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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month september 26, edition 000308 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
- AMAZING SUCCESS
- DISCOVERY OF INDIA
- GOODNESS GRACIOUS! HOW OUTRAGEOUS!-HIRANMAY KARLEKAR
- EXPLORE THE HIDDEN SPIRITUAL DIMENSION-SRI SRI RAVI SHANKAR
- ROGUE PAKISTAN’S LATEST ASSAULT-BHASHYAM KASTURI/SENGE HASNAIN
- GILGIT-BALTI’S TURN TO GO FOCUS-SWARN KUMAR ANAND
- KASHMIRIS AGAIN THE BIGGEST LOSERS-SAMUEL BAID
TIMES OF INDIA
- OVER THE MOON WITH THE MISSION
- DEMOCRACY IS UNFINISHED BUSINESS-
- IT'S NOT A MOMENT TOO SOON
- LOOK WHO'S TALKING
- BRING HUSAIN BACK HOME-
- SPACE, THE BIG MARKET
- THE VISIBLE HAND - USE YOUR HEAD-KAUSHIK BASU
- SPEAKEASY - VIOLENCE IS A ZERO-SUM GAME-PRATIK KANJILAL
- WHY PANIC?
- PROOF OF AUSTERITY
- THE MOON AND BACK
- STUDYING TO TELL THE TALE-MALINI CHIB
- TWICE SHY-FLAVIA AGNES
- ROOM FOR A CUT
- SCIENTISTS AREN’T ASKING FOR MOON
- UTTERLY BUTTERLY UNNERVING-ALOKANANDA CHAKRABORTY
- WHY THE 25 KT ARGUMENT HAS NO YIELD-MEHTAB DERE
- PRICKING THE BUBBLE-PAUL KATTUMAN
- YES, THERE’S WATER ON THE MOON
- TORTURE WITHOUT TRACE
- IRAN: IS CONFRONTATION AVOIDABLE? -ATUL ANEJA
- ‘ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT AND BEST RELATIONSHIPS IN THE WORLD’
- END THE EXTORTION
- POWER POLITICS IN PUNJAB
- WHY GOLD GLITTERS
- THE WHEAT MIRACLE-BY PROF M. S. SWAMINATHAN
- LOVE’S LABOUR-BY P.C. SHARMA
- HAS AMERICA REACHED TURNING POINT IN AFGHANISTAN?-BY RUPERT CORNWELL
- BATHINDA IN FOR MORE POLLUTION-BY G. S. DHILLON
- IN THE NEWS FOR ALL THE WRONG REASONS
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
- NDFB TALKS
- PUJA MUSINGS
- SURRENDER, STATUS QUO AND PERMANENT PEACE-SAZZAD HUSSAIN
- SHAKTI CULT AND GODDESS DURGA-APATI BARUAH KASHYAP
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- THE INDIAN CODE
- OVERHAUL MINING POLICY
- NO NPT, UNCLE SAM!
- DR MANMOHAN SINGH: QUICK TO PROTECT THE ECOLOGY
- DR MANMOHAN SINGH: A BRAND TO TRUST-GAJANAN KHERGAMKER
- WATCH THE BREATH. IT’LL MAKE YOU SMARTER-VITHAL C NADKARNI
- FIRST MOON MISSION WILL CHANGE THE WAY WE LOOK AT PLANETS
- NIFTY COULD CORRECT TO 4200-4300 BY OCTOBER END: PRABHUDAS LILLADHER
- 'WE ARE TARGETING 5-10 YRS OF DOUBLE-DIGIT GROWTH IN INDIA'
- INDIA IS FASTEST GROWING MARKET FOR LINKEDIN: CEO-SHELLEY SINGH
- NPT CANNOT BE FORCED ON INDIA
- PAMPHLETS DON’T FIGHT RACISM - BY FARRUKH DHONDY
- CLIMATE CHANGE: IT’S JUST EASY BEING GREEN - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- THE WILD LIFE IN S. AFRICA - BY SHOBHAA DE
- IT’S TIME TO BRING ISMAIL HOME - BY KISHWAR DESAI
- THE AFGHAN IMPERATIVE - BY DAVID BROOKS
- CREATION OF WEST BENGAL
- SUBRATA MUKHERJEE
- FASTING FACULTIES
- LIBERALISED MADRASAS
- DELHI DURBAR
- MY INTENTIONS WERE GOOD’
- MORE THAN BLACK
- BEAUTY OF COMPROMISE -RAMACHANDRA GUHA
- MUSLIMS NEED A HINDU LEADER-BY SAEED NAQVI
- DASARA GOES DULL WITHOUT DOLLS-BY N NIRANJAN NIKAM
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- GOV. PATERSON’S CHOICE
- THE BIG CHEAT
- A COMMITMENT TO CITIZENSHIP
- THE CLIMATE IMPROVES
- OBAMA’S TORTOISE TACTICS -BY CHARLES M. BLOW
- SCORE ONE FOR THE DIPLOMATS -BY GAIL COLLINS
- THE THAW AT THE ROOF OF THE WORLD -BY ORVILLE SCHELL
- FUNDS FROM FRIENDS
- AWKWARD TIMING
- PRIVATE WARS
- RETURN TO THE BACK CHANNEL-BY ASIF EZDI
- OCCUPYING HEARTS AND MINDS-BY ASAD DURRANI
- OBAMA'S DILEMMA IN AFGHANISTAN-BY ZAFAR HILALY
- WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR OUR PROBLEMS?-BY DR MASOODA BANO
- OUR CORRUPT WAYS-BY BABAR SATTAR
- AID NOT THE ANSWER-BY TASNEEM NOORANI
- NUCLEAR WEAPONS FREE WORLD
- MUSHARRAF’S MISPLACED FEARS
- KING ABDULLAH’S GIFT TO WORLD
- OBAMA ON THE HORNS OF DILEMMA-MOHAMMAD JAMIL
- NEED FOR REFORMS IN MADARIS SECTOR-NAEEM SIDHU
- ‘USCIRF’ SALUTES INDIA -ALI SUKHANVER
- MUSLIMS’ RIGHTS IN INDIA-AFSHAIN AFZAL
- THE AFGHAN IMPERATIVE-DAVID BROOKS
- BANGLADESH BIMAN
- HOLIDAY HEALTH SERVICE
- NINE DAYS OF JOY...! -ROBERT CLEMENTS
- A LONG MARCH AHEAD
- CLIMATE SCHEME NEEDS BETTER SCRUTINY
- AND ANOTHER THING ...
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- AS THE CRISIS PASSES, SO DOES A SENSE OF URGENCY
- ONE SIP AND YOU'LL BE OVER THE MOON
- IN PRAISE OF… THE CRICKET SEASON
- IRAN: TIME TO COME CLEAN
- GERMANY: GRAND BARGAIN
THE JAPAN TIMES
- NORTH KOREA'S WILL TO TALK
- DANCING AROUND DELICATE ISSUES
- NATURAL GAS DOWN UNDER BOUND FOR JAPAN BY 2014-BY ALAN GOODALL
THE KOREA HERALD
- NO SHORING UP
- NEIGHBORLY TIES
- ELECTRIC VEHICLES AND SUSTAINABILITY -JEFFREY D. SACHS
- ACCEPTANCE OF CORRUPTION AND DEMOCRACY PARADOX -DOMINIQUE MOISI
- REMEMBERING DAVID HAWKES
- MORE RURAL FINANCE
- A TIMELY RESOLUTION
- MORE CHALLENGES AND UNCERTAINTIES AHEAD
INDIA PROVES THERE’S WATER ON MOON
That a team of international scientists has heaped praises on the Indian Space Research Organisation and its Chandrayaan 1 mission for confirming the presence of water molecules on the Moon bears testimony to the level of expertise that our space scientists have achieved in terms of designing and handling sophisticated high-technology. Studying data from India’s first lunar mission, the scientists were able to authenticate the presence of water and hydroxyl molecules in the upper crust of the Moon’s surface. Although the data was collected by an instrument called the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, a device that had been developed by the US space agency NASA and placed aboard Chandrayaan 1, it goes without saying that the discovery of water on the Earth’s only natural satellite would not have been possible without ISRO’s initiative. Even NASA has acknowledged as much. The theory regarding existence of water on the Moon has been around for quite sometime. Till Chandrayaan’s mission, it was merely an academic hypothesis. Today we have evidence to qualify that theory.
The importance of the discovery of water on the Moon cannot be stressed enough. Even though the quantity of water the Chandrayaan data has indicated might appear to be small — about a litre of water in a tonne of Moon soil — the discovery gives rise to several possibilities and lays to rest some myths. Hitherto the predominant thinking among space researchers and scientists was that the Moon was extremely dry and dusty. That analysis now lies disproved. On the other hand, the presence of water molecules on the Moon’s surface could mean there is a possibility of finding frozen lakes deep beneath its surface. Also, if we ever have a permanent external observation base in the solar system, the presence of water on the Moon would make it the preferred location. But most important, the discovery will help us understand our solar system better and may even provide an insight into the workings of the universe. There is no dearth of unanswered questions about how the universe and planets like the Earth and its satellites evolved. The answer lies in no one discovery. But with each breakthrough we take a small step towards solving the great puzzle. And Chandrayaan’s discovery is one major breakthrough.
ISRO cannot be commended enough for its achievements. Over the last few years it has delivered a consistent string of successes. Not only has it been responsible for taking the country’s space programme to new heights, but has also become a key player in the international space industry. Having repeatedly proved its capabilities in terms of successfully launching satellites into space, several countries around the world are lining up to avail ISRO’s services. It goes without saying that the foreign exchange this will earn the country is quite handsome. This, coupled with the successes of the Chandrayaan 1 mission, should give the Government enough impetus to approve many more indigenous lunar missions that one day might culminate in a manned mission to the Moon. It needs to be said that ISRO has earned itself the right to be seen as a model institution for other scientific institutions to look up to. India might have missed out on the industrial revolution. But institutes like ISRO prove that we have always been in the vanguard of the knowledge revolution. This is something we should all be proud of.
DISCOVERY OF INDIA
NOT BY COMPROMISING SECURITY
Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi is perfectly within his rights to travel wherever he wishes and halt for the night at any welcoming host’s home. It is to his credit that he has been foraying into territory usually shunned by high profile politicians, unless they have to attend election meetings for which they arrive in a helicopter and from where they depart promptly after addressing the faithful. In a sense, Mr Rahul Gandhi has been discovering India the hard way, driving through tough terrain, sleeping at Dalit homes and sharing frugal meals with villagers. He did precisely that on Wednesday; his hosts at Tilhar village in Shravasti district of Uttar Pradesh didn’t even recognise him till a young boy who had seen Mr Rahul Gandhi on television while visiting relatives in Mumbai told them who he was. Or so we have been informed by news media. It must have been a sobering experience for the scion of the first family of the Congress, but it would have been so for many other politicians, too. What else did Mr Rahul Gandhi learn during his sojourn? That villages have to do without power. So he slept on a charpoy in the open. That piped water is unheard of in rural areas. So he bathed at the community tubewell on Thursday morning. A real life experience of the real India that stretches beyond our pampered cities is good education for aspiring leaders.
But there’s something grossly wrong about Mr Rahul Gandhi’s surprise visits to hamlets, his open air night halts, and his travel by train. That’s to do with security arrangements. The Congress general secretary is high on the list of those politicians who face a threat to their lives. There could be any number of organisations plotting to strike at him (and others) for no other reason than the worldwide publicity it would generate. And publicity, to paraphrase Mrs Margaret Thatcher’s wise observation, is the oxygen on which terrorists survive. Mr Rahul Gandhi could argue that he is willing to take the risk, but he needs to realise the implications and consequences of any untoward incident, even a simple road accident, involving him. No purpose is served by the Congress gloating over how the Government of Uttar Pradesh remained in the dark and couldn’t track Mr Rahul Gandhi. Nor is it true that this proves the State’s intelligence gathering system is in a shambles — if it is indeed dysfunctional, then the Centre should be concerned and take corrective measures, and not convert it into a petty political game of point-scoring. On the face of it, the SPG has violated its standard operation procedure by not informing the State police. This is unacceptable. Law and order is a State subject and we should not lose sight of this fact.
GOODNESS GRACIOUS! HOW OUTRAGEOUS!
Watching the outpouring of indignation over Mr Shashi Tharoor’s use of the expressions “cattle class” and “holy cows”, one would have thought that this country had solved all its problems save one —ensuring that Ministers were always politically correct. Unfortunately, this is not quite the case. Poverty remains a fact of life. The number of the homeless multiplies. Public healthcare remains in a shambles in most States. Education eludes vast numbers. Corruption is ubiquitous and institutionalised. Most Government and municipal officers treat common citizens as dirt under their chappals, making a visit to a Government or a municipal office a humiliating, nightmarish experience for most. Terrorism and violence stalk vast tracts of the country. Criminalisation of society and politics continue apace. Prices of essential commodities are spiralling. The economic crisis, though far less serious in its impact here than in the Western countries, has yet to recede. Large parts of the country are in the grip of a serious drought that threatens the livelihoods of millions of farmers and the process of economic recovery.
Yet, neither any of these, nor all of them collectively, has triggered such angry outbursts by leaders as Mr Tharoor’s tongue-in-cheek flippancy has done. This is mainly because the bulk of India’s politicians, like the bulk of its population, does not react to suffering. This, in turn, is the result of three things. First, most politicians have become inured to it. Second, they are in politics not because of any overpowering desire to serve their country, particularly its disprivileged sectors, but to feather their own nests. Third, even at the level of Chief Ministers, most incumbents are adept in working out caste equations and alliances, networking and wheeling and dealing and mobilising voters on election day. They do not have the intellectual equipment to form informed views of complex issues and processes on their own. If they have a larger vision other than what is available from the received shibboleths of the day, then it is a closely-guarded secret.
