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Monday, September 21, 2009

EDITORIAL 18.09.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month september 18,  edition 000301,  collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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




























1.      2T-GST

2.      PRAGMATIC ON 377





















































































2.      ON MESSAGE





































































The Union Home Minister’s assessment of the country’s internal security situation is truly alarming. Addressing the annual conference of DGPs and IGPs of State police forces in New Delhi, Mr P Chidambaram was not economical with his words while painting a grim picture. Insurgency remains unchecked in the North-East; Maoists continue to be on the rampage in States across the country; Islamist terrorist cells and modules are yet to be detected. Ever since he took charge of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Mr Chidambaram has gone about his task methodically, trying to get a big picture view of the threats to our national security. Unfortunately, his predecessor, Mr Shivraj Patil, never bothered about the details, partly because of his indifference and largely due to his utter incompetence. In a sense, Mr Chidambaram inherited a crippled Ministry crowded with bureaucrats who were clueless about the fundamentals of internal security. More than four years of inaction and worse had begun to show: The most telling evidence was provided by terrorists attacks which had become a routine affair and which culminated with the 26/11 fidayeen strike. To that extent, Mr Chidambaram has had a tough job on his hands; to his credit, he has not been found wanting in effort and enthusiasm. At least he has galvanised the Ministry and made it functional once again. His presentation at this week’s conference suggests the nodal agency for internal security issues is not asleep. There is also reason to believe that the Prime Minister now feels persuaded to go along with the assessment of his Home Minister. Mr Manmohan Singh’s reiteration of Maoists posing the single biggest threat to internal security and the need to crack down on terror in any form was unusually assertive, which is good. Hopefully he no longer spends sleepless nights agonising about the families of terrorists and other social malcontents. It is also to be hoped that he will henceforth resist the temptation to reward families of terrorists killed by security forces and berate our men in uniform.


Having said that, we are faced with an interesting situation. For a change, the Prime Minister and the Home Minister are speaking in an almost identical language on internal security issues. Does this mean we shall see action at last on a front that has been neglected ever since the Congress came to power in 2004 at the head of the UPA Government? Or is this just empty rhetoric meant for popular consumption and timed to coincide with the coming Assembly election in Maharashtra where a mind-numbing carnage was witnessed a year ago? While it is true that Mr Patil had miserably failed in his job, surely the Prime Minister could have been more pro-active, which he clearly wasn’t. And the reason for that inaction on his part was political: The Congress is reluctant to be seen as acting against terrorism lest it offend the party’s communal vote-bank; it has been equally reluctant to fight insurgents because at election time the party has brazenly used their help, as has been witnessed in Assam and Andhra Pradesh. Mr Chidambaram says Manipur is among the worst-affected States. But what does he have to say about his party’s alleged linkages with insurgents there? If the Home Minister means what he says, let him walk the talk. Now.






The Tamil Nadu Government’s release of nine dreaded terrorists, who were responsible for the 1998 Coimbatore serial bombings that killed 58 people, to mark the conclusion of the birth centenary celebrations of DMK founder and former State Chief Minister CN Annadurai deserves to be condemned without exception. Amazingly the convicted terrorists were released on grounds of ‘compassion’ and ‘good behaviour’. The DMK-led State Government has tried to deflect criticism by asserting that the convicts released had already served out around 10 years of their 13-year sentences. Nonetheless, that is hardly the point. Those that have been released are no ordinary convicts. They are hardened jihadis who were members of the banned terrorist organisation Al-Umma. Had the State Government released petty thieves serving minor sentences, it could have been given the benefit of doubt. But to release convicted terrorists who remorselessly killed so many innocent civilians is unpardonable. Besides, showing ‘compassion’ for a terrorist is not only ridiculous but also sets a dangerous precedent. Tomorrow someone might want the butcher of Mumbai, Ajmal Amir Kasab, to be released on grounds of ‘compassion’. His lawyer could argue that since a State Government saw fit to release those involved in the Coimbatore terror bombings, Kasab too is eligible for similar treatment. Will we then be inclined to set Kasab free? The thought itself is nightmarish.


The fact of the matter is that the release of the nine terrorists is a clear case of populist, vote-bank politics on the part of the DMK-led Tamil Nadu Government. Last year it had released as many as 1,400 convicts, including those serving life-terms, to mark the beginning of Annadurai’s birth centenary celebrations. One can only imagine how many repeat offenders, murderers, rapists and dacoits were released in that act of ‘compassion’. It goes without saying that these people and their sympathisers will be more than willing to show their support for the DMK irrespective of whether the party would like to admit it or not. Such a brand of politics is not only a threat to society at large but also a betrayal of the people’s trust in the Government of the day. When the electorate votes a party or a coalition to power it expects it to ensure the safety and security of the people, not release hardcore criminals, least of all terrorists. It is because the Tamil Nadu Government has done precisely the opposite that it can no longer claim to be governing in the best interests of the people of the State. It is hoped that electorate will see through the DMK’s true designs and teach it a fitting lesson. For the sake of the country such politics cannot be allowed to continue without opposition.



            THE PIONEER




Poet and freedom fighter Sarojini Naidu had once famously declared that it costs the Congress a lot to keep Gandhi in poverty. Now that Congress leaders, from party president Sonia Gandhi to humble Ministers, are travelling economy class, we can only wonder whether Sarojini Naidu’s comment is relevant all over again.

Many things are hidden from the public eye. If Ms Sonia Gandhi is in an economy class seat, would it be prudent to let another passenger sit by her side? There are two points here. The passenger could be a security risk or finding himself or herself so close to the ‘seat’ of power, he or she may be tempted to give Ms Gandhi a bit of his or her mind. Perhaps talk with her through the flight and turn her journey into a nightmare.

If it is Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee who is in the economy class, a passenger would be tempted to ply him with many requests, suggestions, etc. You may term such experiences as occupational hazards for politicians in power.


 One TV channel reported that the saving in Mr Rahul Gandhi’s train trip to Ludhiana was only Rs 455 but that did not take into account the cost of the security personnel who travelled with him and who imposed strict restrictions on other passengers.


If you add all the hidden and not-so-hidden costs, this exercise in austerity is in fact an eye-wash like Mahatma Gandhi’s travel by third class compartments of trains. Once in power, Congressmen themselves stepped out of the sacredness of the Mahatma’s third class compartment, first by renaming it as second class and then deciding to travel in first and air-conditioned coaches.


Meanwhile, by publicly admonishing his Ministerial colleagues Mr SM Krishna and Mr Shashi Tharoor for their profligacy, Mr Mukherjee has scored a media byte only at the cost of traditional courtesies. The Ministers concerned are feeling let down. He could have sweetened the admonition by privately telling them to quit their five-star accommodation.


 In any case, they were paying for the hotel rooms from their personal funds. The list of assets that Mr Tharoor submitted to the returning officer before seeking election from Thiruvananthapuram constituency reveals that he is well off with assets in the region of Rs 22 crore. After all, he has had a distinguished career in the UN.

As a former Deputy Secretary-General of the UN, Mr Tharoor is no stranger to five-star luxury. Similarly, Mr Krishna has had a long stint in Karnataka politics and has served as Chief Minister. In Karnataka, politicians are not exactly poor; most of those who contested the last Assembly election were in the ‘crorepati’ category.

The austerity theme has been recurring with almost every Government. But as a recent survey showed, most State Governments have only succeeded in increasing their administrative expenditure. As a result, they have little or no funds to spend on welfare measures for which taxes are collected from the people. The situation at the Centre is only slightly better — partly because the Centre more taxes than the States.

Instead of displaying political determination despite its strengthened position in Parliament after this summer’s election, the UPA, more so the Congress, seem to be playing to the gallery, making a great show of austerity. Ministers know how to deal with this. If they have to throw parties, they ask public sector units to foot the bill. If the PSUs are afraid of the CAG coming down on them, they ask them to pass on the bill to their regular contractors. Here is one more reason why Ministers are reluctant to promote disinvestment in PSUs attached to their respective Ministry

Let us, therefore, bring some sanity into the debate over austerity. People occupying positions of authority, including Ministers and legislators, need basic infrastructure for their proper functioning. They have hordes of visitors to handle for which they need adequate staff. Legislators, if they are serious about their work, need assistance to get inputs for their participation in discussions and debates. If they travel by economy class, they will have no peace of mind from countless passengers who would want to bother them.


These are the realities of democracy. You can’t wish them off. Instead of projecting that legislators and Ministers live in luxury, it is better the people recognise the parameters within which legislators and Ministers must function; those facilities should be publicly funded. It would be far better if those in authority, including legislators, are held to account for what they have done or failed to do rather than be harassed to live like hermits.

Gandhi, for instance, used to live in a Harijan colony in the early stages of his political career when he was in Delhi. But he realised that this caused inconvenience to the large audience which came to meet him every day. Hence, he had to shift to the sprawling Birla House.

In the wake of the Janata Party’s victory in 1977, Sanjiva Reddy, who became the President, declared in his first broadcast that he would like to live in a smaller place rather than the 360-room Rashtrapati Bhavan. A huge amount of money was spent on locating this ‘smaller place’. But the officers who had to run the President’s secretariat finally found that either the place was not suitable or the cost of renovation was astronomical. Finally Reddy had to concede publicly that his plan to move to a smaller house was not feasible. As President, Mr APJ Abdul Kalam lived in Rashtrapati Bhavan but maintained his frugal lifestyle. But he did not make a fetish of this simplicity.


Are we to believe that the UPA-II has already lost its shine and, therefore, has to resort to gimmicks to gain public attention?






A lot has been written about the role of Jinnah and the share of responsibility of Congress leaders in the partitioning of India in the aftermath of the release of Jaswant Singh’s book, Jinnah: India — Partition — Independence. No doubt the partition of India is a complex event that cannot be viewed purely in terms of black and white. It is, however, generally agreed that had there been no Jinnah, there would have been no Pakistan notwithstanding the fact that Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was the initiator of the idea that the Muslims of India were a separate nation as early as in 1888 or that Sir Mohd Iqbal had propounded his doctrine of ‘formation of a consolidated north-western Indian Muslim state as a final destiny of Muslims’ in 1930, or howsoever Rahmat Ali of England’s Humberstone Road might have coined the name for the new Muslim state in 1931.

While recalling the events of the partition era, one is struck with the fact that seldom has there been a man so constitutionalist and so sophisticated, who started with certain principles in his early life but went against them in the middle of his political career, and again coming back to his original thinking in the fag end of his years. In this context, it is no secret that in the beginning Jinnah was a staunch advocate of Hindu-Muslim unity which had compelled Gokhale to comment, “(Jinnah) has... freedom from all sectarian prejudices which will make him the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity”. In fact, so much was Jinnah’s admiration for Gokhale that he wanted to become just like him.

Even in 1916 when the country was engaged in the matter of separate electorate, Jinnah fully stood for Hindu-Muslim unity when he said in October of that year, “the keynote of our real progress lies in the goodwill, concord, harmony and co-operation between the two great sister communities.” It is a paradox that the same Jinnah got totally transformed by the middle of 1937 to expound the thesis that Hindus and Muslims belong to two civilisations — they derive inspiration from two different sources of history, their heroes are different and very often the hero of one is the foe of the other and likewise their defeats and victories overlap. He later on engineered Direct Action against Hindus on August 1946 in which scores of people were killed.

The reasons for such a turnaround are many, including Jinnah’s personal ambitions and his souring relations with Gandhi and Nehru. He was a very complex person and is yet to be fully understood.







After the Delhi Chief Minister’s acceptance that she is nervous about the preparedness for the 2010 Commonwealth Games scheduled in New Delhi between October 3-14 next year, it’s only natural to wonder whether India will be ready to host the Games. The stakes are indeed high, considering that India will be the third developing country to host the prestigious event after Jamaica in 1966 and Malaysia in 1988. The 19th Commonwealth Games are going to be the most expensive ($ 1.6 billion) compared to the earlier events in Manchester ($ 420 million) and Melbourne ($ 1.1 billion). With more than 8,000 athletes and one lakh international visitors expected, it will be the largest ever multi-sport event the country has ever hosted.

India should not cut a sorry figure by its slackness in preparation. Some feel that instead of a poor show it is better to pull out now when it is not too late. After all, it is the prestige of the country which is at stake. But things are not rosy according to the Commonwealth Games Federation President Michael Fennell, who has expressed serious concerns about New Delhi’s under-preparedness.

So alarmed is Fennel that he has requested a meeting with the Prime Minister to sort out things. He is doubtful whether India will match the standards set by Manchester in 2002 and Melbourne in 2006. In his recent letter to the local organising committee, Fennel observed that if New Delhi is not ready by next October, it would embarrass the organisers, the host nation (India) and also the Federation. Indian authorities will have to come with satisfactory explanations to the Federation chief.


Fennel’s letter has not come as a surprise. It is a well-known fact that nothing was going according to the schedule. In fact, the wake-up call was given by a Parliamentary Standing Committee headed by CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechuri as early as February 2009 that India was drastically under-prepared for the event. The committee blamed the lackadaisical attitude and poor coordination of the various stake-holders.

Why this state of affairs? If one goes by the assessment of Fennel, it is the lack of coordination in the local organising committee which is to be blamed. “Our concerns are such that unless there is significant change in the management culture and operation of the organising committee, these Games will fail from an operational perspective,” he stated in his letter. But for those living in New Delhi, it does not need a Fennel to express concern. The city is in a complete mess as almost every major road is dug up either for a metro or other construction work.

It is not as if there was not enough time for preparation. Various agencies involved continue to fight with each other. The Sports ministry does not see eye to eye with the Indian Olympic Association. The Delhi Government has a running battle with the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. IOC chief Suresh Kalmadi has serious differences with Sports Minister MS Gill. So how could they agree on anything? Added to that is the red tape of the bureaucracy and corruption. A whopping Rs 80,000 crores would be spend to build new roads, flyovers, and a new state-of-the-art airport terminal. Almost half of the 30,000 extra hotel rooms and most of the sporting venues are falling behind their schedule.

Fennel’s another concern is about the security. This has become more so after the Mumbai terror attack last year. Lack of coordination among various stake-holders has made the matter worse.

As if these were not enough, construction of sports complex and stadia are running behind time. Going by the recent CAG report, work on 14 of the 19 sports venues and nine transport projects are slow. Almost 13 of the 19 venues are between 30 to 50 per cent behind schedule and they simply cannot be rushed through. Nine transport projects were at a ‘high risk’ of not being completed in time. The aquatic complex, which should have been near completion by now, has been completed only 42 per cent. The airport terminal is still under construction.

Surprisingly, all top officials are so engrossed in other things that no one is keeping track of how the athletes are shaping up. According to the parliamentary committee report, “The committee is surprised to know that funds have projected or allocated for every other activity such as construction of the Games Village, stadia, roads, transport etc, but not for the training of our sportspersons for the Games.” A total of 424 athletes will represent India. But in each sport, around three times more than the number required has been selected for training.

At this rate of preparation, the country plans to bid for the 2020 Olympics!







Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily’s proposal that caste be enumerated in the national census, slated for 2011, comes in the wake of a Rural Development Ministry’s BPL survey that estimates other backward classes as comprising 38.5 per cent of the rural population. The figure is far below the Mandal Commission report’s estimate of 52 per cent. The ministry’s finding appears to tally with National Sample Survey Organisation’s estimate of OBC numbers at about 35 per cent. The disclosure comes as a blow to OBC leaders, who since August 1990, when the Mandal report was implemented by the VP Singh Government, have been relentlessly lobbying for hiking concessions and privileges for members of their communities on the premise that OBCs comprise at least 50 per cent of the population. Their argument is that numerically fewer upper castes need to cede ground to them in the power hierarchy. They need to wield influence in proportion to their population.

The move to realign the power structure in their favour via substantial reservations in Government jobs and higher educational institutions occurred when the Mandal Commission report was implemented, with the Supreme Court fixing the ceiling on reservations — for scheduled castes and tribes as well as OBCs — at 50 per cent. The OBC share was 27 per cent, over-shadowing the 22.5 per cent fixed in the Constitution for SCs and STs, considered by critics of the initiative to be more truly deserving of concessions than OBCs. For, the latter, as livestock and land-owning communities, rich farmers and dairy owners, cannot really be classified as the dispossessed, though they are not categorised among the three twice-born or upper castes, defined by Manusmriti. The most backward class, whose land holdings are meagre, are distinct from OBCs. Historically, SCs and STs, as landless labourers and daily wagers, have had to suffer oppression by OBCs on account of the latter’s position as landlords and employers.

The change in reservations policy fuelled the ambitions of OBC chieftains, whose rise was synchronous with the advent of coalition politics. It gave them leverage in bargaining for power and privileges. Not content with the apex court ruling, they have been persistently trying to extract further concessions from policy-makers, usually citing their numerical strength. The influential OBC lobby in Tamil Nadu is reported to dictate educational and development policies. Quota politics, at the cost of merit, has led to the premier centrally-funded Indian Institutes of Technology, Indian Institutes of Management and medical colleges being placed on the anvil of reservations. Mr Arjun Singh, the previous Human Resource Development Minister, enforced 27 per cent reservations for OBCs in these institutions. The move for quotas among faculty triggered protests by teaching staff as this would inevitably lead to an irreversible lowering of standards. Their reasoning was simple: One can either pursue excellence or nurture mediocrity or worse. Premier institutes are so considered because their teaching standards are in consonance with the best in the world.

Now, the Rural Ministry survey of the OBC population reduces the earlier estimates of numbers considerably. Assuming the findings to be accurate, the OBC lobby’s argument that they deserve precedence in admissions to premier higher education institutes and coveted Government jobs because their numbers constitute over half of India’s population no longer stands. The survey places OBCs at 37 per cent in Bihar, described as the Mandal powerhouse. In Haryana and Punjab, where they dominate the economy and politics, the percentage of OBCs is 28.2 per cent and 20.6 per cent. If one were to apply the principle of proportional representation, deployed by BP Mandal and his ilk, then quotas for OBCs need to be sharply reduced in light of the 38 per cent figure given by the survey, and the 35 per cent estimate projected by the NSSO.

A caste-based census may serve to resolve the question of actual numbers of OBCs, who, for the past two decades, have been holding policy-making to ransom on the strength of their supposed strength. The last such survey was undertaken in 1931. Possibly dismayed by the latest findings, Mr Moily is not willing to cede their accuracy. He has written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, proposing a caste-based census in 2011. However, this would be incomplete without also listing landholdings, annual income and vocations of diverse groups. For not all OBCs are equal, with, say, farmers in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh being prosperous as compared to their counterparts in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere. For affirmative action to succeed, distinctions have to be made.








Maybe it’s the relatively thin air up on those high plateaus that makes them foolish. First Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who would probably have won the second round in the presidential election in Iran anyway, cheated massively in order to win in the first round and avoid a run-off. The incredible voting figures declared by the Government triggered huge demonstrations in Iran and gravely undermined the regime’s legitimacy.

Two months later, in next-door Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai did exactly the same thing. All but one of his opponents would have been eliminated in the first round of voting, so his re-election as President in the second round was assured. He had bribed the northern warlords to deliver large blocks of votes to him, and in the south his Pashtun ethnic roots made him the favoured candidate among those who dared to vote

Yet in order to ‘win’ in the first round of voting and avoid that run-off, Mr Karzai’s people indulged in brazen, systematic cheating. His men set up hundreds of fictitious polling stations and registered hundreds of thousands of ballots in his favour. (Some of them weren’t even folded, so they could never have been inserted into a real ballot box.)

At the moment, there is dismay in the Western capitals that have sent troops to fight in Afghanistan. How can they ask their soldiers to die defending an illegitimate regime whose leading lights are a crooked President, his drug-trading brother, and two Vice-Presidents who are both former warlords with much Afghan blood on their hands? But this shameful election is not just a disaster for Western policy. It’s also an opportunity.

US President Barack Obama made a huge mistake in accepting the Washington orthodoxy that the war in Afghanistan is both vital to American interests and winnable. If he doesn’t turn around and start looking for a way out, it may destroy his administration in the end (though probably not in his first term). But the hardest thing in politics is to change course: You are punished far more severely for admitting a mistake than for making it in the first place.

What Mr Obama could now say if he wanted, however, is: “This changes everything.”


It doesn’t, really, because the war in Afghanistan has been unwinnable for years, and it was never a vital American interest. Nor was Mr Karzai’s regime honest or competent before this election. But Mr Obama could say that the revelation of the true nature of the regime that the US is supporting has forced him to reconsider the scale of the US military commitment in Afghanistan, and he could then start working his way towards the door.

Suppose he does that, and that in a couple of years he is safely out of the door. The last American and other foreign troops have gone home, leaving Mr Karzai to his fate. What happens then?

This is the tricky bit, because of course we cannot know for sure. But here are some significant facts to consider.

The 9/11 attacks were not planned in Afghanistan. They were planned by Al Qaeda operatives in Germany and Florida, and it is very unlikely that the Taliban Government of Afghanistan had advance warning of them.

The Taliban and Al Qaeda were not ‘allies’, though they held similar views about the right way for Muslims to live. The mainly Arab senior members of Al Qaeda were in Afghanistan in 1996-2001 because they had fought alongside the Afghans as foreign volunteers during the war against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. The Taliban leaders felt a debt of honour towards them, and gave them refuge.

The Taliban never ruled all of Afghanistan. They controlled their own Pashtun homeland in the south and east, plus Kabul and some other bits, but the militias of the other ethnic groups always held out in the north.

So why does Western political rhetoric take it for granted that the Taliban would gain control of all of Afghanistan if Western troops left, or that they would then allow Al Qaeda to have bases in the country again, or that they have the slightest desire to attack the West?

If Western troops did pull out of Afghanistan, Mr Hamid Karzai would try to make a deal with the Taliban, and he might succeed. Even if he failed, few Western interests are at stake in the outcome. This outrageous parody of an election has given Mr Obama the political room he needs to save himself, and he should seize the opportunity.

The writer is a London-based independent journalist.









The first signs of political ferment against Islamabad appeared in 1971 when an organisation called the Tanzeem-e-Millat started operating in Gilgit despite the ban on its political activities. In 1974, Johar Ali Khan, the founder of the party, called for a strike to demand the repeal of the Frontier Crime Regulations and the recognition of the basic rights of the locals. When the agitation took a violent turn, AR Siddiqui, the then deputy commissioner, ordered the Gilgit Scouts, a para-military unit raised by the British and with a history of over a 100 years, to fire on the agitators and disperse them. They refused to open fire on fellow Shias. He then grabbed a rifle from a soldier of the Gilgit Scouts and opened fire on the crowd himself. One agitator was killed and the crowd dispersed. Johar Ali Khan and 15 others were arrested and taken to the jail. A large number of Shias raided the jail and got them freed. They were subsequently re-arrested

Following these violent incidents — the first in the history of NA since the Pakistan Army occupied it — Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, then in power in Islamabad, issued a notification disbanding the Gilgit Scouts as a punishment for its refusing to fire on the Shia agitators. The disbanding of the unit hurt the feelings of the Shias. It also threw a large number, who served in the Scouts, out of job. This marked the beginning of the Shia population in NA getting alienated against Islamabad. The Friday Times, a weekly of Lahore, published in its issue of October 15-21, 1992, “The Gilgit Scouts was the only credible law-enforcing agency from pre-partition times. Northerners generally resent the undoing of this centuries-old institution.”

The widespread anger caused by the disbanding of the Gilgit Scouts led to the emergence of a number of anti-Government religious organisations of the Shias. To counter this, the local Army authorities allegedly encouraged the formation of pro-Government organisations by the Sunnis. This injected the poison of religious sectarianism in NA, which like the rest of Jammu & Kashmir had historically remained a tolerant society.

This led to an anti-Shia carnage in Gilgit in May 1988 and was followed by more incidents in 1990, 1992 and 1993. In its issue of April 1990, The Herald said, “In May 1988, low-intensity political rivalry and sectarian tension ignited into full-scale carnage as thousands of armed tribesmen from outside Gilgit district invaded Gilgit along the Karakoram Highway. Nobody stopped them. They destroyed crops and houses, lynched and burnt people to death in the villages around Gilgit Town. The number of dead and injured was put in the hundreds, but numbers alone tell nothing of the savagery of the invading hordes and the chilling impact it has left on these peaceful valleys. Today, less than two years later, Gilgit is an arsenal and every man is ready to fight. In March 1990, when the administration raided homes in Gilgit Town to seize weapons, one was reminded of Karachi and Beirut, not Shangri-la. In February and March this year, sectarian violence in Gilgit claimed several lives in the worst flare-up since May, 1988.”

The Herald did not identify “the invading hordes” or their leader. These hordes consisted of Mehsuds and Wazirs from the Waziristan area of Federally-Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. Their leader was a man called Osama bin Laden. He was then the blue-eyed mujahideen of the USA’s CIA. In 1988, it was the end of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Before the Soviets announced their intention to withdraw, attacks by Afghan and Arab mujahideens were intensified. An increased number of private flights organised by the CIA brought in more and more weapons to be used by mujahideens against the Soviet troops. Some of these weapons were diverted by the ISI to the Mehsuds and Wazirs, who carried out during 1988 the greatest massacre of Shias in the history of the sub-continent since India and Pakistan became independent in 1947. More Shias of Gilgit were killed by bin Laden’s Mehsuds and Wazirs in 1988 than the Shias (Hazaras) killed by the Taliban during the five years of its rule in Afghanistan

Since the support of these tribals and of OBL and his Arab mujahideen was needed in the culminating battles against the Soviet troops, the Western world maintained a silence on the carnage of the Shias. Till The Herald broke the story of the carnage two years later, the outside world hardly had an idea of the ferocity of the suppression of the Shias of Gilgit by the Pakistan Army with the help of the invading tribal hordes from FATA.

Writing on the same subject, the Friday Times (October 15-21, 1992) said, “In 1988, 150 people were killed when armed lashkars from Chilas and Kohistan — a predominantly Sunni and an exceptionally militant region — raided the Shia-dominated region of Gilgit. After eight days of uninterrupted carnage, the military was finally called in and curfew imposed. Zia-ul-Haq’s regime exploited the Shia-Sunni chasm. The invasion from outside has ignited an inferno of instability that has continued to blaze with the passage of time. It has militarised an otherwise peaceful environment into a ghetto of blind hatreds and animosities.”

Twenty-eight Shias were killed in Gilgit Town in May 1992. Latif Hasan, a well-known Shia leader of the town, was murdered in broad daylight by masked assassins, leading to retaliatory attacks by Shias on the Sunnis, killing six of them. On August 18, 1993, 20 Shias were killed in the same town and the authorities had to impose a curfew.

Strongly condemning the anti-Shia incidents in NA, Allama Syed Sajid Ali Naqvi, the chief of the Tehrik-e-Jafria Pakistan, the Shia political organisation of Pakistan, demanded the dismissal of the inspector-general of police of NA. The Frontier Post of August 28, 1993, quoted him as saying, “Due to wrong policies and inappropriate tactics of the IGP of Northern Areas, the situation has deteriorated to such an extent that the Pakistan Army had to leave the peaks of Siachen for the streets of Gilgit. The bureaucracy and the authorities of Northern Areas, who do not have the fear of accountability, have started interfering in the beliefs, customs, traditions and religious affairs of the poor people.”

The year 1988 saw the ‘invading hordes’ of Sunni tribals trained and motivated by OBL coming down the Karakoram Highway constructed with Chinese assistance in territory, which belongs to India.


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









It seems to be the season for revelations. First came A Q Khan's admission in a televised interview that he and other administration officials had acted as enablers for Iran's incipient nuclear programme, guiding it to the network of suppliers that Khan himself had used. He also hinted that Pakistan had supplied centrifuges to North Korea. Implicit in both these admissions was the assertion that he was no loose cannon but had acted with Islamabad's full knowledge and cooperation. Then came his bete noire Pervez Musharraf's turn. The former Pakistani president revealed that much of the financial aid and military equipment supplied by the US in the wake of 9/11 had been diverted to Pakistan's eastern border rather than used in the fight against the Taliban. Neither admission is particularly surprising, but they highlight yet again the problems of accountability and oversight when it comes to aid to Pakistan.

To some extent, the laissez-faire attitude of the Bush administration has been replaced by more stringent accountability norms in Washington. The Kerry-Lugar Bill that authorises $7.5 billion in non-military aid to Pakistan over the next five years also imposes checks and conditions on military aid, including a biannual report on how the aid is being utilised. But good intentions do not always translate into concrete action. There are bound to be situations where it will be convenient to elide certain conditions for the sake of eliciting cooperation from Islamabad. The challenge now is for the Obama administration to resist the lure of expediency.

This is in its own best interests. If New Delhi is to soften its post-26/11 stance, allowing Washington the greater manoeuvring space it wants with Islamabad, it must have certain assurances. Among these is certifiable evidence that US aid is not being misused to bolster Pakistan's anti-India capabilities, as has been the case with the US-supplied Harpoon missiles and P-3C Orion aircraft. Even more pressing for Washington is the need to make certain that the aid is not being diverted to boost Pakistan's nuclear assets, and that they are secure. This is particularly so in light of Af-Pak special envoy Richard Holbrooke's statement that al-Qaeda is seeking nuclear secrets from Pakistan. The issue resonates far beyond the confines of South Asia. Some of the thorniest problems facing the Obama administration today Iran and North Korea have direct links to Pakistan.

Islamabad must realise that knee-jerk nationalism and protests about infringement of its sovereignty will serve little purpose here. It has no one to blame but its previous administration. Khan's scenario of government complicity in his dealings is far more plausible than Musharraf's. And more importantly, Islamabad needs the aid to combat the militancy that has infected large swathes of the Pakistani state for its own sake.








While the government is known for heavy-handed intervention where it does more harm than good, it is strangely loath to look into areas where its influence is necessary. Take the question of regulating the tactics pharma companies use to get doctors to promote their medicines. While the US Department of Justice slapped a record $2.3 billion fine on pharma major Pfizer for drug marketing fraud, the Indian government has asserted that drug companies can self-regulate against giving unethical inducements to doctors. If the global experience with big pharma is any indication, stringent legislation is required to keep drug companies from essentially bribing doctors.

The Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI), whose members together account for nearly two-thirds of drug sales in the country, adopted a voluntary code designed to prevent companies from providing incentives like free meals, vacations and gifts to doctors to influence their prescribing behaviour. But a quarter of these companies or their subsidiaries have been penalised in the US for illegally promoting their drugs. The magnitude of fines imposed for new transgression has escalated over the years.

Yet cases of unethical marketing of drugs abound, even in countries with strict legislation to prevent such abuse. What are the chances that in the absence of such legislation and its enforcement, pharma companies will abide by vague declarations of self-regulation in India? India, along with other emerging economies, is a major market for these companies. IMS, an industry consultancy, forecasts that sales in the biggest emerging markets will hit $300 billion by 2017, equal to current sales in the top five European markets and America combined.

Given the costs of developing and producing medicines, there is a clear incentive for pharma majors to push doctors to prescribe their products. The absence of countervailing legislation will not only push up the cost of medicines for patients, it could lead to unnecessary and even harmful medicines being prescribed. There is enough evidence to suggest that Indian doctors routinely prescribe higher priced drugs when generics would do. Legislation to crack down on unethical marketing practices coupled with strict enforcement and stiff penalties is necessary. Just because public health care is poor in India and patients by and large bear the cost of their medicines themselves, is no reason for government to look the other way.







The Naxal theatre seems headed for a bloody conflict. There are indications that the army may also be pulled into the comprehensive operations that are planned to be launched against the Naxals in the near future. The CRPF is already there; units of the BSF and ITBP are also likely to be deployed.

Union home minister P Chidambaram recently admitted that the challenge of left-wing extremism had been ''underestimated'' by the government. The Naxals, on the other hand, appear to have underestimated the strength of the Indian state. It is indulgent, has enormous patience, and it gives a long rope to political dissidence. But once it realises that enough is enough and decides on firm action, the strongest of oppositions is decimated. This is what happened in Punjab in the 1980s

The People's Liberation Guerrilla Army of the CPI (Maoist) may be a ragtag formation compared to the terrorists of Punjab, or the LTTE of Sri Lanka, but its geographical spread is daunting. As stated by the home minister himself, various Naxal groups have pockets of influence in 223 districts in 20 states across the country.

What is particularly disturbing is the qualitative change in the pattern of Naxal violence. Earlier, their violence was directed at individuals who were considered class enemies. These included landlords, moneylenders, police informers and right-wing elements. Now, the violence is directed against the state and its apparatus. High-profile targets are chosen: there was an attempt to assassinate the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh and, lately, Naxals had the audacity to threaten even the prime minister, Congress president and the home minister. Police stations are attacked, the district armoury is looted, jails are broken open, trains are detained, and security personnel ambushed with a frequency which erodes the credibility of the state. The Naxalites' objective essentially is to capture state power.

The recent stepping up in the tempo of Naxal violence is part of a calculated plan. The politburo of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) aims to ''aggravate the situation and create more difficulties to the enemy forces by expanding our guerrilla war to new areas on the one hand and intensifying the mass resistance in the existing areas so as to disperse the enemy forces over a sufficiently wider area''. They are also keen to exploit ''the worst ever economic crisis'' by recruiting new members, and undertaking daring counter offensives. The government, as conceded by the prime minister, has ''not achieved as much success as we would have liked in containing this menace''

A militaristic approach to the problem would nevertheless be unwise and is bound to prove counterproductive in the long run. The security forces may be able to shatter the Naxals' armed wing and there may be a large number of surrenders also, but the success thus achieved would be temporary and illusory. The problem would resurface after a few years - unless we address the causes which aggravate discontent against the establishment and make people gravitate to the Naxals. We must also remember that we are dealing with a movement which is basically indigenous and has in its ranks large segments of poor people and a sizeable number of tribals who have been alienated for a variety of reasons. We cannot declare war against them. It would be a blunder and amount to seeking a short-cut solution to a problem which requires a comprehensive strategy over a long period.

It would be akin to saying that we are incapable of modernising the police force, of going through with police reforms, and that, therefore, we shall employ paramilitary forces and the army to crush the Naxal movement. It would also amount to saying that we cannot alleviate poverty, that we cannot introduce land reforms, that it is not possible to improve governance beyond the present level, that corruption is pervasive and we have to live with it, and so the easier option is to eliminate the Naxals

The home minister was right when he outlined the Centre's two-pronged policy police action and development. He could have added mobilising the support of the people and the political option of dialogue if and when the Naxals agree to it.

As far as police action is concerned, it needs to be emphasised that the state police holds the key. It would, of course, need to be reinforced by paramilitary forces. Andhra has been able to cut the Naxals to size. Tripura has successfully contained tribal insurgency. There is no reason why their successes cannot be replicated in other states. Is the political leadership up to the challenge?

The army is likely to face formidable challenges along the borders with China and Pakistan in the foreseeable future. Its strength should not be frittered away on internal security duties apart from the fact that any deployment in the Naxal-affected areas would be wrong in principle.

The writer was a member of the Planning Commission's expert group to study the Naxal problem.








What do you wish to achieve from this year's KIAF?


 Due to the economic downturn, almost every art fair is suffering from poor participation and disappointing sales. South Korea's recovery rate has been faster than that of other countries. From this positive aspect, the Korean art market is looking bright and our so-called 'young' (economically active age group between 30 and 40) collectors' consistent passion for art is one of the merits of the Korean art market. The Korean government is supporting us actively in order to achieve quick recovery from recession. So the main objective of this year's fair is to revitalise the Korean art scene and also become a role model that brings positive effects to neighbouring art markets like in India.

What are your objectives to have India as the guest country this year?

Contemporary Chinese art has drawn significant attention from the international art world in the past few years. So there is more interest in Asian art as compared with western art. Many experts share the opinion that India will rise as a new centre of art and culture in Asia.

India has a potentially huge market besides its culture and history. Public interest in Indian art is gradually increasing in Korea. Hence the KIAF decided to invite India as the guest country and organise a special exhibition of artists who are representative of contemporary Indian art. The prime reason for having India as a guest country was to introduce and emphasise contemporary Indian art and its effect on the current international art scene.

What is the status, or position, of contemporary Indian art today in the Asian art market?

I agree with the opinion that the 21st century is more about the East than the West in almost every aspect, including art. Lots of Indian artists are already enjoying huge popularity around the world. But at this stage, it's about time art institutions in India the government, galleries, museums and individual curators became proactive and enlarged their market.

This year India has been appointed as a guest country in ARCO in Spain and KIAF in Korea but the low interest of local institutions has resulted in poor participation in both the fairs. In my opinion, art associates in India should grab such opportunities. Long-term strategy is likely to determine the state of Indian art in the global market in the next 10 years.









The other day someone, a virtual stranger, invited me, via SMS, to be his friend on something called Facebook. This intrigued me. I didn't know what Facebook was. But by a process of linguistic analysis I figured out it must be a book containing faces. A photo album. And this was the cause of intrigue. Why would anyone, who was not a close friend or relative, want to include my mug shot in his album? Friends and relatives had little choice in the matter (What? Again the fellow's managed to sneak into the picture? I told you to bribe the photographer to make sure he left him out. Now what are we going to do? Go get the kitchen scissors and cut his face out of the photo. You know it upsets the children. And remember Dolly Auntie when we were showing her the photos from last Diwali and she came across one of him and had to go and lie down with a cold compress on her head?) So why did this unknown person who had SMSed me wish to inflict me - or rather, my face - on his counterpart of Dolly Auntie?


As always, Bunny enlightened me. It seemed that Facebook was not a photo album at all. It was an internet site for social networking. But this gave rise to further perplexment. What's social networking? I asked. Bunny explained that social networking was what you did to get to know a lot of people who you didn't know. How do you do that? I asked. By telling them things about yourself, said Bunny. What sort of things: my BP, my blood sugar count and my PAN card number? I asked. But apparently it wasn't my BP or my PAN number people wanted to know about. It seemed that on Facebook people told each other what they did each day, every day.


This social networking business seemed pretty simple, even for me. OK, I said. And just to get in some practice before I actually started socially networking on Facebook, I began to tell myself what I had done that day. Like charity, social networking begins at home. So, let's see what exciting things i did every day: Got out of bed. Went to loo. Brushed teeth. Had shave. Had shower. Went to office. Dozed at desk. Was woken by cleaning-up personnel and told to go home; I was getting in their way. Went home. Tickled Brindle under chin. Brindle wagged her tail. Had dinner. Went to sleep.


And by this time, I was falling asleep. Just by listening to myself telling myself what I did day in, day out. If what I did bored me to sleep, what effect would it have on others? Zombie time. But maybe people who socially networked on Facebook led more exciting lives than mine. Maybe as a matter of everyday routine they climbed mountains higher than Everest, discovered lost continents, or invented a Botox substitute made from recycled cellulite.


But Bunny assured me that this was not necessarily the case. Most social networkers on Facebook - and similar sites like LinkedIn and ibibo - did things about as ho-hum as i did. So then what was this social networking about if everyone who did it did things which were as boring as everyone else's? And then it struck me. If you were boring on your own, you were a loser. If you were boring with a whole lot of other people who were as boring as you, you weren't a loser. You were a loafer. If you hang around on streetcorners loafing around you'll end up a loafer, our mothers used to tell us. And that's exactly what we've grown up to be. Electronic loafers, or e-loafers (which is much safer than loafing around actual streetcorners, where you might catch swine flu, or be arrested as a suspected terrorist under TADA or POTO, or some other thing that sounds like a psychotic Rottweiler). And the best thing about being an e-loafer is that you're a loafer not just for life. You're a loafer beyond life, thanks to a social network called Death Book that keeps sending out messages on your behalf even after you're dead. And you'll have become a loafer on e-Ternity: In the beginning was the Word; and the Word was Twitter...







Our country, aside from a brief period of British rule, always had dynastic rule, irrespective of whether rulers were Hindu or Muslim. The eldest son of the ruling family would assume the reins of power after the death of his father. No doubt on some occasions overambitious progenies tried to break the well-set convention, but it remained a family affair. As a result we Indians have come to relish and cherish subjugation to dynasties. Even where kings and landlords don't want to continue, we force them to occupy the throne. How the reluctant Rajiv Gandhi, a greenhorn in politics, was made to assume the prime ministership of this country is still fresh in our minds. So, it is not difficult to understand the clamour to install Jagan Reddy as YSR's successor in Andhra Pradesh. Democracy is a foreign commodity in our country. I very much doubt that we'd be a democracy had not the British ruled here. Just after the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri, we wanted Indira Gandhi to be installed as the prime minister, though many stalwarts like Morarji Desai, Kamaraj, C B Gupta, N Sanjeeva Reddy were around. And once Indira smelt the streaks of dynastic subjugation running deep in our veins, she didn't look back, and obliged the Indian masses by projecting herself as eternal PM. Knowing that this country would look to a Nehru-Gandhi scion for leadership after her death, she first anointed Sanjay Gandhi as her successor and after his untimely death, her other son picked up the baton. What happened after that proved her right.

But it is not only the Gandhis who do this. The record of others is equally glorious. In Punjab, Sukhbir Badal is firmly in the saddle much to the delight of his septuagenarian father. Then we have the Chennai Super King, Karunanidhi, who wants to give a slice of power to all his family members. The tradition of supporting the family successor is evident even in second-rung leaders. Sachin Pilot took over from Rajesh Pilot and Milind Deora is following in the footsteps of his father. But this cannot happen without huge public support. Dynastic succession is a pan-Indian phenomenon, and in India's affinity for such politics lies the answer to why the BJP and CPM are going downhill. They, after all, don't have the dynastic culture that we have come to relish. Taking all this into consideration, not making Jaganmohan Reddy chief minister would be most un-Indian.









We’ve now heard it from the home minister’s mouth — many of our police officers have been “reduced to a

football” to be kicked about by their political masters. Speaking at a conference of directors and inspectors general of police earlier this week, P Chidambaram minced no words on how such arbitrary conduct towards police officers affects both the individual and the job.


The prime minister spoke at the same meet about our failure to meet the Maoist threat, clearly a reference to the lapses in the law enforcement apparatus. But Mr Chidambaram’s exhortation to police officers not to remain silent over needless, even vindictive, postings and transfers is easier said than done.


These are the very weapons that politicians use to ensure that the police force complies with their bidding. They will not give up that power easily. Which explains why most states are notoriously reluctant to implement the recommendations of various police reform commissions over the years.


Mr Chidambaram is on the right track when he talks of the need for a new-age policeman who would be better trained, motivated and suitably empowered.


Which brings us back to the question of the police being allowed to function more as law enforcers than agents for their political masters. Of course, with only 14.5 policemen for every 10,000 people, the force has its task cut out for it. And certainly, police stations need better riot gear, greater human rights and gender sensitisation and an effective forensic set-up. It also needs five-yearly in-service training as opposed to the 20-yearly one at present.


To fill the gaps, the exchequer will have to fork out at least Rs 25,808 crore. That is not an insurmountable problem. The more difficult task is to take postings and transfers away from the political establishment and allow a police board, as recommended in the model police act formulated by the Soli Sorabjee committee, to undertake this task in a professional manner. In addition, police officers must be assured at least a two-year tenure so they don’t have to keep looking over their shoulder all the time.


We often find a situation when the army has to be called out to do policing duties. This is undesirable in a country that upholds the supremacy of the civilian administration and in which the army has much firefighting of their own to do anyway. So we hope that following his prescient words, Mr Chidambaram will engage the states and work towards implementing the police reforms that have been in the pipeline seemingly forever.






Do those strange people who usually travel business class — but may not be travelling in this category for a while now — really think that the people who fly economy are angry by a wisecracking Minister of State with trendy sideburns calling economy class ‘cattle class’? The poor dearies must be so sweet — and silly — to think that us cattle-classers would mind.

Heck, that’s what  all those people travelling economy class call economy class: cattle class. To think that those travelling within the relatively crammed confines of an economy class ticket (and the ‘cramminess’ of the confines does depend on the airline one is flying) have no idea of the relative luxury of flying business class is to be downright patronising.

Shashi Tharoor responded to a question on his Twitter page that read, “Tell us minister, next time you travel to Kerala, will it be cattle class?” Perhaps, being a career diplomat Mr Tharoor should have answered, “Absolutely, I will out of solidarity with all our holy cows” instead of repeating the questioner’s term, ‘cattle class’. But one thing is certain. Mr Tharoor’s colleagues, if not his superiors, don’t know a witticism even if they were squeezed between one witticism sitting in the aisle seat and another in the window seat.

Dalits shot down Mahatma Gandhi’s term ‘Harijan’ as they considered it too patronising — as if they needed to be taken special care of. They preferred the term ‘Dalit’, or ‘oppressed’, for themselves. So dear sweeties, don’t fret about calling economy class ‘cattle class’. That’s what we call it ourselves.







In this period of competitive austerity, there can be nothing more tiresome than a sanctimonious politician. With netas offering to travel in the cargo holds of aircraft, a senior minister called up to say, “I haven’t taken salary from the Government of India for the last five years, what greater evidence can there be of my commitment to austerity!” What he forgot is that such is his personal wealth that a government salary was loose change that he could easily forego.


