


Science now makes it possible to know far more about who really has what inside, and so we’re faced with ever more questions about what’s fair. The athlete with Klinefelter syndrome can now prove a chromosomal disadvantage and get his exemption for testosterone injections. The woman who feels cheated can urge officials to scrutinise her competitors’ cellular makeup for signs of maleness.


On top of that, science has made it possible for us to change our bodies in radical ways. Apollo is no longer a god, he’s every third guy at the gym. Pistorius, born without fibulas, is no longer just disabled, he’s a super runner, too. And yet our philosophy of sport has remained largely static, based on vague principles like “level playing fields” and “natural” advantages. How can such old-fashioned, romantic ideals stand up to today’s realities? Sports officials certainly need to tap expert scientists to come up with a clear rulebook for sex verification and a more rational policy on waivers for testosterone. But what we will need first is for sports leaders to come to some consensus on this question: What is sport really about?


(Alice Dreger is a professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics at Northwestern. She is writing a book on science and identity politics.)© 2009 The New York Times News Service








Russian schoolchildren may soon have to take mandatory drug tests as the authorities are struggling to fight a rapid rise in drug abuse among young people.


The number of drug addicts in Russia has shot up by nearly 60 per cent over the past 10 years, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told a Kremlin meeting of the Security Council this week. There are an estimated 2 to 2.5 million drug users in Russia, he said, and two-thirds of them are under 30. This means 6 in 100 young Russians are drug abusers.


Just as the Russian President and top government officials were pondering a new strategy to combat the drug evil a group of 10 school children were hospitalised in Samara region with poisoning after they ate hallucinogenic plant seeds during a class break in order to “get high.”


Mr. Medvedev admitted that there has been no breakthrough in controlling the spread of narcotics in Russia, which posed a threat to national security and the country’s demographic situation. He called for handing down stiffer prison sentences to people who deal drugs to minors, as well as for organised drug traffickers and drug-related corruption. He also broached the idea of putting school and university students to drug tests even though human rights groups said it would violate minors’ rights.


Coupled with the traditional Russian curse of alcohol abuse, the spreading drug addiction threatens to decimate the country’s population, which has been shrinking anyway. According to Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service, about 30,000 people die from drug abuse every year. Alcohol kills another 80,000.


Mr. Medvedev instructed the Security Council to draft a new anti-narcotics action plan that should not only introduce tougher penalties for drug-related crimes but also focus on prevention of drug abuse and rehabilitation of drug addicts.


“It is high time we shift the emphasis from punitive and prohibitive measures to treatment, rehabilitation and prophylactics,” the Russian leader said.


With 90 per cent of hard narcotics coming to Russia from Afghanistan Moscow is acutely aware that national efforts alone cannot solve the problem. Chief of the Federal Drug Control Service Viktor Ivanov told the Security Council meeting that Afghanistan “produces twice as much opium as the rest of the world produced ten years ago.” Mr. Medvedev has repeatedly called on the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan to step up the fight against opium production.


“It is time to put [Afghan] house in order,” the Russian leader warned at the Kremlin meeting.


Two days later Russia’s anti-narcotics chief criticised the coalition’s efforts as “extremely ineffective.” “International drug-producing cartels have turned Afghanistan into a drug-cultivating farm,” Mr. Ivanov stressed.



Moscow is so angry with the NATO forces failure to eradicate poppy plantations in Afghanistan that is threatening to tie the transit of U.S. arms and troops to Afghanistan via Russia to a stepped-up anti-narcotics drive in Afghanistan.


“The granting of transport corridors to NATO forces in Afghanistan should be conditioned on a commitment to destroy sown areas, laboratories, stocks and other infrastructure of the Afghan drug business,” Mr. Ivanov told Russia’s State Duma Parliament in June.








With the management of India’s largest private sector carrier Jet Airways and the company’s pilots having finally arrived at an amicable settlement, the question that is being asked is whether the five-day standoff was at all necessary, given that both parties have got what they wanted and there has been no winner or loser. The financial loss to the company and the inconvenience suffered by passengers was, on the other hand, immense. Jet is believed to have suffered a revenue loss of around $8 million, besides losing one lakh customers. The only people who appeared to have gained were some low-cost airlines who were quick to fleece stranded Jet passengers by shamelessly hiking their online fares, almost forcing the government to intervene and stop such wanton harassment of air travellers. One can only hope that those who overcharged in this manner are compelled to refund the excess amounts to their passengers.


The memorandum of agreement signed by Jet’s management and the airline’s pilots shows there was "give and take" on both sides. So why could this not have been arrived at on the second or third day, or even before the five-day strike turned air travel into a nightmare for hundreds of thousands of Jet travellers across the country last week? Jet is understandably concerned about union activity, particularly after seeing what problems multiple trade unions have caused Air India in the past few decades. As a private airline which is answerable to its shareholders and having to compete with global giants, it cannot afford the kind of unionism which has plagued the national flag-carrier, not to mention a work culture that leaves much to be desired. The state airline has suffered considerable damage to its image due to the arbitrary actions of its pilots and engineers, who are among the highest-paid in the country despite having little to show in terms of productivity. It is no surprise that Jet’s chairman wanted to keep the malaise of the government sector out of his airline, at least for the present. The National Aviation Guild, the bone of contention between the management and Jet pilots, has been overtaken for the time being by the new consultative committee, which will include representatives of the airline management and the pilots, and there will be a continuous dialogue between the two to resolve past and current issues. One factor that has not come to the limelight is the role of foreigners in Jet’s management. The pilots claimed they were driven to setting up the guild because no action had been taken on some issues they had raised which had nothing to do with money. There was a feeling that foreigners in the management did not quite understand this country’s work culture, something that Jet chairman Naresh Goyal would have no difficulty with. This issue has been mentioned specifically in the memorandum for whatever it is worth.


Both Jet’s management and its pilots are to be blamed for the impasse that crippled the airline for five days. One lacunae in the system that became evident in this crisis was the lack of a mediator. The management tried to use its political clout to get the government to intervene and the pilots retaliated by getting some Congress and Shiv Sena leaders to issue statements in their favour and pontificate on the right to form a union. All this could have been avoided if the two parties had been brought to the discussion table as the chief labour commissioner eventually did, which saw the impasse brought to a positive conclusion. It was this that finally got the two sides talking and finding common ground.











Much has been said about the "informal ministerial" meeting of key members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Delhi last week and India’s contribution towards reenergising the Doha Round. In contrast, there is little discussion about the raft of bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) which India is currently negotiating with several industrialised countries and powerful regional blocs including Japan and the European Union (EU). Beyond the charmed circle of the negotiators — the commerce and trade bureaucracies — and industry lobby groups, few know what is being negotiated, what is really at stake and what is being traded off for anticipated gains.


Transparency in the FTA process is vital because FTAs have become prominent trade policy strategies of the Government of India and bilateral agreements are being negotiated outside the parameters of international trade mechanisms endorsed by the WTO.


The point was made vigorously at the recent National Consultation on India’s FTAs in Delhi. The consultation was organised by the Forum of FTAs, a coalition of over 70 civil society groups. India has already carried out 10 rounds of negotiations with Japan, six rounds with the EU and three rounds with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which includes Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein as its members.


One of the biggest concerns is the likely impact of FTAs on access to medicines. Enthusiasts of free trade root for bilateral trade negotiations as they are usually concluded in a much shorter time frame than the WTO process.


India has fought hard to include public health safeguards in its patent law which patients groups are using to challenge patents on key medicines. However, many of these gains are now at risk. FTAs are likely to contain provisions creating greater monopolies on medicines, providing for stricter enforcement of intellectual property rights, pointed out a spokesperson of Medecin Sans Frontieres’ Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines during the discussion.


FTAs, particularly with developed countries, typically push for standards that go far beyond even those negotiated by developing countries at the WTO. In some cases, the terms are even harsher than those practised within the developed world, warn the Forum Against FTAs.


The consultation drew attention to the worrying terms of FTAs such as the extension of patents beyond 20 years; data exclusivity, which delays the entry of a generic medicine in a market by 10-15 years even after the expiry of a patent; and the patent-registration linkage, which prevents the registration of a generic manufacturer before the expiry of patent.


The impact of these FTAs on health has been seen in other developing and least developed countries that have signed FTAs in the past. One example, "Jordan was required under the terms of its WTO accession package and its FTA with the US to introduce TRIPS-plus rules. Medicine prices have increased drastically, and TRIPS-plus rules were partly responsible for this increase. Furthermore, stricter levels of intellectual property protection have conferred few benefits with respect to foreign direct investment, domestic research and development, or accelerating introduction of new, effective medicines", Oxfam pointed out in a March 2007 report.


TRIPS stands for Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. The TRIPS Agreement is part of a "package" to which those countries seeking WTO membership have to adhere. TRIPS-PLUS obligations go beyond those imposed by the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.


The issues linking free trade agreements, the right to health and access to medicines that came up during the consultation were brought up in a recent report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health. "Many countries have signed or are currently engaged in negotiations on extensive trade agreements, including bilateral investment treaties, Free Trade Agreements, economic partnership agreements etc. Such agreements have extensive implications for pharmaceutical patent protection, which can directly impact access to medicines. Some developed countries, for example, have negotiated FTAs which reflect their standard of intellectual property protection. These agreements are usually negotiated with little transparency or participation from the public and often establish TRIPS-plus provision. These provisions undermine the safeguards and flexibilities that developing countries sought to preserve under TRIPs", notes a March 2009 report by eminent Indian lawyer, Anand Grover, currently the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health. Studies indicate that TRIPS-plus standards increase medicine prices as they delay or restrict the introduction of generic competition.


"As FTAs can directly affect access to medicines. There is a need for countries to assess multilateral and bilateral trade agreements for potential health violations and that all stages of negotiations remain open and transparent", the report said.


India’s bilateral FTAs will impact this country and much of the developing world. Over 90 per cent of patients on life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs in low and middle income countries use generic drugs made in India and 57 per cent of medicine exports from India go to developing countries.


Public interest groups such as Lawyers’ Collective, Medecin Sans Frontieres and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative who participated in the Consultation want transparency and democratic process in ongoing FTA negotiations. "When the world is moving towards a rules-based trading system, what is traded off must be in the public domain. FTAs must have minimum standards of public consultations. To what extent is Parliament taken into confidence during such negotiations? Are FTAs getting on to the agenda of even the National Development Council when chief ministers of different states meet? Are the chief ministers taken into confidence when FTAs are negotiated though a lot of the resultant action will take place in the states", asks a spokesperson of the Access to Information Programme in Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.


Activists warn that in the absence of minimum standards of public consultation on critical policy matters in the FTAs, they may test the Right to Information Act which requires sharing of information on a proactive basis.


Patralekha Chatterjee writes on contemporary development issues, and can be contacted at








Is the world recession over? Are we witnessing what is often euphemistically described as the "green shoots of recovery" which are supposed to soon bloom into stalks, stems and flowers of prosperity? Is the worst really behind us and from now onwards, can the economic situation only get better? It is tempting to say "yes" to all these questions but the truth is that the near-term future is still fraught with uncertainty.


Whereas some positive signals are visible on the horizon, there are also strong reasons to believe that the upward movement in certain economic indices could be excruciatingly slow and gradual, that the recovery will not certainly be a "V" shaped one. What is reasonably certain is that creation of new employment opportunities would take place much after the financial sector has picked up and that jobs lost would not be regained over the next couple of years, perhaps longer.


It is one year since the fateful September 15, 2008, when Wall Street melted down with Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and AIG (American International Group) simultaneously collapsing, triggering a near-complete breakdown in the working of the financial systems in developed countries. Iceland went bankrupt and countries started queuing up before the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for succour. Over the last 12 months, the economic environment has not actually improved — what one is seeing are merely indications of a brighter future that is hopefully not too distant.


In the month of August, private employers in the United States cut 298,000 jobs whereas 360,000 employees were retrenched in the month of July. In the first three months of the current calendar year, American employers had cut an average of 697,000 jobs each month. The total number of jobs lost in the US since the recession began in December 2007 is estimated at over seven million. At least a similar number of Americans have lost their homes in this period. Although the number of homeless individuals remained relatively stable between 2007 and 2008, the number of homeless families rose nine per cent and in rural and suburban areas, the number jumped by 56 per cent, according to a report released in early-July by the US department of housing and urban development. The report added that homelessness is concentrated in urban areas and among adult males: one-fifth of the total number of homeless people in America live in Los Angeles, New York and Detroit and roughly 1.6 million people used an emergency shelter between October 2007 and September 2008, a third of them as families. Even if the number of job losses in the US fell to its lowest level in a year in August, the unemployment rate at 9.7 per cent was its highest level in 26 years, that is, since June 1983. A Reuters survey indicated that most big banks in America that do business with that country’s Central bank, the Federal Reserve, expected the jobless rate to peak by the first quarter of 2010 — in other words, as far as employment in the US is concerned, the worst may not be over.


The IMF has revised its forecasts for this calendar year and the next one, but only just. The IMF said the world economy would shrink by 1.3 per cent during 2009 instead of 1.4 per cent forecast in April, For 2010, the Fund has upped its growth projection from 2.5 per cent in April to 2.9 per cent in September. Should the IMF’s prognostications be taken seriously? The recent track record of this venerable body with close to a thousand economists on its payroll does not exactly inspire a great deal of confidence.


Here’s why. The following are the growth estimates made by the Fund for the US economy over the last 15 months for the current year: 0.6 per cent (April 2008), 0.1 per cent (October), (-) 0.7 per cent (November), (-) 1.6 per cent (January 2009), (-) 2.8 per cent (April) and(-) 2.6 per cent (July).

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was more pessimistic in a report released on September 7 wherein it predicted that the world economy would contract by 2.7 per cent in 2009. The report stated: "The economic winter is far from over: tumbling profits in the real economy, previous over-investment in real estate and rising unemployment will continue to constrain private consumption and investment for the foreseeable future… Even economies that will grow this year, such as those of China and India, are slowing significantly compared to previous years…"


The fact is that the financial upheaval that is yet to run its full course has left deep economic scars on most countries in the world and most knowledgeable observers are more circumspect than before. On September 5, 2009, at the meeting of finance ministers and heads of Central banks of the Group of Twenty countries — actually, 21 developed and developing countries and representatives of nine international institutions — in London, Britain’s finance minister Alistair Darling had remarked, "People are at risk of saying the job’s done, now we can throttle back… We’ve made those mistakes before — most notably in America in the late 1930s, called it wrong and got themselves back into a recession again".


The UNCTAD report added that the ongoing crisis is "unprecedented in its depth and breadth" leaving virtually no country unscathed. It pointed out that what were perceived as the "green shoots" of recovery were improvement of specific financial indicators from lows touched in the first quarter of 2009, falling interest rate spreads on emerging market debt and corporate bonds and the rebound in the prices of certain securities and commodities.


The short point is that it is early days to start partying. The worst may indeed be over but the road ahead is surely arduous. The world and the international capitalist system may never be the same again. You may tell your grandchildren that you lived through 2009 and survived — barely!

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator









The Prime Minister’s Independence Day address to the nation was particularly disappointing this year.


The Prime Minister has said, yet again, that "the country needs another Green Revolution". But what’s distressing is that his government has not even formulated a draft strategy for such a revolution in the last five years, let alone launch it. Why? Largely because the agriculture minister has not shown the slightest interest in a "Second Green Revolution" (SGR).


The Prime Minister reiterated the United Progressive Alliance’s goal of achieving four per cent annual growth in agricultural production and committed that "we will achieve this target in the next five years". But the same Prime Minister had made the same commitment in his I-Day address five years ago, and, we actually achieved four per cent only in one of those years.


There is widespread consensus in the agricultural development and policy-making community as also the agricultural research and development community that some of the key ingredients for an SGR should be:


Developing new techniques of agronomy and production through maximum use of biotechnology;


Increasing all-round priority to the so-called "coarse grains" — which Dr M.S. Swaminathan rightly calls the "new grains". These cover the many varieties of millets and pulses. They consume little water and can, therefore, grow well even in rain-fed areas which are 60 per cent of our cultivated area. Surprisingly, these grains grow better without chemical fertilisers. Whereas 4,000 litres of water is needed to grow 1 kg of rice using the First Green Revolution (FGR) technology, only 1,000 litres is needed for 1 kg of millets even if that rainfall is sporadic. The "new grains" are also adaptable to a wide range of ecological conditions and are pest-free. Furthermore, millets are storehouses of nutrition compared to wheat and rice, with double the calcium content and way ahead in protein, fibre, iron and other minerals. Yet, we have made and continue to make huge investments in highly water, power, chemical, fertiliser, pesticide and subsidy-intensive FGR technologies with an obsessive focus on wheat and rice. Consequently, over 1966-86 rice output doubled and wheat trebled. However, since then, crop yields, water fertiliser and pesticide productivity have been falling, and soil salinisation and pest susceptibility have been rising steeply, increasing unit production costs, subsidy payments and environmental degradation. Meanwhile, production of millets and pulses has actually decreased by 10 per cent, largely due to a fall in cultivated area by as much as 48 per cent. Why? Because of highly distorted government policies. This is particularly ironic because the production cost of millet is far lower than those of rice and wheat and the subsidy needed is extremely low. Therefore, if we really want to "weather proof" our food security we must reverse this situation urgently.


We must also immediately include millets and pulses in the PDS (public distribution system), ICDS (integrated child development services) and mid-day meal programmes. This will enhance in quick time our "nutritional security" which is so bad today.


As regards water, we are over-exploiting groundwater due largely to the massive water needs of the FGR technology and huge delays in surface irrigation projects. Bringing all our irrigation projects to completion quickly is crucially important and the backlog so great that the finance ministry and the Planning Commission should, as a penalty, sharply reduce the non-plan outlays of states whose irrigation projects are lagging behind.

The FGR was massively a product of modern agricultural research and development. However, once self-sufficiency in wheat and rice was achieved by around 1975, research and development outlays virtually stagnated for a whole decade. Then, from 1985 they actually started declining. So, the research and development budgets of ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) and the agricultural universities must be tripled immediately. Concurrently it is imperative to redesign the organisational and managerial practices to provide maximum operational autonomy to these institutions. Finally, the performance of the top leadership of ICAR needs a searching review and early upgradation. Otherwise, the Prime Minister’s call that "our scientists must devise new techniques to increase the productivity of small and marginal farmers" will not be operationalised.


The Prime Minister says at one point: "It is our ardent desire that not even a single citizen should ever go hungry". Yet recent six starvation deaths in Orissa, 10 in Madhya Pradesh and 15 each in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh were reported.


The Prime Minister’s "appeal" to the business community to "join the government’s efforts to ensure inclusive growth" is touching. But it is like getting the tiger to protect the deer. For this is the community which the Prime Minister himself recently accused of underpaying taxes if not paying any tax at all, and of hoarding and black marketing.


In the time of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and even to some extent Rajiv Gandhi, the August 15 address to the nation was a skilful mix of enthusing and uplifting the people and telling them what the government of the day had achieved, with a garnish of some upcoming promises. It was not just a list of promises and empty homilies. The part of the present Prime Minister’s speech debunking the contention of the Bharatiya Janata Party that taking special care of our deprived sections amounts to appeasement and that it is the government’s duty to care for them has a prime ministerial ring which makes the nation proud. Let us hope that there will be many more such statements in the Prime Minister’s August 15 address next year.


Ashok Parthasarathi is a former science adviser to the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and former secretary of various scientific departments of the Government of India











CALL it the result of the concerted campaign by The Tribune or the citizens of Chandigarh, the Centre has decided to hand over the administration of the Union Territory to a Chief Commissioner from November 16, when the tenure of the present Governor of Punjab, Gen S F Rodrigues (retd), who has been holding the additional charge as its Administrator, comes to an end. The decision is well-founded and borne out of the UT’s experience of three decades, particularly of the last few years. The Union Territory was under a Chief Commissioner till the 1980s, when terrorism raised its ugly head and the Governor of Punjab was made the Administrator to ensure better coordination between the police forces and the administrations of the state and the city. Terrorism waned but the system remained in place, causing numerous problems for the citizens of Chandigarh.


What suffered most in these years was the sacred concept of public accountability, the disappearance of which has cost the city a lot as is evident from the nature of some of the decisions taken and sought to be imposed on the people. Strangely, the constitutional protection he sought to enjoy as Governor became a shield against the scrutiny of his actions as Administrator. The second equally big problem was lack of accessibility to the Administrator of the UT, of the size of a sub-tehsil. With the Administrator ensconced in Raj Bhavan, there was none to listen to the everyday grievances of the public. That was in sharp contrast to the situation earlier when people could meet Chief Commissioners like Dr M S Randhawa and Mr V P Bagchi without even an appointment.


With a person directly in charge of the administration heading the set-up, the old style of functioning can be revived. The switchover should not be given a political colour because the Home Ministry has specifically mentioned that the latest move does not prejudice the claim of Punjab over Chandigarh as envisaged under the Reorganisation of States Act, 1966. What Chandigarh urgently requires is an effective and responsive administration. The city can set an example for the rest of the country in governance.








IT is sad the Akali Dal’s two-day “vichar baithak” in Shimla has brushed aside Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal’s fervent plea for a review of the subsidies, especially free power to farmers. As the Finance Minister, Mr Manpreet Badal is worried about the state’s deteriorating fiscal health. The annual outgo of Rs 4,600 crore on subsidies depletes the treasury, which is propped up by borrowings. The state’s debt will reach a staggering Rs 62,000 crore by the end of this fiscal, mortgaging its future. His suggestions to raise revenue like imposing a 10 per cent surcharge on the VAT, doubling the surcharge on electricity and raising the diesel price by 50 paise a litre have been opposed by his colleagues who unfortunately are unable to think beyond the next election.


The Finance Minister’s helplessness is clear: “We are not cutting expenditure. We cannot raise taxes”. The Shimla conclave has come up with the bright idea of raising a police battalion to check tax evasion. The state has no money to fill 32,000 vacancies of school teachers. Rural education is in a mess for want of resources and so are healthcare and power supply. The state is lagging on three basics for development – education, health and infrastructure. Populism under successive governments has ruined the state financially. Development is on hold in Punjab, which can be the fastest growing state in the country, but is lagging behind in essential areas.


Power reforms have been put on hold because of opposition by some employees of the electricity board. The state is forced to buy power every summer but does not set up its own power plants. Those coming up in the private sector may take years to materialise as private companies often have other priorities. Free power has become meaningless since the supply is too little and erratic. Besides, anything that comes free leads to wastage. It is not just power that is wasted in the process, but also groundwater, which has already hit dangerously low levels. Insufficient power has hurt farm and industrial growth. The introspection at Shimla should have thrown up new ideas, but apparently the thinking was limited in nature.







EIGHT years after the suicide terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York wrought havoc, killing nearly 3,000 people, the “global war on terror” that the US announced in retaliation has made the world no safer to live in. True, the Americans have succeeded in warding off terrorist attempts in their country, but while new areas of conflict have been added, US actions have incited violent anti-Americanism in many parts of the world. The conflicts that the erstwhile Bush administration initiated continue to take a heavy toll on Iraqis, Afghans and Americans alike. Massive human and financial resources have been poured into combat with global terror since 2001, but the mastermind of the WTC attacks, Osama bin Laden, remains at large, his terror outfit Al-Qaeda is still going strong and the much-dreaded Taliban desperadoes continue to have a foothold in Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan.


The US administration can draw comfort from the fact that the measures taken after 9/11 have frustrated all attempts by terrorists to devastate and kill Americans on home soil. That security has been considerably tightened and there is extensive information sharing between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies is indicative of the lessons learnt and action taken to prevent terror incidents. However, these gains on the home front have been more than offset by the blunders of Mr George Bush’s foreign policy which have fanned greater hostility for the Americans.


With the coming of President Obama, there has been a rekindling of hope that US policy would become less interventionist. However, the fight against terrorism around the world has to continue wherever it may be. There must be no let-up in vigil. Terrorism has indeed become a global threat and has to be fought by all nations together.
















THERE are two areas under the control of Pakistan where a pervasive sense of alienation, deprivation and disillusionment has infused in the people a feeling of being colonised by the state of Pakistan. The first is the province of Balochistan, in particular the Baloch-dominated areas of the province. The second is Gilgit-Baltistan, a part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir but currently under the illegal occupation of Pakistan.


The misrule and repression unleashed on the people of Balochistan by successive Pakistani governments - both military and civilian - have driven the Baloch, especially the youth, to a point where nothing short of complete independence will satisfy their aspirations. The situation in Gilgit-Baltistan, which civil rights activists often refer to as the “Last Colony” of the world, also threatened to spiral out of control unless Pakistan took some urgent political measures that would help keep a lid on the simmering discontent among the people of this region.


It is precisely to prevent Gilgit-Baltistan from becoming another Balochistan that on August 29 the Government of Pakistan announced a package of political reforms that will, for the first time since 1947, purportedly give the people of this region a modicum of political autonomy and self-rule. Until this package was announced, Gilgit-Baltistan was denied even the most basic civil, political, constitutional and legal rights on the grounds that it was not a part of Pakistan.


Of course, such legalese never prevented Pakistan either from separating this region from the rest of the occupied part of the Jammu and Kashmir state (euphemistically called Azad Jammu and Kashmir) or parcelling a part of the state - Chitral - and amalgamating it with the NWFP, or even administering Gilgit-Baltistan directly from Islamabad through non-local bureaucrats and the Pakistan Army and brutally suppressing any dissent in the area. Nor, for that matter, did it stop Pakistan from undertaking projects like the Karakorum highway or now the Bhasha dam that will benefit Pakistan more than it will benefit the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.


Even more significantly, Pakistan scrapped the state subject rules to settle Sunni Pashtuns in the area in order to dilute the majority of local Shias. Worse, state-sponsored pogroms of Shias were organised to try and keep control over the people and the territory. But instead of cowing down the locals, the repression only created a reservoir of resentment among the people which over the years has manifest itself in the form of a sort of sectarian nationalism.


The methods that the Pakistani state adopted in Gilgit-Baltistan defied all political logic. After all, the people of the region were only demanding that they be integrated into Pakistan as its fifth province and that they be given political and constitutional rights as citizens of Pakistan. According to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, even if their fate was tied to the resolution of the larger Kashmir issue, there was no reason why they should be denied those basic rights which the Pakistanis had already conceded to “Azad Kashmir”. At the same time, they opposed being linked politically and administratively to “Azad Kashmir” since this would not only rob them of their identity, but also swamp them by the numerically larger population of “Azad Kashmir”.


On the face of it, therefore, the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Ordinance-2009 is a piece of progressive legislation that has given political autonomy and self-rule to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. At least on paper, the area has got the rights and paraphernalia of a province, if not the status of one - an elected Assembly headed by a chief minister with powers to legislate on some 61 subjects and also pass the budget, a public service commission, an auditor-general and an election commissioner for the region, etc. In addition, judicial rights have also been bestowed upon the people with the formation of an appellate court. But since the devil is always in the detail, what the state of Pakistan has given from one hand, it has taken away from the other hand.


For instance, not only will there be a governor who will be sitting on the head of the elected chief minister, there will also be a non-elected Gilgit-Baltistan Council that will be headed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan and will hold a virtual veto over the functioning of the elected assembly, as it happens in the case of “Azad Kashmir”.


As far as legislation is concerned, the now defunct Northern Areas Legislative Assembly (NALA) has no history of having legislated on any issue despite being delegated powers to legislate on around 49 subjects. Being utterly powerless, the elected members of the erstwhile NALA were only glorified show-boys. Everything was controlled by the bureaucracy, which, in classic colonial style, is imposed on Gilgit-Baltistan by the colonial master — Pakistan. And there is no reason to believe that things will be any different now. After all, what are the chances that the Pakistan Army and the bureaucracy, which continue to call the shots in “democratic” Pakistan, will allow the newly empowered elected representatives of Gilgit-Baltistan to uninhibitedly exercise their powers?


Despite the grumblings and protests over their views not having been taken into consideration in preparing the political reforms package, both the pro-Pakistan politicians as well as the “nationalist” parties will try and work this new system. To an extent, the sense of expectation created by the devolution of powers will push forward the political process in this region. But a lot will depend upon the quantum of freedom and self-rule that Pakistan allows in this territory.


If the Government of Pakistan permits political expression to flower and allows the political processes to function without too much interference, this political package could go some distance in satisfying the immediate political urges of the people. However, if Pakistan violates and subverts the letter and spirit of the political reforms package, then the entire exercise of allowing self-rule in Gilgit-Baltistan could backfire badly and create even greater disillusionment, dissatisfaction and discontent than exists at present.


The success of this political stratagem will also hinge critically on how competitive politics plays itself out in the region. If the Shia-Sunni divide widens, regional and ethnic issues acquire salience, and tensions with Islamabad mount over issues like mega dams or the boundary issue, then the entire edifice could come crashing down. On the other hand, there is also a possibility that if the system works reasonably well, it could prompt demands for even greater levels of autonomy than what the Pakistanis might be willing to concede, which in turn could fuel political and social unrest in this strategically very important region.


India, which has protested after nearly two weeks against the Pakistani move in Gilgit-Baltistan, had been caught in a Catch-22 situation. By raising its voice India could draw unnecessary and unwanted international attention on Jammu and Kashmir. India also did not want to appear as though it wanted to deprive the people of this area their basic civil and political rights. Despite all this, India could not keep quiet, as that would virtually amount to a tacit acquiescence to Pakistan’s back-door annexation of Gilgit-Baltistan.








ON the first day of the Shradh, I awakened at dawn to find a bewitching moon shining in the stillness of the sky. The mountains, trees, the grasses by the river side, and the magical snake flower (sarpgandha) were finely silhouetted in silvered hues.


The torrential rains having cleared the air, a hushed silence seemed to have descended awaiting our ancestors on their yearly sojourn. We have grieved for them with the intensity of ceaseless tears for they gave us life, sheltering warmth and direction. For years we were privy to their thoughts, hopes, and their lingering sorrows till we witnessed their pulsating form crumple into a visage of flames and ashes amidst the rhythmic chanting of an unknown metaphor.


The incense, the camphor and the mesmeric prayer meant to dull the stinging arrowheads of remembrance, in fact served as a reminder of life’s terminality and that constant change is the principle of the universe.


During these days, more than on others, I found my sub-conscious mind taking charge of my actions which apparently seemed unrelated and disparate but are in fact part of a grand design, an unfolding of the inner mind. And on the eve of the Shradh Poornima, my head heavy with drink, I retired early for a restful night. This was not to be for I remained in conversation with my father who died 37 years ago.


Throughout the night, until the starlit skies held the liberating sun at bay, I found him trying to calm the wild pandemonium of my thoughts suggesting another path, other exits and entrances. Recalling that “Ashwin” is upon us and that already I have reached the 61st milestone and that I am single, I placed a fragrant bloom in my mother’s room and putting pen to paper designed a cenotaph to perpetuate her memory.