With honourable exceptions, scholar-politicians like MN Roy, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Dadabhai Naoroji, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Acharya Narendra Deva and Ram Manohar Lohia were part of what is now an endangered species. But then, why go so far in the past? Things were different even in the ’60s of the last century. In 1968, a few others and this writer were privileged to witness a scintillating discussion on Sartre’s existentialism between Atulya Ghosh, then the undisputed leader of West Bengal Congress, and Humayun Kabir, then leader of the Bangla Congress, which left them gaping at the erudition of both. Ghosh’s favourite reading was the Times Literary Supplement.
Sampurnanand, who was Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister in the 1950s, was a respected scholar. Mrs Indira Gandhi read widely and had more than nodding acquaintance with the works of Erich Fromm, Ivan Illich and Paolo Freire. In 1976, she stunned everybody present by speaking extempore in French at a dinner for the then French Prime Minister, Jaques Chirac, at Rashtrapati Bhawan. Prof DP Chattopadhyay, who was Minister of State for Commerce and also Governor of Rajasthan, was a student of Karl Popper and is a well-regarded scholar of philosophy. Dr Karan Singh’s erudition requires no elaboration. Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya’s learning spanned a wide range. DK Barooah, who was Congress president and a Union Minister, was known for his vast reading. YS Parmar, who perhaps remains Himachal Pradesh’s longest-serving Chief Minister, had a PhD from an American university.
How many Chief Ministers today can stand comparison with Bidhan Chandra Roy, Nabakrushna Chaudhury, Bishnu Prasad Chaliha, Sri Krishna Sinha, GB Pant, CN Annadurai, BG Kher and S Nijalingappa?
Many factors have contributed to the decline in the level of political leadership. Lack of access to the top echelons of the bureaucracy, overcrowding in professions like law, lack of commercial opportunities, fragmentation of landed properties in the absence of primogeniture and the over-arching racism and exploitation that marked British rule, drove many highly talented and educated Indians to politics. Much of all this disappeared with independence. Opportunities in the bureaucracy, the commercial sector and in the professions expanded with the emergence of the state as the instrument of development and social change and the growth and diversification of the economy that followed. Unwilling to take the heat of mass politics in the time of adult franchise, the educated upper and middle classes turned to these more comfortable avenues. On the other hand, denied opportunities over centuries, the traditionally exploited segments took time to throw up capable and dedicated leaders.
The decline in the quality of political leadership is perhaps most eloquently reflected in the trivialisation of political discourse, which in turn has led to an obsession with personalities and their statements and the substitution of argument by abuse as the stuff of polemic. The fuss over Mr Tharoor’s remark is symptomatic of this. Compared to some of the much more horrific statements one has heard recently — I am not repeating them because they are utterly atrocious — what he said is small change. And he certainly did not run down any disprivileged section of society. Given the spread and intensity of poverty in India, those who travel by air, even in the economy class, often referred to as ‘cattle class’ in popular parlance, are privileged. Besides, the expressions ‘cattle class’ and ‘holy cow’ have been in use for a long time, the first for about a decade and the second since the days of the Raj. Yet, nobody lost much sleep over either until Mr Tharoor twitted. Then, suddenly, the heavens collapsed. O Tempora! O Mores! The essence of the angry chorus that followed is best encapsulated — with apologies to Mr Peter Sellers- — in the words, “Goodness gracious, how outrageous!”
Having said all this, one needs to remind Mr Tharoor that politics is a tough and tricky business in which no quarter is generally given and in which one needs to constantly watch over two things — one’s words and one’s back. Words may inadvertently contain promises that are difficult to keep and, uttered carelessly, can raise hackles. One’s back is where knives are generally planted. As old hands in the game will tell him, eternal wariness is the price of politics.
EXPLORE THE HIDDEN SPIRITUAL DIMENSION
SRI SRI RAVI SHANKAR
Life is more than matter. If it were just matter, there would be no need for comfort. Matter does not feel comfort or discomfort, beauty or ugliness, love or compassion, joy or sorrow. Will a chair ever feel sorry or happy? No, matter does not have these finer values. They belong to the realm of the spirit. But life is also more than spirit. If it were just spirit, there would be no need for water, food, or rest. Human life is a combination of both matter and spirit.
The spirit experiences and expresses values. Values are feelings and emotions — that which cannot be captured totally by words or understood by the intellect. The goal of the spiritual path is to understand the spiritual dimension of life and live fully all the values that the spirit represents. What are those values? Peace, love, joy, beauty, unlimited knowledge, and the capacity to understand both mind and matter.
Whatever one does is directed towards one goal, happiness or comfort. Often, people think that comfort comes in a material way, through matter alone. Comfort is a quality of consciousness. To some degree it does depend on matter, but to a greater degree it depends on attitude and understanding. The true nature of the spirit is comprehension.
You listen, you understand and you absorb. Who is understanding? Who is absorbing? It is the spirit in your body that is taking in the knowledge. And this knowledge is not coming through sight, sound, smell, taste or touch alone. It is also coming from inside as intuition. The very nature of consciousness is knowledge.
You can say that at every level of consciousness, knowledge is present. And consciousness itself is present! If it were nothing, it could not be present. It is something, yet it is not finite. You cannot measure consciousness, therefore, it is present and infinite.
Consciousness is peace. You are peace, you are truth, and you are energy, walking, moving, talking, sitting. The self is energy and the self is knowledge, the knowing and the knower. This consciousness is love, you are love. Understanding and living, this is the spiritual life. Life attains its richest form through the spiritual dimension. Without it life becomes very shallow and you are unhappy, dependent, depressed and miserable.
The spiritual dimension, in its true form, smashes the narrow boundaries of caste, creed, religion and nationality. Wars will be eliminated only through spiritual understanding. The spiritual path is the true remedy for our ills.
ROGUE PAKISTAN’S LATEST ASSAULT
PAKISTAN RECENTLY CARRIED OUT ONE MORE VIOLATION OF ITS OBLIGATIONS ON J&K. BY FORMALLY GOBBLING UP GILGIT BALTISTAN, IT HAS KILLED OFF ANY CHANCE OF A RESOLUTION OF THE SIX-DECADE-OLD ISSUE
BHASHYAM KASTURI/SENGE HASNAIN
Pakistan has done it again. To the masters of deception, burning issues like 26/11, AfPak and human rights in Swat only add up to one big smokescreen to facilitate more and more chicanery. On September 7, President Asif Ali Zardari made a stunning announcement. Henceforth, the long-disputed Northern Areas, which even generations of Pakistani generals, bureaucrats and judges had admitted as ‘disputed’ and beyond their jurisdiction, was formally annexed by the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order 2009.
This sleight of hand to United Nations resolutions, bilateral agreements with India to maintain status quo and even Pakistan’s own jurisprudence, should serve as a reminder to the world community that Pakistan is, after all, a rogue state. A rundown on the legal wrangles over Pakistan’s legal rights over this region is necessary.
In 1990, a petition was filed in Lahore High Court demanding the merger of Gilgit-Baltistan with Pakistan, thereby extending all political and judicial rights to the locals of these regions. The High Court summoned the deputy secretary, Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas (KANA) Division, to represent the case on behalf of the government of Pakistan.
The bureaucrat stated that as per Article 1(2) of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the Northern Areas (Gilgit-Baltistan) and ‘Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK)’ are not parts of Pakistan. Both these areas put together constitute PoK. They are linked with the Kashmir dispute, and pending the final settlement of the Jammu & Kashmir dispute, the Northern Areas cannot become part of Pakistan. Further, it was stated that the granting of Constitutional rights would become possible only if Pakistan unilaterally annexes the Northern Areas, which would cause harm to Pakistan’s stand on the J&K issue. Such unilateral annexation would be deemed as illegal as per UN resolutions.
Fine up to here. But, the official went on to make a brazen misrepresentation. He falsely claimed that until the final settlement of the J&K dispute, Pakistan is authorised by the United Nations Commission on India and Pakistan (UNCIP) to administer the Northern Areas. This is apart from the fact. The UN resolutions on Kashmir clearly state that until the dispute is not resolved, civil administration of Gilgit-Baltistan would lie with its native people and that defense matters would be dealt with by UNCIP.
That, however, was not the first time that Pakistan officially admitted to Gilgit and Baltistan’s separateness from Pakistan. In 1963, the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared Gilgit and Baltistan as part of J& K, i.e. the disputed area, and lying outside the territories which are defined as parts of Pakistan. Similarly, in 1978, in response to a petition filed in Lahore High Court, Justice Javed Iqbal described Gilgit-Baltistan as part of J&K. Again, in September 1994, the Supreme Court of Pakistan held that while the Gilgit-Baltistan regions are ‘not part of Azad Kashmir as defined in the Azad Kashmir Interim Constitution Act’, these regions are indeed ‘part of J&K State as it existed until 1948.’
Further, it is also made clear that since Gilgit-Baltistan is not part of Pakistan, the apex court does not have the legal authority to take up cases concerning these regions. As per the UN resolutions on Jammu & Kashmir, the judicial matters pertaining to the Northern Areas are considered to be outside the purview of the Pakistani courts. This ironic situation is a judicial impasse since neither the people of Gilgit-Baltistan have their own courts to seek legal justice, nor do they have access to the Pakistani courts.
Another petition was filed in 1998 in Lahore High Court regarding the status of Northern Areas, and when the court summoned the representative of the government of Pakistan for clarification, he admitted that Gilgit and Baltistan are parts of J&K and not of Pakistan. He also admitted that Pakistan has not annexed the regions as generally perceived. Later, the Attorney General of Pakistan also clarified that historically, the Northern Areas remained part of J&K until 1947. The Chairperson of the Federal Ombudsman of Pakistan, Justice Usman Ali Shah also described these regions as part of J&K and lying outside Pakistan’s territorial limits. He also made it clear that since Gilgit-Baltistan is not part of Pakistan, the government does not have the right to impose and collect tax from the people of the region.
In 1972, a landmark resolution passed by the Legislative Assembly of PoK described ‘occupation’ of Gilgit- Baltistan by Pakistan as unconstitutional and stressed that the Government of PoK should extend its political, administrative and judicial authority to these regions. Similarly, in 1995, representatives of political parties from the Diamer district of Northern Areas who desired the reunification of Gilgit-Baltistan and AJK, filed a petition in the Supreme Court of AJK and stated that since Gilgit-Baltistan are part of J&K, the Government of AJK should resume its control of the regions.
The apex court of PoK agreed to the contents of the petition and ordered the then government to ‘resume’ the administration of Gilgit-Baltistan. Further, the apex court ordered that the political, judicial and administrative services which are available to the people of AJK should be extended to Gilgit-Baltistan.
Under pressure from Islamabad, Prime Minister Sardar Qayyum Khan refused to comply with the orders of his own Supreme Court. He declared Gilgit and Baltistan are an integral part of J&K and if the Pakistan government approved, he could take over the civil administration. On the other hand, Pakistan refused to comply with the AJK Supreme Court ruling claiming that as per the Karachi Agreement of 1949, the leaders of J&K Muslim Conference accepted Pakistan assuming the administration of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Responding to the decision of the AJK Supreme Court, Fauzia Saleem Abbass, a Balti leader from Islamabad, filed a petition in the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1995. She demanded the Pakistani government extend political and judicial rights to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, which successive regimes have denied since 1948. The case remained pending until 1999, when finally the apex court agreed to discuss it. The apex court finally endorsed the Pakistani government’s stand that Gilgit and Baltistan are part of J&K State. So, Pakistani political and judicial systems cannot be extended to these regions.
Nor could these regions be made part of Pakistan before the resolution of the Kashmir conflict. The Supreme Court admitted that Pakistani regimes have committed human rights violations in Gilgit-Baltistan by denying basic rights to the people. Further, the apex court stated that the locals are deprived of their representative government and Pakistan should make arrangements to grant self-rule to Gilgit-Baltistan. However, the apex court failed to suggest a punishment that is appropriate for the crimes that Pakistani regimes have committed by denying human rights to Gilgit Baltistan. The Supreme Court, before closing the case, clarified that since Gilgit-Baltistan are not part of Pakistan, a Pakistani court cannot proceed with the case.
The court rulings in Pakistan and PoK only substantiate India’s claim to Gilgit-Baltistan, which were and still are integral part of Jammu & Kashmir. The latest order from Islamabad is only the next step in its efforts to woo the PoK constituency unsuccessfully!
Bhashyam Kasturi is Director, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, and Senge Hasnain is a visiting fellow with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis from PoK
GILGIT-BALTI’S TURN TO GO
WHILE SOUTH BLOCK WAS OBSESSING ITSELF WITH ‘TWEETS’, PAKISTAN, AT CHINA’S BEHEST, MADE ANOTHER STRATEGIC MOVE AGAINST INDIA. A SATURDAY SPECIAL FOCUS
SWARN KUMAR ANAND
Throughout its history, Pakistan has tried to manipulate the position of Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. In the 1980s, General Zia-ul-Haq had proclaimed that the people of the Northern Areas were ‘Pakistanis and not Kashmiris’, and that their future had nothing to do with that of Jammu & Kashmir.
The Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, which was passed recently by the President of Pakistan, is the culmination of that mindset. Despite tall claims of granting internal autonomy and allowing local people to chose their executives, the proclamation has legitimised Pakistan’s illegal holding of this scenic region.
With this Islamabad has done two things. It has suppressed the Shia-dominated population which the Sunni Punjabi elite of Pakistan never trusted. On the other hand, the package protects Pakistan and China’s military and economic interests in the disputed region.
Though Pakistan, for all practical purpose, has been exercising its sovereignty in the Northern Areas, it denied all civil and democratic rights to the traditionally tolerant and culturally distinct people of this historically intractable conflict area. It is not strange that the 73,000-square km area with 1.5 million population has attracted the attention the Pakistan government after the discovery of the region’s hydropower capabilities.
The Pakistanis are on their way to making Gilgit-Baltistan their colony. They want to exploit the region’s water resources to make up for the setback suffered in Sindh, Balochistan and NWFP over the proposed Kalabagh dam, which threatens to inundate fertile plains of the upstream province of NWFP, and reduce amount and flow of water in the Indus river in downstream Sindh and Balochistan.