Unfortunately, in the cacophony over our netas’ flying preferences, we’re ending up engaging in farcical paise-pinching. If the government and the Congress are serious about curbing expenditure in times of drought, then flying cattle (sorry, aam admi) class on a low cost airline is hardly the answer. The saving of a few thousand rupees is the kind of effete tokenism India seems to specialise in.


If Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — himself almost Gandhian in his habits — was serious about tightening the sarkari belt then he should have downsized the government. After all, why does he need a 78-member council of ministers, including around 38 ministers of state? Cutting his ministry by half will be a much bigger saving.


Moreover, the real hidden costs confronting a government come from the corruption that is endemic to the state system. If Singh is truly serious about austerity, why doesn’t he sack those in the government who stand accused of corruption? Why, does a Buta Singh remain the chairman of the SC/ST commission even after the CBI arrested his son for abusing his father’s position to amass crores? Why does a minister accused of manipulating spectrum allocation continue to retain his ministry?


Then there are those who believe that government privileges are lifelong entitlements. Why, does a Ram Vilas Paswan continue to occupy prime property in Lutyens’ land for over four months after his party lost the Lok Sabha polls?


A recent RTI petition revealed that about 14 defeated MPs, including eight ministers, from the previous Lok Sabha continue to occupy their bungalows. Why doesn’t the prime minister’s office act against them? Or against those who make lavish renovations to their government houses in violation of all laws?


Downsizing government, acting against the corrupt and snatching away the privileges of the political elite require courage and conviction — qualities that often go missing when confronted with the compulsions of coalition politics. Forcing S.M. Krishna and Shashi Tharoor to vacate five-star hotels was always a soft option. Neither of them can be remotely described as a mass politician — one a dinosaur, the other a debutante MP, both of whom were easy targets for a political leadership determined to make a point.


In a sense, both Krishna and Tharoor represent a certain class of elite English-speaking politicians who are now an endangered species. One is a tennis-playing Fulbright scholar. The other, a ‘twittering’ former UN diplomat-novelist who is already a posterboy for the capital’s chattering classes.


Their ‘crime’ isn’t that they were staying in a five-star hotel for the last three months: after all, there is no evidence of their having used public money for the luxury. Their failing, perhaps, is that their lifestyle was seen as a symbol of a certain social elitism, which a class-conscious Indian political system is still uncomfortable with.


A Mayawati, for example, can still get away with her grotesque exhibition of opulence (notice how she hasn’t


said a word on the austerity debate) because she has been successfully projected as a ‘Dalit ki beti’, whose



wealth makes her an aspirational symbol for an entire community. In politics, perceptions do matter.

In the Indian context, a neta must always project a common man’s touch, negated by the extravagance of living

in the presidential suite of a five-star hotel. The ‘privacy’ argument simply doesn’t hold. Once you are in public life, your private realm is no longer clearly delineated.


One contemporary elite politician who has realised this better than most is Orissa Chief minister Naveen

Patnaik. The Doon school-educated urban sophisticate who lived on plush Aurangzeb road, night clubbed in New York with Jackie Onassis and Gore Vidal, wrote books on herbs and gardens and relished his smoke and scotch, is now transformed into a tough and rooted regional satrap.


When in Delhi, he stays at Orissa Bhavan, hasn’t travelled abroad since becoming the chief minister, will

happily entertain tribal dancers from his state and is always seen in public in a crumpled kurta-pajama. He may

still drink the finest chota pegs in private, but in public he is what his followers want to see him as: an austere, committed mass leader.


Austerity, then, for a true Indian politician, is not so much about which class you fly by or which hotel you stay in: it is about consciously shedding a certain elitism that can, at times, be incongruous in a country where a majority of the people still struggle at subsistence level.


Post-script: Maybe, some of our ‘austere’ Indian netas need to follow the British example where in the past few months over a dozen MPs have been forced to resign for claiming all kinds of ‘allowances’, including mortgages of second homes, maintaining housekeepers, cleaning swimming pools, buying chandeliers and — in one case — putting up the family in a hotel. If that principle of accountability was followed, many of our MPs would have been forced out of office.


The views expressed by the author are personal.








It’s a vicious circle. Go wireless in order to stay connected and then plug up to ensure unhindered mobility.

Despite the freedom to do almost everything ‘on the go’, the total distance between us and the nearest charging point  remains directly proportional to the number of gadgets our lives revolve around today.


On an average, there will be as many cellphones as the number of occupants in an urban household. Then there will be a couple of laptops, an iPod and a digital camera. Recharging each of these devices ensures a periodic obeisance at the mouth of the once-neglected switchboards. So what if the aesthetics of these serpentine black wires coiled around the patchboards are not unlike the tongue-protruding mukhotas (masks) that ‘protect’ our homes from harm and the evil eye.


But while most of us struggle to shove those bulky three-pin boxes inside the closet and furiously untangle the wires each time they are pulled out, the fact remains that different battery chargers for various gizmos do complicate our ‘wireless’ lives. Add to it the confusion of finding better use for the ‘accessories’ if and when we upgrade our dependencies or misplace or break the corresponding widgets.


The bottomline: they are as useless when not in use as they are when they can’t be used. So this is the new version of the old paperless office that ends up producing more print-outs than in the old-style ‘paper and files’ one.


One of the two proposed solutions has already got the European Union’s nod. It’s the concept of a universal charger for all mobile phones by 2012. The other sounds too futuristic just yet: transmitting electricity wirelessly. The former seems practical — similar to USB (universal serial bus) charging for all phones. But it’s unclear whether mobile phone companies will be a party to this, considering charger-selling is also a revenue earner.


But be rest assured that even when you are engrossed reading a write-up like this, ‘the guys’ are busy trying to find technological solutions to our problems — and problems to our solutions. After all, people like us who are tech-savvy because our neighbours are tech-savvy, are now addicted to this little critters of modern lifestyle.









Professor Meenakshi Mukherjee, who passed away in Hyderabad on September 16, was one of the most innovative, inspiring and widely honoured professors of English of her generation in the country. Each one of


her major books charted out a fresh field and flung open new doors of academic enquiry — The Twice-Born Fiction: Themes and Techniques of the Indian Novel in English (1971), Realism and Reality: the Novel and

Society in India (1985) and The Perishable Empire (2000).


For the last-named book, she was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Prize for the best book of the year in English, thus becoming one of the four or five literary critics to have won it in the last 50 years. Her latest book, an intellectual biography of Romesh Chunder Dutt (1848-1909), was launched in Delhi on Wednesday, as fate would have it, the day after she died.


Mukherjee began her teaching career in Patna where she had been a student and where she met and married Sujit Mukherjee, one of her professors who distinguished himself no less as a scholar, translator and later academic publisher. The two were perfectly matched in temperament as well as academic inclinations and wherever they lived, their home became a warm and welcoming social and intellectual adda.


Mukherjee taught successively at the University of Poona, Lady Shriram College, New Delhi, the newly-founded University of Hyderabad, and then back in Delhi as a professor at the Jawaharlal Nehru University. In between she was also a visiting professor at Chicago, California and Texas. A whole legion of her devoted former students and colleagues are to be found all over the country as well as abroad.


Not only did her own work contribute to giving a new orientation to the discipline but she also helped build up institutions that would bring together senior and younger scholars and enable them to present their work and share ideas. For 12 years, between 1993 and 2005, she was the Chairperson of the Indian Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (IACLALS), which under her leadership went from strength to strength, increasing its membership from under 50 to over 400.


Of the major international conferences she was instrumental in organising during this period, one was held in Shimla in 1994 and resulted in a book which she and I co-edited, Interrogating Postcolonialism (1996). The other was a grander conference in Hyderabad in 2004, in which some of the most distinguished literary scholars and theorists in the world, including Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Homi Bhabha,  participated, and which led to the publication of as many as three books.


A defining characteristic of Meenakshi Mukherjee both as a person and as a scholar was her simplicity. In an age of increasing scholarly jargonisation and even obfuscation, no one ever had any difficulty in following whatever she spoke or wrote. But such simplicity always went hand in hand with solid and substantial scholarship and a degree of persuasiveness that more complex ways of formulation would often have failed to achieve. She said the kind of acute things that clever people do not say.


As in her work so in her life, she was the most genial and forthcoming of human beings. Her modesty, affability


and quiet charm were most in evidence when she was with young researchers and teachers who had most reason to be in awe of her. She could instantly establish a rapport with them which often turned into life-long

friendships. She was a rare scholar and a rarer human being.


Harish Trivedi is Professor of English, Delhi University, and is the current Chairperson, Indian Association for

Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies (IACLALS)  


The views expressed by the author are personal









News emerged from a meeting of the empowered group of state finance ministers with senior officials of the

Union finance ministry that some form of consensus on the subject of the rollout of the goods and services tax

or the GST — is emerging. The consensus is that two rates of taxation should be applied: one a “standard” rate for most commodities; and the other, lower rate set aside for “essential” commodities. There is, justifiably,concern that this new idea will essentially gut the idea behind the GST, which was revolutionary in scope.


The reasons behind this compromise are clearly discernable. What is being looked for is a method to ensure that the transition from the present sales tax regime to the uniform regime envisaged under plans for the GST doesn’t adversely impact the revenue collection of cash-strapped state governments. This is a political argument to which all those who value India’s federal polity cannot help but be partly sympathetic. But on this occasion the argument has less traction than otherwise.


The central, basic point about the GST is simplicity and uniformity. That alone will provide savings, it is argued; it will reduce effort, increase compliance. That is essential, too, to ensure that there is an IT system put

into place with the GST that is effective and user-friendly. (The concept behind the system is that it will take into account GST refunds and aid in inter-state transfers countrywide.) But a two-tier GST is simply a contradiction in terms. Worst of all, it will leave the door open to politics: who is to say what items are “essential”? Will that be determined on the basis of political bargaining between regional blocs at the Centre? The GST revolution is already hampered by the fact that services are being treated differently. That is a major, major problem — and one caused by political compromise. There is simply no space for further compromises.







The Union cabinet has in the end decided to take no view on the Delhi high court judgment this July reading

down Section 377 of the IPC and decriminalising homosexuality. With that judgment under challenge in the

Supreme Court by assorted petitioners and the Centre’s view thereby sought, the issue had been seen to be politically tricky. By offering the assistance of the attorney general to the apex court “in arriving at an opinion on the correctness of the judgment of the high court”, and so taking a completely legalistic view of the matter, the government may just have sidestepped a political controversy. It has also junked the worst option before it: of persisting with UPA-I’s position in the high court against decriminalisation and continuing to be on the wrong side of the 20th century.


To that extent, the cabinet’s decision signals movement in the right direction. And to the extent that its non-view could produce the same outcome that an enlightened defence of the individual rights prefaced in the Delhi high court’s verdict would have, it could be progressive.


After all, most political parties have seen silence to be most prudent in reacting to the Section 377 judgment.


They have, especially the national parties, maintained a studied we-are-studying-the-implications stand, while

desisting from criticising the judgment too. If this be political cover for a progressive path being cleared by the courts amidst entrenched orthodoxy, it cannot be a bad thing. After all, the celebrations that were set off by the Delhi high court’s judgment were accompanied by the recognition that a legal right was but a valuable beginning in a struggle to change social attitudes. If by being non-confrontational the executive can avert the kind of opposition that could threaten progressiveness, then value of this strategy must be acknowledged. However, the record will for ever make it clear that the government had the chance to be bold and state a higher principle about individual rights; for that is the easy route that had been charted by the Delhi high court.


Yet, finally, the verdict on the government’s decision will be based on the outcome produced.







It is the last thing that Indira Gandhi would have imagined. When she, as prime minister in the ’70s, twice superseded senior Supreme Court judges to appoint her own as chief justice, little did she realise the consequences. For in subsequently deciding the question of who would select Supreme Court judges, theworld’s most powerful court chose itself. Selection to the court is now by a collegium of senior judges; the government and the legislature have no say. The only guarantee of a fair appointment is neither transparency nor outside checks; it is trust, trust in their lordships’ abilities to select their own. But when some of our senior-most lawyers publicly cast aspersions on a high court chief justice about to become a Supreme Court judge, it calls into question the very basis of that trust.In a letter to the Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan, some of the country’s most respected jurists have called for a probe into allegations against Karnataka chief justice and Supreme Court appointee, P.D.


Dinakaran. Justice Dinakaran, who strongly denies these charges, has been elevated to the Supreme Court by

the collegium, with only the notification of his appointment pending. Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument,

that the senior lawyers have a point. Is there any other way they could have aired their concerns? Unlike, say, in

the US, our judge selection lacks any semblance of public debate or inquiry. There is also no in-house system

for the collegium of judges to listen to grievances or vet charges. Conversely, if the charges against Justice

Dinakaran are motivated and false, the public questioning of his character is manifestly unfair. It will stain his reputation for ever. For what authority do judges have, if not for the public perception of their scruples? Either way, the lack of a transparent system is to blame for this mess.


In the clash between the court’s independence and accountability, the pendulum has swung towards the former. Judges self-select and can’t be disciplined except through an elaborate (in effect unattainable) impeachment process. All this requires enormous public trust. But that trust is being questioned by a series of controversies to hit the court — from corruption charges to the initial reluctance of the court to declare its assets to the public. With two bills currently pending — the Judges Assets Bill and the Judges Inquiry Bill — there is a sense that all is not well in our most powerful court. The current controversy only heightens that unease.










It’s often hard to judge the impact certain moments will have in the future, as they unfold in the present. In

many cases, the tendency is to exaggerate the consequences. Arsenal did not drop out of the top four in the Premiership when Thierry Henry left. There would never be another Pete Sampras, we said with misty eyes, but

as soon as the tears were wiped off, there stood Roger Federer. And though it did look extremely likely at the time, match-fixing did not kill cricket’s popularity.


However, it’s as easy to go the other way.


When Kapil Dev stood on the balcony at Lord’s holding up the World Cup trophy, you knew it was a moment that would spark something big, especially in a nation as starved of international sporting success as India was. But did anyone see the complete shift in power coming? Did they see Indian rupees taking over the game to such an extent that there would not be enough time for advertisements between overs, leaving high-profile commentators plugging motorbikes on air even as Sachin Tendulkar crafted a masterly century out in the middle? In fact, two-and-a-half decades down the line, the Board of Control for Cricket in India could very easily drop the last bit of its title.


Similarly, it’s been impossible to tell where the Twenty20 revolution is headed, and this time it’s all happening at breakneck speed. In the last two years, we’ve debated, endlessly, the probable demise of Test cricket and the near-certain death of one-dayers as we know them. A rebel league sprung up, and has since been crushed. The Sri Lankan board cancelled a Test tour of England so their players could play the IPL, and an extremely reluctant West Indian outfit was dragged, kicking and screaming, to fill in for them. Many see cricket organising itself more on the lines of football, where battles between clubs dominate the calendar with national teams coming together for major tournaments once every couple of years.


Things seem to be snowballing so fast that the game’s administrators are having to dance around on twinkle-toes to avoid being flattened by the monster they have created.


Of these, Andrew Flintoff’s turning down a contract with the England and Wales Cricket Board to go freelance has the potential to be the biggest game-changer, because it empowers the player like never before. Suddenly, representing the country is not the only way to make a living. Flintoff’s agent is on the record saying the all-rounder could play in as many as six different Twenty20 leagues if he skips national duty. If he has his way, Flintoff — or Andrew Symonds, who plans to take a similar path — could end up making more money from the final few years of his career than he has from playing a decade of international cricket.


And while both Flintoff and Symonds are well into the second halves of their careers, is it too far-fetched to imagine players taking similar decisions while still at their peak? I don’t like your terms, I’m off to play for the Timbuktu Terminators. (If this seems like an overreaction, think of the day an Indian cricketer chooses to play in the proposed Southern Hemisphere league over a tour of Bangladesh.)


It is important not to blame the players though. Sportsmen have short shelf-lives and deserve every penny they make when they’re still able to perform — most of them spend their lifetime getting that good at what they do, and retiring at 35 with few other skills cannot be pleasant. (It is possible, as his agent says, that Freddie wants to go bungee-jumping, which the contract with the English board did not allow).


The real question is where this leaves the game’s administrators. They can hardly allow international cricket to be diluted, for that would be the beginning of their own irrelevance; neither can they afford to get confrontational:banning high-profile players from plying their trade may not be as easy as bullying the Indian Cricket League to its knees.


How successful Flintoff is, or is allowed to be, with this plan could have a big bearing on whether this becomes a trend or not. And while we wait and watch... do you reckon Federer’s loss to Juan Martin del Potro at Flushing Meadows is the end of an era?










In 2008, Nandan Nilekani published a book titled Imagining India: Ideas for the New Century. Most people will have read the book, since it has continually been on bestseller lists. There was a section in that book titled “Getting rid of our phantoms: single citizen ID”. This section said, “India’s ministries and departments are also quite isolated, with separate fund flows and intricate, over-hyphenated authority levels. As a result these systems require paperwork-choked processes each time citizens approach the state... Creating a national register of citizens, assigning them a unique ID and linking them across a set of national databases, like the PAN and passport, can have far-reaching effects in delivering public services better and targeting services more accurately. Unique identification for each citizen also ensures a basic right — the right to ‘an acknowledged existence’ in the country, without which much of a nation’s poor can be nameless and ignored, and governments can draw a veil over large-scale poverty and destitution... No one else can then claim a benefit that is rightfully yours, and no one can deny their economic status, whether abjectly poor or extremely wealthy... A key piece of infrastructure that must sit on top of an interconnected grid is the electronic flow of funds... Linking smart cards to such accounts can open up the banking system to hundreds of millions more people.”


What a great idea. This is not just financial inclusion, it is citizen inclusion too. And from the point of view of

security, it is non-citizen exclusion. The president thought it was a great idea too, that is, government suggested

she think it was a great idea. Paragraph 13 of her June 4 speech to Parliament stated, “The Unique Identity Card scheme for each citizen will be implemented in three years overseen by an Empowered Group. This would serve the purpose of identification for development programmes and security.” Some Cassandras did wonder about paragraph 32 of the same speech, where it said, “Targeted identification cards would subsume and replace omnibus Below Poverty Line (BPL) list. NREGA has a job card and the proposed Food Security Act would also create a new card.” How many cards were there going to be?


However, Cassandras were silenced when Nilekani was appointed chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI).


Although the UIDAI is located in the Planning Commission, this job is different. And here is a person who not only has impeccable credentials, but also believes passionately in the single ID business. He should be able to bring about the third most important transformation, M.S. Swaminathan and Sam Pitroda being architects of the first two. I wonder why Nandan Nilekani used the expression phantoms in his book. A phantom is an apparition, a spectre. Whenever I hear the word phantom, I think of The Phantom of the Opera and Lee Falk’s The Ghost Who Walks. No one reads the comic strip now. But since Nandan Nilekani and I are roughly of the same age, I am sure he must have devoured Kit Walker’s escapades once upon a time. The point about the ghost who walks is that he never died, his successors carried on the phantom’s role. By that token, we will never get rid of our phantoms and we will never have a single citizen ID. Those ministries and departments will never give up their turfs and their silos. Wasn’t that what the president was hinting at in paragraph 32?


Where do we stand now? First, the UIDAI will not issue cards. It will only issue 16-digit numbers with demographic and biometric information. To ensure there is no misuse, these will be random numbers and one can’t read anything more into them. This is like one of the Idea Cellular ads, “What an Idea Sir-ji”, when every individual is given a 10-digit number. This is 16-digits. Just so that we have the mathematics right, this is enough to cover India’s (even the world’s) population many times over. But non-issue of an actual card is no big deal. Let the environment ministry first sort out whether plastics are good or bad.

However, second, numbers will be issued to all Indian residents, not Indian citizens. The UID number will only guarantee identity, not rights, benefits or entitlements. And it will certainly not guarantee citizenship. This probably reflects the home ministry’s experience with the multi-purpose national identity card (MNIC) experiment. In pilots, it was found that many people who were issued IDs weren’t Indian citizens. Let the UIDAI not get into the citizenship issue at all, the home ministry will sort it out eventually. So much for those who thought UID would help the cause of security.


The problem is no one reads things carefully. Paragraph 64 of Pranab Mukherjee’s budget speech stated, “The setting up of the Unique Identification Authority of India is a major step in


improving governance with regard to delivery of public services. This project is very close to my heart... The UIDAI will set up an online data base with identity and biometric details of Indian residents and provide enrolment and verification services across the country. The first set of unique identity numbers will be rolled out in 12 to 18 months. I have proposed a provision of Rs120 crore for this project.” Not a single analyst noticed that the FM spoke of Indian residents, not Indian citizens.


Third, UID numbers won’t be mandatory. Ministries and departments might seek to make them mandatory, but that’s not the UIDAI’s mandate. And therefore, the issue of numbers is demand-driven. I approach the UIDAI for a number, a bit like PAN, and the UIDAI does its know your resident (KYR) exercise. Therefore, unless NREGA or PDS or health or education data are factored in, there is no obvious reason why the poor should get UID numbers.


Fourth, how these numbers will be used is entirely up to ministries and departments. One cannot assume they will be used to deliver public goods and services or target subsidies.


The UIDAI plans to start issuing UIDs in 12-18 months and cover 600 million people within four years. Some good may come of this exercise. But this is not quite what I had thought the UIDAI would be, or what Nilekani mentioned in his book. Dilution has occurred, like that from paragraph 13 to paragraph 32 of the president’s speech.


The writer is a Delhi-based economist











In one who will stand up to power — not just to those who happen to be in office at a particular moment, but to establishments that embody power: like the establishments of entrenched religions — conduct and character are everything. I remember how struck I was thirty years ago when I inquired from the Navjivan Trust the circulation figures of Gandhiji’s writings. The figures nail the point even today, and are worth pondering over, especially in this day of sound-byte journalism and the “breaking news” of this shift, to say nothing of the day.


The english version of Gandhiji’s autobiography was first printed in 1927. The print order was a mere 6000 copies. The next printing was not needed till 1940, thirteen years later. This was the period when Gandhiji was quite the undisputed leader of the national movement and yet less than 500 copies of one of his most significant books were being absorbed by the market in a year. Hind Swaraj, which he often insisted was his testament, did no better: between 1925 and 1941 only 7000 copies of this little book were printed. His Satyagraha in South Africa was an indispensable account for understanding the evolution and conduct of the techniques of political action that were then moving the country. This account fared even worse: only 3000 copies of it were printed in 1924; a second printing was not needed till 1940.


Even in the journals which he began and on which he relied, Harijan and Young India, saw their circulation dwindle. In the early stages the circulation of Harijan had reached 40,000 and that of Young India 30,000. For a country of millions, these were not earth-shaking numbers. Moreover, the circulation did not always remain in the 30-40,000 range. In 1925, Gandhiji was concerned that the circulation of Harijan had dropped to 6000 and that of Young India to 5000. True, the Gujarati editions of his books sold a larger number of copies. Between 1927 and 1940, against the 6000 copies of the English edition of his autobiography, 50,000 copies of the Gujarati edition found buyers. But even 50,000 copies over the 13-year period — less than 4000 copies a year — in the language and region of the Mahatma himself is not a very impressive figure.


Why then were authors like Gandhiji so effective? Clearly because of the authenticity of their lives. In societies such as ours, one’s life, one’s deed, one’s practice is the most effective medium of communication. The writings of Tilak Maharaj and Gandhiji were influential because they were a part of and not a substitute for their authentic lives.


We perceive the same phenomenon at work in reverse by looking at the politicians and leaders of today. Whatever they may write; howsoever eloquent their speeches might be; howsoever they may strain to invoke the name of Gandhiji and others — it all sounds so hollow. In fact, each time they invoke the names, people are reminded of the vast chasms between those great leaders and these puny and dishonest men who are trying to snatch the names to mislead the people. Hence, just as their authentic lives served as the communication of Tilak Maharaj, Gandhiji and others, the authentically dishonest lives of our current leaders rob their words and promises of all meaning.


Hence, conduct above all.


Learning to eat that gruel


Nor is the matter just one of the writer’s conduct in the past. Nor is the reason for spotless conduct merely the negative one — to withstand the whip of those in authority.


There must be nothing that the subject of his exposures, or indeed anyone, can give him that would deflect him from proclaiming “truth to power.” When their calumny does not work, this is what those who are being exposed look for desperately. What does this fellow want? What does he need? An exalted position? An honour? A luxurious vacation? Help for buying an apartment? Money? Expensive whiskey? Women? What, for heaven’s sake?


It was in the office of my dear friend, Samiran Nundy, one of India’s pre-eminent surgeons, that I first came across the scroll with that story about Diogenes. A burning hot afternoon. Diogenes is sitting as usual beneath the tree, sweating, scooping pasty gruel from a weathered bowl. At a distance, the court philosopher is being carried home in a palanquin for his lunch and afternoon siesta. He lifts the curtain. “Who is that beneath the tree?” the richly robed philosopher asks his bearers. “No one of any consequence, Sir,” they answer. “A fellow called Diogenes. A waster. All he does all day is sit under that tree, and yap with whoever comes along.”


“Take me to him” the philosopher directs.


He is lowered. He addresses Diogenes: “What are you doing, Diogenes?”


“Why, I am eating this gruel” Diogenes answers.


“You fool. If only you would learn to get along with the King, you wouldn’t have to spend the rest of your life eating that miserable gruel.”


“My dear Sir,” answers Diogenes, “If only you would learn to eat this gruel, you wouldn’t have to spend the rest of your life trying to get along with the King.”


We must learn to eat that gruel.


We must have no price.


And everyone must know that we have no price.


When the issue is joined


In regard to issues, the first thing to do is to avoid: to avoid the activists’ virus — one that attacks newspapermen as much as activists. There is a real injustice, a real case of wrongdoing. The activist or newspaperman chances upon the evidence. He takes up the issue. As he succeeds, more and more persons reach out to him, and point him in the direction of other wrongs. More and more information about such issues comes to him. He takes up issue after issue. One campaign of his succeeds after another. He now feels compelled to live up to the reputation he has acquired. So, he goes looking for issues. He discovers some, though they be of dwindling significance. When he can’t discover them, he invents some...


Two consequences follow. First, people begin to think of him as a professional agitator. They come to conclude that pursuing issues is a profession with him. Second, as he rushes from one issue to the next, he is not able to pursue any one of them to a conclusion. His targets cease to fear him: “Just lie low for three-four days,” I heard a politician tell another one about whose wrongdoing a newspaper had published evidence. “They will be after someone else soon.”


I am not a knight-errant, Gandhiji said once. My job is not to redress every wrong.

We must not be grasshoppers. We should be crocodiles: If someone is so foolish as to put his leg — his wrongdoing — in our jaws, we must not let go — till the reader has been brought to a conclusion, a matter about which, as we shall see in a moment, Gandhiji is again an excellent guide. For the moment, Lenin will do: “Fewer, but better.”


Second, we must never take up an issue because we think doing so will please our employer or leader, or our party or group. Nor should we take up an issue out of the politician’s disease: “We must stall the House today on fertiliser shortage. It will send a good signal to farmers.” The reason is simple: the calculations of the employer, of the leader will change; the interest of the people will shift. For us the tests should be two — both are ever so visible in Gandhiji’s campaigns. First, the issue, to use his phrase, is “an intolerable wrong.” Second, we are personally committed to undoing it. “Committed” not in the sense that we are prepared to shout slogans about it. Committed in the sense that we are prepared to shoulder the consequences of taking a stand on it.


Third, Gandhiji insisted that we must pitch our demand at the minimum. In Champaran, his demand was merely that the government appoint a committee to look into the distress of the indigo cultivators. That was enough to put the British rulers into a bind. If we set up the committee, they reasoned, everyone will conclude that we cannot stand up to this little troublemaker. When, on this reasoning, they don’t set up the committee for months, the people get to see the nature of the British government in India: if they won’t even set up a committee to examine our condition, how can we believe their professions about being our concerned guardians? All that was necessary this time round was to request that an honest, open appraisal be undertaken, one that fixes responsibility for the electoral outcome. The leaders were immediately in the same dilemma: If we concede the demand, went the rationalisation, we will be seen to be weak, and everyone down the line will conclude that we can be bullied. How will the party be run once that happens? But by not agreeing to that simple request, they proved the point!


Fourth, and we have all read about the infuriating lengths to which Gandhiji went on this, every non-confrontational avenue must be explored before a confrontational course is adopted.


But once the conciliatory avenues have been blocked by the rulers and controllers, all options that one may personally have must be closed. Vinoba characterises this as rassa kaat dene ki neeti — “Cutting the ropes policy.” He recalls an incident. With their band, two brothers have stormed the adversary’s fort. The battle is about to go either way. One of the brothers runs over the ramparts — severing every rope that the band had used to climb into the fort. Neither the brothers nor their followers now have any way to escape. They fight as if to death... They vanquish the foe.


Implicit in this is the comment (of Emerson?) that the editor of one of the world’s leading journals cited to me

while asking me to be absolutely explicit in the article that I was to submit against the Emergency: “When you strike at a King, you must kill him.” None of the usual, “On the one hand, but on the other.” The first blow must itself be nearly fatal. But it must never use up all of the evidence we have. As he is bound to deny the truth, we must be able to launch successive sorties with equally irrefutable facts.


Little can be accomplished without associates and colleagues: even a Solzhenitsyn needed, to use the title of his

memoir about them, Invisible Allies — the ones who copied his manuscripts, who secreted them, who smuggled them to the outside world; every one of those actions, if discovered, would have entailed cruel imprisonment for indefinite periods, at times even torture and death. The next lesson, therefore, concerns not issues and evidence but associates and colleagues. They are indispensable, and ever so often the cause of the greatest anxiety.


The first step must be to expect the least of anyone else: if others join, good; if they don’t, well they don’t. I remember how very upset I used to get, and soon learnt how needlessly I was upsetting myself, when I saw life continue as usual in Delhi’s social circles during the Emergency.


The second element must be continuous, incessant, uninterrupted communication with colleagues. Many are liable to be geographically dispersed. Each will be undergoing experiences different from the others, and will, accordingly, be reaching different conclusions about what should be done next. In any case, each will be completely preoccupied with his special responsibility. Most important, those who are being inconvenienced by the work will spread rumours about each associate to the others — to foment suspicion and doubt, to sow discouragement, to trigger discord. Only incessant communication can forestall the disruption.


But communication is not going to be enough. There must be at all times be trust — the presumption that our colleague is doing only what is best for the cause. This is the point that my friend, Gurumurthy has emphasised the most during 30 years of our association. Upon hearing the suggestion that one’s colleague has said this or that about one, done this or that which was contrary to what had been agreed upon, one’s reflex must be, “No, that just can’t be the case.” And one must firmly put down the tale-carrier. When I first joined an organisation in which tale-carrying was endemic, I found a device to be decisive, so decisive that after I had used it twice, I was spared tales about what others were saying and doing. A colleague came and told me in great confidence that another colleague was spreading such and such rumour about me. Even as he was narrating his tale, I picked up the phone, dialed the colleague’s extension. “X is here with me. He says you are telling people that I am doing Y, Z...” The tale-carrier was startled out of his wits: “For heaven’s sake... put the phone down...” I had to do this just twice.


But the greatest bitterness comes not from backbiting. It erupts when a colleague leaves the endeavour. When he “deserts”. That is the bitterness one must shield oneself against most of all — for in a protracted engagement, some will leave. The model is again Gandhiji. He took up the cause of the Khilafat convinced that it was an issue that was of immense concern to every Muslim. He also felt that as the British were doing everything possible to divide the freedom struggle by widening the Hindu-Muslim divide, the taking up by Hindus of an issue dear to Muslims would counter British stratagems. He alighted upon Mohammed Ali and Shaukat Ali. He projected them on every occasion. He “sold his heart” to them. He would insist that they be invited to meetings that he was to address. He had Mohammed Ali anointed the president of the Congress. The agitation could not restore the Khilafat, of course. Turkey itself had gone beyond it. Soon enough, the Ali brothers concluded that they had no further use for Gandhiji. They would not answer his messages. They would not turn up for public meetings. .. Soon Gandhiji was being told that they were using dismissive words, even words bordering on the contemptuous, for him. His close associates were very upset. Gandhiji counseled them to shed bitterness. “We must not be upset that they are no longer with us. On the contrary, we should be thankful that they travelled with us this far...” Necessary insulation.


(To be continued)


The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP from the BJP








In three poor neighborhoods around Bangalore, groups of women micro-entrepreneurs have recently logged on to the power of global social networking through the internet despite being impoverished and illiterate. Helping them in this attempt to escape poverty is a start-up called Ubuntu At Work which is inspired by Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen’s argument that a person’s capability is not what he or she theoretically has, but hinges upon the person’s social arrangements.


Named after an ethical concept of African origin of the same name that emphasises community, generosity and sharing, Ubuntu at Work was set up last year by Vibha Pingle, a former assistant professor of sociology at Rutgers University.


The start-up has been launched just as serious questions are being raised about micro-finance initiatives’ effect on reducing poverty. Some even argue that micro-credit leaves people in the developing world worse off, much in the same way as credit cards and mortgages do in rich countries.


The idea for Ubuntu came out of Pingle’s study of women micro-entrepreneurs in Africa. Two things stood out. Firstly, forming a women’s self-help group was not necessarily conducive to fresh business ideas. Second, the cell phone was not an adequate enough tool to develop a new business.


Pingle realised that 99 per cent of the women she surveyed in the micro-finance networks did not even see themselves as micro-entrepreneurs. She concluded that only those women who built bridges outside of their network were likely to escape the crush of poverty.


Pingle decided to test out her own hypothesis by setting up Ubuntu to provide such bridges. The women are identified through existing micro-finance networks and then supported through the risks they take. Ubuntu wants these women micro-entrepreneurs to vault their way out of poverty and not necessarily in phases.


“Ubuntu wants to provide underprivileged women the same networks that the well-off have,” says Pingle. Leveraging networks such as Facebook and Twitter, Ubuntu recruits volunteers to coach the women, and help them in identifying new business ideas and develop products. The edgy green products they produce are then marketed around the world, again using social networks.


Besides Bangalore, an Ubuntu chapter is operating in Cairo and others are starting in southern Africa. Volunteer-run chapters have come up in several cities like Delhi, Dubai and Dublin. The three Bangalore sites where Ubuntu works in are driven by the power of the social network. The Ubuntu website, Facebook and Twitter help recruit the volunteers who reach the poor women in their homes for advice and coaching. The volunteers get together on Facebook to discuss current initiatives, plan training programmes and post all happenings on Twitter.


The products, the designers and resources to train the women are aggregated on the internet. It is a test case for a collaborative business model for the poor.


Again, social networking helps raise funds and set up a retail network to market the green products such as innovative jewellery, picture frames and eco-friendly shopping bags its beneficiaries make.

In the Bommanahalli suburbs of Bangalore, women recycle plastic drinking water bottles to produce ‘green’ jewellery. Through social networking, a Swedish jewellery designer came in to teach the women to make the products.


Volunteers like Smita Chakravorty, a programmer at Infosys Technologies in Bangalore, ‘friend’ women micro-entrepreneurs to understand their needs and aspirations. Chakravorty volunteers at the Bommanahalli site every weekend where a group, including her, is currently teaching English and computer skills to the children of the women micro-entrepreneurs. “These women are exposed to a set of people and ideas they would never have access to but for Ubuntu,” says Chakravorty. She says she already notices the growing aspiration levels of the women she interacts with — she is currently helping a young female school graduate apply for a passport.


Pingle wants Ubuntu At Work to become the Facebook with a cause, a one-stop portal for development that connects micro-entrepreneurs across the world to their markets, by-passing the multiple traditional steps. “We want to bring global resources and the global marketplace to the doorstep of these micro- entrepreneurs,” says Pingle.














Green shoots of recovery are becoming more robust. Excise duty collections in August 2009 are 22.5% higher than in July 2009, though they are still lower than August 2008. The index of industrial production (IIP) grew by 7.8% in June 2009 and 6.8% in July, and growth in consumer durables has been particularly spectacular, though legitimate questions can be raised about credit offtake and capital goods. Q1 GDP growth was 6.1%, more than the 5.8% in Q4 of the last financial year. Dollar export growth (goods alone) was 3.4% in 2008-09, but the commerce ministry hopes for 10% in 2009-10. While exports declined in July 2009, too, the rate of decline is less, export orders are picking up and there are signs of global recovery. Quite apart from agriculture’s reduced importance, the drought won’t have as much impact as was originally feared. Beyond September 2008, a lower base last year will help boost GDP growth and spillover externalities of the Sixth Pay Commission will percolate to states and quasi-government entities. This can be spliced with increased public expenditure. Therefore, GDP growth between 6% and 6.5% is eminently plausible in 2009-10. The capital market has also shown signs of revival—foreign institutional investment, more IPOs and interest by retail investors.


However, recovery isn’t yet robust enough, though the government might not read it that way. The government ascribes the recovery to fiscal and monetary policy easing, and progressive elimination of tax concessions/exemptions is on the cards. Given the tax reform agenda, this cannot be objected to. But monetary policy is somewhat different. The revisions of WPI and CPI are still awaited. Pending that, point-to-point WPI for the week ended September 5 shows an increase of 0.12%, reversing 14 weeks of decline. This is largely because of the base effect, since high energy prices were concentrated in earlier months of the last financial year, contributing to earlier declines in point-to-point WPI. But inflation is bound to increase. Food price inflation has little to do with monetary policy. While there are several angles to this, the most important is higher rural demand because of high procurement prices, NREGS and debt relief, spliced with supply-side inelasticity because of a lack of agro reforms. Instead of addressing reform issues, the government is likely to use the bogey of inflation to tighten monetary policy. This may be unlikely when RBI reviews policy in October, but is more likely in April. Experience since 2004, and more so since 2007, shows this would be a mistake. But has the government learned?








Some UPA-II ministers have tackled their portfolios in right earnest, and environment minister Jairam Ramesh definitely figures among them. The last time he drew a comment from us, Ramesh had released a set of five climate modelling studies showing that India’s per capita emissions would lag those of developed countries even in decades to come. Acknowledging the respectability of the study authors, we nonetheless used the occasion to revisit our oft-stated position that India’s investment in per capita rather than absolute emissions would likely hurt its cause in the long run. When it’s demanding from the US as much as a 40% emission cut over 1990 levels, how can India not proffer some concessions in exchange? Well, as The Indian Express reported yesterday, India has taken a significant policy turn now—explicitly naming a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as an important companion to its climate change adaptation efforts. Details on how the cuts will be quantified and mandated are still to come, and this is just the beginning. But it looks like India is getting into a realistic negotiating position.


Between 1970 and 2004, global anthropogenic greenhouse emissions increased by 70%. In the business-as-usual scenario, they are expected to again increase by 70% between 2008 and 2050. Even action undertaken through the UNFCC Kyoto Protocol hasn’t kept these emissions from growing at around 24% since 1990. It’s this that lends urgency to the December Copenhagen meet—with the climate change threat looming large on the horizon. As for developing and developed countries battling over who must make what concessions, whatever may have been the historical case, neither has a clean copybook today. Yes, since the 1950s, emissions per capita in industrialised countries have been at least four times higher than in developing countries on average. But around 73% of the growth in emissions in 2004 was attributed to developing countries (the numbers game has obviously gotten very heated; here we go with the recent WTO-UNEP’s report on trade and climate change). Logically, then, India will have to give some to get some at Copenhagen. Yes, Ramesh has made points like India phasing out ozone depleting substances like chlorofluorocarbons 17 months ahead of the targeted date. But he has also been making a practice of saying that it would not be a disaster if the December talks fail, that negotiations will nonetheless continue. He may be right in the most prosaic sense. But the lesson from WTO talks is clear: postponement can grow into a habit. More important, emission cut obligations that have teeth are in India’s interests—this country can’t become an economic force if it doesn’t clean up its environmental act.







The past year seems to have zipped through even more rapidly than these things are wont to. Paul Krugman in a scathing article in September last year introduced the apt and witty phrase “Market for Lehmans”. Much financial sewage has since flowed under regulatory bridges, and Wall Street is beginning to shakily regain some of its swagger. New financial innovations, very reminiscent of the old days, are coming back in vogue. A recent newsreport described the securitisation of life insurance payouts, including unintended and undesirable consequences on the underlying insurance business, and it is only a matter of time before the next deluge of financial acronyms washes upon us. Investors are once again hungry for alpha and will soon begin to enthusiastically buy into these products.


Writing on the then seemingly catastrophic developments of mid-September 2008, I remember writing on shadow banking systems, the inter-connectedness of financial transactions, disorderly deleveraging, information asymmetry and such other issues then currently the subject of popular discussion. These issues and means of mitigating their adverse impact have since been discussed at weighty forums, unfortunately without much resolution.


So, where do we stand now? Public and political anger in developed countries have focused on salaries and bonuses of Wall Street, “the privatisation of profits and socialisation of losses”, taxpayer-funded bailouts and the disconnect between Wall Street and Main Street. There are bound to be some curbs on these given political compulsions, but the real issues of concern lie elsewhere.


There will be a whole series of regulatory measures relating to increased capital requirements, the treatment of liquidity, systemic and other risks, counter cyclicality of prudential measures, improvements in scope and consistency of accounting standards, efforts to move OTC instruments to exchange-traded ones, the risks of systemically large financial intermediaries and so on. Each of these has been debated with an increasing intensity as the anniversary drew closer. There is little point in reiterating these, except probably to emphasise my own views of these reform measures.


The argument that untrammelled financial innovation is necessary for the efficient allocation of capital has clearly proved incorrect. The worst financial excesses of the past few years have quite patently resulted in a spectacular misallocation of capital, particularly in mortgages. Second, and tied with this, was a faulty system of incentives that fed the misallocation. A “policy” response to this latter in the form of caps and clawbacks is being discussed, but this is likely to be misguided or ineffective and unlikely to be implemented.


But any reform requires some quantification of the underlying problem—if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. One obvious reform effort will be to migrate as much of current OTC transactions to exchanges, to facilitate price and valuation discovery. But, as much this as migration might happen, it is likely, by the very nature of these transaction structures, that complex financial instruments will largely remain bilaterally customised. These will remain illiquid and amenable to be valued primarily through statistical and computer models.


This leads us to the problem of model risk, which is not as extensively discussed in the media and popular discussions. The gross failure of the current class of models in both pricing, risk valuation and credit ratings was painfully obvious the last time around. There is increased acceptance of the need to model tail behaviour, using more recent developments in “fat-tailed” distributions and other statistical advances in understanding interdependencies. But while these are certainly likely to be major improvements over the previous generation of models, they will still not be able to capture the complexities of the environment over the lives of the exotic instruments.


Valuing, for instance, one of the more complex exotics—constant proportion debt obligation (CPDO)—requires assumptions over, say, ten years on at least 11 separate credit variables, including near- and long-term spreads of key reference indices, the deviation of their volatilities from averages, the number of credit downgrades in the reference indices, their timing, the number of credit defaults of the components of the reference indices, their timing, the movement of base (and policy) interest rates, and others. While the enormity of this will not be easily grasped by any but the most technical of readers, the litany itself will probably convey the degree of judgement that underlies these models.


The bottomline? Regulators have to be aware of the limitations of mandated restrictions on any of these aspects. More intrusive regulation is almost inevitable, but a better interface between regulators and banks will be the most effective deterrent to a rerun of this crisis.


The author is vice-president, business & economic research, Axis Bank. These are his personal views







Cross-border corporate deals generally run into problems. However, and as two big acquisitions of the recent past—LN Mittal acquiring the Luxembourg-based Arcelor and Tata Steel acquiring Anglo-Dutch steel manufacturer Corus—show, surmounting those problems is not difficult. So, how does one assess, in the context of the Bharti-MTN negotiations, the sudden, surprise demand by the South African government that India allow dual listing?


The demand for dual listing, meaning shares of the two companies are traded on the stock exchanges of the two countries as equity shares as opposed to GDRs, is certainly surprising. This requires a stream of changes: switching to full capital account convertibility, amending the Foreign Exchange Management Act and approvals from RBI and Sebi. Changes like these, even if agreed to, take time. That kind of time is not available to either Bharti or MTN. Also, think about this: Bharti chairman & managing director Sunil Mittal and MTN chief Phuthuma Nhleko run huge companies. One would assume that they would know dual listing is a near-impossibility, given the time frame.


Therefore, the question: is the deal being derailed or is there hope for it? Bharti-MTN history offers some clues. When the two companies entered into negotiations last year, Bharti was looking at acquiring MTN and banks were willing to fund it to the extent of $60 billion. The deal could not materialise since South Africa’s national pride became a factor. MTN did not want to become part of Bharti; instead, it asked the latter to become its subsidiary, something Mittal didn’t want.