I then visited Zirakpur, a small moffussil town, to inspect slabs of stone, and then travelled on to Ambala to accurately etch her profile on a plate of brass. A red sandstone wall will stand squarely between intricate pillars; it will have niches and naves for lighting lamps and a shelf for offering incense and flowers.


Through the weary latticework of memory, I glanced at a wedding portrait of my parents and paused to consider that it was their 71st anniversary. Time, distance, space and measurement, chants the Rig Veda are merely a trick of the mind. Coming to terms with these divergent postulates, I drew strength from a neighbouring village where I found a farmer standing by his charpoy, his aged parents resting their palms on their children in a blessing.


Thus flows the eternal Ganges I thought, unending from shore, to shore from one generation to the next, for in Indian thought life is a continuum, effortlessly flowing from the snow-capped Himalayas to the limitlessness of the ocean.








YET another death of an air-borne VIP adds to the long list of such cases in India ever since the high-profile demise of six senior defence officers in a helicopter crash in November, 1963, near Jammu. Although there was no casualty of any civilian VIP in 1963, the armed forces of India thereafter did reasonably well to put in place a detailed flight operations manual, stipulating the dos and donts for VIP flight safety.


The armed forces have come a long way since then, rare fatal accidents of Lieutenant General rank officer notwithstanding. However, the most serious blot stuck on the armed forces when the Minister of State for Defence died in a helicopter crash in Northeast India on November 14, 1997.


The Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy also have been losing their frontline flying machines at regular intervals, thereby creating scope to improve their flight safety standard and enhancing the morale of the men behind the machines.


With an unprecedented change in civil aviation since 1991, India's air travellers have grown spectacularly, especially in "VIP flights". The question now is; who is a "VIP"? And what is a "VIP flight"? So far as this author's knowledge goes, there still does not exist any manual for the "VIP flights".


Consequently, the term VIP remains somewhat grey and undefined, hence unattended to, by the guardians of the Indian civil aviation, the existence of an office of the Director General of Civil Aviation notwithstanding.


"VIP" has an exclusive and strong political overtones. It implies political characters — from Governor to Chief Minister to an ex-Prime Minister and includes prominent, high-profile MPs and in some cases industrialist MPs too.


Regretfully, this class of "VIP" does not yet figure in the operations manual/blue book of emergency situations, thereby creating a void in the rules and regulations in the flight safety radar, which happens to be the primary job of the regulatory body of civil aviation in India.


And this class of VIPs in India is highly mobile, thanks to availability, affordability and accessibility to possess and operate aircraft, the import of which in recent years has boomed. Thus, virtually every state government has its own aircraft and rotorcraft.


Several large, and not so large, industrial houses have their own fleet of flying machines. Luxury hotels also transport their high-end clients by aerial route. A mushroom growth of charter/lease operators ensured "timely" criss-cross movement of VIPs before and during general election of India in April-May 2009.


In the guise of passenger operators, there now exists in India a plethora of aircraft owners/companies some of whom clandestinely take VIPs and potential VIPs on board to get favour in future.


Nevertheless, do these operators take care of flight safety, aircraft maintenance, logistics, crew comfort and proper compliance of the law of the land? If indeed they do, then why so many air accidents in the Indian sky? Should not the Ministry of Civil Aviation/DGCA come hard on each and every aspect of aviation operations?


It should start with the import of aircraft itself. When aircraft are imported strictly for commercial passenger services, should one be used for non-commercial purposes, personal use and the cultivation of the VIPS on board?


It is understood that some of these operators cut corners to make cash and the DGCA has neither adequate number of qualified professionals nor the ability to make the operators fall in line with the law of the land.


To make matters worse, some of the aircraft pilots and cabin crew either get overawed by the "VIP on board" or are too submissive to assert themselves to ensure flight safety in the midst of inclement weather.


The obliging pilots also seem to forget their role and responsibility during a flight. According to Aircraft Act 1934 and Aircraft Rules 1937, the pilot-in-command of an aircraft in a given situation is "the boss" and his decision is "final" and binding on all passengers, VIP or no VIP.


If the met department informs him of an impending storm, he can abort the flight or delay it. If the aircraft is found not to be in tune with the stipulated "weight and balance" or "overloaded", the pilot can straightaway refuse to operate till the situation normalises.


In short, the judgement or decision of the pilot/captain of the plane cannot be challenged. Yet this band of miniscule professionals appears to be repeatedly failing to do its assigned job. And that calls for strong action and intervention, if need be, by the state regulatory authority, DGCA.


Who is going to police the police? For far too long the organisation has been beset with avoidable embarrassment as the "civil aviation police officers" also get overawed by the "elite civil aviation operators" of the country's non-scheduled operators and "private" air craftwallas thereby giving rise to a scenario like that of pilots facing the "VIP on board".


The Indian civil aviation indeed seems to be facing a crisis for which one has to look inward. Who takes note of the entry and exit of the aircraft in/out of India? Who looks after the safety, security and operations thereof? Who enforces the law of the land? The answer is all too known and yet!


Today, however, one is constrained to recall a small but significant real life story of glory of the 1950s in which were involved a top VVIP and a "rule-bound", obstinate ("kharoos" in colloquial term) but ace pilot.


Defence Minister Krishna Menon was on board an Indian Air Force Sikorsky-55 helicopter with Flight Lieutenant S.K.Majumdar in command. Majumdar found the take-off weight to be above the prescribed "weight and balance" owing to "extras" accompanying the "VVIP on board", hence he politely yet firmly gave two options to the passengers. Either reduce the weight and fly or stay put inside, with the captain saying goodbye.


VVIP Menon fretted, fumed and vowed to "fire" the pilot for "defiance, disobedience and insubordination,". VVIP Menon, however, soon had to discard the "extras" accompanying him. Majumdar made his point clear: "I cannot put the life of my minister in peril. Carrying out the minister's order would have meant not carrying out the my line officer's order which stipulated that flight safety is supreme".


Majumdar (then in the early 30s) was the first helicopter pilot of India who retired with a zero accident record to his credit, "defiance, disobedience and insubordination" notwithstanding.








Something different is happening among the Palestinians. Their political leaders and civil servants are spending more time planning for a Palestinian state than criticizing the Israelis for their intransigence.


During the first congress of the leading Palestinian movement, Fatah, in 20 years, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to be dragged into belligerent rhetoric. He insisted that although Palestinians have the right to use all forms of resistance, he chooses diplomacy. The 2,000-strong congress of Fatah activists from around the world agreed last month to a platform that does not refer to armed resistance. Nonviolent direct action, however, is a different matter.


No one understood Abbas' call to look forward more than Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. After the congress, he huddled with his key staff and Cabinet ministers to create a plan that aims for a Palestinian state in two years. Fayyad unveiled this blueprint in late August, outlining a practical approach to terminate the Palestinian economy's dependence on Israel, unify the legal system and downsize the government.


The plan also involves building infrastructure, offering tax incentives to garner foreign investment, harnessing natural energy sources and water, as well as improving housing, education and agriculture. Among the other strategic ideas in Fayyad's plan are an oil refinery, a new international airport in the Jordan Valley and the reclaiming of the existing Qalandia airport north of Jerusalem. The prime minister has told U.S. officials that "we want to receive (President Barack Obama) landing in his Air Force One, not the Marine helicopter" from Israel.


Fayyad told The Times of London that he made the plan public in order to "end the occupation, despite the occupation." He went on to say: "We have decided to be proactive, to expedite the end of the occupation by working very hard to build positive facts on the ground, consistent with having our state emerge as a fact that cannot be ignored. This is our agenda, and we want to pursue it doggedly."


Previous Palestinian initiatives contained a requirement that Israel quit the occupied territories as a prerequisite for peace. That put the Palestinians in a no-win situation. The attempt during the 2000 Camp David summit with President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO leader Yasser Arafat stands as the most prominent example of Palestinians being faced with an unfair offer but getting the blame for the negotiations' failure because of their insistence on a total end to the Israeli occupation.


By taking the initiative this time and moving dramatically toward building a framework for a Palestinian state – rather than accepting defeat and Israeli occupation in perpetuity – Fayyad has been able to keep alive the widely accepted call for return to pre-June 1967 borders while keeping intact both his moderate political positions and his intense commitment to Palestinian liberty and a Palestinian state. If the Israelis want compromise, they must show a serious intention for peace in the negotiating room and not just in public declarations.


The Palestinian premier was careful to stress the idea of a de facto state rather than a unilateral declaration of statehood because of a 2002 U.S. congressional resolution "expressing congressional opposition to the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state and urging the president to assert clearly United States opposition to such a unilateral declaration of statehood."


Politically, it will be difficult for Hamas, Fatah's militant rival, to reject this plan. Fayyad's approach does not compromise on Jerusalem or the right of return and is in line with the consensus issues agreed on by Palestinians.


Thoughtful mainstream Israelis will have a hard time publicly opposing this plan, though hard-line Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu party leaders have unsurprisingly disparaged it.


The strategically savvy plan meets rather than contradicts Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's calls for an economic peace; at the same time, it exposes the futility of continuing settlement activities in areas that will make up the Palestinian state.


Although Fayyad's ideas do not make any political demands on Israel or the international community, it is essential that the U.S. and the other so-called quartet members – Russia, the European Union and the United Nations – protect this plan. No Israeli settler, civil servant, soldier or political leader should be allowed to jeopardize it.


By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post








THE Finance Minister recently ordered the two external affairs ministers to shift out of their five-star accommodation and go to their respective state bhawans. Both of them have shifted to the guest houses of the forces but not to their state bhawans.


S.M. Krishna's problem is that he is very superstitious and is having renovations in his government house according to full vastu measures. And may be the changes are on his own billing. He is a rich man. His son-in-law is a rich businessman, who owns Café Coffee Day all over the country.


The junior minister, Shashi Tharoor, is a high flier who is not used to Indian culture yet. He needs a plush five-star gym and services that simple bhawans cannot provide. Being a first-time MP he will hopefully get used to the Congress Gandhian culture of simple living and high thinking.


There are a lot of senior Congress ministers living in much smaller houses than what can be allocated to them keeping in mind their positions. Can you imagine a Pranab or Chidambaram staying at a five-star? No way! They are very comfortable in their bhawans. Their houses are also so basic.


On the other hand, we have many senior politicians like Suresh Kalmadi, Amar Singh and Mayawati who have made their government houses into palatial bungalows. The Congress is trying to save money on travels of VIPs and not hosting Iftaar due to the drought. Shashi Tharoor's Iftaar was hosted at the five-star Taj Mansingh.


Wonder, what Mrs Gandhi will say to this now, keeping in mind how simple her own family is! The Prime Minister and Mrs Gandhi's Iftaars' have always been hosted in their lawns.


Bihar politicians Nitish, Lalu and Paswan, always hosted elaborate Iftaar parties, where they hugged, smiled and joked together. In the last two years they have not hosted Iftaars — last year because of the Kosi floods and this year because of drought.


Several MPs, when not allocated houses of their liking, stay at Samrat Hotel. Ex-MPs Govinda and Dharmendra had an outstanding bill of Rs 1.3crore. Seventy-four MPs, from May to July, owed Rs 3.71 crore as the room rent, that too at the discounted rate.


At Hotel Ashok the pending bill of MPs is Rs 93.9 lakh and at Hotel Janpath it is Rs 40.5 lakh. This amount that the government spends on the MPs could have done wonders in the renovation of their respective state guest houses and would have provided great accommodation for MPs and ministers.



It was unexpected, yet refreshing and amusing that one saw JKLF leader Yasin Malik with his Pakistani wife dining at a posh five-star Chinese restaurant. A very pretty and confident girl dressed in jeans and a trendy top.


More surprising was that they were in the company of Iqbal Dyethin of the PDP party in Kashmir. Dinner diplomacy or some negotiations out of Kashmir or could be just good relations keeping their political agenda out of their dinner dates.


Yasin is in his mid-forties whereas his wife Mushaal Mullick is 23 years old. She belongs to the elite society of Pakistan. Her late father was a renowned Pakistani economist, Professor M.A.Hussein Mullick, who was one of Nawaz Sharif's advisers too.


Yasin has been arrested over 200 times, spent four years in solitary confinement, including a year with mentally challenged prisoners in Agra. But he has given up violence now and has turned the JKLF into a political party.


Mushaal has a visa only for three months and then she will be off to the LSE's Islamabad campus. After that she wants to go off to the London LSE campus which was her father's dream for her. Different backgrounds, different goals, but obviously two hearts found love across the border.








On its West, North and North-East border India is confronted with two traditionally problematic neighbours, China and Pakistan. In the perception of India’s public Pakistan might loom as the greater menace, but ground realities entail that China poses a bigger threat to the nation’s well being. The expansionist history of the current Chinese regime leaves little room for comfort or complacency, the facility with which it annexed Tibet and clung on to it despite international condemnation bearing testimony to the fact. Of added concern is that China does not recognise either the assumed Line of Actual Control (LAC) or the Macmahon Line of 1914. It has made no secret that it considers Arunachal Pradesh to be a part of its territory, while another potential area of territorial dispute is Ladakh. Moreover China has greater armed strength, both in terms of manpower and weaponry, as recently acknowledged by a senior Defence functionary. But what makes China the bigger threat is the complete unpredictability with which its regime undertakes specific moves, thereby keeping the international community perpetually on tenterhooks. For an example of this we need look no further than the 1962 India-China conflict which caught our political leaders as well as army Generals completely by surprise. Had it not been for the equally unpredictable Chinese decision to withdraw despite having routed the Indian forces, the North-East may have faced a fate much like that of Tibet.

All these factors make recent Chinese activities on the border with India ominous. Our nation’s media has been abuzz with reports of Chinese ‘intrusions’ into Indian territory as also related activities such as building of border roads. One report has stated that not only has China constructed roads running parallel to the LAC, but also approach roads into Arunachal Pradesh. If true, this signifies a change of Chinese strategy from off and on incursions to building a durable infrastructure in Indian territory, thereby permanently altering the character of the LAC. India is lagging far behind in road construction, our troops still having to trek long distances on foot to reach the LAC. In other words, India is far less prepared for any eventuality, a state of affairs fraught with dire potentialities. Given China’s unpredictability, any move on India’s part seen as ‘hostile’ by the former might light the fuse to wider conflict. For instance, Dalai Lama’s scheduled visit to Arunachal Pradesh in the second week of November, has brought forth strong objections from China, with the latter voicing its opposition to “Dalai visiting the so called `Arunachal Pradesh’.” Given such a scenario, it is imperative that our mandarins in Delhi speed up the infrastructure building process on the India-China border. No doubt eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, but mere vigilance without infrastructural support would be of little use in the event of conflict.







Assam is indeed fortunate to have a son-in-law in Mike Fincke, the NASA astronaut. In about a week’s hectic tour to the State, he has been able to generate a perceptible interest among the students in space science. During his stay in the State, he has taken pains to interact with as many students as possible, and the response from the student community has been overwhelming. Students were naturally excited at the prospect of interacting with a person who has spent about a year’s time in space, and who was more than willing to share his experiences and satisfy their queries. In a way, he has achieved which would not have been possible through a series of monotonous seminars or lectures on the subject. Our students are not lacking in talent but the dearth of exposure is obvious. As Mike said, even the seemingly impossible feats begin with a dream, and he has certainly sowed the seeds of big dreams in the minds of our young students. Even though many of us would be unaware, space science is making tremendous strides and colonising the universe is now a distinct possibility. With research on space making more and more breakthroughs, it could open up new vistas for mankind and even change forever the way we live.

The role of science and technology in a developing country like India hardly needs any reiteration. There exists an undeniable link between a progressive, equitable economy and proper application of science and technology. Economic progress and technological advancements go hand in hand, which implies an imperative need for integration of technology and economy. The paradox in India has been that despite the remarkable growth of science and technology, a vast majority continues to remain deprived of the fruits of development. This is evident from the appalling living conditions of a sizeable section of the populace. Scientific and technological advancements and the growth of the economy in the past one-and a half decade have failed to make any meaningful impact on this deprived populace. There is, therefore, an urgent need to address the all-important issue of how to apply science and technology for the greatest good of the greatest number. The key to achieve the status of a developed nation by 2020 lies in scientific progress, and more importantly, harnessing technological advancements to bring about a radical transformation in our ground realities characterised by poverty and squalor.








The concepts, which should have been integrally connected, are discrete today. Governments are elected not on policy and performance. Winning election is not enough to form a government and governments are not people’s institutions but an industry for some selected group of people. Party loyalty is enough to provide ministerial berths. At the top of it majority is not the sole criterion for a government to survive and there is constitutional crisis every now and then.

We have so many discrete facts to count today. The global economy is in recession and its aftermath has affected the Indians as well in addition to the citizens of other countries of the world. Chandrayaan-I got de-linked with the earth station and the project has been declared abandoned. ISRO has claimed it a success. Now the efforts are on vigorously for the Chandrayaan -II, of course in collaboration, to be launched shortly. The monsoon has been untimely and insufficient in India where the lion’s share of economy is dependent on agriculture and agriculture is monsoon dependent. The Prime Minister has assured the country about sufficient buffer stock. Suicide of farmers is still on in Maharashtra even after the Centre has declared lucrative package for the affected farmers and claimed it to be an emphatic step. Out of the total of about 620 districts in the country, more than 245 districts have been affected by drought like situation but the respective State Governments do not have any idea to face the situation and there is no pragmatic plan except in Punjab and Bihar. The Central government is also unaware of actual loss to be incurred and yet to ascertain it. The Agriculture Minister is a seasoned politician still the suicide spree is on in Maharashtra. That does not give a very good signal to the people from other parts of the country. As far as the corn production in the country is concerned, only twenty per cent of the total districts in India produce about eighty per cent of the marketed corns and the rests account for other twenty per cent. These twenty per cent of the districts in the country are so heavily input oriented that agriculture is an industry there and ideally, any situation should have been under control and production and productivity should not have been affected.

Enough buffer stock does not necessarily ensure food for all. Because, in India, people die of hunger not due to the unavailability of food but because of the inability to purchase them. They are so near but so far. Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Late Rajasekhar Reddy was successful in curbing the Naxalites in the State, but the danger is that Naxalites from Andhra have migrated to Jharkhand and Orissa. It is a big threat to the life and property of the citizens of all the States in the country, as people have to move from one State to another for more than dozen reasons. If the Centre says it is a State problem, then why do we need a Home Ministry at the Centre? We have a powerful Defence Ministry and the forces are time and again used for ensuring internal security.” After 26/11 Mumbai attack Home Ministry has been busy sending dossier after dossier to Pakistan, which the neighbouring country is rejecting willfully and purposefully in more than one way, including not accepting the fact that actions to be taken against Hafeez Sayeed.

No one has asked the Prime Minister to come out with hundred days plans for all ministries of UPA. Of his own he declared and tried to remain committed to it. But many of the ministries at the Centre are simply silent and non-starters. Drought, swine flu, insurgency, terrorism, vandalism and unrest, re-looking at the WTO meet, international relations, accidents and unforeseen events and happenings, are getting priority. As such long term planning in almost all ministries is lacking.

The Ministries, which have been working and coming out with clear strategy concerning the general people, are the Human Resource Development Ministry, Forest and Environment Ministry, Telecommunication Ministry, Health and Family Welfare Ministry and Railway Ministry. Among them the Railway Ministry must be congratulated for doing excellent job, although Assam and North East are once again neglected during the tenure of the present Railway Minister as well. Kapil Sibal’s dream will face lots of criticism in the days to come because of avoiding examinations. His strategy should have rather encompassed higher education linked to employment on one hand and pedagogical reforms on the other. Anyway, GDP growth is projected to be around seven per cent and it is claimed that the inflation is under control although prices have gone up.

Under such a situation, hundred days of UPA is rather a difficult question for the general people as to why almost every government celebrates the successful hundred days of their tenure. No Government admits failure. People have voted them to power for long five years. Question of success or failure should only come at the end of the tenure. Still it is asked how much a government scores out of hundred during the first hundred days. To my mind it is hundred upon hundred that the present UPA government scores. Because, our Prime Minister is a great visionary and he has been on right track as a leader to keep the nation’s hope alive. As a team leader he has again been successful in creating an image of tranquility and transparency in different ministries in spite the fact that corruptions are rampant. He has again been successful in diplomacy with the international community including USA and EU. Given a chance, the score could have been even more.

When the UPA government came to power it never promised anything to the nation. All parties simply indulged in blame game during elections. People heard some very derogatory languages during the election campaigns. It was never a performance-based electioneering. Then why should one expect something extraordinary in hundred days? The opposition is in shambles. And above all the Finance Minister and the Commerce Minister could keep the traders and industrialists pleased by their acts if not by Budget and policies. So what if the prices of all essential commodities have gone exceedingly high - beyond people’s reach? So what if employment opportunities have not only stopped but also shrunk for the youths? So what if the safety and security of the common man is at stake? So what if nepotism has become an order of the day? So what if the culture of credibility has totally vanished from the public life?

It is time that the common men feel about the events and happenings all around. Governments will come and go, but we are the stakeholders of the nation. We really want to live in a country founded on the values of progress, prosperity, pragmatism and polity.


(The writer is Head of Extension Education, College of Veterinary Science, AAU)








Triad is a concept of balance. But the triadic universe of Vaishnavism is in a state of imbalance, which is looking for the balance. This is a natural consequence when the universal change as demanded mismatches the creativity in the downward side causing the internal disharmony. We find that every action has its equal and opposite reaction. So the investigation of science starts with middle excluded triads to learn the operation of the laws of God.

Matter, life and laws comprise the structure of the universe. Life appeared later in it. But matter and life are concomitant variable. Therefore scientific investigations, which go without the laws of life are not complete in themselves though the investigative process of the middle excluded triad is not incorrect. These laws cover merely the material aspect of the universe, where man at best is the observer. But all forms of life or the potential lives, have their self-acting capabilities and their mind sets. Mankind has its progenies as well, with both their body and mind. Over and above, there cannot be different kinds of laws for the same universe, one for matter and another for life. Science is not merely lame without philosophy, it also is ignorant about the moral justice of the universe.

This serious lapse of science is about the understanding of the universal principle of non-wastage or Brahmaachaar. The universe is one full in itself. For all works, be it for lack of working expertise, for lack of delayed understanding the laws of work, or for the lack of appropriate understanding the future the human beings commit wastage. The universe is one by itself, and all the wastes are ploughed back in it. This is an analog approach which is that of life, since life may grow again out of the waste. We may use approach for a purpose, but cannot supersede the analog approach which is a universal principle.

Since we cannot predict the future, we have to take recourse to the event study of the universe. Work is the activity of the ego. Hence in the universe of the law-maker God, we can only say that things happen, while the acceptable laws of the universe sustain, and where the sages are the essential contact-makers. This also leaves righteousness for the own judgement of man who are to qualify for the boons or to face the banes. But the sages too make the mistakes because God alone is the ego-less personality and the sages are the experienced learners. The sages merely are amenable to the self correction subsequently. They work as the medium in the middle excluded triad. But things once done, will have their consequences as per the laws of the universe. So the burden of backlog remains to be corrected subsequently.

The universe is composed of particulate existences of the minutest form, where these are involved in the processes of triple triadic transformations covering the three worlds, totalling nine operations. We may note that the material particles are churned in these processes in quantity, quality and continuity.

Bound by the moral of non-wastage, the sages have to perform their assigned duties with malice to none and retire. But the backlog goes to the sink of the particulate existences for reprocessing. Their qualitative characters are the triad of tama, raja and satwa which stand for matter, motion and life. These particulate existences of the universe with their permutations and combinations finally appear in their visible forms. The Kshatriyas are an occupational class out of four in the society. They are the kings who rule.

Rama too belonged to the Kshatriya class by occupation, but he was, above all, a human being first, unlike the kings in general. He was the eighth incarnation of Vishnu and the model of a perfect man, as per the vision of the Tamil version of the Kamban Ramayan, authored by RK Narayan. He referred to the saga of sage Narada visiting the Aasram of Valmiki in search for an ideal man as follows: One day sage Narada visited Valmiki the poet, who asked him who was a perfect man, possessing strength, aware of obligations, truthful on an absolute way, firm in the execution of laws, compassionate, learned, attractive, self-possessed, powerful, free from anger and envy but terror-striking when roused? Narada answered, ‘Such a combination of qualities in a single person is generally rare, but one such is the very person whose name you have mastered, that is, Rama.’

The humanist vision is essential in poetics. The reaction of Valmiki in killing the Krouncha by the hunter had resulted in the sorrow converted to poetics. There is a popular saying that anger makes verse. It also was the wrath of the killer, which is a Kshatriya activity, that aroused the passon of Valmiki! So the Kshatriya hatred of the sage Jaamadagni and his son Parasuraam, the fifth incarnation of Vishnu, has significance. We will enquire what were the structural truth that lay behind it separately. But our immediate need is the eco-system without which Rama cannot function.

In the invocation of the Mahabharata from Rigveda it is stated: Let noble thoughts come to us from every side. Ritu and Rita are a pair of weather activity. While Ritu means the changes of the weathers, Rita means the universal laws that cause the changes of the weathers. This is indeed the poetic issue.

But poetry does not exist without the heart. So man needs the mind training for the heart, so that the trained mind can lead to the detached state of ego-lessness of God. But this is the path of the ascetics which leads to Sanyaas. Since mankind has the progeny through whom they fulfil themselves, the path is detachment in the reality of attachment. This tells us why we need the intermediary of the sages who make mistake inspite of their knowledge with the obligation of self-correction before retirement.

The poetics must have the blessings of the prosaics where figures King Indra who rules the entire mechanisms of feeling, thinking, and doing. His operating instruments are the human organs called the Indriyas. But the holistic behaviour of these organs are time and space specific. These depend on the need of environment. So Indra becomes debatable at times.

Trisanku, a famous king of the solar dynasty, wanted to reach the heavens with his body. But he did not deviate from his Raj-dharma of a Kshatriya. He burnt his face for being a scape goat in the ego-clash of Viswaamitra and Durvaasaa. But Indra refused him remedy. So Viswaamitra, like a second Brahma, proceeded to create a new starry horizon of the south as well as a new Indra and new Devas. We find its significance in the eco-system of the universe.

The clouds control the weather. But the flow paths were two, interlinking the sea and the Himalayas. This was the subject matter of the Meghdoota Kavya. The north clouds flow towards the Vindhya mountains, while the other in the east towards the Himalayas, where water is stored in the form of ice and thereafter the water flows down by surface to the seas in the form of rivers. This is the creative eco-cycle in full. The creator of this cycle was the Fire God Siva.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




With the management of India’s largest private sector carrier Jet Airways and the company’s pilots having finally arrived at an amicable settlement, the question that is being asked is whether the five-day standoff was at all necessary, given that both parties have got what they wanted and there has been no winner or loser. The financial loss to the company and the inconvenience suffered by passengers was, on the other hand, immense. Jet is believed to have suffered a revenue loss of around $8 million, besides losing one lakh customers. The only people who appeared to have gained were some low-cost airlines who were quick to fleece stranded Jet passengers by shamelessly hiking their online fares, almost forcing the government to intervene and stop such wanton harassment of air travellers. One can only hope that those who overcharged in this manner are compelled to refund the excess amounts to their passengers. The memorandum of agreement signed by Jet’s management and the airline’s pilots shows there was “give and take” on both sides. So why could this not have been arrived at on the second or third day, or even before the five-day strike turned air travel into a nightmare for hundreds of thousands of Jet travellers across the country last week? Jet is understandably concerned about union activity, particularly after seeing what problems multiple trade unions have caused Air India in the past few decades. As a private airline which is answerable to its shareholders and having to compete with global giants, it cannot afford the kind of unionism which has plagued the national flag-carrier, not to mention a work culture that leaves much to be desired. The state airline has suffered considerable damage to its image due to the arbitrary actions of its pilots and engineers, who are among the highest-paid in the country despite having little to show in terms of productivity. It is no surprise that Jet’s chairman wanted to keep the malaise of the government sector out of his airline, at least for the present. The National Aviation Guild, the bone of contention between the management and Jet pilots, has been overtaken for the time being by the new consultative committee, which will include representatives of the airline management and the pilots, and there will be a continuous dialogue between the two to resolve past and current issues. One factor that has not come to the limelight is the role of foreigners in Jet’s management. The pilots claimed they were driven to setting up the guild because no action had been taken on some issues they had raised which had nothing to do with money. There was a feeling that foreigners in the management did not quite understand this country’s work culture, something that the Jet chairman, Mr Naresh Goyal, would have no difficulty with. This issue has been mentioned specifically in the memorandum for whatever it is worth. Both Jet’s management and its pilots are to be blamed for the impasse that crippled the airline for five days. One lacunae in the system that became evident in this crisis was the lack of a mediator. The management tried to use its political clout to get the government to intervene and the pilots retaliated by getting some Congress and Shiv Sena leaders to issue statements in their favour and pontificate on the right to form a union. All this could have been avoided if the two parties had been brought to the discussion table as the chief labour commissioner eventually did, which saw the impasse brought to a positive conclusion. It was this that finally got the two sides talking and finding common ground.








The Prime Minister’s Independence Day address to the nation was particularly disappointing this year.
The Prime Minister has said, yet again, that “the country needs another Green Revolution”. But what’s distressing is that his government has not even formulated a draft strategy for such a revolution in the last five years, let alone launch it. Why? Largely because the agriculture minister has not shown the slightest interest in a “Second Green Revolution” (SGR).

The Prime Minister reiterated the United Progressive Alliance’s goal of achieving four per cent annual growth in agricultural production and committed that “we will achieve this target in the next five years”. But the same Prime Minister had made the same commitment in his I-Day address five years ago, and, we actually achieved four per cent only in one of those years.

There is widespread consensus in the agricultural development and policy-making community as also the agricultural research and development community that some of the key ingredients for an SGR should be:
Developing new techniques of agronomy and production through maximum use of biotechnology;
Increasing all-round priority to the so-called “coarse grains” — which Dr M.S. Swaminathan rightly calls the “new grains”. These cover the many varieties of millets and pulses. They consume little water and can, therefore, grow well even in rain-fed areas which are 60 per cent of our cultivated area. Surprisingly, these grains grow better without chemical fertilisers. Whereas 4,000 litres of water is needed to grow 1 kg of rice using the First Green Revolution (FGR) technology, only 1,000 litres is needed for 1 kg of millets even if that rainfall is sporadic. The “new grains” are also adaptable to a wide range of ecological conditions and are pest-free. Furthermore, millets are storehouses of nutrition compared to wheat and rice, with double the calcium content and way ahead in protein, fibre, iron and other minerals. Yet, we have made and continue to make huge investments in highly water, power, chemical, fertiliser, pesticide and subsidy-intensive FGR technologies with an obsessive focus on wheat and rice. Consequently, over 1966-86 rice output doubled and wheat trebled.