Pakistan has already started the construction of the Bhasha-Diamer dam in the Northern Areas, but the 4500 MW power house under the project will be situated in NWFP. Thus, while the rest of the country will get energy and water for irrigation from the dam, the people of Northern Areas will be deprived of royalty. The reservoir of the dam would be spread over 7.3 million acres in Diamer, and would inundate about 32 villages and affect 28,000 people. But Pakistan is not bothered.
The absence of industry, deplorable road and communication links, lack of energy sources and job opportunities have combined to make the people of Gilgit-Baltistan very resentful of Pakistanis. The new self-governance package for the region is just an eyewash. It would only ensure the continuance of Pakistan’s iron grip over two million people, particularly the nationalist and separatist parties. With no access to justice (there is no High Court or Supreme Court coverage), the locals would be at the mercy of the Pakistani Army. Ultimately, Pakistan would be able merge this disputed and most strategically important part of J&K with its NWFP province with the help of the puppet Assembly.
The Presidential proclamation has sent shivers down the spine of Kashmiri leaders. Shafqat Inquilabi, a former spokesman of the nationalist Balawaristan National Front, said: “We are a separate state. The least Pakistan could do is to treat us on par with Azad Kashmir until the resolution of the Kashmir issue.” Another prominent leader and Jammu & Kashmir National Awami Party president, Liaqat Hayyat, said: “We outrightly reject this so-called governance order for Gilgit-Baltistan. It is nothing but a joke on the people of this region and the state of J&K.” A large section of Kashmiris, however, also suspect that the US and India exerted pressure on Pakistan, as they feel the reason for the package is a move towards a tacit acceptance of the status quo on Kashmir.
The Northern Areas, which share borders with Afghanistan, China and India, has been a cash cow for Pakistan’s relationship with China. The 900 km-long Karakoram Highway, which connects Pakistan’s Punjab with the Uighur-dominated Xinjiang province of China, has been a strategic location for the Communist state. It has also solidified Sino-Pakistan economic and strategic ties. Given the economic and political implications of the Northern Areas, India’s reaction to the reform package has been along expected lines.
India lodged a protest emphasising that the ‘entire State of Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of India by virtue of its accession in 1947.’
However, India has never really pressed home its point too hard in the past. New Delhi indirectly wanted to maintain the status quo, since solution as per the UN Resolution of 1948 is infeasible as long as Pakistan declines to conform to the pre-condition of withdrawal from the disputed area to allow plebiscite. But here, the mere accession of Islamabad’s authority on the disputed region is not a matter of much concern.
But the circumstances under which it has happened are alarming.New Delhi is quite comfortable with Pakistan ranting and raving for the ‘self-determination’ of the Kashmiris while practicing just the opposite. This bolsters India’s case before the international community that Pakistan is an untrustworthy entity. But what is worrisome is China’s increasing influence in the region. It has already taken over 20 per cent of the erstwhile J&K state.
For Beijing, Gilgit-Baltistan is part of the ‘pear necklace’ to encircle India.
Post 9/11, Pakistan’s reputation in the eyes of the US declined, as despite its valuable help in fight against the al-Qaeda, it failed to prevent the use of its territory by Islamist terrorists as a base for armed attacks on India and Afghanistan. So, to set off the Western powers, Pakistan has increased its dependence on China.
Now, the relation is symbiotic, focused on the containment of India. It has historical evidence. Pakistan was China’s only reliable free world diplomatic partner during the years of China’s international isolation. Even now, Pakistan is the most accessible gateway for Chinese penetration of oil-rich Islamic West Asia. Pakistan’s trust in China stems from the surety that it would balance power in Asia in favour of the Islamic republic, or, as experts on Chinese foreign affairs John Garver puts it, ‘in the prevention of Indian hegemony over the subcontinent.’
The writer is Deputy News Editor, The Pioneer
KASHMIRIS AGAIN THE BIGGEST LOSERS
THE LATEST MOVE BY PUNJABI AGGRANDISERS HAS BEEN RESENTED BY KASHMIRI NATIONALISTS WHO THINK PAKISTAN HAD NO BUSINESS ACTING UNILATERALLY IN A DISPUTE WHICH CONCERNS THEM AS MUCH AS INDIA AND THE UN
In 1973, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had a hard time massaging the injured ego of collective Pakistan after the loss of the country’s eastern part. On one occasion, in 1973, he had said: “Henceforth the borders of Pakistan will not contract; it will only expand.” Now 36 years later, Bhutto’s party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), has ‘annexed’ Gilgit-Baltistan as the fifth province of Pakistan with the help of a highly spurious ‘Order’ which has no locus. It violates not only United Nations Resolutions, but also verdicts of the High Court and the Supreme Court of Pakistan and of PoK.
The ‘Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009’ purports to give Gilgit-Baltistan “full internal autonomy”. Pakistani minister Farooq Sattar told a Press conference that a cabinet committee would be constituted to remove hurdles for merging Gilgit-Baltistan into Pakistan in accordance with the resolutions of the UN.
This is irony at its maddest. Pakistan is in control of parts of J&K in violation of these the very UN resolutions but always quotes them to blame India for the ‘Kashmir problem.’ It’s something like devil quoting the scriptures.
The UN never authorised Pakistan to maintain its control over Gilgit-Baltistan. To claim this is another lie to confuse public opinion about the status of Gilgit-Baltistan, or, for that matter, about the status of the whole of PoK.
In July this year, there was an international seminar in New Delhi on ‘Society, Culture ad Politics in the Karakoram Himalayas". Those who participated included Kashmiri nationalists Abdul Hamid Kha, Shaukat Kashmiri, Mohammad Hashain Sengge and some others.
Abdul Haimd Khan, who has taken refuge in Brussels, has written a number of pamphlets and books on the exploitation of the territory of PoK — both Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan — and the miserable plight of its inhabitants. In his paper, ‘Constitutional Status of Gilgit-Baltistan, Chitral and Shenaki Kohistan’, Khan recalls the UN resolutions to remind that Pakistan had agreed to withdraw all its forces and armed personnel, tribesmen and citizens from J&K, including Balwaristan (Gilgit-Baltistan) within seven weeks. Later it requested the UN to allow it 12 weeks to do so.
On April 28, 1949, the UN Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP) spelt out the terms of the truce: “Pending the final solution, the territory evacuated by the Pakistani troops will be administered by the Local Authority under the surveillance of the UNCIP.” It also provided that the ‘Commission and/or the Plebiscite Administrator may request the government of India to post garrison at specified points.’
By 'Local Authority', the UNCIP did not mean the occupying authority (Pakistan). But Pakistan grabbed this power by fraud the same day — April 28, 1949. It installed a puppet President in PoK, a minion of the Muslim Conference, and got him to sign an agreement giving him the right of administration over Gilgit-Baltistan.It was the first violation of the UN resolutions by Pakistan.
The second violation occurred when Pakistan signed a border agreement with China in March 1963 and gave away a big chunk of Gilgit territory. It was in the classic nature of deals that unscrupulous real estate agents often strike over disputed properties. Article 6 of the Pak-China agreement in which the two parties agree that ‘after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan, the sovereign authority concerned will reopen negotiations with the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the boundary treaty to replace the present agreement.’ This, for all purposes, proves that Pakistan had known Gilgit to be part of J&K, a fact it is unwilling to concede.
In 1962, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that according to the 1962 Constitution, Gilgit-Baltistan was not a part of Pakistan. The court said: “Any territory which does not constitute part of Republic of Pakistan as defined in the Constitution of 1962 is a foreign territory.” The 1973 Constitution also does not say Gilgit-Baltistan is a part of Pakistan. In 1978, the Lahore High Court ruled: “Northern Areas, which are administered by the Federal Government directly are not part of any province (of Pakistan). These areas are also not included in the tribal areas list as per Article 246 of the Constitution."
Since 1950, a number of ‘reforms’ had been announced for Gilgit-Baltistan. But the latest one has evoked much resentment, particularly from leaders in the so-called ‘Azad’ Kashmir. Reason: the ‘package’ amounts to stabbing Kashmiris in the back by diluting their right to self-determination.
The Kashmiris want freedom from Pakistan and don’t need Islamabad to which province will be part of their nation.
Actually, the original plan to annex Gilgit-Baltistan was hatched by Zia-ul-Haq in the 1980s when he encouraged the massacre of Shias in Gilgit-Baltistan by Sunni marauders sent there from North West Frontier Province and Punjab. After that, the Sunnis began swarming Gilgit-Baltistan.
They not only changed the demographic complexion of this area but also grabbed its natural resources. Ultimately they became rich and powerful employers of the local people who remained poor and backward. It goes without saying that whenever Pakistan decides to take over Gilgit-Baltistan, these outsiders will cheery lustily and proceed to suppress any opposition by the locals.
They will rule the Gilgit-Baltistan while the locals will be reduced to the status of Red Indians in the United States.
Director, Institute for Media Studies & Information Technology, YMCA
TIMES OF INDIA
OVER THE MOON WITH THE MISSION
India's first moon mission has achieved a historic first by discovering water on the lunar surface. This is being hailed not only as a landmark breakthrough in space science but also as a vindication of the mission itself, since the two-year project got terminated after just 10 months. The water divining was done by a probe sent by the US National Aeronautical Space Agency (NASA) as part of the many payloads carried by Chandrayaan-I. The probe's Moon Mineralogy Mapper or M3 collected data on the presence of water on the moon. Carle Pieters, a planetary geologist with Brown University who is leading the probe's study team in the US, gives all credit to the Indian Space Research Organisation for making such a discovery possible.
Scientists confirming the presence of water on the moon are doing so on the basis of scientific findings that have been arrived at after a rigorous process of deduction and analysis and not by actually finding lakes, pools or puddles of water that we're familiar with on earth. And the probe has barely skimmed the lunar surface to find evidence of water molecules and hydroxyl that interact with molecules of rock and dust. It had access to only the top few millimetres of lunar soil, on the bright side of the moon. The water so discerned might be the equivalent of one litre, say researchers, enough to fuel hopes of finding more water as ice in the darker, unexplored parts of the moon.
Unsurprisingly, popular reaction to the NASA probe finding that there are signs of water on the lunar surface is that, one day, human colonies might be established on the moon and, indeed, on other heavenly bodies which also might turn out to have a combination of hydrogen and oxygen molecules. We see the cosmos or those parts of the cosmos that promise water as an extension of the earth's real estate, for us to do with it as we think fit. In other words, discoveries that open up windows of knowledge and reveal new truths are often reduced to how useful they are in catering to human needs.
True, it is the search for survival options that propels humankind to strive for more sophisticated technology, effective medicine and state-of-the-art rocket science as well as to explore space for water and earth-like planets. However, we ought to remind ourselves that there's more to the discovery than the science of it. The mysteries of the cosmos are far more profound than to be revealed merely to fulfil human needs. To circumscribe the scope of scientific inquiry to realms that focus only on survival of the human species would amount to limiting our own horizons of knowledge.
TIMES OF INDIA
DEMOCRACY IS UNFINISHED BUSINESS
The separation of religion from politics and crafting of an imaginative, if ultimately flawed, vision of an inclusionary nationalism in India has made no attempt really to resolve the contradictions that flowed from the willingness to agree to partition. The Indian National Congress was wedded to two ideas: a united India and a fully independent India. On both scores, the Congress compromised. The unity of India was worth sacrificing in order to acquire control over British India's unitary centre and also to achieve the means to gain control over 40 per cent of India which consisted of princely India. A strong centre was needed for it, so the Muslim areas could be sacrificed. The other issue is technical. Everyone assumes that India gained independence on August 15, 1947. India became a dominion within the British Commonwealth on that date. It was only in 1950 that India became a republic.
If India's secular credentials are somewhat suspect, Pakistan's Islamic claims seem to be inherently contradictory. According to Pakistan's poetic visionary, Muhammad Iqbal, the only justification for an Islamic state was the need for an organisation that could help realise the spiritual in each individual as well as the collective in everyday temporal activity. While successive governments in the country have claimed to be committed to establishing an Islamic state, they have singularly failed to create the rudimentary infrastructure for the growth of a civil society, far less the spiritual democracy Muhammad Iqbal had in mind.
Democracy and development were two legitimising principles on offer when nations making singular claims of allegiance from their citizenry acquired state power in the subcontinent. For much of South Asia's post-colonial history, India, with its mix of formal democracy and covert authoritarianism, fared better than Pakistan and Bangladesh which came under spells of overt authoritarianism. The recent convulsions and revulsions in Indian parliamentary politics, particularly the growing importance of regional parties as power brokers at the Centre, have only confirmed this trend of India doing relatively better. Having entered the era of coalition governments, India has a democracy which is showing signs of being able to take away some of the Centre's initiatives.
Yet India's formal democracy at the Centre has coexisted with instances of overt authoritarianism in certain regions, notably Kashmir, not to mention the better part of the north-east. India has had formal democracy for the most part with the exception of the Emergency of 1975, but in the region covert authoritarianism has been abandoned for overt authoritarianism where military police is utilised. So formal democracy does exist at times with covert and overt authoritarianism and what we do not get in the process is that substantive democracy which requires empowerment and strengthening.
Secularism as the antithesis of religious communalism may seem like vintage Congress ideology but without the regional basis of support to command a national majority in Delhi on its own, the Grand Old Party is arguably a shadow of its former self. I do not mean to be dismissive of the Congress as a political force but i am rather more sceptical of the Congress as an organisation that projects a coherent ideology.
The future course of democracy in Pakistan will depend on a series of necessary steps beginning with a concerted fight against extremism; a shift in civil-military relations which is not going to happen overnight but the step has to be taken in the interest of the country; and the strengthening of the parliament, to name only the most obvious ones. The prospect of democracy is far more hopeful in Bangladesh where elections aroused many expectations. However, it will be naive to think the recent transition in Bangladesh has locked out its armed forces from its political reckoning. Bangladesh's army still remains a vital component of the state with clearly defined interests. With the history of military intervention in Bangladesh, it cannot be ignored without grave consequences.