A year later, when the two returned to the negotiating table, they were wiser. The structure of the deal, as shared with the media so far, doesn’t speak about who acquires whom—it has simply been put across as coming together of two telecom majors. Dual listing or not, the two sides have taken care that their independent identities and autonomy are maintained. For instance, the two companies would continue to be listed in their respective stock exchanges, the deal would take place through share and cash swap. Through a complex process, Bharti and its shareholders would acquire 49% stake in MTN while the latter and its shareholders would get 36% in Bharti. Separate brand names would continue, which means that the Bharti brand would be alive in India while the MTN brand will do business in South Africa.


Representatives of both companies would get seats in each other’s boards. Further, while Bharti would act as a vehicle for further growth and acquisition in the neighbouring Asian regions, MTN would have the same privilege in its neighbourhood. If the two sides have taken care of the needs of each other, surely some last-minute demands like looking into the possibility of dual listing can derail the deal? Barring seamless trading in each other’s shares within their respective jurisdictions, most of the symbolic benefits accruing from dual listing, particularly ensuring the existence of MTN brand and assuaging South African pride, are being guaranteed.


Therefore, anyone thinking that the South African government’s demand on dual listing and the categorical rejection by the Indian side would ensure that the deal would fall through is most likely mistaken. It is anyone’s guess whether the deal will be finalised by September 30, or the deadline will be extended once again, as it has been done twice previously. But the point is that the real issue is not about control or national pride or independent identity. It is all about price—what the institutional and minority shareholders will get out of the deal. These shareholders have in the past openly wanted Bharti to sweeten the deal. The two sides have to sort out how to address this issue. Plus, a deal of this magnitude—$23 billion in size, creating a telecom firm with over 200 million subscribers and revenues in excess of $20 billion—requires lot of stitches.


Also, obtaining regulatory clearances and ensuring that powerful lobbies, not only in India and South Africa but also in 20 more countries where MTN has operations, are dealt with suitably aren’t easy jobs, either.


The South African regulator has gone on record saying that even if the two companies are able to seal the deal by the September-end, it won’t be possible to give it the regulatory clearance before the year-end. The same would hold true for the Indian side: by the time Sebi and the CCEA give a go-ahead to the deal it could be well past January.


Whether the deal takes place or not is best left unanswered at this point. But one thing is certain: if the deal falls through, it would not be because dual listing did not materialise.







Pilots of Jet Airways were not the first to engage in collective bargaining. Air India Pilots had, in fact, developed the fine art of bargaining for their rights and advantages a long time ago. Their agreements were at times peculiar with benefits like quality of hotels or travel by limousines.They were also able to control recruitment or internal training. They were declared by a court order as ‘Workmen’ and came under Workmen’s Compensation Act even though theirs were one of the highest paid jobs in India before liberalisation.


Unlike pilots, strikes by air traffic controllers, who incidentally are government employees, have not been so successful. The last strike by ATCs in India in 1999-2000 was successfully broken and they were brought under the ambit of Essential Services Maintenance Act (Esma). Air force controllers were also brought in to assist.


But the case of pilots is qualitatively different from controllers as pilots are licensed separately for each type of aircraft and one pilot cannot switch from one to another. And an air force pilot cannot fly a civil plane.


Wildcat strikes by airline unions have in some cases led to their decline. Jet is today considered the best airline in India in quality of service and punctuality. However, it takes very little to lose the benefit of public perception when pilots suddenly strike. One major factor in Air India’s decline has been the erratic behaviour of its pilots. Handling of pilots and their unions is a major HRD function. Sudden sacking of pilots can result in a strong backlash. There are many examples of the same world over and it cannot be wished away.


While the right to protest and strike is an inherent right, industrial action by crucial players in the economy harms and disrupts the economy. At any rate, the mass sick leave by 400 pilots was not justified. India is a trillion dollar, fast growing economy, and such disruptions have economic repercussions. It is, therefore, a moot point whether such a disruption can come under the Esma.


The author is chairman, International Foundation for Aviation & Development (India Chapter) and India’s former representative to ICAO








The Iranian proposal for all-round dialogue with the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany may be couched in vague and flowery language but it represents the best shot yet for the international community to resolve its outstanding concerns on the nuclear issue. Thanks to regime change in Washington (although not in Tehran), the United States is now officially open to the idea of a dialogue with Iran, something it has avoided for more than three decades. The Iranians too, still recouping from a bruising, divisive election, appear to have recognised the merit of engagement and discussion as a means of resolving their differences with the P5+1 as well as the U.S. For the upcoming dialogue to make any headway, however, several things need to be recognised by all the players concerned. Iran must be open and flexible and not unreasonable in the way it links issues. On its part, the U.S. must suspend its hostile and counter-productive rhetoric towards Iran — even if much of it is intended to appease a nuclear-weaponised Israel that is growing increasingly restive about the prospect of a dialogue process that might well leave Iran with its capabilities in the civil nuclear arena intact. Washington’s threat to impose a petroleum embargo on Iran is not worth much. Iran may lack refining capacity but with Russia and China unlikely to favour such a tightening of sanctions at the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. can at best hope for a unilateral sales embargo. Even that will be of limited consequence with friends of Iran like Venezuela promising to supply the Islamic Republic with gasoline.


The idea that only the threat of tighter sanctions can guarantee the success of the proposed dialogue is based on the flawed premise that Iran is solely to blame for the current impasse over the nuclear issue. The plain truth is that the most serious concerns flagged by the International Atomic Energy Agency about the Iranian nuclear programme in 2005 and 2006 have been satisfactorily resolved — thanks to Tehran’s cooperation with the IAEA. The only issue preventing the agency from giving Tehran a clean bill of (nuclear) health is the status of the alleged studies on weaponisation supposed to have been conducted. The IAEA concedes it is unable to confirm the authenticity of the documents given to it by western intelligence agencies, which remain the sole source of information about the alleged studies. Iran has called the documents forgeries, pointing out discrepancies in them such as the absence of security markings and official seals. The absence of any evidence of diversion of nuclear material means there is no present or imminent danger of an Iranian weapons programme emerging. The U.S. wasted time in delaying the inevitable. Now that talks are to be held, sincere efforts must be made by all concerned to ensure their success.







In its annual report (2008-09), the Reserve Bank of India looks at the complexity in framing monetary policy in the face of certain daunting challenges — increasing fiscal deficits of the Central government and the consequent huge rise in public debt, which may push up interest rates. Food prices, already a cause for serious concern, will be further aggravated by the failure of monsoons and the resultant drought conditions. Given this context, the report points out, it will be difficult to persist with the accommodative stance of monetary policy.


 Although headline inflation continues to be in the negative territory, various consumer price indices that accord a higher weightage to food remain high. The sizable wheat stocks procured after the last winter crop may not be sufficient to counter inflationary expectations. Rice-growing regions have been badly hit by the drought. However, a retreat from the loose monetary policy stance may not be possible immediately. This is because, in a situation of supply side shocks from food and petroleum prices, a tighter monetary policy — increasing interest rates and reducing liquidity — will not be effective in lowering inflationary pressures. Moreover, drought will mean demand contraction which will have to be countered through increased fiscal spending.


Although the global economic crisis shows signs of abating, individual countries are undecided about their strategies of exiting from their path-breaking monetary and fiscal stimulus packages that have served them well. At the recent meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors, held ahead of the scheduled Pittsburg G20 summit, it was suggested that the stimuli should continue for a while. This is because global economic recovery will be both slow and gradual. For India, reverting to the high growth path at the earliest and ensuring an inclusive growth process remain the top priorities of the government. The macroeconomic environment has to respond to the policy objectives. A near-term challenge for the RBI is to deal with the “unpleasant combination of subdued growth and emerging risk of high inflation.” That poses a complex dilemma. Tighter monetary policy might weaken recovery impulses, but continuing accommodation and faster expansion of money supply can only increase inflation. Having successfully insulated the domestic financial sector from the contagion, the RBI says that sound macroeconomic policies saved the day for India.









India and China are neighbours — each with a billion-plus population, together accounting for 38 per cent of the world’s population, with the fastest GDP growth rates for large economies, with China already (in PPP terms) the world’s second largest economy and India set to become the third largest in the intermediate future. How the two big neighbours bond together in the future is crucial for global order. Further, how they interact with the United States will determine the international trends of the foreseeable future.


For at least two millennia, and until about 300 years ago, these two countries were considered by the then prevailing criteria as the most developed in the world, accounting for about 50 per cent of the world’s GDP. However, owing to similar experiences with foreign aggression, imperialism, and internal orthodoxy, India and China underwent a two-century long decline whereby by the mid-20th century, they became the world’s poorest nations.


Despite being neighbours and having flourishing economies over centuries, the two nations until 1962 neither ever went to war, nor took advantage of local civil wars. This is a most extraordinary and unparalleled experience of neighbourly peace in world civilisational history. Contrast this with what happened in Europe, West Asia, and North Africa.


The two peoples traded goods, exchanged visitors, borrowed ideas, and generally respected each other at the ruler and ruled levels — until foreign invasions and imperialism cut off normal interactions and relations became frozen. They were revived only in 1950, but fizzled out by 1959. War followed in 1962, for the first time in millennia.


It took a lot of effort thereafter to restore some modicum of good relations, in which this writer, with the encouragement of the Sankaracharya of Kanchi Mutt, Sri Chandrashekharendra Saraswati, played some shaping role.


When the Janata Party government came to power in 1977, Prime Minister Morarji Desai asked me to go to China to explore the situation and see if normalisation of relations would be possible. He chose me to go first, despite peer jealousies and objections in the party, because I knew Mandarin, had researched and taught courses (at Harvard) on China, and also because, as Morarji told me, I viewed China, “without wearing rose-tinted glasses.”


My initiative in September 1978 produced enough of a thaw for Morarjibhai to clear the way for External Affairs Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to make a trip in February 1979, the first by any Indian Minister since 1960. But the outcome of the visit was, alas, scuttled by mishandling the fallout of the Sino-Vietnam war that was launched when he was there, and Mr. Vajpayee had to cut short his stay in China.


In 1981, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sent my good friend and External Affairs Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, to request me to visit China again, and in a back-channel format obtain some clarifications about China’s attitude to the re-opening of relations with India, as also its intentions about some extremist leaders of the All Assam Students Union (AASU) who were planning to visit China clandestinely to obtain weapons.


In April 1981, I did visit Beijing and was received by Deng Xiaoping. It was during that meeting that he announced that Foreign Minister Huang Hua would go to India, and that China was open to a negotiated settlement on the Sino-Indian border dispute.


Border delineation discussions began thereafter and are still continuing on preliminaries! Deng Xiaoping conceded my demand, then pending for three years, for re-opening the Kailash-Manasarovar route in Tibet but only for Hindu pilgrims (China’s condition). I led the first delegation of 20 pilgrims in the freezing cold weather of September 1981, and since then Hindu pilgrims in batches have continued to go to Kailash-Manasarovar without any hitch till today.


In December 1988, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi finally cut the Gordian knot in his wide-ranging talks with Deng Xiaoping by declaring that the Sino-Indian border was, in parts undemarcated and in parts disputed, thereby putting on hold (although not undoing) the consequences of the 1962 Parliament Resolution. Undoing, however, can be done only by a new Resolution in Parliament for which the time will come if there is a satisfactory end to the border dispute.


After this landmark visit, Prime Ministers Narasimha Rao and Deve Gowda contributed by signing agreements for various confidence-building measures. In 2003, as Prime Minister, Mr. Vajpayee visited China and reiterated India’s commitment to regarding Tibet as an inalienable part of China.


That commitment had already been made by Jawaharlal Nehru, and formalised in a treaty in 1954. Was the reiteration to build further confidence in the relations? I am not sure since I have not been able yet to fathom it. But Prime Minister Vajpayee’s reiteration means now (his then Cabinet Minister Arun Shourie’s recent polemics notwithstanding) that in India there is bilateral political commitment to regard Tibet as a part of China. It would require an audacious break with the past or an extraordinary paradigm-changing event to alter that reality.


Since 2007, relations between India and China have begun to cool. Outside government, but in the penumbra of officialdom, there is now a developing hysteria about our heading for war with China, or more precisely, about China planning to attack India. This hysteria mystery needs to be unravelled because neither can we be complacent about China’s capacity to inflict damage on us, nor should we have a fevered imagination about China’s alleged evil intentions to harm us.


Both dimensions of our attitude to China are dangerous. As a China watcher of long standing, I am curious about how this huge bilateral consensus, built over three decades, on the desirability or possibility of good relations with China, is weakening so fast. Who are the catalysts in this, what are the dynamics behind this change of this attitude, and how will it end? Is this projected Chinese threat real or just a myth?


We need to separate the myths and realities in our relations with China. Some myths are frightening and need to be exploded. Some realities are potentially so dangerous that we can ignore them only at our peril.


The most frightening myth in currency today is that China and Pakistan will co-ordinate an invasion of India, and balkanise the nation, or at least destroy our economy. This is expected no later than 2012, as precise as that! This we are hearing in some think tanks of Delhi populated by former officials of the government.


This mythical scenario is bogus because, first, China and the rest of the world learnt by the events of 1962, and by subsequent unconnected events, that if anything, the Indian people unite and India nationally consolidates when attacked from abroad. This Chanakya had noted as the concept of Chakravartin. Secondly, with Tibet and Sinkiang simmering, attacking India is not a one-way street or a picnic. On our borders and contiguous areas, moreover, the Indian Air Force is far superior while the terrain on our side of the border provides a much shorter and friendlier supply chain. China’s is very long and through more hostile terrain. Invasion therefore cannot be in the mind of the rational Chinese strategist. Most of these inflamed reports and the surrounding hysteria in India is because the propagators have been brought up on the British Imperialist version of our history, which is that India is a sitting duck for anyone who wants to invade the country


The most potentially dangerous reality of the Sino-Indian relation today is India’s abdication of vital national interests for the domestic political survival of ruling coalitions. To counter China, some in India are advocating strategic bonding with the U.S. This is not in our national interest because the U.S. will then make us another


Australia or Japan, a concubine, so to speak. The bottom line in U.S.-China relations at present is that China has a veto over U.S. actions in South Asia. Unless we can change that bottom line, the U.S. partnership is not going to mitigate our hysteria about China. In the meantime, China has us ringed in like a circus lion. It does not need to invade us when we are in such a state of impotence.


Shorn of the myths, the realistic and appropriate policy course for India is to match Chinese military capacity by concrete action (for example, spending 7 per cent of GDP on defence) and be conciliatory in policy, attitude, and words. Or to put it bluntly, take full care of national security but work for peace and good neighbourliness.


 At present we are doing precisely the opposite.


(The author is a Harvard-trained economist and China scholar and has made significant contributions to promoting India-China relations since 1978. He is a former Union Law Minister.)








V.R. KRISHNA IYER           


I do not know Justice P.D. Dinakaran personally and have nothing for or against him. I use his name based on a detailed letter of complaint against him written by several members of the Madras Bar and a representation to the President and the Prime Minister by the great advocate, F.S. Nariman, and other illustrious names.


No civilised society can command the people’s confidence if the judicature’s verdict is privately purchased at a competitive price. The functional fundamental of the judicial instrumentality is indubitable. The court controls, corrects or quashes the executive, however high it is, and even sets aside acts of the legislature if it acts contra-constitutionally. But when judges turn obliquely friendly to graft, are addicted to delinquence, or are noxious in negotiating their judgments, violating the basic structure and values of the Constitution, the system suffers a syndrome of administrative chaos or functional anarchy.


Therefore if the Constitution is not to seppuku quality, integrity, egalite, and commitment to the human rights of rich and poor alike, judges must undergo the most exacting public examination and investigation. They must be subject to invigilation into their character and antecedents, company, habits, economic class and social philosophy, and personal life.


If the Bench is powerful, sensitive, prompt, and probus, the system of government will be straight and just. Beyond doubt, the appointment of judges, especially to the higher courts, is of great concern to the public. The bar is the professional nidus for recruitment to the Bench. The administration of justice will be functionally fair if the cadres are selected with a sharp eye on integrity, social philosophy, legal acumen, jurisprudential grounding, and are sound and good as an instrument to implement our Republic’s values of socialist, secular, democratic, egalitarian administration.


This demands a scientific approach to the selection process. A peon or Class IV servant or security guard is selected on the basis of specific criteria and settled principles. But a strange phenomenon has crept into our system by an extraordinary eccentricity of a large bench of the Supreme Court in an ambition to snatch power. It is as if the higher courts are to be the creation of favourites, relations, and other extraneous factors without reference to the public or scrutiny by known standards of merit, integrity, and absence of class bias.


Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., put it felicitously: “The judges have other motives for decision, outside their own arbitrary will, beside the commands of their sovereign. And whether those other motives are, or are not, equally compulsory, is immaterial, if they are sufficiently likely to prevail to afford a ground for prediction. The only question for the lawyer is, how will the judges act? These motives may consist of, ‘institutions of public policy,’ ‘inarticulate instincts,’ ‘a preponderance of feeling’ arising out of previous antecedents of the judge, or ‘even the prejudices which judges share with their fellowmen.’”


The collegium is a creature of a judicial precedent. It has no constitutional foundation; indeed it is opposed to what Dr. B.R. Ambedkar laid out in the Constituent Assembly. The whole process of the collegium is arbitrary in structure. There is no way of correcting its operation except by a constitutional amendment or assertion of the Franklin Roosevelt type. It is a pity that Parliament has not chosen to amend the Constitution or prescribe a constitutional Code of Conduct for Judges to behave themselves other than through the impractical process of impeachment.


The consequence is that doubtful candidates creep into the Bench and make pronouncements that become the law for the land — not because they are infallible but because they are final. Communalism has corrupted judicial appointments; caste and community contaminate judicial appointments.


The first and foremost requirement, if we really desire a straightforward justice system with ability and integrity and investigation into character and social philosophy, is to have a Commission for the appointment of judges of high stature. There have been complaints, aggravated from time to time, suggesting corruption such as excessive acquisition of assets by the judge either in his or her name, or in the name of close relations and other benamis.


There is urgency therefore about a Commission for the appointment of judges. The names under consideration must be revealed and public criticism received and examined. Secrecy leads to suspicion. Judges before appointment should be, like Caesar’s wife, above suspicion. In the U.S., the public has a voice. Even in the U.K, the system of appointment of judges is no longer with the Chancellor. Why should India not have a public system of transparency and accountability in the matter of appointments?


In the case of Justice Dinakaran, I find from the letter written by Mr. Nariman and other respected lawyers much that is disturbing. A latifundist doing justice to landless tellers indeed.


I have no doubt that a Commission for investigating and reporting on the assets and liabilities of candidates and their benamidars is a condition precedent for appointing judges. The collegium can be overruled by the President and the Prime Minister ordering such a Commission. In that event, dubious candidates will not offer themselves.


To sum up. Parliament, exercising its constituent power, must amend the Constitution and create a well-thought-out system of three Commissions: for appointments of judges, for assessing the performance of judges, and for independent enquiry into the assets and liabilities of judges periodically.


Why do I, long retired from the Bench, take up the case of one judge? Because the public loses respect for the judicature if there is one corrupt judge who can discredit the high institution. After all, as Felix Frankfurter put it: “Judges as persons, or courts as institutions, are entitled to no greater immunity from criticism than other persons or institutions. Just because the holders of judicial office are identified with the interests of justice they may forget their common human frailties and fallibilities.”


Not one bad robe should be allowed to tarnish a great institution.


(The author is a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India and a regular contributor to this newspaper.)









In the spring of 2002 I decided to take an academic holiday. My wife thought it a strange resolve. She was familiar with our usual holidays, when we armed ourselves with hats and blue guides and green guides and trudged up and down over piles of temple stones in places like Khajuraho and Angkor Wat. As she moved to get up from her chair, I explained that I had studied the great books of the West during college but I had never read the Indian classics. The closest I had come was to take Daniel Ingalls’ Sanskrit classes at Harvard as an undergraduate. Now, 40 years later, I yearned to go back and read the texts of classical India, if not in the original, at least with a scholar of Sanskrit nearby. My wife gave me a sceptical look, and after a pause, she said, ‘It’s a little late in the day for a mid-life crisis, isn’t it?’


In the 1990s I travelled widely across the country and from these travels emerged a book, India Unbound. In it I wrote about India’s economic rise and concluded that it was increasingly possible to believe that for the first time in history Indians would emerge from a struggle against want into an age when the large majority would be at ease.


Prosperity has indeed begun to spread across India. Happiness, alas, has not. What blacken our days are the insistent reminders of governance failure, hanging over us like Delhi’s smog. I am not only thinking of corruption in its usual sense — of a politician who is caught taking a bribe. My anguish comes from something else—from a recent national survey that found that one out of four teachers in a government primary school is absent and one out of four is not teaching. Another study found that two out of five doctors do not show up at state primary health centers and that 69 per cent of the medicines are stolen. A cycle rickshaw driver in Kanpur routinely pays a sixth of his daily earnings in bribes to the police. A farmer in an Indian village cannot hope to get a clear title to his land without the humiliation of bribing a revenue official. One out of five members of the Indian parliament elected in 2004 had criminal charges against him; one in eighteen had been accused of murder or rape.


I wondered if the Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata, held any answers. The epic is obsessed with questions of dharma, of right and wrong — it analyses human failures constantly. Unlike the Greek epics, where the hero does something wrong and gets on with it, the action stops in the Mahabharata until every character has weighed in from every possible moral angle. Would I be able to recover a meaningful ideal of civic virtue from India’s foundational text?


In the end my wife turned out to be a good sport, and so in the autumn of 2002 we found ourselves at the University of Chicago. I was an implausible student — a husband, a father of two grown up boys, and a taxpayer with considerably less hair than his peers. Benares would have been the conventional choice, but I did not want to escape into ‘our great classical past.’ Sanskrit pundits, I feared, would not have approved of my desire to ‘interrogate’ the texts. It was a stray remark of the poet, A.K. Ramanujan, which finally pushed me to Chicago. “If you don’t experience eternity at Benares,” he said, “you will at Regenstein.” He was referring to the Regenstein Library with its fabulous collection of South Asian texts and its array of great Sanskrit scholars.


Can we change it?


After spending six years continuously with the epic, I have learned that the Mahabharata is about the way we deceive ourselves, how we are false to others, how we oppress fellow human beings, and how deeply unjust we are in our day to day lives. But is this moral blindness an intractable human condition, or can we change it? Some of our misery is the result of the way the state also treats us, and can we re-design our institutions to have a more accountable government? I have sought answers to these questions in the epic’s elusive concept of dharma, and my own search for how we ought to live has been this book’s motivating force.


The Mahabharata is unique in engaging with the world of politics. India’s philosophical traditions have tended to devalue the realm of human action, which deals with the world of ‘appearances’ not of reality. Indeed, a central episode in the epic dramatises the choice between moral purity and human action. King Yudhishthira feels guilty after the war for ‘having killed those who ought not to be killed.’ He feels trapped between the contradictory pulls of ruling a state and of being good, and wants to leave the world to become a non-violent ascetic.


To avert a crisis of the throne, the dying Bhishma, tries to dissuade him, teaching him that the dharma of a political leader cannot be moral perfection. The Mahabharata is thus suspicious of ideology. It rejects the idealistic, pacifist position of the earlier Yudhishthira as well as Duryodhana’s amoral view. Its own position veers towards the pragmatic evolutionary principle of reciprocal altruism: adopt a friendly face to the world but do not allow yourself to be exploited. Turning the other cheek often sends a wrong signal. An upright statesman must learn to be prudent and a follow a middle path. Politics is an arena of force, and a king must wield the danda, ‘rod of force’, when required.


(This article is a specially prepared word excerpt from The Difficulty of Being Good: On the subtle art of dharma, by Gurcharan Das, Allen Lane/Penguin, 2009, pp 434.)









Climate change is having an impact in the vast and remote region of Yakutia in Siberia which, in winter at least, is still the coldest place on earth.


There cannot be many foreigners who make it as far as Yakutia’s top tourist attraction, the Ice Kingdom.


The way in is through an unassuming wooden door cut into the hillside, just like the entrance to Bilbo Baggin’s hobbit home in “The Lord of the Rings.”


You pass into a dark hallway strewn with straw and blocks of ice, and enter another world.


White crystals sparkle. A tunnel shimmers blue as far as the eye can see. In padded silver capes, guides usher us through caverns carved with ice sculptures.


One houses the ivory tusks of a mammoth. In another, a young man draped in furs sits on an icy throne. “The Lord of the Cold,” our guide tells us.


“How long have you been here?” I ask. “Eternity,” he answers with stoic humour.


In fact, no-one could last long in these icy caverns without a break.


Just one and a half metres from the surface, the ground is permanently frozen at -10{+0}C.


Yakutia is home to the permafrost. In midwinter, outside temperatures make it the coldest place on earth — an unbelievable -70{+0}C.


Luckily September is still fleetingly autumn. The trees seem to fade from green to yellow overnight.


In just four days the temperature drops noticeably. The local paper worries that not all heating plants are yet fully repaired and supplied with fuel. The first frosts, it says, will come in days.


Evidence of extreme temperatures is visible everywhere. Newer buildings perch on concrete permafrost stilts.


The asphalt on the buckled roads erupts into cracks and bumps, while lagged heating pipes snake over head. Untidy spaghetti wires loop from one high-rise to another. You can not bury power lines and pipes in the permafrost.


There are also telling signs of what looks like global warming. This July in the underground Ice Kingdom the temperature rose to a dangerously warm -7{+0}C. On the surface winter frosts rarely get harsher than -50{+0}C.


“Not that it makes much difference when it is that cold,” says the republic’s prime minister, trying to brush off warnings of erosion to the permafrost. “Who is to say global warming is really happening?”


Fair enough. If you spend 10 months of the year struggling to survive in deep refrigeration, dire predictions about global warming probably do seem overblown.


But Yakutia is also frozen in another way, trapped in a time warp of a lost Soviet age. It is almost charming.


In the capital, Yakutsk, Lenin still towers over the main square.


Rooftop slogans and murals have replaced eulogies to Soviet communism with “friendship through sport” and “the glory of war veterans.”


The cruise ship we boarded on the river Lena is called Demyan Bedny, after a minor and rather bad Soviet poet, whose book and those of several other now forgotten mediocre writers are proudly displayed in the ship’s library.


“I am often asked why we are so poor and backward when we are sitting on such wealth,” says the prime minister. Yakutia yields over 90 per cent of Russia’s diamonds, as well as gold and numerous other precious metals, and increasingly oil and gas.


Yet apart from one or two showy hotels, much of the capital looks like a village. Rickety wooden houses are squeezed in between modern tower blocks.


Side streets are little more than muddy tracks. There is a constant problem of houses being burnt down, according to the local paper, and packs of wild dogs that attack passers-by, even in the town centre. Marshy swamps and scrubland give the place an abandoned feel.


Isolation and lack of transport is half the problem. There is not even a railway in Yakutsk. There are plans to put one in, and build new roads and pipelines from the mines and oil fields.


But this year’s economic crisis has not helped. It led to a collapse in the price of diamonds.


Moscow had to step in and help out.


Back on the boat Demyan Bedny, I find a safety notice in my cabin. “If you fall in, whatever you do, DO NOT SWIM!” it says sternly. Hypothermia from the Lena river’s icy current is the main risk. Apparently I must tread water until the crew come to rescue me.


As we leave the river port, we pass rusting hulks and crumbling docks.


But as we float up this wide Siberian river past startlingly beautiful cliffs, in a region almost the size of India, I cannot help thinking of the mineral wealth hidden beneath its frosty crust.


Asia, we hear so often, is the powerhouse of the future. For Russia, surely it is the wealth of still untapped resources here, in Eastern Siberia, that will guarantee future clout ... not the nuclear missiles of yesteryear.


    © BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate









Will Yukio Hatoyama’s assumption of office as Japan’s Prime Minister on Wednesday mark the beginning of the end of the American era in East Asia? Or, will Japan and the United States, now under a younger and an equally avid advocate of change, seek to reinvigorate the American role on new terms?


Political leaders and pundits are in no position to predict with absolute certainty, because of the current rise of China and a host of other dynamic factors at work.


Post-imperial Japan, run under its U.S.-imposed pacifist Constitution since the end of the Second World War, is sometimes called a “civilian superpower.” It is still the world’s second largest economy, although it faces the possibility of losing this privilege to China soon. So, Mr. Hatoyama’s main priority at home will be the need to pull a recession-ravaged Japan out of an economic rut. But his promised agenda of change has a huge foreign policy dimension as well.


Mr. Hatoyama’s agenda is sparking a previously-unthinkable idea that the U.S. may have to exit from the centre-stage of the next big theatre in global affairs. At the same time, political and opinion leaders in East Asia do not expect U.S. President Barack Obama to simply settle for a marginalisation of his country.


Surely, the triumph of Mr. Hatoyama’s centre-left politics in Japan’s August 30 general election has evoked new thoughts. His victory promises to reshape the economic and political landscape of Japan, which has remained a steadfast ally of the U.S. for nearly six decades. And, if he does adhere to his electoral pledge on foreign policy issues, the present U.S. profile in Japan may well be affected. The U.S. has not only forward-deployed troops and operated state-of-the-art military bases in Japan but also flaunted the nuclear umbrella behind the scenes. Japan, America’s principal Asian ally in the neighbourhood of China and Russia, is not the only one to have a U.S. nuclear umbrella. South Korea, another neighbour of China, and Australia, a member of the relatively new geopolitical grouping of East Asia Summit, are also beneficiaries.


Grand sweep of history


In the grand sweep of history, the often-updated U.S.-Japan military alliance is a quirk of circumstances and also of political imagination on both sides. However, several key countries in the region, especially those in Southeast Asia, have so far seen the U.S. as a guarantor of peace and stability across East Asia. Three aspects of Mr. Hatoyama’s U.S.-oriented agenda raise the possibility of a delicate dialogue with Mr. Obama.


Of the three issues, the one requiring quick attention is whether Japan should renew or revoke its “refuelling mission” in the Indian Ocean region. The ongoing non-lethal mission of military logistics involves Japanese naval help: refuelling of the U.S. ships for the “anti-terror war” in Afghanistan. The White House says that Mr. Obama has “stated his strong wish to work with Mr. Hatoyama to ... defeat Al-Qaeda and its extremist allies in Afghanistan.” So, the new Japanese leader’s response will be an early signal. His Democratic Party of Japan, while in opposition until Wednesday, wanted the parliament to have the last word on such issues. Now, his party and its coalition partners, both minor parties whose support he needs only in the less powerful upper house, want to discontinue the refuelling. Of interest, therefore, is whether Mr. Obama will really want to force Mr. Hatoyama to change course on this relatively less substantive issue.


By contrast, Mr. Obama has not so far invoked the mantra of change to discount the importance of U.S. military bases in Japan. Nor has he so far sought to make the Status of [U.S.] Forces Agreement (SOFA) any the less intrusive for Japan’s comfort. However, Mr. Hatoyama’s campaign themes on the SOFA and the U.S. military bases in Japan were no music to the ears of the American protagonist of change. And, for the new Japanese Government, the SOFA “revision” was an explicit campaign theme. The need to “move in the direction of re-examining ... the role of U.S. military bases in Japan” was another campaign priority. Falling in the same category was the imperative of “re-examining the realignment of the U.S. military forces in Japan.”


Against this apparent U.S.-Japan dissonance, both leaders, who spoke to each other on September 2, have sought to cruise along the same wavelength. According to the White House, they “stressed the importance of a strong U.S.-Japan alliance and their desire to build an even more effective partnership.” Mr. Hatoyama himself said he told Mr. Obama that “the U.S.-Japan alliance is also a lynchpin for us [the Japanese].”


An assessment behind the scenes is that Mr. Hatoyama and his party have so far signalled that they might not wish to rock the Japan-U.S. boat in a hurry. Such a stance is seen to be largely true of the bilateral ties between the two countries. However, Japan’s new leader has dropped hints about taking an “autonomous” stand on any “unilateral” moves by the U.S. on “global issues.”


The new Japanese leader’s neighbourhood policy is also likely to be a key factor in Tokyo-Washington ties. Of considerable importance is Mr. Hatoyama’s pledge to “make the greatest possible effort to develop relations of mutual trust with China.” South Korea and other Asian countries are also cited by his party in that order and for this purpose. India falls in the category of “other Asian countries.” More importantly, his China policy will be assessed in the light of “a central goal of the Obama Administration.” This “goal” is also U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “personal priority.” At stake is Washington’s policy of “building a strong relationship with China.” And, Ms. Clinton recently explained the logic of such a China policy: the need to take Beijing’s help to “forge a new global architecture of cooperation.”


The idea of a Group of Two, just the U.S. and China for global economic management, has been variously proposed by C. Fred Bergsten and others. While some experts have opposed the idea, a debate continues on whether the G2 should be just a caucus or a global governing council. In contrast, no proposal of a G2 of just the U.S. and Japan was made even at the height of their alliance during Junichiro Koizumi’s rule in Tokyo. However, Tokyo subsequently took the initiative for a trilateral partnership involving China, Japan itself, and South Korea. The result was the Fukuoka consensus, after the name of the Japanese city where the first summit of the three countries took place. That consensus was seen as a political hedging against the U.S. Mr. Hatoyama is now expected to explore furthering the China-Japan-South Korea entente. This should reinforce his preference for a U.S.-autonomous foreign policy.





******************************************************************************************THE ASIAN AGE




Stock markets across the world (including in India) reacted with euphoria following US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke’s observation that the recession in the United States "could be over", but this other significant statement — that unemployment or joblessness was increasing — appears to have been overlooked. The latter has far-reaching consequences as it could result in future defaults on home loans and credit card debts — in fact there is much talk in America now that credit card defaults could be the next major mortgage scam.


 The excess leverage in the US financial system is still there, and unless this is weeded out credit growth is unlikely to pick up. Much of the money given to banks has been parked back with the Fed in the US, just as banks in India park their surplus cash of over Rs 1 lakh crore with the Reserve Bank. While the euphoria globally can be understood after a very bleak year, the reality is much more sobering. What one sees in the US is a slowdown in the rate of decline, but that is because the economy has been on steroids. The trillion-dollar stimulus package is almost five per cent of America’s GDP, and the "cash for clunkers" to push sales of cars is what is keeping the economy going and creating a positive sentiment. The real stimulus, which is consumer spending and accounts for nearly 70 per cent of the US economy, is yet to pick up. America’s economic problems will not go away in a hurry. But in the gloom, Mr Bernanke’s statement on the recession was like the light at the end of the tunnel, which also sent ripples through Asia and Europe.


While America’s stock markets are starting to look up after a long time, the emerging markets, particularly India, have been having a huge run-up for some months now. They had not been as badly affected as the Anglo Saxon economies. Some stocks on the Indian bourses have tripled from their bottom, and this is now a cause for concern. The bulls, of course, are optimistic about the continued upward journey of the Sensex and Nifty, even though there may be minor corrections along the way. Still, it is difficult to predict 2009, unlike 2008, when the global economies were in the dumps and transparently so, as liquidity had dried up and four to five of the giant banks and insurance companies had collapsed. The wreckage was visible.


The revival signals are very conflicting even in India, though we have more positives than any other emerging market, excluding China. We have a stable government, a growth rate that is still enviable even though much of this growth is because of the fall in imports. Our exports, however, have yet to pick up and this is important as it is a labour-intensive sector and million of people depend on it for their livelihoods. Delayed rains in India have had an adverse impact on agriculture, but the government claims that it has enough food in its granaries to make up for the shortfall. Having said all this, there is no room for irrational euphoria, because inflation is starting to rear its head once again and is expected to reach five per cent by March 2010. This means some monetary tightening by December. Then there is also the need for winding down some of the monetary measures that the RBI had taken to pump in over Rs 5 lakh crores into the system since September last year.










It is not very often that both the Prime Minister and the Union home minister express their concern over deterioration of security and the law and order situation in states ruled by the political party they represent. However, this is exactly what both Dr Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambaram conveyed about Manipur, Assam and Nagaland. On Tuesday, Mr Chidambaram singled out Manipur as the biggest problem in the Northeast and called it a blot in improving its picture.


Dr Singh asked the chief ministers of all the northeastern states to pay particular attention to the implementation of infrastructure projects. Instead of relying completely on Central paramilitary forces and the Army, Dr Singh emphasised the need to have more proactive police forces in all the northeastern states. He also urged all the states to ensure transparency while carrying out recruitments in their police force that should have representation from all ethnic groups and communities.


Manipur's chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh highlighted the "problem of extortion by undergrounds" (UGs) in Manipur as a serious concern. He pleaded that it "could not be dealt without the intervention of the Union home ministry", which, he said, should give "necessary instruction to the ministry of telecommunication for cancellation of prepaid mobile phone facility". He also urged setting up a dedicated security force to prevent extortion activities of UGs along National Highways 39, 53 and 150 - lifelines for the people in the state - by making the Highway Patrolling Scheme operational.


Dr Singh, however, felt that the Manipur government must first put in place appropriate mechanisms for increased participation of people in developmental projects and pointed out that while resources for policing need to be enhanced substantially, the increased posts already sanctioned at the police station level remain vacant.


Terrorist-related violence in Manipur has trebled since mid-2004. The trend in 2008 indicated even further acceleration, which has been sustained this year.


With 388 deaths caused by terrorism in 2007 and 484 in 2008, Manipur remains the most violent state in India's troubled Northeast, leaving behind the much larger Assam and Nagaland. Manipur, with just 8.52 per cent of the territory and 6.12 per cent of the Northeast's population, accounted for as much as 47 per cent of terrorism-related fatalities in the region in 2008.


There are as many as 39 "underground" outfits/factions that are operating in Manipur. Six Meitei-based underground outfits, banned by the ministry of home affairs since November 10, 2007, are Kangleipak Communist Party, Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup, Manipur People's Liberation Front, People's Liberation Army, People's Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak and United National Liberation Front (UNLF).


While the ban came quite late, the fact that home secretary G.K. Pillai visited Manipur after prolonged public protest following the killing of a suspected militant and a pregnant woman on July 23, 2009, had long discussions with Mr Okram Ibobi Singh and instructed Manipur's home department to do more "home work" on these groups and other matters, indicated that the concern expressed by the Prime Minister and home minister is being followed up seriously.


High levels of corruption and lawlessness, along with the Ibobi government's complete indifference to governance, has pushed Manipur into a state of anarchy.


The UG groups mentioned above have ruined the quality of life of the people of this state which is very rich in culture and its people extremely skilled in sports. Manipur is where Sagol Kangjei became Polo in the 1850s. Though Manipur has many potential Olympians, it has, as lamented by theatre maestro Ratan Thiyam, no playing fields for children. Instead, kids are often kidnapped or lured - even in the state capital - by terrorist groups for recruitment.


Many innocent people have been killed by terrorists; UNLF has planted made-in-China landmines and mass-rape of tribal women was reported in Churachandpur. And far too often Manipur is paralysed by "bandhs".


It takes only Rs 3 lakh of bribe money to recruit a person in the state police or the paramilitary forces. As a result, there is a lurking danger that terrorist outfits with links to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, which has a base in Bangladesh, can penetrate the state's security apparatus for a pittance.


Following the unprecedented level of protests after Thangjam Manorama's killing in August 2004, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act was lifted from Imphal's four districts and the Army was withdrawn. Thangjam Manorama, a 32-year-old women, was allegedly raped and killed by jawans of the Assam Rifles.


The four districts from where the Army was withdrawn - Imphal East, Imphal West, Thoubal and Bishnupur - have now become notorious for extra-judicial killings, particularly fake encounters.


Manipur police's special force is known as Manipur Police Commandos (MPC), but the term "commandos" is a highly misused term. There is no comparison between the MPC and the Army commandos. The training and conditioning is very different.

In 2008, there were 27 recorded cases of torture and killing attributed to the MPC. Earlier, the MPC conducted "encounters" in isolated places and now they do so in cities, in broad daylight. The killing of Chongkham Sanjit on July 23, 2009, is a case in point. Photographs of the alleged "encounter", clicked by a local photographer that were published in a magazine, clearly contradict the official version. Sanjit was standing calmly as the police commandos frisked him, spoke to him, took him inside the storeroom of the pharmacy, shot him and brought his dead body out.


While New Delhi took note of the incident and some action was taken, much more needs to be done about all that has happened and is happening in Manipur.


In people's eyes, the Ibobi government has lost all legitimacy. There are many instances that indicate the degeneration of the state's political, security and administrative systems.


Manipur is linked to China and Pakistan (through Bangladesh), both of which - as brought out periodically by this newspaper - have India's Northeast well within their sights to not only exacerbate existing problems but also to create as many more as possible.


Anil Bhat, a retired Army officer, is a defence and security analyst based in New Delhi








 Listening is, in so many ways, the social equity of the world-class cultures that evolve into world-class organisations. Listening makes people feel special (and talent leaves organisations mainly because they didn’t feel special). Listening shows respect. Listening allows you to gather the data that will improve everything you do. I guess what I’m suggesting to you is that brilliant performers are brilliant listeners.


Today, just for a day, make the decision to listen (versus just hear). Don’t interrupt. Don’t rehearse your answer while the other person is speaking. And don’t dare check your email or search for text messages while another human being is sharing their words. Just listen. Deeply. Be there for that person. Because everyone has a voice. And each of us craves to have ours recognised. Watch the great things that unfold once you do.








One of my favourite science-fiction stories is a thin book called The Carefully Considered Rape of the World by Shepherd Mead, in which all fertile women on earth are simultaneously impregnated by baboon-like extraterrestrials. No, there’s no inter-species sex; if I remember the story (I read the book some 30 years ago and I believe it is out of print), the baboons send human door-to-door salesmen to sell women’s fragrance. The women get pregnant when they catch a whiff of the perfume. There’s an interesting twist, but let me leave it at that.


The story came to my mind last week when I was watching a gripping science-fiction thriller called District 9. I used to read a lot of sci-fi, but no longer. However, I do like to watch sci-fi movies, and have seen most of the good ones and even some indifferent ones. I have shared classics like 2001, Gattaca, Blade Runner, the TV series Firefly (later made into a movie called Serenity) and Wall-E with friends and family. But they loath horror scenes (an embryonic alien bursting out of the stomach of a man in Ridley Scott’s classic, Alien) and say I have bad taste for calling it a classic.


Even those who usually like sci-fi movies find it difficult to handle an evil or evil-looking extraterrestrial. They like E.T. because it is gentle, has a nice smile, and is not hostile. They don’t mind the creatures in Star Wars because, at the end of the day, it’s a simple good-versus-evil fairy tale. They can watch a doomsday scenario but only if it has a happy ending as in My name is Legend — a movie I wouldn’t even place in the sci-fi category. But when it comes to close encounters of the Alien kind, a lot of people feel queasy. Perhaps it’s the fear of the unknown; but the unknown is the exciting bit.


What fascinates me is the idea, the possibility, even the imagery of a dystopian world, or of a post-apocalyptic future. I like sci-fi because of its sense of wonder. The "what if...?"


Like any good science fiction movie, District 9 is not about people behind the movie or in it; it’s about an idea. In fact, apart from its producer Peter Jackson (of the Lord of the Rings fame), there are no big names in the movie: it’s written and directed by a relatively unknown South African, Neill Blomkamp, and has a cast of completely unknown actors.


It’s a story of aliens who arrived in a massive spaceship over Johannesburg in South Africa some 20 years ago. What do they look like? Not the gentle, slow-motion creatures you saw in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind or E.T. They are ugly — a cross between humans, kangaroos and lobsters. If you have seen Alien, or James Cameron’s sequel, Aliens, you’ll get the idea. The ones in District 9 are a bit less revolting, and also not so hostile. And some of them even show their emotion, a surprisingly gentle side.


Left to them they would have gone home to wherever they came from, but they are stranded. There’s something wrong with their spaceship, the size of eight football fields. They are hungry, and their children are dying.


The humans take pity on them and allow them to live on the edge of Johannesburg in an area fenced off with barbed wire. They call it District 9. Twenty years later, there are two million aliens living in that space in conditions so wretched, so appalling that Mumbai’s Dharavi, Asia’s largest slum, looks luxurious in comparison.


The aliens (derogatively called "prawns") possess hi-tech weapons that only they can operate with their claw-like hands. Despite the weaponry they are submissive, and mostly peaceful. Perhaps they realise that they are at the mercy of humans. They live like prisoners, and are forced to scavenge for food. There are periodic clashes between the aliens and the xenophobic people of Johannesburg who want the alien colony shifted out of the city.


The slum scenes are said to be based on a real shanty town in Cape Town known as District 6. In 1970s, thousands of black families were forcibly evicted from there by South Africa’s Apartheid regime. In the movie, it is the aliens who represent the black community in the days of Apartheid; those outside the fence are the ruling white regime.


A simple man working for a private military contractor, the Multinational United, is given the task of getting the aliens to move out. He has to visit each shanty and get the aliens to sign an eviction notice.