However, since then, crop yields, water fertiliser and pesticide productivity have been falling, and soil salinisation and pest susceptibility have been rising steeply, increasing unit production costs, subsidy payments and environmental degradation. Meanwhile, production of millets and pulses has actually decreased by 10 per cent, largely due to a fall in cultivated area by as much as 48 per cent. Why? Because of highly distorted government policies. This is particularly ironic because the production cost of millet is far lower than those of rice and wheat and the subsidy needed is extremely low. Therefore, if we really want to “weather proof” our food security we must reverse this situation urgently.

We must also immediately include millets and pulses in the PDS (public distribution system), ICDS (integrated child development services) and mid-day meal programmes. This will enhance in quick time our “nutritional security” which is so bad today.

As regards water, we are over-exploiting groundwater due largely to the massive water needs of the FGR technology and huge delays in surface irrigation projects. Bringing all our irrigation projects to completion quickly is crucially important and the backlog so great that the finance ministry and the Planning Commission should, as a penalty, sharply reduce the non-plan outlays of states whose irrigation projects are lagging behind.
The FGR was massively a product of modern agricultural research and development. However, once self-sufficiency in wheat and rice was achieved by around 1975, research and development outlays virtually stagnated for a whole decade. Then, from 1985 they actually started declining. So, the research and development budgets of ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) and the agricultural universities must be tripled immediately. Concurrently it is imperative to redesign the organisational and managerial practices to provide maximum operational autonomy to these institutions. Finally, the performance of the top leadership of ICAR needs a searching review and early upgradation. Otherwise, the Prime Minister’s call that “our scientists must devise new techniques to increase the productivity of small and marginal farmers” will not be operationalised.

The Prime Minister says at one point: “It is our ardent desire that not even a single citizen should ever go hungry”. Yet recent six starvation deaths in Orissa, 10 in Madhya Pradesh and 15 each in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh were reported.

The Prime Minister’s “appeal” to the business community to “join the government’s efforts to ensure inclusive growth” is touching. But it is like getting the tiger to protect the deer. For this is the community which the Prime Minister himself recently accused of underpaying taxes if not paying any tax at all, and of hoarding and black marketing.

In the time of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and even to some extent Rajiv Gandhi, the August 15 address to the nation was a skilful mix of enthusing and uplifting the people and telling them what the government of the day had achieved, with a garnish of some upcoming promises. It was not just a list of promises and empty homilies. The part of the present Prime Minister’s speech debunking the contention of the Bharatiya Janata Party that taking special care of our deprived sections amounts to appeasement and that it is the government’s duty to care for them has a prime ministerial ring which makes the nation proud. Let us hope that there will be many more such statements in the Prime Minister’s August 15 address next year.


Ashok Parthasarathi is a former science adviser to the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and former secretary of various scientific departments of the Government of India








On September 3, the New York Times published a very revealing front-page article from Iraq about a bizarre bank-robbery that summed up the challenge of where we are in Baghdad and Kabul and how to think about what it will take to succeed in both places.

The article began with an appalling tale: bodyguards for one of Iraq’s most powerful men, the vice-president, Mr Adel Abdul Mahdi, tied up eight security officers at a Baghdad bank, executed them point blank and then made off with $4.3 million in cash. It is the sort of story that leaves war supporters shaking their heads, asking what have we accomplished in six years of US involvement there, and war opponents saying, “I told you so”.
But then, suddenly, the story took an interesting turn. It noted that the robbers were quickly identified by witnesses, and most were arrested. After a short trial, a court in Baghdad sentenced four out of the nine robbery suspects to death. One man was acquitted; the other four are still missing.

Although the plotters are still on the loose, “the robbery also demonstrated in some rickety way that Iraq’s young institutions, the judiciary, the news media and its increasingly democratic politics, make it difficult for even the country’s most powerful people to snap their fingers and make an embarrassing case go away”, the article noted. “And, contrary to the state of affairs under Saddam Hussein, there was an open trial free for anyone to criticise — and they did — even if death sentences were handed down in only two-and-a-half days”.


All the money was reportedly recovered.

Why is this story revealing? First, Iraqis and Afghans have one big thing in common: They are like battered children. And battered children often grow up to be battering adults. That is, to survive under Saddam in Iraq or to survive the Russian occupation and the Taliban years in Kabul was to survive terrifying levels of brutality. And it made many people brutal and corrupt to get by.

What you see in this bank robbery story is the struggle between Iraq’s old political culture of brutality and corruption and its incipient new one of democracy and the rule of law.

Now that Saddam is gone, we have to hope “that a new generation will grow up with enough rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of thought and democracy that it will be able to overcome the culture of brutality that Saddam instilled”, said Joseph Sassoon, the Baghdad-born author of Iraqi Refugees and an adjunct professor at Georgetown. “But we should have no illusions; the batterers may still win”.

That is what we have accomplished in Iraq so far: At a huge cost, we have given a chance for a more democratic political culture to emerge in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world. That is not insignificant. But changing a political culture is hard. It will take a long time before one trend decisively wins — and more American help will be needed to keep it on track.

In Afghanistan, the US military is advocating a new strategy, designed to make the Afghan people feel safe in order to get their cooperation in defeating the Taliban. It, too, requires changing the political culture and state-building from bottom up, another long historical process. You can’t visit a Greg Mortenson school for girls there without being touched by the necessity of such an effort. But you can’t walk through an Afghan town made of mud huts, or observe how our Afghan “allies” perverted the last election, without sensing how hard it will be.


While visiting Afghanistan in July, I met a US diplomat in Helmand Province who told me this story: He had served in Anbar, in Iraq, and one day a Marine officer came to him, after carrying a wounded buddy off the battlefield on his back, and said to him, “The policy had better match the sacrifice”.

In Iraq, for way too long, our policy did not match the sacrifice of our soldiers. It was badly planned and under-resourced. Before we proceed with this new strategy in Afghanistan we have to give our generals a chance to make their case, we also have to insist that Congress debate it anew, hear other experts, and, if Congress decides to go ahead, to formally authorise it. Like Iraq, it would involve a long struggle, and we can’t ask our soldiers to start something we have no stomach to finish.

In short, President Obama has to be as committed to any surge in Afghanistan as President Bush was in Iraq, because Mr Obama will have to endure a lot of bad news before things — might — get better.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently told an American Legion convention about Afghanistan: “Let’s take a good hard look at this fight we’re in, what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. I’d rather see us as a nation argue about the war, struggling to get it right, than ignore it. Because each time I go to Dover to see the return of someone’s father, brother, mother, or sister, I want to know that collectively we’ve done all we can to make sure that sacrifice isn’t in vain”.








Much has been said about the “informal ministerial” meeting of key members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Delhi last week and India’s contribution towards reenergising the Doha Round. In contrast, there is little discussion about the raft of bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) which India is currently negotiating with several industrialised countries and powerful regional blocs including Japan and the European Union (EU). Beyond the charmed circle of the negotiators — the commerce and trade bureaucracies — and industry lobby groups, few know what is being negotiated, what is really at stake and what is being traded off for anticipated gains.

Transparency in the FTA process is vital because FTAs have become prominent trade policy strategies of the Government of India and bilateral agreements are being negotiated outside the parameters of international trade mechanisms endorsed by the WTO.

The point was made vigorously at the recent National Consultation on India’s FTAs in Delhi. The consultation was organised by the Forum of FTAs, a coalition of over 70 civil society groups. India has already carried out 10 rounds of negotiations with Japan, six rounds with the EU and three rounds with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which includes Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein as its members.
One of the biggest concerns is the likely impact of FTAs on access to medicines. Enthusiasts of free trade root for bilateral trade negotiations as they are usually concluded in a much shorter time frame than the WTO process.

India has fought hard to include public health safeguards in its patent law which patients groups are using to challenge patents on key medicines. However, many of these gains are now at risk. FTAs are likely to contain provisions creating greater monopolies on medicines, providing for stricter enforcement of intellectual property rights, pointed out a spokesperson of Medecin Sans Frontieres’ Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines during the discussion.

FTAs, particularly with developed countries, typically push for standards that go far beyond even those negotiated by developing countries at the WTO. In some cases, the terms are even harsher than those practised within the developed world, warn the Forum Against FTAs.

The consultation drew attention to the worrying terms of FTAs such as the extension of patents beyond 20 years; data exclusivity, which delays the entry of a generic medicine in a market by 10-15 years even after the expiry of a patent; and the patent-registration linkage, which prevents the registration of a generic manufacturer before the expiry of patent.

The impact of these FTAs on health has been seen in other developing and least developed countries that have signed FTAs in the past. One example, “Jordan was required under the terms of its WTO accession package and its FTA with the US to introduce TRIPS-plus rules. Medicine prices have increased drastically, and TRIPS-plus rules were partly responsible for this increase. Furthermore, stricter levels of intellectual property protection have conferred few benefits with respect to foreign direct investment, domestic research and development, or accelerating introduction of new, effective medicines”, Oxfam pointed out in a March 2007 report.

TRIPS stands for Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights. The TRIPS Agreement is part of a “package” to which those countries seeking WTO membership have to adhere. TRIPS-PLUS obligations go beyond those imposed by the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

The issues linking free trade agreements, the right to health and access to medicines that came up during the consultation were brought up in a recent report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health. “Many countries have signed or are currently engaged in negotiations on extensive trade agreements, including bilateral investment treaties, Free Trade Agreements, economic partnership agreements etc. Such agreements have extensive implications for pharmaceutical patent protection, which can directly impact access to medicines.


Some developed countries, for example, have negotiated FTAs which reflect their standard of intellectual property protection. These agreements are usually negotiated with little transparency or participation from the public and often establish TRIPS-plus provision. These provisions undermine the safeguards and flexibilities that developing countries sought to preserve under TRIPs”, notes a March 2009 report by eminent Indian lawyer, Anand Grover, currently the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health. Studies indicate that TRIPS-plus standards increase medicine prices as they delay or restrict the introduction of generic competition.
“As FTAs can directly affect access to medicines there is a need for countries to assess multilateral and bilateral trade agreements for potential health violations and that all stages of negotiations remain open and transparent”, the report said.

India’s bilateral FTAs will impact this country and much of the developing world. Over 90 per cent of patients on life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs in low and middle income countries use generic drugs made in India and 57 per cent of medicine exports from India go to developing countries.

Public interest groups such as Lawyers’ Collective, Medecin Sans Frontieres and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative who participated in the Consultation want transparency and democratic process in ongoing FTA negotiations. “When the world is moving towards a rules-based trading system, what is traded off must be in the public domain. FTAs must have minimum standards of public consultations. To what extent is Parliament taken into confidence during such negotiations? Are FTAs getting on to the agenda of even the National Development Council when chief ministers of different states meet? Are the chief ministers taken into confidence when FTAs are negotiated though a lot of the resultant action will take place in the states”, asks a spokesperson of the Access to Information Programme in Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative.
Activists warn that in the absence of minimum standards of public consultation on critical policy matters in the FTAs, they may test the Right to Information Act which requires sharing of information on a proactive basis.


Patralekha Chatterjee writes on contemporary development issues, and can be contacted at [1]








In the debate over health care, here’s an inequity to ponder: Nikki White would have been far better off if only she had been a convicted bank robber.

Nikki was a slim and athletic college graduate who had health insurance, had worked in health care and knew the system.

But she had systemic lupus erythematosus, a chronic inflammatory disease that was diagnosed when she was 21 and gradually left her too sick to work. And once she lost her job, she lost her health insurance.
In any other rich country, Nikki probably would have been fine, notes T. R. Reid in his important and powerful new book, “The Healing of America.” Some 80 percent of lupus patients in the United States live a normal life span. Under a doctor’s care, lupus should be manageable.

Indeed, if Nikki had been a felon, the problem could have been averted, because courts have ruled that prisoners are entitled to medical care.

As Mr. Reid recounts, Nikki tried everything to get medical care, but no insurance company would accept someone with her pre-existing condition.

She spent months painfully writing letters to anyone she thought might be able to help. She fought tenaciously for her life.

Finally, Nikki collapsed at her home in Tennessee and was rushed to a hospital emergency room, which was then required to treat her without payment until her condition stabilized.

Since money was no longer an issue, the hospital performed 25 emergency surgeries on Nikki, and she spent six months in critical care.

“When Nikki showed up at the emergency room, she received the best of care, and the hospital spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on her,” her step-father, Tony Deal, told me. “But that’s not when she needed the care.”

By then it was too late. In 2006, Nikki White died at age 32. “Nikki didn’t die from lupus,” her doctor, Amylyn Crawford, told Mr. Reid. “Nikki died from complications of the failing American health care system.”

“She fell through the cracks,” Nikki’s mother, Gail Deal, told me grimly. “When you bury a child, it’s the worst thing in the world. You never recover.”

We now have a chance to reform this cruel and capricious system. If we let that chance slip away, there will be another Nikki dying every half-hour.

That’s how often someone dies in America because of a lack of insurance, according to a study by a branch of the National Academy of Sciences.

Over a year, that amounts to 18,000 American deaths.

After Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 Americans, eight years ago on Friday, we went to war and spent hundreds of billions of dollars ensuring that this would not happen again. Yet every two months, that many people die because of our failure to provide universal insurance — and yet many members of Congress want us to do nothing?

Mr. Reid’s book is a rich tour of health care around the world. Because he has a bum shoulder, he asked doctors in many countries to examine it and make recommendations.

His American orthopedist recommended a titanium shoulder replacement that would cost tens of thousands of dollars and might or might not help. Specialists in other countries warned that a sore shoulder didn’t justify the risks of such major surgery, although some said it would be available free if Mr. Reid insisted.
Instead, they offered physical therapy, acupuncture and other cheap and noninvasive alternatives, some of which worked pretty well.

That’s a window into the flaws in our health care system: we offer titanium shoulder replacements for those who don’t really need them, but we let 32-year-old women die if they lose their health insurance.

No wonder we spend so much on medical care, and yet have some health care statistics that are worse than Slovenia’s.

My suggestion for anyone in Nikki’s situation: commit a crime and get locked up.

In Washington State, a 20-year-old inmate named Melissa Matthews chose to turn down parole and stay in prison because that was the only way she could get treatment for her cervical cancer. “If I’m out, I’m going to die from this cancer,” she told a television station.

Mr. and Mrs. Deal say they are speaking out because Nikki wouldn’t want anyone to endure what she did.
“Nikki was a college-educated, middle-class woman, and if it could happen to her, it can happen to anyone,” Mr. Deal said. “This should not be happening in our country.”

Struggling to get out the words, Mrs. Deal added: “The loss of a child is the greatest hurt anyone will ever suffer. Because of the circumstances she endured with the health care system, I lost my daughter.”

Complex arguments are being batted around in this health care debate, but the central issue isn’t technical but moral.

The first question is simply this: Do we wish to be the only rich nation in the world that lets a 32-year-old woman die because she can’t get health insurance? Is that really us?


 Nicholas D. Kristof is a New York Times columnist











THE Prime Minister is reported to have told a meeting of the Planning Commission that the economy was returning to normal with the end of the global recession. He has repeatedly stressed the need to increase the growth rate to nine per cent in order to reach the benefits to the people. The commitment to increase the growth rate is welcome, but the common man may yet not reap the benefits of this growth.

We will have to adopt the latest technologies to the attain high rate of growth. We will have to use automatic powerlooms instead of handlooms to reduce the cost of production and compete in the global economy. Several automatic looms are controlled by one highly skilled operator sitting before the computer in a modern textile mill. Such factories lead to high production, but create few jobs. Industries across the board are using automatic machines. A sugar factory, that employed 2,000 workers two decades ago, now employs only 500. Various operations such as unloading sugarcane, feeding bagasse to the boilers and cleaning of sugar in centrifugal machines have been automated.


THE businessman is keen to substitute labour with machines because the cost of labour is increasing while the cost of capital is declining. A decade ago the daily wage of an unskilled labourer was about Rs 60. It has now increased to Rs 120. On the other hand, the cost of capital has declined. Loans are now available at 12 per cent interest, against 16 per cent earlier. This change in relative prices makes it profitable for the businessman to invest in capital-intensive centrally controlled automatic machines. The logical result of economic growth, therefore, is slower creation of employment and increase in unemployment. The demand for highly skilled engineers and computer operators does increase, but the demand for the unskilled and semi-skilled workers declines. The march of economic progress is fundamentally against the interests of the common man.
The proof lies in the writings of Karl Marx in the nineteenth century. England was called the ‘workshop of the world’ at that time. It was exporting steam engines, boilers and textiles all over the world. Yet its own workers were in dire straits. Thus Marx wrote, ‘Workers have nothing to lose but their chains’. The same grim picture has been painted graphically in Charles Dickens’ novels. This long term anti-poor tendency of economic growth is often covered up by the short-term tendency of creating jobs in new technologies. This is happening in the IT sector.

The common man can yet draw benefits from economic growth if the government formulates suitable policies. For example, the British recognized trade unions in the nineteenth century. That enabled the workers to secure higher wages by resorting to strikes. The Factory Act limited the number of hours a worker was required to work in a day. Later, free housing and healthcare for the people was also provided. High levels of taxes were imposed upon business enterprises and the revenue was used to provide welfare facilities to the common man.
The National Employment Guarantee Scheme is precisely such an intervention. First, big business enterprises are being given a free run as evident in the creation of Special Economic Zones. Then taxes are collected from these businesses, the revenues used to run the NREGA and relief is provided to the common man.
This policy has to contend with two problems. The first relates to corruption and leakages. The government has to impose high levels of taxes. This leads to more corruption. For example, about 9 per cent of the national income was collected by the Centre by way of tax during the BJP regime. This has now risen to 11 per cent in tandem with increased expenditures on NREGA etc. This leads to more corruption as high rates of import duty on gold had once led to rampant smuggling.


Then there is the problem of leakages from the welfare programmes. Village chiefs have told this writer that they have to pay a 20 to 40 per cent cut to the government officials for obtaining sanctions and payments for NREGA schemes.

The second problem concerns the mental makeup of the beneficiaries of the welfare schemes. The handloom weaver, who was earlier in independent business, is now dependent on the NREGA. Previously, he was concerned with the design, purchase of yarn and sale of cloth. Now he wonders when the work will start under the employment guarantee scheme. From free dealings of the market, his focus has shifted to the village chief. He has even lost his self-esteem, dependent as he is on the assistance doled out by the government.
The government must consider an alternative approach to avoid the problems of corruption, leakage and dependence. Business enterprises must be encouraged to use more labour and less capital. The reduction in interest rates has made it profitable to use capital-intensive machinery. If there is a parallel reduction in the wage rate, then the businessman will have no incentive to substitute capital for labour.



THE government can introduce a scheme to provide employment subsidy to businessmen. An amount of, say, Rs 60 per manday of employment can be paid to business units. This will reduce the cost of labour to be borne by the businessman from the present Rs 120 to Rs 60. Lower cost of labour will nullify the impact of lower cost of capital and encourage businessmen to employ a large number of workers. Similarly, higher rates of commercial and income tax can be imposed upon capital-intensive units. Lower rates of excise duty can be made applicable for inputs such as yarn used by the handlooms. Government contracts should stipulate the use of labour for digging trenches for the laying of optical fibre cables and similar projects. This will generate employment. It will also encourage self-employment among weavers. Generation of employment from such a policy will reduce the need to impose a high level of taxes.


Such welfare programmes as the NREGA are not efficient from the economic standpoint either. We can compare two sets of policies. One policy is to first give full freedom to big businesses to curtail employment. The government will then impose taxes on these units and implement the NREGA and other welfare programmes. The second policy is to impose restrictions and provide incentives to create jobs. Business enterprises are at the receiving end in both alternatives. They have to pay higher taxes in the first policy and they have to face restrictions in the second policy. The people clearly stand to gain in getting jobs from the second policy. But, it seems the government is not interested in giving employment subsidy because its employees will then be deprived of the opportunity to collect cuts and commissions.







London, 13 SepT: Historic sections of many of the Royal palaces in Britain, including the Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, are “in urgent need of renovation but there's no money to rebuild the collapsed walls and ceilings”.

This stark warning comes from the Royal household's head of property services, Graham Sharpe, in an email sent to senior officials at English Heritage, which is a public body of the British government with a broad remit of managing the historic built environment of England.

Buckingham Palace is the official residence of the British Queen in London while Windsor Castle is her favourite weekend home.

But, lead roofs at Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace need immediate renovation, according to the email that has also outlined other problems at Windsor which suffered a major fire in 1992, The Sunday Telegraph reported.

“The lead roofs there as a whole are at the end of their life and the only areas to be re-roofed by 1997 were in the Fire Restoration. There are 26 other identifiable roofs that need to be renewed. All were patched in 1997 and we were advised that the patches would extend the life by 12-15 years.

“We should therefore have undertaken two per year at a cost of 280 K pounds or so each. We have only been able to complete two since 1997.”PTI







AN insurgency is fought like a war rather than a battle. So valid are the objections the Army has raised to the essentially political move to withdraw the legal shield that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act provides the troops from units deployed in those parts of Jammu and Kashmir where militant-violence is perceived to have declined. It would be extremely difficult for soldiers to observe different sets of regulations in different areas, more so when militants ignore administrative divisions. New complexity would be injected into an already tricky operational environment. The simple jawan confronting militants (with virtually no public support) would be left wondering about the objectives of his mission.

The J&K chief minister, and perhaps the Union home minister too, might feel encouraged by the islands of relative tranquility they discern in J&K, but they cannot overlook the sea of militancy that surrounds them. It is true that the use/abuse of the AFSPA has been adversely commented upon for decades, it is seen as the cause of much of the alienation of the folk of the North-east, even the Law Commission has advocated its being junked. Hence it is time to take a call on the Act itself: selective application is an unprincipled proposition, even if some political advantage may accrue. You can’t issue a soldier a bullet-proof jacket that caters to only one side of his chest.

It is, in fact, time to take an even larger call on using the Army to quell internal disturbance. As the most potent “weapon” of the nation it must be summoned only when all else has proved ineffective, and deployed on short, surgical duties. The manner in which areas remain designated “Disturbed” for years testifies to gross administrative and political failure. The army’s job is to protect the nation against external aggression, and even though “sponsored” low-intensity conflicts or proxy wars are now in vogue, olive green is no alternative to khaki. It is not a question of which force is better trained and equipped, but a question of whether the locally elected government has the political will to conduct the multi-pronged action required to resolve an insurgency. Calling the Army out at the drop of a hat, then asking it to fight with one hand behind its back is to be squarely condemned. And selective application of AFSPA would render Omar-Chidambaram a comic duo. Only, the soldiers would find nothing to laugh at.







THE coincidence couldn’t have been more embarrassing. Calcutta University has been rapped on the knuckles on its convocation day by the Calcutta High Court (coram: Dipankar Dutta, J) for what was tantamount to infringing on the autonomy of a premier college. The Bench has allowed ten students of St Xavier’s College to take up post-graduate courses in CU and, more important, in disciplines of their choice. St Xavier’s was the first college to be unshackled from the university’s tutelage in 2006, and these students belong to the first batch of the autonomous institution. Is it possible that the CU authorities ~ and the ruling party’s education cell ~ were nursing a grouse? Otherwise, there can be no logic behind the decision to “standardise” the under-graduate marks of an autonomous institution in the lights of the university’s worthies. In the net, the marks were reduced when the university adopted what it calls “the statistical method to standardise”. The benchmarks were never disclosed. It was akin to turning the screw on the students to the extent that the graduate level ratings at the autonomous college were virtually de-recognised. And these ten were not granted admission to the courses they had applied for. Well and truly has the judicial intervention ensured that they will be able to pursue their post-graduate studies and in subjects of their choice.

If the CU authorities ~ politically influenced as they are ~ have any issue with the concept of autonomy, they need to come upfront in the interests of the students. It makes a travesty of that concept when it deems the graduate-level evaluation of St Xavier’s or the Ramakrishna Mission colleges at Narendrapur and Belur as open to question. To escape the stranglehold of the university permanently, the rational course is for these autonomous colleges to start their own post-graduate courses.

Amidst the grandstanding of Friday’s convocation, it was a bitter message that the authorities of CU received from the High Court when it decried what it called the “step-motherly treatment meted out to St Xavier’s College”. The ruling that the CU Syndicate will have to waive tuition fees for a year is a penalty for not recognising the degree of an autonomous college.







NATURAL calamities like floods and drought can be predicted and much can be done to minimise human suffering. But not earthquakes. Although, according to experts, detection of “precursory signals” may help predict quakes, these occur suddenly and leave large-scale devastation. It is true that an earthquake does not kill and casualties are caused mostly by falling boulders and collapsing buildings. A Gauhati University professor of geophysics, SK Sarma, was recently quoted as saying that “a major earthquake in the region (North-east) is due any time. We are saying this on the basis of studies although earthquake cannot be predicted as such”. Many experts have also echoed his prediction and, according to some, Meghalaya is sitting on top of a volcano. Fear has gripped the people in the region following four shocks in quick succession in August-September. The one on 11 August registered a magnitude of 5.6 on the Richter scale. This was followed by a tremor of 4.9 on 19 August, 5.5 on 31 August and 5.9 on 5 September.

The latter was said to be the most severe in nine years. The epicentres of all these were on the North-east/Myanmar borders. The major Assam earthquake of 15 August 1950, which had a magnitude of 8.6, killed more than 1,500 people and devastated a large part of the plains. Not much damage was done in the hills although these also received severe jolts. This does not mean that the hills are safer places. Given the fact that houses in hill towns are constructed haphazardly and with no thought to earthquakes, a severe tremor could spell disaster.

The eight North-east states are yet to be aware of the devastating consequences of an earthquake. Their thinking appears to be “let us see when it happens”. There seems to be no urgency to prepare for a disaster. They are not even prepared to handle the situation during floods, an annual feature, and depend on the Army. There is an urgent need to create a well-equipped emergency-handling team on the lines of the Air Raid Personnel during World War II to enable it to swing into action whenever disaster strikes.









The pilots of Jet Airways will be returning to work after ending what the company’s management called a ‘simulated’ strike. But the episode has raised questions that may not be settled with the end of the strike itself. The airline faces additional losses — some have put it at as high as Rs 200 crore for five days in lost revenues — besides taking a beating on its brand value. Passengers will have less faith in the reliability of India’s leading private airline. The strike also highlights the fragility of labour relations — last year, the airline announced layoffs of over 1,000 employees, but was forced to backtrack after government intervention, underscoring the political sensitivities that prevail during an economic slowdown. The airline’s pilots have agreed not to unionize, but plan to be part of a committee along with the management that will address labour-related issues in the future.


The company’s stock price fell as a result of the strike — which made shareholders of the company even unhappier — though the price did recover as the end of the strike came nearer. But Jet Airways’ shares now trade at just around Rs 250, compared to Rs 1,100 when the stock was first listed on the exchanges. The losses of the company, and of the others, including the government-owned carriers, are not likely to be any less in the next couple of years at least; is it possible that the current business model of the airline industry as a whole is flawed and will have to be rethought?


Looked at from a per-passenger revenue perspective, airlines of all kinds are losing money, and will continue to do so. That is true not just for the Indian context, but has been happening on a global basis since 2001. For the last two years, the global aviation industry has lost almost $5 billion a year. As competition continues to grow — whether between carries, hubs or even between low-cost carriers and the so-called legacy carriers of which Jet Airways is one — the current revenue model will not deliver profitability when only passenger fares are taken into account. If anything, airline fares have fallen, or grown less than consumer inflation; it seems very unlikely that airlines can become profitable enterprises under these circumstances without being able to raise fares. A case can be made for consolidation; but many attempts at combination, like the aborted attempt to share routes between Kingfisher Airlines — the other large private airline — and Jet Airways, have failed spectacularly. As losses continue to mount, should airlines be allowed to die? Letting large businesses fail does not sit easily with the Indian government. But it must be an option; no single airline has a dominant market share that renders it too big to fail. That appears to leave just one option: maybe the future for privately owned commercial aviation is low-cost or budget airlines. If airlines do not start thinking about that, they may not be left with any other choice.








It is enormously reassuring when the police show better sense than ordinary mortals. The proposed programme for gender sensitization sessions within the police force seems to be based on an understanding of the inadequate social training that is the source of much of the discomfiture that women experience in their workplaces. Because of the inequality of attitude towards girls and boys as they grow up, men may not always be aware of the distress they are causing their women colleagues, or may think it is ‘macho’ to do so. The programme promises to address this, with women personnel sharing the issues they have with their male colleagues. If instituted with seriousness, such a healthy approach should reap long-term benefits. The first of these would be a work environment free of gender bias or, at least, alert to it.


Gender sensitization may be the first step towards an acknowledgment of the subtle and devastating ways in which sexual harassment works; it can also complement training on the legal and managerial aspects of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment springs from the abuse of power, but gender bias, too, hinges on the social power with which men are invested. The line between the two is hardly discernible: one may shade into the other. A workplace that aspires to be free of gender bias is also that much quicker to home in on instances of sexual harassment. Besides, the fact that the police are thinking of gender sensitization is reassuring for the people. Police do not always treat complaints of sexual crimes fairly. But with the suggested training, this, too, may change. Politicization of the police plays a large part in their lack of cooperation. But an increased sensitiveness to gender and sexual issues may help neutralize this to some extent. All this is said in hope: the reality remains to be seen.









So indifferent is our attitude towards national security that once the Indo-US nuclear deal was done, the many doubts and opinions that were raised during a healthy debate preceding it were promptly forgotten rather than being followed to their logical conclusions. While this suits the nuclear weapon non-believers, such an unstable state will continue to cast doubts on the credibility of our nuclear deterrent, as indeed K. Santhanam’s recent statement in a seminar has done. That the statement was attributed to him when the seminar code did not permit such attribution indicates how fragile national consensus is on as vital an issue as the national nuclear policy and capability.


Not surprisingly, the statement has opened a floodgate of views, counterviews and comments, drawing in scientists and strategists with the prime minister himself having to smother the crescendo. That the debate has turned ugly with personal attacks being made on both sides underlines a prevailing lack of confidence. The last thing the reader needs is further grist to the mill of the subject of the thermo-nuclear test. This is best left to the scientific community to sort out the best it can — one hopes with not more skeletons tumbling out.


There are, however, other important issues that the present debate throws up. The significance of what Santhanam has said goes to the root of our approach to a programme that has a huge bearing on national security and morale. The legitimate targets for weapons of mass destruction are cities and centres of economic value. Thus, a single attack may involve tens of thousands of casualties, if not whole cities. This awareness must awaken the conscience of the nation into demanding greater transparency and clarity regarding our nuclear policy, doctrine and the ability to deliver on the doctrine. These cannot be subjects of secrecy, innuendo and half-baked television debates.