Democratic India for all its unwillingness to talk about Kashmir offers a more promising prognosis, at least in principle, than military authoritarian Pakistan where the transition to democracy is still in incipient stages with far less scope of a reconstitution of centre-region relations. This is why an improvement of relations between the two congenital rivals in the region, India and Pakistan, could go a long way in restoring the balance between elected and non-elected institutions within Pakistan itself.
The more far-sighted among the leaders of freedom movement, men like Rabindranath Tagore or Muhammad Iqbal for instance, used to claim that India had to be freed not just for itself but also for the sake of humanity. The time has come, if it is not long past, for the nation states of South Asia to try and redeem this pledge through a bold and new political initiative at the regional and inter-regional level. Instead of fanning age-old animosities, New Delhi has small choice but to talk peace and more importantly walk that talk to peace. Pakistan also needs to abandon its policy of supporting non-state militias and concentrate on improving the abysmal quality of life of the citizenry.
The writer is a history professor at Tufts University, US. Courtesy: SAFMA .
TIMES OF INDIA
IT'S NOT A MOMENT TOO SOON
Union home minister P Chidambaram's wake-up call to all Delhiites comes not a moment too soon. The problems he listed are all well known to anyone who has spent some time in the city - from poor adherence to traffic safety and norms to haphazard pedestrian habits and unregistered vehicles. The only problem with what he said, in fact, was that he did not go far enough. These problems are as endemic in other Indian cities as they are in Delhi. From Mumbai to Kolkata, Chennai to Bangalore, the urban environment seems to be on a downward curve even as city populations have expanded, propelled by demographics and economic growth.
The results are all around us. When it comes to road accident fatalities, India's major urban centres regularly feature at the top of the list. Crime, especially against women, is another major problem in some cities. Factor in the physical degradation of urban environments and infrastructure - due, in large part, to a complete lack of civic consciousness among citizens - and a less than pleasant image of our cities takes shape.
The growing focus on urban security and the upcoming Commonwealth Games to be held in Delhi have lent urgency to the matter. These problems need to be addressed by government initiatives, but only a top-down approach will not serve. Urban residents have a responsibility and a duty to adhere to the basic norms of civilised society. And if public service campaigns and entreaties do not work - as they have not until now - these norms should be enforced. Laws exist to deal with various aspects of the problem, from violation of traffic regulations to damaging or defacing public property. There must be a focus on implementation now. If necessary, punitive measures such as fines can be beefed up.
As Chidambaram pointed out, other countries have succeeded in sensitising their citizens to the behavioural changes needed for the smooth functioning of a city. This has not been confined to developed nations such as Germany; it has been a success in China as well, as the Beijing Olympics proved. It is time we followed suit.
TIMES OF INDIA
LOOK WHO'S TALKING
Urban India is a chaotic space, no doubt. People have a propensity to break traffic rules, ignore civic laws and, in general, behave badly as the home minister said. But can the government solve the problem with a crash course on good urban behaviour for citizens? Is it possible to enforce a strict behavioural code for citizens across cities?
Look around. Why do ordinary citizens violate civic laws? Not because law breaking is codified in their DNA, but because the high and mighty do so with impunity. People walk on the road because civic authorities do not build enough footpaths or maintain the existing ones. Beggars are around not because they love begging but because we lack social security measures. If crime is rampant that's because the social and economic climate encourages criminals. An insensitive and iniquitous society is unlikely to be peaceful and its inhabitants can hardly be expected to behave "well".
A city is a living organism and each city is distinct in its own way. There are many variables social, cultural, economic and political that shape the life of a city. These are not static, but constantly evolving on account of the free flow of people and ideas. Migration, inward and outward, is a major factor that shapes the character of cities. People on the move prevent cities from ossifying into dead geographies. Yes, people with diverse interests and social, cultural, linguistic, religious and ethnic identities fighting for scarce resources are the cause of urban conflicts. Most often, these are resolved when collective interests are at stake. In the Indian context, that mostly happens despite the state and its agencies.
The state is responsible for building the necessary urban infrastructure and addressing problems of political economy. The record of our governments on these counts, to put it mildly, is pathetic. It doesn't even give the impression that the state is sensitive to the concerns of the public. State officials, instead of delivering sermons, must concentrate on creating urban spaces and facilities and economic opportunities that will incentivise good public behaviour. Even China first tackled problems of urban blight before embarking on a mass public education campaign and enforcement measures ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
TIMES OF INDIA
BRING HUSAIN BACK HOME
Last week, Maqbool Fida Husain celebrated his 94th birthday not in his beloved Mumbai but in Manhattan where at an auction one of his paintings had just fetched $5,82,500 (about Rs 3 crore), or almost double the expected price. For an artist known for his love of extravaganza, the festivities were low key. He relished Indian delicacies, danced to the tunes of Hindi film songs and played the prankster. Along the way, he let it be known, ever so discreetly, that he longed to come home.
The discretion is not hard to explain. The Indian government shows no signs of lifting a little finger to protect the life, freedom and dignity of one of its most accomplished citizens. It is aware that Husain was forced to go abroad to seek such a protection after ruffians, drunk up to their gills on a potion of hate and bigotry, began to hound him. But it has not moved to bring the guilty to book. It must know that so long as the artist remains in exile and suffers from what Edward Said calls the 'crippling sorrow of estrangement', this nation will sport a badge of dishonour.
None of this would be obvious from the media coverage of Husain in recent months and years. Much of their attention has focused on the artist's opulent lifestyle in Dubai and London. Such coverage tells you only one part of Husain's story. It is common knowledge that throughout the 20th century, academics, intellectuals and artists fled oppressive regimes and, as exiles or refugees, contributed to the shaping of modern culture in the safe havens of France, Britain or the United States. Many gained fame and amassed vast fortunes.
On the flip side, however, is the fact that they were unable to wholly overcome the loss of their home. Whispers of melancholia reverberate through the most vivacious creations of these victims of racial, religious or ideological tsunamis. That is true of Husain as well. Beneath the bonhomie lurks infinite sadness.
A repressive regime is not responsible for Husain's plight. His tormentors are self-styled upholders of the religion and culture of Hindus. They began to make life a living hell for him when an obscure Hindi magazine published in 1996 his line drawings of Hindu gods and goddesses dating back to the 1970s. These nude pictures, they claimed, were offensive to Hinduism. Over the next few years, the hotheads vandalised the artist's paintings, attacked his homes, burnt his effigies, compelled museums and art galleries not to exhibit his works and slapped court cases on him by the dozens.
Their Hinduism has nothing to do with the wondrous spiritual insights found in the Vedas and Upanishads, in the two epics and in the sublime verses of the saint poets. It has much to do with a kitschy, populist religion that can be harnessed to demonise the Muslim, denigrate the Christian and stigmatise the Hindu who doesn't share their vicious beliefs as a progeny of Marx and Macaulay.
Nor is their understanding of Hindu culture any better. One doubts whether they have even heard of Ananda K Coomaraswamy or are familiar with traditions of Indian sculpture and painting that are rooted in the sringara rasa (erotic aesthetic emotion). Even more galling is their ignorance about Husain's prodigious output. In a flush of enthusiasm, many a critic has placed him on par with Picasso, Matisse and Paul Klee.
It is Varanasi, Lord Shiva's city, that is the fount of Husain's inspiration. And so are the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, Gupta art, Basholi miniatures, Sufi and Bhakti poetry, as also folk and popular artistic expressions, including the cinema, along with masters of European and Oriental art. No other Indian artist has explored the bewildering diversity of India's millenarian civilisation and its equally deep continuities with so much passion, skill and sensitivity.
India, the artist once said, "has a sense of centuries. It would take centuries to destroy that. For me, India's humanity is what is important, not its borders." Such an uplifting vision is alien to the vile philistines of the sangh parivar. But those who share that vision and many in the present government do must summon the courage to swiftly put an end to M F Husain's terrifying anguish.
SPACE, THE BIG MARKET
ISRO HAS EXCELLED IN LAUNCHING MULTIPLE SMALL SATELLITES. IT'S TIME NOW TO DREAM BIG
This week saw yet another successful multiple satellite launch, via the trusty Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro). The payloads included India's Oceansat-2 remote sensing satellite and six nano satellites from Germany, Turkey and Switzerland -- at a modest price tag of Rs 235 crore. This launch signals another notch in the belt for Isro, whose efforts at indigenisation have succeeded despite budget constraints and international technology denial regimes. It also shows the way forward into India's trajectory of welding science and technology to a competitive business. Add to this the joint discovery with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the `presence of water on the moon', and Indian space science can be seen in a new, mature orbit.
Over the last few years Isro has helped India become self-reliant in building launch vehicles for both polar and geostationary orbits and spacecraft. By successfully injecting multiple satellites in a single launch, it has managed to create a niche for itself in the global space market, offering cost-effective satellite lift-offs for overseas customers.
From pollution monitoring to remote sensing and ocean studies to space physics and more, small research satellites are where it's at -- they are easier to launch, less time-consuming and cost-effective, given that many can be launched simultaneously. The fact that other major players like the US and France have now little interest in the rent-a-rocket business has made Canada, Japan, the Netherlands and Israel turn to India for sending their satellites up in space.
It's time now for us to cash in on the space rush. Besides providing a thrifty launch pad, Isro needs to target the market for big communication satellites. It has the requisite expertise after having put a dozen national communications satellites in orbit. Given its future ambitions that include a robotic landing on the moon and a mission to Mars -- and with the lifting of curbs on the launch of non-commercial US satellites and satellites with US components on Indian launch vehicles -- one of India's more successful research behemoths should push for a full-blown lift-off.
This week saw yet another successful multiple satellite launch, via the trusty Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro). The payloads included India's Oceansat-2 remote sensing satellite and six nano satellites from Germany, Turkey and Switzerland -- at a modest price tag of Rs 235 crore. This launch signals another notch in the belt for Isro, whose efforts at indigenisation have succeeded despite budget constraints and international technology denial regimes. It also shows the way forward into India's trajectory of welding science and technology to a competitive business. Add to this the joint discovery with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the `presence of water on the moon', and Indian space science can be seen in a new, mature orbit.
Over the last few years Isro has helped India become self-reliant in building launch vehicles for both polar and geostationary orbits and spacecraft. By successfully injecting multiple satellites in a single launch, it has managed to create a niche for itself in the global space market, offering cost-effective satellite lift-offs for overseas customers.
From pollution monitoring to remote sensing and ocean studies to space physics and more, small research satellites are where it's at -- they are easier to launch, less time-consuming and cost-effective, given that many can be launched simultaneously. The fact that other major players like the US and France have now little interest in the rent-a-rocket business has made Canada, Japan, the Netherlands and Israel turn to India for sending their satellites up in space.
It's time now for us to cash in on the space rush. Besides providing a thrifty launch pad, Isro needs to target the market for big communication satellites. It has the requisite expertise after having put a dozen national communications satellites in orbit. Given its future ambitions that include a robotic landing on the moon and a mission to Mars -- and with the lifting of curbs on the launch of non-commercial US satellites and satellites with US components on Indian launch vehicles -- one of India's more successful research behemoths should push for a full-blown lift-off.
THE VISIBLE HAND - USE YOUR HEAD
WHEN IT COMES TO ECONOMIC POLICY, ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL. ONE HAS TO TEMPER THEORY AND STATISTICS WITH COMMONSENSE AND INTELLIGENCE FOR INDIA, THIS IS A TIME OF GREAT OPPORTUNITY AND THE POSSIBILITY OF OUT-PERFORMING CHINA. INSTEAD OF BASING OUR POLICIES ON SOME GRAND THEORY OF GROWTH, WE MUST WORK ON THE `SMALL THINGS'
I o s n designing and thinking about policy to promote economic development, it is a handicap not to know the fundamental causes of econmic growth. The only greater handicap is to believe that one knows the fundamental caues of economic growth. It is, of course, useful to be acquainted with the theory and to be familiar with the statistics. But in the end there is no substitute for commonsense. When confronted with an uncomfortable fact, people wed strongly to some preconceived theory or tend to distort the fact to fit the theory, whereas the correct course of action is to re-examine the theory one began with and reshape it to be able to take account of the facts.
Asia is the best place for checking this out. Over centuries this was a region that slumbered. First, it was Japan that woke up; by the late 1960s Singapore, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong were growing at a rapid clip; by the 1980s, Asia began to change truly when China began growing consistently at rates till then believed to be impossible for a nation as large as China. Then, by the mid-90s, India, for long wedded to a mediocre 3 per cent GDP growth rate, suddenly broke ranks from many other developing nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America and also its own past and began surging ahead.
Over the five years, 2003-08, India's GDP growth rate has averaged just short of 9 per cent per annum.
If one carefully looks at these countries' growth histories, what becomes evident is that no existing theory really fits them all. Do a counter-factual experiment. Assume that China has the political and institutional system and the structure of governance that it actually has, but that its economic record happens to be dismal. Suppose it has a growth rate that averages 2 or 3 per cent per annum, every now and then its economy falters and actually shrinks, its unemployment is large, and its head-count ratio of poverty is high and unchanging.
Most `experts' would say that this is exactly what is to be expected; that with its big and commanding government, the exercise of `party power' over commerce -- and the use of controls to regulate the movement of labour -- it is not surprising that China's economy is doing so badly. Hence, the fact that China has done phenomenally well in terms of growth poses a major intellectual challenge for mainstream economics.
If one turned to India's experience, certainly up to the end of the 1980s, it would appear the opposite. The bulk of India's production has been in private hands. In terms of the share of GDP emanating from the private sector, India looks rather similar to South Korea. The history of entrepreneurship in India goes back easily a couple of centuries.
India has had a thriving and deep market for stocks and shares. In large parts of the nation, the hand of government has been weak if not non-existent.