In the process he accidentally inhales a virus, and soon parts of his anatomy begin to mutate. His hand starts to resemble a claw. He is terrified. But the mutated hand also enables him to operate the weapons of the aliens. Now the military contractor hunts for him because he wants this power. The man with an alien claw is a fugitive. Watch the movie for what happens next.


It raises questions about the arrogance that comes with superiority and absolute power over others. It is also the story of any modern city where poor immigrants are forced to live in ghettos. But despite the strong socio-economic parallels District 9 does not preach. In the end, it’s straightforward science fiction. One of the best I’ve seen.


Shekhar Bhatia can be contacted at










India’s disputed boundaries with China are back in the news. Earlier this month, there were reports that a Chinese patrol had intruded into Indian territory in Ladakh, leaving behind tell-tale signs of their presence. More recently, a media report claimed that Chinese troops had fired on Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel in north Sikkim, injuring two soldiers. The Indian government has played down the former and denied the latter.


Public discussions on the matter are far more excited and are unlikely to be assuaged by anodyne official pronouncements. But the ongoing debate is generating more heat than light.


Take the issue of "incursions" by the Chinese. Much of the problem stems from the fact that the two sides have different perceptions of where the Line of Actual Control (LAC) lies. The LAC is supposed to divide the areas that are under Indian and Chinese control since the end of the 1962 war. The line, however, was not mutually agreed upon by the two sides. This is in contrast to similar lines with Pakistan in Kashmir. Both the Ceasefire Line of 1949 and the Line of Control of 1972 were drawn up by formal agreements between the two countries. There was no such agreement on the LAC both because the war ended with a unilateral ceasefire by China and because subsequent efforts by the "Colombo countries" to mediate ended in failure.


In the Ladakh sector, the differences in perception are owing to China’s occupation of additional disputed territory during the war of 1962. The issue of where exactly Chinese forces stood after the war remains contested. The areas where Chinese intrusions occur are claimed by both sides as lying on their side of the LAC.


In the eastern sector — Arunachal Pradesh — the problem is a bit more complicated. The Chinese do not recognise the boundary claimed by India: the McMahon Line. This Line was drawn at the Simla conference of 1914 involving Indian, Chinese and Tibetan representatives. The People’s Republic of China rejected this line as an imperialist creation. Nevertheless, Beijing treats the McMahon Line as the LAC in this sector. The problem is that since 1959, India and China have differed on just where the McMahon Line actually runs. There are "grey areas", which lie north of the McMahon Line as marked in the original maps of 1914, but are actually south of the highest watershed. India’s position — which China does not accept — is that the Line was intended to run along the highest range of mountains dividing Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh, and despite discrepancies the boundary had to be accordingly interpreted.


These grey areas include Namka Chu, Thag La, Sumdurong Chu, Tulung La, Asaphi La, Longju and Chenju. It bears emphasising that there have been no reports of Chinese incursions in other parts of the LAC. We may note parenthetically that there is no LAC or boundary dispute in Sikkim. That boundary was formalised in an Anglo-Chinese agreement of 1890. The residual differences pertain to minor issues such as position of boundary pillars.


In any event, India and China have signed agreements on measures to maintain peace and tranquillity along the LAC. The agreement concluded in 1996 admits that both sides have differing perceptions of the LAC. The Indian Army Chief has stated that "the Chinese have a different perception of the Line of Actual Control as do we. When they come up to their perception, we call it an incursion and likewise they do". To deal with such incursions, the 1996 agreement allows the parties to seek clarifications through diplomatic channels — a mechanism that seems to work well. Besides, there are periodic "flag meetings" between military commanders on both sides to sort out local differences.


The larger question remains: Why have the Chinese increased the frequency of patrolling in these parts?


Paradoxically, China’s recent activism may reflect not the deterioration of relations with India, but the fact that the boundary negotiations have actually made some headway. As the Indian national security adviser observed last year, "Five or six points, the more difficult points are settled… But areas of divergence remain". The most important of these is China’s claim to Tawang; but there is also the issue of the territory acquired by China in the Ladakh sector during the 1962 war.


China’s assertive stance on the ground is evidently intended to buttress its position on the bargaining table. India, too, has rightly made moves to secure its claims by beefing up troops and upgrading logistics along the borders. Until the outlines of the final settlement become clear, there is bound to be some jostling in the contested zones.


The biggest impediments to such a settlement are the domestic politics surrounding the dispute, and the question of Tibet. China’s perceptions and attitude to the boundary dispute with India have always been refracted through the prism of Tibet. Controlling parts of the Ladakh area (including Aksai Chin) was essential to maintaining China’s hold on Tibet. With the recent massive improvement in communications and logistics in Tibet, its importance has diminished. But the growing unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang indicates that this area will continue to be of strategic interest to Beijing.


More important, the links between India and Tibet have always been viewed by Beijing with wariness, not to say deep-seated suspicion. The troubles in Tibet have accentuated China’s concerns about what it calls the "Dalai Clique" and its links with India. China’s protests against the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang are directly linked to its territorial claims on the area. Until a settlement is reached, we can expect the Chinese to continue expressing anger and pique on such seemingly trivial issues.


India should find ways of offering more convincing reassurances to China about its attitude to Tibet. This will be essential to removing needless mistrust and to reaching an accord on the boundary. But unless New Delhi informs and shapes domestic opinion, its quest for a settlement is unlikely to succeed.


Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi











Pakistan’s nuclear programme has become a major source of worry for the world. Reports of Al-Qaida trying to obtain nuclear secrets from it make the situation worse. As US Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke has stated, Al-Qaida is “publicly asking nuclear engineers to give them nuclear secrets from Pakistan”. Al-Qaida’s search for the technology to make weapons of mass destruction is not new. According to former CIA Director George Tenet, Osama bin Laden had “sent emissaries to establish contact” with the clandestine network run by Pakistan’s top nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan as early as 1998. It was found in the aftermath of 9/11 that some Pakistani nuclear scientists did visit Afghanistan during the Taliban regime on the pretext of doing humanitarian work.


If the A.Q. Khan network could develop links with Libya, Iran and North Korea to oblige them with nuclear weapon technology, it could do so in the case of terrorist networks like Al-Qaida and the Taliban. Dr Khan can still prove to be a major threat for the proliferation of nuclear know-how once he is allowed to live as a free man. Keeping in view his track record, he must be made to live forever under house arrest, as the situation exists today. The Taliban strategy has been aimed at capturing power in Pakistan so that it gets control over the country’s nuclear assets.


These are dangerous portends for world security. The international community will have to find a way to ensure that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons do not fall into the hands of terrorist organisations. These elements must also not be allowed to secretly procure nuclear weapon technology. This is a major challenge before the world today. Pakistan has not been punished for its proliferation activities in the past. But it must be told bluntly that it will have to pay for its behaviour if it is not able to rein in its nuclear scientists. The world can’t allow itself to slip under the nuclear blackmail of Al-Qaida.








THE Left Front, which has ruled over West Bengal for the last three decades without a break, suffered yet another blow this week when it comprehensively lost the election to the Siliguri Municipal Corporation for the first time since 1981. A resurgent opposition sent the Left Front packing by winning 29 of the 47 wards. The combined strength of the Left Front in the municipal board stands reduced to 17, prompting the CPM state secretary Biman Bose to lament that if there is one lesson from the election, it is that development alone cannot help win elections. Siliguri is symbolic for the CPM.


North Bengal for long has been a CPM bastion and this is for the first time that Trinamul Congress has made its presence felt there, prompting an elated Mamata Banerjee to urge the Left Front government to move out and “let people work”. The election result is also remarkable because Mamata Banerjee did not campaign even once while Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee campaigned extensively along with other heavyweight leaders of the Left Front. Opposition unity between the Congress and the Trinamul Congress is clearly the single most important factor for the Left Front’s debacle. But other factors like poor governance, corruption and Marxist arrogance too may have turned the wind against the CPM, prompting one Left citadel after another to fall.


The Left Front has only itself to blame for the seemingly irreversible slide. The comrades must be a concerned lot and are visibly at sea while grappling with issues of administration and governance. After nearly nine years in office as Chief Minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has woken up to the need of a Chief Minister’s Office on the lines of the PMO. Left Front politicians hope this would lead to more effective governance, better coordination and faster delivery. But such cosmetic changes appear unlikely to carry conviction with the people before the Calcutta Municipal Corporation election next year and the Assembly election the year after.








IN a nation where tiger population is down to a meagre 1,411 any news of tiger deaths is a cause for concern. However, the reports of tiger deaths crossing the 50 mark this year alone is truly alarming and has stirred the Centre to call meetings with 17 tiger-range states. In fact, even the beginning of 2009 saw a disturbing rise in tiger deaths. Not too long ago, the Centre was forced to admit in the Rajya Sabha that the situation in 16 of the country’s 37 tiger reserves is truly alarming. Undeniably, the spectre of extinction looms large over the big cat that has long been fighting for survival.


Despite the government spending crores on tiger conservation, threat to the national animal has not receded. As tiger deaths continue unabated, recently the National Tiger Conservation Authority revised guidelines to the states for the formation of a Special Tiger Protection Force on the lines of the India Reserve Battalion. Earlier, the Union Minister of State for Forest and Environment, Mr Jairam Ramesh, came out with a plan to shift people living in tiger reserves to buffer zones as well as involvement of the local community in conservation drives. Since the tiger vs human conflict is one of the reasons attributed to tiger deaths, there is an urgent need to spread the message that the tiger’s survival is crucial for the ecosystem. Roping in local community, both in tiger protection force and intelligence gathering, can be the most vital link in protecting tigers against poachers who continue to make a killing out of trading in tiger parts. According to the Wildlife Protection Society of India, in the period 1994-2007, 832 tigers have been lost to poachers.


Besides, coming down heavily upon poachers, tiger habitats need to be improved. The government has realised that it has to move beyond knee-jerk responses and has a holistic plan on tiger conservation in place. The living flame of the Indian forest cannot be allowed to be extinguished.
















Bangladesh Foreign Minister and senior Awami League leader Dipu Moni’s three-day visit to India that concluded on September 10 has excited the media in Dhaka. The media there described her visit as a “breakthrough” in Indo-Bangla ties primarily because New Delhi agreed to concede Dhaka’s request for connectivity with land-locked Nepal and Bhutan. New Delhi may not quite be euphoric at the visit, but had reasons to be happy. The two sides, after all, concluded agreements in the realm of security that covered mutual assistance on criminal matters; transfer of sentenced persons; and combating international terrorism, organised crime and drug trafficking.


If the handshake between Ms Dipu Moni and her Indian counterpart, S.M. Krishna was a good photo opportunity that was supposed to signal improved ties between the two neighbours, the visiting minister’s meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was a demonstration of the importance New Delhi was according her. Besides, Ms Dipu Moni’s visit was supposed to lay the ground for a trip to India by premier Sheikh Hasina some time later. Haven’t we heard before that the Awami League, which returned to power in Bangladesh with a thumping majority in 2008, is a party that is friendly to India or even “pro-India”? Well, things may not be as simple as that!


Let’s look at one of the deals between India and Bangladesh arrived at during Ms Dipu Moni’s visit—transfer of sentenced persons. This was something which New Delhi was happy about because this bilateral agreement provided for Indians sentenced in Bangladesh to finish their jail term in India and vice versa. There is a rider though—the prisoners must themselves express their willingness to serve the remaining sentence in their home countries. Among many of its not-so-loyal citizens whom India has been keen to have back is Anup Chetia, general secretary of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom or ULFA, one of northeastern India’s dreaded separatist groups. The insurgent leader was arrested by Bangladeshi authorities in Dhaka in 1997 on charges of illegal entry and possession of foreign currency and satellite phones. Chetia was sentenced and imprisoned in Dhaka.


Ms Dipu Moni or for that matter Bangladesh is, however, not prepared to hand over the ULFA leader to India so easily. On her return to Dhaka, she said, “Anup Chetia has already finished his jail term and will not come under the purview of the agreement.” Dhaka has sought to take refuge in technicalities, saying the agreement it reached with New Delhi was applicable only to “sentenced persons”. Chetia, according to Dhaka, is no longer a sentenced person because he has already completed his jail term. More than one crucial question arises here: If Chetia has completed his jail term, where is he? Going by what Ms Dipu Moni has said, Chetia must be surely out of jail and living in Bangladesh a free man. Dhaka says he is still in jail for “security reasons”, a claim difficult to confirm independently.


We do know that Chetia had applied for political asylum in Bangladesh soon after his 1997 arrest on ground that his group was fighting a political battle in India and had to enter that country illegally to escape the law. A local rights group in Dhaka has been fighting his case all these years but we are not aware as yet if Dhaka has conceded to Chetia’s asylum request. The total lack of transparency on Dhaka’s part in dealing with the Chetia case has raised questions about the country’s sincerity in coming down against terror groups or cadres based in Bangladesh for their anti-India activities. A simple question needs to be answered by Dhaka: if Anup Chetia has completed his sentence and if Bangladesh has not yet granted him political asylum, how is the militant leader being allowed to stay on in the country?

Bangladesh, of course, reiterated once again during Ms Dipu Moni’s visit that it would not allow its territory to be used for any anti-India activity by rebels. That could well be the intent of the Awami League government. Because, unlike the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the Awami League does not regard cadres of groups like ULFA as “freedom fighters” on the lines of the “Mukti Bahini”. Despite the intent, however, it may not be easy for Bangladesh to demonstrate political will because of the dynamics of domestic politics. In India, political parties across the board are usually united on foreign affairs. That is not the case in Bangladesh, particularly with regard to relations with India. Opinion makers in Bangladesh have already questioned Ms Dipu Moni’s wisdom in not having consultations with the Opposition in Dhaka before embarking on her India visit.


New Delhi also seems to be happy at Dhaka agreeing to the use of the Ashuganj Port in Bangladesh to transport machinery for the Palatana power project in Tripura. But Dhaka has said it would allow the use of Ashuganj Port only to transport oversized components of the power project. As if to pre-empt the Opposition in Dhaka from levelling a sellout slur on the Hasina government, Ms Dipu Moni clarified: “It does not mean that we have agreed to let Ashuganj be used as a new port of call under the protocol of the Inland Water Transit and Trade.” The permission to use Ashuganj Port, in all probability, will be a one-time arrangement, and that is nothing to be really excited about from India’s point of view. Yes, the visiting Bangladeshi Foreign Minister also did not give a firm commitment to India’s long-standing plea for use of the Chittagong Port to service the landlocked northeastern states.


A few questions arise: Why has India been finding it so difficult to tackle Bangladesh? Why is India’s eastern frontier, particularly the 4,000-kilometre-long border with Bangladesh, spiked with problems? Dhaka denies the presence of Indian militant camps or militants on its territory; it claims there has been no illegal migration of its citizens to India; it is still not sure whether or not it should give India access to the Chittagong Port, and generally pursues a blow-hot-blow-cold relationship with India.


New Delhi’s predicament is understandable: a country that is the undisputed “super power” in the subcontinent cannot be expected to acknowledge its problem and its failure to resolve such problems with a small neighbour. That, perhaps, explains New Delhi’s so-called magnanimity towards Dhaka despite the irritants. Dhaka, however, does not think that New Delhi is magnanimous, but that’s another matter.


What India needs to do is to shake off its 1971 hangover and not expect Dhaka to be still grateful for New Delhi’s contribution in securing the country’s freedom. Perhaps New Delhi should start treating Bangladesh and deal with it in a manner it would deal with any other nation outside the sub-continent. Dhaka should not be taken for granted and being a bigger and more powerful neighbour, India should be a little more liberal with Bangladesh on such issues as trade and help remove the trade imbalance to the extent possible. But on issues such as dealing with terror, particularly Northeast Indian militants operating from that country, New Delhi should adopt a tougher stance and force Dhaka to act. Not handing ULFA leader Chetia is one thing and not acting against anti-India terror groups operating from Bangladeshi soil is another.


The writer is Director, Centre for Development and Peace Studies, Guwahati.








THE only time our father, also a Judicial Officer at that point of time, visited us was when me and my sister were posted at Gurgaon.  We were a trio, the third incumbent of the residence being one of our younger sisters, then a student of B.A. Part II.


After visiting certain relations at New Delhi and scanning the market at Ajmal Khan Road, we landed at a tri-junction which had a “by request” stop for buses bound for Gurgaon. Though the bus service between Delhi and Gurgaon was fairly quick, the wait on that day grew longer. Of course, our father being around and in wait was also weighing on our mind. The waiting crowd, in the meantime, increased manifold.


Ultimately, the bus to ferry us to our destination came over. We pushed ourselves into it and, in an endeavour to ensure that all of us got seats, placed a handkerchief on one of the seats. We had done nothing novel because that was an acknowledged conventional method of “occupation” of a seat.  However, an unmanageably fat man would not accept that methodology. He removed that handkerchief and occupied the seat. When reminded that the practice adopted by him was unfair, he retorted by saying: “Ab tum Hema Malini par rumaal rakh doge to kya woh tumhari ho zayegi” (If you were to place your handkerchief upon Hema Malini, will she be yours).


We did not relish his ‘rejection’ of the practice existing since hoary past. However, we ‘swallowed’ the act and remained incognito. My only satisfaction was that at least my father and both sisters were comfortably seated.


After about a month, I was at the fag end of day’s cause list. It was the last working day of the month. The non-appearance of the plaintiff in an exparte case was holding up my departure for the residence.


The orderly, charged with the duty of calling out cases, was a harried lot. He informed the Reader, in an apparently concealing tone, that the plaintiff to that case was present outside the court but was ‘reluctant’ to enter the court.


It was his counsel who ultimately brought him in and got his statement recorded. After decreeing that exparte suit for recovery, I just called upon the plaintiff to tell me if the practice of ‘occupation’ of a bus seat by placing a handkerchief thereon had undergone a change. He was obviously the gentleman who had authored the above quoted dialogue in the bus. He gave a sheepish smile and ‘evaporated’, much to the amusement of all those present in the court.


The writer is a Judge of the Punjab & Haryana High Court.








I have come back from Bangalore, impressed and struck by its prosperity as well as cosmopolitism. Slums are there, but not like the ones in Delhi, which has hordes of them with new ones coming up all the time. Politicians, bureaucrats and corporate chieftains are hand in glove with one another. But the nexus is so open in Delhi that some top families in the political field are in the background.


At Bangalore the scale is less and the involvement of top ruling families is comparatively minimal. People spend money on clothes and on eating out. Yet the number of expensively dressed people is fewer and there is no ostentation. In Delhi, it is spending money for the sake of spending and a craze for brands, which is practically absent in Bangalore.


People there have a sort of simplicity which the Delhi-ites had some 40 years ago. The country of traditions and values still peers through the opulent Silicon Valley of India. There is a touch of orderliness.


One thing which pleased me the most was that a Muslim could seek accommodation anywhere in Bangalore and get it. There is no last-minute excuse to bar him on the plea that he is a non-vegetarian, an excuse given in Delhi or, for that matter, in many big cities.


Traffic is bad but not like what prevails in Delhi, where it is the survival of the fittest. And one shower does not put the entire city out of gear. Even to get out of your locality in Delhi, you take 45 minutes during the rain. Bangalore has much more rain but the drainage system is far better.


In Delhi you hear about the preparations to tackle rainwater before the monsoon. But there is hardly anything when the rain comes. It is the same story year after year. Rulers and bureaucrats appear to have a nexus with contractors and most funds go to their pockets. People in Bangalore also criticise their government on the limited facilities. But they are more civic-minded than the ones living in Delhi.


When I compare the Karnataka state with Punjab from where I come, I find the former is better off. True, farmers earn less than the ones in Punjab. The latter are hardy and adventurous. This year when the rains failed, their hard work would give the country as much rice as they did in the past.


However, the Karnataka farmers are not addicted to booze and drugs as farmers in Punjab are. This is depriving farmers in Punjab of their land. The bug of going abroad has not bitten the Kannadas yet. The obsession of Punjabis, particularly of Sikh youth, is to settle in a foreign country. They will spare no effort to do so. In the process, they sell even their small land-holdings.


Corruption is seething in both states and it is difficult to say which one beats the other. However, you can still find in Karnataka many civil servants who are honest. In Punjab, they can be counted on fingers, thanks to politicians.


Former Prime Minister Deve Gowda, who was in the same plane in which I travelled from New Delhi to Bangalore, told me how the owners of Bellary mines had corrupted public life in the state and how there was an illegal makeover of the Bangalore-Mysore corridor that has left slum dwellers on the road and the Supreme Court helpless. It is a scandal which should have rocked the nation, but it did not. That is the complaint of Gowda. True, corruption by the corporate sector is galling in Karnataka.


Justice N.Santosh Hegde, the state’s Lok Ayukta, was more telling while exposing the entire political machinery for corrupting society. Corruption killed good governance. He pointed out that on the one hand Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had declared there would zero tolerance on corruption and, on the other, he had removed or eased the laws relating to corruption.


New Delhi has again brought back the legislation that an official of the rank of Joint Secretary and above cannot be touched even for inquiry without the government’s prior permission. The Supreme Court had rejected this distinction. The law has been challenged before it but awaits disposal.


In the meanwhile, the BJP, ruling the state, is doing all it can to saffronise society. The fight put up by the secular forces is equally strong, but government machinery is on the BJP side.


Since the Kannada people are not a biased lot, the BJP would find it hard to have its Hindutva methods making any headway. If the BJP does not mend its ways and goes on needling Muslims and other minorities, I would not be surprised if the party is defeated at the polls next time.


One thing disturbing from the point of India’s unity I found in Karnataka was more and more use of English in place of Hindi or even the mother tongue, Kannada. The state is not as bad as Tamil Nadu where Hindi is a taboo. Still English is allowed as the medium of instruction.


When challenged, the Supreme Court has held that it is not necessary to be taught in the mother tongue or the regional language. This goes against the spirit, if not the letter of the Constitution which has laid down the switchover from English to Hindi as the link language from 1955.


Many developments have taken place since to give a veto power to the non-Hindi speaking states. Now the switchover to Hindi depends on them because it is they who have to say that they are ready for the switchover. They should be saying soon.


Karnataka Chief Minister Yediurappa may well be the first person to initiate birth control. No political party is talking about it. The impression is that the Congress lost the election after the Emergency in 1977 because Sanjay Gandhi sent policemen to bedrooms.


That step was bad enough, but in the process the family planning has got a bad name. The Congress lost elections in northern India because of the excesses during the Emergency, not because of birth control. The Karnataka Chief Minister has revived the slogan, Hum do, Hamare do. This should be propagated by the Centre’s Health Ministry, which seems too occupied with the swine flu.


True, India’s population growth averages less than 2 per cent a year, although some states are above it. Still this growth is negating the advantage of development. India has to aim at zero per cent growth, as China is doing, to ensure the elimination of poverty. After having crossed the one-billion mark, the birth control is a must.








THE Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project is now comatose, if not dead. And that puts us back at square one on a crucial question: What are we going to do with all the radioactive waste being discharged by U.S. nuclear power reactors?


Many conservatives on Capitol Hill favor the French “solution”: spent-fuel reprocessing. But reprocessing isn’t a solution at all: It’s a very expensive and dangerous detour.


Reprocessing takes used or “spent” nuclear fuel and dissolves it to separate the uranium and plutonium from the highly radioactive fission products. The plutonium and uranium are then recycled to make new reactor fuel, thereby reducing the amount of fresh uranium required by about 20 percent. But based on French and Japanese experience, the cost of producing this recycled fuel is several times that of producing fresh uranium reactor fuel.


In the past, about half of France’s reprocessing capacity was used to process spent fuel from foreign reactors. Because of the high cost, however, virtually all of those foreign customers have decided to follow the U.S. example and simply store their used reactor fuel.


The French reprocessing company AREVA claims that its method reduces the volume and longevity of the radioactive waste produced by nuclear power reactors. But when you take into account the additional radioactive waste streams created by reprocessing and plutonium recycling, the volume of the long-lived radioactive waste is not reduced. And most of the recycled plutonium is neither destroyed nor reused. Its isotopic makeup makes it difficult to use in existing reactors, so AREVA simply stores most of it at the reprocessing plant.


Reprocessing as practiced in France amounts to an expensive way to shift France’s radioactive waste problem from its reactor sites to the reprocessing plant.


For some of AREVA’s customers, that is the point. When I asked the fuel managers of Japan’s nuclear utilities why they reprocess, their answer was that they would love to store their spent fuel on site as the U.S. does until an underground radioactive waste repository becomes available.


But local governments have vetoed dry-cask storage at their nuclear power plants. The stark choice for the industry, therefore, is to either pay for reprocessing or shut down all of Japan’s 53 power 


Reprocessing is enormously dangerous. The amount of radioactivity in the liquid waste stored at France’s plant is more than 100 times that released by the Chernobyl accident. That is why France’s government set up antiaircraft missile batteries around its reprocessing plant after the 9/11 attacks.


Even more dangerous, however, is the fact that reprocessing provides access to plutonium, a nuclear weapon material. That is why the U.S. turned against it after 1974, the year India used the first plutonium separated with U.S.-provided reprocessing for a nuclear explosion.


President Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger, his secretary of State, managed to intervene before France and Germany sold reprocessing plants to South Korea, Pakistan and Brazil, all of which had secret weapons programs at the time.


Since that time, the U.S. government’s argument that “we don’t reprocess, you don’t need to either,” has been extremely successful. Japan is the only non-nuclear weapon state that still does today. If the U.S. began to reprocess again, that would legitimize another route to the bomb for nuclear weapon wannabes.


The U.S. made the mistake with Yucca Mountain of trying to force a repository on an unwilling state. One alternative would be to follow the path of Finland and Sweden, which have placed their underground repositories in communities that already host nuclear power plants. They have found that once people in a community have accepted a nuclear facility, they view the addition of an underground repository as a relatively minor issue.


In the meantime, spent fuel can be safely stored on site in dry casks for decades. It is not a permanent solution, but there is no reason to panic until we can build more permanent facilities. Reprocessing would be a panic solution.


The writer, a physicist, is a professor of public and international affairs at Princeton University


By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post








TWO Central ministers have stayed for over three months in five-star hotels; one of them occupying a presidential suite in Taj Palace which costs a lakh of rupees per day for occupancy.


When the ministers were advised by their senior colleague to shift from the hotels, both asserted that they would be paying from their own pockets. It is yet to be seen whether they would personally foot the bill.


I think these ministers and all others will do well to take note of the Prime Minister’s exhortation to captains of industry at the annual session of the CII in 2007 when, inter alia, the Prime Minister said: “The media often highlights the vulgar display of industrialists’ wealth. An area of great concern is the level of ostentatious expenditure on weddings and other family events. Such vulgarity insults the poverty of the less privileged, it is socially wasteful and it plants seeds of resentment in the minds of the have-nots. If those who are better off do not act in a more socially responsible manner, our growth process may be at risk, our polity may become anarchic and our society may get further divided. We cannot afford these luxuries”.


The Prime Minister’s exhortation to industry to eschew conspicuous consumption, to save more and waste less, to be role models of probity, moderation and charity, equally applies to our ministers who are committed to serve the poor and downtrodden of this country. If only some of our ministers had the sensitivity to public perception about their lifestyles, they would think twice before continuing with those luxurious lifestyles.


I cannot comprehend why some of the ministers are reluctant to travel economy on domestic and business class on international routes. If they do so, they would endear themselves to the Indian public. This will enhance their public image as men and women committed to serve their countrymen.


In 1991 when serving as the Secretary General of the Rajya Sabha, I had written to Dr Monmohan Singh, then our Finance Minister, requesting for the withdrawal of first class air travel facility from officers of Secretary level as also the entitlement of a suite while staying in a hotel abroad.


Within six days, the Finance Ministry issued orders that no officer of the rank of Secretary to the Government of India would travel first class on international routes and that their entitlement to accommodation in the hotels would be restricted to single-room accommodation.


When I received this communication from the ministry, I wrote a congratulatory letter to Dr Manmohan Singh and appealed to him to travel business class on his foreign travels.


I wrote to say that people in high places must set the moral tone by their personal example. It is heart-warming to share with the readers that Dr Manmohan Singh travelled business class on this visit to Japan. It is another thing that the bureaucrats later on got those orders reversed and resumed first class air travel on foreign visits.


I served as the Governor for five and a half years and had always travelled economy class on my domestic visits. I faced no problems or inconvenience.


Lal Bahadur Shastri exhorted the nation to miss a meal in a week. There was a telling message of austerity, economy and concern for the less fortunate. But where are the role models today?


The writer is a former Governor of Uttarakhand and Sikkim









Those who named it The Green Revolution clearly did not use the phrase in its contemporary sense. Today green embodies the colour of ecology. Ironically, its proponents criticise the ‘father’ of the so called Green Revolution, Dr Norman E Borlaug, who passed away on September 12 at the age of 95, for having caused more ecological problems than he solved. There is more than a ‘grain’ of truth to this, for the hybrid strains of high yielding and disease resistant varieties of wheat that Borlaug developed completely destroyed traditional and sustainable agricultural practices in favour of less eco-friendly ones. But neither Borlaug, nor the world in the 1960s, had any choice of alternatives. That was the post world-war era of population explosion, with food output, particularly in developing countries, desperately struggling to keep pace with the growing number of mouths to feed. It had been either use of scientific innovation to dramatically raise food production, or confront the spectre of wide ranging famines in areas such as Latin America, Africa and the Indian sub-continent. Borlaug’s success with high yielding varieties in Mexico having attracted international attention, it was but inevitable that he would be drawn into the tussle at a global level. His zealous commitment enabled him to overcome resistance even from the proverbially negative bureaucracy of India, one of the many countries that gained enormously from the fruits of Borlaug’s toil.

In fact, towards the latter part of the 1960s, after using varieties developed by Borlaug, so bountiful Indian wheat harvests became that there was no space where to store the produce. Having become self-sufficient in grain cereal production, the nation had no need to import food or look for handouts from the more opulent countries. Thus, indirectly, the plant scientist had a huge role to play in fashioning the new image of India in the twenty first century, of a self-reliant and self-confident nation with a fast growing economy. It is said that about half the world’s population goes to bed every night after consuming grain descended from one of the high yield varieties developed by Borlaug and his colleagues. Aptly, he received the Nobel Prize in 1970 not for a scientific discipline but for Peace. The citation had read, “More than any other single person of this age, he has helped provide bread for a hungry world. We have made this choice in the hope that providing bread will also give the world peace.” It is, of course, difficult to correctly gauge the impact of the revolution ushered in by Borlaug, for there are many imponderables to his legacy. Its colour might not quite be green, yet there can be little doubt that by averting catastrophes of the moment he changed the course of history and armed the world with optimism to strive towards a better future






Notwithstanding some positive developments taking place in the health sector, a sizeable section of the State’s women living in char (riverine) areas continues to suffer for lack of access to health care and even the basic awareness about family planning. A case in point is a settlement on the Moabari embankment near Moirabari in Morigaon district on which this newspaper carried a news feature. The women are compelled to lead a life of perpetual drudgery, with the bane of early marriage and child-bearing at close intervals haunting them for a good part of their lives. All the families have on the average six to eight children, most of them suffering from malnutrition. All this is more surprising given that the area is not exactly remote, with a government hospital located nearby. The grim reality, therefore, is that the much-hyped government interventions on health care, especially for women and children, remain a non-starter in the area. It is regrettable that a crucial area like family planning – something inextricably linked to woman empowerment as well as long-term socio-economic progress – should be neglected in this manner. Moabari is not an isolated episode, and there would be scores of such areas across the State where government-sponsored welfare schemes exist only on paper.

For meaningful implementation of any welfare project, the Government will have to accord thrust on reaching out to the most needy and vulnerable sections. Recently, the Government introduced several programmes aimed at ensuring family planning, institutional delivery, etc. Places like Moabari need to be accorded special focus for success of the projects, as doing things as a matter of routine will lead us nowhere. Along with health interventions there is an urgent need for creating awareness in the backward areas having a high incidence of illiteracy and poverty. A sustained motivational campaign with support from voluntary organisations could help in freeing the minds of the targeted beneficiaries from the deep-rooted social dogmas and prejudices that shackle them. In places like Moabari, women are made to believe that early marriage and child-bearing are their bounden duties. The Government spends crores of rupees on adult literacy every year. The point is why such campaigns fail to reach the areas which need such interventions the most. The Government would do well to realise that drumbeating its perceived successes amounts to living in a fool’s paradise when the reality presents a picture in stark contrast. The abysmal human development indices for women will continue to make a mockery of all tall claims by the Government








The three-day DGP’s conference held in New Delhi has seen some plain speaking by Home Minister P Chidambaram. He has minced no words in saying that armed insurrection will not be entertained within the Indian State. This does not need further amplification. Groups like the NSCN (IM) and K and a plethora of other gun-totting mercenaries should now get the message loud and clear. Anyone having even the faintest notion of trying to dismember the nation-state, their ‘unique’ histories notwithstanding, stands in grave danger of being treated as enemies. And the Indian State is neither very forgiving nor tolerant of enemies


 However, the Home Minister has also given ample scope for groups to bring their grouses to the negotiating table since there is nothing under the sun that cannot be negotiated without the booming of guns in the background. Militant groups from the North East should get some straight messages from the new Home Minister. Never before has the Home Ministry made as much news and seen to be taking the bull by the horns as is happening today. Even as Finance Minister, P Chidambaram was never as feted as he is today. He is delivering and it is gratifying to note that our jungle warriors have abandoned their bravado and some have already surrendered their arms, to walk the straight and narrow paths of common citizens.

The three day conference in New Delhi is addressing terrorism, extremism and the North East conflicts which perhaps overlap both categories and spills over into more domains. For how do you define the conflicts in Manipur? That State and its people are living in a confused, chaotic scenario of street protests every single day even while the security forces are unrelenting in their attempt to finish off the extremism/insurgency/terrorism/extortionism and what have you in the State of Manipur. While citizens are grappling with State-high-handedness after Sanjit Singh, a reformed militant was brutally shot at by the Manipur commandos, the militants are having a field day because they are left to their devices each time the uniformed personnel are on the back foot.

It is a peculiar situation that civil society has never been vehement when militants have bumped off chosen targets. Perhaps it is due to fear of reprisal. Politicians and security forces are soft targets that can be held to ridicule and be publicly reprimanded because they are easily identified. But why are there no spy cameras to photograph militants while on their killing spree? Are we missing something here in our bravura to hail the secret camera person? It takes an uncanny accuracy to be at the scene of the crime to record what is defined as ‘State-sponsored terrorism’. Perhaps there is more here than meets the eye. Granted that we have the best mobile telephony gadgets and spy-cams but to be in the right place at the right time is nothing short of a million dollar breakthrough.

But like it or not, this very incident has catapulted the North East yet again into the national limelight. A Delhi-based television channel did a thirty minutes feature on the horrors of Manipur and how people there live life on the edge. Those who constantly moan that the North East is nearly always falling off the Indian map will be happy that they are now in the news, albeit for the wrong reasons. That even the students of journalism should be fed with this clichéd gripe that the national media does not give enough space to North East news. For goodness sake why is it so important to be seen on ‘national’ television or ‘newsprint’ unless we suffer some sort of congenital orphan syndrome. Does it affect us when we see farmers in Andhra committing suicide? Don’t we just discuss and forget about the issue? And don’t our power packers in Delhi do the same thing? So why bother about ‘national’ media anyway? Like somebody has rightly remarked there is not such thing as a national media. NDTV or CNN-IBN are Delhi based channels and very metro-centric in their discussion of important issues. We should ask ourselves why we watch them and increase their TRP ratings?

So much for national attention! Let me now come to the point with which I started this article. The North East now needs major infrastructural investments and these will only come in a climate of political stability and economic viability. No one is going to spend his hard earned money here to pay off militant groups. Those who have done so have recovered the profits from us the citizens. It is time now for those who have a stake in development – human, physical, economic, ecological and political to put their heads together and find out means to strengthen the State mechanism that is fighting terror, instead of constantly bailing out hard core militants with our misplaced sympathies and skewed human rights slogans.

Two or three or five decades of violence have taught us enough lessons in adversity for us to want to continue with this lose-lose phenomenon and to look at win-win scenarios. P Chidambaram has hit the nail on the head when he calls the problem by its name. We have fooled ourselves by supporting ‘our ULFA boys’ our ‘Naga National Workers’ our ‘Khasi Freedom Fighters’ and the thirty odd extremist groups in Manipur. In fact I think we have conceded defeat by leaving our living spaces and looking for safe spaces to live in, instead of roughing it out in those theatres of violence. Sadly, after having left our hearths and homes we then become the most vociferous proponents of human rights. This is pure and simple hypocrisy. Those who want to change the world cannot live in heaven. They have to be in the world and with the world. Sadly, Delhi has become the safe haven for all human rights activists of the North East.


We have to get real if we want to get somewhere. The time to begin is now.








There will probably be no understatement to say that the economy of Assam is still in a moribund State, and that there is seldom any sign visible of it turning vibrant or resilient in the foreseeable future with its fast-growing expenditures on wrestling with the insurgency and the post-flood scenarios in particular. Under these compelling circumstances, had the agriculture sector, the key revenue-tax earning source of the State, fared as well as a few years before, it would have been a little but rewarding. But ironically, this sector is seemingly turning out to be unpredictable. Whether it is for lack of sound irrigation mechanism, elusive monsoon or flash floods whatsoever, is an altogether different matter.

This year, for example, the far-below the expectation agricultural output can without hesitation be attributed to the erratic rain and the near drought-like situation developing in the five districts of the State. But what about its performance the previous year? It was not too amusing with rain being normal in most parts of it.

The tea industry in the State that has over the decades bolstered its economy substantially, besides providing employment to a fairly good number of people in the State, to cite an example, is currently passing through a bad patch. The situation turned worse when its production dropped 15 per cent during the first quarter of 2009. Resultantly, its exports too, fell to 50.26 million kg in the same period from 63.70 million kg a year ago.

Shortfall in tea output and deterioration in its quality is a phenomenon that has been a core concern for the State's tea industry for quite a long time now. The long persistence of tea bushes over larger uneconomic and unproductive areas, say for over 50 years, if not less, lack of proper planning and initiative in bringing about a transformation in the existing technique of plantation and replantation are largely responsible for this problem. At a time when the new players, namely Kenya and Sri Lanka, are gradually making their presence felt in the international market with their offer of good quality tea at affordable or reasonable prices, what Assam urgently needs is outstrip them with high quality export brand it has to develop, so that it can regain its waning stranglehold over it. Indeed, it is amusing that this problem is now being addressed through replantation with the recently-raised Special Purpose Tea Fund (SPTE).

With all these ills of the State keeping its economy from healthy and strong over the decades, its accelerated growth is possible if the people of Assam are provided with a break to do regular and large volume border trade without interruption with the Asian countries nearby. For this to happen, there is the need for an all-weather route, not like the road at Nathu La pass which remains closed for a better part of a year due to rough weather. There was, for example, no transaction through this border road in the months of May and June this year due to landslide.

Indeed, a mere opening of a route for border trade will not serve any purpose unless officially-notified exchangeable items are modern and of day-to-day use. If the India -China border trade via Nathu La pass is today flat it is largely because of the items, only 29 good to be exported from the Indian side and a meagre 15 items from the Chinese traders, having been obsolete and of no commercial value. Which is exactly why traders from both sides have been insisting on the revision of these commercial items. Therefore, if an alternative trade route is identified in the near future across Assam-South-East Asian nations border, the issue of exchangeable items should be taken into account at any cost.

A sustainable economic development of Assam and the other north-eastern States of the country could be an easy job if they had the privilege of conducting trade with Asian countries and China through the Stilwell road because the cities of these nations including Kunming, capital of China's Yunan province, and Bangkok, to name a few, are much closer to Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in particular than they are to mainland India. Frankly, the 1726-km long road at Ledo connects Assam to Kunming after touching almost all the important Southeast Asian metros. The opening up of free and special trade zones between South Asia, Assam and other NE States as well as Asian countries that could be facilitated by the reopening of the Stilwell road will serve to connect the NE region with the ever-expanding global trade regime for markets and profits. Notably, the Look East Police, was formulated only to facilityate providing opportunities for it.

Even though economically underdeveloped, the entire region is resource-rich. There are many exportable items available in plenty here. Think of Assam, it has huge deposits of crude oil and natural gas. It accounts for 50 per cent of the tea produced in the country. It also has good quality Eri and Muga. But all it needs urgently is an opportunity for a good access to and trade engagements with all these countries, which was all in the Stilwell route.

But, after a little over a decade of anxious waiting, it was of late informed that the plan of its reopening has been put on shelve following objections from Myanmar. This has expectantly triggered resentment among sections of people in Assam. The Centre has naturally drawn flak from the AASU on the issue.

However, amidst this depressing event, one good news is that Bangladesh's Sheikh Hasina government known to be pro-Indian, has of late expressed its willingness to trade with the North East. The news report that has been the headline stories in most leading dailies in the region says that the country may offer India the facility to use its southeastern Chittangong Port to transport goods from the land locked North East. This was recently divulged by the Bangladesh Commerce Minister Faruk Khan while talking to the newsmen at Dhaka after participating in a function to herald the launch of his country's brick export to Tripura at Akhaura border check-post complex.

Another amusing information is that along with the south-eastern Chittagong seaports, south-western Mongla seaport could also be expected to be offered for use by the neighbouring countries to help boost regional trade in line with the ruling Awami League's election manifesto, as said by the minister. If they are really put to use, the people of Assam and the rest of the region can find and receive the supply of the essential food items such as sugar, potato, dal, onion etc, in their retail markets at reasonable prices which are at present selling at most open markets of Guwahati and many other cities and towns in the State and beyond at alarmingly higher prices. Indeed, it can materiatise once mainland India agrees to use these ports to supply these goods to the region. Should it consent to the use of them Assam can gain economically by transporting its export items to Bangladesh. The State is much closer to it than Assam is to the other Asian countries such as China and Bangkok. The all-important is the upgradation of the ports.

Bangladesh will also be equally gainer from trade with the North East. This perception is further confirmed when Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty earlier said that the country could earn revenue between $ 1.5 billion and $ 2 billion by providing the region Chittagong Port for regional use.

Undoubtedly, it is a golden opportunity for Assam in particular, if it comes its way, to its rapid economic growth. Therefore, under no circumstances can it be allowed to go unutilised. For the much-needed border trade to materialise, there is the need for a bilateral agreement between India and Bangladesh on the use of the seaports all the year and trade. Assam should now excrt pressure on the Centre to take up the issue with Bangladesh to reach a broad consensus at the earliest.









With the wholesale price index-based inflation turning positive at 0.12% for the week ended 5 September, after remaining in the negative territory for 13 weeks, message signalled by double-digit consumer price inflation gets reinforced: the RBI’s monetary policy can only tighten henceforth. Policy makers should be particularly concerned that inflation has moved into positive territory much before the base effect wore off. It was widely expected a few weeks ago that the year-on-year inflation would remain in the negative territory till the end of September, even though the base effect would be seen till end October. But the latest set of numbers shows that was not to be.


Given the surge in food prices in the recent months, the move was not entirely unanticipated. The index for primary food articles has risen 14.67% and that for manufactured food products had climbed 9.21% from end-March. Together, these food articles account for about 27% of the WPI. The rise in food prices to some extent was driven by the anticipated shortfall in production, thanks to the poor performance of the monsoon early in the season, and by speculative activities. More worrying is the prospect that prices may rise faster than anticipated to exceed the year end target of 4-5%, driven not just by food prices but by an increase in prices of manufactured products and commodities. For the moment, commodity prices remain relatively soft, but with many parts of the world reporting improved economic performance, it is only a matter of time before commodities start hardening and that change is felt here.

At this juncture, monetary tightening by lifting policy rates will not be the appropriate measure to check inflation. Experience in the recent past shows that the RBI has had little success in containing food inflation with its monetary stance. Surging food prices can be contained only by improving supply and attacking hoarding. Monetary tightening could prove counter-productive to credit growth and reviving growth. Yet, the central bank will need to remain vigilant, as managing excess liquidity arising from an anticipated gush of foreign capital inflows could harden rates.








While Indian industry's cry for level playing fields has been periodically hyped over the last few decades of globalisation, the one sector where

the fields are skewed in favour of the foreign competition is the plantation sector. India's 1951 Plantation Act stipulates that any plantation measuring five hectares or more or employing 15 people or more should not just provide negotiated wages but also offer free facilities like housing, medical-care and education. Producers of plantation commodities in other countries are not constrained by such legislation.

Again, plantation wages in India are higher than other origins. The United Planters Association of Southern India (UPASI) has recently lamented that the plantation sector was not just losing out on exports but would also take a hit in the sole surviving cushion of the huge domestic market as and when the recently-signed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between India and the ASEAN became fully operational. As per the FTA, import tariffs on tea and coffee will be reduced from 100% to 45% over a period of 10 years and that on pepper and cardamom from 70% to 50%.