In the realm of airborne weapon system testing and clearance, military specifications, standards and processes have evolved over decades of experience, often at great cost to life and systems. These must be followed meticulously. Those instrumental in bypassing them have done so at great cost to the programme and to national security. The present saga is one such glaring example and the nation risks paying a heavy price unless corrective measures are taken. Brushing things under the carpet or shooting the messenger may give us a superficial breather, but will grievously wound national security in the long term.


Even as the nation embarked on a highly ambitious and classified nuclear weapons programme, we chose to deviate from fundamentals of weapon design and development. We bypassed the established decisionmaking system with the scientific adviser being the sole repository and reporting directly to the prime minister. We had no integrated project management structure with BARC and DRDO working in their respective areas of expertise. The one agency that would normally be able to act as impartial observer and the one which would ultimately have to make the system deliver, was deliberately kept out.


In his book, Weapons of Peace, Raj Chengappa gives us an insight into those times. When V.P. Singh took over as prime minister, he was so dismayed to find a rudimentary and informal command and control structure with regard to the nuclear programme that he is quoted to have told his principal secretary, “This is scary. The matter cannot just be between the Prime Minister and the Scientific Adviser.” Accordingly, he set up an informal committee under Arun Singh to carry out a confidential review of India’s nuclear preparedness.



It was now Arun Singh’s turn to be dismayed when he realized that the chiefs of staff of the armed forces were not briefed about India’s capability. Chengappa quotes Arun Singh as having said, “It was clear we had to end the wink and nudge approach. When it is crunch time you just can’t ring up a chief of staff and say press the button. The army will not take the scientists’ word that it will work. They will want to know if they have a usable credible deterrent. Otherwise they are likely to say buzz off….” Prophetic words, except that the military was reduced to accepting the scientists’ word without a whimper.


Arun Singh also found the lack of coordination between the DRDO and BARC disconcerting: “I thought it was crazy that BARC didn’t know where DRDO stood or vice versa…. It was an unacceptable situation. There was just no institutionalized way of doing things.” Today, we are facing the consequences of not having heeded these valuable warnings.


While Santhanam has only expressed his differences on the results of the thermo nuclear tests, a worrisome concern is that along this challenging design and development route there would perforce have been innumerable technical challenges and design compromises. As per established military procedures, an independent chief resident engineer is located in all such facilities to ensure on behalf of the users that design and technical and safety standards are met. Certainly, no such safety net was available to the armed forces in this programme. This begs the question as to how many areas of difference surfaced during the entire development phase and what compromises were made that are still not known to the users of the weapon systems. How many more Santhanam-like surprises may from time to time rear their ugly heads? Will it then be too late?


Admiral Sureesh Mehta, the chairman of the chiefs of staff committee, stated in his farewell press conference, “The tests were adequate. We believe whatever the scientists tell us. The scientists said the tests were enough and tested. We believe the scientists, as they provide us with nuclear capability.” Clearly, he accepted no responsibility for these weapon systems. This is uncharacteristic of military ethos where any weapons system that the services induct, whether imported or indigenous, is put by them through rigorous testing before acceptance. They are then accountable for the achievement of results. The services did not take the word of DRDO scientists in the case of the Trishul missile, which was finally rejected.


General Ved Malik, who was the army chief at the time of Pokhran-II, termed the recent revelations shocking and said that it affects the armed forces, because when they plan the task given to them they have to know what kind of yield each nuclear weapon has.


Unsaid in these comments by two former service chiefs is that they bear no responsibility for the reliability, safety and operational potential of these weapons systems. That is to be borne by the scientists — who, we see, have their differences. While this leaves India’s nuclear deterrence between two stools, the armed forces by their meek acceptance must also share responsibility.


The Santhanam debate has raised a larger issue: of ignoring established procedures for design, development, testing and deployment of military weapons systems for national security. The reliability and pitfalls in the operational exploitation of our nuclear deterrent will always remain a question, thus depriving military and security planners of the confidence and the surety of such actions. National security requires that the ultimate users of weapons systems, namely our armed forces, are also guarantors of their efficacy. By passing the buck to the scientists, Admiral Mehta has not only ducked this responsibility, but has given the nation cause for concern.



It is time for the government to set up an independent evaluation group, comprising scientists, experts and the armed forces, to assure themselves and the nation that the weapons systems constituting our nuclear deterrent are battleworthy. Then the armed forces must take ownership and be held to account.


The author is a retired air marshal of the Indian Air Force








Nick Griffin, the leader of the British National Party, is a ‘soft’ fascist who does not rant in the 1930s’ style. But he came pretty close to the old style two months ago when, newly elected to the European Parliament, he called for “very tough” measures to stop illegal African migrants from entering the European Union by crossing the Mediterranean in boats.


Interviewed afterwards by the BBC, he said: “Frankly, they need to sink several of those boats.” The interviewer interrupted him, protesting that the EU does not murder people. “I didn’t say anybody should be murdered at sea,” Griffin replied. “I say boats should be sunk, they can throw them a life raft, and they can go back to Libya. But Europe close its borders or it’s going to be swamped by the third world.” It’s standard neo-fascist rhetoric, and the people who use it are still shunned by the mainstream of European politics. But if the Copenhagen climate summit in December does not make a serious start at getting climate change under control, that may be mainstream rhetoric in Europe in 20 years’ time.


The poorer countries closer to the equator will be hit first, and worst, by global warming. As their crops die from too much heat and too little water, huge numbers of climate refugees will head north — out of Mexico and Central America to the United States of America, out of Africa and the Middle East to the European Union. Griffin-style talk will start to sound reasonable, and the southern borders of Europe and the US will become fortified zones.


So there is some comfort to be had from this week’s offer by Japan’s prime minister-elect, Yukio Hatoyama, to cut his country’s emissions to 25 per cent below the 1990 level by 2020.That is a huge advance on the previous Japanese government’s offer of a 8 per cent cut by 2020. Since the EU has already adopted a target of 20 per cent emission cuts on 1990 levels by 2020, with a promise to go to 30 per cent cuts at the Copenhagen talks if other industrialized nations do the same, there now seems to be a serious offer on the table. But there is also a catch.


Another goal


The catch is that the offers by Japan and the EU both depend on other developed countries – by which they mean the US — adopting a similar target. But President Barack Obama isn’t promising any cut at all on the 1990 level of US emissions. He’s just offering to get back to that level by 2020, using as an excuse the growth of US emissions during eight years of denial under the Bush administration. Both the Europeans and the Japanese know that the US is not going to offer deep cuts at Copenhagen, so it will not have to deliver on its own offers. And if the industrialized countries do not commit to really deep cuts, then rapidly developing countries like China and India will not accept even the fuzziest constraints on their own emissions.


So what can be accomplished at Copenhagen? Not much in terms of hard targets, probably, but the game does not end there. There is one really valuable thing that Obama can achieve at Copenhagen.The game of percentage cuts on past emissions is fundamentally stupid. To avoid the risk of runaway heating, we must never exceed an average global temperature 2 degrees centigrade higher than it was in 1990. That equates to 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and we are already at 390 ppm.


That’s the right target, and making it official would transform the negotiating process. We would then be dealing with real numbers, and the negotiations would be about dividing up the remaining permissible emissions between the various countries. It was Barack Obama who pushed all 20 high-emitting countries into accepting 2 degrees centigrade as the never-exceed limit on global warming at the G8/G20 summit in Italy, so we’re already halfway there. Maybe at Copenhagen, he’ll drop the other shoe.











We haven’t come very far, have we? The Enlightenment that began in Europe during the 17th century was a defining point of Western culture and intended to usher in a brave new world of science, progress and rational and open discourse, which was free from the oppression, myths and superstitions of the past. The second millennium is now behind us, and the 20th century was the bloodiest period of all, with science and technology being used to fuel industrial scale wars and atrocities. Are we set to repeat the history of the previous century on an even greater scale?

Prior to the 20th century, the grand theories of society and social change, stemming from the Enlightenment and posited by the likes of Karl Marx, Herbert Spencer and Emile Durkheim, were all based on faith in the evolution and ultimate progress of humankind, however much those theories differed from one another. But various commentators have questioned the very notion of ‘progress’ and the outcome of the Enlightenment project.


Many philosophers and theorists, such as Theodore Adorno and Jurgen Habermas, noted that science itself had become the new mythology in the modern age and its institutions and practitioners willing servants in the market place and in the pay of the military-industrial complex. Far from liberating humankind, science and the often preset and closed nature of rational debate in the political and public sphere had very often become a tool of oppression in the hands of the oppressors.

Indeed, disillusionment with modernity has subsequently been encompassed by the catch-all term ‘postmodern discontent’ to account for anything from political apathy to the trend towards hedonistic materialism.

Of course, there is always the hope that things will get better. Just how much that hope is grounded in reality is another matter entirely, particularly when it comes to political leaders. Despite the ongoing impact of the ‘war on terror’ and the attempts to stick with a free market system and ideology that has failed so many across the world, the current crop of world leaders never gets tired of trotting out a series platitudes that point to ‘success’ or ‘recovery’ in order to convince a sceptical public that we are about to turn the corner and embark on a renewed golden age of economic neo-liberalism. There seems to be some confusion among political leaders between reason and fantasy here.

The G20 leaders live in an warped world in which right is wrong and wrong is right. Everything has turned sour, and it is the ordinary person who is paying the price. Instead of implementing real and radical change, these leaders have now turned their attention to regulating finance-sector bonuses, which are put forward as the main problem that must be addressed if the economic crisis is to be overcome.

The construction of such narratives, with the help of an assortment of sympathetic economists, financial ‘experts’ and media outlets, are merely an attempt to legitimate and continue a system that prioritises the wishes of the few at the expense of many. The very fact that controls are being mooted by political leaders undermines the theory on which their free market vision of society is based.


At the very least, they are being unreasonable in their approach. Traditionally, in Europe, ‘unreasonable’ members of the population were often locked away and institutionalised. In the 18th century, madness came to be seen as the reverse of reason, and, finally, in the 19th century as ‘mental illness’. Madness was silenced by reason and lost its power to signify the limits of social order and to point to an alternative truth.

Well, madness is well and truly back in fashion. This time, the unreasonable ones are not to be found within the walls of asylums, but in the corridors of power. But, let’s be honest, looking back over the last few hundred years, we never really left the pre-Enlightenment age of myth and superstition behind. As many social anthropologists will tell you, we just became a little more sophisticated into fooling ourselves that we did.
As our great political leaders try to convince us of their ‘reasoned’ arguments and justifications for unfettered capitalism and ongoing wars, they exhibit a blind faith with their unbending allegiance to a particular economic dogma and the continued belief in the righteousness of failed invasions. Far from liberating humanity, the powerful are attempting to construct a brave new world shrouded in deception and superstition, under the guise of those high minded notions of openness and democracy. We haven’t come very far, have we?










My twin brother Ram and I were just 11 years old when we had to appear for the dreaded Lower Secondary (LS) public examination — thanks to our double promotion while studying in Acharya Pathasala. Our parents, both in government service and unable to devote enough attention to us, decided to engage a tutor for us. HR (H Rama Rao) sir, the tutor — a stern yet kindhearted disciplinarian, committed to bringing out the best in his pupils — was appointed to coach us in all subjects for a princely monthly fee of Rs 20! Things like Teachers' Day and Best Teacher awards were unheard of in 1940s.

Well aware of our simian antics, Sir preferred to coach us at his house after school hours. While he was determined to make us ‘exam-fit’, we were impishly devising our own plans to ‘avenge’ the loss of our precious playing hours. An opportunity presented itself one evening when Sir went out to the market after loading us with sufficient assignments. Seizing the golden chance, we got hold of Sir’s dhoti from the clothes line and jubilantly shredded it with a blade!

The exams came. Ram and I passed the same with a high first class. With this, our feelings underwent a sudden transformation as our joy was shadowed by an immense feeling of guilt at the most despicable act we had so surreptitiously carried out in return of the invaluable gift of knowledge that Sir had imparted to us. We confided this in our mother, who rebuked us and bought a pair of dhotis, asking us to confess and offer it at Sir’s feet with due reverence.

Hands trembling, we gave the package to Sir. With a twinkle in his eyes he said, “Why have you brought two dhotis? You had vented your ire on only one!” We were aghast! Even though Sir had known it all along he had not punished us or even complained to our parents! We felt so small before him. Tears flowing in profusion, we asked him why he had not taken us to task. Hugging us he said benevolently, “I robbed you of your evenings and you of my dhoti. Now I have two. So don't regret, go and play!”

It was a lesson far beyond the LS course HR ‘Maestru’ taught us, making an indelible and ennobling impact on our lives, reminding us of Sir Henry Newbolt’s immortal lines “Then men that tanned the hide of us, our daily foes and friends!” from his poem ‘The Best School Of All.’








On Monday, the one-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, President Obama is scheduled to deliver a major speech on the financial crisis. He should take justifiable pride in some of the aggressive steps his administration has taken to rescue the financial system and the broader economy.


Yet, the important work of regulatory reform remains undone. The administration has proposed legislation that would bring most of the financial system under a regulatory umbrella, and impose higher capital requirements to cushion against losses. But in specific areas, like consumer protection, Obama officials will have to fight to ensure that lawmakers do not water down the administration’s intent. In another area — the regulation of derivatives — Congress must improve the administration’s proposal. As Congress considers the legislation this fall, here are some key issues:


CONSUMER PROTECTION The financial crisis would have been less severe — or largely avoided — if regulators had curbed abusive and unsound lending back when bad mortgage loans first began to proliferate. But all too predictably, they failed to act.


Prominent overseers like the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency had long viewed consumer protection as a regulatory backwater. In keeping with the prevailing antiregulatory ethos, they also tended to equate bank profitability with bank safety and soundness. That led them to view products and practices that boosted bank profits as “good”— even as tricky loans and lax lending standards set the stage for mass defaults, and systemwide collapse.


The strongest of the administration’s proposed reforms — a Consumer Financial Protection Agency — seeks to rectify that regulatory failure. The new agency would take on the consumer protection responsibilities that are currently dispersed among numerous regulators and police the financial system with a sole focus on the best interest of the consumer. It could ensure, for example, that lenders — whether banks or nonbanks — provide simpler alternatives to complex mortgages and could impose restrictions on other forms of credit, like stealth overdraft fees.


Unfortunately, Congress is already being pressured by the financial industry to weaken the proposal. It is imperative that the final legislation explicitly prohibit the new agency from pre-empting stronger state consumer-protection laws. Pre-emption— favored by banks, financial firms and regulators who are cozy with them — has long been used to reduce consumer protection and regulatory oversight. The final legislation must also retain the new agency’s power to examine banks’ books and enforce rules. An agency without full ongoing regulatory authority would be set up for failure.


DERIVATIVES The multitrillion-dollar market in derivatives was a major catalyst of the financial crisis. Derivatives are supposed to help investors and businesses manage risk, but after a 2000 law largely deregulated them, they also became tools for vast speculation, creating and amplifying risk instead of reducing it.


In general, the administration’s plan to regulate derivatives is serious and far-reaching. But, unfortunately, it is marred by loopholes that would protect banks’ lush profits in derivatives while leaving the system and taxpayers vulnerable to renewed instability.

The basic flaw in the plan is that it splits the derivatives market in two. Standardized derivative contracts would be traded on regulated exchanges. Customized contracts would continue to be privately traded — which could open the door to some of the same below-the-radar transactions that have already proved so disastrous. Beyond an odd contract here or there, derivatives should be standardized and exchange traded, period.


The administration’s proposed legislation also would exempt some derivative investors, like many hedge funds, from the requirement to trade standardized contracts on an exchange. This major exception could undermine the entire objective of lowering risk, increasing transparency and fostering efficiency.


That point was made in a recent letter to lawmakers from Gary Gensler, the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, who would have significant responsibility for derivatives under a reformed system. Mr. Gensler has also pointed out that the proposed legislation would exempt certain derivatives called foreign exchange swaps from regulation. That broad exclusion could allow other derivatives transactions to be structured in a way that would avoid regulation.


A light touch on derivatives, when a firm hand is needed, only reinforces the notion that the banks are ultimately in charge. To restore confidence both in markets and in the government, Obama officials and lawmakers must tighten the derivatives reform proposal.


SYSTEMIC RISK REGULATION The administration proposes empowering the Federal Reserve to supervise and regulate firms whose failure could damage the system as a whole and to seize such firms if failure is imminent.


The proposal is clearly problematic. For one thing, the Fed, in its conduct of monetary policy, can itself be a source of systemic risk. It is widely believed that the Fed’s interest-rate decisions in this decade helped to inflate the housing bubble. In addition, the Fed, as currently configured, may not be sufficiently distanced from the banks to oversee the system objectively.


Unless the administration and the Fed propose policies and procedures to eliminate such conflicts, they are insurmountable. In that case, systemic risk regulation would best be left to a small group of bank regulators working to identify and resolve emerging risks.


Lost in this debate over the Fed’s role is the fact that systemic risk would best be controlled by restoring rules ignored in the deregulatory fervor of the past decade, developing new rules as needed and enforcing them day to day. Also missing from the debate — and the proposed legislation — is a roadmap for restructuring and downsizing too-big-to-fail institutions over time so that they are no longer a threat.


These changes will take time. For now, what is most important is that the broader reform effort get off the ground. Mr. Obama’s speech is the opportunity to relaunch the effort; the hard work still lies ahead.







It was not that long ago that mentally ill people, even those who were capable of living independently, were locked away by the tens of thousands in notoriously primitive hospitals. Congress passed the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, which forbids arbitrary and unjustified isolation of the mentally ill and requires the states to treat them in community-based settings in cases where this treatment is appropriate.


A federal court ruling in New York last week shows that mentally ill people are still being illegally warehoused, this time in smaller, but still horrifyingly inadequate for-profit adult homes. Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled that the state had violated federal disability law by confining more than 4,000 mentally ill people in privately run adult homes that he described as “even more restrictive or ‘institutional’ than psychiatric hospitals.”


The ruling, which applies to people who do not present a danger to themselves or to others, paints a disheartening picture of facilities that are more like jails than homes; ones that fail to provide residents with privacy, freedom or activities that would help them to become fully functioning. The isolation often deepens patients’ illness and despair.


New York was supposed to have cleaned up this industry since The Times reported in 2002 that the homes’ owners were pushing patients to undergo unnecessary medical procedures to rake in money from Medicaid and Medicare. According to testimony cited in the ruling, some owners appear to be driving up their profits, and government health care costs, by renting space to preferred medical providers at inflated rates and pushing residents to use those providers.


That so many of New York’s mentally ill are still being warehoused in adult homes is especially surprising, given that the state pioneered a far superior alternative — supported housing. Thousands of mental ill people live independently in subsidized apartments, receiving support services from community-based agencies.


This approach is far better for the clients. According to the judge’s decision, it is also less expensive than the adult home model, due in part to lower Medicaid costs.


Judge Garaufis has required the state to produce a plan to correct the problem by mid-October. The state should not appeal this decision. Instead, officials should devise a strategy for moving as many residents as possible into supported housing. That is the best way to comply with federal law and give people the chance and the help they need to develop viable, mainstream lives.







New York City health experts wanted to discourage people from drinking sugary sodas and sports drinks, so they devised a stomach-churning solution. Their new “Don’t drink yourself fat” commercials show drinks being poured into a glass. There is no ice, no delicate frostiness or smiling polar bears. Instead, fat globules ooze over the rim of the glass like some alien life form. If the response is “Yuck,” then the ad is doing its job, city officials have decided.


Since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took on the smoking culture seven years ago, city health officials have been figuring out how best to steer people away from unhealthy behavior.


But so far, neither Mayor Bloomberg nor Gov. David Paterson is ready to make the best move when it comes to soft drinks — a tax on sodas and other sugary beverages. The best tax would be a penny an ounce, not a nickel on every bottle or can, which could just encourage even larger bottles and cans.


President Obama mentioned the possibility of a soda tax in a recent interview with Men’s Health magazine. He noted that these drinks are a major factor in the rise of obesity, but unfortunately, the president said he also recognizes the resistance on Capitol Hill “to those kinds of sin taxes.”


Governor Paterson floated the idea of an 18 percent soda tax late last year, but he retreated after a barrage of criticism — much of it ginned up by the soft drink business. Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council seem unwilling to add an unpopular tax in an election year.


So, the city’s health department has gone the yuck route, which officials say worked well with cigarette ads. Smoking in the city went down after television commercials showed a man with a hole in his throat and a woman with missing fingers.


But the bigger decreases in smoking followed — that’s right — big increases in the tax on cigarettes.









There are obvious parallels between Barack Obama’s push for health care reform and Bill Clinton’s ill-fated attempt 16 years ago. In both cases, an apparent legislative juggernaut hit a wall of public skepticism. Both presidents saw their poll numbers wilt in the summertime heat. Both White Houses staged a September address to Congress in an effort to regain the political initiative.


We know how the story turned out last time. Clinton’s popularity, temporarily boosted by his September speech, quickly sank again. Health care reform withered on the vine. Public anger with Washington boiled higher. And Newt Gingrich’s Congressional Republicans swept into power the following fall.


The long shadow of that 1994 drubbing helps explain why Democrats will probably end up passing something called “health care reform” before the year is out, the better to avoid their party’s Clinton-era fate.


But Frank Luntz, the pollster behind Gingrich’s Contract With America, thinks they may have the wrong early-1990s parallel in mind.


When I asked him about the lessons of 1994, Luntz — whose latest book, “What Americans Really Want ... Really,” is pitched to a bipartisan audience — happily rattled off the parallels between that era and this one: anxiety about deficits, furious distrust of Washington, growing doubts about a Democratic president.


But Luntz insisted that in the run-up to the ’94 election, “it wasn’t the health care debate that was driving the anger; it was the crime bill.”


That piece of legislation, which mixed stricter sentencing laws with more money for prison-building and more financing for police, was supposed to cement Clinton’s reputation as a tough-minded centrist.


Instead, the crime bill became a lightning rod for populist outrage. The price tag made it seem fiscally irresponsible. (Back then, $30 billion was real money.) The billions it lavished on crime prevention — like the infamous funding of “midnight basketball” — looked liked ineffective welfare spending. The gun-control provisions felt like liberalism-as-usual.


“Every day that the Republicans delayed the bill,” Luntz remembers, “the public learned more about it — and the more they learned, the angrier they got.”


That’s exactly what’s been happening now. The health care push has opened up arguments about abortion, euthanasia and illegal immigration that the Democrats would rather avoid. At the same time, it’s become the vessel for a year’s worth of anxieties about bailouts, deficits and Beltway incompetence.


This August’s town-hall fury wasn’t just about the details of health care. Neither were the anti-Obama protests that crowded Washington over the weekend. They were about the Wall Street bailout, the G.M. takeover, the A.I.G. bonuses, and countless smaller examples of middle-income Americans’ “playing by the rules,” as Luntz puts it, “and having someone else benefit.”


The bad news for Democrats is that actually passing a health care bill could further enflame these anxieties. Clinton’s crime bill passed Congress by substantial margins, when all was said and done. But the anger that the debate had summoned up didn’t go away — and Gingrich’s Republicans were there to reap the benefits.


The good news for Democrats, though, is that if they pass an unpopular health care bill soon, they’ll have plenty of time to change the subject. Clinton signed the crime bill in September 1994, just two months before the Republican landslide. If health care reform passes Congress this autumn, there will still be almost a year until voters head to the polls.


The even better news for Democrats is that they aren’t up against Newt Gingrich this time. Gingrich was an ideological figure, but he was savvy enough to grasp the essentially nonideological character of the public’s anger in 1994. The Contract With America, remembered as a right-wing document by liberals and conservatives alike, was actually a model of center-right incrementalism, with every bullet point carefully crafted to appeal to the voters who went for Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996.


Today’s anger has a similarly Perotista cast. It burns hottest, obviously, on the Beck-watching, Limbaugh-listening right. But it’s disaffected independents, as much as doctrinaire conservatives, who have pushed Obama’s approval numbers steadily southward.


“It isn’t a right-left thing,” Luntz says. “It’s not that people are pro- or anti-government.” They just feel the government has spent the last year giving them the shaft, and they’re worried it’s about to happen again.


But as long as the Republican Party is defined by its most juvenile ideologues (think Joe Wilson) and its most transparent panderers (think Michael Steele), it’s hard to see the party capitalizing on this angry centrism the way the Gingrich revolutionaries did.


As Luntz observes, “it’s not enough to set the stage — you have to maximize the revolt.” And this time, the Democrats may be luckier in their opponents.


Paul Krugman is off today.








PRESIDENT OBAMA will have a hard time achieving his foreign policy goals until he masters some key terms and better manages the expectations they convey. Given the furor that will surround the news of America’s readiness to hold talks with Iran, he could start with “engagement” — one of the trickiest terms in the policy lexicon.


The Obama administration has used this term to contrast its approach with its predecessor’s resistance to talking with adversaries and troublemakers. His critics show that they misunderstand the concept of engagement when they ridicule it as making nice with nasty or hostile regimes.


Let’s get a few things straight. Engagement in statecraft is not about sweet talk. Nor is it based on the illusion that our problems with rogue regimes can be solved if only we would talk to them. Engagement is not normalization, and its goal is not improved relations. It is not akin to détente, working for rapprochement, or appeasement.


So how do you define an engagement strategy? It does require direct talks. There is simply no better way to convey authoritative statements of position or to hear responses. But establishing talks is just a first step. The goal of engagement is to change the other country’s perception of its own interests and realistic options and, hence, to modify its policies and its behavior.


Diplomatic engagement is proven to work — in the right circumstances. American diplomats have used it to change the calculations and behavior of regimes as varied as the Soviet Union, South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Cuba, China, Libya and, intermittently, Syria.


There is no cookie-cutter formula for making it work, however. In southern Africa in the 1980s, we directed our focus toward stemming violence between white-ruled South Africa and its black-ruled neighbors. This strategy put a priority on regional conflict management in order to stop cross-border attacks and create better conditions for internal political change. The United States also engaged with the Cubans in an effort aimed at achieving independence for Namibia (from South Africa) and at the removal of Cuban troops from Angola. In Mozambique, engagement meant building a constructive relationship with the United States, restraining South African interference in Mozambique’s internal conflicts and weaning the country from its Soviet alignment.


More recently, the Bush administration’s strategy for engagement with Libya ultimately led to the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and the elimination of that country’s programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.


While the details differ, each case of engagement has common elements. Engagement is a process, not a destination. It involves exerting pressure, by raising questions and hypothetical possibilities, and by probing the other country’s assumptions and thinking. Above all, it involves testing how far the other country might be willing to go. Properly understood, the diplomacy of engagement means raising questions that the other country may wish to avoid or be politically unable to answer. It places the ball in the other country’s court.


Engagement, of course, comes with risks. One is that domestic opponents will intentionally distort the purposes of engagement. Another risk is that each side may try to impose preconditions for agreeing to meet and talk — and ultimately negotiate. But we will not get far with the Iranians, for example, if we (and they) insist on starting by establishing the other side’s intentions.


Another risk is that, no matter what we say, the rogue regime may claim that engagement confers legitimacy. A more consequential danger is that a successful engagement strategy may leave the target regime in place and even strengthened, an issue that troubled some critics of the Bush administration’s 2003 breakthrough that led to the normalizing of relations between the United States and Libya.


But by far the greatest risk of engagement is that it may succeed. If we succeed in changing the position of the other country’s decision-makers, we then must decide whether we will take yes for an answer and reciprocate their moves with steps of our own. If talk is fruitful, a negotiation will begin about taking reciprocal steps down a jointly defined road. Engagement diplomacy forces us to make choices. Perhaps this is what frightens its critics the most.


As the Obama team works to fend off accusations that it is rushing into Russian, Iranian, Syrian or even North Korean arms, it will need to get the logic and definition of engagement right. In each case, we will need a clear-eyed assessment of what we are willing to offer in return for the changed behavior we seek. Engagement diplomacy may be easier to understand if the Obama administration speaks clearly at home about what it really requires.


Chester A. Crocker, a professor of strategic studies at the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, was an assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 1981 to 1989.








PRESIDENT OBAMA’s 47-minute televised address last week, while controversial, may have been his most effective appeal yet for his health care reforms. This is largely because he turned to the supposedly dying medium of prime-time television to accomplish what 21st-century social- media branding platforms could not.


The president’s old friends, Twitter and Facebook, helped him get elected and then betrayed him. Social media help stir up excitement for “change we can believe in.” They are a much less effective tool for articulating the extraordinarily complicated details of health care reform.


Mr. Obama still uses Twitter to articulate his health care goals. Recent tweets include “Know this: I will not waste time with those who have made the calculation that it’s better politics to kill this plan than improve it” and “I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits — either now or in the future. Period.” Still, there’s no way these sound bytes can truly battle the countless opposition messages in circulation. Twitter, after all, bleeds both blue and red. A recent tweet from Newt Gingrich, to give just one example, reads, “The real ‘public option’ is to scrap the current grandiose plans and to start over.”


The same is true of the Internet in general. Video clips from raucous town hall meetings across America demonstrate that YouTube, which played such a prominent role in building Brand Obama (who can forget the “Yes We Can” celebrity video?), is just as capable of undermining the president’s health care plan and approval ratings.


In his televised address, Mr. Obama was disturbed by one heckling congressman. On the Web, he has been shouted down and second-guessed by millions of voices. Many states have active Republican Twitter pages. These can be used to announce rallies against the Obama health care plan, parse the president’s speeches for inaccuracies or link to articles that support their cause. The right has been very effective in using new media to stir up emotions. The left has found the same media to be much less effective for articulating big ideas.


That’s why there’s still no better way to engage captive hearts, minds and eyeballs than with an appearance on prime-time TV. Here’s hoping that the next time Mr. Obama needs to deliver a complex idea, he’ll once again use more than 140 characters at a time.


James P. Othmer, a former advertising executive, is the author of the forthcoming “Adland: Searching for the Meaning of Life on a Branded Planet.”














Pakistan is a nation badly in need of friends and partners. We have sought to forge the ‘Friends of Pakistan’ group with some moderate success and our long-term allies and donors continue, sometimes grudgingly, to help us in our hour of need. Yet it is our neighbour to the north, China, that may be our most durable – and profitable – friend and partner in the long term. Pakistan and China have recently signed a $1 billion accord that is going to underwrite the building of 12 dams in all four of the provinces. China’s Axiom bank will front $700 million in loans and our own Planning Commission will provide the other $300 million. Work is likely to start in 2010 and once complete, the new dams will irrigate 650,000 acres of land as well as generate an unspecified amount of much-needed electricity. We are water-poor and soon to be poorer, and this nationwide project is going to be a powerful factor in the reduction of poverty and the maximization of agricultural output as it gets the most out of what water there is. An MOU has also been signed with China for the construction of the Bunji dam in Gilgit-Baltistan alongside an offer of a transit facility for Chinese businesses giving them easy access to the blue-water ports of Karachi and Gwadar on the Indian Ocean.