In fact some parts of India are among the most `marketised' economies of the world. You can buy virtually anything, from college degrees, driving licences and medical certificates for good health.
As I have written elsewhere, many years ago in Delhi, outside the office for obtaining driving licenses, a "doctor" offered me a certificate for good eyesight, adding kindly, "irrespective of the condition of your eyes." When some Western econ omists explained India's economic sluggishness by "the fact" that India was a socialist economy, they were distorting the facts to fit their theory.
- From these above examples we cannot jump to p the conclusion that we should have a large govern - ment, with commanding control over the entire o economy since this strategy seems to have suc - ceeded in China. The counter-example is provided l by Russia, which attempted much the same policy.
r After a short period of rapid growth, the policy i- backfired. Also, in the case of India, carefullyn planned market liberalisation seems to have paid e off (though we still have great distances to go).
t All this goes to show that, when it comes to s national economic policy, one size does not fit all.
d One has to temper theory and statistics with com monsense and intuitive intelligence. For India, this is a time of great opportunity, and the possibility of India out-performing China is no longer the impossibility that it once seemed.
Instead of basing our policies on some grand theory of growth, we must work on the "small things".
We need to work on increasing government efficiency. India takes too long to clear the permits needed for an entrepreneur to start a business, it takes too many days to enforce a contract when one party reneges and it takes us longer than virtually any other country to allow a firm that has gone bankrupt to close down.
This does not happen because of any individual's fault but because of the rules and regulations that history has handed down to us. To be able to cut down on these inefficiencies is to allow enterprise to flourish. It is important for government to work on this. This should be viewed as much as an investment as building bridges and roads.
While working on making it easier for business and enterprise to flourish, the State needs to work on directly alleviating poverty. If a large segment of the population feels disenfranchised from the growth process, it is unlikely that a country can grow and prosper. We need to invest in rural infrastructure and provide direct support to the poor.
But these are merely a few examples of the nooks and crannies of the economy into which we have to look and make changes in order to seize the moment and enable the benefits of development spread through the entire nation.
Kaushik Basu is Professor of Economics and Chairman, Department of Economics, Cornell University The views expressed by the author are personal
SPEAKEASY - VIOLENCE IS A ZERO-SUM GAME
THE STATE MUST TAKE NOTE OF CONFLICTING TRUTHS IF IT WANTS TO SOLVE THE MAOIST PROBLEM
ould the government please stop congratulating itself for collaring soft targets, superannuated Maoist thinkers like Kobad Ghandy and Gour Chakraborty, and neutralise the underground fighters who have wrested away its territory? The State has lost ground like an absentee landlord who materialises only to display his majestic wrath and collect tribute. The Naxal belt needs more government presence in the form of welfare, justice and professional policing. The Home Ministry has proposed police reform -- which has languished in the proposal stage for decades -- but nothing more. As usual, it believes that sending in the paramilitaries will solve everything. Even though they failed in West Bengal, where the Maoists are back with a loud bang after Operation Lalgarh.
And the Home Ministry has launched an expensive and useless advertising campaign against Maoism during an austerity drive. It may have worked four decades ago, when the Naxalite movement enjoyed an intellectual leadership recruited from the urban newspaper-reading classes. Now, it draws its strength from the rural poor.
How many Chhattisgarh villagers were affected by the ads which appeared this week? Did they see them at all? Ironically, their real target audience is the ageing Naxals whom the State has jailed, and the poets and troubadours who defend the movement on TV. Excellent creative people, but they aren't the people who mine police convoys, are they?
When will we citizens take a mature stand on Maoism? I am depressed by the childish, churlish opinions being bandied about. Naxals, I hear, are no better than terrorists, and it's apparently a scandal that Ghandy had the gall to raise slogans invoking the great freedom fighter Bhagat Singh. Excuse me, but Bhagat Singh was reviled as a terrorist by the Raj, which represented the State at the time.
And he considered himself a revolutionary, just as Ghandy does. Whom you consider a terrorist depends on who you are.
Meanwhile, far Left ideologues and public figures are refusing to accept that Maoists support murder. Let's set aside the gory pictures of corpses in the Home Ministry's ridiculous ad. A victim of Maoist violence is indistinguishable from a victim of the Salwa Judum. Even so, there is overwhelming evidence that the Maoists have behaved like an army of occupation. They claim to eliminate State terror but they often supplant it with their own version.
On the other hand, the belief that they want to eliminate the State is a generalisation.Many Naxalites actually support the dem ocratic process.
Confusing, isn't it, so shall we cut the crap? What we're seeing is a contest between State violence and extrem ist violence. At some point in our lives, I'm sure every one of us has seen the ugly, feral aspect of the State. A few of us have been assault ed by it. Some of us have been moved to action. Very, very few of us have the moral resolve of Irom Sharmila, or of the Mani puri women who shamed the Army instead of fighting it. Taking up the gun is madness, but one understands why people do it.
There are no easy answers here, but ambivalence isn't necessarily a weakness.
The ability to acknowledge conflicting truths is actually a sign of humanity. And without a little humanity, the Maoist prob lem will remain a zero-sum game.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed by the author are personal
If the UN Security Council Resolution on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation was along predictable lines, the prickly Indian reaction distancing Delhi from it was unfortunate. Resolution 1887, unanimously approved on Wednesday, stands on three pillars — a reaffirmation of the goal of nuclear abolition, strengthening the non-proliferation regime centred on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and minimising the risks associated with the increased use of nuclear energy around the world amidst mounting concerns about global warming. India has long championed global nuclear zero, underlined its record on non-proliferation as “impeccable”, and called for credible firewalls between the civilian and military use of nuclear energy. Yet India seems to have panicked in the wake of 1887.
That India has nuclear weapons and will not sign the NPT in the present form is widely understood. The NPT’s definition of a “nuclear weapon state” as one which conducted a nuclear explosion before 1968 does set up legal tension between India’s nuclear reality and the treaty. The Indo-US civil nuclear initiative, approved by the international community in 2008, was entirely about finessing that problem to India’s advantage. That 1887 does not mention this nuclear exception to India in no way alters the current international law that allows Delhi to access global civilian nuclear markets without having to sign the NPT.
The negative Indian reaction distancing itself from the NPT will be justified by the foreign office multilateralists on the grounds that it was necessary to make India’s legal position on 1887 clear. Two alternative ways can be conceived. The first, steeped in realism, would make light of the UN resolution calling for the “universalisation” of the NPT. Similar unimplementable international calls over the years did not gain much traction. Cynics would also say the US Senate is yet to endorse President Barack Obama’s starry-eyed plans for global nuclear reductions; and that the major nuclear powers deeply disagree on how to achieve nuclear abolition. The other is a positive framework that emphasises India’s role as a responsible nuclear weapon power. This was reflected in the affirmations of the previous UPA government as well as its predecessor, the NDA, that India is committed to all the obligations of a nuclear weapon state mandated by the NPT and that Delhi’s record of implementation has been better than that of other great powers. The prime minister and the external affairs minister, we hope, will improve on the initial Indian reaction to 1887 by offering full political support for the re-construction of the current shaky global nuclear order.
PROOF OF AUSTERITY
When ministers S.M. Krishna and Shashi Tharoor were shown to be staying in five-star hotels while conducting the affairs of state, there were many accusations hurled. One pertained to hypocrisy. A government that preached salary cuts and austere values had ministers living a less than Spartan lifestyle. The second was breach of protocol. There were also questions on the actual amount the ministers were paying. Were there concessions, for instance? But one angle has been missing from the debate: whether taxpayers must pay for their representative’s lavish lifestyles. This is because, as the ministers themselves are at pains to point out, they had chosen to pay their own tariff.
At least one of those choices, it now emerges, was not altogether voluntary. As The Indian Express reported, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna’s ministry pushed hard to get the government to pick his hotel bill. The only reason this did not happen was that the urban development ministry, to its credit, put its foot down and pointed to cheaper staying options. This revelation does not change the fact that Krishna did in the end pay his own bill. But it does undermine the moral high ground he’d taken about not burdening the taxpayer.
This newspaper believes that ministers, just like ordinary citizens, are entitled to spend what they legitimately earn any which way they like. The problem with the ministerial “austerity” spectacle is that it is drama meant to distract from real issues. News that two ministers were living in five-star hotels exposed these claims of “austerity” for what they were. Krishna’s ministry’s efforts to get the government to pick his tab only expose that claim even further.
THE MOON AND BACK
This monotonous rock pile, this withered, sun-seared peach pit” — that is how the whole lunar project was dismissed by American astronaut Michael Collins (who orbited while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took their baby steps on the moon). Given its arid inhospitability, it was assumed for decades that moon missions were empty and expensive stunts. Now, a joint Indo-US effort has changed everything, and brought back the old sense of astonishment into space study.
India’s rover craft Chandrayaan-I, before it was lost last month, managed to beam across the most startling and significant findings in recent space history — evidence that water is still being formed across the moon’s surface.
While ice in the permanently shadowed craters near the poles has long been considered a likelihood (with Japanese orbiter Kaguya explicitly searching for these), NASA instruments on Chandrayaan detected the chemical signature of water and hydroxyl throughout the moon’s surface. This, they say, is formed by solar winds blowing across the surface and mixing with the moon’s oxygen rich top soil. The day-night fluctuations in sogginess suggest that this water formation is an ongoing process. This revelation opens up other tantalising possibilities — if wet patches can be found on the moon, maybe similar interactions of solar winds could produce water on asteroids and other airless moons. Many of our wilder science fiction fantasies now seem a little more supportable, and space bases on the moon are now a distinct possibility.
For India, this is a moment of undiluted triumph. After the American Apollo programme was wound up and its space programme limited to earth orbits, the space race seems to have shifted towards Asia. China, Japan and India all have energetic and competitive space programmes, on the rationale that while they may not result in immediate strategic gain, space technologies show off the nation’s scientific prowess. Given that ISRO spends only 15 per cent of its $1 billion budget on advanced research and development, and missions like Chandrayaan, this has been tremendous bang for the buck, and is a vindication of the magnificent madness that fires lunar missions.
STUDYING TO TELL THE TALE
There has been a lot of controversy over whether the Right to Education Act covers disabled children, and whether disabled children should have access to the same schools as all others. Here is my own experience. I am forty three. I have cerebral palsy which has affected my speech and mobility. I use a wheelchair to move around and a voice synthesiser which is a small version of what Professor Stephen Hawkings uses. I also have two masters degrees from the UK. Yes, I am educated despite the fact that I am moderately severe! My life has been a mixture of both East and West. I have a bachelor’s degree from St Xavier’s College in Mumbai, a diploma in desk top publishing from Oxford Brookes University, two masters one from the London University, and one from the London Metropolitan University. Today, I hold a corporate job in a popular bookstore. Due to technological advances my disabilities do not come in the way of my performance, as I coordinate events through emails and sms’s.
I am glad I was educated!
Soon after my birth, my parents noticed that I was not keeping up to the milestones like a normal child. They went searching for a diagnosis for me. Every doctor they met confirmed that I would be a ‘vegetable’. The doctors told them: ‘just feed her and clothe her as nothing can be done with her.’ My parents refused to give up hope and refused to just dump me. They went in search for a diagnosis for me in England. Indeed they were right. I was assessed with high intelligence! I was put into a special school where I flourished. At that time inclusive education had not happened as it has now, when it is a mandate with Acts of Parliament and budgetary allocations supporting it. I was able to read by the age of one and a half years!
Six years later my parents returned to India, they found no school for children like me. It was a culture shock to confront the oppression around me. When I used to step out, people would either stare at me or make remarks openly in front of me. They would offer unsolicited advice: ‘have you tried homeopathy or why don’t take her to a fakir or a guru, she will be cured. Why don’t you put a collar around her neck? It must be her last life. She doesn’t need to go to school keep her at home’
These kind of comments came from everyone, including the educated rich. I was even discriminated against at children’s birthday parties and social events. I was once stopped from entering a swimming pool because disabled people were considered infectious! Parents with disabled children were frowned upon. I am ashamed to say some of the top families of the country were ashamed to bring out their disabled children into their own drawing rooms in fear of the kind of behaviour that would be meted out. They say ignorance is bliss, but in this case ignorance was harmful and oppressive. The negative attitudes of people would make me cry and my mother would comfort me, but needed comforting herself. I was miserable. Socially, I felt rejected and isolated. On top of this, I had no school to go to.
It was then that my mother, who was influenced by the British model of educating disabled children, opened India’s first special school. The first Spastics Society model was started in 1972 in Colaba, Mumbai. Subsequently, other schools began in Calcutta, Delhi, Madras and Bangalore. My whole family came out in support of children like me.
For me life has not exactly had a silver lining. Looking back at the age of 43, I ask myself — was a special school enough? I was in segregated education till I was 17. Seventeen years of being shut away from my brothers and sisters, from my companions, due to my disability. The system disables one further. Special schools imprison disabled people. Segregation dehumanises.
Fortunately my education was a mixture of segregated special schooling and inclusive higher education. The masters degree changed my adult life. It taught me how to think. It taught me to articulate my inner traumas that come from living in a world full of non-disabled people. It gave me the freedom of speech and the freedom of my age. For the first time in my life it has made me believe in myself and what I stand for.
The most important input that empowered me was education. What would I have done without education! The sad fact however is that for every disabled person who has the privilege of a special school, there are hundreds of disabled children who are shut out of any school at all. Today, I am proud that the government has mandated all schools to be inclusive.
With the Right to Education Act including ‘all children with disabilities, I feel proud that the children of tomorrow will have an opportunity as a right to be able to study with their brothers and sisters in regular schools, and hopefully doctors will not call disabled people ‘vegetables’, and schools will not shut their doors to them, and the community will not shun them.