Import duties have traditionally been high for plantation commodities. The majority of cultivators are small growers who cannot withstand the intense cyclical volatility which characterises world plantation commodity prices. And a 1951 Plantation Act is outmoded in today's context where you have state-sponsored schemes like Narega. In fact, in 2003, the government of India's Inter-Ministerial Committee recommended that the social costs be equitably shared, with the plantation managements bearing 50% and the remaining 50% being borne by the central and state governments in the ratio of 40:10.

The Tripartite Industrial Committee of the plantation sector met in 2005 and agreed on the recommendation. There has been no action since then! UPASI estimates the plantations in South India alone provide direct employment to over 1.3 million workers in remote areas. The only problem in providing economically and environmentally sustainable employment in the Western Ghats is that what is out of sight is often out of mind!









Dan Brown's latest offering may result in book-wielding tourists stampeding mentioned spots in Washington DC in the next few months, but the symbols

lost on many parents are revealed in another book altogether. Released last week, Lucy Tobin's compendium of teenage English - teenglish for the uninitiated - is another one of those modern rosetta stones of popular idiom that could help grown-ups understand the next generation's mysterious and ever-changing lexicon.

From easy-to-deduce constructions like neeks (a mix of nerd and geek) to utterly esoteric creations like gank (stealing) and fo'shizzle (meaning 'definitely') UK-based Tobin's Pimp your Vocab wades into the maelstrom of teenage natter with a determination that will leave parents feeling fervently grateful. The teenage penchant for foreshortening conventional words, such as 'rents' for parents and 'teeks' for very old (as in antique, no doubt) is understandable, given the constraints of texting and tweeting, but some of the words Tobin has identified are undeniably witty and provide vignettes of our times.

Drunk dialling - phoning or texting while under the influence - for instance, is surely a phrase worthy of instant adoption by the wider age group. So are succinct and evocative words such as 'frape' which captures the predominant feeling when social networking profile are hacked by telescoping Facebook and rape, and 'swipeout' that encapsulates the common modern dilemma of maxing out credit cards.

It is heartening that teen language is constantly reaching out to engage modern phenomena and express new feelings by not only modifying existing words but also giving an entirely new lease of life to those that would otherwise be forgotten as lifestyles change, such as 'bungalow'. In teenspeak, the addition of an 'ed' has transformed the word for the single-storeyed colonial residences into a description of a fairly common youth condition in the UK these days: completely drunk. If language is to not just survive but thrive, such teenage gumption is clearly crucial.








Has the global spread of democracy run out of steam? For long, democracy and free markets were touted as the twin answer to most ills. But while

free-market tenets have come under strain in the present international financial crisis, with the very countries that espoused the self-regulating power of markets taking the lead to embrace principles of financial socialism to bail out their troubled corporate colossuses, the spread of democracy is encountering increasingly strong headwinds.

Between 1988 and 1990, as the Cold War was winding down, pro-democracy protests broke out in several parts of the world — from China and Burma to Eastern Europe. The protests helped spread political freedoms in Eastern Europe and inspired popular movements elsewhere that overturned dictatorships in countries as disparate as Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan and Chile. After the Soviet disintegration, even Russia emerged as a credible candidate for democratic reform.

The overthrow of a number of totalitarian or autocratic regimes did shift the global balance of power in favour of the forces of democracy. But not all the pro-democracy movements were successful. And the subsequent “colour revolutions” only instilled greater caution among the surviving authoritarian regimes, prompting them to set up countermeasures to foreign-inspired democratisation initiatives.

Two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the spread of democracy unmistakably has stalled. Democracy may have become the norm in much of Europe, but in the world’s largest and most densely populated continent, Asia, only a small minority of states are true democracies, despite the eastward movement of global power and influence. The strategy to use market forces to open up tightly centralised political systems hasn’t worked in multiple cases in Asia — the pivot of global strategic change.

Political homogeneity may be as inharmonious with economic advance as the parallel pursuit of market capitalism and political autocracy. But where authoritarianism is deeply entrenched, a marketplace of goods and services simply does not allow a marketplace of political ideas.

In fact, one such model distinctly has emerged stronger. China is now the world’s largest and oldest autocracy, with leadership there now preparing to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. To help glorify the communist revolution, the leadership has planned a mammoth military parade — the largest ever — along with a repeat of some of the Beijing Olympics glitz at the October 1 anniversary. Those Olympic-style celebrations will serve as a double reminder: China has not only weathered the international democratisation push, but also has emerged as a potential peer rival to America. Today there is talk of even a US-China diarchy — a G-2 — ruling the world.

China’s spectacular rise as a global power in just one generation under authoritarian rule represents the first direct challenge to liberal democracy since the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Through its remarkable success story, China advertises that authoritarianism is a more rapid and smoother way to prosperity and stability than the tumult of electoral politics. Freedom advocates in existing autocracies may be inspired and energised by the international success stories of democratic transition. But the regimes that employ brute power and censorship to subdue dissidence clearly draw encouragement from the China model.

Then there is the spectre of democracy in retreat, highlighted by the developments in Russia and the regressive path of some of the “colour revolutions,” not to mention Central America’s first military coup since the end of the Cold War in Honduras. The “tulip revolution” in Kyrgyzstan has turned sour in the face of rigged elections, assassination of rivals and growing influence of organised crime. Georgia’s “rose revolution” also has wilted under President Mikheil Saakashvili’s increasing despotism.

In Russia, government control has been extended to large swaths of the economy and the political opposition systematically undermined without reopening Stalin’s Gulag Archipelago. Such centralisation, though, is no different than in, say, Singapore and Malaysia, including the domination of one political party, the absence of diversified media, limits on public demonstrations and the writ of security services. But in contrast to Russia, Singapore and Malaysia have largely insulated themselves from official US criticism by serving western interests.

China, for its part, has stayed abreast with technological innovations to help deny dissidents the latest means to denounce injustice. The widespread use of Twitter, Facebook, instant messaging and cellular phones by Iranian protesters cannot be emulated by Chinese dissidents because Beijing employs cyberpolice to regulate websites, patrol cybercafés, monitor cellphone text messaging and track down internet activists. And unlike Iran’s clerically controlled democracy, China holds no elections to elect its leaders, not even sham elections.

More broadly, the US occupation of Iraq under the garb of spreading democracy as well as excesses like Guantanamo Bay and secret CIA detention camps overseas had the effect of undermining the credibility of democratic values by presenting them as a geopolitical tool. Today, liberal democratic norms, far from becoming universal, have come under attack at a time when a qualitative reordering of global power is empowering non-western economies. That raises the possibility that, in the coming decades, economies driven by a fusion of autocratic politics and crony, state-guided capitalism could gain the upper hand.

A divide centred on political values will carry major geopolitical implications because, as modern history attests, regime character can impede observance of global norms and rules. Even if democratic governments are not more wedded to peace than autocracies, it is well established that democracies rarely go to war with each other. Today, the main challenge to the global spread of democracy comes from the model blending political authoritarianism and state-steered capitalism together. What if such authoritarian capitalism becomes the face of the future in large parts of the world?

(The author is professor of strategic studies at the Centre for Policy Research.)








The chemicals sector has been one of the hardest hit by the global downturn. But as India begins to anticipate a return to growth, it is well placed

to take advantage of the recession by repositioning itself both at home and in global market.

The chemicals industry generally benefits from its diversity, but the nature of this cyclical collapse has resulted in a steep fall in demand for cars and in construction activity. This has disproportionately damaged the revenue streams and share values of the even the most robust of chemicals companies. There is no doubt the recession continues to bite around the world, but with inventories reaching low points, there is some hope that a resumption of manufacturing expansion is not far off.

When recovery comes, however, the global landscape will have changed. Consider, for instance, the likelihood that American automotive sales growth will be far shallower as climate change and higher long-term gasoline prices alter consumer habits forever. Meanwhile, India has yet to see a massive demand growth for vehicles, though it is already the world's fourth largest producer of passenger cars. The domestic automotive sector was growing at 15% before the downturn and we can expect that level of growth to continue under a full recovery. The situation is similar in the market for appliances. Yet, it is not just an economic shift eastwards that matters, but a change in the nature of products. Most likely plastics will make up a bigger proportion of finished products in place of metals or glass.

So what should the Indian chemicals sector do to exploit this changing global industrial landscape? The answer depends on the situation in which individual companies find themselves. Those enterprises that we refer to as 'survivors', concentrating on repairing a collapse in cash flow and rebuilding seriously impaired balance sheets, will be least able to prepare themselves for the future. However, we find most companies in India may fall into a more favourable category of 'advantage seekers', the strongest of which are creating new business models to position themselves for future growth. These players need to put in place simpler and more standardised business processes across their growing and possibly fragmented businesses. They will need to invest in information technology to help them improve visibility over their supply chain and to make it work more efficiently and responsively. This will give them a transparent view of business performance and enable them to increase the effectiveness of how they cooperate with suppliers and customers.


The need to reduce costs while building a platform for the future can often best be achieved by outsourcing non-core activities. And we see many of our clients in India considering this as their next move. In the past, they may have outsourced IT or other transactional services to third parties. But now, they have the confidence to outsource processes such as HR and finance or even supply chain management to specialists like us. Experience shows that by outsourcing indirect procurement activities, chemicals companies can make cost savings of between 4.5% and 10% (of spend). For one client in the Asia-Pacific region, we were able to reduce the supply chain cycle time from over 30 days to just three. And India can play the outsourcing card to its advantage, given that in comparison to markets like Japan, India has established itself as a globally competitive outsourcing location.

The recession will also change the balance of investment in the chemicals industry. Where we once saw western companies investing in high growth markets like India, we now see players from emerging markets investing both domestically and in mature economies. Traditional sources of funding have largely dried up in the west. Increasingly, acquisitions are being financed by sovereign wealth funds and state-owned enterprises in the Middle East and Asia. These funds accounted for 19% of chemicals sector M&A in 2008, a rise from almost zero three years ago.

We do not see Indian chemicals players as aggressive in acquiring foreign assets as their Chinese counterparts. We feel that in the foreseeable future local demand growth means that Indian chemicals companies should continue to focus on the domestic economy where it has distinct advantages: a large pool of engineering talent and a wide base of speciality chemicals manufacturers. This short-term domestic focus would be particularly appropriate given that India's exports are still on track to show a decline in 2009 before recovering to modest 5% growth in 2010. And in place of ambitious acquisitions, a lower risk joint venture approach may allow them to establish footholds in higher margin, more specialist niches as they reposition themselves. With these strategies for growth, coupled with investment in standardised platforms and a move towards outsourcing non-core activities, the Indian chemicals sector will then be better placed for more aggressive international growth and expansion in the years to come.

(The author is global managing director, Chemicals, Accenture)










(Warning: This is a joke.) See, there was this agnostic once who went to a party and, as the night wore on, got carried away by all its giddy

trappings and the manners of men and women in such frolicking situations till a point came when if someone had walked up and asked him how to spell his belief system he would have happily obliged and probably offered a greatly slurred discourse on it. Yet if you were to ask him if he was still one of those who carefully assumed a high moral ground without doing any climbing, he would have started perspiring heavily.

Anyway, being an apparent health freak he was stumbling home afterwards in the early hours of the morning when suddenly, without any burning bush to forewarn him, God (or so he thought the being of light was) appeared in front. Slapping his head in deep disgust he said to the entity: “Oh God, you don’t get it, do you? This manifestation proves nothing. It just goes to show that, on the contrary, you believe in me. But then come to think of it, so you should and quite rightly because according to at least one important school of thought, I am you. Meaning, if you have any sense left, how can you not understand something as simple as that?”

Now it turned out that this putative being of light was at that particular moment just another reveller returning from a rave down the road and hardly had any sagacity left in his skull to comprehend what was being said. But he too saw the other as a being of light and immediately thought he was in the presence of the Creator. However, unlike our hero, the man was as most party animals are, a fervent believer who just then came to realise he had erred in his ways. Throwing himself at the feet of the person in front of him he blurted brokenly, “Forgive me Lord for I have sinned.”

With his high moral ground working overtime our original protagonist sensed a conquest and went for the kill. “Man you’ve completely lost it, haven’t you?” he asked. “You seem to have forgotten that we’re all gods, or one God. Furthermore, guess what — since there is no sin in me how can I possibly presume to forgive you — or anyone of us for that matter? You know, the problem is we don’t wake up even when we’re in the presence of ourselves.” Moral (sort of): The other man stood up and said, “Yeah yeah, I get it. But in that case how come one of us believes in others and is still not an atheist?





                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Stock markets across the world (including in India) reacted with euphoria following the US Federal Reserve chairman, Mr Ben Bernanke’s observation that the recession in the United States “could be over”, but this other significant statement — that unemployment or joblessness was increasing — appears to have been overlooked.


 The latter has far-reaching consequences as it could result in future defaults on home loans and credit card debts — in fact there is much talk in America now that credit card defaults could be the next major mortgage scam. The excess leverage in the US financial system is still there, and unless this is weeded out credit growth is unlikely to pick up. Much of the money given to banks has been parked back with the Fed in the US, just as banks in India park their surplus cash of over Rs 1 lakh crore with the Reserve Bank. While the euphoria globally can be understood after a very bleak year, the reality is much more sobering. What one sees in the US is a slowdown in the rate of decline, but that is because the economy has been on steroids. The trillion-dollar stimulus package is almost five per cent of America’s GDP, and the “cash for clunkers” to push sales of cars is what is keeping the economy going and creating a positive sentiment. The real stimulus, which is consumer spending and accounts for nearly 70 per cent of the US economy, is yet to pick up. America’s economic problems will not go away in a hurry. But in the gloom, Mr Bernanke’s statement on the recession was like the light at the end of the tunnel, which also sent ripples through Asia and Europe. While America’s stock markets are starting to look up after a long time, the emerging markets, particularly India, have been having a huge run-up for some months now. They had not been as badly affected as the Anglo Saxon economies. Some stocks on the Indian bourses have tripled from their bottom, and this is now a cause for concern. The bulls, of course, are optimistic about the continued upward journey of the Sensex and Nifty, even though there may be minor corrections along the way. Still, it is difficult to predict 2009, unlike 2008, when the global economies were in the dumps and transparently so, as liquidity had dried up and four to five of the giant banks and insurance companies had collapsed. The wreckage was visible. The revival signals are very conflicting even in India, though we have more positives than any other emerging market, excluding China. We have a stable government, a growth rate that is still enviable even though much of this growth is because of the fall in imports. Our exports, however, have yet to pick up and this is important as it is a labour-intensive sector and million of people depend on it for their livelihoods. Delayed rains in India have had an adverse impact on agriculture, but the government claims that it has enough food in its granaries to make up for the shortfall. Having said all this, there is no room for irrational euphoria, because inflation is starting to rear its head once again and is expected to reach five per cent by March 2010. This means some monetary tightening by December. Then there is also the need for winding down some of the monetary measures that the RBI had taken to pump in over Rs 5 lakh crores into the system since September last year.










India’s disputed boundaries with China are back in the news. Earlier this month, there were reports that a Chinese patrol had intruded into Indian territory in Ladakh, leaving behind tell-tale signs of their presence. More recently, a media report claimed that Chinese troops had fired on Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel in north Sikkim, injuring two soldiers. The Indian government has played down the former and denied the latter.

Public discussions on the matter are far more excited and are unlikely to be assuaged by anodyne official pronouncements. But the ongoing debate is generating more heat than light.

Take the issue of “incursions” by the Chinese. Much of the problem stems from the fact that the two sides have different perceptions of where the Line of Actual Control (LAC) lies. The LAC is supposed to divide the areas that are under Indian and Chinese control since the end of the 1962 war. The line, however, was not mutually agreed upon by the two sides. This is in contrast to similar lines with Pakistan in Kashmir. Both the Ceasefire Line of 1949 and the Line of Control of 1972 were drawn up by formal agreements between the two countries. There was no such agreement on the LAC both because the war ended with a unilateral ceasefire by China and because subsequent efforts by the “Colombo countries” to mediate ended in failure.

In the Ladakh sector, the differences in perception are owing to China’s occupation of additional disputed territory during the war of 1962. The issue of where exactly Chinese forces stood after the war remains contested. The areas where Chinese intrusions occur are claimed by both sides as lying on their side of the LAC.

In the eastern sector — Arunachal Pradesh — the problem is a bit more complicated. The Chinese do not recognise the boundary claimed by India: the McMahon Line. This Line was drawn at the Simla conference of 1914 involving Indian, Chinese and Tibetan representatives. The People’s Republic of China rejected this line as an imperialist creation. Nevertheless, Beijing treats the McMahon Line as the LAC in this sector. The problem is that since 1959, India and China have differed on just where the McMahon Line actually runs. There are “grey areas”, which lie north of the McMahon Line as marked in the original maps of 1914, but are actually south of the highest watershed. India’s position — which China does not accept — is that the Line was intended to run along the highest range of mountains dividing Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh, and despite discrepancies the boundary had to be accordingly interpreted.

These grey areas include Namka Chu, Thag La, Sumdurong Chu, Tulung La, Asaphi La, Longju and Chenju. It bears emphasising that there have been no reports of Chinese incursions in other parts of the LAC. We may note parenthetically that there is no LAC or boundary dispute in Sikkim. That boundary was formalised in an Anglo-Chinese agreement of 1890. The residual differences pertain to minor issues such as position of boundary pillars.

In any event, India and China have signed agreements on measures to maintain peace and tranquillity along the LAC. The agreement concluded in 1996 admits that both sides have differing perceptions of the LAC. The Indian Army Chief has stated that “the Chinese have a different perception of the Line of Actual Control as do we. When they come up to their perception, we call it an incursion and likewise they do”. To deal with such incursions, the 1996 agreement allows the parties to seek clarifications through diplomatic channels — a mechanism that seems to work well. Besides, there are periodic “flag meetings” between military commanders on both sides to sort out local differences.

The larger question remains: Why have the Chinese increased the frequency of patrolling in these parts?
Paradoxically, China’s recent activism may reflect not the deterioration of relations with India, but the fact that the boundary negotiations have actually made some headway. As the Indian national security adviser observed last year, “Five or six points, the more difficult points are settled… But areas of divergence remain”. The most important of these is China’s claim to Tawang; but there is also the issue of the territory acquired by China in the Ladakh sector during the 1962 war.

China’s assertive stance on the ground is evidently intended to buttress its position on the bargaining table. India, too, has rightly made moves to secure its claims by beefing up troops and upgrading logistics along the borders. Until the outlines of the final settlement become clear, there is bound to be some jostling in the contested zones.

The biggest impediments to such a settlement are the domestic politics surrounding the dispute, and the question of Tibet. China’s perceptions and attitude to the boundary dispute with India have always been refracted through the prism of Tibet. Controlling parts of the Ladakh area (including Aksai Chin) was essential to maintaining China’s hold on Tibet. With the recent massive improvement in communications and logistics in Tibet, its importance has diminished. But the growing unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang indicates that this area will continue to be of strategic interest to Beijing.

More important, the links between India and Tibet have always been viewed by Beijing with wariness, not to say deep-seated suspicion. The troubles in Tibet have accentuated China’s concerns about what it calls the “Dalai Clique” and its links with India. China’s protests against the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang are directly linked to its territorial claims on the area. Until a settlement is reached, we can expect the Chinese to continue expressing anger and pique on such seemingly trivial issues.

India should find ways of offering more convincing reassurances to China about its attitude to Tibet. This will be essential to removing needless mistrust and to reaching an accord on the boundary. But unless New Delhi informs and shapes domestic opinion, its quest for a settlement is unlikely to succeed.


Srinath Raghavan is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi








The five-page Iranian platform for talks with major powers — “Cooperation for Peace, Justice and Progress” — has been much mocked as evasive blather, but is in fact an instructive document that suggests the endeavour may not be hopeless. It bears close scrutiny.

True, it makes no mention of Iran’s nuclear programme, the elephant in the room, although it does talk of “promoting the universality” of the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty, of which Iran is a member but nuclear-

armed Israel is not.

What the proposal provides is a useful guide to the Islamic Republic’s psychology and preoccupations, which find echo elsewhere. When Iran calls for “multilateralism” and “progress free from double standards for all nations”, it reflects thinking in Moscow and Beijing, one reason why ever getting Russia and China behind meaningful sanctions against Iran is a pipe dream: more on that later.

President Obama was right to accept the platform as an entrée to talks that will begin October 1. I argued strongly for engagement with Iran after a February visit. During a second stay in Tehran, appalled by the brutal repression of protesters I witnessed after the June 12 election, I said Obama had to allow a decent interval on outreach. Three months have passed. That’s a short pause, but matters are pressing and this is real toe-in-the-water stuff.

The President is right for many reasons. The 30-year American-Iranian psychosis is a dangerous, logic-lite hangover. When Obama gathered his Iran advisers after the June election to review intelligence, the slim pickings were slim enough to prompt a presidential “That all you got?” Ignorance breeds treacherous incomprehension.

The President is right because only creative diplomacy can head off the onrushing Iranian uranium enrichment (8,000 inefficient centrifuges and counting); because closer relations with the West represent the best long-term hope for reform in Iran; because Iran is negotiating from the relative weakness of post-June-12 revolutionary disunity; and because the strong US interest lies in preventing an Israeli attack on Muslim Persia. (That’s also in Israel’s interest, by the way; the Arabs are already a handful.)

There’s a lot of verbiage — some that Orwell would have seized on — in the Iranian “package”, but that’s just the way of things in Iran. Like many much-conquered countries, not least Italy, Iran loves artifice, the dressing-up of truth in elaborate layers. It will always favour ambiguity over clarity. This is a nation whose conventions include the charming ceremonial insincerity known as “taarof” (hypocrisy dressed up as flattery), and one that is no stranger to “tagieh,” which amounts to the sacrifice of truth to higher religious imperative.
These traits are worth recalling. Gary Sick, the Carter administration official who negotiated the American hostages’ release, told me that immediately before the critical breakthrough he received a voluminous and preposterous Iranian “proposal” that almost led Carter to walk away. It proved a sideshow with a couple of useful nuggets buried in the outpourings.

There are nuggets here, too. Iran’s deep sense of past injustice is evident in repeated use of words like “equitable”. It’s worth recalling that the stop-go Iranian nuclear programme began in the 1980s, when Iran was being gassed by Iraq, whose chemical arsenal owed much to Europe and the United States. Such truths are no less true for being unpalatable.

No nuclear endgame that fails to address Iran’s victim syndrome through some degree of highly monitored empowerment is conceivable to me.

Other nuggets include Iran’s call for a “rule-based and equitable oversight function” of the International Atomic Energy Agency — IAEA oversight is exactly what the United States and its allies must reinforce; language on the Palestinian issue (“all-embracing peace, lasting security”) that is moderate by Iranian standards; and a “readiness to embark on comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive negotiations”.
This is an ugly moment for diplomacy; the clampdown in Iran continues. But then nor were the situations in the Soviet Union or China propitious when breakthroughs were achieved. America must continue to press for the release of political prisoners and respect of human rights in Iran.

In the end, talks are essential because there is no viable alternative. Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, said recently that “now is the time to start harsh sanctions against Iran”. But Iran is inured to sanctions after years of living with them and knows that its years of cultivating Russia and China (no mention of the plight of Chechen or Uighur Muslims) will pay. Iran is in effect a Russian ally.

I cannot see any deal that will not at some point trade controlled Iranian enrichment on its soil against insistence that Iran accept the vigorous inspections of the IAEA. Additional Protocol and a 24/7 IAEA presence. The time is approaching for the United States and its allies to abandon “zero enrichment” as a goal — it’s no longer feasible — and concentrate on how to exclude weaponisation, cap enrichment and ensure Iran believes the price for breaking any accord will be heavy.

As a general rule, the more American-Iranian psychosis can be assuaged, the more favourable any accord will be. So read between the lines.








It is not very often that both the Prime Minister and the Union home minister express their concern over deterioration of security and the law and order situation in states ruled by the political party they represent. However, this is exactly what both Dr Manmohan Singh and P. Chidambaram conveyed about Manipur, Assam and Nagaland. On Tuesday, Mr Chidambaram singled out Manipur as the biggest problem in the Northeast and called it a blot in improving its picture.

Dr Singh asked the chief ministers of all the northeastern states to pay particular attention to the implementation of infrastructure projects. Instead of relying completely on Central paramilitary forces and the Army, Dr Singh emphasised the need to have more proactive police forces in all the northeastern states. He also urged all the states to ensure transparency while carrying out recruitments in their police force that should have representation from all ethnic groups and communities.

Manipur’s chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh highlighted the “problem of extortion by undergrounds” (UGs) in Manipur as a serious concern. He pleaded that it “could not be dealt without the intervention of the Union home ministry”, which, he said, should give “necessary instruction to the ministry of telecommunication for cancellation of prepaid mobile phone facility”. He also urged setting up a dedicated security force to prevent extortion activities of UGs along National Highways 39, 53 and 150 — lifelines for the people in the state — by making the Highway Patrolling Scheme operational.

Dr Singh, however, felt that the Manipur government must first put in place appropriate mechanisms for increased participation of people in developmental projects and pointed out that while resources for policing need to be enhanced substantially, the increased posts already sanctioned at the police station level remain vacant.
Terrorist-related violence in Manipur has trebled since mid-2004. The trend in 2008 indicated even further acceleration, which has been sustained this year.

With 388 deaths caused by terrorism in 2007 and 484 in 2008, Manipur remains the most violent state in India’s troubled Northeast, leaving behind the much larger Assam and Nagaland. Manipur, with just 8.52 per cent of the territory and 6.12 per cent of the Northeast’s population, accounted for as much as 47 per cent of terrorism-related fatalities in the region in 2008.

There are as many as 39 “underground” outfits/factions that are operating in Manipur. Six Meitei-based underground outfits, banned by the ministry of home affairs since November 10, 2007, are Kangleipak Communist Party, Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup, Manipur People’s Liberation Front, People’s Liberation Army, People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak and United National Liberation Front (UNLF).
While the ban came quite late, the fact that home secretary G.K. Pillai visited Manipur after prolonged public protest following the killing of a suspected militant and a pregnant woman on July 23, 2009, had long discussions with Mr Okram Ibobi Singh and instructed Manipur’s home department to do more “home work” on these groups and other matters, indicated that the concern expressed by the Prime Minister and home minister is being followed up seriously.

High levels of corruption and lawlessness, along with the Ibobi government’s complete indifference to governance, has pushed Manipur into a state of anarchy.

The UG groups mentioned above have ruined the quality of life of the people of this state which is very rich in culture and its people extremely skilled in sports. Manipur is where Sagol Kangjei became Polo in the 1850s. Though Manipur has many potential Olympians, it has, as lamented by theatre maestro Ratan Thiyam, no playing fields for children. Instead, kids are often kidnapped or lured — even in the state capital — by terrorist groups for recruitment.

Many innocent people have been killed by terrorists; UNLF has planted made-in-China landmines and mass-rape of tribal women was reported in Churachandpur. And far too often Manipur is paralysed by “bandhs”.
It takes only Rs 3 lakh of bribe money to recruit a person in the state police or the paramilitary forces. As a result, there is a lurking danger that terrorist outfits with links to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, which has a base in Bangladesh, can penetrate the state’s security apparatus for a pittance.

Following the unprecedented level of protests after Thangjam Manorama’s killing in August 2004, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act was lifted from Imphal’s four districts and the Army was withdrawn. Thangjam Manorama, a 32-year-old women, was allegedly raped and killed by jawans of the Assam Rifles.

The four districts from where the Army was withdrawn — Imphal East, Imphal West, Thoubal and Bishnupur — have now become notorious for extra-judicial killings, particularly fake encounters.

Manipur police’s special force is known as Manipur Police Commandos (MPC), but the term “commandos” is a highly misused term. There is no comparison between the MPC and the Army commandos. The training and conditioning is very different.

In 2008, there were 27 recorded cases of torture and killing attributed to the MPC. Earlier, the MPC conducted “encounters” in isolated places and now they do so in cities, in broad daylight. The killing of Chongkham Sanjit on July 23, 2009, is a case in point. Photographs of the alleged “encounter”, clicked by a local photographer that were published in a magazine, clearly contradict the official version. Sanjit was standing calmly as the police commandos frisked him, spoke to him, took him inside the storeroom of the pharmacy, shot him and brought his dead body out.

While New Delhi took note of the incident and some action was taken, much more needs to be done about all that has happened and is happening in Manipur.

In people’s eyes, the Ibobi government has lost all legitimacy. There are many instances that indicate the degeneration of the state’s political, security and administrative systems.

Manipur is linked to China and Pakistan (through Bangladesh), both of which — as brought out periodically by this newspaper — have India’s Northeast well within their sights to not only exacerbate existing problems but also to create as many more as possible.


Anil Bhat, a retired Army officer, is a defence and security analyst based in New Delhi








Good afternoon to you”, says the email I recently received from Mr Dowling of Berry Bros & Rudd, “and thank you for your recent order no. 884095, placed through our website, for delivery to Spain. There will be a shipping charge of £66.00 for the case of Wickham Vineyards Vintage Selection Dry White, Hampshire, England, which will bring the total order value to £162.60”.

A triumph. After many hours on consecutive days spent on the Internet, I’ve succeeded at last in my mad plan for the equivalent of shipping coals to Newcastle, coconuts to Fiji, or herring to Reykjavik. My plan has been to send English wine to Spain.

“I do realise”, I had written in an earlier email to Mr Dowling, “that it makes no sense in practical terms to ship cheapish wine in this direction, but it’s a gift I wanted to send”.

And indeed it was. For months my young nephew, Adam, had been asking me if there was any way he could try English wine. Adam is the son of my sister, Deborah, and her Catalan husband, Manel, and they live on a farm in the former mill town of Manlleu, just beneath the Catalan Pyrenees. I’d promised to take Adam a bottle when I visited recently — then forgot. My nephew’s one of those people who will do anything for anyone, and this summer he had been driving back and forth to Girona airport on the Costa Brava, collecting and dispatching friends of mine who had come to stay.

Adam speaks near-perfect English but it is his second language: he is really a Catalan. I felt bad about forgetting the wine, not least because I was rather proud that a son of Catalonia — where the delicate white wines from the Penedès region are rightly prized — should want to try an English wine at all. Dry white wines are what Catalan wineries do best.

So on return to Britain, and in a fit of mad generosity, I resolved to send Adam a whole case. I Googled “English wine suppliers” and found scores of entries, many of them offering an “order online” option. This would be easy, I thought, and reached for my debit card. Not so fast. Have you noticed a peculiar drawback of trying to do something slightly out of the ordinary online? It isn’t that this is never possible — sometimes it is — but that if it isn’t, they never tell you. You just have to keep trying in different ways to access the elusive service, until by a process of elimination you deduce the impossibility. Websites never give you a list of what they don’t do; only what they do. Beside Frequently Asked Questions should be placed a Frequently Thwarted Enquiries box.

After a few fruitless hours it became apparent that the big wine merchants in Britain offered facilities for delivery only within the UK. This stood to reason, I suppose. With excise duties here at their present level, and most of the wine we drink coming from abroad anyway, why would we be exporting foreign wine expensively back to foreigners? But (I thought) maybe a few of the English wineries, anxious to promote their product, offer a service for dispatching gift packages of their wines abroad?

So I started telephoning English wineries. But none seemed to do it. “Do you ship abroad?” brought an immediate “No, sorry”. Finally a kind sales agent at a Sussex winery went beyond the refusal, and explained. “We often get requests”, he said, “and we’d like to do it, but it’s just too complicated. The excise and customs regulations, combined with rules for shipping, have stumped us”.

“But”, he added (rather selflessly, I thought), “I believe one wine merchants do it. It seems Berry Bros & Rudd have cracked the shipping and regulatory problem and found a way to export. Try them. They probably do a couple of English whites and fizzies. They’ll be a bit surprised, but I’m sure they’ll dispatch to Spain for you”.
And so it proved. At £8.05 a bottle, this case for Adam must be one of the smallest orders of the cheapest wine that these rather august London wine merchants have handled. The shipping costs of £66 approach the £96.60 cost of the wine itself.

But it seemed worth it when I received an excited call from Adam, four days later. Manlleu is a rather off-the-beaten-track town, solid, unremarkable, foggy in winter: a place few Spaniards will even have heard of and no tourists at all ever visit, except by mistake. “I was outside in the fields,” Adam said, “my grandparents were away and nobody else was here, and I saw a lorry that seemed to be a bit lost, driving slowly up the track. I thought it must be for my grandparents, so I went over and asked, and they had a cardboard box in the lorry — and it had my name printed on it!”

“We’re drinking a bottle now with lunch, Deborah and Manel and me, and it’s very nice!”

“Save a bottle for me”, I said. And Adam said they would.

“Is it me”, asks Mr David Berry Green, on the BB&R website, describing Wickham’s Selection Vintage Dry White, “or does drinking this wine give a rush equal to that of twisting a Russet from the tree? ...Chalky, floral, newly mown grass and slightly tropical aromas characterise this otherwise cool, classic Hampshire white...”
Well, I’ll leave that kind of prose to cognoscenti like Simon Hoggart; but it’s nice to picture the life story of the Hampshire grape that ended up on the back of a lorry on a farm track in rural Catalonia. Is it me, or will drinking this wine when I’m next in Manlleu give a rush equal to that of warming your hands on a fire of imported coal, by a Newcastle hearth? In the very idea of it — the sheer impracticality — there’ll be something exquisite.


Matthew Parris is a columnist on the Times By arrangement with the Spectator







ALLEGATIONS of ballot-stuffing in the presidential election in Afghanistan last month are now so widespread that a recount is necessary, and perhaps even a runoff. Yet this electoral chicanery pales in comparison to the systemic, day-to-day corruption within the administration of President Hamid Karzai, who has claimed victory in the election. Without a concerted campaign to fight this pervasive venality, all our efforts there, including the sending of additional troops, will be in vain.

I have just returned from Afghanistan, where I spent seven months as a special adviser to Nato’s (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) director of communications. On listening tours across the country, we left behind the official procession of armoured SUVs, bristling guns and imposing flak jackets that too often encumber coalition forces when they arrive in local villages. Dressed in civilian clothes and driven in ordinary cars, we were able to move around in a manner less likely to intimidate and more likely to elicit candour.
The recurring complaint I heard from Afghans centered on the untenable encroachment of government corruption into their daily lives — the homeowner who has to pay a bribe to get connected to the sewage system, the defendant who tenders payment to a judge for a favourable verdict. People were so incensed with the current government’s misdeeds that I often heard the disturbing refrain: “If Karzai is re-elected, then I am going to join the Taliban”.

If there is any entity more reviled in Afghanistan than the Karzai government and coalition forces, it is the Taliban, so I never took these desperate exclamations to be literally true. But these outbursts reveal a disgust with the current government so pronounced it cannot be dismissed. And the international community’s reluctance to fight corruption head-on has inextricably linked it with the despised administration. As we continue to give unequivocal support to a crooked government, our credibility is greatly diminished and the difficulty of our mission greatly increased.

Forcing a change in the endemic culture of corruption cannot be an afterthought. It must be the priority of the international forces, oversight agencies and countries that have invested so much blood and treasure in Afghanistan. How, then, do we go about it?

First, a document clearly outlining both a code of government conduct and a plan to combat corruption must be signed by all significant actors in the region. The Afghan government’s reluctance to make such a commitment in a meaningful manner must be overcome by relentless pressure from the international community. The government must be made to understand that this is an essential condition for continued support — as fundamental as its help in hunting down the enemy.

There also need to be viable mechanisms for the population to report corruption. They could take a number of forms: ombudsmen committees that would travel throughout the countryside, or phone lines and drop boxes that could collect complaints while protecting the whistleblowers.

Even the Taliban understand the need for an outlet to expose government misconduct: according to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, in an article he wrote for Joint Force Quarterly, the Taliban, despite their astonishing brutality, have begun to “allow people to file formal complaints against local Talib leaders”.

We must ensure that credible complaints are reported up the chain of command, both Afghan and international, and investigated thoroughly instead of vanishing thanks to some political or personal favour. Ultimately this process should be monitored by an anti-corruption unit of the Afghan national police and prosecuted by the Afghan attorney general’s office; but just as international forces provide direction, training and oversight to local military operations, so too the international community must be closely involved with, even leading as necessary, anti-corruption efforts until Afghan bodies are able to do so alone.

Of course, there must also be consequences for inaction: we must withhold reconstruction dollars and financial support from those districts or government agencies that do not meet the agreed-upon goals for transparency and accountability.

Finally, when judging the success of efforts to combat corruption we must do so from the point of view of ordinary Afghans. For instance, how many times is a truck driver transporting cargo from Herat to Kabul forced to stop and hand over a bribe at police “checkpoints”? Or how many palms must a local businessman grease to win a government reconstruction contract? By simply observing daily tasks that have thus far been obstacle courses of graft we can begin to see how the battle against corruption is progressing.

Afghans’ lack of faith in their government is as damaging as the armed insurgency. Indeed, our failure to combat corruption not only undermines our efforts to build governmental institutions deserving of the confidence and support of the Afghan people, but also threatens all our labours in their country.


Joseph Kearns Goodwin was a captain in the Army and served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan


By arrangement with the New York Times










TO curb the emission of greenhouse gases further, the unbridled consumerism will have to be checked. Our water and energy consumption will have to be made more efficient. People should be encouraged to use public transportation more than ever. Which system itself will have to be made more efficient than it is.
To discourage the ownership of private cars, a higher tax on fuel and cars has been recommended. Tougher energy standards and high-user (utility) have been suggested to make the consumption more efficient across the board and reduce the “consumption overload” on nature. Our day-to-day behaviour and consumption patterns will have to be adapted in keeping with the demands of the environment.

Our buildings need to become more energy efficient. The concept of 'smart homes' is required to be adopted in keeping with the changing times. All new constructions need to meet norms of climate vulnerability. Town planning must factor in the impact of climate change. The level of the infrastructure must be above the apprehended sea levels. In fact, many counntries, notably the Netherlands, are already building defences against the expected rise in sea levels. Weather forecasts will have to be more precise to safeguard the population.
Tax incentives

A massive exercise is required to make the globe greener in order to roll back the damage to nature. This will call for extensive afforestation. The concepts of Clean Development Mechanism and Emission Trading System under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change can be suitably utilised. .Clean Development Mechanism means the carbon offsets offered to institutions of the rich countries in exchange for the financing of emission reduction projects in the developing countries. And emission trading implies the sale of one's quota of emission in exchange for financial or other assistance to those who need higher emission caps. There is also need to build more biological sinks, provide requisite tax incentives for the adoption of expensive but eco-friendly technologies, discovery of clean energy sources, putting in place a system of emission credits, ensuring better energy efficiency and to discourage carbon-intensive energy infrastructures.

Furthermore, we need to lay sufficient emphasis on agriculture. India requires a second Green Revolution. About two-thirds of our net cropped area is under dryland farming and is rain-fed, accounting for about 42 per cent of the total food produce. The reliance on the weather must be reduced by expanding our irrigation network and bringing more areas into it.

We need to strengthen our irrigation capacity further to counter an erratic monsoon. The proposed river linking project could go a long way towards an improved food security provided it is cost-effective and scientifically more practicable. The related R and D and agricultural extension services need to be suitably adopted. Climatic stress proof seedlings and saplings will have to be discovered and popularised to ensure an undisturbed supply of foodgrain. Genetically modified food, even though not universally acceptable, is a way forward.


Sharing of burden

Of vital importance is a balance between the development of rural and urban areas. A National Action Plan on Climate Change is in place, but it will have to be implemented with due seriousness.

Transfer of technology from the West to the East is one of the many proposed solutions. Eco-friendly technologies and renewable energy sources are essential.

Suitable changes will have to be effected in the WTO's Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights regime to encourage transfer of eco-friendly technologies from the North to the South. The developing countries will have to strike a balance between the demands for development and the concerns of climate changes.

Members of the comity of nations will have to share the burden. The reckless consumerism and the unsustainable lifestyle of the West are chiefly responsible for the climatic crisis. The North needs to take a lead in this because those countries are better endowed in terms of resources that can be shared with the developing South. The advantages or disadvantages of a ruined ecology shall affect the entire world.








MULTIPLICITY of authority has consistently been identified as the bane of the Capital, so in principle any attempt to address that issue ought to have been welcome. Yet the latest move by the home ministry, lapped up with indecent haste by the Congress-controlled Delhi government, gives rise to suspicions and apprehensions of a vile nature: the immediate objective of downgrading the BJP-dominated Municipal Corporatio has come under sharp attack for allowing the Capital to collapse after every monsoon shower, and when cornered chief minister Sheila Dikshit has sought to deflect the blame to the MCD. Nobody will question that civic body’s ineptitude, but everyone is well aware that it alone is not to blame.

The MCD’s functioning is no worse than when the Congress dominated its legislative wing, yet in those days Sheila never pointed an accusing finger. Not all that long ago the Lieutenant-Governor ridiculed the multiplicity of authority argument, claiming that his office ensured proper coordination: wonder how Raj Nivas is reacting to moves to entrust the Delhi government with powers (over the MCD) it now enjoys. That conflicting reports about the “reform” proposals are doing the rounds only fuels the disquiet. There are certain legal issues involved too, so the Centre’s home and urban development ministries ought to be wary of getting involved in somebody else’s cockfight ~ unless they are active parties to these petty politics.

Politics apart, it is difficult to appreciate how merely stripping the MCD of some of its powers will be of long-term benefit. As previous “expert” reports have asserted, meaningful administrative reform will have to be comprehensive, and bring the Delhi government, MCD, NDMC, Cantonment Board, DDA, Jal Board, the electricity generating and distributing agencies etc. on a common grid. And can the police be excluded (as it presently is) from a “unified command”? If the central government is honest it will seek wide debate and political consensus: the BJP’s support among the people cannot be wished away. That is the way forward, not a bailout package for the Chief Minister. Sheila Dikshit’s tragic flaw being that in her second term she has busied herself with unclean politics rather than retaining focus on striving for effective governance ~ the platform of her successful re-election campaign.







NOT only does Meghalaya have rich uranium deposits, these are also of a high grade. As early as in the 1980s, the Atomic Mineral Division detected reserves at Domisariat in the West Khasi Hills district with a potential of generating 1,500 MW. It worked in the area for some years on a lease but gave up the exercise following opposition from locals. Leading the opposition is the powerful Khasi Students’ Union and a legislator of the Hill State People’s Democratic Front, Hopingstone Lyngdoh, who claims the mining will cause “radiation-induced ailments” and similar health hazards. In the 1990s, he attended an international uranium hearing in Vienna. The Uranium Corporation of India Ltd is already in the field working on leased land but its promise of constructing a hospital of international standards, new schools and qualitative improvement of road networks for overall development of the district have so far failed to convince locals. The fact that Lyngdoh’s party is now a partner in the Congress ministry led by DD Lapang has not helped matters and having taken so firm a stand for so long he is unlikely to back down. The KSU’s ultimatum to the government to cancel all deals with the Uranium Corporation expired on 15 September. Who the ultimate winner in the dispute will be remains to be seen.

But some KSU members who were taken on a conducted tour of mining areas in Jharkhand to see for themselves the safety measures adopted there and who, on the quiet, reportedly met some locals, have since returned with different stories. They were told that some people did suffer from ailments, which showed up the UCIL’s claim of there being no health hazards involved as “hollow”. There might have been some isolated cases of illness, but would the Jharkhand government have overlooked the larger picture while giving the go-ahead? For that matter, every mining industry faces hazards and there are ways to tackle these as well. The prosperity that mining will bring to the people of Meghalaya alone should provoke hardliners to have second thoughts.







IT is a testament to the collective failure of the police, the Kolkata Municipal Corporation and the fire services department that the judiciary has had to step in to ensure that Puja pandals don’t block thoroughfares. In a word, all three entities have failed to carry out their basic functions. Calcutta High Court (coram: Sanjib Banerjee, J) has ruled that the road-hog pandals, so-called, that don’t leave four feet of space open on all four sides will have to be demolished. And with it has been turned down the Advocate-General’s submission that the guideline be imposed from next year. The directive once again confirms this newspaper’s contention that the frequent carping over judicial intervention isn’t always justified as it invariably steps in when the executive and the legislature fail. Stipulations have also been issued on the height of the pandals, separate points of ingress and egress, mandatory tubular steel frames, a minimum distance from electrical transformers, and a ban on cooking within 200 yards of the pandals. Such provisions are all in the realm of basics and intended to guard against a horrendous accident. That they have been ignored over the years confirms that the annual frenzy is tacitly condoned in deference to sentiment.

It is now fairly established that the police issue no-objection certificates across the board; the erection of the so-called “traffic- stopper pandals” begins long before the approval comes through, which is always. Barely five per cent of the pandals are inspected by the fire services department owing to what it calls “manpower shortage”, paradoxically in a behemoth administration. And the KMC, by the Mayor’s own admission, has no rules on pandals and merely follows the directives of the police and fire department. In the event, it is the worst of both worlds. It has been a governmental rigmarole all these years, one that should hopefully end with Tuesday’s High Court directive, issued nine days before the Pujas. If the administration finds itself out of its depth, so be it.