China needs Pakistan and Pakistan needs China. The Chinese are far-sighted, and saw long ago that an investment in Gwadar and the reciprocities of trading agreements was going to be good for both them and us. The Chinese are heavily engaged in the up-grading of the Karakoram Highway and are partnered with the government of NWFP to create an all-weather roadlink that will run from Kashgar to Gwadar. Feasibility studies are being conducted as to the possibility of constructing a railway along a similar route to the Karakoram Highway, with enormous implications for trade, tourism and labour mobility. China is already an important player in our telecommunications industry and is soon to be looking at the feasibility of developing solar-power units of up to 20 megawatts, capable of powering small agricultural communities. The important thing to note about all of these projects – and there will be more – is that they are true partnerships. The Chinese are not doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, for them it is a long-term investment on which they will be expecting a return and for the debt we owe them to be repaid. We are not looking to the Chinese for cash handouts; instead we are looking for a mutually profitable relationship that goes both ways. Donor nations may talk the talk of partnership, but China walks the walk.








The province of Balochistan has been in the spotlight. There is talk of granting an amnesty to key nationalist and political figures; the construction of cantonments has been stopped and the Balochistan High Court has accepted a petition for a hearing into the case of the death of Nawab Akbar Bugti and issued summons to a number of former ministers as well as ex-president Pervez Musharraf to attend. It is unlikely he will do so. But the recent developments in Balochistan offer some hope for the future of the province. Collectively, they may act to quieten growing discord within it. The failure to hold a trial into the death of Mr Bugti had added to the sense of injustice running through the province. An open hearing may shed light on some of the mysteries that still persist, and may help to calm feelings.

The evidence of greater wisdom in the government’s decisions on Balochistan is welcome. Certainly, some change in direction is visible compared to policies pursued under Musharraf. In time the altered strategy should bear fruit. But for this to happen it will need to be pursued patiently over a period of time. After all nothing will change instantly. But the mere possibility of change is refreshing and offers a glimmer of hope that in past decades had been all too rare with regard to the issues of Balochistan.







The melodrama that is the Afghan elections is grinding towards the final act. There has been much speculation that the scale of fraud and corruption within the electoral process is as large as to invalidate Hamid Karzais’ victory but the US envoy to Afghanistan says…”Don’t jump to conclusions.” Richard Holbrooke is saying that the independent election commission must be allowed to complete its work before any judgment about the poll or the victor; and that a rerun of the elections is not a viable option – which brings into question the legitimacy of any future Karzai presidency at just about every level. Even allowing for the fact that there was a presupposition that the elections were going to be flawed it is difficult to see how, if the election commission finds fraud on a scale which takes the Karzai vote below fifty per cent, he can govern with any hope of his mandate being accepted. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has weighed in with his own view; largely supportive of Holbrooke and speaking to the BBC he said that he felt that ‘a fair result can be achieved.’

One wonders if these men exist in some sort of parallel universe which has a reality separate to that which we perceive in our own celestial incarnation. ‘A fair result can be achieved’ Mr Miliband? Just how do you deduce that from the available evidence? The election commission has now invalidated results from seventy polling stations in the south and east of the country, where nearly all of the votes were cast for Karzai. The commission has ordered recounts at many other polling stations. There are reliable reports from NGOs working on the election that ‘ghost’ polling stations operated widely, again harvesting Karzai votes. Women were mostly excluded from the vote and there are innumerable reports of multiple voting by individuals resulting in a more than 100 per cent turnout in some areas. This election was not just flawed, Messrs Holbrooke and Miliband, its goose was well and truly cooked. Holbrooke has drawn the line in the sand that is a virtual guarantee of a Karzai victory no matter what the election commission eventually reports – and investigations into irregularities are going to take several months. Whoever the Americans and the British and the other sponsors of this exercise in how-not-to-run-an-election decide has won when the dust has settled, we may be certain that the people of Afghanistan lost it.








No official rejoinder by the government has been given to the white paper issued by the PML [Q] on Gilgit-Baltistan since it was published on Sept 3. Instead the government appears to have tasked paid professional writers to mislead the nation.

I will be moving a privilege motion against the writer authoring the article “Marvi’s white paper on NA package, not so white after all.” Firstly, because of the derogatory language used against parliamentarians as well as misrepresentation of facts given in the white paper. Secondly, because the writer does not consider it us legislators’ right to approve the package, as it is our right to check the executive. This order should have been an act of Parliament in any case. Moreover, especially since the prime minister has committed he would take the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly into confidence.

After achieving independence Gilgit-Baltistan announced its accession to Pakistan in 1948. Pakistan has recognised their area and given passports to people of the territory and considers them “nationals” till such time as their fate is decided through a UN plebiscite.

Moreover, there is a Supreme Court verdict of 1999 which directs the federal government “to ensure that the people of the Northern Areas enjoy their above fundamental rights, namely to be governed through their chosen representatives and to have access to justice through an independent judiciary, inter alia, for the enforcement of their fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution.”

The people of Gilgit-Baltistan are split between provisional provincial status and an Azad Kashmir-style setup. They received neither.

What is most misleading in all government statements on the package is the assertion that this package gives most autonomy. But the fact is that it is the Council which has all the powers. The Council of eight un-elected representatives will be ruling Gilgit-Baltistan from Islamabad. These eight include the prime minister and his cabinet members. Even when the rest of the seven elected Gilgit-Baltistan members are elected onto the Council they will be in minority. This is not autonomy.

The new Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly has no concept of an opposition as described in the Order. Moreover, all material powers are vested either with the prime minister through the Council or with the governor who is vice chairman of the Council. Since the chief minister, the elected representative of the people, does not have the same powers, it is in effect governor’s rule or gederal control.

It is doubtful whether the Rules of Business will be formed with elected representatives of Gilgit-Baltistan being taken into confidence. Considering that the functions and powers of ministers and advisors are not mentioned, there is real change from what the PML gave. Only if the Rules of Business are formed with Gilgit-Baltistan people will it be accepted that they will be like those in Azad Kashmir.

Whilst it is the prerogative of the federal government to appoint the governor, how can the governor be a sitting PPP minister during election days and still be considered neutral? Especially during the interim period it should have been a non-PPP local governor.

Control from the Centre validates the pre-poll rigging allegations regarding why this setup has been brought in. At this time there should have been a caretaker set up, not one controlled by a PPP Minister. When international observers to monitor pre-poll rigging of electoral rolls, etc., were acceptable to the PPP pre-Feb 18, 2008, for their national government (and not a sign of interference then) how can they have a problem with it now? If the PPP blocks international observers it will be seen as a further pre-poll rigging tactic.

The PML has nothing against the BISP programme in can. As a PML MNA I was the first to distribute my personal forms in the area months before the PPP government gave its forms. The issue which is being misrepresented despite the fact that the prime minister’s investigation proves my point that the forms were distributed not only to elected representatives but also to NGOs and civil society representatives. This is against the norm which was apparently followed in the rest of country and is tantamount to giving forms in PPP supporters’ hands for distribution. Since then many allegations of forms being sold and NICs of individuals being kept in exchange for disbursement of monthly dues under the BISP have come to our notice.

During the last one-and-a-half year, implementation of the reforms brought about by the PML in October 2007 through President Musharraf’s package were blocked by the PPP government, and so was development. The onus of implementation could not have been on the PML since post-November 2007 the PML was not in government. Promoting some of the same reforms and taking credit for them is not intellectual honesty. Hunza-Nagar creation and other such points mentioned in the white paper fall under this intellectual dishonesty category.

The Boundary Commission commitment was given by President Musharraf but to-date not implemented. The clock for the PPP government on this issue has been ticking since it took over in March 2008, not August 2009. The results on the rights of Diamir and Shandoor are yet to be given.

The most painful part of the package when I was consulting with the people of Gilgit-Baltistan after the announcement of the package was the complaint that the government had not consulted with the people of the territory. A few PPP officeholders who have vested interests and are beholden to the PPP cannot be constituted as consultations. No national opposition political party was consulted and all opposition central leaders made that clear. Even the nationalists who are strong in Gilgit-Baltistan were not consulted. Kashmiris were critical too. Their one statement sent the entire PPP government consulting with them after the package was announced, and yet the people of Gilgit-Baltistan were still not consulted. This treatment has been noted by them and will not be forgiven. To-date the Order has still not been publicly distributed. So much for transparency! The PML white paper was made after reading the press conference reports. It is the government’s job to provide Order drafts if they want a full consultation.

No amount of paid articles to ridicule the valid criticisms can win the people of Gilgit-Baltistan over. No amount of paid welcome parties for non-Gilgit-Baltistan governors can give the impression that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are with the PPP government. The protests of the nationalists, the political parties and the disgruntled youth are a testament to the actual feelings of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Instead of listening to the real voice of the people, the government is involved in discrediting campaigns. Democratic governments don’t run away from criticism; they welcome it to fix their actions. In my last conversation with the prime minister on the eve of the launch of the package, despite being in opposition I had committed I would come back and report on the actual reaction of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, so that he could fix the package. Instead the package was signed by the president as is with no alterations. What is the point of an opposition trying to be constructive if government continues to deafen the voice of the people. The glass ivory towers won’t win the hearts of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.

The writer is a PML-Q MNA.








In recent years, a standard official response to rising food prices was to blame them on global markets. During the last days of General Musharraf’s rule, when food prices skyrocketed to new heights, economic advisers routinely shifted the responsibility to rising commodity prices in international markets. Inflation was thus conveniently brushed aside as an imported problem. Now, in the midst of a worsening sugar crisis, representatives of the sugar industry are falling back to the same explanation. This is an intellectually lousy justification and a smokescreen for hiding failures of domestic markets.

It is true that in recent years food prices have registered an upward trend in international markets. During the last five years, the global economy has been reeling under the pressure of multiple commodity shocks. But these shocks have had a differential impact on countries, depending on the strength of their domestic institutions and markets. In countries such as Pakistan where domestic markets are imperfectly organized and institutions are generally weaker, the impact of external shocks is often amplified. In others, where institutional quality is superior, the adverse impact of shocks is mitigated. The real question to ask then is this: what is so fundamentally wrong with the way our domestic agricultural markets are organized and what makes them so vulnerable to commodity shocks?

This emphasis on structural deficiencies of our food sector commands a greater significance given the recurring nature of these crises. The sugar industry alone has witnessed a crisis every consecutive year since 2001. Informed observers regard these crises as manufactured, intended as a way of redistributing wealth from consumers to sugar magnates. A recent statement by the finance minister confirmed this by declaring that the sugar mafia has minted Rs25 billion from the present crisis. These claims are largely unsubstantiated, but the surprising frequency with which these crises have rocked the markets indicate that the problems are probably structural in nature.

In his classic work, Markets and States in Tropical Africa, Robert Bates of Harvard University has described how agricultural policies ultimately have a political basis and tend to confer an advantage on political incumbents. This is as much relevant to Pakistan as to Africa. The deeper problems of our sugar industry are, in part, political. Undeniably, the most powerful actors in the entire sugar chain are sugar mills. They enjoy immense political clout and are much better organized. The Pakistan Sugar Mills Association (PSMA), which operates as one of the country’s foremost cartel, safeguards interests of the sugar lobby and brings together, even at the height of political confrontation, politicians from different ideological persuasions. This lobby has the ability to convert any imminent shortage of sugar into a chronic crisis. Apart from outright hoarding, two key mechanisms are employed for this purpose: preventing timely import of sugar and distorting production incentives for sugarcane growers.

An astute economic observer could have predicted back in March that a sugar crisis was brewing up. The Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the cabinet was fully informed that existing sugar stocks in the country were not sufficient to meet consumption needs. Despite this, the ECC failed to import sugar in time. Had the government placed an import order five months ago, it could have benefited from lower sugar prices in global markets at the time and averted the current shortage. The important question is why did the ECC turn down the proposal to import sugar? Was it acting at the behest of sugar lobbies that are well represented in the cabinet? What do the minutes of the ECC suggest? If there were sufficient political will, it will probably take only a few hours to fix the responsibility. The state, however, is helpless before these politically influential actors and unable to enforce its writ.

The second part of the puzzle relates to the role of farmers, whose interests are largely neglected by both official policy and public debate. Despite being the real producers of value, those who grow sugar cane are heartlessly squeezed in the marketplace. The principal beneficiaries of any price hike are always sugar mills or processors. Farmers lie on the lowest rung of the value chain and are denied any benefits of soaring prices, with the result that sugar prices are rarely a guide or signal for farmers. If markets were free and fair, higher sugar prices should have translated into incentives for farmers to grow more sugar cane. Quite the contrary, sugar cane production has gradually reduced in recent years. This is manifested in falling area under cultivation.

How can one reconcile rising sugar prices with falling production levels? Why are higher prices failing to offer the right incentives to farmers? The obvious retort of millers is that wheat, whose support price has been considerably raised, offers a better alternative to farmers and is consequently driving them away from the cultivation of sugar cane. But the rise in wheat prices is a relatively recent phenomenon, whereas the crises faced by our sugar industry are more endemic and long-term in nature. The answer, it appears, has to be found in the structure of agrarian relations.

(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:







Almost overnight 9/11 transformed the world. It was indeed an earth shaking event that completely changed the security paradigm. It has changed the way we think, act, travel and live. If there was one country that suffered the most from the events of 9/11 it is clearly Pakistan. Thousands of people have died and many more injured in Pakistan and the saga of death and destruction continues unabated. What is most tragic and in a way grossly unfair is that the international community and United States has not realised the great harm that has visited us since.

There was not a single Pakistani among the 19 hijackers as they were all Arabs, mostly from Saudi Arabia and a few from Egypt. All the planning for this operation was done in Europe and funding came from the Middle East. When America let loose its might on Afghanistan, it is Pakistan that received the worst fallout. Leadership of Taliban and Al Qaeda along with their hundreds of followers crossed the seamless border and found sanctuary in Pakistan’s tribal belt. Thousands of Afghan refugees poured in, over and above the two million of them that already we were hosting. FATA that had remained neglected ever since the creation of Pakistan took a further blow during the Afghan jihad when its social, tribal and administrative structures were weakened or completely destroyed. When events of 9/11 occurred it suffered the most as it acted as a buffer and cushioned the shock and awe of the US invasion for Afghanistan. In the process the Pakistani state that always had a weak control over FATA lost its writ in many parts paving the way for the influx of Al Qaeda and Taliban.

It is worth reminding ourselves that during this entire period of turbulence starting from the 80’s until now FATA and NWFP, which were already very backward in terms of human indexes whether it is education, per capita income, health and empowerment of women suffered even more. With a fast growing population gross neglect of education has produced a generation with hardly any skills to relate to either national or global economy. The collapse and absence of the public education system with 2 per cent annual growth rate in population thus became a serious threat to the nation state. No wonder then that militancy has become the most lucrative occupation for the youth who find it as a means of livelihood and a vehicle for empowerment in these areas.

The above facts notwithstanding, Pakistan cannot absolve itself of its responsibility for where it stands today. Its robust participation as a front line state in the Afghan jihad against the Soviets without taking measures to protect its vital interests was a strategic error. Similarly, its support of the Taliban in the quest for its misguided ambition for strategic depth in Afghanistan was an unmitigated disaster. Both these foreign policy decisions cost the country heavily in terms of weakening its state structures, destroying the social fabric, undermining the economy and weakening political institutions. Meanwhile, military grew even more politically powerful giving it a key role in the affairs of the state. Moreover, Pakistan’s support to the Taliban strengthened reactionary and retrogressive forces in neighbouring Afghanistan and within Pakistan. This resulted in an ideological blowback causing strategic disorientation among our ruling elite. Taliban philosophy is the very antithesis of the vision of Qaid-e-Azam and opposed to the forces of progress and modernisation that are crucial to Pakistan’s march into the 21st century. Moreover, association with Taliban soiled our international image that already had suffered with the military takenver. Bracketing by US of Afghanistan and Pakistan in Obama’s latest regional strategy could be attributed as a cumulative outcome of these flawed policies.

Pakistan’s relations with India also suffered due to 9/11. Whereas Pakistan became a frontline state and non-NATO ally, it was India that truly acquired the status of a strategic partner of US with the nuclear deal and cooperation in defence, technology and space. One of the major weaknesses in Pak-US relations has been the lack of confidence between the two countries at least until recently. And the anti-American sentiment has prevented Pakistan from being able to fully actualise and benefit from the relationship.

New Delhi taking advantage of Pakistan’s predicament after 9/11 stepped up its pressure and orchestrated a campaign that Kashmiri jihadi elements should be treated as terrorists. It also suited western countries not to differentiate between terrorism and genuine freedom struggle. Nexus between Kashmiri militants and Al Qaeda and Taliban are a source of serious concern to the international community and the problem of Kashmir remains frozen.

Initially Pakistan benefited from economic assistance offered by US, western powers and multilateral agencies. But in these eight years the cost of war has been staggering in terms of loss of life, disabling injuries, displacement of millions of people and extensive destruction of private and public property. Rough estimates indicate it is anywhere between 35 to 40 billion dollars and Pakistan has received from Washington about 11 billion dollars which includes reimbursements for the services rendered. In the process economy has been a serious casualty as foreign and local investment dropped due to security considerations. And clearly Pakistan has partially lost its sovereignty as its political and economic affairs are being micro-managed by the US. Politically, 9/11 has contributed to the polarisation of our society and made it more violent and intolerant.

The support of President Bush and of western powers to a military dictator for seven years further weakened Pakistan’s political institutions. Wheeling and dealing by external players to protect their interests under the cover of seeking a smooth transition from military to civilian rule did create several distortions in our political system. Nonetheless, the advent of a democratic government however fragile it may be, with the support of military has proved to be better equipped in dealing with militancy and extremism.

The writer is a retired lieutenant-general. Email:







Because of his iconic unpopularity Mr Zardari poses a threat to no one, not the Opposition, not the military and not America, though Washington wishes he were less disliked. Talk of the “minus one” formula, and now the Nawaz League ultimatum to Mr Zardari to stop playing dirty within 48 hours, suggests that the gloves are coming off, but not really. Neither of the major parties or the military is ready, and also not the country for demonstrations, hartals or long marches.

The people’s taste for democracy continues to linger. It will take another year or two of rising inflation, increased joblessness, more corruption scandals, additional suo moto actions and a further deterioration of the security situation before the people begin demanding change. By that time, elections won’t be far away and we may, therefore, just make it.

Of course, that won’t solve the problem because the awam knowing what they want will no doubt elect those who will give it to them good and hard, like the present lot, and the search for another saviour will start afresh. When asked whether he prayed for the electorate choosing the right leader, a friend replied, “No, when I see the electorate and those elected, I pray for the country.”

As much as the antics of the politicians the attitude of the media will determine the political temperature and what may happen next, such is the media’s new-found influence. It has finally slipped its shackles. It is not only free, but has assumed a license to print whatever it wishes. Scandals galore pepper the pages. Indiscretions of the mighty are faithfully recorded, tape recorded and put on air. Editors are exultant they can now indulge all the biases and prejudices of their proprietors while ignoring opposing views. Only the advertisers can rein them in but there is always a mobile phone group to make up the loss of revenue if an irate advertiser drops out. Government threats no longer work. Recently one mega media group thumbed its nose at the regime and hinted that it would have recourse to the now independent judiciary for protection if they were unduly badgered. The government backed off. The threat of litigation or worse does at times elicit a rare retraction but it is a grudging one at best. If the offending story was on page one the correction is buried somewhere on page twenty.

But there is a good side to this development. Compensating for the lack of an effective and powerful opposition the media acts as a strong countervailing presence. It serves as a forum for the public and apprises them freely about what is going on. It enables every good cause a hearing and challenges false doctrines. Hence it carries more credibility with the public than the government. But, as bad luck would have it for Mr Zardari, the papers which have the largest circulation are highly critical of him. Their owners have traditionally been opposed to his party and are now finally able to bare their teeth. Although, to be fair, some of Mr Zardari’s antics such as the last minute capitulation over the restoration of the chief justice would not have endeared him to even the most sympathetic hack. Similarly, Mr Zardari’s uncanny knack of selecting square pegs for round holes when it comes to placements and disastrously timed moves and u-turns never ceases to amaze.

In a country where the literacy rate hovers stubbornly around 55 per cent for men and 35 per cent for women and has a rich oral tradition, television is the most effective medium. Unfortunately for Mr Zardari here too he can find no respite from his detractors. Influential TV anchors seem pitted against him.

What then is it about Mr Zardari that makes him so unpopular with all and sundry? It cannot be his record of alleged wrongdoings because there are politicians whose lists of misdemeanours and felonies are no less long but who are not remotely as unpopular as Mr Zardari; nor do they evoke the raw hostility that he seems to. Besides, as Mr Zardari has pointed out, he has paid his dues. Eleven years of incarceration and exile is long enough by any reckoning, even that prescribed by the law, for crimes for which he was never convicted.

Is it then the crass insensitivity that his regime has displayed on occasions? Not so. Dictators were far worse and his civilian opponents no better. Is it that Mr Zardari is taking all the flack for the unpopular American alliance? Perhaps, but this is hardly fair. The alliance is scarcely one of his creations; and it is just as well, considering what dire straits Pakistan is in, and how crucial the American alliance has become for our economic survival, that he is attending to it conscientiously.

Why also is every allegation of corruption levelled against Mr Zardari taken as the gospel truth? And every act of bad governance laid at his doorstep? And what about the mindlessly evil and despicable whispering campaign that he was somehow responsible for the murder of his wife? Of course, Mr Zardari has not helped himself by choosing the company and heeding the advice of cronies who are by all accounts an intellectually vacuous lot with atrocious habits and tastes. But surely that cannot be the only reason for the extreme antipathy that even normally sensible and moderate folk maintain for him.

Mr Zardari’s supporters say that the answer can be found in the dislike of his party and person and everything they represent in the powerful Punjab-centric media. This animus over a period of time, they aver, has become irrational, pathological and all consuming.

In my view the reasons are somewhat different. First that unlike the Bhuttos Mr Zardari does not have the ability of consummate politicians to “Make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.” In comparison to the Bhuttos his communication skills are non-existent. He also lacks charisma that indefinable quality that if you have you do not need anything else and if you do not it really does not matter what you have. His wife had it. She lit up a room. As a result Mr Zardari, even though he is said to be a loyal friend, a generous man, a loving father and brave to boot appears to the public as just another run of the mill devious politician or at best sincerely bogus. He provides the perfect grist to the propaganda mills of the media. John F Kennedy once said that “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie—deliberate contrived and dishonest—but the myth—persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.” Mr Zardari’s unsavoury reputation may well be more myth than reality but outside a court of law, where perception and not evidence counts, he stands condemned.

However long he is at the helm the best Mr Zardari can hope for is to be judged on what he has delivered rather than by what TV anchors or the print media have to say. If he stops trying to be popular rather than effective history may yet judge him kindly. Anyway he won’t get a second chance. You cannot make a souffle rise twice.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:







The 100-day programme announced by Prime Minister Gilani in March 2008 on receiving a unanimous vote of confidence from the National Assembly included the abolition of the NAB which he said had failed miserably in performing its functions and was being used for political motives. No one will contest Gilani’s contention that the NAB was misused for political purposes. But the culprit was Musharraf, not the NAB. Nor can it be said that the NAB failed “miserably.” There was certainly room for improvement in its performance. But it nevertheless was instrumental in recovering 240 billion rupees from corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen and obtaining many convictions. If the NAB failed to bring to justice the most high-profile figures accused of large-scale plunder of national wealth, the main reason is that it was prevented by Musharraf from doing its job.

The new accountability law, Holders of Public Offices (Accountability) Bill, which the government presented to the National Assembly in April this year, seeks to abolish the NAB, as Gilani promised, and replace it with a toothless Accountability Commission. It was evidently drafted in the Presidency with the collaboration of Zardari’s legal team. Gilani has probably not even read it. The Bill was considered by the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice. Some of the recommendations of the committee which sought to strengthen the law have not been accepted by the government and the Bill has been returned to the committee for review.

The whole purpose of the new law, it is obvious, is to make conviction of our public representatives for graft more difficult and make the penalties milder.

First, the powers of the Accountability Commission have been drastically clipped. While the NAB had extensive investigative powers of its own, the Commission would only have a general power to require the production of documents, excluding banking documents, and to seek the assistance of any agency, police officer or official. The Commission will not have the power, which the NAB had, to demand information from banks, to question individuals and to arrest suspects. Its power to request assistance from foreign governments is being severely curtailed. The power of freezing property of suspects is being withdrawn. Besides, corruption will become a bailable offence. So, the corrupt politicians will have full freedom to transfer their ill-gotten gains abroad, or convert them locally into assets which can be concealed more easily, and leave the country.

Second, there is a much narrower definition of the offence of corruption. The owning of property disproportionate to means, misuse of authority to gain a benefit and wilful default in repayment of a bank loan will not constitute an offence.

Third, there will be, believe it or not, immunity from proceedings for anything which has been done by a holder of public office in good faith or in exercise of “powers believed to be vested in him or [for anything] intended to be done … by virtue of his office.” In other words, there cannot be any criminal proceedings for graft against a holder of public office if he was only “exercising his powers.” This must be the only law of its kind in any country. Obviously, the ingenuity of our legal wizards knows no bounds.

Fourth, there is to be a limitation period for prosecuting an offender: three years after they leave office. After that, they will have nothing to fear and can happily keep their booty.

Fifth, if despite all these protections, a person gets caught with his hand in the till, he will still be able to escape conviction by “voluntarily” returning his ill-gotten wealth. A thief who returns stolen property is still punishable, but a politician who does so will go scot-free. The preamble to the Bill gives it a very fetching name: it is called accountability in a “non-oppressive” manner. Henceforth, there is to be no “oppression” of any public representatives as they go about the business of making money.

Sixth, the maximum penalty on conviction has been reduced from 14 to seven years’ imprisonment and the disqualification period for election from 21 to five years. (In China, corrupt politicians are executed, and in Taiwan former President Chen Shui-bian was sentenced a few days ago to life imprisonment for graft involving $12 million – peanuts by the high standards set by our politicians.)

As if all this was not enough, there is more: The Bill does not apply to the sitting president and governors. Under Article 248 of the Constitution, they enjoy immunity from criminal proceedings while in office. But after they leave office, they can be proceeded against for any criminal deeds, whether done before, during or after the period of incumbency. The new accountability law, like the NAB Ordinance, effectively gives them lifelong immunity for corruption in office even after they quit their posts.

Incidentally, the Article 248 immunity, which is a legacy of the privileges enjoyed during the colonial period by the British Viceroy and is unknown in Western democracies, is the major reason why Zardari chose to become president rather than prime minister after the PPP won the last election. That in itself is a telling argument for restricting this immunity to acts done in an official capacity. This was also the recommendation made in 1954 by the Basic Principles Committee of the Constituent Assembly and was later enshrined in Article 213 of the 1956 constitution. The cause of accountability would be greatly helped if our present constitution were also amended to withdraw the president’s immunity for his personal actions. This proposal has been made to the parliamentary committee on constitutional reform. What are you doing about it, Raza Rabbani?

The president should also be required to disclose information on his property for public scrutiny like the MNAs and MPAs who have to file declarations of assets annually under the Representation of the People Act, which are then released to the public. But this law is inadequate as it only requires them to give information on property held in their own name or that of their spouses or dependents. To close this loophole, the government should initiate legislation making it legally obligatory for the president, MNAs and MPAs to disclose also assets held by companies and entities controlled by them, including offshore entities and intermediaries. And if the government does not introduce this legislation, some private member of Parliament should. It would do a lot for the good name of our Parliament whose members are currently seen only as being interested in advancing their own narrow interests.

However, Zardari need not wait for this legislation to declare his property. He promised last year that he would do so voluntarily after his election. But he is a busy person and seems to have forgotten. When Fauzia Wahab was asked about it in a TV discussion on Sept 10, she replied that she had not spoken to Zardari about this issue. One year after the election it is surely time someone, maybe Fauzia Wahab, gently reminded him of his promise and requested him to spare some of his precious time to disclose details of his property.

It is clear that because of its many flaws, the government’s Accountability Bill will only encourage and facilitate corruption. It also falls far short of Pakistan’s obligations under the UN Convention against Corruption. The Bill has rightly been described as a permanent NRO. It is so fundamentally flawed that it cannot be fixed through any amendments.

If Gilani is serious about reducing corruption in public life, he should withdraw this bill. Instead he should strengthen the independence of the NAB under the existing law and bring it in line with Pakistan’s obligations under the UN Convention. He should also make the accountability law applicable to the serving president and governors and introduce legislation to withdraw their immunity from criminal proceedings for their personal acts and make it obligatory for them to disclose their property.

If Gilani chooses this path, he will have to overcome opposition from the Presidency, but he will have public opinion overwhelmingly behind him. If instead he fails to do so, we might as well say goodbye to accountability.








They despaired of me, my teachers. There I was, all of seven whole years old, and still not able to read any better than when I was six – or five, even. They patiently sat with me as we struggled through the ‘Janet and John’ books that were our basic primer and I struggled to make sense of the squiggles that were letters and words. My Mum and Dad looked pretty glum as well. Seemed a normal boy, they thought … so why can’t he learn to read? Then, almost as if a light had come on in my head, I could. And once I learned there was no stopping me as I cantered along to catch up ground and more importantly still, to get away of the clutches of the teachers giving me ‘special lessons’ and out into the playground so that I could torture boys smaller than myself and pull the wings off butterflies like any other normal child.

The first ‘proper book’ that I read when I was about seven-and-a-half was ‘The valley of adventure’ by Enid Blyton. By the time I was twelve I was well into the Greek classics like the Iliad and the Odyssey and I recall having my reading age tested at 11 – and it was the same as that of an averagely educated seventeen year-old. Sadly I managed to further disappoint my parents by going into farming rather than a glittering career in academia, but books and reading were then and are now, a passion.

And here I am in Pakistan where reading is as much a mystery to most as differential calculus is to me … a paradox my parents would never have resolved given their inability to understand my affinity with cows and corn. (It passed … I went on to become a social worker and psychotherapist, all that reading must have done me good somewhere along the line).

Which brings us to the now-passed International Literacy Day which was celebrated here in the Land of the Unlettered by assorted government figures lauding the value and importance of literacy – meaning writing as well as reading. Hitherto all this talk of investment in education and raising the literacy rate was not much more than hot air – there was never the money to back it up and who wants the masses to be able to read anyway as they’ll only get uppity and start demanding their rights and all that sort of nonsense. But this year there does seem to be a slightly different spin on the business of reading and writing. Some wildly improbable targets were bandied about, and we have yet to see precisely how the government proposes to increase the national literacy ratio when education spending as a percentage of GDP is actually dropping – to 2.10 per cent in the year ’08-9. The talk now is of up to a whopping 7 per cent of GDP going into education – eventually – and of a nation of bookworms fondly caressing their treasured copy of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ as they walk behind the buffalo-plough in 2020.