The writer is a disability activist and senior events manager, Oxford Bookstore (Mumbai)
The recent Bombay High Court ruling delivered by Justice A.S. Oka brings to an end the prolonged ordeal suffered by a simple village woman, Suman Satav. The ruling upheld her right to maintenance to a paltry sum of Rs 500/- under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.PC). Though the sum may be paltry, it bestows on the woman, and thousands of others like her, dignity and status in a society where marriage continues to have a high premium for women, particularly in rural areas. Suman’s ordeal had started way back in 1991 when she was assaulted and thrown out of the matrimonial home along with her minor daughter, then aged four. The magistrate’s court and the sessions court had denied her maintenance, upholding her husband Nivruti’s contention that since he was already married, there cannot be a valid marriage between himself and Suman. However, since paternity was not denied, the daughter was awarded Rs 200/- per month as maintenance which was enhanced to Rs 400/- by the sessions court.
Nivruti’s contentions are not unique. Denying marriage on the ground of bigamy is a common ploy adopted by husbands to avoid maintenance to their women with whom they have cohabited for a prolonged period. In this context, the landmark ruling in Badri Prasad vs. Dy Director of Consolidation, in 1978, had laid down that prolonged cohabitation between a man or a woman leads to a presumption of marriage under Section 114 of the Evidence Act.
Though Justice Oka’s judgement is highly valuable, it is not a precedent for the Bombay High Court. It follows the tradition set by Justice Kania, way back in 1976 in Govindrao vs. Anandibai (AIR 1976 Bom 433), which had ruled that since the Hindu Marriage Act is a beneficial legislation, it would not be right to adopt a narrow approach and deprive a large number of women their rights of maintenance. This could not have been the intention of the legislature. Had the lower courts followed this ruling, Suman would not have been spared this ordeal. Justice Oka relied upon another judgement of the Supreme Court which had also upheld a similar position, Dwarika Prasad Satpathy v Bidyut Praya Dixit (AIR 1999 SC 3348) and had laid down that strict proof of a valid marriage is not necessary while deciding the issue of maintenance in summary proceedings under Section 125 of the Cr.PC.
Another important ruling on this issue was delivered by the Supreme Court in 2004 in Rameshchandra Daga vs. Rameshwari Daga, where the right of another woman in a similar situation was upheld. Here the apex court had accepted that Hindu marriages have continued to be bigamous despite the enactment of the Hindu Marriage Act in 1955. The court had commented that though such marriages are illegal as per the provisions of the Act, they are not ‘immoral’ and hence a financially dependent woman cannot be denied maintenance on this ground. But a contrary and regressive view was expressed by another bench of the Supreme Court in 2005, in Savitaben Somabhai Bhatiya vs. State of Gujarat (AIR 2005 SC 1809) which denied the woman maintenance on the ground that it is inconsequential that the man was treating the woman as his wife. The court commented, “However desirable it may be to take note of the plight of the unfortunate woman, the legislative intent being clearly reflected in Section125 of the Cr.PC, there is no scope for enlarging it by introducing any artificial definition to include a woman not lawfully married in the expression ‘wife’.” Fortunately for women, Justice Oka did not endorse this view though this case was cited in support of the husband’s claim.
Perhaps I need to clearly state my position here, lest I be quoted out of context. I am not endorsing bigamy, but rather, making out a case in defence of women who are caught in this web of deceit by husbands who take advantage of the vulnerability of women and then try to escape from the financial liability by using provisions of an Act which was meant to be beneficial to Hindu women. Only under the Hindu law is it possible to blatantly plead an illegal act and gain financial advantage without any criminal culpability. This occurs so routinely that the apex court in Vimala vs. Veeraswamy, had laid down that when a man pleads an earlier marriage, he would have to strictly prove the same. In the present case, the husband could not prove that he was married earlier in 1978, prior to his marriage with Suman in 1980. But the bigamy was an admitted fact, since the wife herself pleaded that in 1982 he had married again. But he continued to cohabit with her and produced children at regular intervals. The two earlier ones had expired and only the daughter born in 1987 has survived.
These facts highlights another reality of Hindu women’s lives. Though women do have a right of divorce, most women in rural areas accept their husbands’ bigamous marriages and continue to reside with them despite domestic violence, so long as the husbands continue to cohabit with them and maintain them. Only when they are thrown out, they approach the courts for their basic right of survival. It is here that the trial courts have to be aware that they have a constitutional duty to uphold women’s right to dignity and survival.
The writer is a women’s rights lawyer and feminist legal scholar. She is also the director of ‘Majlis’ which provides legal advocacy and litigation support to women
ROOM FOR A CUT
Finally, banks seem to be lending with a little bit of enthusiasm. Bank credit (excluding inter-bank advances) for scheduled commercial banks and regional rural banks increased by Rs 18,347 crore in the fortnight ending September 11. In the July to September 11 period, total bank loans rose by Rs 56,000 crore. In the April to June quarter, credit had dropped by Rs 7,400 crore. But, and this is the crucial point, credit growth is around 13.24% and, therefore, way below RBI’s target of 20% for the financial year. What is happening? Bank lending rates have not dropped dramatically. Rather, companies that had deferred loan decisions in the recent past are now feeling confident enough to borrow. Risk perception is improving across the system, best evidenced by the narrowing spreads between government and corporate bonds. But, as we said, with credit growth almost 7 percentage points below even RBI’s target rate, all thoughts of credit froth should be banished. RBI has expressed some concern over lending to real estate companies. It is true that some real estate firms have major exposure in terms of advances to and investments in their subsidiaries. But this, even if the note of caution is wholly justified, is really a sub-segment of bank lending. The big picture is that this is exactly the time bank lending should perk up more, so as to aid the recovery and boost entrepreneurial spirits.
On this, the discussion inevitably again goes to interest rates. Lending rates in general haven’t responded as much to sharply lowered policy rates, as was expected. This has been much debated, but what is lost from the debate is the argument for another RBI policy rate cut. Relief is being found in RBI and finance ministry statements that the current monetary policy regime will continue. But that’s false relief, in a way. The real question is whether the price of credit is still in general on the higher side, and the answer must be yes. One reason cited earlier for sticky lending rates was that banks’ risk perceptions about business lending were high. Since risk perceptions are improving now, there may be downward pressure on lending rates. There are cases of consumer lending being offered at cheaper rates. But a good and big force for change will be another RBI policy rate cut. That will further improve risk perception, and in today’s scenario, is likely to have a bigger effect on bank lending rates. There are no downsides to this. There will be no demand-driven inflation; supply constraint-driven inflation is monetary policy invariant. The upside will be a big boost to private investment. That’s what the economy needs.
SCIENTISTS AREN’T ASKING FOR MOON
Indian science has had an excellent week. No sooner had we finished reading headlines about how India launched seven satellites from a single rocket, than we were hit by the buzz about how data gathered by Chandrayaan 1 had showed that the moon is a lot wetter than one had hitherto imagined. Just as six of the satellites launched from the Sriharikota space centre on Wednesday belonged to other countries (Germany, Switzerland and Turkey), Chandrayaan 1 was carrying payloads (11) belonging to both India and others. Reportedly, it’s the moon mineralogy monitor of Nasa and India’s moon impact probe that found evidence of water embedded in the minerals and rocks on the surface of the moon. Contact with the unmanned craft was lost last month, but it still represents a big achievement for India as Chandrayaan 1 saw us becoming the first country to simultaneously put a lunar orbiter and impacter at the first attempt. The mission was delivered without cost or time over-runs, and didn’t charge anything to the global partners who piggybacked their instruments on it. The only profits it asked for were in terms of scientific data.
What does water on the moon mean for the world and what do this week’s triumphs mean for Indian science and technology in general? Mind you, we are talking minuscule water traces here. As Isro chairman G Madhavan Nair said, there’s only enough for one tonne of soil to yield a litre. Still, the discovery opens up huge new possibilities for a lunar base on the moon. Put on the stove decades ago, this idea was then relegated to the backburner. To Chandrayaan 1, then, goes the credit for its resurrection. As unlikely as it would have seemed some months ago, people in the US are now asking—what if India got there first? Plus, there is this to look forward to: a great volume of data collected by the craft is going to be put in the public domain over the next few months, or perhaps years. Moving on from this success story to the general state of science and technology in the country, Isro’s achievements underline how Indians can deliver triumphs at a fraction of Western costs. But what is equally well documented is how science education in the country has been neglected over time. Back in the days of the Raj, the IISc represented some of the most lucrative posts in the country. Today, IIT faculty is struggling for fair pay and working conditions. Our research publications equal just a quarter of China’s share. When there is evidence linking the economic prosperity of states with their science and technology infrastructure or publication performance, when it’s science and technology that has added the mass effect to everything from transport to communication and entertainment, then they must be given all possible support. This is not just a funding issue, but also one concerning respect and autonomy.
UTTERLY BUTTERLY UNNERVING
Bengal’s acute butter shortage, which has confounded restaurant owners, patisseries and now families, is the latest unforeseen result of the somewhat dry monsoon this year. Reports suggest that Bengal barely received 10% of its butter demands in the last two months. And since Amul makes up 95% of the total supply of butter to the state, smaller dairies are finding it difficult to fill the gap.
Suppliers and retailers are having a field day—marking up prices by as much as 30%. Consider yourself lucky, if you can pick up a kilo of Amul butter for Rs 210. Some say the butter crisis is overstated; others blame the rising costs of raw materials and global commodity prices for the shortage. Amul puts the blame squarely at the door of the drought in the initial weeks of monsoon that pushed fodder prices upward. Underfed cows = inadequate milk, leaving less available to be churned into butter, it says. The cooperative has also said the shortage won’t last for long, and they are working to increase production. But how could things come to such a pass? There is no serious shortfall in milk production, its principal raw material. The country’s milk production stands at 114.4 million metric tonnes currently, making it the largest milk producer in the world, ahead of the US and Germany. According to statistics provided by the National Dairy Development Board website, between 1991-92 and 2007-08, India’s milk production figure rose from 55.7 mt to 104.8 mt.
So is this a distribution issue? Perhaps it is. Dairy products are perishable; so the lack of a well-oiled cold chain can be a bugbear. But then, if ice-creams can be sold virtually at every street corner, no reason other dairy products can’t. Plus, pasteurisation has overcome this weakness partially. Is the vendor the stumbling block then? Could be. Milk vendors, a largely unorganised segment, enjoy the ‘last mile’ advantage and in that, have a lot of leverage.
These are tough questions and there are no easy answers. But the case of the disappearing butter has unnerved people even in a state quite accustomed to dealing with shortages. Utterly, butterly, unnerving,
WHY THE 25 KT ARGUMENT HAS NO YIELD
The controversy initiated by allegations of the former Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) scientist, K Santhanam, that India’s nuclear tests conducted in 1998 reached a magnitude of ‘only’ 25 kilotons instead of the originally claimed 45 kilotons is a good occasion to remind ourselves aboutthe rationale behind the development of nuclear weapons. The actual efficacy of India’s nuclear weapons is indeed something that should be looked into from a technical and scientific perspective. However, I would argue that from a national security perspective, the difference between a 25 kiloton and 45 kiloton warhead is irrelevant.
Nuclear weapons can be deployed as tactical weapons or strategic weapons. If used as tactical weapons, their application can take the form of gravity bombs, bunker-busters, warheads on short range missiles, or even a projectile deployed from a canon. Tactical nuclear weapons would be used on a battle field, against an enemy’s weapons facilities, or other such limited and specific targets. For example, in India’s case, they could be used to target underground Pakistani nuclear facilities that would be hard to destroy with conventional weapons. Their required yield to be effective is much less than 25 kilotons, and is normally less than five kilotons.
The second category of nuclear weapons, those developed for strategic purposes, are the arena where discussions about the upper limit of a weapon’s yield are more applicable. Strategic nuclear weapons are meant to be used on cities and urban population centres, and as such, they can have a very high yield—the biggest one ever tested on the planet was 50 megatons—though most strategic nuclear weapons are much less than that. To put this in perspective, the bomb dropped over Hiroshima was about 15 kilotons, and directly killed about 65,000 people Now, even if India is only capable of a nuclear warhead with a yield of 25 kilotons, if this weapon was to be used over a city like Beijing or Karachi, given population density, the eventual number of fatalities after taking into account the cumulative effects of the fireball, the shockwave, and the radiation fallout, would most probably be higher than the 65,000 people dead in Hiroshima. The destruction would be immense.
Now, the point of having strategic nuclear weapons is not to use them per se, but on the contrary, to convince your enemy not to harm you or your vital interests in any way that would make you use nuclear weapons in retaliation. This goal, known as deterrence, is the cornerstone of nuclear weapons strategy worldwide. India has already proclaimed a ‘no first use’ nuclear weapons policy, thereby making it clear that it will use its nuclear weapons only if someone uses them against India first. The aim clearly, is to deter any potential adversary from doing so. To achieve this goal, whether India puts 25 kiloton warheads on its missiles or 45 kiloton warheads, does not matter. In the first case, targeting a city like Karachi or Beijing, we would be able to kill more than 65,000 people—if the potential of multiple strikes of this magnitude are not enough to deter an enemy, then a 45 kiloton warhead is not going to do so either. Assuming that our enemy is not suicidal and is unwilling to attack us if we will be able to respond even with 25 kiloton warheads, a key determinant after attaining this yield level becomes the question of a second strike capability.
A second strike capability refers to the ability of a country to retaliate using nuclear weapons after it is struck first by an enemy. So long as a country has at least a triad of delivery systems, with a minimum numerical base, a second strike capability is presumably attained. This serves to convince the enemy that even if they were to attack us first using nuclear weapons, we would have the material capability to absorb the first attack, and then inflict extremely high levels of damage on the enemy in retaliation. India therefore needs to ensure that it has a credible second strike capability by maintaining sufficient and dispersed delivery vehicles for the warheads, including land, sea, and air based platforms.
So far, nuclear deterrence has succeeded worldwide between states that did possess a nuclear weapon, and there is no reason why this will not continue to be the case, even if our relations with China or Pakistan were to sour further. In any debate regarding nuclear weapons, one thing should be clear: nuclear weapons are merely a means to an end; the end goal is optimising national security. Whether India has the capability to deploy 25 kiloton bombs or 45 kiloton bombs, they will have no effect on national security so long as we have a secure second strike capability. If we find ourselves in a position where we actually have to use nuclear weapons as a result of having been targeted first, then the whole purpose of developing such weapons to make us safer has already been lost.