Whatever may have been the gains of what some political scientists have described as the deepening of democracy, the loss is visible in the sharp decline in a sense of humour among the political and the chattering classes. People unfamiliar with English usage and with the nuances of the language suddenly take umbrage at phrases that are perfectly normal and acceptable. Thus, Shashi Tharoor finds himself in a meaningless controversy because he used the words, “cattle class” and “holy cow”. Mr Tharoor, after a career in the United Nations and with a curriculum vitae that shows that he went to some of the best known schools and colleges, used the phrases with his tongue firmly in his cheek as most people hailing from a similar background are prone to do. But the humourless apparatchiki of the Congress party have taken serious exception to his language. They have seen in Mr Tharoor’s use of the phrases an elitist attitude that is completely unaware of Indian social and political realities. Alas, poor Mr Tharoor, before he joined politics he hadn’t taken a course in subaltern speak and political correctness. He spoke as he was trained to speak in the classrooms of St Xavier’s Collegiate School, Calcutta, St Stephen’s College, Delhi, and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Boston. He has to learn now to prepare a face for the faces that he meets in the Congress party office.


There is a wider sociological phenomenon revealed by this incident. This is the pronounced tendency of people to take themselves too seriously. The Congress party has gone on an overdrive with its austerity measures. This is wise and good. But this should not mean that the leaders within the Congress should abandon the ability to laugh at themselves. Nobody, unless he is Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, prefers to travel by economy or cattle class. Circumstances have forced leaders, accustomed to certain kinds of comfort, to accept less comfortable modes of travel. Good grace demands that people should not be hypocritical about this. Indian politicians tend to be earnest, self-righteous and holier-than-thou. This is what Mr Tharoor was poking fun at when he spoke of holy cows. He was trying to lighten things up. He has obviously failed, for no fault of his own. It is high time people realized that nothing is beyond laughter. The importance of being earnest has to be balanced by the importance of laughter.








Every policy in India, however well-intentioned, gets caught between a rock and a hard place. The right to education law has come up against the principles on which minority educational institutions are run, to protect which the United Progressive Alliance had created the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions in 2004. The policy-makers behind the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, among whom the Union human resource development minister, Kapil Sibal, is the most visible face, seem to have overlooked the fine print at crucial points. The new law as it stands and as it is expected to work would be “unconstitutional” if applied to minority institutions, the NCMEI has claimed. It is a slightly absurd situation when the same government spawns two routes to doing good — and gaining votes — and then finds that the routes are on a collision course.


The NCMEI has picked two issues, but there seems to be an underlying sense of overall injury as well that minority institutions should be expected to fall within the purview of a law applying to “general” educational institutions. The quota law did not include them. The universal elementary education law not only says that all schools, including minority institutions, should allot 25 per cent of their seats to underprivileged children, differently-abled children and children from backward communities, but also warmly suggests that minority institutions could raise this proportion to 50 per cent if they so wish. The NCMEI, however, feels that nurturing children with disadvantages is something that minority institutions would do voluntarily; to force the action by Central law is to violate the Constitution. Similarly, to have parents of students as a major part of school managing committees, as the new law demands, would be tantamount to losing minority status. Students come from many communities, whereas the managing committee of a minority institution is composed mainly of the community which runs the institution. It is a pity that promulgators of the right to education law missed these issues, because the law is undoubtedly of great importance. It should not have laid itself bare to objections like these. Either these issues should have been thought through and modifications provided, or minority institutions exempted, as they were in the case of the law on quotas.









One of the few surprises of the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the beginning of World War II was the British rediscovery of Dame Vera Lynn. Once the favourite of a war-torn generation, an album of old Vera Lynn favourites such as “White cliffs of Dover” and “We’ll meet again” suddenly found itself at the top of the music charts last week.


The temptation to momentarily relive, at least musically, the lost world of Anderson shelters, Doodlebugs, Wrens, camp coffee, spam, spivs and Churchillian bombast may well be the function of unadulterated nostalgia. World War II and the Nazis did, after all, exercise a macabre hold on the collective imagination of many generations, including those born in the late-1950s. Those conveniently-sized combat comics, where stiff-necked and jackbooted German officers with monocles used to exclaim “Achtung”, “Schweinhund”, “Donner und Blitzen” and, at a pinch, “one Englander less”, both amused and fascinated impressionable minds. In his autobiography, Nirad C. Chaudhuri recounted the Bengali admiration for the German war machine — something that must have influenced Subhas Chandra Bose. I remember the awe-filled reverence of a granduncle when he spoke of von Rundstedt, von Rommel and von Mannstein — he always stressed the “von”, perhaps to make them sound more authentic.


Impressions of national character are invariably shaped by stereotypes. If, for a very long time, the resolute, blundering Briton with a great sense of propriety and humour, was seen to be the perfect foil to the ruthless and fanatical German, the answer may be found in the pages of Biggles and Battler Britton, films such as The Dam Busters — where Guy Gibson had a black Labrador named “Nigger” — and television serials such as Foyle’s War, about a police detective serving in Hastings through the war. They updated the stiff upper-lip jingoism of earlier films such as The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, set in the turbulent North-west frontier of India. This Gary Cooper blockbuster also happened to be one of Hitler’s great favourites and it is possible that his grudging respect for the English could have been shaped by its constant viewing and conversations with the lively but starry-eyed Unity Mitford.


Likewise, it was Glenn Miller’s band that set the signature tune for the GI presence in war-torn Europe and Asia. With it, Hollywood’s portrayal of the world war established the Japanese as perfidious, buck-toothed fanatics screaming “Banzai” and painted Americans as fun-loving, blunt-talking, non-hierarchical and brave defenders of liberty and decency. The charitable image of the Yankee corresponded to that of Rick in Casablanca; the not-so-indulgent portrayal was summed up in the wartime English gripe about the Americans being “overpaid, oversexed and over here”.


The extent to which World War II defined our mental images of other peoples is one that merits further inquiry. What is certain is that these wartime perceptions of the national character lingered on till the end of the 20th century.


Germany was a particular victim of persisting stereotypes. In his memoirs, the former German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, narrated the incredible hostility he faced at a European meeting on December 8, 1989, after he had unveiled his proposal for German reunification. Shedding diplomatic niceties, the British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, told the heads of state over dinner: “We beat the Germans twice, and now they're back.” Last week, following the release of a mass of documents on the subject, it emerges that Thatcher’s views were shaped by the then French president, François Mitterand. According to notes made by the foreign policy adviser, Sir Charles Powell, Mitterand warned Thatcher over lunch at the Élysée Palace on January 20, 1990, that reunification would result in Germany gaining more European influence than Hitler ever had. His gloomy forecasts included a return of the “bad” Germans.


After two devastating world wars, it is understandable that fears of the “real” German character —seen through the prism of Prussian militarism and Nazi inhumanity —remained a subliminal concern of British and French leaders. But this fear also stemmed from the belief that national character, while certainly layered, is also largely unchanging. As convenient (but unstated) journalistic shorthand, generalizations laced with perceptive insights do have a role. In understanding the ways of the English, it is, for example, impossible to ignore George Orwell’s writings on the subject. But do Orwell’s observations still hold? For that matter, does Samuel Huntington’s thesis on the underpinnings of American nationhood make sense in an increasingly diverse country?


Likewise, despite Edward Said’s strictures against Orientalism, it is hard to not factor in the observations of experienced colonial administrators on the Hindu mind or the Islamic mentality. Indeed, much of contemporary strategic studies is devoted to penetrating the apparent inscrutability of the Han Chinese, separating the indigenous Iranian from the logic of Khomeinism and coming to terms with al Qaida mindset.


Yet, as the case of Germany suggests, there are major problems in wrapping national character with history. Post-war studies of Germany indicate that the de-Nazification process was left incomplete due to the compulsions of the Cold War. At the same time, there are reasons to believe that wartime sufferings, the loss of territory, the dispossession of ethnic Germans from Poland, erstwhile Czechoslovakia and the Balkans, and the realization of the magnitude of the Holocaust have resulted in a genuine abhorrence of both war and militarism. “Where in the world,” Avi Primor, a former Israeli ambassador to Germany, was moved to ask at a function in Berlin to mark the Holocaust, “has one ever seen a nation that erects memorials to immortalise its own shame?” At the ceremony in Gdansk (formerly the German-dominated port of Danzig) on September 1, the Poles alluded to the culpability of the erstwhile Soviet Union and Stalin’s annexation of eastern Poland; Vladimir Putin took a dig at those who colluded with Hitler till it was too late. Yet, none took exception to the unqualified German apology of the chancellor, Angela Merkel, for starting the war.


When I was in Kabul last year, I heard many disparaging comments about the small German contingent stationed in the relatively safe Kunduz province. It was suggested that the Germans don’t conduct night patrols, that they have Afghan irregulars protecting their military camps and that they have made a complete hash of the police training duties assigned to them by focusing too much on nurseries and crèches and not enough on the rough and tumble. Perhaps the detractors were being too unkind but following the near-hysterical reaction in Germany to the air-strikes in Kunduz at the hijackers of two oil tankers, I am inclined to the belief that there is nothing in common between the German army that perfected the Blitzkrieg in Poland 50 years ago and the German army that finds itself in Afghanistan. They may well have come from different planets altogether.


This is a feeling that also strikes a visitor to an English city on a Saturday evening. Watching drunken louts on the rampage, the question arises: is this the people who, 50 years ago, ruled over the largest empire in history?


There was a German national character in 1939, a British sense of values and even a Japanese sense of misplaced mission. Fifty years is enough to reshape a people beyond recognition. Just as the Germany of Beethoven, Goethe and Bismarck was overwhelmed by Hitler’s fulminations, Goebbels’ lies and Göering’s comic vulgarity, today’s Germany seems at the forefront of an emerging West European sensibility, one that has repudiated history. Are sharp ruptures with the past also a global trend?








The warriors from Washington are today obsessed with numbers. General Stanley McChrystal wants President Barack Obama to send more troops even as the war escalates in the north and the west of Afghanistan. The British generals also “fear that (their) army is making the same old mistakes”, and veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars have been vociferous in their criticisms of the establishment. To make matters worse, Eric Joyce, a retired major, quit as the parliamentary private secretary to Bob Ainsworth, the defence secretary, after criticizing the British government’s handling of the conflict in Afghanistan.


Thus, politically, both London and Washington appear to have got mired in Afghanistan. Moreover, despite mounting casualties, neither can afford to retreat in the near future. How then will they stay put in Kabul? Sending more men and material may appeal to military strategists, but it might be difficult to put them to good use.


The ideal strategy would be to draft more locals into the military. This might become necessary because mounting casualties are bound to demoralize the soldiers and result in diminished support for the war at home. There is also a potential crisis brewing among the Nato allies on the Afghan issue. Forty one nations have ‘united’ to fight in Afghanistan, yet their unity is suspect given the squabbling among the nations. Consequently, a victory for the Western allied forces is unlikely to take place soon. Indeed, it may never take place at all.



Nato commanders will do well to remember that operationally they are at the mercy of the nations that border Afghanistan. Also, none of the Nato countries had supported the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan. Ironically, the Nato forces led by the United States of America are now dependent on the former Soviet republics of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan for logistical support as the routes in Pakistan have witnessed an increase in hostility.


Clearly, the Nato forces require more support from the Afghan army. But how long will it take for the Afghan army to be ready to take on non-state fighters? Afghan society is modelled on tribal lines, and Afghans themselves abhor all forms of centralized authority. This, and their impulsive nature, also make it difficult to constitute an Afghan national army.


Ironically, even in the 1980s, most of the Afghan countryside was in rebel hands, much like today. However, unlike the present Anglo-American initiative, the Soviets recruited local Afghans with the help of indigenous political parties such as the ‘Sarandoli (Defenders of the Revolution)’, ‘Revolution Defence Groups’, ‘Pioneers’, ‘Afghan Communist Party Guards’, ‘Khalki Youth Militia’ and ‘Pashtun Tribal Militia’. Nevertheless, despite Soviet designs, virtually every tribal force in Afghanistan was in action against the Kabul government and the Soviet army during the war.


Is there not a striking similarity between what happened a quarter of a century ago and what is unfolding in Afghanistan in present times? The tribal bonds and traditions that bind the Afghan people have survived the onslaught of one of the most modern, sophisticated military forces in the world. The tribal Pashtuns are destined to fight and die, and they are committed to continue waging war against what they see is a foreign occupying force. Significantly, in the absence of foreigners, they busy themselves in battles fought against one another. Their sole mission in life seems to be to fight as many wars as they can. There is little surprise in the fact that the average life expectancy of an Afghan man at the time of his birth is 43.2 years only.










The sudden announcement made by Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa supporting a scheme of disincentives for couples having more than two children in the state came as a rude surprise. At the same time, given the nature and history of intuitive mode of decision making as against evidence based decision making prevalent in governments, it is not completely unexpected.

It is also the result of the impressionistic view of family planning programme the chief minister had during his recent visit to China. Ironically, the main opposition also welcomed such a view perhaps without understanding its implication. Intuitive decision making, clearly, is not limited to any particular political party in the state.

It is, therefore, important to understand the demographic situation in Karnataka before initiating a debate on family planning. More importantly, before introducing any punishment, one has to understand not only the final culprit but the perpetuators of the crime as well.

Karnataka achieved the norm of two children per women on an average around three to four years back. This average signifies that the state is on a replacement level fertility implying that the major part of the population growth in the state in future will largely be due to the population momentum factor. Population momentum occurs due to the past high birthrate when the couples born in the past will be in the reproductive ages in the coming years resulting in higher number of marriages and subsequent child birth which cannot be avoided by policies implemented henceforth.

Karnataka along with other southern states in India shows an encouraging picture in fertility indicators. The latest round of National Family Health Survey (2005-06) shows a family planning acceptance rate of 62 per cent for married woman in the age group 15-49. Average number of children per women in most districts of southern and western Karnataka has been far below two children per woman. It implies that this region will experience a negative population growth in the future once the population momentum effect goes by. The northern Karnataka currently has around 2.5 to 3 children per women on an average, but the rate is coming down.

The number of children per women is directly linked to levels of human development. The health of children, women’s empowerment, gender equity, etc are critical to achieve desired goals of family planning. Studies from all over the world have amply demonstrated the powerful effect of women’s education on the number of children she bears.

The educational level in north Karnataka is abysmally low as compared to the southern and western regions. Socially and economically backward sections of the society, minorities are also in the margins of development resulting in higher number of children. Ignoring these hard facts and discussing the punishment of those having more children is clearly a case of  punishing the poor for what is hardly their fault.

Ironically, while it is time for the government to concentrate more on the effects of fast declining fertility, its effect on growing adult population and ageing issues, it is rather paradoxical that the government takes a back seat and makes announcements that may have been relevant about two decades ago.

India is also a signatory to the programme of action of the UN International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in 1994 which clearly emphasises the importance of couples’ choice, rather than state intervention, in the number of children. Further, it also lays stress on integrating population action into the overall development. The ICPD commitment has been a direct recognition that the incentives and disincentives in family planning in most countries of the world have not provided any significant dividend for achieving the desired goal of fertility reduction.

The National Population Policy-2000 of the Union government also emphasises on providing reproductive health and rights to the population as the basic strategy to achieve the desired goals of family planning. The policy document strongly rejects disincentives to couples having more children.

The above discussion allows us to make a distinction between the final culprit and the perpetuators of the crime. If higher birth rates are a direct outcome of illiteracy, poverty, underdevelopment and backwardness among some sections or regions, the state is directly responsible. To ignore this responsibility, and punish those who have more than two children is not only a symptomatic treatment, it also is a direct violation of the concept of social justice.

Karnataka has already achieved the desired goal of small family norm. It is time that the state should think ahead on how the fertility transition benefit can be reaped adequately than going back in introducing draconian policies which are not going to achieve any objectives based on the available experience.

(The writer is a professor at population research centre, Institute for Social and Economic Change)










Do you know how many joints there are in the human body? I do. There are 230 of them. How do I know this? No, I am not an orthopaedician. I know the number because for the last three months I have felt the pain in every one of them (or so it seemed), thanks to becoming a member of an exclusive club. It’s called the Club of Chikungunya Sufferers.

Despite how it sounds, the disease has nothing to do with poultry. It is a viral affliction transmitted by the Aedes mosquito. The disease is apparently a gift from Africa. The Wikipedia tells me that Chikungunya means “that which bends up” in the Makonde language. This refers to the stooped posture developed as a result of the arthritic symptoms of the disease. Now I know why I felt and looked like a nonagenarian during the first month of the affliction!

The Makonde Plateau lies along the border between Mozambique and Tanzania and that was where the disease was first identified  during an outbreak in the early 50s.

Bangalore has two types of swarms — one composed of IT persons and the other of mosquitoes. The former multiply in the dozens of engineering colleges in the state; the latter breed in the numerous lakes and waste dumps around the city. I remember the time when, at the old airport, located next to a lake, one would be slapping oneself all over the place in some sort of a St Vitus Dance, thanks to the Dracula-type insects trying to get at one’s blood.

We Bangaloreans have always been familiar with good old mosquito-borne Malaria and Dengue. Chikungunya is a relative newcomer. Fortunately, it is not supposed to be fatal. But it sure is painful. Most of the conversation among Chikungunya club members centres around what is to be done to relieve the arthritic pain.

The disease seems to be spreading fairly rapidly. I was surprised at how many of my friends and relatives had been hit by it. Looks like my club might not remain so exclusive after all.








In a shocking genuflection to the gun lobby, the Senate has voted to deny Amtrak its indispensable $1.6 billion

federal subsidy unless it allows passengers to transport handguns in their checked luggage. The budget support would be stripped in six months unless Amtrak scraps the gun ban that it wisely adopted five years ago after the terrorist railroad atrocities in Madrid.


The majority vote was bipartisan and not even close, with 27 Democrats and one independent (the ultraliberal Bernie Sanders from gun-friendly Vermont) joining all 40 Republicans versus 30 opponents. The hope is that the House or President Obama will ultimately reject the Amtrak measure, but security-wary citizens cannot count on that as the gun lobby choreographs political cravenness.


The budget cudgel was approved despite pleas from Amtrak that it lacks the manpower, equipment and extra financing to effectively meet the deadline and that it faces a shutdown if federal funds are lost. Among other changes, baggage cars would have to be securely retrofitted and manpower increased. The warning cut no ice with the majority as the chief sponsor, Senator Roger Wicker, a Republican of Mississippi, intoned a lock-step mantra: “Americans should not have their Second Amendment rights restricted for any reason.”


Proponents said the change was needed to put Amtrak back to its pre-9/11 gun policy and equate it with airline security measures that allow unloaded, locked handguns in checked baggage. This is lunatic reasoning for a nation supposedly sensitized by the 9/11 attacks. Why should gun owners be treated as privileged travelers?


Amtrak has none of the hermetic procedures where airport passengers are screened shoeless at detectors while their checked baggage is separately secured. Trains stop at stations and passengers come and go. Amtrak presently has a system of checking passengers and screening baggage at random, much the way New York police monitor mass transit.


If the Senate wants to pass a bill on Amtrak, it should provide the money to hire more security guards and create a real passenger rail system. Generally, it should just stop its demeaning homage to the gun lobby.







Ken Salazar knew when he became interior secretary that he was inheriting a department with a reputation for shady behavior and for cozying up to the industries that it is supposed to regulate. On Wednesday, Mr. Salazar took a big step toward creating a more transparent and responsible agency. He announced his intention to kill a scandal-ridden oil and gas royalty program that had cheated taxpayers of millions of dollars through corruption and incompetence.


The target for extinction is the royalty-in-kind program, which is administered by the department’s Minerals Management Service. The service collects about $12 billion a year in royalties from oil and gas production on federal property, onshore and in waters like the Gulf of Mexico. Of this, about half is paid not in cash but in oil and gas, which the government then sells to refiners on the open market or, when necessary, diverts to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.


Under Mr. Salazar’s plan, the government will henceforth collect all its royalties in cash. This should be more easily administered and more transparent than payment-in-kind, which is vulnerable to manipulation at either end of the transaction. Oil can be overvalued when the government buys it or undervalued when it is sold. A series of reports have found that, for one reason or another — sheer laziness was often a factor — the service had failed to collect many millions of dollars in royalties it was owed under the program.


Some reports found a good deal more than laziness. Earl Devaney, then the department’s inspector general, told Congress a year ago that Minerals Management Service officials had accepted gifts, steered contracts to favored clients, partied with industry officials and engaged in drugs and sex with oil company employees — all part of what he called “a culture of ethical failure.”


Mr. Salazar has big dreams for his department, which manages 500 million acres of federal land — one-fifth of the country’s land mass — and 1.7 billion acres of the outer continental shelf, and for that reason is well-positioned to play a major role in energy policy. No department can exercise leadership if it cannot be trusted. Mr. Salazar seems determined to restore that trust.







President Obama made a sound strategic decision, scrapping former President George W. Bush’s technologically dubious plan to build a long-range missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Instead, the Pentagon will deploy a less-ambitious — but more feasible — system of interceptors and sensors, first on ships and later on land.


Mr. Bush’s plan was flawed in three fundamental ways. The technology was nowhere near ready. The threat it was supposed to defend against — an Iranian intercontinental ballistic missile — was also years away. And the plan (and Mr. Bush’s ham-fisted insistence on it) gave Moscow a far-too-convenient excuse to rail against the West’s encroachment and shirk its responsibility to help contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions.


The new system addresses the first two problems. The technology exists and can be deployed much sooner than the Bush system. And it is intended to counter a more immediate danger: Iran’s short- and medium-range missiles that could threaten Europe or Israel.


Still, managing the diplomacy — particularly the disappointment of the Central Europeans — and the politics in this country will require a very deft hand.


Neither Poland nor the Czech Republic was ever worried about Iran or particularly committed to the need for missile defense. What they fear is Russia. And what they wanted was the security of a closer relationship with Washington — and the American military personnel — that came along with the interceptors and radar.


President Obama called the leaders of both countries before the announcement. Speaking at the White House on Thursday, he reaffirmed this country’s commitment to the common defense of all NATO members. It will take a lot more reassurance in the weeks and months ahead to calm their anxieties.


The complaints in Washington are already at least as fierce — and a lot more disingenuous. Missile defense has long been an article of faith and politics, more than reason, for many Republicans. John Boehner, the House minority leader, accused the president of “taking one of the most important defenses against Iran off the table.”


Not even the insistence of Defense Secretary Robert Gates — once a champion of the Bush plan — that the new system could be deployed faster and provide greater security against a more immediate threat could quiet their complaints. We suspect Mr. Obama and Mr. Gates will need to keep making that argument through next year’s Congressional elections and on to 2012.


Mr. Obama will meet in New York next week with President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia. He must make clear that this decision is not a payoff for Moscow’s bullying — and that an improved relationship will depend on Russia’s willingness to treat its neighbors and its people better.


We never believed Moscow’s claims that the Bush system posed a threat to its thousands of highly sophisticated missiles. The Russians repeated it so often that they may have begun to persuade themselves. The announcement should make it easier for the two sides to come to a quick agreement on extending the Start I nuclear agreement, set to expire in December. The two leaders have a lot more to discuss, including negotiating deeper cuts in their nuclear arsenals and agreeing on a strategy to roll back Iran’s nuclear program.


The president’s critics are right on one point: The Russians will be watching him closely for any signs of weakness. Mr. Obama must be prepared to press Mr. Medvedev hard on all of these issues.








Staff Sgt. Jared Monti could have stayed where he was.


Under ferocious attack from about 50 Taliban fighters in northern Afghanistan and taking cover behind rocks with his badly outnumbered patrol, he could have waited for artillery and airstrikes to beat back the enemy.


But only yards away, on open ground, one of his men, a private, lay dying. Sergeant Monti dashed out to bring him to safety. Enemy fire forced him to retreat. He ran out again. More bullets and shrapnel forced him back. The enemy was so close that the patrol members could hear voices; the gunfire was so withering that one soldier had a rifle blown from his hands.


The third time Sergeant Monti tried, he was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. He died within minutes.


It’s impossible to pinpoint where Sergeant Monti, of the 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, N.Y., got his courage and selflessness. Maybe from his parents, a nurse and a teacher, or from the Army, where sacrifice and service are part of the drill. Maybe he had those virtues all along.


Whatever their source, they came out in full force on that desperate night in June 2006. When President Obama presented Sergeant Monti’s Medal of Honor to his parents, Janet and Paul, at the White House on Thursday, he retold the stunning act of valor. He repeated the sergeant’s words, which made it a simple matter of duty: “No, he is my soldier. I’m going to get him.”


It is no detraction from Sergeant Monti’s singular sacrifice to note that unselfish courage is hardly uncommon in combat. His story is one among thousands that have emerged from Afghanistan and Iraq, as in any war. Here is another: After the firefight, when the wounded private, Brian Bradbury, and a medic, Staff Sgt. Heathe Craig, were being hoisted to a helicopter, a cable snapped, and they fell to their deaths.


These are three of the dead from two conflicts that have killed more than 5,000 Americans since 2001. Rarely, very rarely, the country takes notice. Some of us paused briefly to do so on Thursday, then went on with our business. Medals and speeches, and newspaper articles, are inadequate in the face of such sacrifice, as Lincoln noted almost 150 years ago. There is little the rest of us can do, except to remember, with gratitude, what people like Sergeant Monti have done.











Days after President Zardari's comments about a deal under which former president Pervez Musharraf left the presidency made headlines, there has been sudden haste to create distance from the comments. The president's spokesman has denied he ever made the remarks – a rather extraordinary claim given that the revelation about the agreement was made during a talk with senior journalists, who all reported it in much the same way. It is hard to believe they all misunderstood. The prime minister has meanwhile said he never knew anything about the deal at all. This too is hardly much easier to believe. Unless Mr Gilani had miraculously locked himself in an invisible bubble for weeks on end last year, he must have been aware of the conjecture and rumours about an agreement brokered by foreign mediators which led to Mr Musharraf making an exit from the high office he occupied. We assume the prime minister must have made some effort to discover what was afoot and may have had greater access to information than ordinary citizens who had become convinced that an agreement guaranteeing safe exit had been reached.

It seems evident that the official retreat we are seeing comes in response to a warning from the opposition that a resolution questioning the deal would be moved in parliament. Clearly there have been second thoughts about what should be said. Sadly this came rather late. The clear indication of outside intervention in the agreement, with the Saudis recently issuing warnings against the trial of the former president, also makes the denials from our top decision-makers seem especially ludicrous. Leaving aside, for the moment at least, the issue of the trial of Musharraf and whether or not it is 'doable', let's take a look at official credibility. It has been in tatters for quite some time. The statements and reversals of the past few days leave it completely shredded. The government should consider what this means for it. The fact is that no one really believes what it says. People cannot be expected to trust leaders who lie constantly to them. This means a widening of the gap between citizens and their representatives. We have seen the damage this can inflict in the past. Yet the leaders appear to have learnt nothing from these errors which are repeated time and again.








Decoding the occasional statements that come from Osama bin Laden has become something of a global industry. He says little and says it infrequently, but the amount of column-inches he generates every time he does choose to communicate with the world is an indicator of…what, exactly? His most recent statement was released last Sunday. There is little that is new, but his spin this time is subtly different – any fool could throw a shoe at George W Bush – but Barack Hussein Obama is a slightly different kettle of presidents. We still have America projected as the Great Satan but there is no longer the devil-in-chief at the helm; instead Obama is characterized as some kind of powerless cypher, helpless in the clutches of the cabals and conglomerates that actually run the US. It is these powerful shadows that direct the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, drive foreign policy and the Great Satan is little more than a front organization for the dark forces set on eradicating Islam. Israel is once again blamed for being the cause of Al Qaeda's persistent attacks on the US; and Osama bin-Laden has a stab at a little prophecy by suggesting that if Obama carries on as he is then he is likely to go the same way as President Kennedy and his brother Bobby – both assassinated.

Eight years have passed since the Twin Towers came down and we entered the years of 'The war on Terror' – that of late has morphed into 'The fight against extremism'; which at least has the virtue of being grammatically correct. The message from both sides remains essentially unchanged and Obama is doing little different to that which his predecessor did in terms of foreign policy; and Osama bin-Laden continues to fantasize about a world-wide caliphate and a return to the Golden Age of Islam. Moderation has yet to enter the equation, despite Obama 'reaching out' to the Muslim world, and about the only thing the messages from either side have in common is that they are written in blood. Neither side has the killer punch that would decide the contest and both are content to spend lives in an unwinnable war.








The chief of the Taliban's beheading squad becomes the latest key militant to be held. He carried a head money of Rs10 million. Sher Muhammad Qasab had a particularly blood-thirsty reputation, often choosing to behead people himself and encouraging others who formed a part of the death squads he headed to do the same. His capture, along with 17 other militants further weakens the Swat Taliban. Some accounts suggest that Maulana Fazlullah may choose to surrender within days. For many this would symbolize final victory over the militants.

The time has come too to assess the impact of the terror. The regular beheadings in the central square at Mingora, the gory display of heads atop stakes, the floggings and beatings which were a norm of life under the Taliban and the fear which stalked every street have left behind many effects. Psychological trauma is being reported, especially among children. There has been a terrible brutalization of people, extending beyond Swat. Video footage widely available on CD shows children beheading adult men. Some of the films offer tips on how this should be done. The time has come to reclaim Swat and our society as a whole. Counselling is required for those who have lived through the nightmare. This is especially true for women and children, and families who have lost relatives. Some recount seeing sons or husbands slaughtered as they watched. We also need laws to be put in place against the distribution of material that promotes violence. The militants have used modern technology, including CDs and taped recordings of all kinds with expertise to promote their cause. People in Swat have been speaking out about the damage this has caused. The hatred against persons such as Qasab is quite clearly widespread. His capture should act as a reminder of the need to create a situation where such men do not again crop up to create so much mayhem. If we learn this lesson, this will be one positive outcome of a war that has created only destruction.








How many doom-and-gloom stories can any reasonable person endure? More than a nation at war we are a nation in perpetual crisis, vaguely discontented if there is no real crisis at hand.

In no other country of the world would a Brigadier Imtiaz Billa, a spook who put up his gloves years ago, be taken seriously. Yet in recent days the media almost succeeded in turning him into a TV celebrity, an outcome which must have taken him by surprise most of all.

This is just by way of example to underline something obvious about Pakistan: there is too much politics in this country. Why is this so? Why is politics the staple of everyday conversation? Because -- and here's the paradox -- there is too much religion in this country. By which, Heaven forbid, I do not mean the genuine article but religious cant and hypocrisy. The way we go on about religion an alien could be forgiven for thinking that the very concept of religion began in Pakistan.

This is General Ziaul Haq's revenge from the grave. Revile him as much as we may, there is no escaping the fact that a good deal of the fake piety on display in the official life of the Islamic Republic is a continuation of the legacy whose baleful seeds ---dragon's teeth?---he scattered.

In art the counterweight to too much restraint, or too much order and discipline, is romanticism, a natural urge to reach for the opposite: freedom and perhaps even decadence. This also works the other way round. If there is too much freedom, too much artistic chaos, the desire arises to return to the comforts of order and discipline. This is how Hegel and Marx explained the universe: the combination, or clash, of opposites creating a synthesis or unity.

But with us what is the Hegelian counterweight to too much false piety? Alas, nothing more creative than an obsession with politics. In any other climate excessive piety would have led to a loosening of restraint, something like the atmosphere of the Sixties in Britain and elsewhere, when the Beatles were all the rage and permissiveness became a common word. I was in school then and used to scratch my head trying to figure out what permissive behaviour and promiscuity meant.

If we had experienced something like the Sixties it might have done us a world of good, perhaps saving us from such of our travails as the march to war with India in 1965 and, only six years later, war and defeat in East Pakistan.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's period at the helm was only a brief interlude. He could have reinvented the idea of Pakistan and secured the country's future by making it safe for democracy. He had the opportunity but perhaps the times were hard or our good angels not sufficiently kind because events took a turn for the worse when Pakistan, not for the first time in its short existence, once more found itself under a military dictatorship. What is more, this one came with a sinister difference: it was steeped to its eyeballs in religious cant and hypocrisy.

As a result, it was not just physical repression which Pakistan suffered under Zia but moral and social repression. Instead of marching into the future, we travelled back in time. Talibanism in the form now familiar to us was a later phenomenon, but the attitudes giving rise to it were forged in the crucible of those dark years.

The army's thinking became more conservative, fertile soil for the 'jihadism' that was to shape its outlook first in Afghanistan and then Kashmir, something from which it has yet to fully recover. The richest irony of that period of course is that our American mentors, now so bent on culturally reconditioning the Pakistani mind, were at that time the loudest cheerleaders of what passed for the spirit of 'jihad'.

In the 1980s Americans in Islamabad (and I say this with a sense of wonderment) were amongst the most bigoted souls on the planet. About every subject under the sun they could endure scepticism, even cynicism, but the one thing beyond any criticism was the Afghan 'jihad'. That was an article of faith, faith raised to the power of dogma. The demons they are now trying to exorcise in Afghanistan were born of that attitude.

Anyway, if any country was ripe for a social revolution -- its Sixties and Beatle moment -- it was Pakistan after Zia's death. But instead of making a clean break with the past Pakistan slipped into a neo-Zia era, with the Establishment -- as personified by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Army Chief Gen Aslam Beg -- serving to put the brakes on any cultural revolution. No hundred flowers bloomed; no hundred schools of thought contended. The old dragons kept their vice-like grip on power. Pakistan remained imprisoned in the old strategic parameters -- Afghan depth, holding down the Indian army in Kashmir, the space for adventure provided by our nuke capability, etc.

The Americans, ecstatic at the end of the Soviet empire, had walked on from Afghanistan, forgetting all about it (something which they now rue). But we did not march with the times. We kept holding on to the old certitudes. It was only a matter of time before the Mujahideen morphed into the Taliban and the Taliban provided a congenial setting for Al Qaeda to grow and prosper.

We only have a two years' window. The Americans are not going to stay in Afghanistan forever. Support for the Afghan war is beginning to drop in the US. By the time Congressional elections come round next year, what is now a trickle could turn into something bigger. And by the time Obama's first term is about to end, and he is up for re-election, America's continued involvement in Afghanistan is likely to be one of the hottest topics of debate. We should be ready for that eventuality.

Our army has done a superb job of cleaning up Swat. Fazlullah's Taliban are on the run. The FATA Taliban are also under pressure, the noose tightening around Waziristan and the army mounting operations at selected points. But for Pakistan to be fully cured of the mindset which drove it into the battlefields of 'jihad', the turning of the military tide is not enough. It must be matched by a lasting change of mind. We need a social revolution so that we jettison some of the spiritual baggage which has served to cloud our thinking.

Pakistan will never be fully free in its mind unless the fake piety introduced by Gen Zia into our law books is completely erased. We have to go back not to where the nation stood on Oct 12, 1999, when Musharraf took over, but where it was on July 5, 1977, when Zia and his generals seized power.

The aim should not be to hound anyone but to clear our spiritual decks. All the laws Zia introduced at the altar of a fake piety, including the Hadood Ordinance, need to be expunged. The historic task before this National Assembly, elected with such high hopes in Feb 2008, is this.

Hopefully, as a consequence, our nation will learn to lighten up a bit and discover a higher combination of opposites than religion and politics. There is too much gloom in Pakistan, too much darkness. We are too moralistic, too judgmental, often too self-righteous. That is why we endlessly preach and endlessly worry about the future while not being able to live in the present and make the most of what it has to offer.

Not surprisingly, therefore, Pakistanis at times give the impression of being forever on the cross. We have our problems but since when has the human race, from the dawn of history until today, been free of problems? When they walk the streets of their towns and cities, Pakistanis -- both men and women -- don't act as if they are wholly free. In a social sense -- and here I have to use my words carefully -- they act in a constrained manner, as if a strict censor is watching their backs. Is it any wonder if they have cultivated the habit of doing so many things by stealth? This is no prescription for a free people.









The Obama administration is not talking in public about an exit strategy for Afghanistan, at least not yet, but there are tell-tale signs that before he faces public-opinion polls again towards the end of his first term in office, Barak Hussein Obama will have to wind up US military involvement in Afghanistan his predecessor left for him. As usual, the average American has started to ask: what are we doing in Afghanistan?

This is not wishful thinking: each new coffin that arrives back in America decreases public support for this unjust and unnecessary war. Then there is the colossal financial loss America is suffering in Afghanistan where, eight years later, it controls only the capital and a few isolated spots in parts of the country. After pumping billions of dollars into an effort to push Afghanistan into modernity--a modernity that comes dressed up with a consumer economy, a modern media replete with commercials and pop shows, network channels for news and entertainment around the clock, and a centrally controlled army--all that America has been able to do so far can be seen in the few newly erected tall buildings in Kabul which remain under constant threat of attacks, spread corruption of all kinds, ensure the continuity of drug trade, and allow the return of the war loads. In addition, it has institutionalised the degradation of the average Afghan who now feels out of place in his or her own country because it is being pushed into cultural, political, and economic domains totally foreign to them.

Thus, sooner than later, America will pull out of Afghanistan, and once the elephant is gone, all the rest will leave as well: the NATO soldiers who have been biding their time, the Canadians who do not know what they are doing, the so-called multinational army that is increasingly becoming disoriented. Indeed, history has an unfailing behaviour and whatever happens, always repeats itself, especially in Afghanistan, where no foreign army has ever been able to stay over the entire course of existence of that strange, rugged, beloved country, home to one of the most fascinating civilisations in the world.

The main question for Afghans is: what are the possible scenarios once the Americans leave? Obviously, the Americans will leave with all the cosmetic appearance of "staying behind": that is, they will establish a dummy government, propped on a rickety structure consisting of their advisors, even a certain number of soldiers will be left behind, but they will demand that Afghans now take charge of their own affairs. This would mean a central government which will continue to receive certain amount of subsistence monetary support as well as decreasing military assistance. Once this phase begins, those who have waged an unrelenting jihad against American occupation of Afghanistan will find themselves in a new situation demanding utmost care and strategic planning.

This new situation will not be similar to the time when the Russians left, for at that time, there were many contenders to power and all of them had participated in the so-called Afghan jihad which drove Russians out of the country. This time around, however, there is a clear demarcation of various stakeholders: only the Taliban have been militarily active against the current occupation. Thus, once the new phase begins, the dummy government in Kabul will have to contend with them. So, it will be a case of an ideologically cohesive group fighting against a more-or-less well-defined and institutionalised army with its command centralised in Kabul. No doubt the Kabul power base will be a mixture of various factions consisting of all those who have joined hands with occupation forces to harvest bumper crops of drugs, inflowing cash and contracts, and ministerial positions.

This scenario will lead to the second phase of the Afghan jihad. This Phase II might well be a long and complex process but, eventually, a Taliban victory cannot be ruled out. If this materialises, then the main question is: what will Afghanistan be like under a new Taliban government? Will the Taliban leadership show any sign of wisdom compared to their previous stint in office? Will there be a sustainable process of nation-rebuilding or will this most beautiful country continue to suffer from unending internal strife?

The next generation of Afghans is already a broken generation, living under constant threats, insecurity, manipulation, and a schizophrenic social, economic, and cultural climate. Afghan youth is being pulled in too many different directions right now and even if a more cohesive government emerges within the next decade, that government would still have to face the Herculean task of rebuilding a nation out of disoriented men and women--the generation that is now growing up in Afghanistan.

The real jihad for that new government of Afghanistan would be to rebuild the spiritual, cultural, social, and economic fabric of Afghan society on principles and customs which have remained central to their lives for over a millennium. This would require not only a clear vision, but also tremendous patience, wisdom, and prudence. Those who are currently fighting to get rid of the occupation army cannot be expected to pay attention to these matters, but there must be some amongst the senior members of the underground Afghan leadership who can and should think about the state of their country after the departure of the occupation army.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:







A jurisdiction war is playing out in the unlikeliest of places. It's been reported that the governor of State Bank of Pakistan has written to the planning commission, "raising objections" against the "active persuasion" of a planning commission social sector committee for formulation of recommendations on microfinance. Not really exciting stuff to have a turf war over.

There's a world of difference between poverty alleviation and microfinance, especially microfinance banking. The success of the Agha Khan Rural Support Programme has spawned at least a generation of "I've-seen-poverty-alleviated-before-my-eyes" types, and there are many who deserve to be mentioned for the outstanding results but a few other grassroots poverty alleviation schemes. However, the truth is that poverty is a real and pressing issue for every Pakistani. The poverty rate is (thanks to a dispute between the World Bank and PC) anywhere between17.2 to 37.5 per cent and, according to the Economic Survey 2009-2010 (Chapter 13.4), "assessments point towards a strong likelihood of a sharp increase in the poverty incidence in Pakistan as a result of food inflation and transmission of international energy prices to domestic consumers."

The problem with poverty alleviation programmes – and this is not to say they don't work – is that they presume behind every poor farmer is an entrepreneur waiting for a Rs25,000 loan to start that agri-business of his dreams. The fact is that, too often, it's convenient to think that throwing money at a problem – in this case, poor people or 'awaam' – will solve it. It won't. When it comes to development and poverty alleviation, there's simply no substitute for things like schools, nearby medical facilities, a trustworthy police force and, of course, the vision and leadership required to prioritise these over all else.

I was at a meeting some time ago where representatives of the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund and the Pakistan Microfinance Network spelt out in unequivocal terms that the motive behind microfinance banking was not poverty alleviation. It was to make money by increasing the number of banking customers and providing them cheap credit. Apparently, poverty alleviation happens as a result of a good microfinance system giving loans to poor and often illiterate farmers who seldom have the money to pay them back. But I wouldn't know, as this was the point in the proceedings where statistics were dragged out to divert one's attention from the questionable logic employed.

But, like I said, there's a world of a difference between poverty alleviation and microfinance banking.

According to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), the regulation of microfinance banking is solely their domain. This cannot be disputed, but I point readers to the fine print in Section 3(2) of the Microfinance Institutions Ordinance, 2001 which says that a microfinance institution "shall not be deemed to be a banking company". Strange for the SBP to claim jurisdiction over something that isn't really a bank. Nonetheless, the SBP of Pakistan is the regulator for the microfinance sector. It has the power to issue directions, call for information about and the power to investigate the affairs of microfinance institutions. It can launch investigations against them and even remove their directors. It's even framed the microfinance rules and the prudential regulations for microfinance banks.

The above requires microfinance banks to constantly update the SBP of their activity through quarterly and annual reports. The problem is, and it's a big problem, the SPB, Pak Poverty Alleviation Fund, Pakistan Microfinance Network and everyone in the business all treat microfinance banking as a profit-motive driven industry. Let me explain how this problem often plays out.

Because microfinance banks aren't "real" banks, they don't need to comply with the laws that "real" banks need to comply with. As a result, there's no credit information bureau that keeps tabs on microfinance institutions giving more than one loan to a person or to members of the same family. This would be normal if ordinary, day-to-day banking, where businesses routinely avail of multiple financial facilities at the same time and credit information bureaus, ensure that nothing untoward is taking place. But it means something totally different when it comes to microfinance. There has been an increase in anecdotal evidence that suggests that obtaining multiple microfinance loans isn't difficult and that, as a result, many poor families have fallen victim to crippling circular debt.

The other thing that the normal banking system has is a complaints redress system. Not only is there legislation that helps banks get their money back, there's a banking Ombudsman who receives complaints against banking practices. But this is not so with microfinance industry and, as a result, the rural poor are left with no forum to air their grievances but the expensive and time consuming formal legal system. And if the formal legal system is not in the reach of a microfinance customer – and this is often the case – there is no protection for them if a microfinance lender misuses its powers when enforcing recovery. There is also increasing anecdotal evidence that heavy handed techniques are used to recover defaulting microfinance loans. The irony here is that there are many tales of the rich in this Islamic Republic having their debts "written off" while there are none of a microfinance customer getting the same treatment.

Clearly, there's room for improvement in how the SBP is regulating the microfinance banking system. For example, there are no social sector indicators on any of the reports microfinance banks are required to submit to the SBP. The statistics may show increases in the number of customers, but there's nothing telling us whether more than one loan is being given to the members of the same family (a recipe for disaster as each debtor secures the loan with the product of the same land, and that land simply can't yield enough to repay all the loans). The statistics may tell us that recovery rates are high, but there's nothing telling us whether such figures were strong-armed or not. There's no credit information bureau or a system of monitoring complaints (though, to be fair, a representative of PMN has told me that these reforms are in the pipeline).

Is there a chance to amend the SBP's regulation of microfinance so that these institutions aren't treated purely in financial terms? The role of microfinance in the larger scheme of poverty alleviation must not be forgotten. There is a critical need to introduce social sector indicators into the microfinance regulations system and to ensure that microfinance isn't taking place in a vacuum; that the government is also shouldering its responsibility to provide the infrastructure necessary to make these small loans worthwhile. But, for this to happen, the SBP will have to realise that engaging in a tug-of-war benefits no one.