Talk-show hosts grilled the education minister about all this, likewise the chairman of the Higher Education Commission. They smiled through clenched teeth, ticked the boxes that said ‘commitment’ and ‘development’ and ‘our nations’ future’ and admitted that yes, these were the plans, but no, they had no idea how they were going to get from A to B or whether C was even a possibility. Perhaps Pakistan will be a bit like me and wake up one morning to find that all those wiggly things on bits of paper actually say ‘Never trust a politician’. A wonderful thing, literacy.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan.








FIRING by the Indian forces across the international border on Friday night was an incident of very serious nature, which could have led to dangerous consequences, had Pakistani authorities not shown patience. The Indians resorted to unprovoked firing when two rockets landed almost two miles deep on their side of the Wagah border.

Pakistani authorities have categorically denied firing of any rockets from their side and even under diplomatic norms as and when there is an incident that is thoroughly checked before taking any action. However the sudden firing by the Indians speak of their bullying mindset to assert superiority and keep the neighbours under pressure. This action gives a clear message that Pakistan’s keenness for normalisation of relations and certain proposals mooted by its leadership to settle the thorny issue of Kashmir have gone abegging. There should be no doubt that the Indian designs are clear to all the neighbours that it wants to impose its hegemony and seeks the creation of a greater India. Unfortunately due to its large market economy, world leaders for obvious reasons, ignore its intervention and threatening postures towards small neighbouring countries. Despite the arrogance shown repeatedly by the Indian leadership, Pakistan is keen to have good relations and enhance its trade but we are not for lowering our guards in any case and must keep our minimum deterrence. The firing incident should be an eye opener for the US and British leadership who, without being well aware of the typical Hindu psyche, have been making statements that Pakistan does not face any danger from India but from the extremists and terrorists on the western border. There should be no doubt in any one’s mind that the Indians are hell-bent to force Pakistan for the trial of Hafiz Saeed on charges of the Mumbai terrorist attacks. However despite repeated demands, New Delhi has not been able to provide conclusive evidence that will stand up in a court of law against Hafiz Saeed and instead as pointed out by the Interior Minister, Pakistan is being provided the same material in a rehashed manner. In sheer frustration New Delhi could go to any extent and invent events to bring Pakistan under pressure like the incident of Friday. Therefore we would urge that though our economy is under strain, we need to continue with the up gradation and modernisation of our armed forces and keep the nation along to deter the bullying tactics of the neighbour.







AFTER the sad 7/7 incident in 2005 when a series of coordinated suicide bomb attacks on London’s public transport system during the morning rush hour paralysed the life of the great city, the psyche of the Britishers has been severely dented. The tragedy was in fact compared with 9/11 which shook the United States and the World equally.

An anti-Islamic demonstration was organised outside a Mosque in North West London on Saturday by the right wing extremist group to protest against the construction of a new five floor mosque. According to reports, riot police stepped in to prevent the rally from going ahead as Muslims had also gathered there to protect the Mosque. The Police rather than taking action against participants of anti Islamic demonstration, charged at the Muslim men and corralled them around the Mosque. A London Assembly member for Brent said the protestors did not belong to the local area and had come from outside which was a big worry quoting some people that the fascists had arrived in cars to participate in the anti-Muslim protest. Because of this incident, during which several Muslims were arrested, British born Pakistanis particularly feel harassed. That is perhaps the reason that, the Britons who are rightly perceived to be cool and broad minded, their decision making has gone faulty. The action against Muslim community will boomerang and promote a sense of extremism and terrorism in Britain too as well as in other European countries. Such tendency of acting against minorities and people from other races, we would re-emphasise, may ultimately result into White Talibanisation Europe. It is therefore, in our view, high time that British policy makers should give a serious thought to the menace of distrust about various communities and evolve a strategy to weave in a homogenous society that was the hall mark and identity of the great country.








ISLAMABAD Chamber of Commerce and Industry has asked the government to encourage micro finance organizations to develop interest free financing facilities for small enterprises that would give boost to business activities and alleviate poverty in the country. The ICCI has been floating innovative and pragmatic ideas on a regular basis to the Government for boosting economy.

The suggestion for encouraging the micro financing is timely and will have far reaching impact if implemented in the right earnest. For the last several decades, the focus of successive governments had been on execution of mega projects, which of course play a crucial role in national economy including job creation, poverty eradication and increasing production. However we are also of the opinion that side by side attention need to be given to encourage small businesses and entrepreneurs through supporting environment including financial assistance. The experience of micro financing has proved a great success in Bangladesh and efforts were made to emulate it in Pakistan but with little success. As pointed out by the ICCI, micro finance institutions should be encouraged to reach out to the deprived and low income entrepreneurs in rural and urban areas. Easy micro financing could play a vital role in promoting small businesses and lead to self employment and small scale job creation. Though extending small loans on interest free basis would be difficult for the Government and the private sector institutions but these could be provided at the minimum possible interest rates on the pattern of no profit no loss basis. Establishment of micro finance banks in the urban and rural areas would be a good idea where these banks can seek small scale deposits from the local people and extend loans to the deserving ones who have good reputation to pay back. We believe that promotion of small businesses would provide a strong base for fast track growth of national economy and enable the country to get out of the mess that we are in now a days.







On the outskirts of the beautiful city of Algiers a visitor would find the very well maintained Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery. Buried there are servicemen who lost their lives fighting for the ultimate victors during World War II. Etched on the gravestone of one young soldier one finds the epitaph: “Some day we shall know the reason why”. Could there be a more apt summing up of man’s anguish over the insanity of war than this poignant outcry of the distraught family of this young victim? Despite the so-called march of civilization and the staggering advance of technology, the tragic fact remains that, try as they might, no one has so far been able to accurately pinpoint ‘the reason why’. Over the years men have gone to war against other men at the behest of ambitious leaders, killing and maiming their fellow beings in the process. And yet, when history is at last writ –by the victors – nothing but nothing emerges to justify the carnage, the cruelty and the havoc wrought as a result of these horrendous campaigns.

History of man’s march toward civilization (?) is replete with vivid instances of man’s inhumanity to man; of man’s greed, rapaciousness and untold ambition. All to what end? Man’s inherent mental capacity to distinguish right from wrong is, instead, utilized to justify the unjustifiable; man’s covetousness of what is not his but rather the veritable right of his fellow beings. This has ever been the tragedy of humankind that appears to have lost its way in the labyrinth of rapaciousness and untold ambition. Each war that has been fought has had its own peculiar justification and its own particular set of advocates. These advocates (spin-doctors in modern lexicon) take pains and go to any extreme not only to justify the conflict but also to glorify the gory details in ways only these individuals are capable of. In the current conflicts the powers that be have coined a brand new pretext: preemption. This pretext is based on the philosophy that a mighty power has the inherent right to hunt down and destroy any hapless minion that in its opinion could one day be a threat to its own selfish interests. It is all a bit wooly but then it is not for the victims to reason why.

The two wars being waged in Afghanistan and Iraq are no different from the wars in the past waged by those who coveted what was not rightfully theirs. The solitary difference is that the visual media have given the conflicts an entirely new dimension. People around the world follow them like on going soap operas; only that the bullets are real, the smart bombs and daisy cutters lethal and it is real human beings who are being cut down. The euphemisms devised by the spin-doctors and drilled into the memory banks of the anchormen and women do not make the carnage any less tragic. What is surpassing these two wars in insanity is the chapeau ‘war on terror’ that shows no sign of waning down. The world, as a result, is passing through an extremely difficult, nay critical, period. Talk everywhere is of belligerence, not peace; of bigotry, not tolerance. War, which was once regarded by sages as the last option, is now being peddled as a quick-fix solution for all ills. Human life, shorn of its sanctity, has never appeared so cheap or so dispensable.

A wanton act of terror appears to have turned the entire world order upside down. By hindsight it should not now be unclear that it need not have been so. Doesn’t the irrational response of the great world leaders over the past years indicate that they have played right into the hands of the ‘terrorists’? After all what does a terrorist hope to achieve through his desperate act, but to create terror? A dispassionate look back would indicate that this is exactly what the perpetrators of nine/eleven have managed to achieve. Should, then, this not be seen as the failure of the leaders of the so-called free world to fine-tune their reaction? The response to terror certainly does not lie in counter-terror, just as the riposte to murder does not lie in a mindless vendetta.

The international agencies have yet to pin a plausible definition to ‘terrorism’ or, more importantly to ‘state terrorism’. In the state of affairs the world is in today, it would be inappropriate to apportion blame for extremism and/or terrorism or to give it a racial or religious label. No religion condones wanton violence per se. All uphold the sanctity of human life. All advocate justice, fair play and righteousness. It is the greed of man rather than his creed that breeds violence. And greed has no nationality or ethnic basis. Instead of declaring a unilateral ‘war on terror’, it would perhaps be more in the fitness of things to create a universal ‘coalition against terror’.

What has Present Bush’s war achieved so far. How many terrorists have been put out of business? And what of the countless innocents cut down as ‘collateral damage’? The only thing that the ‘war on terror’ has wrought is to give open license to fiefdoms around the world to fulfill their own petty agendas. What is more, the resulting tension has spawned fresh genres of terrorists.

Time may be opportune for the elders of the world to join their heads together to devise an integrated plan to tackle the root cause of terror. If this course were to be followed, the elders may well come to the conclusion that the remedy lies not in a ‘war on terror’ but rather on a course of conciliation. War against an unseen and unknown enemy can only lead to a blind alley. Let us not delude ourselves.

The path that the powers that be have chosen may well be the very one the terrorists want them to adopt. The elders of the world have the duty to pause and ponder over what has gone wrong with the world all of a sudden. Why have all the right thinking people on earth lost their power of eloquence? Are we not concerned about the legacy that we will bequeath to our children? Surely the coming generations deserve better!








Is Pakistan acceptable to US as an economic, and military power? Does the US global strategy clash with a stronger Pakistan. Why is the US opposed to a nuclear Islamabad. Is Pakistan ignoring the threats posed by the Indo-US strategic partnership. Neither it began with 9/ 11, nor has it ended thereafter. At the most, as it, quite certainly, seems to be, the US global interest goes no further than granting Pakistan, a very limited space, for it’s bare minimum survival on the map. History has a reminder that instead of opening it’s markets, the luring assistance i.e. limited aid, and low interest loans, have long been Washington’s ploy to consume Pakistan , sometimes, as part of cold war years bulwark against communism, and, sometimes, as the frontline warrior, which it is today in the endless war on terror.

With the US led markets purposely denied, the economic reverses, that Pakistan experienced under the failed civil and military leaderships, ceaselessly continue under the banner of economic mismanagement, lost markets, mounting debts, trimmed sovereignty, and threatened national security. The talk of access to US-led markets makes headlines only to be ditched by the dream aid- packages, offered, every other decade, to the successive Pak-regimes.

The strategy to ensure a debilitated Pakistan is yielding multiple political, financial, military, and strategic dividends for the US- led endeavor as follows : Political dividends: There seems no lapse in US- assessment, that, despite the fact that Pakistan is the sixth largest part of the world population, a nuclear power, and the biggest Muslim nation between South Asia, and the Atlantic, it will stay under leaderships that would allow US coercion to, unrestrictedly, dictate, and manage every thing from it’s security and, foreign policy, to it’s regime-change and political settlements, all of which have, over the years, grown to encompass a lot more, including , in particular, it’s ideological, educational, and social reconstruction. To solidify these gains, the US-established diplomatic pressure-bridge between Washington and Islamabad, keeps bringing in , besides the permanent Holbrooke factor, hordes after hordes of towering US Senators, Congressmen, higher officials representing the CIA, FBI, National Intelligence, CENTCOM , ,and above all, the Pentagon’s top brass, including, Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mike Mullen, the regular US top gun to Islamabad, in addition, of course, to the Uncle Sam’s resident overseer, the US ambassador in the capital. What is, indeed, to the nation, a humiliating US intrusiveness , and a diplomatic terrorization, is, somehow, to the “ victimized” US, just another maneuver to fortify the exhausted Islamabad’s focus on it’s war, leaving it, thereby, without the crucial assets of time, energy, and, resources, for it’s normal state-management.

Had the US-administration deployed as many as 150 thousand troops in Afghanistan, as it did in Iraq, the people, and the exchequer in Washington would have found themselves immeasurably bleeding in, and around the Hindukush from the early moments of war. But the rewarding Bush-threats , then, to Pakistan, the unwavering Musharraf co-operation over the years, and the US- guided regime in today’s Islamabad have, all, not only contributed before, but, are still, through the new faces, contributing, to what may be called a stunningly cost-effective US Afghan- war With just over 700 hundred US troops( roughly 80 per annum) lost in 8 years, the cost of the US- Afghan war( about an average of10 to 12 billion dollars per annum (with salaries etc included about $ 21 billion) until right before the recent new deployments), as opposed to the cost of the US-Iraq war( an estimated average of120 billion per annum, plus nearly 5000 dead), makes it highly affordable with the result that there is hardly , any serious public demand, or debate within the United States, for it’s troops-withdrawal, or for an end to the Afghan war.

The key to the low- cost US-war: over hundred thousand Pak- troops deployment along the Afghan border,( the equivalent of which could cost the US about a staggering 70 to 80 billion per annum) again, in return for as little as billion dollar a year , which, even with the promised conditional assistance of $1.5 billion, turns the US war, in fact, into a free Western crusade. Thus, with the help of Pak-regimes, both past and present, the prolonged US war in Afghanistan, that is choking Pak-economy, is hardly, any more than a minor military discomfort easily bearable for decades to come if the future US administrations so opt to continue.

The occupation of Afghanistan offers a wide array of strategic opportunities to the US, which include, but, are not limited to, the following: With it’s growing military might, and operations along the Pak- Afghan border, the US remains ideally located to exercise maximum containment-pressure over any further weaponization, or needed expansion within Pakistan’s limited nuclear program..

Also, based on the alleged possibility that some how Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, or, materials, could one day fall in to the hands of Alqaeda, or, the extremists, any US contingency plans, to, preemptively, seize or destroy, small Pak- nuclear arsenal, despite the difficulties involved, may never be ruled out. Again, amid growing silence, the question is, whether Pakistan has, failed, under US pressure, to respond, this time, to the mega threat posed by the Indian navy’s nuclear build-up—the launch of it’s Pak-specific first atomic submarine, SSBN, Arihant— in the Indian ocean? Don’t let, finances, or misjudgment deprive Pakistan of long range, sea- born strategic retaliatory strike capability, which, along with land based nuclear assets, would, certainly, operate to deter any future western adventurism against our otherwise routinely threatened republic.

The US is making it’s presence felt with an intense demand that Pakistan shift it’s convetional concentration from India to the US anti-terror war. Some of the Pak- troops deployments, away from the Indo- Pak border to the Afghan border , testify to the leadership’s capitulation. US defense secretary, Robert Gates, has, pointed, as late as Sep 10, to the need for such a change. Also, in the wake of Bush anti-terror-doctrine , the termination of Pak- support for the Kashmiris freedom, became even a greater fiasco in that New Delhi, the US strategic partner, quickly surged, and remains, to date, as the “unchallenged” occupier of Kashmir due to the US- forced exclusion of Pakistan from this sensitive issue, ironically, in an imposed war which it continues to fight, but, only to see, in so doing, the J&K— it’s supreme national interest— lost, for now, to India.

The US-backed huge expansion of India’s economic, political, and military influence in Afghanistan—a direct source of active interference, both, in the NWFP, and Balochistan— has already given NewDelhi a strong foothold, coupled with a strategic advantage effectively eliminating Pakistan from it’s historically secure backyard, which bears close similarity to the US-steered exclusion of Pakistan from the issue of Kashmir. The unchecked Indianization of Afghanistan, that goes on under the umbrella of US war on terror, could eventually witness, not only permanent Indian military presence near Pakistan’s Western borders, but, also divide and cripple, needles to say, it’s already fragile defenses in the east against India.

Thus the picture is clear that the US has vested interest in an economically unstable and militarily vulnerable Pakistan. An Islamic Republic whose economic and military strength must always remain so abridged as to prevent it from ever acquiring a major power status and from ever playing a major power role in the Indian ocean region and beyond.







This present government which claims to be democratic and representative of the will of the Pakistani people promotes the same sell-out policy of Pakistan’s sovereignty as was done by the previous one. Two new US drones air strikes inside Pakistani territory in recent days with an unknown number of innocent people including women and children killed - and there is no protest and not even any comment by the sitting government. It seems quite clear that either the rulers don’t know what sovereignty means or they don’t care. The un-touch-ability of the Pakistani territory from across the border seems to be not an issue any more for those whose only aim in office is to stay there and make hey till the sun shines.

The deteriorating state institutions including administration, law and order and poverty in Pakistan are a visible sign for that. But there is another issue which also touches the question of sovereignty: That is the leasing out of large chunks of agricultural land in blocks of 5,000 to 10,000 Acres to foreign investors who are bound to exploit the resources and products sale in international market at high price resulting in price escalation of these commodities produced locally as the case of Cement, Sugar, automotives and land cartels have surfaced, A deal for lease of 5,000 acres to gulf investors in Punjab province portrayed as barren land is being given to be brought under cultivation, which is under active negotiation. Pakistani territory and soil which was secured after a long struggle and sacrifice for independence belongs to the Pakistani nation will soon be plundered by foreign investors to the entire detriment of the local population - the right now living one and the future generations. It is not the property of any ruler or government it is national assets of every country and not at their disposal to throw to winds on their personal considerations.

When the news about the negotiations for the land sale or lease came out there should have been an outcry by the public. But of course, most of the people and especially the landless peasants who would need that land for their survival can’t read the newspaper and don’t understand anything about politics or national affairs and are anyway in such a miserable condition that they are more concerned about the availability of food stuff and the price for it than about land leases to foreigners and sovereignty issues. But there is another implication in this issue. Pakistan is not the first country to think about land sales to outsiders. Our neighbor India has done this before. They sold a plot to Coca-Cola in the Kerala place of Plachimada. This soft-drink producing plant is the single largest extractor of ground water with heavy duty pumps in the area and the largest transporter of water to other centers through their soft drinks, a non-essential luxury good by creating for few local employments.

In order to provide for the needed water Coca cola depleted the ground water of the area around Plachimada by pumping 1.5 million liter per day from the common groundwater resources. Since then, water scarcity is a growing concern for the surrounding peasants who do not have the kind of strong pumping systems for their fields and their wells are getting dry. In addition, Coca Cola polluted the ground water with deadly toxic and carcinogenic cadmium and lead, which it has not listed under ‘raw materials’, and refused to provide an explanation for their presence. Thus the remaining ground water of the area has been poisoned. Coca cola has rejected all claims by the Kerala residents and though the agitation is on for the last 2500 days no court could stop Coca cola. This example should give us food for thought. Obviously, if the land in Punjab will be allotted to the Gulf investors they will need water too to produce their foodstuff.

And they will not airlift water in flying browsers to develop this land; surely they will bring most sophisticated machinery to get hold of entire water under ground to irrigate, as well as for the tilling of the land. They may use GM Seeds, which have been declared harmful to life and a large amount of fertilizer which may exhaust this virgin soil sooner than later. How will the weak Pakistani government and administration deal with this depletion of national resources? Will they be able to stand up against the Saudi investors and take them to task? That hardly anybody will believe after seeing the foreign muscle pulling in our domestic politics. And we will have to consider the impact of the production of foodstuff on their given prices also may be onion price will be raised from Es. 40/- to $ 2 per Kg. or alike. Saudi investors will not sell the things for Pakistani prices but they will demand world market price to recover their investment. Will this be in Pakistani interest? The deal is going to be a bad idea and it will not serve the national interest of Pakistan. Let’s not allow a sell-out of our country ultimately, be it to the Americans for their military activities or to the Saudis for tackling their food supply problem. Let’s finally think how we can help our own people to make a better living. Empire building appears to have started again in this region, first the news came that American have given rights on oil resources in Saudia and elsewhere to Russians as another type of detente. The latest evidence of the growing American military presence in the Pakistani capital is the arrest of four Americans carrying automatic weapons in a part of the Pakistani capital that foreigners seldom visit. The four were arrested in Sector G-9 of Islamabad in the evening of Saturday, Aug. 29. Now reports are coming that Washington is spending nearly one billion dollars to expand its Islamabad embassy, while they are building state of the art Consulate on Mai-Kolachi in Karachi, which is stone throwing distance from the sea.

On completion, the US embassy in Islamabad will become the largest in the world. Interestingly, both the government, and the opposition, led by PML (N), refuse to question why Washington has been granted exceptional concessions to construct an imperial-size embassy and consulate, and how at least 10 acres of the most expensive real state in the capital has been handed over to the Americans for this purpose, while the legal formalities are yet not completed by CDA, at a throwaway prices. We have seen in India launching of the British raj by removing the Mughal Emporer Bhadur Shah Zafar ruthlessly but East India Company did not need such a pomp and show, they came as a small trading company and took over the reigns when it suited best to them, will we ever learn from these historic events.







Some Western countries say India is a secular state where democracy prevails. But realities on the ground belie the claim. Democracy, as American president Abraham Lincoln interpreted, stands for government of the people, by the people and for the people. It means an administrative set-up determined to provide economic justice to and work for the common man’s welfare. That is what one ought to bear in mind while assessing socio-economic progress of a country—India or Pakistan. So, let us see from this angle things happening in various parts of India and Jammu and Kashmir occupied by her at gun-point in violation of all norms of democracy and human rights and resolutions of the United Nations.

Poverty has spread its tentacles in India over the years. Any keen-sighted visitor to India with human heart and broad mind will return home disappointed and depressed with prayer for the Indian farmers compelled to sell their wives and daughters under financial burden. According to CNN-IBN reports, the situation is horrific in the Uttar Pradesh where peasants of Bandelkhand feel their survival is at stake. The farmers, pressed hard by drought, blame their shocking social condition and economic misery on the inefficiency of the government to rescue their families. The woman trade is being carried on ‘legally’ under cover of a stamp paper. The farmers reduced to penury have no alternative but offer female members of their families for sale to settle account with the money lenders. How democratic an exploitation in India! Bandelkhand farmers are among those millions of people in India who hardly get one square meal a day. They sell their women to money lenders to hide debts in the garb of marriage for amount ranging between Rs.4000 and Rs.12000.

Low literacy rate leads women to compromise because of unread papers, which makes them even more susceptible to exploitation. Once the ‘new husband’ has had enough of the purchased woman she is sold to another. Most of them end up in the vicious circle of prostitution. This is Indian democracy wherein a money lender buys the right to own a woman and sell her further. What is happening to women in Kashmir forcibly occupied by the so-called secular and democratic India is more ferocious. The occupation forces have imprisoned nearly 60,000 Kashmiris, mostly young men and women, and about 18,000 of them kept in torture cells. Young men and women are stripped and photographed naked to blackmail their families and extort information about uprising against the atrocities of Indian colonialists. Unforgettable is the twin tragedy of rape and murder of 17-year-old student Asiya and her sister-in-law on May 29, 2009, which blazed the streets with angry demonstrations and brutal police action. “Unless and until the culprits are brought to book there is definitely a feel of insecurity in our hearts and minds. Not only here in Shupian but in adjoining villages also is an overwhelming feeling of being unsafe that has killed our enthusiasm about studies and career pursuits,” said a class-mate of Asiya who did not want to be quoted by name.

What a terror to innocent women seeking freedom from India! What is happening in occupied Kashmir is not dissimilar from the brutalities to Muslims at Guantanamo Bay camp of the United States of America where 31-year-old Yemeni citizen Mohammad Al-Hanashi was held without any charge for seven years. According to Naomi Wolf, who visited the camp with other journalists on June 3, the press office there issued a terse announcement that Al-Hanashi had been found dead in his cell—an ‘apparent suicide’, which, he said, seemed suspicious to him. “I had just toured those cells: it’s literally impossible to kill yourself in them. Their interiors resemble the inside of a smooth plastic jar; there are no hard edges; hooks fold down; there’s no bedding that one can use to strangle oneself. Can you bang your head against the wall until you die theoretically?” I asked the doctor. “They check on prisoners every three minutes,” replied the doctor. Al-Hanashi, according to his fellow prisoner Binyam Mohamed, was summoned on January 17 to a meeting with the Admiral of Guantanamo and the head of the Guard Force there. He never returned to his cell. That’s the story of hundreds of men and women in cells in occupied Kashmir also, whose whereabouts haven’t been known to their families yet.

Two questions arise in relation to warming situation in occupied Kashmir: one, why don’t the world’s law-abiding governments and human rights organisations and freedom-loving people demand a satisfactory answer from India for the state terrorism; and, two, why India is buying arms and ammunition from the US and other countries and engaging herself in development of new weaponry. What’s this arms build-up for? Is it meant to create fear among the Kashmiri freedom lovers and Indian poor masses groaning under pressure of money lenders? Or are the new orders worth billions of dollars in direction of targeting China and Pakistan and also according to her neo-colonial doctrine?







A UNDP report says Karachi’s Orangi slum has surpassed Mumbai’s Dharavi to become Asia’s largest slum…” Times of India, 7th Sept. In the office of the Mumbai chief minister there was an eerie silence as the news that Mumbai was no more the biggest slum was taken in, “How did this happen?” whispered the CM his face ashen, his normally neat hair now in disarray,

“We have worked hard so many years to see that our Mumbai is the biggest slum and now we have been overtaken? Somebody will pay for this! Call the ward officers!” The municipal ward officers trooped in, “Sir,” said their spokesperson as the rest of them shivered under the CM’s relentless gaze, “We have done all in our power to see the city has the most number of slums. I have personally encouraged slum dwellers to construct, not one, but two, three and four stories over their shanties!” “And I,” said a second ward officer picking up courage, “have even gone to the railway stations to tell migrants coming into the city, to build their huts on any pavement that is still unoccupied or encroach on any land that looks vacant!”

“Then how did this happen?” asked the CM, his eyebrows arched in rage, a rage they had not seen even when the terrorists had laid siege to the city, “How did this happen?” And he shoved the newspaper report across the table to the municipal officers. “Sir!” said an aide running to him, “The PM is on the phone!”

“Yes Prime Minister? I am sorry sir, I am sorry, yes I know Pakistan has beaten us, I know how the nation gets upset when they do, I have seen it in cricket, but they must have done something surreptitiously to have overtaken us sir! I assure you Mumbai will get back her rightful place as the biggest slum in Asia!” The CM put down the phone and glared at everybody in the room,

“If he had glared like this no terrorist would have ever struck Mumbai,” pondered his military attaché as he stood at attention behind the CM. “Okay!” said the CM, “We need solutions!” “Maybe we could supply the people with straw, hay and even bricks free to build their huts sir?” “Good idea!” said the CM gruffly. “Paint maps at railway stations showing where land is available?” “Excellent!” said the CM as the people in the room relaxed. “Sir slums come up, but are demolished by demolition squads when they do not get their hush money!” “That is true,” said the CM, “They should not be demolished!” “There is only one way, “ said Sanjay Nirupam, the MP representing Mumbai in Parliament, “Regularize all post 2000 slums!” “Why post 2000?” said a ward officer, “Regularize the hutments even as they are being built!” “Thank you,” said a beaming CM, showing a fist in the direction of Pakistan “Now we’ll show you who’s the winner..!”











A number of deaths of animals, one after another, within a short time in the National Zoo at Mirpur is a cause for serious concern. Zoo animals, confined as they are in the four walls, dying of old age is one thing and dying because of lack of proper care is a completely different thing. If a tiger dies at around age 19, this should be considered normal but when young and apparently healthy animals continue to perish, clearly the system of hosting them is suspect. The latest high incidence of deaths of a variety of animals in the Mirpir zoo is a proof that something has gone terribly wrong there.

The fact that animals have to die in droves to prove the improper running of the zoo tells about the inadequacy of the system. It is a poor commentary on the management of the zoo that veterinarians are given the responsibility of looking after the wild animals there. We need wildlife experts, who extensively study the subject and also get themselves familiarised with animal behaviours, to make a difference in taking care of animals. Chairperson of the Zoology Department of the University of Dhaka is on record, saying that her suggestion for hiring a wildlife biologist for the purpose has fallen on deaf ears.

In fact, the idea of a zoo is now being replaced by what is known as safari park where under the concept of man-animal coexistence, animals have enough freedom to roam about and could be a delightful sight to animal lovers. Sadly, conditions in our zoo cannot be said to be highly favourable for its inhabitants. Apart from the hostile physical environment, the keepers of the zoo have often let the animals down by feeding them insufficiently or improperly when they are healthy and not providing the healthcare they need when they fall ill. Reports of smuggling out a portion of flesh meant for feeding animals or supplying rotten flesh say it all. A thorough probe into all such irregularities along with a forward-looking management plan can help rescue the zoo from its pitiable condition.  








From the haunting remoteness of Sunamganj's haors rose the mystical greatness of Shah Abdul Karim. Born in poverty amidst bountiful nature, Karim was drawn to music from an early age. So immersed was he in his world of lyrics and music that the Shah had no time for a formal education nor for a job, although music could hardly be a full-time profession in this country. He died last Saturday at the grand old age of 93.

In the great tradition of mystic poets and musicians, Shah Abdul Karim spent much of his life in obscurity. Adopting a modest lifestyle and using only a traditional single-stringed instrument "ektara", he went about pursuing his passion for music. But unlike most of his illustrious predecessors and many of his contemporaries, Karim did get some recognition at the fag end of his life. In 2001 he was awarded the prestigious "Ekushey Padak". The rediscovery of the cultural roots by the diaspora resulted in Karim's latest fame.

For much of the 21st century his songs, as rendered by the latest generation of pop artists, dominated the music of Bangladesh. He is best remembered for his songs " Krishna Aila Radhar Kunje" and "Bandhe Maya Lagaise…" But then those were not the only songs he composed. It is said that he composed about 1,600 songs, while others say it could be as many as 2,000. But whatever the number of his songs, the fact remains that they were among the finest in our culture. If an effective copyright system was in place, Karim could have been a millionaire.