The writer is at Brown University, Rhode Island, US
PRICKING THE BUBBLE
It is symptomatic of the modern economic system that only such a short while after deep and global despair over green shoots, the pressing global concern has switched to strategies of exiting stimulus packages! The propensity of economies to tip from boom to bust and back again is intrinsic to their being populated by agents who magnify slender economic signals by acting in concert (though unwittingly) upon them. It is a delicate balancing act that economic policy administrators need to pull off now, with instruments that are not sufficiently supple.
The financial spasm of the last year has whetted public appetite for a comprehensive overhaul of the global financial system. Yet the suggestion of Adair Turner, of the Financial Services Authority in the UK, that it is worth considering a variation of the Tobin tax has simply not drawn the serious debate that it deserves. The proposal has been represented as intended to cut finance down to size. I am not a macroeconomist, but it is clear to me that the real case for a financial transactions tax is its usefulness as an economic policy instrument.
Traditional policy instruments available for regulating boom and bust cycles are weak. A metaphor for the use of interest rates to govern activity is that it is like trying to move an object with a string. You can cool an over-heating economy, but against a drop in demand, low interest rates may not induce consumers and businesses to increase their borrowing or spending. It is difficult to push an object with a string.
The other available policy lever, the monetary base, is used to inject cash directly into the economy, or to drain cash from the economy through purchase or sale of financial assets to banks. The basis for this is a hundred year old identity which states, tautologically, that the stock of money in the economy (M) times the velocity of circulation (V) is equal to the aggregate price level (P) times the real activity in the economy (Y). The implicit assumption is that the velocity of circulation of money (V) is constant; and so it is to a large extent in the real economy.
But when people have greater desire to buy and sell, driven, for example, by the psychology of speculation, money must change hands more often. Speculation is no stranger to the real economy, but is the moving spirit of the casino economy (Keynes’ phrase) which sits atop. When conditions are ‘right’, it takes only slender signals for the infectious urge to transact in the casino economy, to propel the flow of money to high velocities till the total volume of speculative transactions dominate the volume of real transactions. When the bubble bursts, the flow of money and credit coagulates not only in the casino economy, but also in the real economy.
A harmonised and comprehensive financial transactions tax, that can be raised or lowered, at regular periodic intervals just like interest rates, based on evidence on the rate of growth of the casino economy, can help regulate inflating bubbles. It is naive to argue off-hand that such a tax would distort price signals. Monetary authorities are in the business sending out signals through interest rates. A variable Tobin tax should similarly be conceived as a lever to regulate the volume of transactions, by making them cheap or expensive, particularly in the casino economy.
The conceptual basis for this tax is in the fact that boom and bust cycles are symptoms of an ‘externality’. By definition, speculative transactions, whether in the casino economy or in the real economy, are not based on ‘due diligence’ by individual investors. It is rational for an investor to free ride on information on others’ current or impending choices. Mexican waves that result cause financial instability. An instrument that allows the costs of financial trading to be increased or decreased as necessary to control liquidity, offers the possibility of rebalancing speculation and enterprise. The tax will internalise the externality wherein people free ride on incipient bubbles.
A variable Tobin tax must be used in conjunction with other policy instruments, including capital requirements that address leverage and risk. Its purpose cannot be solely to raise revenue, though there are many welcome uses for any revenue that is raised. It is not beyond the ingenuity of regulators working with newly recruited financial engineers to make such a tax expensive to duck. It will have to be harmonised and global—under the transparent control of the central bank when it comes to domestic financial transactions, and under the control of a credible international financial regulator when it comes to cross border financial transactions. There are innumerable arguments to be resolved and practical difficulties to be overcome. But recall the gut-wrenching financial and economic history of the year past, and it is difficult to deny the worth of grappling with these issues.
The author is reader in economics at Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, and a fellow of Corpus Christi College
YES, THERE’S WATER ON THE MOON
A new chapter has been added to the decades-long scientific quest for water on the moon. An instrument on the Chandrayaan-1, known as the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, has detected unmistakeable signs of water molecules at many places on the surface of our celestial neighbour. Years before humans set foot on the moon, scientists conjectured that there might be water there. But when samples of lunar rock and soil brought back by the Apollo astronauts were analysed, the results da mpened such hopes. The moon appeared to be, in the words of one scientific paper, “an exceedingly dry place.” The search for water on the moon, however, revived in the 1990s when two U.S. spacecraft, the Clementine and the Lunar Prospector, found evidence for what was said to be water in the form of ice in permanently shadowed craters at the poles. But this evidence has been hotly contested. So much so that last year Japanese researchers declared that careful analysis of images taken by the Kaguya/SELENE spacecraft did not throw up any sign of ice inside a key crater at the south pole. But it was also last year that U.S. scientists published a study that used new techniques to examine beads of volcanic glass collected by two Apollo missions. They found minute traces of water. That suggested that water had been a part of the moon since its formation and could be found deep inside it.
Against this background, the discovery of traces of water by the Chandrayaan-1, supported by findings from two U.S. deep space missions that gazed at the moon as they passed by, is of huge scientific interest. Scientists have long speculated that solar wind, carrying charged particles from the sun, could interact with the lunar soil to produce water. Now evidence from Chandrayaan-1 and the other two spacecraft indicates that such a process is likely to be at play on the moon. Water, it would seem, is being constantly generated all over the lunar surface. Much of it may well boil off into space; some of it may percolate deeper down into the soil. Some of the water could end up at the bottom of deep polar craters, which have recently been described as some of the coldest places in the entire solar system. Such water, it is said, will benefit any future efforts to establish a manned outpost on the moon, supplying drinking water and rocket fuel. The day when such a need might arise seems very far off indeed. It is not even clear when humans might next go to the moon, let alone set up bases there. For the present, it is science that profits most from the Chandrayaan-1’s discovery of water. Missions of space exploration should not be judged by any immediate returns they produce. The excitement over such voyages is a testament to our desire to better understand the world around us and the universe beyond.
TORTURE WITHOUT TRACE
The Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) have turned the spotlight on the complicity of medical professionals in the Central Investigation Agency’s recourse to abusive and unlawful interrogation methods during the post-9/11 ‘war on terror.’ The latest evidence, documented earlier as part of the horrors visited upon detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and Bagram airbase, underlines the imperative need to further codify such methods as illegal under international human rights law. The PHR findings focus on the psychological abuses recorded in the CIA Inspector-General’s 2004 report, but made public only recently following a law suit by the American Civil Liberties Union. There was resort to mock executions and the threat of imminent death and assault on family members, including sexual assaults — betraying the intent to terrorise and intimidate detainees. The forcible shaving of heads and beards was clearly designed to inflict personal and religious humiliation and trauma. If the intended effect of the infamous ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ such as water-boarding, stripping, sensory deprivation, and solitary confinement was the infliction of long-term bodily pain and injury, methods such as hooding gave interrogators anonymity and consequently impunity for their lawless actions.
While these means of mental torture were employed by the CIA, medical professionals, and psychologists actively colluded in the cruel and inhuman interrogations in cynical contempt for ethical and professional norms. Of particular concern are the extensive data they gathered on the basis of the reactions of detainees so as to determine the effectiveness of the interrogation techniques. The PHR rightly views this as amounting to unlawful human experimentation. The approach of the Obama administration to this dark chapter in contemporary American history has been to look ahead, rather than back, causing some consternation among civil rights groups and within the Democratic Party. President Obama’s more recent expression of a readiness to prosecute the architects of the torture laws, rather than those who merely enforced their criminal provisions, is perhaps an indication that the issue could become a political hot potato at home. What is absolutely clear is that how the people of the United States come to terms — or fail to come to terms — with the horrors inflicted on humanity in the name of the global war on terror will have a strong bearing on counter-terror strategies elsewhere.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
IRAN: IS CONFRONTATION AVOIDABLE?
THE OCTOBER 1 TALKS OPEN UP A NARROW PATH FOR PROGRESS. IF NOT TREADED CAREFULLY BY THE GLOBAL POWERS AND IRAN, THERE COULD BE DISASTER ON A MUCH LARGER SCALE.
Before the March 2003 American invasion, military commanders from the United States were fond of saying their ground troops would enter Iraq only after sustained air strikes and covert action had “shaped” the battlefield. They justified the mammoth aerial bombardment, which preceded the ground offensive, as necessary to not only severely damage Iraq’s military and logistics infrastructure but also psychologically debilitate their foes. It was argued that the battlefield would be shaped to satisfaction and readied for invasion only after the Iraqi will to fight was degraded substantially. It was against this background of intensive military preparation to weaken the enemy in advance that American tanks finally lunged from Kuwait to swiftly grab the southern Iraqi oilfields, heralding what later became an ill-fated invasion.
Contrary to what happened in early combat in Iraq, the Americans, to borrow a military phrase, have not shaped the diplomatic turf to their advantage, ahead of the crucial talks with Iran on October 1. As of now, Iran appears to have the upper hand as it heads for talks, probably in Turkey, with the U.S. and its five global partners — Britain , France, Russia, China and Germany.
The Iranians stand strong because of two reasons. First, the American influence has been declining in the strategic arc stretching from the Hindukush mountains in Afghanistan to the Mediterranean Sea in Lebanon. The area is part of the world’s energy heartland.
Afghanistan is one of the gateways not only to Pakistan and Iran but also to Central Asia’s rich energy resources. Iraq, which borders Iran, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, holds the world’s third largest proven deposits of oil.
Second, the Iranian influence in this very area of enormous geopolitical importance has grown substantially since the Americans invaded Iraq. The Iranians are influential among the sizeable Hazara and Tajik communities in Afghanistan. For the landlocked Afghanistan, Iran is vital for its economic sustenance as trade corridors open across the Iranian mainland towards the warm waters of the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman. The importance of these routes has heightened lately as the escalating turmoil in Pakistan enhanced the risks of transiting goods across the country in the direction of the Arabian Sea.
Apart from Afghanistan, Iran is arguably the most influential external player in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon — which present a contiguous territorial zone, parts of which were once home to the mighty Phoenician and Achaemenid empires. The danger posed by Israel has powerfully bonded the Lebanese Hizbollah, the Palestinian Hamas and Syria with Iran. Besides, Iran is part of a regional Shia network, which spans Mashhad and Qom in Iran and Najaf and Karbala in Iraq.
Beirut and Southern Lebanon are also part of this fully flourishing system of vigorous religious interaction and energetic political activism.
Given its profound vulnerabilities, the U.S. needs Iran badly to stabilise both Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran and Russia are fully aware that a power vacuum, at America’s expense, is fast emerging in large parts of Central Asia, Caucasia and West Asia.
America’s long-term capacity to project unrivalled power has been a topic of intense debate among its rivals. In large measure America’s capacity to sustain expensive military ventures abroad would depend on the amount of wealth it generates in the future, and on the disposable income it has at its command to afford the presence of its military forces abroad over the long haul.
Aware of their limitations to sustain a two-front war in Iraq and Afghanistan against the so called war on terror, the Americans are already seeking Russian help in Afghanistan. With military supply routes from Pakistan to Afghanistan choking, the Americans have been forced to look at Russia as an alternative. Known for their deft moves on the international chessboard, the Russians are likely to oblige, but only at the cost of degrading American strategic influence in the region.
Fully aware of the big picture, the Iranians are confident of striking a hard bargain with their interlocutors. It is extremely unlikely that the Iranians will compromise on their nuclear programme. Statements coming from Iran that it will not discuss its nuclear programme cannot be dismissed as mere posturing. The Iranian establishment, right from the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Saeed Jalili, lead negotiator on the nuclear issue, have spoken in unison on excluding the country’s nuclear programme during the discussions with the global powers. If anything, the Iranians have hardened their position further. In May 2008, the Iranians were ready to consider the formation of an international consortium for enrichment of uranium. A year later they appear unwilling to do so.
Following up on the President’s announcement earlier this year that Iran had mastered the nuclear fuel cycle, his adviser Ali Akbar Javanfekr in a recent interview with AFP said: “The situation would have been different if we had not mastered this technology. They [the global powers] have to understand that we have made progress in other fields also and our progress has been fast.” Far from hinting at flexibility and compromise, the Iranians have been dismissive of the West, and have derided its moral credentials to discuss their atomic programme. The corrosive tenor adopted by a commentary in the Iranian daily, Kayhan, which supposedly reflects the Supreme Leader’s thinking, illustrated the mood in Tehran. “The thought of official talks with members of a group who have drenched Iraq and Afghanistan in the blood of its citizens and brought misery and hardship on the rest of the world is sickening to Iran’s rank and file. We are going to be ‘graced’ at the talks with the presence of pseudo-humans whose greed has led to dozens of Africa famines and the deaths of millions through starvation. And we have to degrade ourselves further through efforts to listen to their arguments which generally consist of threats, more threats and then acts of terrorism against our country via their intelligence services if we do not give in to their bullying. We even sink to the lows of doing business with mass murderers…On the eve of the talks with the 5+1 (the five permanent members of the Security Council + Germany), we beg God to give us patience, because the mere thought of proximity with such company, in the absence of so many of our martyred loved ones and friends, abhors us and fills our numbers with apprehension and disgust.”
It is evident that the U.S.and its partners will run into a wall of resistance if they continue to push Iran to halt nuclear enrichment or threaten it with more stringent sanctions, if not worse.
On the contrary, acceptance of enrichment, but under watertight international monitoring, which ensures that enriched uranium produced by Iran is not diverted for military purposes, can pay attractive dividends. For instance, the Iranians will be denied any credible argument against signing the Additional Protocol to the NPT, which provides for surprise inspections of suspect facilities, once it is permitted enrichment under full international surveillance. Iran’s failure to cooperate then will deny it the moral high ground that it is presently inclined to take on all conceivable national and international forums. Besides, its failure to comply would give room for manoeuvring to undercut support for Iran among the large number of nations belonging to the non-aligned group. Iran’s isolation can become comprehensive, and the moral case for additional punitive measures can be made impregnable, if Tehran’s post-enrichment stance falls short of international expectations.