The writer is an advocate of the high court and a member of the adjunct faculty at LUMS. He has an interest in urban planning. Email:







Now that the government has had some success in capturing alive some senior leaders of the Taliban resistance in Swat, the question is, what will the government do with them? Are they going to be put on trial? If yes, how accessible will the proceedings be to the public? There is no denying that bringing these elements to court is the most acceptable way to proceed. A trial, rather than a militarily imposed solution, is integral to the working of any civilised society; not only because it protects the right of every individual against being unjustly persecuted, it is also important in retaining the moral legitimacy of the state. If the prominent leaders of the current Taliban resistance are trailed and convicted on strong evidence of violation of the constitution the government stands a much better chance of establishing the legitimacy and moral authority of its actions than does a military operation that results in mass graves of alleged Taliban.

The reason that the capture of members of the Taliban leadership in Swat as opposed to simply eliminating them is more significant is that it builds some confidence in the government's intention to deal with the issue seriously. When people are simply killed in a military operation, there is no chance left to hear their side of the story. This creates not just a moral dilemma, but more importantly it removes all possibilities of actually finding the real facts about the phenomenon. Important questions such as who are actually the forces behind the current Taliban groups in Pakistan are best avoided rather than addressed when the members of these groups are killed in military operations. However, when they are brought to trial and the cases made by both sides are required to be based on evidence many real facts about the sources of support for these groups come forward.

It is precisely these details that need to be secured from the members of senior leadership of Taliban being captured from Swat. The fact remains that these Taliban, whoever they are, could not have reached the scale they did in Swat without some systematic support from influential actors within or outside the country. It is logically very difficult to see how people who have very rudimentary levels of education, have very limited exposure to modern technologies, and belong to the economically less privileged groups can arm and organise themselves to a level where they could virtually take over the entire administration of Swat, eliminate the writ of the state, and at one point were also projected to have become so strong so as to threaten the capture of Islamabad itself. Clearly, either those threats were exaggerated deliberately by the state or there were forces behind these groups, which were making members of a very deprived and marginalised section of the Pakistani population, such a major threat for the Pakistani state.

It is therefore very important that the members of these groups being captured are brought to trail. But what is equally important is that the trials be transparent and are conducted not under special courts. It is important that the members of these groups are tied in conditions where the public has the confidence that these people have been given a fair chance to present their case and have not simply been beaten into accepting one or the other explanation for their action. Such fairness is not only a demand of justice but it is also important in investigating why these groups do what they do and who supports them to carry on with actions which actually become a source of Pakistan's destabilisation.

In this context it is very important that the media and the civil society organisations engage actively in following up on what happens with the prominent figures being captured from the Taliban resistance. It is also important that they are provided access to trial proceedings, whenever they are carried out. It is a very positive development if the Pakistani state is to try to deal with the members of these groups through courts of justice rather than through use of arms. However, to gain full benefits of such a shift, it is critical that the trails are fair and people are not beaten into admitting stories.

The writer is a research fellow at the Oxford University. Email: mb294@hotmail .com







Some myths are necessary to build confidence. Prize fighters do it all the time. Remember Mohammad Ali claiming to be the greatest? He may well have been the best but the constant refrain of greatness was a deliberate attempt at fostering self belief.

We have been doing something similar since exploding the bomb in 1998. While it changed nothing as far as poverty or the basic economic fundamentals were concerned, it gave us confidence.

We could look India in the eye secure in the belief that it cannot attack us. We could claim global importance as one of a club of seven declared nuclear powers in the world. And as the only Muslim country with the bomb, we somehow felt, quite unreasonably, the guardian of the Islamic world.

Given this context of chest thumping, it is not pleasant being reminded of one's true place in the comity of nations. First, it was grating to see our leaders past and present bowing and scraping before King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Then, it was President Zardari claiming that several deals were underwritten by foreign powers. It was a sobering return to reality.

One has the greatest respect for the custodian of the two holiest places of Islam but the proxy power he seems to exercise over us is beyond explanation. Musharraf, our archetypical strong man, was actually sitting at the edge of his seat while talking to the great king. This particular photograph released by the Saudi news agency was perhaps deliberately designed to rub home the client patron relationship. Musharraf later claimed in an interview that he would not face any trial at home, because the Saudi King has given him this assurance.

While we know that the Saudis can give such an assurance, his proud announcement of the same is humiliating. Though delusional, we like our myths, particularly of being this great nuclear power. Our past dictator is now robbing us of this too. He is saying that Saudi king determines what happens in Pakistan.

Our interior minister was the next visitor and, through sponsored articles, took great pride in the extraordinary protocol he received from the Saudis. We all know Rehman Malik, the man, and he was no doubt thrilled to bits, but he was there as the interior minister of a nuclear power, which also happens to be the seventh most populated country in the world. Why should he not be treated with respect?

The next visitor, Nawaz Sharif, has an old relationship with Saudi royalty. He was their guest in exile for a long time and indeed his passage to the holy land was facilitated by the Saudis. Is this, the facilitation of Pakistani leaders in trouble, the custodians' real strength?

Anyway, Sharif's spokespeople were at pains to emphasise that Musharraf was not discussed. He may not have been in the formal meeting, but it is difficult to believe that the desire to go easy on him was not conveyed privately. Nawaz Sharif, the popular leader in the country, is at least sensitive to our myths. By claiming that not one told him what to do, he wants us to keep believing that we are sovereign and that outsiders do not meddle in our affairs.

The same cannot be said about President Zardari, who has just completed a year in office. He says that Musharraf's departure was part of a deal and guarantees that his honourable exit and subsequent safety from prosecution were obtained by outsiders. While his spokesman has denied it, subsequently, many journalists present in the presidency bash have confirmed this. Why are our leaders determined to shatter our dream world?

Why is it not enough for them to rest on their laurels? And Mr Zardari has some after a year in office. His government has taken on militancy unambiguously and that goes to his credit. While the Malakand campaign is a success because of the armed forces, it happened under his watch. He should have been happy to advertise that.

The economy also is showing some signs of picking up, and this has been possible because of tough decisions and the gathering of assistance from abroad. While little money has flowed in – there is no agreement on how much given the spat between the Finance Minister and the American Ambassador –enough has been promised. This is something to feel happy about! Why lift the carpet and show all the dirty stuff shoved under it?

We as a nation are a strange mix of bravado and inferiority. Our claims are outlandish and our behaviour that of a mouse cringing in a corner. Why can't we be somewhere in between: clear eyed about our weaknesses and yet dignified in our behaviour. We need assistance and aid but on terms that are honourable. Others will recognise this and treat us with deference because they are not giving charity. They have interests too. If we choose to become weak and behave accordingly, they will treat us like beggars.

There were good reasons to ease Musharraf out because the alternative was continuing political tension. We had enough real problems on our plate and did not need this distraction. But, it was something that we could have worked out ourselves. We did not need outside help.

And there was no reason to hide it. The transition from military to civilian rule is never easy and it requires compromises. The Chileans, Brazilians, Argentineans, Filipinos and many more have done it. We were no different. It should have been declared that Musharraf is resigning but wants safety and for the greater good of the country, we are ready to do it. The caveat is that he will keep quiet and not make waves. If he does, the deal will be over.

This arrangement did not need the Americans or the Saudis. If its terms had been declared, there would have been a political cost but it was a new government in its first year of office. Nothing would have happened, other than a bad comment in the media. Who cares for that anyway?

We would have maintained our sovereignty and dignity, and not gone through this humiliating charade of Pakistani leaders being controlled and directed by Saudi royalty. It is said correctly that you get as much respect as you have for yourself. These recent events indicate that our leaderships, past and present, have very little.

The only way forward is to learn from these mistakes. Let us not put ourselves in humiliating situations. If drone attacks are part of a coordinated strategy, let us sign a treaty and claim them instead of suffering a public insult every few days. If we have to make compromises about leaders past and present, let us do it openly and be done with it.








Our newspapers have shrunk and television screens have expanded, virtually. I avoid quoting long passages in my already restricted column space for it becomes harder to express yourself in even fewer words. But the death of 18 women in Karachi the other day, aptly called "Crushed by poverty" by a national daily, warrants a quote from the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, promulgated in 1973 and controversially amended 17 times since. This is not the article as popularly quoted as articles 6, 19 or 242 by the treasury and the opposition today, nor it is ever referred to by the clergy while they keep beating the trumpet of the Objectives Resolution. Martial rule is illegitimate according to the constitution anyway and even the amendments couldn't prevent it from being seen otherwise. Its fundamental illegality and iniquitousness precludes us from even asking martial rulers about any rights or privileges of the citizens of Pakistan. Perhaps the political leadership also has torn those pages out from the copies of the constitution they carry on which this article is inscribed.

This is Article 38 and stays in the constitution as it is since adopted as a part of the constitution in 1973. It reads: "The State shall – (a) secure the well-being of the people, irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race, by raising their standard of living, by preventing the concentration of wealth and means of production and distribution in the hands of a few to the detriment of general interest and by ensuring equitable adjustment of rights between employers and employees, and landlords and tenants; (b) provide for all citizens, within the available resources of the country, facilities for work and adequate livelihood with reasonable rest and leisure; (c) provide for all persons employed in the service of Pakistan or otherwise, social security by compulsory social insurance or other means; (d) provide basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, housing, education and medical relief, for all such citizens, irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race, as are permanently or temporarily unable to earn their livelihood on account of infirmity, sickness or unemployment; (e) reduce disparity in the income and earnings of individuals, including persons in the various classes of the service of Pakistan; and (f) eliminate riba as early as possible."

The 18 women who were killed in the stampede in downtown Karachi while trying to obtain wheat flour being distributed for free by a local businessman have their blood on the hands of the state of Pakistan; the state which is captured by the elite. A commentator had the gall to say on a television channel that people in our country have become too greedy. Some of the women who had flocked the place to get flour bags already had received their share. Brilliant! Isn't it? All values, morality and norms of civilised behaviour are to be observed by those who are suffering at the hands of poverty, destitution and insecurity. The nation is eclipsed by the long dark shadow of this ogre, the rich and the powerful elite of Pakistan. The feudal lords, mafia bosses disguised as politicians, land grabbers, sugar barons, wheat and rice hoarders, smugglers, swindlers and cheats call the shots in this country. Their interests are guarded by competent civil servants and able-bodied men in security agencies.

There is a Farsi proverb, "Marg-i-Anboh Jashne Darad (It is also a celebration when all are perishing). Last few days are left of the holy month. Enjoy your iftar dinners, my readers.


The writer is an Islamabad-based poet and rights campaigner. Email: harris@spopk .org








PRESIDENTIAL spokesman has come out with a strong contradiction of the statement of Asif Ali Zardari about trial of former President Pervez Musharraf, which was widely publicized by the media. While responding to questions by newsmen at an Iftar dinner he hosted in their honour, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani too referred to the rebuttal and added that the Government did not believe in deals.

However, the sum total of the Prime Minister’s pronouncements on the issue is that he supports what the President was reported to have shared with journalists at the dining table two days back i.e. trial was not possible because of international guarantees. In our view, those who are keen to see Musharraf tried on high treason charges may stick to their stance and continue pressing their demand but we would suggest that so far as the Government is concerned it should now please leave Musharraf aside and focus on Pakistan’s crucial problems. This we say because for some individuals and parties this might be the priority in the backdrop of what happened to them in the past. But for people of the country, who are groaning under multiple difficulties, this is certainly not a priority and they just want the Government to concentrate on resolution of their problems. The Prime Minister himself has pointed out that the common man was facing extreme difficulties because of crippling load-shedding and inflation. But mere admission of the woes of the people would not have any impact on the overall situation and the Government will have to take tangible steps to make life of the ordinary citizen comfortable and easier. Poor women are being degraded in long queues for atta and sugar and several people including elderly ladies have lost their life in the struggle to get free or subsidized food. And all this is happening in Ramazan — the month of Zakat and Sadaqa and there were times when people could not find the deserving ones to give away their Zakat. Apart from economic problems, there are also a host of other issues like trampling of the country’s sovereignty by drone attacks and rising levels of crime and corruption. Therefore, we would urge the Government that for God’s sake concentrate on real issues as people are desperately waiting for fulfilment of the pledges made to them during elections.







IT is ironical and shocking that Barack Obama who was very popular, vibrant, visionary and gave the message of “Change” during last year’s presidential election would be losing his popularity so soon not only for his policies but also being a black African-American. His election was a moment of triumph for the US and a major step towards erasing the awful stain of slavery.

Most Americans had hoped dearly that the issue of race would not be an over-arching concern and it wasn’t while Obama was very careful not to raise racial issues during his campaign. But now nearly 8 months in office, the issue has been given oxygen by a series of events. The first was the outburst by a South Carolina Republican Congressman during President’s address to the joint Houses on Health-care Reforms. If one turns on the TV news now, one is assailed with reports of disgracefully racist placards being carried at anti-Obama rallies nominally billed as opposition to health-care reform. We believe that a person duly elected with popular votes has every right to remain in the White House for the mandated term but the sentiments of racism are plunging his popularity graph due to falling Whites support. Commentators at the time of incident said it was racial and now the issue has been given extra impetus by former President Jimmy Carter who stated boldly that Mr Wilson’s intemperate outburst was “based on racism” and ran “deeper” than mere policy opposition. These events and comments are a clear proof that history and racial tension did not stop with the election of Obama. Though President Obama and his administration refuse to depict the motivation of their critics as racist yet the words uttered in hatred by Republican lawmaker were a brutal reminder that the election of Barack Obama did not usher in a new age of post-racial politics in the US. In our view racism is the worst form of extremism, could burst some day and cause harm in some way or the other due to hatred against coloured people and particularly when one is President. These incidents exposed the real face of America, shallowness in the society and how it least cares for human values.








WORLD Food Programme (WFP) has pointed out that food aid is at a 20-year low despite the number of critically hungry people soaring this year to its highest level ever. It has warned that the number of hungry people will pass one billion this year for the first time adding that it is facing a serious budget shortfall.

It is worth mentioning that the WFP is talking about abysmally poor who fall below the so-called poverty line whereas the number could rise dramatically if one takes into account the plight of those who are finding it increasingly difficult to meet both end because of rising inflation in different parts of the globe. An unspecified number of people have been pushed into poverty cycle due to shortage of foodstuff and its skyrocketing prices as well as because of the negative impact of the unprecedented increase in oil prices. The global recession has also rendered millions of people jobless. Under these circumstances, it is individual and collective responsibilities of the State to work for poverty alleviation but regrettably the focus remains on other issues like killing of the people in the name of war on terror, destabilization of the countries and regions due to unjustified, illegal and immoral wars, a race to conquer space, produce latest kinds of lethal weapons and spend millions of dollars daily on gaming in casinos. It is all the more responsibility of affluent nations, who have the capability to spare resources, to come to the aid of the poor and developing countries in overcoming the chronic poverty challenges. UN should play a lead role in this regard by way of evolving a workable strategy for the purpose.







According to estimates made by high officials in the region, the Gulf countries themselves have lost well over a trillion dollars because of the collapse of financial standards in most EU and US financial institutions. Although accurate records do not exist for them, experts in Moscow estimate the loss to Russian citizens at over $400 billion, while in the case of China, that figure may be even higher.

Clearly, investors - both state and private — within the Gulf, Russia and China have lost heavily by trusting investment bankers in the developed world. Surprisingly, despite the loss of close to $6 trillion as a consequence of greed-actuated misfeasance, almost no banker has been prosecuted for the scam. Indeed, many are once again active in speculation, seeking to drive up prices of oil and other commodities to levels that would smother a recovery. They have also been awarding themselves huge bonuses and salaries, despite the fact that the solvency of their institutions is largely based on taxpayers in the US and the EU.

The question is: will such behaviour finally dissolve the blind faith that people in the Gulf, Russia and (to a lesser extent) China have in such advisors? Since the 1970s, London, New York and Frankfurt have prospered because of the belief that ethical standards have been enforced. This view has been shown to be false, especially in the period in the 1980s since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher freed businesspersons in the US and the UK from any fear of legal retributive consequences for behaviour actuated solely by greed. This lost confidence in the current financial capitals of the world presents an opportunity for other locations to emerge. South Asia is a prime competitor, especially if the SAARC countries work closely with each other, rather than fall victim to the “divide and rule” policy that has kept them squabbling for so long. An example where future growth can be immense is Islamic Banking.

The steady development of religious sentiment in the Gulf has not been matched by a like increase in instruments and institutions that have embedded within them the codes of Islamic Banking, with its disavowal of interest. Indeed, even today, more than 87% of the surplus money in the Gulf countries gets placed in institutions that charge - and give - interest. Should India and Pakistan, in particular, come together in the form of partnerships between banks in both countries, the combination of skills this confluence would represent would be sufficient to attract a significant volume of funds.

In 1983,this columnist spoke of an India-China-Russia alliance, a fact that was pointed out to him in Beijing in 2001, in the course of an interview for Beijing Review. Should Russia, India and China team up, they can produce aircraft to rival the best currently on offer. They would emerge as a manufacturing and services powerhouse. However, as yet the manufacturing linkages between these three giants of the Asian landmass are insufficient, given the potential. Coming back to Islamic Banking, this is only one of the many ways in which a partnership between entities in India and Pakistan can create a sum much larger than the individual total of each. A case of four plus four becoming forty-four and not simply eight. For decades, investment into South Asia has got reduced because of the perception of tensions and the risk of war. During 2002,for instance, waves of hysteria were generated that a nuclear conflict was inevitable.

Such a doomsday forecast has as its basis an extremely derogatory view of Indian and Pakistani policymakers, who are judged to be self-destructive and irrational. Of course, several research grants were sanctioned to “South Asia” scholars in the US and the EU to “determine ways of preventing a nuclear holocaust. Many were the conferences held, and the papers presented, on this imaginary catastrophe. The fact is that Indian and Pakistani policymakers are at least as rational as their counterparts in Moscow and Washington, who ensured a nuclear peace despite building up immense stockpiles. It is wrong to assume that only those of a particular geographic region contain within them a monopoly of wisdom.

Interestingly, at a time when both India and China are enjoying the highest growth rates for major economies in the world and — especially China — seems on track to pose a serious challenge to the primacy of the economies of the presently developed world, a raft of reports have appeared in media outlets both domestic and foreign that the two countries are close to a shooting war. The reality is that the Sino-Indian border has been quiet since 1962, barring random incidents caused by Beijing’s inability to align its maps of the Line of Actual Control with India’s. As a consequence, every few weeks a patrol strays into territory in the control of India, thus sparking hysteria in some circles. Only a No War Pact between India and China can end the speculation of another border conflict, speculation that is having a damaging effect on both countries. Over the past year, in both the Chinese as well as the Indian media, reports have proliferated about “warlike” activities and tensions. Thus far, the public in both countries likes the other, keeping in mind the more than two millennia of contact between them. However, should media reports of imminent conflict continue to proliferate, this could change.

The growth of the Services sector needs a stable environment, and this means a Zone of Peace. If the EU has made rapid strides these past decades, a primary reason is the absence of conflict since 1945 in what till then was a blood-soaked continent. Unfortunately, although the Asian countries have the potential for recapturing their primacy, yet this is getting stunted by the perception of instability and tensions in theatres such as China-Taiwan-North Korea, Iran-GCC and India-Pakistan. Statespersons in all these countries need to shake off such perceptions by constructive diplomacy and by ensuring that a threat to the security of any country in Asia is seen as a threat to the security of each country in the continent. Both India and Pakistan have young and fast-growing populations.

To find jobs for the hundreds of millions within this segment, what is needed is for the leaders of both countries to accept that “if India and Pakistan do not hang together, they will assuredly hang separately”. Sadly, thus far, the experience of the past decades gives little hope that wisdom will dawn on a political class that seems obsessed with power and money to the exclusion of the long-term interests of their peoples. Should the young in India and Pakistan find that their avenues for advancement have been restricted by wrong policies and old feuds, the promise of the region would evaporate into chaos. China, India, Pakistan and Russia need to follow the example of the EU and create a Zone of Peace across their territories.







One hundred and ninety two countries of the world, which are affiliated with the United Nations, have celebrated 8th September as the “International Literacy Day”. This is done every year since 1965 on the same day i.e. 8th September. Pakistan being no exception celebrated the day with a number of Seminars held in different parts of the country. Messages were issued by the President, Prime Minister and other leaders emphasizing that investment in education is the best investment and is essential for poverty alleviation and for the socio economic development of the country. Unfortunately, all these claims were to befool the public at large. None of the Governments or political leaderships since 1947 ever tried to make Pakistan a literate country. The exceptions have been Quaid-i-Azam himself, Dr. Mehboo-ul-Haq, late President Zia-ul-Haq, and believe it or not, Mian Nawaz Sharif.

Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the Founder of Pakistan had appointed an “Education Commission” as early as in 1946 to meet at the Muslim University, Aligarh to draft an agenda for the forthcoming independent country of Pakistan. An agreement which shall have the Islamic values as its base but will prepare the younger generation to face the latest challenges of rapidly advancing scientific and technological knowledge. Unfortunately, the Commission could not hold a meeting because of the riots which broke out in Aligarh in 1946. However, immediately after the establishment of Pakistan as an independent country, the Quaid-i-Azam indicated to the then Federal Education Minister, Mr. Fazal-ur-Rehman (who hailed from East Pakistan) to convene the first “All Pakistan Education Conference” in Karachi on 30th of November 1st & 2nd of December 1947. During the Conference, our brothers from Sindh and East Pakistan did not agree to undertake adult education in Urdu language. Their contention was that the medium of instructions in their elementary schools and the court language particularly in rural areas was Sindhi and Bengali. It was, therefore, decided to leave adult education to the Provincial Governments in order to accelerate literacy in Pakistan. It is a matter of great regret that this decision was not pursued any further. Punjab placed adult education under the department of Local Government and declared the Academy at Lalamusa to be the Resource Center for literacy in Punjab. In Balochistan, adult education was placed under the Social Welfare Department and in Sindh it was given to the Curriculum Center of the Education Department in Hyderabad.

Adult Education, therefore, remained outside the purview of the Education Department. Late President Zia-ul-Haq in view of the emphasis laid by Islam on the acquisition of knowledge and on the occasion of the Hijra Centenary celeberations decided to establish a “Literacy & Mass Education Commission”, which was established in 1981 with Mr. Ali Khan, the illustrious son of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan of NWFP as its first Chairman. Also, in 1985, late President Zia-ul-Haq issued the first ever “Literacy Ordinance 1985” which was later on approved by the Majlis-e-Shoora on 25th August 1987 as “Literacy Ordinance (Amendment) Act 1987” and became the law of the country. The law required the Ministry of Education to announce a date in the Gazette of Pakistan for the law to take effect. Regrettably, the Ministry has not been able to notify a date for the law to take effect despite the lapse of 22 years.

In the late 90s, the Social Action Program was launched which included the establishment of a number of new Primary Schools. However, out of the total SAP allocation for Primary Education of 39.319 billion only 24.767 billion i.e. 63.0% were spent for the expansion, development, and training of teachers for Primary Education.

The result of the above efforts have been that during 1981 and 1998 (17 years) the literacy rate in Pakistan increased from 26.2% in 1981 to 45% in 1998 which means an average of 1.1 points every year between 1981 to 1998. It was, therefore, very surprising when the Prime Minister of Pakistan recently announced the literacy rate in Pakistan being 56%. The same figure appears in the “Pakistan Economic Survey 2008-09”. It is interesting that from 1998 to 2008, a period of ten years multiplied by an average increase of 1.1 points every year comes to 11 points. Added to the 45% literacy rate in 1998 it also comes to 56%. This has been the practice of the Ministry of Education to add every year 1.1 points to the previous year’s literacy rate and make an announcement of the increased ratio of literacy in the country. The announcement of literacy ratio had been only a “desk exercise”. This can be verified from the Pakistan Economic Surveys of the previous years. It is, therefore, obvious that the actual literacy rate in Pakistan will only be known after the next Census yet to be held in Pakistan.

On 10th October 1999, a full-page advertisement appeared in the National and Regional newspapers regarding “TEHREEK-E-ILM”, a strategy to spread literacy in the entire country through Non-formal Education. The target was to make 17.71 million illiterates in the age group 5-14 as literates. The program also included the recruitment of 708,400 teachers. The condition for the recruitment of the teachers was that they should be the residence of the concerned Ward/Union Council, unemployed, and only the most qualified of the unemployed to be recruited. The salient features of the implementation strategy were to constitute a “Literacy Committee” in each Ward/Union Council and each Tehsil to have an “Education Committee” chaired by the Assistant Commissioner. The Deputy Commissioner concerned was to be the overall incharge of literacy in his District. At the Provincial level the Chief Minister and the Chief Secretary will be overall incharge whereas the Prime Minister of Pakistan will chair the apex body which will meet every three months to monitor the progress of the Program. Unfortunately, Mr. Nawaz Sharif lost his Government on 12th October 1999 and Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Chief of the Army Staff forcibly took over the reigns of power. The new Education Policy has made a claim to increase the literacy rate to 66% in one year i.e. by 2010. It may be mentioned that the “Literacy & Mass Education Commission” has been wound up, the Mosque Schools are no more there, and the Social Action Program finished in 2002. It will not be out of place to mention that during 1951 and 1972, in 21 years, the literacy rate never exceeded, on an average, from 0.5 points annually. During 1981 and 1998, the average annual increase of 1.1 point in literacy was because of the steps mentioned in the previous paragraphs.

One can safely conclude that no Government in power wanted to see Pakistan becoming a literate society because then they would ask many questions for which our Rulers have no answers. If we wish to see an educated Pakistan then the only way is to go back to the recommendations made in 1947 that on one hand Universalized Primary Education within a reasonably stipulated period, and to simultaneously address the backlog of adult illiterates on a massive scale and in right earnest. It will not be out of place to mention here that “Pakistan Economic Surveys” issued by the Economic Advisor’s Wing of the Finance Division does not give a true picture of education in Pakistan.

This can be verified from a glance on Page 159 of the Pakistan Economic Survey 2008-09 where the Gross Enrollment Ratio and Net Enrollment Ratio for Primary Education have been wrongly calculated. Since 1959 onwards, the age group for Primary Education has been 5-10 years and no more 5-9 years. The 5-9 years cohort can only complete four years of Primary Schooling whereas, the present period of Primary Schooling is five years.






Muslims all over the world welcome the holy month of Ramazan. This is not a month of mere fasting but a time to re-assess our commitment to God for upholding and practicing His teachings as revealed in the Holy Qur’an. The word ‘Ramazan’ is derived from the word “Ramz” which means ‘to burn’ and here it implies the ‘burning of selfish desires’. The literal meaning of Saum (fasting) is to be at rest and it implies abstinence. Fasting was enjoined and made incumbent upon Muslims in the second year of Hijra. The practice of fasting was not an innovation exclusively for Muslims. Fasting was also prescribed for other communities that existed before the revelation of Islam.

The Holy Qur’an says, “O ye who believe, fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you so that you may become pious”. (2: 183) Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam on which the edifice of Islam rests. It is next in importance to the obligatory prayer. The regulations about Ramazan in Chapter two of the Holy Qur’an are coupled repeatedly with an emphasis upon two concepts: (a) facilities and concessions given in respect of fighting (b) spiritual significance of fasting, without which fasting would be like an empty shell without a kernel.

The Holy Qur’an says that fasting is obligatory on every Muslim who comes across Ramazan even once in his life time. The primary purpose of Ramazan is to promote righteousness and a progressive allocation of values. The month of fasting is a time of meditation and reflection. The purpose of fasting is to make a man pious and virtuous. Every Muslim during the course of this month observes utmost patience against all provocations. It teaches us self-control. This ritual is particularly a source of promoting good and welfare oriented society. Fasting is a mechanism for attainment of higher ideals of life. Fasting helps us to rein in our own selfish desires. Hunger is the strongest urge that human beings face in their daily lives. By denying the urge to eat for a set period of time, you will find that you can also summon the power to curb other addictive habits like drug or alcohol addiction. One month of fasting enables man to distinguish the lawful from the forbidden for the rest of eleven months in a year. Thus the month of Ramazan is a great source of collection of blessings of Almighty Allah and we should take full advantage to avail the blessings of this holy month.

The Muslims should firmly believe in one fact that Ramazan is only a mean and not an end and the end is search of Allah’s love and His pleasure. Therefore, the path leading to Allah’s pleasure must be followed and one leading to His displeasure must be avoided. Ramazan strengthens the sense of equality among the human beings. No matter whether a person is poor or rich, he has to observe abstinence in his life. Fasting inculcates the fear of God. It teaches man to submit in obedience to divine laws, not by compulsion, but by love from the core of heart. It is not mere starvation. Starvation means suffering from lack of food. But in case of fasting there is no lack of food. It is a case of self-denial. Fasting is a unique act and the determination of its reward and punishment has been left to God. One aspect of fasting has been mentioned in a Hadith where God says that ‘fasting is for me and I will bestow its rewards (as much as I can)’. Another Hadith is quoted as: ‘the person is unfortunate who finds obligatory fasting of Ramadan but does not make himself pure of sins to become pious’.

The people who are engaged in trade should not resort to hoarding, profiteering in this month of blessings. They should make their behaviour symbolic of the virtues of mercy, truthfulness and generosity by working for the amelioration of common people. In a Hadith it is said: “Facts are like a shield (just as a shield is meant for protection from the enemy’s assault, so is fasting for protection from Satan’s attack).

Therefore when a man observes fast he should (utilize this shield and) abstain from disorderly pleasure”. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) has told that fasting is armor against evils corrupting man’s self. If it fails to do so, fasting is reduced to giving up food and drink of which God has no need. Three acts are special to the month of Ramazan: tarawih, e’tikaf and fitra. The 20 extra rak’at of tarawih are offered after Isha prayer. In e’tikaf, the person performing it practically cuts himself off from ‘the surly bonds of earth’ and secludes himself from the world in a separated area of a mosque. During these ten days falls the night of al-Qadr on which day the first verses of Holy Qur’an were revealed. It is on this night that God’s decrees for the year are brought down on the earthly plane.

This night of power is better than a thousand months. Fitra is a charity peculiar to Ramazan. A unique characteristic of fasting is that it is a very personal act unlike the other obligatory duties like Salat, payment of Zakat and performing of Hajj that are accompanied by some outward performance. No one else really knows whether you are observing fast except you and the One for Whom the fast is being kept. During the month of Ramazan a culture of purity prevails. It touches every Muslim and turns him towards piety, so that even those who do not offer prayers at other time during the year, offer congregational prayers during this month. Before the end of the month all Muslims must pay Zakat to the poor at a rate of 2.5 per cent of their total income for the year. Whoever has the capacity but does not pay Zakat will have his fasting useless.







During the past few decades, Pakistan has seen a number of education policies. All these policies were launched with lofty objectives, ambitions, goals and priors pledges. There is nothing unusual in this exercise as every time an education policy is unfolded, the same five phrases are used by the government or education commission. So far, so good, but what makes the common man cynical is the abysmal failure of each policy, launched earlier with tall promises. And in this context the general feeling is that failure of each policy is mainly due to the lack of commitment at the top. We hope and pray that this time, the old story will not be repeated and the new policy will not end up in fiasco, as it has been happening with previous policies.

With regard to the recently launched education policy, it is a happy sign that it promises a handsome rise by 2015 in the budgetary allocation for the impoverished education sector to 7% of the GDP. In case the target is achieved, it will be a befitting occasion to celebrate, as in the past even allocation of 4% has not materialized. Incidentally, the PPPs own previous government was not able to deliver on this pledge. Keeping in view the existing norms of governance, one is not sure if the incumbent hierarchy will be able to display extraordinary commitment, firmness of will and honesty of purpose, which are exclusive arbiters of success. Also, one is not sure if the existing hierarchy would succeed in drawing madrasses into the mainstream.

Likewise, it is extremely doubtful if the plan to induct qualified Bas and MAs in school teaching, will meet with success. With the kind of meager pay that is offered to new inductees, it is really unimaginable if talented graduates and post graduates would offer their services for the teaching jobs is state-run schools. The issue of teacher-training institutions would also warrant great attention. Presently, it appears these institutions are not in a position to produce trained teachers in required number and of required standard.


It will not be amiss to mention here that the new policy has instituted a forum of federal and provincial education ministers for removing stumbling blocks in its implementation. However, as things stand, this forum will, at best, tackle big issues of policy, finance and administration. And for the system of day-to-day running, it is the traditional institution of inspectorate, which alone will be able to deliver effectively. We feel that the new policy should have given the institute of Inspectorate high primary in the new scheme of things, but unluckily it has not. So amendments must be made now and inspectorates must be revised to enable schools function smoothly. However, all told, much will depend on how best the new education policy is executed.

On the face of it, the new policy presents a rosy picture as it promises free education upto matric, substantial increase in education budget during the next few years, enhancing enrolment, upgrading qualifications of primary and secondary teachers and overhauling of the examination system etc.

While the newly launched education policy is generally hailed in the country, a number of educationists, who were part of the reform process, are not pleased, as a number of their suggestions have not been included. It appears that the policy makers had decided to adopt the political approach and accordingly, they had worked out the draft in a way that would satisfy the government functionaries rather than the professionals. We, however feel that this policy can still be revised if it is placed before the expert committee for an honest debate to elicit public opinion. Currently, it has correctly identified most of the ills that beset this sector inaccessibility, disparity, quality and so on. But it is a pity that it failed to find the right solution. Political expediency seems to have gained an upper hand.

In the new envisaged policy, upgrading primary schools to middle level and transplanting classes XI and XII from colleges to high school is a bold and innovative step but in view of existing ground realities, the experiment will entail a lot of spending. No doubt, increase of upto 7% of GDP will take care of it. Yet, it is difficult to ignore the status quo in the four provinces. Presently, conditions in rural Sindh are extremely deplorable and the cities in Sindh have schools, which will have to be built afresh. Punjab is comparatively better but most of its schools are in the last stage of disrepairs. With regard to Balochistan, less said, the better. It is yet to enter the education age.

In NWFP, it appears that people have suffered so heavily due to political turmoil, that their focus on education has changed its course. Viewing things from another angle, we see that the biggest flaw in the primary education system is that it is unwilling to allow girls to be educated. Female literacy in Pakistan is shocking. The New Policy too, does not talk much of the problem but the truth is that Pakistan will not reap incalculable dividends of civilization, so long as half the population is deprived of educational facilities.







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 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 gain we know the crack hasn’t healed 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! I’d like to end with another wonderful instrument: 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..!











Plundering of thousands of tamarisk trees or salt cedars, jhau in Bangla, a protective greenery along the coast of Cox's Bazaar has been so defiantly rampant that it has drawn the attention of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Her reaction to the ruthless rape of this green cover has been nothing less than an outrage and quite appropriately does she order strict actions to be taken against those involved in the crime, notwithstanding their party affiliation. What is, however, surprising is that very few are talking about stopping the plunderers before the next lot of trees have been felled, least of putting in place a deterrent measure on the ground. It is hardly of any help to the coastline that is so left exposed to the battering by waves and wind if the trees cannot be saved.
Hurricane Katrina which hit Florida, New Orleans and Louisiana in late August 2005 has brought to the fore that in the absence of the buffer zone lost to the land developed along the coast, the impact of the hurricane became worse and flood water took months to recede. The Sunderbans for us acts as a buffer zone against cyclones and the salt cedar forests, for that matter, do the same for the coastlines. At a time when sea-level rising due to global warming and many other calamitous developments should sensitise people about the immense value of protecting forest covers, including those acting like a wall against cyclones or tsunamis, there is not enough administrative measures to stop the felling of trees from the forests. A number of our forests have either totally or partially vanished. With far less forest cover than required, we can ill afford further depletion of our forests.



It is exactly at this point we suggest exemplary punishment for plundering of trees from the seacoast. But more urgent is the need for protecting the trees still left there. We would not believe that the gangs involved in the felling of trees are more powerful than the administration. The gangs have been committing the crime for quite sometime now with impunity. They are known faces and should be put behind bars immediately so that their action in no way encourages others to follow their example.    








After almost half-a-century the political power in the world's second largest economy, Japan, has passed on to the Democratic Party from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). As the newly appointed prime minister Yukio Hatoyama said, "we are looking at the making of history." Most people agreed that this might be the beginning of the two-party system in Japan, which has been termed a one-party democracy for long. But then with elections coming up for the Upper House next summer, much will depend on what Hatoyama and his cabinet do in the meantime.


For the time being the Democrats will have to share power with two other small parties - the pacifist, Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the New People's Party, as without their support the Democrats cannot get any bills passed in the Upper House. There are fundamental differences between the coalition partners about a number of issues including foreign policy. The SDP is opposed to the deployment of Japanese troops overseas and the refuelling of US ships in the Asian region.

Although the Democrats won the elections, promising reforms that included a review of Japan's strategic relation with the United States, reining in the mandarins and reorienting public expenditure, none of those was spelled out in details. A new strategy council headed by the deputy prime minister would suggest ways and means to do it. The prime task, immediately, would be to take over power by the politicians from the mandarins. Other actions, announced, were suspension of several mega dams, offering child allowances, free schooling and free expressways.


Nikkei all-share index was up

Whether the package would be enough to navigate Japan out of the deepest recession since World War II was not immediately clear. But the Nikkei all-share index jumped significantly to give a vote of confidence to the new administration. Then again, it is characteristic of bourses to rise and fall, in the short-run. It will take at least sometime before a definite trend emerges.  








He was the colony bully: A tough fellow, who used swear words like others their good mornings and goodbyes. I had to go down and face him as he had attacked my supervisor and even the watchman. "Lord," I prayed, "Walk with me!" I went down and looked him in the eye, talked gently to him, and it seemed the bully in him disappeared; a new meek fellow listened. I walked back home and grinned to a God above, "Thank you for walking with me Lord!" Her name was Carol, and she was eighteen. She was on a one- week cruise of the Hawaiian Islands. It was a wonderful cruise with friendly people on board, but for days the others on the cruise had watched as Carol walked around with a limp and knew she had on an artificial left leg. Today was the last day of the cruise and a talent night when all the passengers participated in a contest. It was finally Carol's turn. She came on stage wearing neither shorts nor Hawaiian garb, but a full length dress. She looked beautiful. She walked up to the microphone and said, "I really don't know what my talent is, but I thought this would be a good chance for me to give what I think I owe you all, and this is an explanation. I know you've been looking at me all week and wondering about my fake leg. I thought I should tell you what happened. I was in a motorcycle accident. I almost died, but they kept giving me blood and my pulse came back. They amputated my leg below my knee and later they amputated through the knee. I spent seven months in the hospital - seven months with intravenous antibiotics to fight infection."  She paused a moment and then continued, "If there's one thing that happened to me at that time is that my faith became very real to me." Suddenly a hush swept over the ship. The waitresses stopped serving drinks. The glasses stopped tinkling. Everybody was focused on the tall eighteen year old blonde. She said, "I look at you girls who walk without a limp, and I wish I could walk that way. I can't, but this is what I've learned, and I want to leave it with you: "It's not how you walk, but who walks with you!" At this point she paused again and said, "I'd like to sing a song about my friend who walks with me," and she sang:


And He walks with me and He talks to me

And He tells me I am His own

And the joy we share

In our time of prayer

None other has ever known!

"Thank you!" There was not a dry eye, not a life that wasn't touched that night on board that cruise near Hawaii.


I wonder who walks with you as you limp through life? I wonder who walks with you as you face bullies and insensitive people every day? Just remember what Carol said on board that luxury ship, "Its not how you walk but who walks with you…!"









WHILE Kevin Rudd leads Labor, his true allegiance is to talent, demonstrated by his ambassadorial appointments yesterday. Brendan Nelson will go to Brussels as ambassador to the European Union and representative to other agencies, including NATO, tasks that are not always twinned. Kim Beazley will represent Australia in Washington. These are both plum posts, the pinnacle of any career serving the public, appointments that superannuated politicians dream of. That the Prime Minister has not used either appointment to serve his party, harm his opponents or reward his supporters says a great deal about his clear-eyed commitment to acknowledging ability. Rather than despatch a Labor loyalist or suitably on-side diplomat to Brussels, Mr Rudd has sent a man who until Wednesday was his sworn political opponent. As Dr Nelson said in his farewell speech to parliament, he leaves it "a stronger Liberal" for the path he chose in it. And in making Mr Beazley our ambassador plenipotentiary on the Potomac, Mr Rudd has resurrected the career of a one-time internal party opponent, just as John Howard did with Andrew Peacock.


Dr Nelson's appointment in particular says a great deal about the Prime Minister's political style. It demonstrates that Mr Rudd does not believe in the Labor tradition of appointing pals, demonstrated by the web of influence that is now unravelling in his home state, Queensland. The last Labor prime minister, Paul Keating, appointed his principal adviser, Don Russell, as ambassador to Washington. In contrast, Mr Rudd has decided that Australia could not afford to lose a man who was once the alternative prime minister and that because partisan politics must not divide Australians on matters of national interest, once Dr Nelson ceased serving his party he should commence working for his country. This is not an especially Australian attitude to appointments in the gift of the executive - tribal loyalties run deep - but it is one Americans have always understood. Abraham Lincoln's second secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, was a Democrat in a Republican cabinet and President Barack Obama's Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, has served Republican administrations. While presidents appoint their pals to posts, party allegiance does not always decide executive appointments. Mr Rudd is right to follow the US in selecting stars, whatever their personal politics.


There is also a great deal of diplomatic cunning in these announcements. In the lead up to the G20 meeting later this month, Dr Nelson's appointment sends the Europeans a clear signal Australia's left-leaning government cannot be taken for granted. Dr Nelson was defence minister in a government that earlier committed Australia to Iraq, a war most Europeans abhorred. He is a strong supporter of the struggle against the Taliban and will doubtless communicate Canberra's opinion that, the British aside, NATO is not pulling its weight in Afghanistan. And his admiration for George W. Bush is on the record. While we have heard the last of his sceptical stance on the government's European-style Carbon Pollution Reduction Strategy, NATO generals, EU officials and their ministers will note Australia has sent them a man with the policy experience and intellectual ability to firmly make his country's case.


Mr Beazley's appointment is even more important. While the Labor Left blames the US for everything from Islamic terrorism to global warming, Mr Beazley has always admired the US and understood the importance of its friendship. He has defended the alliance as the irreplaceable foundation of Australian security, but has always argued we must pay our way within it, that we must make sure the Americans see us as partners not mendicants. If fascination is the sincerest form of flattery, official Washington will welcome Mr Beazley. His obsession with American politics and history is well known and he is a long-time leader of the trans-Pacific policy community. As a former defence minister, he is aware of the strategic circumstances that shape US interests, where they conform and differ from our own. Most important, as a one-time opposition leader he understands how to generate awareness of an agenda in the media and open doors among legislators and officials. Mr Beazley's political skills will ensure Australia is heard in Washington far more than if our new ambassador was a bureaucrat used to the world of position papers rather than newspaper opinion pages. Despite Mr Obama's words of praise for Mr Rudd's carbon research plan at the G8 summit in L'Aquila in July, this is the first White House since World War II that does not include senior friends of Australia. Mr Beazley is well equipped to make some.


These appointments are a necessary corrective to the sniping shambles of question time this week, demonstrating that truly talented politicians can rise above old animosities. And they contrast with the ferocity with which Mr Rudd pursues his political opponents, past and present. There is no respect for the previous government in the way he refuses to give it any credit for reforms. Yesterday, he recognised that neither side of politics has a monopoly on talent. It is an idea he needs to remember in areas beyond diplomatic appointments.








THE corruption that tainted Afghanistan's election is a serious setback for a country that badly needs the stabilisation open democracy can bring. European Union monitors estimate that one in four votes counted were fraudulent, contributing to mounting anger against President Hamid Karzai. The UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission has ordered a recount, but with winter approaching, another round of voting seems out of the question for months, leaving a dangerous vacuum.


Widespread violence and intimidation around the country indicates that the Taliban is resurgent. But it is vital to retain a clear perspective about what is stake. Time magazine recently described the Taliban as "a markedly different movement" from what it was in 2001 and claimed it included "those seeking justice against NATO". It would be foolish, however, to suggest that a return to Taliban rule would be any more palatable than it was eight years ago when Sunni Islamist fundamentalists controlled the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan by fear and force. Neither should we forget what the Taliban concept of justice would mean - beheadings, virtual house arrest for women and amputated fingers if they were inky from ballot papers.


Unlike The Sydney Morning Herald's Paul McGeough, who wrote recently that hundreds of grieving families in Australia, Britain, Canada and the US "well might wonder - what was the cause for which their sons and daughters died in service", those who contemplate the alternative will be in no doubt about the importance of victory.