A boy was quite adept with the flute, creating such fine music that his admirers grew with every performance. Once he was called to play the flute at a grand function. He went on stage, but to his surprise the desired music did not come from his little instrument. He continued playing for all he was worth, but the sounds that came out were shrill and sharp wails. He stopped and with tears in his eyes climbed off the stage. He stared at his beautiful flute and discovered it had developed a fine crack. Outwardly it still looked fine but it could no longer produce good music. I was that boy. The flute was one that had belonged to my late grandfather. I had loved it not only for the sound it produced but also for the burnished bamboo that had been used to make it. It had been a treasure I loved. A friend who had come along with me for the performance told me later that even the dogs had started howling listening to the horrible sounds the cracked flute produced that evening. Those days there were no quick fix glues, and with a slow drying gum, I closed the crack together and tied it tight with rubber band and string. Later when I opened it, the crack had closed and the flute made good melody again. As I recollect that particular incident, I realise that the experience I underwent is something many go through. Like the flute, with beautiful bodies and pretty faces we go through life till when the time comes to make good music we produce ghastly sound. A little delving shows cracks that were not visible. How often I see glamorous weddings were millions are spent. The couple seem made for each other, one so pretty and the other the last word in masculinity. A few months down the line and the bickering starts. I wonder what makes people risk home and hearth for a few moments of romping in someone else's bed. I wonder what the crack is? Some rejection when he was younger that makes him want to conquer every woman he meets? I read some years ago Hrithik Roshan saying, he was thought ugly by his friends when he was young because of his extra thumb! Today he is a super star but time and again we know the crack hasn't healed? So often I have heard of men of God who serve their Master faithfully in village and small town but when they come to big city, succumb to its charms and temptations. What crack of yearning was it that they never got over when they decided to serve God, that with the first taste of women or wealth they give up calling and fall? I went home that evening and repaired my flute. I had to open the crack wide, clean it, pour the healing glue, close it and tie it tight for twenty-four hours. It made good music again, sometimes I think it even played better than before! It was a bitterly cold day and a tramp had no place to lay his head, so he boldly asked for shelter at a big house. The owner allowed him to use the basement where all the junk and rubbish were dumped. To the amazement of the residents next morning they heard sweet music coming from the same basement. They found the tramp playing on a violin. It had been a broken violin they had dumped with the other rubbish, now it sounded breathtakingly divine. The tramp smiled at them and said, "Many years ago, I made this instrument. If you can make something, you can also repair it when it is broken...!"

Your Maker my friend is a good mender...!









AT the King Edward Memorial Hospital for Women in Perth, babies born prematurely at 23 weeks gestation are revived only at their parents' request. At 25 weeks, according to neonatologist Noel French, that decision is taken by the hospital.


In a report in The Weekend Australian Magazine, Dr French, whose remarkable unit does breakthrough work on the care of babies who would not have survived 30 years ago, said: "We would have difficulty not supporting a 25-weeker who in all other respects is perfectly well."


The ethical and technological dilemmas around babies born in the medical grey zone of 23-25 weeks are resolved in different ways around the country. Some hospitals adopt the 25-week rule, irrespective of the wishes of the parents and the reservations of some doctors.


One problem lies in the chance of disability among babies who generally spend months on intensive life-support systems, often undergoing multiple operations. The statistics are not conclusive, but the risk of disability is high enough at 23 weeks (between 18 and 33 per cent) to leave the decision to the parents who must ultimately care for the children.


As the magazine report demonstrated, many parents are more than willing to take that risk, arguing that the gift of life is beyond issues of disability. For these parents, the technology and advanced care offered by highly skilled doctors and nurses is a miracle of modern medicine.


The work in this area in recent years has been dramatic, and it is now rare for babies born at 27 weeks gestation to die. But the question of when to resuscitate is contested within the health profession, and deserves a wider public debate not just about the quality of life for babies who are saved but suffer disabilities, but about the distribution of medical resources.


A similar issue arises at the other end of life as our medical system adjusts to an ageing population. Procedures such as hip and heart surgery are now increasingly common among people virtually at the end of their lives, along with life-prolonging treatments that were not available a generation ago. The right to such care is not in question, but the cost implications are severe, given that by the middle of the century the proportion of people over 65 will almost double to 25 per cent.


The cost of a high-level neonatal hospital bed is about $1 million a year. It is a cost the health system absorbs and the public accepts, albeit without much debate.


Yet discussion is needed as technology pushes the edge of life at both ends. It may no longer be possible to leave the medical profession to wrestle alone with these issues. Several factors make the debate necessary. There has been an increase of about 50 per cent in the number of premature births in Australia since the mid-1990s, as a result of older mothers and more IVF. As well, abortion is now allowed later. In Victoria, for example, abortions are legal at up to 24 weeks, making it theoretically easier to end a life at 23weeks than save it.

The question of how our medical expertise and resources should be allocated is complex and difficult. But no matter how unpalatable, it is a discussion hard to avoid given the costs of 21st-century medicine. Issues that have been largely the responsibility of the medical profession and individual families will increasingly become matters of concern for us all.








REALPOLITIK suggests that the sooner a functioning government can be established in Kabul the better. But after weeks of revelations about widespread fraud in the August 20 election, the prospect of moving on quickly in Afghanistan remains elusive. At the weekend, opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah urged supporters not to take to the streets in protest, but insisted he would not be part of a national unity government with President Hamid Karzai - the solution being pressed by the international community.


With about 90 per cent of the vote counted, Mr Karzai has more than 54per cent support but the stories of bribery and ballot-box interference have destroyed confidence in the outcome. Monitors suggest up to 23per cent of votes counted so far could be fraudulent, according to a report in The Sunday Times.


It's a mess, but the problem is what happens next as governments involved in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force face falling domestic support for involvement in Afghanistan. It is a particular headache for the US, which favoured Mr Karzai in the first presidential election in 2004. With Americans increasingly unhappy about their troops in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama needs the electoral debacle to go away before it undermines his military strategy.


The problem is that while there seems little alternative to a continued international presence in the region, support is also dropping in Britain and Europe. David Kilcullen, the Australian counter-terrorism expert, says the international community must be prepared for the long haul against a Taliban strategy to "basically wait us out until we get tired and go home".


Under General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander of the ISAF, the focus is on turning a counter-terrorist operation into a bigger nation-building exercise - one that could take a decade to achieve. As part of this, he is expected to ask Mr Obama soon to commit extra troops to the 60,000 Americans already on the ground. All this at a time when support for the war in Afghanistan has plummeted among the American public and media commentators, and when Mr Obama's own popularity is being tested by his health plan.


A nation-building strategy in Afghanistan makes sense, but it needs the support of the people to work and such trust will be harder to establish if electoral fraud is ignored or minimised. The assumptions that Mr Karzai would be re-elected because he was favoured by the West misread the changes in the electorate in recent years. As William Maley of the Australian National University wrote in this paper recently: "Afghanistan's problem is not that ordinary Afghans do not understand democracy. It is that some in the political elite do not like it".


In April, Australia reaffirmed its commitment to securing a stable Afghanistan by increasing our forces there, although there is little interest in any further commitment. We share with our 41 partners in the ISAF the goal of denying Islamist extremists and terrorists a safe haven and a breeding ground in that country. But this will not be achieved through a military strategy alone. It must involve civilian development, including building state institutions and addressing corruption.


Last month's election was seen as an important step in developing that civic society. It will be hard to resolve this crisis, but a credible government in Kabul is an essential prerequisite for achieving a stable Afghanistan.








THE US ambassador-designate to Australia has a back story that should make him popular here. At 48, Jeff Bleich presents as a mix of merit, energy and public service leavened by a love of sports and Elvis Presley. With a work ethic directed at charity as much as at building a lucrative legal career, he is a good fit with the culture of the Obama administration.


But Mr Bleich, whose nomination must still be confirmed by the US Senate, has an even better credential - he is close to Barack Obama. With a big mission in Canberra and a tradition of a highly professional diplomat in the No 2 job, Australia is happy when America sends a friend-of-the-president. Two former ambassadors, Tom Schieffer and Mel Sembler, exemplified this. The former was George W. Bush's best friend; the latter was close to George Bush Sr and helped engineer his visit here in 1992, the first US president to come to Australia since Lyndon Johnson, a quarter of a century earlier. Mr Bleich may not be Mr Obama's best friend, but it seems he will be able to pick up the phone to the President when it matters.


The appointment is thus welcome at a time when the alliance is firm, but largely untested under Mr Obama. That is about to change, as Australia argues for the G20 to develop as a powerful multilateral body. Kevin Rudd wants a seat at the table and will resist any attempts to marginalise the G20 as the global financial crisis recedes. Mr Rudd will use the history of the alliance when he makes that case. Mr Bleich may find he is busy on that phone to Washington.











THE images that hit television screens a year ago tomorrow of Lehman Brothers employees emptying their desks into cardboard boxes and filing out onto Wall Street jolted Australians into awareness of the maturing global financial crisis. The US Government's decision to let the mighty US investment bank fail set shares plunging across the globe and sparked fears of a run on bank deposits. Governments acted quickly. They had to.

Early in October Australia announced it would guarantee bank deposits and wholesale borrowings, and intervene to support non-bank lenders. Soon afterwards it unveiled the first of two multi-billion dollar stimulus packages, involving cash handouts to consumers and investment in infrastructure. The sense of fear at the time that Australia could be pulled under by a gathering global recession was palpable. And yet, one year later, Australia is the only advanced economy to have avoided a technical recession. Households have responded to government efforts to stimulate the economy by spending up big and helping to fuel growth. Even in America, there are flickering signs that the worst of the recession is past. So - what have we learned from the crisis?


Nearly 12 months after Lehman's collapse, we are still waiting to hear what Canberra will do about executive pay. Ralph Norris, the head of the Commonwealth Bank, is awarded a 6 per cent increase to $9.2 million and the Government doesn't bat an eyelid. The world has emerged from the worst of the GFC with banks even bigger than when they were supposedly too big to fail. The stranglehold of Australia's big four over the mortgage market is nearly complete. It has been two months since the Herald revealed six eminent economists had written to the Treasurer requesting an inquiry into the financial system. Still no reply. In the meantime, Australians have embraced the call to spend their way out of the recession, engaging in a sometimes debt-fuelled spending frenzy, the very sort which got us into this mess. And first-home buyers have rushed into the market, encouraged by very low interest rates and a boosted grant, helping to push up house prices.


Economists have a phrase to describe the danger of letting individuals and businesses believe that the government will always be there to bail them out. They call it moral hazard. We must be vigilant that in fixing one crisis we don't sow the seeds of the next.


President Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, advised last November: "Rule one: Never allow a crisis to go to waste." Australia's politicians appear not to have been listening.








HYSTERIA is a familiar sight on racecourses, but the current furore to hit the racing industry requires commonsense handling lest it jeopardise a lucrative and popular part of our sporting culture. Last month, the Australian Racing Board restricted jockeys to 18 strokes of the whip in the final 200 metres of a race. It was a compromise decision that responded to concerns about cruelty to animals without banning whip use altogether. Now race meetings around the country are being disrupted as jockeys dismount in protest at a regulation they see as impractical.


The Australian Jockeys Association quite reasonably says it is unfair to expect riders in the heat of battle to count the number of whip strokes used. The distraction caused could also endanger them and their horses.


The AJA's suggested alternative - that jockeys in contention of winning be permitted unlimited use of the whip in the final 100 metres - would produce much the same result in terms of whip strokes, obviates the need for counting, and in all but the most closely fought races would spare a majority of horses from a caning. It is not, as a spokesperson for the RSPCA has claimed, an idea cooked up by a "minority bunch of redneck jockeys" but a basis for compromise.


All parties to this dispute should get off their high horses and negotiate a resolution. Jockeys have made their point, but they push their argument too far when they claim that the whip itself is essential to their safety, or to racing generally. Many a losing jockey has thrashed his horse senseless merely to avoid accusations of riding dead. It's to prevent egregious cruelty to these magnificent animals that action is essential. Those who oppose any whipping at all have a legitimate point, but should be willing to work with the industry to achieve progress.


In racing history there have always been elements opposed to progressive change, from the introduction of dope testing to the admission of women jockeys. The sport's governors must remain responsive to society's changing mores if they are to retain the wider community's support. In this case, the ARB is to be congratulated for its efforts, including the recent introduction of padded whips, but should probably have another look at what the jockeys are suggesting. What with online gambling and falling attendances undercutting revenues, racing faces enough challenges without tearing itself apart over a reform that reasonable people inside and outside the industry should support.








THE spring warmth of recent days would normally be cause for celebration among winter-weary Melburnians. But these are not normal times: the city's dams are at record lows after winter failed to replenish them, and the outlook for months to come is grim. Last month the Bureau of Meteorology issued a ''special climate statement'' confirming Melbourne's winter was the warmest on record and warning that an El Nino, which is associated with low rainfall, is developing.


The State Government responded last week by announcing an emergency measure to draw another 10 billion litres from the highly stressed Thomson River. The decision is a mark of how vulnerable this city of 4 million people is to running dry before the $3.5 billion desalination plant comes online in late 2011. Water Minister Tim Holding admits the move poses a significant threat to an endangered fish species, the Australian grayling. That could yet require Commonwealth intervention under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. Australian Platypus Conservancy spokesman Geoff Williams has also warned that platypuses in the Thomson River system might not survive any more reductions in water flow.


The Thomson and the Gippsland Lakes, which are fed by the river, are already in a bad way - an evaluation by the Department of Sustainability and Environment found less than 30 per cent of the catchment was in good condition. The river has missed out on promised environmental flows, starting with a pledge of 10 billion litres in 2005 (which was to rise to an extra 25 billion litres a year by 2015). By 2005, catches by the Lakes Entrance Fishermen's Co-operative were down to half of the take in 1991.


Ironically, Labor secured office after the 1999 election with a promise to restore the Thomson, which earned the vital support of Gippsland MP Craig Ingram and his fellow independents. A look at the history of the water debate in Victoria since then raises the question: how has it come to this?


In 1999, low flows from the Thomson River - which supplies more than half of Melbourne's water - and associated algal blooms, silting and declining fish stocks in the lakes were already causing alarm. That led to calls for water restrictions in Melbourne, which had experienced the first three years of this long drought. More than half of non-metropolitan urban water authorities had imposed restrictions by 1999, including in the second-largest city, Geelong, which has had stage 4 restrictions since December 2006. Today, its storage levels are the same as Melbourne's, at just under 30 per cent. That is about 5 percentage points below Melbourne's previous record low this time last year. If ever there was a time for stage 4 restrictions, this is it.


The Government, however, has long baulked at applying the same standards to Melbourne's water use as the rest of the state, to the extent of coming up with a contrived stage 3a restriction. By 2004, Mr Ingram was impatient with the lack of progress on alternative sources of water and restoring Thomson River flows. ''We need to start tackling some of the big issues,'' he said, ''such as why are we using some of the world's best drinking water on parks and gardens and pumping semi-treated waste water into (Bass) Strait.''


Yet only after the 2006 election did the Government begin work on the desalination plant and north-south pipeline. Until then, it appeared to rely on the hope that water-saving measures would suffice until the drought broke. For a decade, the Government has resisted calls to greatly increase use of recycled waste water and stormwater, even after storages plunged from 2005 onwards. Indeed, it has stubbornly and stupidly stuck to former premier Steve Bracks' pledge that dam levels would not be boosted by recycled waste water. Hundreds of billions of litres are available to be treated to a completely safe, drinkable standard - as has long been done in much of the developed world - but are instead still running out to sea.


Having delayed action on an alternative supply, the Government is now clearly fearful of the political cost of imposing stage 4 restrictions before the November 2010 state election. Instead, it is prepared to further damage the Thomson and Gippsland Lakes. In a parallel to the disaster inflicted on the lower Murray River, the river and lakes environment, which supports a $200 million tourism industry and valuable fishery, will suffer a decline that won't be easily reversed - all so that Melbourne can secure a couple more weeks' supply of water. It is an indictment of water policy over the past decade that Victoria has come full circle back to the crisis of 1999 when Melbourne was draining the life out of the Thomson at the region's expense.







DOOMSAYERS and new-media competitors have long predicted the death of quality journalism, pointing to the fact newspapers are struggling around the world with declining classified advertising and rising newsprint prices. In the US, prominent newspapers such as the 100-year-old Christian Science Monitor, the Rocky Mountain News of Denver, Colorado, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer have had to close or produce online versions only. In a recent interview, following a report on Australia's media sector by accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers, media partner David Wiadrowski said Australian newspapers were faring better than some of their global counterparts because they had embraced online.


Indeed, while we are living in a time of contracting markets and opportunities for traditional media, changing technology allows the resources of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald to present quality journalism to the public in new ways. Today Fairfax Media, which owns The Age, launches the National Times at, an online website featuring opinion, analysis and commentary. The website will bring together Fairfax's best-known journalists and commentators, joined by a team of influential contributors and bloggers. The resurrection of the National Times masthead - which had a rich history of fearless investigative journalism - is a positive sign of innovation and self-belief in a media industry that is redefining itself. The National Times is being launched at a time when there is plenty of ferment online, with News Limited launching blog site The Punch in June this year. Public broadcasters are also beefing up their internet presence. For Fairfax, the National Times is a clear sign that quality journalism is far from dead - in print or online.










Pay freezes. Unpaid leave. Mass redundancies. For many workers, the past year has been fraught with insecurity. And for those lucky enough to hang on to their jobs in the recession, wage increases are getting stingier: average earnings in the private sector were rising at 3.1% year on year at the end of 2008,and the rate slipped to 2.1% (including bonuses) by this summer. Compare that with the view from the boardroom. As we report today, over the past financial year, directors of FTSE-100 companies have seen a 10% jump in their basic pay. No recession here.


As delegates gather in Liverpool today for the TUC conference, our survey is a reminder of the widening gulf between the boardroom and the shopfloor or open-plan office. Sure, directors' bonuses are shrinking and the choppiness of the stock market means that fewer share options are getting cashed in – but amid the bleakest business conditions in decades their basic salaries are still rising at a rate well above that of the typical private-sector employee. Then there are the directors who, when they struggle to meet their own targets, shift the goalposts and hand out the cash anyway. Last year, FTSE-250 housebuilder Bell way  decided to award its top three executives more than 55% of their combined salaries for "very good" performance in "extremely challenging conditions". On pay, the cynical logic of the corporate boardroom seems to be "Heads you win, tails you still win."


So much for the common-or-garden FTSE executive; above them sits a corporate super-elite earning not hundreds of thousands, but millions a year. Take Bart Becht, who, as chief executive of Reckitt Benckiser, is Britain's best-paid FTSE boss. His package last year was worth £36.8m – a 65% rise on the year before. Mr Becht and others in the millionaires' club would defend their gigantic rewards as a just return for outstripping competitors. Are they right? No. First, Reckitt shareholders – the ultimate owners of the company – are clearly not convinced their manager should be paid so much, which is why an unusually large proportion of votes were cast last time in protest at his pay packet. Second, the conventional measures of management's value to shareholders – earnings per share and total shareholder return (or share performance plus dividends) – are generally agreed not to be particularly telling. Third, the evidence shows that a company focused on shareholder value – rather than the quality of its products or service, or the sustainability of its business – actually performs worse for its shareholders in the long run. The sub-prime crisis surely rams that point home. Ultimately, it is unhealthy for a society to have runaway pay at the top and the rest left behind. Literally unhealthy, as the recent book The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett demonstrates: a big income gap breeds a variety of social evils, from more murders to worse mental health.


The remedy conventionally prescribed for boardroom plunder is that shareholders must slap down their executives, but that is not working. According to the corporate-governance advisers Manifest, even after a terrible year for investors, the proportion of shareholders who voted against boardroom pay in the last round of AGMs was dismally low at 12%. Perhaps ignorance is partly to blame: the proportion of those voting against the performance-linked payouts – the bit that yields the telephone-number money – was below 8%. Or perhaps it is well-padded complacency: the City professionals who manage our pension funds are often on equally stratospheric wages. One easy way to sharpen up institutional investors would be to mandate them, to state how they voted on each pay resolution – and why. Another measure worth examining would be to shake up company boards, by installing workers and others – consumers, business partners - who deal with the firm. Our boardrooms often resemble cosy clubs carving out mutually agreeable pay and pension deals; it is time to change that.






No one person could ever encapsulate all the progressive hopes of the 20th century – faith in science, education and the triumph of fact and reason over tradition and superstition – but Norman Borlaug came close. Through his long life, Borlaug, who died on Saturday aged 95, championed scientific modernity, breeding the new, more productive, varieties of agricultural plants that led to what others called the "green revolution" (he never liked the term). In doing so, he saved millions of lives. If he was not quite the unquestionable hero that some of his admirers saw, it was only because one man could never have solved the social and environmental challenges that face the developing world. He was a famer's son from Iowa who got an education with help from New Deal programmes, and worked on a plant-breeding programme in Mexico, which revolutionised wheat production in the country. His achievement was not just in scientific research: he also persuaded farmers and governments to use his short-stemmed, high-yeild varieties, with spectacular success in Asia. Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 and President Bartlett cited him as a progressive hero in an episode of the West Wing. Critics say his new crops used too much water and relied on pesticides and fertilisers, but without them there would have been mass starvation. Borlaug remained an active scientist into his 90s, warning of environmental calamity. He never claimed to have saved the world, but he certainly changed it for the better.








Japan's rapidly graying population and shrinking population is casting a shadow on Japan's future. After hitting a low of 1.26 in 2005, the total fertility rate (TFR) has risen for three consecutive years and stood at 1.37 in 2008, a rise of 0.03 from 2007. Nonetheless, deaths still exceed births and the country's population continues to decline. If the nation's birthrate rises to slightly more than two children per woman on average, however, the population will stabilize.


The Democratic Party of Japan has made promises of generous assistance to households with children. It proposes offering a monthly ¥26,000 allowance (¥13,000 in fiscal 2010) per child through middle school and raising the child-birth allowance from ¥380,000 to ¥550,000. In addition the party says it will make public high schools virtually tuition-free, give ¥120,000 annually to students attending private high schools and offer education loans to university students if they want.


To be effective, such measures must be implemented without interruption for the foreseeable future; therefore, the DPJ must ensure that sufficient funding exists. It is estimated that the child-allowance plan alone will cost ¥5.3 trillion a year. The DPJ plans to pay for it by abolishing tax deductions for spouses and dependents, and by eliminating existing child allowances. Obviously, households that do not benefit from these measures will shoulder a greater financial burden.


While the DPJ's child-rearing and education-support measures will be welcomed by parents, the DPJ must realize that the unstable employment environment is causing many young couples to put off or to skip having children. And to assuage concerns about having and rearing children, more obstetricians, pediatricians and nurseries will be required.


To pay for the DPJ's costly proposals, funding cuts would have to be made that could affect local governments and local economic activities. Clearly the DPJ will need to strike an appropriate balance on budget allocations.









The Democratic Party of Japan's election manifesto calls for a complete review of large public works projects that fail to respond to the needs of the day, specifically calling for a halt to construction of Kawabe Dam in Kumamoto Prefecture and Yanba Dam in Nagano Prefecture.


A year ago the Kumamoto governor called on the government to cancel the Kawabe project. After the DJP won in the Aug. 30 Lower House election, the land and infrastructure ministry postponed a public tender to select a contractor for Yanba Dam construction, which was scheduled to start in October.


Building a dam in the Tone River system was envisaged after Typhoon Kathleen in September 1947 destroyed river embankments and caused more than 1,000 deaths. The first study for Yanba Dam was carried out in 1952. Completion of construction was originally set for 2000, but has now been moved back to 2015. The total cost has more than doubled from the original estimate to ¥460 billion. Of the more than ¥320 billion already spent, Tokyo and five other prefectures have paid ¥146 billion.


Some local residents whose property would be submerged by the dam reservoir strongly opposed the plan, but conditionally accepted it later. Most people in the area have moved to other places and built new lives. So, local residents and the governors of Tokyo and the five prefectures are now upset by the DPJ's move. One of the roles of the dam is to provide a reservoir for the Tokyo region. But demand for water in the region has dropped. In fact, the government in March lowered regional targets for water supplies from the Tone and Arakawa river systems.


The new DPJ-led administration should disclose all relevant information and carefully listen to the opinions of people concerned before making a decision. If it chooses to scrap the dam, it should present convincing data showing the dam to be unnecessary for flood control and water utilization. A thorough explanation is the party's minimum duty to local residents. It should also seek ways to control floods without relying on dams.










NEW DELHI — America's war in Afghanistan is approaching a tipping point, with doubts about President Barack Obama's strategy rising. Yet, after dispatching 21,000 additional U.S. forces to Afghanistan, Obama is considering sending another 14,000 combat troops there. Let's be clear: America's Afghan war is just not winnable.


First, Obama has redefined U.S. goals too narrowly. America's primary goal now is not to defeat the Taliban but to prevent al-Qaida from using Afghanistan as a base to launch an attack on the United States.


Obama told the Associated Press in a July 2 interview, "I have a very narrow definition of success when it comes to our national security interests, and that is that al-Qaida and its affiliates cannot set up safe havens from which to attack America."


But al-Qaida is not really a factor in the Afghan war, where the principal combatants are the U.S. military and the Taliban plus associated militias. Rather than seek to defeat the Taliban, Washington has encouraged Pakistani, Afghan and Saudi intelligence to hold proxy talks with the Taliban's top leadership holed up in the Pakistani city of Quetta.


Second, the U.S. is fighting the wrong war. After the American invasion drove al-Qaida leaders from Afghanistan, Pakistan has emerged as the main base and sanctuary for transnational terrorists. Support and sustenance for the Taliban and many other Afghan militants also comes from inside Pakistan. Yet Obama pursues a military surge in Afghanistan but an aid surge to Pakistan, to the extent that Islamabad is being made the single largest recipient of U.S. assistance in the world.


In that light, Obama's war strategy is questionable. To defeat al-Qaida, the U.S. doesn't need a troop buildup — certainly not in Afghanistan. Without a large ground force in Afghanistan or even major ground operations, the U.S. can hold al-Qaida remnants at bay in their havens in the mountainous tribal regions of Pakistan through covert operations, Predator drones and cruise-missile attacks. Isn't that precisely what the CIA already is doing?


U.S. intelligence believes that al-Qaida already is badly fragmented and weakened and thus is in no position to openly challenge American interests. According to the 2009 Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community: "Because of the pressure we and our allies have put on al-Qaida's core leadership in Pakistan . . . al-Qaida today is less capable and effective than it was a year ago."


Had the Obama goal been to rout the Taliban, a further military surge may have made sense because a resurgent Taliban can be defeated only through major ground operations, not by airstrikes and covert actions alone. Yet, the Obama administration presses ahead with a "clear, hold, build" strategy.


When the administration's principal war target is not the Taliban but rather al-Qaida remnants on the run, why

chase a troop-intensive strategy pivoted on protecting population centers to win grassroots support? In reality, what it calls a "clear, hold, build" strategy is actually a "surge, bribe, run" strategy, except that the muddled nature of the mission and the deepening U.S. involvement crimp the "run" option.


America's quandary is a reminder that it is easier to get into a war than to get out. In fact, Obama undermined his unfolding war strategy last March by publicly declaring, "There's got to be an exit strategy." The message that sent to the Taliban and its sponsor, the Pakistani military, was that they ought to simply out-wait the Americans to reclaim Afghanistan.


Before Afghanistan becomes a Vietnam-style quagmire, Obama must rethink his plan for another troop surge. Gradually drawing down U.S. troop levels indeed makes more sense because what holds the disparate constituents of the Taliban syndicate together is a common opposition to foreign military presence.An American military exit from Afghanistan will not come as a shot in the arm for the forces of global jihad, as many in Washington seem to fear. To the contrary, it will remove the common unifying element and unleash developments whose significance would be largely internal or regional. In Afghanistan, a vicious power struggle would break out along sectarian and ethnic lines. The Taliban, with the active support of the Pakistani military, would certainly make a run for Kabul to replay the 1996 power grab.


But it won't be easy to repeat 1996. For one, the Taliban is splintered today, with the tail (private armies and militias) wagging the dog. For another, the non-Taliban and non-Pashtun forces now are stronger, more organized and better prepared than in 1996 to resist the Taliban's advance to Kabul, having been empowered by the autonomy they have enjoyed in provinces or by the offices they still hold in the Afghan federal government.


Also, by retaining Afghan bases to carry out covert operations and Predator missions and other airstrikes, the U.S. military would be able to unleash punitive air power to prevent a 1996 repeat. After all, it was the combination of American air power and the Northern Alliance's ground operations that ousted the Taliban from power in 2001.Against this background, the most likely outcome of the Afghan power struggle triggered by an American decision to pull out would be the formalization of the present de facto partition of Afghanistan along ethnic lines. Iraq, too, is headed in the same direction.


The Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras and other ethnic minorities would be able to ensure self-governance in the Afghan areas they dominate, leaving the Pashtun lands on both sides of the British-drawn Durand Line in ferment. Thanks to ethnic polarization, the Durand Line, or the Afpak border, exists today only on maps. On the ground, it has little political, ethnic and economic relevance.


As in Iraq, an American withdrawal would potentially let loose forces of Balkanization in the Afpak belt. That may sound disturbing, but this would be an unintended and perhaps unstoppable consequence of the U.S. invasion.An American pullout actually would aid the fight against international terrorism. Instead of staying bogged down in Afghanistan and seeking to cajole and bribe the Pakistani military from continuing to provide succor to Islamic militants, Washington would become free to pursue a broader and more-balanced counterterrorism strategy.


Also, minus the Afghan-war burden, the U.S. would better appreciate the dangers to international security posed by Pakistani terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e- Mohammed. The threat of an Islamist takeover of Pakistan comes not from the Taliban but from these groups that have long drawn support from the Pakistani army as part of the deep-rooted military-mullah alliance.



Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at the privately funded Center for Policy Research in New Delhi, is a regular contributor to The Japan Times.








After years of delay, the Environmental Management Law was approved by the House of Representatives last week. All credit to the members of the environmental commission who worked hard even during the parliamentary recess to beat the deadline.


Despite harsher jail terms and fines for polluters, the House enacted the bill without much resistance less than three weeks before the end of its tenure. A failure to do so would have delayed the bill even further since the new legislature which will be installed in October would have to go through it again from scratch.


The previous law was inadequate in offering protection to the people and the environment largely because it was made before regional autonomy came into effect in 2001.


Since then, regional governments have issued thousands of licenses for mining operators, for example, often without the knowledge of the central government.


This has caused untold damages in many regions. Halmahera island in eastern Indonesia, is a case in point. Virtually all of its bays have turned into dumping grounds for industrial mining waste, according to the Mining Advocacy Network (Jatam).    


The new law boosts the powers of the State Ministry of the Environment, something that has been seen wanting for a long time as it has often been seen as helpless in the face of environmental destruction. The new law will also allow civil servant investigators to arrest those accused of endangering the environment, in cooperation with the police.


This is progress and yet a sensitive point since it takes for granted that they will be working professionally. The government has to make sure that it has professional staff in the ranks of its investigators, otherwise, this power can easily be abused and this would send bad signals to investors.