However dubious Mr Karzai's authority, the serious setback of the election fiasco should force the West to exert greater leverage on his regime. Nor should the allies lose sight of the aims of their mission, which were set out recently by Defence Minister John Faulkner: to help stabilise Afghanistan, to train its National Army so that it can take the lead in providing security, and to prevent terrorists gaining control in Kabul. Allowing Afghanistan to descend into a jihad state would threaten Australia's security and that of the world. It would also put intolerable pressure on Pakistan, making its nuclear weapons more vulnerable.


Despite rising opposition to the war in the US and Europe, NATO has no choice but to stay the course and heed the warning of US military commander Admiral Mike Mullen - combat forces must be boosted if the war is to be won. As of last month, the US had 62,000 troops on the ground and Britain 9000. Germany had 4000, France 3000, Italy 2700 and Spain 780. Fewer than 40 per cent of those in the field are Europeans, leaving vast scope for increases.







DAN Brown's new thriller is a prime example of why the Rudd government needs to show real spine and back the Productivity Commission's push for removal of restrictions on overseas book imports. Although heavily discounted by some outlets, The Lost Symbol's recommended retail price in Australia, where 600,000 copies have been printed, is $49.95. In the US, before discounting, it is $US29.95 -- two-thirds of the price, allowing for the exchange rate. Australia's literati claim the rip-off protects our vibrant writing culture. But Brown's bestsellers, which have nothing to do with Australia, put paid to that argument. The global marketplace is no place for arcane protectionism. It's time to put the public interest first.











LIKE a problem gambler, the State Government's relationship with Crown Casino has over the years engendered a range of extraordinary justifications, evasions and excuses. So cosy and non-transparent have dealings between casino and state been that other gaming operators and the public suspect the deck is stacked in Crown's favour. The latest example is the redefinition of automated gaming tables, until now classified as electronic gaming machines, to the class of ''fully automated table games'', which will allow Crown to install up to 200 of these machines.


This decision by the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation enables the casino to maximise the effect of an expansion that the Government announced on the day of the federal budget. Under the deal, the casino can increase its table games from 350 to 500, including an extra 100 poker tables, in its biggest expansion in more than a decade. Up to 50 can be the new class of automated table games, with up to 200 individual terminals for players. The Government claims the lack of human dealer or operator makes no difference, but these machines are marketed as ''dramatically increasing game frequency''.


Premier John Brumby has rejected concerns about problem gambling by claiming that there will be no extra gaming machines that ''can produce addictive behaviour''. Yesterday he stood by his ludicrous claim that there was ''very little evidence at all'' linking problem gambling to table games. He defends the deal as a good one for Victoria under which Crown will pay an extra $132 million in taxes over four years. Both the way the deal was reached and developments since it was announced in May leave all these claims open to question.


Mr Brumby's initial claim about problem gambling was flatly contradicted within days by former AFL footballer David Schwarz at last week's launch of the Victorian Government's latest problem gambling advertising campaign. ''I had the same rush from poker machines, at tables, the horse race, dog race, the trots,'' the former problem gambler said. Gambling expert Charles Livingstone, of Monash University's health social science department, described the Premier's claim as ''the most extraordinary statement I've ever heard''. In some places overseas, he said, 50 per cent of table game players were addicts.


So whose advice did the cabinet rely on when it approved the deal? When The Age sought answers via a freedom-of-information request to the office of Treasurer John Lenders, who negotiated the deal, it was told he did not have any official documents relevant to the request. After a request from Parliament, however, the Treasurer released 13 documents, which included: a letter from Crown boss James Packer to Mr Lenders (a document attached to the letter was withheld); a letter from Mr Lenders to the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation and a letter in reply.


This month The Age established that the commission was only asked to assess the social and economic impact of the deal months after it was signed. The Government did so because the Opposition threatened to block legislation needed to give effect to the casino expansion unless it was provided with research justifying the deal. The commission's assessment will include tax revenue projections. Gaming Minister Tony Robinson has said he will make the review public and last week offered the public two weeks to comment. One has to question the value of such ''consultation'' long after the deal has been done.



The whole process of assessment, public scrutiny and approval of the deal has been back to front. Mr Brumby's claims cast doubt on the reliability of advice to the cabinet. The lack of public scrutiny and transparency is troubling because of unanswered questions about contact between Mr Brumby, Mr Lenders and casino owner James Packer, who in April complained to them about the state of negotiations and warned of ''far-reaching ramifications''.


Now that the deal is done, the Government insists efforts to reduce problem gambling are working, despite evidence to the contrary from the Sweeney report, commissioned by the Justice Department. It found that almost half of ''at risk'' gamblers visited gaming venues more than once a week last year, up from 28 per cent in just two years.


Mr Brumby also denies the Government is hooked on gaming revenue, which increased to $1.64 billion this year, and says its share of overall state revenue has fallen. What he does not mention is that Victoria is more reliant on gaming revenue than other states - it gets 25 per cent more than the average. The way the Government has gone about the casino deal suggests its dependence on revenue from gaming and associated tourism has blinded it to the usual considerations of proper process.

The Age







"LIFE after politics is second best to politics,'' former Labor leader Kim Beazley said earlier this year, when awarded the nation's highest honour, Companion of the Order of Australia. Well, maybe not. Mr Beazley's new post as ambassador to the US will not lack the adrenalin rush that goes with power, or at least proximity to it. There could hardly be a better qualified person for the role of custodian of Australia's most important international relationship, and it came as no surprise when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced the appointment yesterday. The accompanying announcement of former opposition leader Brendan Nelson as ambassador to the European Union, to Belgium and Luxembourg, and as representative to NATO and special representative to the World Health Organisation, was more of a surprise but also welcome. It can be argued that Dr Nelson, as a former president of the Australian Medical Association and former defence minister, is an appropriate appointee to at least the last two posts. Some may argue that he was not the obvious candidate for the EU, but he has an appropriate breadth of experience to succeed.


Mr Beazley, who served as defence minister in the Hawke government, has a reputation as a strategic analyst and student of US affairs that is independent of his long political career. Since leaving Parliament he has resumed academic life, serving as chancellor of the Australian National University, a professorial fellow in political science and international relations at the University of WA and a board member of the University of Sydney's US Studies Centre. In his new job he will not only be able to utilise his scholarly expertise, but also his extensive contacts among Washington's powerbrokers. Diplomatic appointments for former politicians frequently provoke controversy, but in this case there should be none.







THE Premier, Nathan Rees, is used to bad news. Rees was given what footballers call a hospital pass when the factions chose him as Morris Iemma's successor. There are days when the reporting of his Government is so negative he must wonder if it is worthwhile getting out of bed. Yet he does - and to his lasting credit he complains little about reports of his Government's failures and shortcomings.


His Planning Minister, Kristina Keneally, on the other hand, is made of far less stern stuff. Keneally, appearing before a parliamentary committee, has taken issue with the Herald's reports on the death of Michael McGurk, the developer and standover man. We are, she says, spreading smear in an attempt to ''stave off the death of broadsheet newspapers''.


Keneally is right to this extent: we are indeed trying to improve the future of broadsheet newspapers, and in particular this one, by printing stories we believe are true, and in the public interest. We believe that, for the good of this state, the public should know all that can be reliably found out about the relationship between developers, lobbyists and the Labor Party. We believe, moreover, that the McGurk case raises serious questions, as it offers evidence of a network of such relationships, which is unhealthy for the future of democracy in this state. We believe that the case hints at a web of influence-peddling and deal-making between developers, lobbyists and government which relies upon the decisions of public officials, but which is conducted largely out of the public gaze, and to the public's general detriment.


The progress of technology, it is true, presents a severe challenge to newspapers. It may even be that the industry across the world is in its twilight years. If that were so, it would be regrettable.


But whether or not it proves to be so, we are also certain of this: newspapers that tell the truth about the machinations of politicians and powerbrokers will, by performing that public service, last a good deal longer than the current Labor Government of this state.


Keneally and her colleagues can see that their time is nearly up. They should also see - but in their arrogance they may choose to remain blind to it - that the public has lost interest in Labor for the excellent reason that Labor has lost interest in serving the public and is interested only, as the McGurk case is showing, in serving itself.







IN TWO countries, war crime suspects come out of their safe havens into the jurisdiction of countries with an international treaty obligation to investigate and prosecute.


In East Timor Maternus Bere crosses the border from Indonesia to Suai; here in 1999 he is accused of taking part in the massacre of three Catholic priests and numerous people sheltering in their church. He is arrested but then released on the orders of either the President, Jose Ramos-Horta, or the Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, or both.


In Australia a Timorese man named Guy Campos comes for the World Youth Day assembly organised by the Catholics in Sydney in July last year, and stays on. He is recognised by another Timorese as an Indonesian intelligence informer allegedly involved in the torture and killing of her 11-year-old brother in 1979. On Monday Campos was allowed to leave Australia after what, we are assured, was a thorough Australian Federal Police investigation.


Both cases are worrying to all who hope that international law, including the Geneva Conventions, can be made a working legal framework to protect both soldiers and civilians in war. The Australian case comes to light after the federal police began an investigation into the deaths of newsmen at Balibo in 1975 only after a popular film made it a popular cause, and a new federal police commissioner and home affairs minister had taken office. Before that, it is clear, the federal police had been sitting for 21 months on a referral of evidence from a damning NSW inquest. We can infer that diplomatic expedience ruled.


In the Bere case, no inference is necessary. It is plain that Ramos-Horta and Gusmao were told in no uncertain terms that Indonesia would make life very difficult if the suspect was not immediately released. They complied and, in doing so, were in breach of their country's constitution and law. Their decision has been condemned by Bishop Basilio do Nascimento, the United Nations, and most of the groups that fought so long for East Timor's right to independence.


Once again we hear the mantra of ''looking to the future'' from the Indonesian Government. In Australia, it is suggested that ''dragging up'' past atrocities somehow holds back the progress of Indonesia's new democracy.


Actually, the problem is that the impunity still enjoyed by the Indonesian military and its former militias is something that other powerful remnants of the authoritarian era also demand, and get - witness the farce of the anti-corruption commission reported in the Herald yesterday. The rule of law demands no exceptions.










The missile defence shield which George Bush planned to deploy in eastern Europe was a system that did not work, for a threat that did not exist, to defend countries that had not asked for protection. Not our assessment, but that of Zbigniew Brzezinski, hardly a Russian apologist. He is, however, an American realist. Barack Obama's administration had already hinted at dropping plans to deploy a sophisticated radar station in the Czech Republic and 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland, so yesterday's confirmation was hardly unexpected. Still, the announcement represents a U-turn – a welcome one – and it will have regional and global consequences.


For Russia, it means that Mr Obama has acted on his promise to repair the frayed relationship, to press the reset button. Both George Bush (and, it is often forgotten, Bill Clinton before him) took only the most perfunctory notice of Russia's views on matters of regional importance such as the enlargement of Nato . Russia now has a US president in Mr Obama who shows he will listen to them. The defence establishment in Moscow could never have come to terms with a radar station in the Czech Republic powerful enough to track all military movements in European Russia. And the presence of missile interceptors in Poland deepened the suspicion that the US was bolstering its capacity to carry out a nuclear first strike. No one can now rationally argue that, so the immediate effect of this decision will be to give renewed impulse to negotiations to secure a replacement to the Start treaty which runs out in December.


It is always assumed that Russia's gain is eastern Europe's loss. But this is not a zero-sum game. Public opinion in Poland and the Czech Republic was rightly divided over Mr Bush's initial plans, and the bottom line for Warsaw and Prague had nothing to do with the stated threat, Iran. The real attraction of the Bush plan was the prospect of getting US military boots on Polish and Czech ground. Both countries considered a US military presence a more reliable insurance policy against Russian invasion than Article 5 of the Nato charter. There are other, less expensive ways, of giving the two countries the reassurance they crave. The leak in the Wall Street Journal of the decision to abandon the missile shield coincided with the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland at the start of the second world war. Unfortunate timing, to say the least. However, if it forces Poland and the Czech Republic to be less Eurosceptic, to realise that their political future and military security are linked as much to Brussels as they are to Washington, then that may not be a bad thing.


However, the US is not abandoning missile defence plans for Europe. It is merely shifting the emphasis from combating Iran's intercontinental ballistic missiles, which is a threat that does not yet exist, to Iran's short- and medium-range missiles, which do. America plans to introduce missile interceptors on ships and on land in four phases. It does not say in which countries. A White House statement notes that elements of the new system will be relocatable and that they will be deployed in both northern and southern Europe. While it welcomes Russian co-operation, there could be much in this that stimulates fresh anxiety. Poland will still get a battery of the Patriot missiles that would have defended the interceptor base from attack by Russian Iskander missiles based in Kaliningrad. All of which means that the controversy over missiles in Europe is far from over.


The decision to drop plans for defence against ballistic missiles is not cost-free. It could make Israel more ready to contemplate unilateral action against Iran's nuclear sites. And it may not produce the desired result: reciprocal support from Russia on a renewed round of sanctions against Iran, should talks fail. But Mr Obama's decision has given Russia an opportunity it should not squander. A strengthened relationship is good for everyone.






If the working classes feature at all in modern culture (and that is a big if) it is as a problem: as neets or as people who cannot manage their diets, their finances, their children. They are throwbacks, we are meant to assume, out of step with the new white-collar service economy. The Pitmen Painters, a play that has been staged in Newcastle and London and is about to go on a tour of Dublin, Sheffield, Norwich and other places, reminds audiences of a time when the economy looked very different. Its subject is mining during the 1930s, when (even despite the Depression) Britain was producing around 250m tonnes of coal a year – and exporting about a fifth of it. Against that backdrop, The Pitmen Painters focuses on the true story of the men of Ashington colliery in Northumberland, who began studying art history because their local Workers' Educational Association could not get hold of an economics lecturer. What writer Lee Hall wrings out of this situation is not just humour, or a discussion of the meaning of art, or politics – although all are present and correct. He also reminds audiences of a tradition of working-class intellectualism that also took in Ruskin College and miners' libraries, with the pitmen engaging in fierce debate over "bourgeois formalism". As we go into party conference season and the trading of soundbites which passes for an election campaign, Hall reminds us of a tradition of public reasoning that was lively and rewarding and important. If only we had more of it now.







Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must pass over in silence. Wittgenstein's famous one-liner is acquiring an eerie new resonance in a most unlikely place – the courtroom. The ideal of the whole truth being placed on record is increasingly strained by strict injunctions which preclude not only knowledge of what has been said, but of the fact that a hearing ever took place. In recent days a corporation, which shall of course remain nameless, served the Guardian with an order. This not only barred us from publishing details of a document raising the possibility of serious wrongdoing on its part, but also prevented us from letting slip that any such injunction had been made.


There is a powerful sense that this is part of a pattern, although obtaining watertight proof is impossible, since in many such cases there is also an order to seal the court files, which is where one would ordinarily look in order to undertake a tally of injunctions. One is left in the Carollesque absurdity of being unable to count the number of secret sessions because such sessions are not officially held to count. Occasional cases where injunctions have been revoked on appeal – such as that imposed on Private Eye by senior lawyer Michael Napier to conceal murky handling of a complaint against him – have shown how the public interest is ill-served by public ignorance.


The underlying problem is the half-evolved state of the privacy law, which the courts are developing under Article 8 of the European convention on human rights. This covers the "right to respect for [one's] private and family life", and was originally intended to preclude Stasi-style policing more than anything else, although in 2004 Strasbourg ruled that it also afforded protection to Princess Caroline of Monaco to enjoy a private life without endless hounding by the paparazzi. Her plight deserved sympathy, but that is not true of those corporations (dubious candidates for "human" rights in any circumstances) who exploit the principle that she supposedly established in order to divert the harsh light of day away from any dealings they would prefer to keep under wraps.


The growing band of Strasbourg judges who come from countries that lack strong free speech traditions is a concern, but it must be hoped that the court there will nonetheless soon use another case to clarify the many circumstances in which the public interest requires that the right to privacy be tempered by the right to free expression. But even before that happens, British judges should find the courage to make a stand. At the very moment when the government's control order regime for terror suspects is unravelling because of its reliance on secret evidence, they should surely be more mindful than ever that justice in the dark is rarely justice at all.








The conviction and sentencing of former Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian is a troubling development. The life sentence handed down to Mr. Chen is certain to deepen the fissures in an already deeply divided and volatile society. He has appealed the sentence.


While justice should be blind, it can and should be tempered by other considerations, such as mercy or, in this case, the desire to avoid the radicalization of Taiwan's politics. In other words, Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, Mr. Chen's successor, should be thinking of a pardon.


Mr. Chen, a former lawyer, was the first opposition candidate elected president of Taiwan. His victory in 2000 broke the Kuomintang (KMT), or Nationalist Party, grip on government in Taipei, and ushered in eight years of rule by his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).


Mr. Chen and the DPP had two aims in their campaign: ending the corruption that was endemic in KMT rule and carving out greater space for Taiwan, a project that would, ideally, culminate in recognition of its independence from China.


His term in office was a bitter eight years, marked by his fight against determined opposition from both the KMT and the mainland government in Beijing. In 2008, the KMT won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections and Mr. Ma, a KMT heavyweight, took the presidency.


An hour after he left office, Mr. Chen, his wife and his children were charged with corruption. Prosecutors alleged that Mr. Chen and his family had embezzled more than $3 million from a special presidential fund during his term in office, and received bribes worth $9 million in connection with two property deals and then laundered the money overseas.


Prosecutors further charged the defendants with sending more than $30 million to accounts in Singapore and the Cayman Islands and and moving funds to Swiss bank accounts. In August last year, Mr. Chen and his wife resigned from the DPP after he admitted that he had failed to declare election campaign funds and conceded that his wife had wired $21 million overseas without his knowledge; they agreed to return the money in November.


Not surprisingly, a three-judge panel found the former first family guilty last week. What was stunning was the sentence. The former president was given the maximum, life in prison, and fined T$200 million (about $6.1 million); his wife was also given a life sentence (suspended because of her poor health) and fined T$300 million; their son was given a 30-month sentence; their daughter-in-law got 20 months (for helping them launder the money); and their daughter received a six-month sentence on lesser charges.


Mr. Chen and his supporters say they expected the verdict and the sentence. They have complained that the entire process was political, not judicial. It is hard not to agree. Twice the court ordered Mr. Chen released on bail, and twice it was overruled; at one point, the judge who had ruled in his favor was replaced. Keeping him in solitary confinement was necessary, the court reasoned, because the former president was a flight risk or might conspire with other witnesses to defraud the court. The rulings seemed excessive and spiteful.


The Chens may be guilty — the evidence certainly looks convincing. But Taiwan's supercharged political environment should now be a factor in the government's thinking as it decides how to deal with the verdict. Even though the investigation began while Mr. Chen was still in office, the entire court process looks like a settling of scores. Mr. Chen has accused the government of prosecuting him to appease China and to facilitate Mr. Ma's agenda of reaching out to Beijing.


Taiwan does not need this. The island's 23 million people are deeply divided as politics infuses every issue. Even the aftermath of Typhoon Morakot, a tragedy that resulted in more than 600 deaths, has become an opportunity for political grandstanding of the worst kind. Taiwan faces mounting challenges. The most immediate is the cleanup after Morakot. Then there is getting the economy in order.


Finally, there is the daunting assignment of forging a national consensus on how to engage the mainland. While the Taiwanese people are bitterly divided on that policy, there is more common ground than is commonly assumed. Most Taiwanese want more international space, more respect for their accomplishments, and the freedom to be prosperous and practice democracy. A dispute centers on the best way to achieve those objectives.


Mr. Ma must reach out to the DPP. Pardoning Mr. Chen and his family would help that along. There will be continuing anger among DPP stalwarts who seek no compromise with the KMT and who prefer high dudgeon to handshakes. But for those who worry about politicization of the judiciary, the setting of an ugly precedent, and the need for Taiwan to unite to deal with the challenges that lie ahead, such a gesture would be a good start. It is, however, only a start.










LONDON — Early next week two German-owned container ships will arrive in Rotterdam from Vladivostok in the Russian Far East, having taken only one month to make the voyage. That's much faster than usual — but then they didn't take the usual route down through the South China Sea, past Singapore, round the bottom of India, through the Suez Canal (pay toll here), across the Mediterranean and up the west coast of Europe. They just went around the top of Russia.


It's the first-ever commercial transit of the Northeast Passage by non-Russian ships, and it shortens the sea trip between East Asia and Europe by almost a third. It's the melting of Arctic Ocean ice that has made it possible, although for the moment it's only possible for a couple of months at the end of the summer melt season, when the Arctic ice cover has shrunk dramatically. But it is a sign of things to come.


The voyage is more evidence that climate change is well under way, and will strike the Arctic region hard. But it also shows that all the fuss about the Northwest Passage is irrelevant. It's the Northwest Passage — another potential shortcut between Europe and East Asia, which goes through the Canadian Arctic archipelago — that has gotten the attention in the past few years.


Although ice-breakers have traversed it from time to time, no ordinary commercial ship has ever carried cargo through it. But when the Russians put on their little propaganda show at the North Pole two years ago, the Canadian government had kittens.


In 2007 Artur Chilingarov, a Russian scientist famous for his work in the polar regions and personal Arctic adviser to then-President Vladimir Putin, took a mini-sub to the North Pole and planted a Russian flag on the seabed. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper immediately flew to Iqaluit in the high Arctic and responded with a rabble-rousing speech.


"Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty in the Arctic," he said. "We either use it or lose it. And make no mistake: This government intends to use it." He then announced a program to build six to eight armed Arctic patrol vessels to assert Canadian control over the Northwest Passage, and a deep-water naval base on Baffin Island.


"I don't know why the Canadians reacted as they did," Chilingarov told me a few months later in Moscow, and on the face of it he had a case. After all, Russia has no claims over any land or water that might conceivably belong to Canada, and Canada makes no claim on the North Pole. But Chilingarov actually understood the game that Harper was playing quite well.


Canada's dispute over sovereignty in the Northwest Passage is actually with the United States, not with Russia. The Russians have absolutely no interest in the Northwest Passage, since they have their own rival, the Northeast Passage. But the United States used to believe that the Northwest Passage could be very useful if it were ice-free, so Washington has long maintained that it is an international water way that Canada has no right to control.


Canada disputes that position, pointing out that all six potential routes for a commercially viable Northwest Passage wind are between islands that are close together and indisputably Canadian. But Ottawa has never asserted military control over the Northwest Passage until now, because to do so would risk an awkward confrontation with the U.S. However, if you can pretend that you are building those warships and that naval base to hold the wicked Russians at bay, not to defy the Americans . . .


That is Harper's game, and he now visits the high north every summer to re-assert Canada's sovereignty claims. But in the end it will make no difference, because the Northwest Passage will never become a major shipping route. The Northeast Passage is just too much easier.


The problem for Canada is that all the routes for a Northwest Passage involve shallow and/or narrow straits between various islands in the country's Arctic archipelago, and the prevailing winds and currents in the Arctic Ocean tend to push whatever loose sea ice there is into those straits. It is unlikely that cargo ships that are not double-hulled and strengthened against ice will ever get insurance for the passage at an affordable price.


Whereas the Northeast Passage is mostly open water (once the ice retreats from the Russian coast), and there is already a major infrastructure of ports and nuclear-powered ice-breakers in the region. Since the distances are roughly comparable, shippers will prefer the Northeast Passage every time.


Just look at the Arctic Ocean on a globe, rather than on the familiar flat-earth Mercator projection. It is instantly obvious that the distance is the same whether shipping between Europe and East Asia crosses the Arctic Ocean by running along Russia's Arctic coast (the Northeast Passage) or weaving between Canada's Arctic islands (the Northwest Passage).


The same is true for cargo traveling between Europe and the west coast of North America. The Northwest Passage will never be commercially viable.


Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.










HONG KONG — Ever since the 1950s, China has subscribed to the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of other countries, which was first written into a treaty that it signed with India in 1954. China has loudly upheld this principle and criticized those who, in Beijing's view, interfere in its internal affairs, including those who comment on its human rights record.


During this period, however, China has by no means lived up to its own standards. In the Maoist era, for example, Beijing supported world revolution and called constantly for the downfall of "American imperialism" and its "running dogs."


In the 1960s and 1970s, China supported insurgent movements in Southeast Asia. Even as the Chinese government was pledging eternal friendship to governments with which it had forged diplomatic relations, the Chinese Communist Party was covertly supporting underground movements intent upon overthrowing those same governments. It was not until the 1980s that such blatant interference in other countries' internal affairs finally ceased.


With the recent rise of Chinese economic power, Beijing appears to have widened its definition of what constitutes its internal affairs. Indeed, its definition of Chinese internal affairs increasingly seems to overlap with other countries' definitions of their internal affairs.


For example, Beijing calls on leaders of other countries not to meet with the Dalai Lama, whom it accuses of being a splittist, intent on separating Tibet from China. Last year, it canceled a summit meeting with the European Union because French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who then held the rotating presidency of the EU, insisted on meeting with the Nobel laureate. Sarkozy asserted his right to meet whomever he wanted: "It's not for China to fix my agenda, or to dictate my meetings."


The Chinese position seems to be that any government that accords any recognition to the exiled Tibetan leader is interfering in China's internal affairs.


This Chinese position extends beyond visits with government leaders. Beijing doesn't want foreign governments to issue visas to the Dalai Lama, even though the right to issue visas is intrinsic to a country's sovereignty.


Governments ordinarily issue or withhold visas according to their own interests, not those of others. Incurring China's displeasure incurs certain costs.


Last month, for example, China rejected a requested port call in Hong Kong by Japan's navy. The official China Daily cited visits to Japan by the Dalai Lama and Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer as reasons for turning down the request.


The number of individuals whom the Chinese government wishes other countries to boycott has also increased. Beijing used to focus on Taiwan, warning all countries with which it has diplomatic relations not to receive senior officials from Taiwan. Visas for China's critics have also come under Beijing's scrutiny.



Last week China tried to prevent the environmental activist Dai Qing and the writer Bei Ling from visiting Germany to take part in a symposium leading up to the Frankfurt Book Fair. When the two showed up for the forum Saturday, the entire Chinese delegation walked out in protest. China is this year's guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair.The United States, of course, has been a major Chinese target. Former President George W. Bush met repeatedly with the Dalai Lama and, in 2007, was present when the Tibetan received the Congressional Gold Medal.


In recent months, Australia has borne the brunt of Chinese ire, largely because it allowed Rebiya Kadeer to visit while the Melbourne film festival screened a documentary about the exiled Uighur leader. The screening went ahead even though a Chinese diplomat telephoned the festival's director demanding that the film be dropped. Some Australians saw this as interference in their country's domestic affairs.


Canada was told recently that it was back in China's good graces. Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said in June that the key to success was "not to interfere in other countries' internal affairs," which was taken to mean an end to criticism of China's human rights practices.


The Dalai Lama is visiting the U.S. next month and President Barack Obama sent representatives to Dharmasala to discuss the possibility of a presidential audience. It was decided that Obama will not meet the Tibetan leader this time, apparently because Washington wants to ensure the success of his visit to China in November.


In the end, just as China decides whatconstitutes its internal affairs, other countries will have to decide where China's domestic affairs end and their own internal affairs begin.


Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator (








PARIS — Forget what you have heard about the hardworking Japanese salaryman: Since the early 1990s, the Japanese have slackened their work habits.


Indeed, Tokyo University economist Fumio Hayashi has demonstrated that the main reason behind Japan's nearly two decades of stagnation has been the decrease in the quantity of work performed by the Japanese.


The government itself has led the way here, starting with its decision to close public administration buildings on Saturdays. Japan's banks followed suit. From 1988 to 1993, the legal working week fell 10 percent, from 44 hours to 40. This, as much as anything, helped to bring Japan's long-running post-World War II economic "miracle" to its knees.


In the service sector, the decline is even worse than in manufacturing, because services are heavily regulated and partially closed to foreign competition. In the retail sector, which employs a huge number of Japan's unskilled workers — the so-called "mom and pop" shops — Japanese productivity is now 25 percent lower than in Western Europe.


Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi (in power 2001 to 2006) and his chief economic adviser and minister of finance, Heizo Takenaka, understood all too well that Japan was losing ground in terms of productivity. They sought to counter the trend toward less work through privatization and deregulation.


Japan's powerful bureaucrats, nostalgic for the 1960s' model of development, whereby government and its business cronies nurtured the Japanese miracle, strongly opposed this bold, free-market solution. But their model is obsolete, because Japan now competes directly with many other Asian and non-Asian countries, where work habits are of the type that used to prevail among the Japanese.


Moreover, public opinion never supported Koizumi's policy, which was alleged then, as it is now, to be a source of inequality. But that is a canard: real-estate speculation, not privatization, has been the real source of undeserved wealth in Japan. Nonetheless, the newly victorious Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has been able to make the accusation stick to free-market policies.


The recent electoral triumph of Yukio Hatoyama's untested DPJ thus confirmed the popular wish not to follow America's free-market model. Hatoyama makes no economic sense when he declares that growth is important but that happiness comes first. Nevertheless, this sentiment does reflect the mood of many Japanese.


Assuming that Hayashi and Takenaka are right about the causes of Japan's stagnation, one must ask whether

today's Japanese are willing to work more in order to catch up with the United States and to lead Asia's development? Stagnation is a tacit collective choice made by a country's majority. Have the Japanese people opted for it?


Nearly half of the Japanese population is either retired or near retirement age, and they worked very hard to achieve a high level of comfort. Thanks to them, despite the blighted economy of the "lost decade," Japanese income is still higher than it is in Europe.


Moreover, unemployment is low compared to the Western world, because the unproductive distribution sector absorbs young people who cannot find better jobs. Stagnating Japan has thus remained a peaceful and rather conservative society.


By contrast, a higher growth rate would require fewer golf breaks for salarymen and significant immigration in

a nation that is unaccustomed to foreign intrusion and different cultural habits. Are the Japanese really ready to accept such a cure?


Most Japanese, mostly the older generation, are satisfied with the kind of society they have built. They perceive Americans and Europeans as obsessed with money and material ambition, and they seem ready to accept some stagnation as the price of remaining truly Japanese. Hatoyama understands this, which is why he won the recent election.


Hatoyama's talk about a "new age," which sounds strange from a Western perspective, is in harmony with the Japanese way: This is a country where thousands of cult leaders offer myriad paths to Happiness, in particular a glib mishmash of New Age and Zen Buddhism.


How long can Japan sustain this period of harmonious stagnation? Japan's high-tech industries remain competitive, and the country is still the world's second-largest exporter. It retains a highly innovative economy, which registers more new patents each year than all European countries combined — second only to the U.S. and eons ahead of China and India. Japan's 127 million people still produce far more than 2.5 billion Chinese and Indians.


In 10 years or so, however, Japan could lose its status vis-a-vis the rest of Asia. Stagnation is already having a big impact on Japan's young, for whom it is becoming hard to find a job, let alone lifelong employment in a leading global company. Teenagers know that they will have fewer opportunities than their parents had. How they will pay for their parents' pensions and health care is unknown.


Most troubling is the absence of open debate about these matters. Japan is a hush-hush society where everyone is supposed to guess what is going on, and the media are careful not to provoke social division. Hard questions are not asked, and straightforward answers are considered too crude to be given. Foreigners are welcome to make comments, but their advice will usually be ignored.


It may seem to most Japanese that their continuing economic power affords them the luxury of indulging such ingrained habits. Perhaps they should bear in mind Ernest Hemingway's description of how a man goes broke: "slowly, then all at once."


Guy Sorman, a French philosopher and economist, is the author of "Economics Does Not Lie." © 2009 Project Syndicate (








NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The widespread failure of economists to forecast the financial crisis that erupted in 2008 has much to do with faulty models, which meant that economic policymakers and central bankers got no warning of what was to come.


As George Akerlof and I argue in our recent book "Animal Spirits," the current financial crisis was driven by speculative bubbles in the housing market, the stock market, and energy and other commodities markets. Bubbles are caused by feedback loops: rising speculative prices encourage optimism, which encourages more buying, and hence further speculative price increases — until the crash comes.


But you won't find the word "bubble" in most economics treatises or textbooks. Likewise, a search of working papers produced by central banks and economics departments in recent years yields few instances of "bubbles" even being mentioned. Indeed, the idea that bubbles exist has become so disreputable in much of the economics and finance profession that bringing them up in an economics seminar is like bringing up astrology to a group of astronomers.


The fundamental problem is that a generation of mainstream macroeconomic theorists has come to accept a theory that has an error at its very core: the axiom that people are fully rational. And as the statistician Leonard "Jimmie" Savage showed in 1954, if people follow certain axioms of rationality, they must behave as if they knew all the probabilities and did all the appropriate calculations.


So economists assume that people do indeed use all publicly available information and know, or behave as if they knew, the probabilities of all conceivable future events. They are not influenced by anything but the facts, and probabilities are taken as facts. They update these probabilities as soon as new information becomes available, and so any change in their behavior must be attributable to their rational response to genuinely new information. And if economic actors are always rational, then no bubbles — irrational market responses — are allowed.


But abundant psychological evidence has now shown that people do not satisfy Savage's axioms of rationality. This is the core element of the behavioral economics revolution that has begun to sweep economics over the last decade or so.


In fact, people almost never know the probabilities of future economic events. They live in a world where economic decisions are fundamentally ambiguous, because the future doesn't seem to be a mere repetition of a quantifiable past. For many people, it always seems that "this time is different."


The work of Duke neuroscientists Scott Huettel and Michael Platt has shown, through functional magnetic resonance imaging experiments, that "decision-making under ambiguity does not represent a special, more complex case of risky decision making; instead, these two forms of uncertainty are supported by distinct mechanisms." In other words, different parts of the brain and emotional pathways are involved when ambiguity is present.


Mathematical economist Donald J. Brown and psychologist Laurie R. Santos, both of Yale, are running experiments with human subjects to try to understand how human tolerance for ambiguity in economic decision-making varies over time. They theorize that "bull markets are characterized by ambiguity-seeking behavior and bear markets by ambiguity-avoiding behavior." These behaviors are aspects of changing confidence, which we are only just beginning to understand.


To be sure, the purely rational theory remains useful for many things. It can be applied with care in areas where the consequences of violating Savage's axiom are not too severe. Economists have also been right to apply his theory to a range of microeconomic issues, such as why monopolists set higher prices.


But the theory has been overextended. For example, the "Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium Model of the Euro Area," developed by Frank Smets of the European Central Bank and Raf Wouters of the National Bank of Belgium, is very good at giving a precise list of external shocks that are presumed to drive the economy. But nowhere are bubbles modeled: the economy is assumed to do nothing more than respond in a completely rational way to these external shocks.


Milton Friedman (Savage's mentor and coauthor) and Anna J. Schwartz, in their 1963 book "A Monetary History of the United States," showed that monetary-policy anomalies — a prime example of an external shock — were a significant factor in the Great Depression of the 1930s.


Economists such as Barry Eichengreen, Jeffrey Sachs and Ben Bernanke have helped us to understand that these anomalies were the result of individual central banks' effort to stay on the gold standard, causing them to keep interest rates relatively high despite economic weakness.


To some, this revelation represented a culminating event for economic theory. The worst economic crisis of the 20th century was explained — and a way to correct it suggested — with a theory that does not rely on bubbles.


Yet events like the Great Depression, as well as the recent crisis, will never be fully understood without understanding bubbles. The fact that monetary-policy mistakes were an important cause of the Great Depression does not mean that we completely understand that crisis, or that other crises (including the current one) fit that mold.


In fact, the failure of economists' models to forecast the current crisis will mark the beginning of their overhaul. This will happen as economists redirect their research efforts by listening to scientists with different expertise. Only then will monetary authorities gain a better understanding of when and how bubbles can derail an economy, and what can be done to prevent that outcome.


Robert Shiller, professor of economics at Yale University and chief economist at MacroMarkets LLC, is coauthor, with George Akerlof, of "Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism." © 2009 Project Syndicate (









How did the visiting Malaysian Foreign Minister Datuk Anifah Aman react to the announcement by National Police chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri that police had killed Noordin M. Top, one of the world's top terrorists? Did the minister, who was in Jakarta on Thursday, see it as a pleasant gift or a slap in the face from the Indonesian government?


But one thing is certain; the announcement of the killing of the Malaysian citizen and other Indonesian terrorists on Thursday was positive news for the international community. The police's anti-terror squad (Densus 88) deserves our praise. And Gen. Bambang was clearly pleased with the success, after he had become the butt of jokes for the police's failure to apprehend Noordin last month. Hopefully this time, the dead body was really Noordin. There are growing frustrations among millions of Indonesians that just one Malaysian citizen was able to ruin their country's peace and stability for years. Malaysia often complains over the presence of hundreds of thousands of unwanted Indonesian workers. But knowing the severe damage caused by terrorist acts in this region and across the world, all people from any civilization feel a sense of relief at the elimination of the top terrorist. Therefore, it is clear that Foreign Minister Anifah Aman and the Malaysian government gave a very positive response to the police success.


The killing of the terrorists occurred only a few days before Muslims all over the world celebrate the end of Ramadan. Indonesia and its people have suffered immensely from the deeds of a small group of terrorists who claim they can kill anyone they like or damage any place they want in the name of Islam. Muslims all over the world have to bear the burden caused by their irresponsible and barbaric acts.


The death of Noordin is indeed damaging to the terrorist network(s) in this country. But as long as the roots of the problems remain unsolved, Indonesia will remain fertile ground for terrorists.








During a long flight from Indonesia to Sweden, this thought crossed my mind: I will land in a country that tops Transparency International's list for its anticorruption environment.


As a customs official in Indonesia, where my office is publicly perceived as corrupt, I was keen to see the customs administration environment in Sweden and compare it with that in my own country. I assumed that in a "clean" country, there must be a "clean" customs office that I can learn from.


A few months after my arrival, I arranged to visit the customs office in Gothenburg, the city with largest port in Sweden. It was a very simple arrangement without complicated procedures, which was fully facilitated by an official from Tullverkert, the local name for Swedish customs, headquartered in Stockholm.


I sent her an email to introduce myself as a customs official from Indonesia, who was assigned to study in Sweden, and keen to do a field survey of the local customs office. She replied promptly to my request, and put me in contact with someone at the local customs office on the designated day.


I was scheduled to visit the office in the middle of winter, and met for a few minutes with the head of the office and her deputy. They introduced themselves and a counterpart - a senior customs inspector, similar in rank to my post at the Tanjung Priok customs office. So, two customs inspectors from two different countries and settings met.


Since we shared similar official tasks, the conversation got warm and fascinating. Basically, as customs inspectors, our task is to determine the customs tariffs and valuations that result in an order to pay, if any, tax and duties, and then to issue a permit to release the goods from the port.


In Indonesia, this task is technically not so difficult, particularly if the import declaration is well documented. But sometimes it becomes very difficult when the importers only provide limited supporting documents and information. It becomes even more difficult if the importers have some hidden agenda for this, and tease us with bribes or even terrorize us to get their goods released.


The same experience was also shared by my counterpart in Sweden, but it was far less pressure here. All importers are registered in a computerized system. The importers also work in an environment where the competition between them is critical for survival.


In this environment, only few staff are required. At the Gothenburg customs office, there are less than 100 employees, a very efficient number for the largest port in Scandinavia, with total throughput of more than 850,000 TEUs per year, compared to Tanjung Priok Port, which has throughput of only 250,000 TEUs per year, served by more than 1,000 employees.


I told my counterpart that a similar policy had also been applied in my country. However, this policy was only applied a few years ago, and may much time to eliminate bad importers and customs brokers. Another reason for the delay is the transparency and fairness in determining bad and the good importers. The criteria and the list should be made transparent to the public, so they can assess for themselves and see the performance of these importers. By doing so, the spirit of competition to become a good importer or customs broker will spread quickly.


At the Gothenburg customs office, you will not see many noisy people or even a crowd. During my visit, I saw fewer than five importers come to the office, which itself is very small. I asked my counterpart, "Why so few?" And he replied, "Why does there have to be a lot?" The importers can submit and manage their document from their office through the Internet-based system. The only reason they come to the office is if there is a particular case or appointment for goods inspection. And I just smiled, remembering how in my country there is an ironical redundancy that has been around for many years.


And my counterpart told me that not all documents had to be checked by customs inspectors, only a few of them, end even then for particular cases, such as for personal imports. It is too difficult, if not impossible, for a customs inspector to check the veracity of a company's import declaration without having access to their bookkeeping.


I reflected on what he said, with my personal experience when examining the documents of automotive companies, consisting of thousands of items. It is impossible for a customs inspector to spend the whole day accurately checking each item.


So to avoid a flood of people and documents at the customs office, we need trustworthy companies willing to maintain their bookkeeping and documents, and willing to cooperate for audits in addition to the electronic submission system, or EDI. Otherwise, the electronic system will just become an additional burden that proves costly with less significant purpose. Do such companies and systems exist in Indonesia? I believe so, and it is the task of the government to improve them by setting the appropriate rules.


In fact, having good importers and customs brokers in addition to reforming customs officials and the electronic system are tremendously important. You cannot raise good fish in a polluted pond.


Thus preparing good customs officials and a sophisticated system is important, but not enough without setting a suitable customs environment. In short, the customs reform will never succeed without a reform of the customs environment as a whole.


Therefore, a social re-engineering of this environment is necessary. In the era of free trade liberalization and regional integration, such an attempt should be at the top of the agenda for the upcoming government to keep the country globally competitive and maintain the reform movement.


The writer is an inspector at the Finance Ministry's Directorate General of Customs and Excise, and a PhD candidate in technology management at Chalmers Tekniska H*gskola, Gothenburg, Sweden. The views expressed are his own.








Indonesia's Detachment 88 counterterrorism unit raided in a house in Mojosongo, Surakarta, Central Java, on Wednesday, killing four people, two of them reportedly Noordin M. Top and Bagus "Urwah" Budi Pranoto.


I met Urwah for the first time in 2004 in Cipinang Penitentiary as a journalist. According to police, Urwah helped Noordin look for a place to stay, as well as provided logistical support and scouted for individuals to carry out further operations. It was through Urwah's wide circle of associates that Noordin met Iwan "Rois" Dharmawan Mutho, who carried out the Jakarta hotel bombings. For his involvement, Urwah was sentenced to three years in prison.


I maintained contact with him after his release from prison in mid-2006 to his home in Surakarta, in the village of Padokan, Grogol, Sukoharjo. His daily activities included downloading jihad documentaries and films from the Internet and burning them onto VCDs for mass dissemination under the name of Muqowama Publications.


He also produced in-house jihad documentaries in Indonesian, including titles such as Para Peminang Bidadari (The Fairy Proposals), Daulah Islamiyah Iraq (The Islamic State of Iraq) and The United States of Losers. Urwah also actively gave lectures around Surakarta and Yogyakarta. A good part of his audience was made up of youths and young adults, as well as housewives.


From my interactions with him, I learned that after their release from prison, an ex-terrorist will always have a decision to make: to stay radical (or become even more radical than he used to be), or to become more moderate and try to reorganize his views on and understanding of jihad.


However, if we look at the bonds between the terrorists while they were in prison, an ex-terrorist is more likely to stay radical than to become moderate or to reform. This was the teaching they received inside prison, and is again repeated when they rejoin their religious groups outside prison. It has proven very difficult for a convicted terrorist to let go of his old values and become a moderate Muslim.


When I asked him about his time in jail, Urwah told me there were three types of JI members behind bars.


First, there were those he referred to as "JI hitam" (Black JI), who became turncoats and collaborated with the police by leaking the group's secrets. Second, there were those in the gray zone. The third category is made up of individuals who stay committed to the radical cause. Urwah said, "We need to visit those in the third category so they don't forget the cause." Urwah regularly visited these JI inmates, at least once a month.


Urwah understood that a strong bond between the jihadists (terrorists), often established inside prison, made them even more prominent, both as individuals and groups. The interaction between them in groups is continuous, thus (ideologically) strengthening each other.


An addition to this is the response and appreciation from fellow Muslims around them who consider convicted terrorists as defenders of Islam, i.e. heroes, and as a result place them in a higher social hierarchy in their group.


This distinction causes many of their friends, relatives and admirers to visit them in prison as a form of solidarity among Muslims, or mujahids, to be exact.


This kinds of support enables them to maintain their spirit of jihad on the same level, because they are still living within mujahid groups even when they are in prison. Furthermore, as mujahids, they always have to protect their image and their principles on their views on jihad.


Once, Urwah said in a very chilling message that he was convinced it was extremely important for Muslims to support any Islamist group still committed to jihad. When he was invited by a group of JI members to speak at a mosque, he reiterated that jihad was fardhu a'in (a personal obligation), and therefore legitimate for any group or individual to carry out jihad based on their own initiatives and methods. He argued that there was "no need to ask permission from the group's imam *leaders*".


In response to this phenomenon, I believe the government on its own will not be able to successfully neutralize individuals or groups who flirt with violent groups or imbibe their ideology. Often such success is possible because ordinary citizens step forward to alert the authorities when they see something suspicious or amiss.


Ultimately, therefore, terrorism will not be defeated by the government, but by the people. The average man on the street is the key component of the national community of vigilance, which can be the effective target of a country.