Comprising 18 chapters and 86 clauses, the law also stipulates that those who commit unauthorized forest burning are liable to jail terms of three to 10 years and fines of between Rp 3 and 10 billion.


This could be effective in reducing the number of people or companies who set off fires during the dry season that can cause large-scale forest fires, a perennial headache to the government. The country has long been vulnerable to forest fires and has earned a reputation as an exporter of haze. At this moment, fire is ravaging thousands of hectares of forest across Kalimantan causing massive air pollution.


Meanwhile those who release genetically modified materials without a license can now be jailed from one to three years and fined of Rp 1 to Rp 3 billion. These two new clauses were absent in the 1997 Law No. 23.


Other new clauses include the obligation of central and regional governments to draft Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs). Companies producing poisonous waste are now required to manage their waste. Companies exploiting natural resources are also obliged to pay an environmental tax to be used to restore and rehabilitate areas damaged by business activities.

All of these sound good as Indonesia is among those countries where environmental degradation is running at an alarming rate. However, what is good on paper does not automatically produce good results in practice. We will have to see how the law will bring a change to the lamentable state of our environment.








An unofficial advertisement for Malaysian tourism, which included the traditional Balinese Pendet dance, has triggered emotional responses from various groups of Indonesian people. It has been assumed by the Indonesian public an improper claim, as with traditional handicrafts such as batik and wayang.


Malaysia can diplomatically claim the song “Rasa Sayange” belongs to all, due to the anonymity of the composer and the song having long been a folk song for the Malay archipelago; but any outside claim to the Pendet dance is profoundly problematic because of the strong connection of the dance to Balinese culture.


Allegations of intensifying Malaysian claims to the Indonesian heritage have brought us to the question concerning Malaysian peculiarities in dealing with Indonesian interests in the context of mutual relations.


Malaysia has been trapped in the paradoxical position since it declared its ambition to become a developed nation by 2020.


Instead of fostering new cultural products to embody the Melayu Baru (New Malay) identity, Malaysian people tend to explore existing cultural products, which they share with Indonesians.


In the case of the Pendet, the suggested claim was tenuous at best. But Australian media reported on the story with the outspoken headline, “Malaysia ‘steals’ Bali dance” (The Australian, Aug. 26, 2009).
Data from the Indonesia Culture Forum shows there is a long list of Indonesian cultural artifacts that have allegedly been claimed by Malaysia.


Another peculiarity is the fact that Indonesians have been in Malaysia’s top three source markets of tourist arrivals from 1995-2005. Moreover, tourist numbers from Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei and China have registered substantial growth over the last decade.


But the disputed TV spot could potentially create a source of discontent among the Indonesian people and will certainly put Malaysia’s tourism industry at risk.


The Malaysian government has vigorously promoted tourism and has reaped a sevenfold profit since the 1980s. Tourism has become the most important source of foreign exchange for Malaysia after the manufacturing sector.


In addition, the recent attitude by some Malaysian employers toward Indonesian laborers shows contradicting inclinations. Malaysia’s large labor shortage in several sectors of the economy has been met by Indonesian workers. However, Malaysian employers of Indonesian laborers frequently demonstrate uncooperative relations.


On the one hand, Malaysia needs and takes advantage of the relations with Indonesia, and vice versa.


On the other hand, Malaysia can be said to have ignored the importance of Indonesia. This is the actual paradox in Malaysia-Indonesia relations.


Meanwhile, Indonesians have overreacted to Malaysia. They have not just demanded the end of diplomatic relations with Malaysia, but have also reproduces the old concept of konfrontasi (Confrontation) and the war cry, “Ganyang Malaysia” (Crush Malaysia).


In fact, the idea of konfrontasi and Ganyang Malaysia during Sukarno’s “Guided Democracy” was inspired by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in the interests of China. At that time, the campaign against Malaysia was not popular among some Indonesians, especially moderate intellectuals and conservative Muslims who were reluctant to speak out against a fellow Muslim-majority country.


An increasing level of hostility toward the neighboring country seemingly signifies the panic of Indonesians over something beyond their grasp. Moreover, they do not have sufficient interest in developing their own cultural heritage. For example, wayang shows are rarely performed or attended by large crowds, not least young spectators.


The government also played a significant role in de-legitimizing art and culture as national assets. For instance,

only three provincial administrations – Bali, West Nusa Tenggara and Yogyakarta – have registered their traditional arts and culture to the Culture and Tourism Ministry since the ministry asked them to do so in 2007.


Beyond those factors, public awareness for appreciating national heritage is not formed seriously from the elementary level of education. Consequently, any appreciation by Indonesian people for their own arts and culture is not as high as that of “outsiders”.


No wonder, then, that people are shocked by the transfer of several items of national pride to the so-called “illegitimate heirs”. Artists and academics are in a panic over the alleged incomprehensible claims to Indonesian arts and cultures. As a result, an extreme attitude becomes their circumscribed choice in the absence of smart and creative responses.

The writer is a graduate of the Australian National University’s (ANU) Graduate School of Asian Studies, Canberra. The views expressed are his own.








A year ago tomorrow, U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy protection, unleashing a global financial tsunami. Eleven years after being buffeted by the Asian financial meltdown, Korea had yet another nightmare of defaulting on its debt as a sovereign state.


But it did not take long before the nation overcame the initial shock and started to pull itself together. Now it is pushing ahead for a full recovery. Thanks to a stimulus package that included fiscal expansion and tax cuts, the domestic financial market has regained the pre-crisis level of stability.


One indication of restored financial stability is Korea's declining premium on credit default swaps, which has fallen below 1.5 percent from a high of 6.9 percent. Another is foreign exchange reserves, which have exceeded the pre-crisis volume - $245.46 billion at the end of August, up from $243.2 billion a year ago.


No wonder Fitch Ratings has recently raised the nation's credit-rating outlook from "negative" to "stable," while keeping its investment grade at A+, the same the rating agency applies to China. Korea is the only country among the 10 countries whose credit-rating outlook has recovered since it was lowered last November.


It is not just the financial industry that is recovering fast. Manufacturing is regaining strength, too. For the first time in nine months, industrial output posted an increase in July. True, the year-on-year increase was meager at 0.7 percent. Nonetheless, the transition from contraction to growth deserved public recognition. Due credit should be given to Korea's industrial giants, such as Samsung Electronics and the Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group, which have successfully turned adversity into an opportunity to increase their shares in the world market.


No wonder the Korean economy has been outperforming expectations. Second-quarter growth, initially estimated at 2.3 percent, is being revised upward to 2.6 percent and 2.7 percent, as new data indicates. Now cautious optimism has it that the economy will have contracted less than 0.5 percent, if at all, this year, despite the government's initial 2009 outlook of a 1.5 percent decline.


Of course, this is not to say that the path to a full recovery is without any pitfalls. Top economic policymakers are making a convincing case when arguing that the incipient recovery is so precarious that it is premature to consider withdrawing deficit spending. Indeed, there is no guarantee that the domestic economy will be able to put itself back on track if the government should attempt to balance the budget by gradually reducing fiscal deficits.


Another problem is that excess liquidity in the market is now being channeled into the housing sector. To deal with this problem, the Bank of Korea may choose to raise its benchmark rate in the near future. A rate hike will help push down inflationary pressure coming from the housing market.


But it will certainly displease the administration, which has decided not to exit from deficit spending in the near future, fearing that it might smother the nascent recovery. The central bank and the administration will have to coordinate their policies unless they wish to send conflicting signals to the market.


Ultimately, it is corporate investments that will make growth sustainable. A recovery in investment will help set in motion a virtuous cycle of creating jobs, raising household income and stimulating consumer spending. The whole process, once started, will help restore the confidence of all economic players and expand the economy vigorously. This is the reason why corporations need to be encouraged to increase spending on plants and equipment.


The past one year has been painful, with corporate revenues plummeting and people being forced out of jobs. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. The nation deserves to pat itself on the back.









North Korea is undoubtedly difficult to deal with. In its relations with other countries, the communist state often ignores the code of conduct required of a responsible member of the international community, makes outrageous demands or changes course abruptly.


A case in point is a North Korean demand for an increase in the uniform monthly wage South Korean companies are paying North Korean workers in the Gaeseong industrial complex north of the Demilitarized Zone.


In June, North Korea demanded the wage be quadrupled to $300. It also demanded South Korea pay $500 million for the 50-year lease of the site of the industrial complex on top of the $16 million that has already paid under a contract.


No one with a sane mind would ask for a 400 percent wage increase. But North Korea did so while ignoring an inter-Korean accord on a maximum 5 percent pay raise in a year. What was even more ludicrous was that it made no serious attempt to justify its demand. It was acting like a child throwing a tantrum. Nor did it try to make a convincing case when it asked for $500 million in an additional lease.


It was only natural for South Korea to ignore the North's ill-advised demands. Instead, it demanded bilateral accords and contracts be honored. President Lee Myung-bak's administration made clear it would not allow itself to be bossed around when its representatives met with their North Korean counterparts.


All of a sudden, Pyongyang dropped its demand for a 400 percent wage increase last Friday. Instead, it proposed a 5 percent raise. South Korea cannot welcome the change wholeheartedly because it followed the discharge of water from North Korea's reservoir on the upstream Imjin River, which killed six South Korean campers downstream. Was it intended to mitigate South Koreans' uproar against the killing?








Since my election as president of the World Federation of United Nations Associations Aug. 11, some people have wondered what this organization stands for and what its relations are with the United Nations. This is understandable as another Korean, Ban Ki-moon, serves as secretary general of the world body.


In short, WFUNA is a global network of peoples linked through the national U.N. associations in more than one hundred countries, dedicated to supporting the work of the United Nations. Founded in 1946, a year after the launching of the United Nations, it was ahead of its time in articulating a vision of people's movement in support of the U.N. WFUNA seeks to assist the U.N. in addressing the pressing and complex challenges facing the world, through support programs, public outreach activities and education. Its creation was inspired by the opening words of the U.N. Charter, "We the peoples ... of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war ... ."


A world network of enlightened civil organizations provides a powerful impetus to defining and debating global issues, and to building consensus for resolving conflicts or mitigating the impact of multiple crises confronting the world. In this age of the internet-driven revolutions and Twitter-based spread of information, as demonstrated in recent political upheavals in Iran and Myanmar, today it is the common people who more often than not determine the shape of debate on global issues, whether they are climate change or nuclear proliferation.


Across the world today, the role of civil society has become so important that no nation can alone dictate or dominate the global agenda. Cutting-edge communications and market integration have broken the barriers of borders, bringing a swift flow of pandemics like H1N1 flu or ripples of financial meltdown on the Wall Street. From issues like climate change to human rights to migrant labor, no country - developed or developing - can escape from being almost instantly affected by the so-called "problems without passport." War, famine, genocide or bad governance in one country swiftly affects the sentiments and well-being of people in another country. Economic or political health in one country offers no protection against spillover of instability from another country.


At the recent plenary assembly of the World Federation of United Nations Associations held in Seoul a few weeks ago, managing the problem of such ripple effects was a major consideration when the U.N. secretary general strongly called for a renewed multilateralism in dealing with these global problems.


Ban, referring to U.N. associations' activities at the popular level, declared that "change comes not from top-down but from bottom-up," meaning that initiatives for change should come from peoples and communities of the world, "not from the world capitals," meaning the national governments. He agrees that the power of people's movement provides vital support to the U.N.'s efforts in coming to grips with threats facing the wellbeing of mankind. In this regard, he rightly called the U.N. associations as "the U.N.'s best face" to the world - "being intelligent, engaged, committed and strong," an irreplaceable champion of the U.N. at the grassroots.


With more than 100 U.N. associations around the globe, WFUNA has a unique role to play in coming to grips with new challenges as well as the traditional ones troubling the world. The theme of the Seoul plenary assembly - "Global Citizens for the U.N." - reflects our overriding mission to bring the U.N. closer to people in our individual member countries, as their support is crucial for achieving the goals the U.N. has set for itself. This is why the Global Citizen Campaign stresses the value of investing in our youths with more education and engagement so that they can grow to be the future leaders and global citizens. They will be the major actors of the global community in the 21st century embracing the ideals of the United Nations.


To support WFUNA's institutional growth and the work of the United Nations, WFUNA has programs like "students for a nuclear weapons-free world" aimed at encouraging young people to learn more about the threats of nuclear weapons, a "human rights clearing house" designed to help better implement human rights standards at all levels, and a scheme to encourage a wider participation by African students in the U.N. Millennium Development Goals for poverty reduction. WFUNA's global and regional model U.N. conferences, seminars and campaigns in collaboration with U.N. agencies are likewise intended to educate and engage the youth with the U.N.


A vigorous implementation of these programs requires a strong financial basis. Thus one urgent aim of the Global Citizen Campaign 2009-12 launched in Seoul is to raise a significant amount of money during this period. Serious efforts will be made to organize support groups, such as the Friends of WFUNA in the United States, in as many U.N. member countries as possible and seek contributions from the business community as well as governments.


Increasing civil society involvement with the U.N. is critical to meeting global challenges and WFUNA, as an authoritative non-governmental movement, seeks to combine education and action to help shape the U.N. agenda and bring the U.N. closer to the real concerns and interests of the people in the 21st century world. By doing so, it hopes to generate public pressure and support from the bottom-up to influence governments' public policies, so as to advance more energetically the cause of the United Nations. Thus our job is to boost the U.N. from the bottom up, as Ban has aptly described it.


Park Soo-gil, a former Korean ambassador to the United Nations, is president of the World Federation of United Nations Associations. - Ed.










One year after the collapse of Lehman Brothers sparked the global financial crisis, at last, the world economy is showing signs of stabilizing.


However, at this critical moment when the green shoots of economic recovery have yet to take root, the United States sends a wrong message to the world by going back on its word against trade protectionism.


Apparently, out of concern for domestic politics, last Friday, the US government decided to impose new tariffs up to 35 percent on all imports of passenger vehicle and light truck tires from China by invoking a special safeguard provision for the first time.


Such a protectionist move is particularly perilous not only because it will affect trade relations between two of the most important economies in the world. Worse, it will give a huge blow to international efforts on building a united front to arrest the global downturn.


Among the lessons that the world must learn from previous economic crises, a key one to avoid repetition of the Great Depression in the 1930s is to stand firmly against trade protectionism. The much- deepened interdependence of all economies in the era of globalization only makes it even truer.


Admittedly, recent signs of economic recovery indicate that policymakers around the world might have managed to avert the worst outcome with unprecedented fiscal and monetary responses as well as certain restraints on protectionism.


But such green shoots definitely do not justify any complacency among policymakers. If the world economy is to step out of the current crisis any time soon, global policymakers must do much more to address the underlying global imbalance. Trade protectionism, though, will never be part of the answer. It will only make the problem more entrenched.Imposing unfair duties on Chinese tires will not save US jobs by saving the US economy. On the contrary, such tariffs will erode demand from US consumers who already feel the pinch, and only postpone the industrial restructuring necessary to eventually shore up the US economy.


Given the severe consequences that the irresponsible US move could trigger, such as a chain reaction of trade protectionist measures to slow the pace of the global recovery, we are calling on the international community to raise the alarm against rising protectionism here and now.The big menace that US protectionism poses to the world economy should not stop us from making greater efforts to conclude the Doha trade talks at the earliest, and making the G20 respond more effectively to the global crisis.


It is only a reminder that we must hold hard against this tide of protectionism if the global recovery is to be founded on firmer foundation.







A university president can hardly be both an excellent president and professor at the same time. However, the fact that a quarter of the 100 national master professors awarded by the Ministry of Education are either university presidents or Party secretaries seems to attest to just the opposite.


Have these university leaders really done well in teaching at the same time or did the power of their position favor their selection? That only 10 professors without any official position are on the list published last week seems to suggest so.


The fact that some of these university leaders are said to have never taught in nearly 10 years points to unfairness in the selection.


The ministry started selecting master professors from institutions of higher learning in 2003, for encouraging more teachers to excel at teaching. But, the increasing number of university leaders being awarded such titles goes against the very purpose of the award.


Instead of encouraging more dedication to teaching, the award will actually discourage more teachers from devoting themselves to the vocation. It is not difficult for them to realize that their chances of being selected as master professors are slim unless they hold administrative positions such as the dean of a department or school president or Party secretary.


This is a quite despicable sign. When more and more professors see no hope of getting any credit for the job they have done no matter how hard they work at their teaching, they will lose heart in doing a better job.


In addition, when those who have administrative positions get both credit and economic benefits for what they have never done, an increasing number of teachers will try hard to climb the ladder of hierarchy rather than devote themselves to teaching and research. As a result, there is no incentive for becoming a really good professor.


Institutions of higher learning are under constant attack for becoming increasingly bureaucratized. The frequent eruption of scandals involving professors and even university presidents in cheating and plagiarism point to the unhealthy atmosphere and a lack of enthusiasm and earnestness in academics on the part of professors.


True, some university presidents or Party secretaries used to be very good professors. But once they are promoted to such high administrative positions, they can hardly spare any time for teaching or conducting research. In most cases, one cannot have a cake and eat it at the same time. But quite a number of them want to have both only in nominal sense.


It is the responsibility of excellent university presidents to have best teachers selected for the title of master professors. That is also the way for them to set good academic examples for others to follow in their universities.By putting their own names on the list, they have not only abused their power but also added to the declining standards of the universities.







Today, the U.S. and China have an opportunity to collaborate on a project of enormous bilateral and global significance: to lay the foundation for a vibrant and sustainable clean technology future.   While the agreement that the U.S. and China signed at the recent Strategic and Economic Dialogue raises some questions, that tentative start should not undermine the larger work of harnessing our collective strengths to foster the rapid, market-driven commercialization and adoption of the most promising clean technologies in and around the world.


Such a cooperative effort is both laudable and achievable—and long overdue.  Today, both China and the U.S. are heavily dependent on foreign oil, and together account for almost half of the world’s carbon emissions.  Moreover, each of our countries is showing real progress on a number of the most promising technology fronts, including wind power, carbon capture and sequestration, and “smart grid” electricity transmission.  While there are real issues in managing economic competition and interdependence in this promising growth industry, it’s also clear that we can do more together than we can alone, and that our combined efforts would powerfully accelerate the clean tech future.


To achieve this future in a meaningful way, a few practical steps need to be taken by both governments.  As an initial matter, our governments should stipulate that their role is not to pick winners or protect domestic champions, but to create the framework and conditions for an open, functioning and competitive clean-technology market.  For this to happen, our governments should focus on accomplishing three concrete tasks.


First, each government should seek to eliminate arbitrary regulatory barriers to U.S.-China commercial high technology trade and work to advance common global technology standards.  In the past, China has sharply criticized U.S. export controls, despite the fact that those controls apply to less than 1% of all high technology trade with China.  However, to the extent that even those modest controls are not supported by legitimate U.S. security or foreign policy interests, they should be reexamined and eliminated, if appropriate.   Despite widespread perceptions in China to the contrary, the good news here is that no such export controls apply to the export of U.S. commercial clean technology to China.


Second, China should continue to strengthen its efforts to develop a world-class intellectual property rights system.  Many leading non-Chinese companies want to capitalize on the tremendous opportunities in the China clean technology sector.  However, many such companies remain hesitant to share the know-how to develop the most promising technologies because of their concern over China’s commitment to enforce intellectual property rights and norms.   In fact, this self-exclusion by companies from the China market is one of the most significant constraints to U.S.-China high technology trade, and is a far more consequential “barrier” than export controls.  Although China has demonstrated an increased commitment to protecting the intellectual property of foreign companies operating within its borders in the past few years (e.g., through a marked increase in IP-related criminal prosecutions), greater IP enforcement efforts are still needed, particularly if the aim is to encourage U.S. companies to bring advanced clean technologies into China.  China can also strengthen the perception of its commitment to IPR protection -- and thereby incentivize international firms to bring their sophisticated products into the Chinese market -- by abandoning its call for the compulsory licensing of clean technologies.  After all, maintaining a vigorous intellectual property regime is not only important for foreign companies; it will become increasingly important to Chinese investors and entrepreneurs as they themselves develop cutting-edge technology products and services.


Third, both the U.S. and China should avoid the siren’s call of protectionism.  It is appropriate for countries, including the U.S. and China, to regulate inbound foreign direct investment for national security reasons.  However, the sole standard for this review should be national security—and nothing else.  In every case, the process should be objectively reasonable, equitable to similarly situated parties, and as streamlined and transparent as such a national security review can reasonably allow. 


Moreover, both governments should avoid favoring domestic technologies or players over foreign companies.  For example, China has implemented an effective 40 percent tariff on clean-coal technologies -- thereby keeping promising clean-energy technologies out of China.  And while WTO rules ban countries from using local content requirements to force companies to set up factories in a country instead of exporting to it, China has never signed the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement despite promises to do so.  As a result, many companies in China’s power industry, most of which are majority-owned by the Chinese government, remain largely exempt from the relevant international trade rules in this area.  This has enabled China to impose local content requirements in the clean tech sector – for example, by requiring that wind turbines have 70% local content (a regulation which led many European turbine manufacturers to build factories in China) and that at least 80% of the equipment be made in China for the first Chinese solar power plant.


Other rules are also making it hard for foreign manufacturers and investors to compete in China. While China’s renewable energy standards require that renewable energy account for a certain minimum percentage of the generating capacity of each large power company, the rules do not dictate how much electricity must actually be generated from that capacity.  Therefore, power companies have an incentive to buy the cheapest wind turbines available to increase their renewable energy capacity - even if the turbines break down frequently and do not produce that much electricity.  Because turbines from Chinese-owned companies tend to have slightly lower purchase prices than foreign-brand turbines, local manufacturers are favored over foreign firms.  Financial regulations for wind farms also make it harder for foreign-owned wind farms than domestic-owned ones to borrow money or to sell carbon credits.


Both China and the U.S. should work for an open, transparent and level-playing field so that companies of any origin can develop clean tech products and services based on market competition and product performance.  Subsidizing domestic companies and denying multinational companies competitive access to local markets and government procurement contracts runs counter to the clean-tech trade cooperation both countries should commit to.


By taking concrete steps now, our governments can do two important things simultaneously: lay the foundation for a clean tech future that the world wants and needs, and begin to write the next constructive chapter in one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world.


The Hon. Mario Mancuso is a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, LLP, an international law firm that opened its Beijing office in 2007.  He previously served as a senior U.S. Defense Department official (2005-07) and as U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce (Industry and Security), U.S. Chair of the U.S.-China High Technology and Strategic Trade Working Group, and member of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (2007-09).








Premier Wen Jiabao of the State Council addressed the opening ceremony of the third Annual Meeting of the New Champions of the World Economic Forum (WEF) and met with business representatives on the afternoon of Sept 10. Premier Wen answered questions from WEF Executive Chairman Claus Schwab and business representatives. Following are the questions and answers:


Q: China set specific targets on tackling climate change both in the 11th Five-Year Plan and the National Program on Tackling Climate Change formulated and released by the Chinese Government in 2008, and progress is being made in meeting these targets. What will be the tasks and goals of the Chinese Government on addressing climate change in its 12th Five-Year Plan, and what constraining factors will China face in achieving these targets?


A: In the 11th Five-Year Plan, we set the target of reducing energy intensity by 20 percent and, based on the progress made so far, we may achieve this target in 2010 as scheduled. We have intensified our efforts to bring down energy intensity, including shutting down small coal-fired power plants with total capacity of over 50 million kilowatts. Energy conservation and emission reduction will continue to be our long-term goal in pursuing sustainable economic growth during the 12th Five-Year Plan period and beyond. And there will be a major drop in China's energy intensity by 2020.


China and Western developed countries are at different stages of development. Since the industrial revolution, Western countries have gone through 250 years of industrialization, while in China industrialization on a large scale only started several decades ago. We need to advance development, and at the same time keep up our efforts for energy conservation and emissions reduction. We need to strike a balance between these two and the ultimate goal of doing so is to achieve sustainable development. Without development, we will not have the capacity to save energy and reduce emissions.


Let me give you an example. China's per capita power consumption is 2,580 kWh. It is only one fifth of the United States and one third of Japan. But China is a country with 1.3 billion population and its industrialization and urbanization are picking up speed. It will be more challenging and more difficult for China to develop a green economy, and save energy and reduce emissions.


Tackling climate change is the responsibility of the whole world. Both developed countries and developing ones should pursue the path of green development - green investment, green consumption and green growth. Yet it will be a process, and during this process, developing countries, including China, and developed countries should enhance cooperation to jointly respond to climate change.


The principles and provisions of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol should be upheld and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities should be adhered to.


First, developed countries should redouble their efforts in energy conservation and emissions reduction and meet the emissions cut standards set in the Kyoto Protocol as scheduled.


Second, developed countries should extend technical, financial and capacity-building support to developing countries.


Third, developing countries, on their part, should take energy conservation and emissions reduction measures, pursue green growth and extensively apply new technologies to reduce CO2 emissions in light of their realities. China will play a positive and constructive role at the Copenhagen conference and we hope the conference will achieve substantial results.


Q: At the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos last January, you outlined China's 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) stimulus package. You mentioned that the package included substantial increase in government investment and stressed that the market should also play its role, encouraging participation of private and foreign capital in the implementation of the stimulus package. Will the Chinese government consider inviting international investors to make investment in China's private equity funds?


A: First of all, I want to make some explanation on the 4 trillion yuan investment program. The central government plans to invest 1.18 trillion yuan within two years and it is designed to generate greater investment from the non-public sector and local governments. By the end of July, 52.4 percent of the investment made by the central government had gone to government-subsidized housing, social programs and projects relating to people's well-being.


Another 24.7 percent of the investment was made in independent innovation, energy conservation and emissions reduction, technological upgrading and environmental protection. Only 22.9 percent of the money went to infrastructure development, including railway, road, and airports.


Although China has over $2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, we are still open to foreign funds with a focus on attracting advanced technologies and managerial expertise. Foreign investment now takes two forms - direct investment and investment in the capital market. We will attract more foreign investment while maintaining stability of the capital market.


Q: The RMB is becoming an international currency and China has started the pilot program of RMB settlement in cross-border trade. Does the Chinese Government have any timetable for the RMB to become a global currency? What challenges and opportunities does China face?


A: The scale of RMB's cross-border movement is expanding, and RMB's status on the international market has been rising. However, the RMB is now only convertible under the current account, not the capital account. We need to have a correct self-assessment in the course of making the RMB a global currency.


First, whether the currency of a country can be internationally recognized as a major circulation currency is determined mainly by the economic strength of this country. It is a market-driven process. No one can rush it through when necessary conditions are not yet in place. Nor can any one hold it back when the time has come. We have introduced the pilot program of RMB settlement in cross-border trade in the five cities of Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Dongguan, and have reached agreements with some countries on local currency swap totaling 650 billion yuan ($95.18 billion). They represent the progress in RMB's internationalization, yet it will take quite some time before the RMB truly becomes an international currency.


Q: Could you say a few words about China's soft power? While many Western countries, particularly the United States, focus their attention on issues like Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, China is turning its eyes to other areas, including Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. Some of China's actions and activities in these regions may be misunderstood. Could you shed some light on the objective of China's foreign policy?


A: Many people don't know that China's relations with Africa did not start just from yesterday. We started providing aid to Africa shortly after the People's Republic was founded. China and Africa share similar historical experiences, and we respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of African countries. Even in our most difficult days, we continued to help African countries build railways and send medical teams to Africa.


The assistance has been mutual. African countries support China as brothers, and it is on the shoulders of our African brothers that China was carried into the United Nations. As an old Chinese saying goes, "Forget the favor you did others, but remember always the favor others did you". In my view, China's soft power lies in its respect for all countries, particularly developing countries and the least developed countries.


It means that we should do what we can to help others while pursuing our own development. I hope that developed countries, when coping with the financial crisis, will not forget these poorest countries, and the World Economic Forum will one day be known for its reputation of being not just a club of the rich, but also one for the poor, and that it not only takes interest in the growth of developed countries and the Fortune 500, but also works for attaining the Millennium Development Goals and meeting the global challenges of hunger, poverty and major diseases.


Q: With the Chinese economy growing at 7.1 percent in the first half of this year, will China achieve the growth target it set at the beginning of the year?


A: Based on where we stand now, the growth target we set for the Chinese economy is within reach. As a matter of fact, the GDP growth rate is not what I solely focus on. I have on my mind several more important indicators.


The first one is the employment rate. We have planned to generate nine million new jobs this year. In the first seven months, 6.66 million new jobs were created.


The second one is the quality and efficiency of economic growth. We should not only meet the growth target, but also advance structural adjustment. In particular, we must intensify our efforts in merger and reorganization, shutting down backward production facilities and restructuring. This way, we will put China's economic growth on a concrete and reliable basis.


The third one is energy conservation and emissions reduction. We must change the growth model that relies heavily on resources and pursues growth at the expense of resources and the environment. We need to meet the targets set out in the 11th Five-Year Plan and put the Chinese economy on a sustainable path.


I also keep in mind a number of other objectives related to people's well-being. From this year on, we will push ahead the reform in the pharmaceutical and health care system within three years. An additional 850 billion yuan will be channeled into the reform with 330 billion yuan from the central government.


From the second half of this year, we will introduce, on a trial basis, a new rural old-age insurance program in 10 percent counties across the country. We are also advancing reform of the performance-based salaries for teachers, medical staff and employees of government-affiliated institutions. There is much we can do to ensure China's continued development and the Chinese economy holds great potential. We should not only endeavor to achieve the various targets set for this year, but also work to ensure China's steady and fast economic growth in the years to come.


Q: Over 1,000 business representatives have come to listen to your speech. They come from both private enterprises and State-owned enterprises. What message do you have for the CEOs of these enterprises and how can they help you achieve China's development goals?

A: Enterprises form an important part of a country's economy. Corporate taxes are a major source of fiscal revenues. Enterprises need to raise their profitability and help lay a foundation for the recovery of the entire economy. Only when the enterprises are doing well with their profits increased will the government enjoy larger fiscal revenues and set aside more money to do more things for the people.


The most acute problem we face now is excess production capacity in some sectors, when external demand is drastically falling. This has brought new difficulties to some enterprises. They must speed up restructuring and phase out backward production facilities. They must strive for technological innovation and this is the only way to stand tall and firm on the international market.


I also wish to offer two suggestions to the World Economic Forum. The Davos Forum, with its forward-looking and strategic vision on international economic studies, has been a great success internationally and attracted worldwide attention. It is my hope that the forum, building on its past successes, will pay closer attention to the following two areas.


First, attach importance to under-developed countries, the least developed ones in particular, and incorporate the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals into the agenda of the Forum.


Second, while focusing on economic development, the Forum should also have its eyes on social development, and take an integrated approach in promoting economic development and development of medical and health care, science and technology, education and other social programs. This way, the Davos Forum will be even more successful.










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