There has been much talk in the West about the imposition of punishing gasoline sanctions to force Iran to amend its stance on the nuclear issue. Despite imports meeting 40 per cent of their petrol demand, the Iranians are unlikely to be sufficiently hurt by an embargo. Russia has already declared that it opposes a gasoline blockade against Iran. It would be hard to impose a petrol embargo on Iran without consensus among the global powers. Even if the West goes ahead with sanctions, minus Russia and in all probability China, it is unlikely to achieve much success.
Russia would still be in a position to sufficiently meet Iranian demand by transiting gasoline along alternative routes.
Air strikes by Israel or the U.S. are not a realistic option either. Aerial bombardment of Iran’s widely dispersed nuclear infrastructure can, at best, delay the progress of Tehran’s atomic programme. But the risks attached to such a military misadventure are enormous. Iran, in all probability, will retaliate by mining the Strait of Hormuz — the principal gateway for transiting global oil supplies. Oil prices following an attack on Iran are bound to surge to unprecedented heights. A recession hit global economy, which is still in the doldrums and is likely to remain so for some more time, will find it hard to withstand such a heavy blow. An attack on Iran is also likely to trigger attacks on Israel by the Hizbollah, leading to a much larger regional conflagration in an area which holds the world’s largest deposits of oil.
‘ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT AND BEST RELATIONSHIPS IN THE WORLD’
U.S. AMBASSADORTIMOTHY J. ROEMERIN CONVERSATION WITHTHE HINDU
Timothy J. Roemer, nominated by President Barack Obama as the 21st U.S. Ambassador to India, presented his credentials to President Pratibha Patil on August 11, 2009. Acting on the advice of Mr. Obama to get out of New Delhi to meet Indians all around the country, the former six-term Congressman and former president of the Center for National Policy in Washington D.C. visited Chennai in September for a packed schedule of meetings. Dr. Roemer addressed a range of bilateral, U.S. policy, and international issues while fielding questions during a one-hour interactive editorial meeting at The Hindu on September 24.
Shyam Ranganathan and Narayan Lakshman present an edited excerpt from the conversation (the full text is available at beta.thehindu.com):
When President Obama asked me to serve in this role, he said this is not only one of the most important relationships in the world, it will be one of the best relationships in the world. The President, like the Secretary of State, meant this not only on bilateral issues such as the civilian nuclear deal that was passed by both our respective legislatures and approved by the executive branches, but now moving from one very important issue to five extremely important issues of bilateral, regional and global consequences.
We have a common threat with radical extremism emanating from different parts of the world particularly from al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. And both India and the United States identify this common threat. After the attacks of 9/11 and after the Mumbai attacks, we are working together at unprecedented levels to share intelligence, to assess our strategic interests, to better train our personnel, to send delegations of people back and forth between the United States and India in a joint way so we learn from India and that India learns from the United States.
There are also areas that are extremely important on climate and energy security issues that the two countries can work on. I think both countries see it in their strategic interest to lessen their dependence on oil, on imported oil, and broaden their alternatives, co-operate more on technology and science, improve their energy efficiency and their conservation, look for new markets so their entrepreneurs can raise money to create new jobs respectively in the United States and in India. This is a very exciting and important part of this partnership moving forward.
There are also areas of development, education, healthcare, that are extremely important to the two countries. There are also issues of strategic cooperation on agriculture and something that was referred to in the 1960s as the Green Revolution. The last one I would mention would be economics, trade and investment opportunities. The United States and India look for more partnerships moving forward that benefit both the United States and India in this global economy.
This President of ours thinks in broad and big and ambitious terms. That is why he wants to take this relationship from the civilian nuclear deal to five strategic partnerships. He expects me to meet as many people as I can. Public diplomacy is a vital goal for the President of the United States. It is for me to meet everyday Indians to see what families are experiencing, to see how we can listen and learn, to see how we can improve the people-to-people ties because of course it is the people-to-people ties that have been leading this relationship over the last few decades. 95,000 Indian students are in American schools. We have several million Indians engaged and active in the American community. We have very intimate business-to-business ties.
This relationship is very positive and on a trajectory going up in extremely optimistic ways. When Presidents and Prime Ministers get along so well, when you have these great people-to-people ties, when you have a strategic vision, an ambitious vision of five new dialogues and pillars to move this relationship forward, that bodes extremely well for our relationship going forward.
CHANGE AND CONTINUITY IN THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION
A lot of credit must go to the Republican Party, to the Democratic Party, to President Clinton, to President Bush, to governments here in India, to the BJP party, to the Congress party, to Mr. Vajpayee, to Prime Minister Singh, to the people-to-people ties. This is a relationship that is constant, that is continuous, that is forged on historic ties, that are people-to-people, business-to-business, and government-to-government at many levels. The continuity is a strength of the relationship.
I think that change is also a harbinger of an Obama administrationn and Secretary Clinton’s leadership style that wants to do big, bold agendas and believes that we can do several things at the same time – that we can expand on the success of the civilian nuclear deal that expanded the confidence and trust between our two governments. That provided essential steps forward in our relationship – jobs in America, opportunities for increased electricity and power, and life-changing results for people in rural communities that desperately need access to electricity.
This is a great foundation to build on, but now we have more pillars, more great things to accomplish together not only in the bilateral relationship. With India’s emergence as a leading regional and global player, there are many opportunities to forge these relationships for India to lead on globally – proliferation and disarmament issues, energy security issues, green revolution issues, education reform issues, security issues leading the way to cooperate against the regional and global threats like the al-Qaeda and the Lashkar-e-Taiba. So there is both continuity and change in this relationship. Both are statements of the stability in the relationship. But the change also challenges both countries to do bigger and broader things together on a global stage.
The President is very cognisant of the fact that free and fair trade helps grow our economy at home. It will be a fundamental goal for me as United States Ambassador here to strengthen the trade, investment, and economic opportunities between our two countries. That has been on a trajectory upwards.
The President recognises that helping our businesses get access to new markets is absolutely essential for future economic growth and continuing to pull out of this (as it’s called in America) Great Recession. The President talked very eloquently in the campaign about creating new jobs, green collar jobs, and creating new markets for those green collar jobs. Hybrid cars, new batteries, solar power, geo-thermal power, alternative technologies, clean coal technologies and finding ways to exchange these technologies, trade these technologies, sell these technologies with other global players.
When he became President, several of his initiatives passed through Congress. The stimulus bill contained tens of billions of dollars for alternative energy investments to follow through on his pledge to create green collar jobs, to look for more opportunities in the United States and globally. In some subsequent legislation, not just in the stimulus bill but in the pending bill on energy that is in the U.S. Senate now, he has got billions of dollars of additional money for new investment opportunities in the energy sector. So he has committed his words, his eloquence to this issue, but he has also committed his political capital and achieved much in these areas legislatively.
CIVILIAN NUCLEAR COOPERATION
We are certainly very pleased with the progress attained in this historic deal and in this relationship on the civilian nuclear partnership. There are however some key legacy issues to complete. It is extremely important to the Obama administration that we try to do these as soon as possible — for India’s interests and also for the United States of America’s interests. This means commitment and fulfillment of an agreement, jobs for Americans, and electricity and changing people’s lives in India.
There are issues such as the public announcement of the two reactor sites for the United States and the two States that they will be located in. We are waiting for the Indian government to publicly announce that.
We are working closely with the Indian government on all these issues but also on the declaration of safeguarded facilities with the IAEA. We think there is great progress being made there. We hope to get that over the finish line. There is needed liability legislation passed through Parliament in India. We are hopeful that it will be completed in time for the Prime Minister’s visit in November. And then there is the issue on licensing that we still have to complete.
U.S. companies are very anxious and excited to have this completed. I can also assure you that at the highest levels of the United States government this is an extremely important and vital priority. It just so happens out of the four or five remaining legacy issues, almost every one of them is in the court of the Indian government.
CLIMATE CHANGE: RESOURCES COMMITTED
The President has committed not only money and resources to climate change, but also his energy bill and his stimulus bill, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars. He has committed people to it. When the President took office he appointed people like Carol Browner and Lisa Jackson — Carol Browner, in the White House to help strategise on climate change and energy security issues, who served in the Clinton administration. Lisa Jackson is in charge of the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] — somebody at the state level who has put climate and energy issues at the front and centre of her career.
He has a Vice-President who is firmly committed to these issues and an Energy Secretary too, who has brought great expertise from the National Labs to the energy and climate change issues. In Congress he has allies — in the Senate and in the House — people like Barbara Boxer and Howard Berrman, key strategists throughout the legislative branch who are working hard, supporting his legislation and his initiatives.
So from the level of money and resources to the level of personnel and time in the White House, to people who are helping him and partnering with him in the legislative area, there is a great deal of commitment to this climate issue. We hope that is contagious. We hope key players like India will also look at some of the challenges in their country.
We have made mistakes on this issue in our history. So I think rather than following some of our example on this, our two countries must work together for innovative, new solutions – reforestation programmes, planting new trees to form the sink to absorb some of the carbon emissions, alternative energy sources, science and technology partnerships, global partnerships with India and other countries. I think this is key.
ACTION ON TERRORISM
You have to remember that about two months after 9/11 took place, a man by the name of Osama Bin Laden said it was not 19 Arab armies or 19 Arab tanks that attacked the U.S. — it was 19 postgraduate students! He was saying it’s a different world; that the transnational threats are very real, and it’s not just the nation state that can be a threat. It could be a cell of terrorists being trained somewhere north of here, coming in and attacking in Mumbai. It can be a cell of people training in Afghanistan and going into New York City. It can be a cyber security or computer threat. It can be a healthcare threat.
In almost every press conference I have had in my short tenure here, I have underscored the importance of the U.S. and India working together to confront this common global threat. Encouraging the government of Pakistan to bring the perpetrators of the bloodthirsty attacks in Mumbai to justice is absolutely key.
The U.S. government is completely devoted to going after people who are threatening our allies, like India, and killing Americans. That needs to be urgent, timely and comprehensive, on the part of the Pakistan government — to implement the sentences on these six people they now have on trial. I would also take it a step further than you have and say that people like Hafiz Sayeed, who are on the Interpol Red Notice List, who are on the UN 1267 Resolution, who have long been on lists in the U.S., need to be brought to justice.
Finally, the third point, which is absolutely vital for our moving forward and successfully taking on this common threat, is to help dismantle the infrastructure of LeT [Lashkar-e-Toiba], who have become a regional threat, not just a threat to India, but a player in terrorism and destruction in this entire region.
Those are three extremely important issues. At the same time we talk about national security issue, it is vitally important for the U.S. and India to talk about the economic issues, the education issues, the alleviation of poverty issues, where 650 million people in India live on less than $2 a day, the public diplomacy issues that the President has tasked me with – getting out and meeting people, broadening and deepening this relationship. It’s not just only about national security but about economic security, development security, energy security — that’s where this relationship really has the ability to grow.
TEACH FOR AMERICA AND INDIA
I had a very productive, interesting, and expansive discussion with your new Minister of Human Resources and Education, Kapil Sibal. We talked about the opportunities for moving forward on higher education and legislation that, I think, is soon to be introduced. Hopefully this is legislation that might allow these partnerships to grow and prosper in the future, between American universities and Indian universities, that would guarantee a sound curriculum, good faculty, good partnerships.
The Teach for America idea, originated by Wendy Kopp in America, where we now go out in America and try to recruit some of our best and brightest to teach under some of the most difficult circumstances in inner city schools and rural schools, where it is hard to place teachers in American schools – how might we replicate that in India?
There is a Teach for India programme – how might that be scaled up to get more and more teachers into the communities? I heard from people in the Indian community in this Round Table that they are concerned that we need more and more people going into the teaching profession in India.
QUALITY AND ACCESS IN EDUCATION
Access to education in America is broad, wide, and expansive. Whether you are living on a native American Indian reservation, whether you are in an inner city school, whether you are a disabled student, you have access to public education in America.
We worked on this bill called “No Child Left Behind.” We were able to pass that legislation with bipartisan support. There were two fundamentally important goals.
One, we said in a global economy it is absolutely essential that when you are passed from the sixth grade to the seventh grade or out of high school, there need to be specific goals and curricula and standards you have attained. It does not do anybody any good, whether you be poor or disadvantaged, or rich and advantaged, to be passing somebody through school but they cannot read at the right level, or they do not have the right sense of history, or they haven’t attained the goals of the technical training and drafting or an animation that it required, the computer skills.
So we set strict standards in this legislation saying you need to be able to attain certain goals going from one grade to the next. A diploma will mean something and you have to earn this in this 21st century global economy, which is so competitive.
Secondly, we said that we need to continue to be able to recruit, train and promote the best teachers in the world. If you are teaching students physics, you should be certified in physics. If you are teaching English you should be certified in English and have a broad background in Shakespeare and Byron and the great writers of the world rather than be trained in a different area. So we insisted on certain goals being reached on teacher training and teacher qualifications.
I think both of those goals try to get to this issue: with a vast opportunity of access in America, extended to so many groups of people, how do you insist on quality? How do you improve quality going forward with the teacher training programmes, with the teacher certification programmes, and with the student performance programmes? I think we found a good balance in “No Child Left Behind.”
END THE EXTORTION
SIBAL MUST PUSH ‘TOUGH LAW’
It is heartening that the Union HRD Ministry wants to go in for a tough law that would seek to cancel registration of an institute that charges capitation fees. The word ‘capitation’ may have an innocuous meaning in the standard western dictionaries, but in the Indian higher educational context, `capitation fee’ has an extortionist connotation suggesting, in fact, something like a hefty bribe for admission, wrapped as fee. The committee on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education, headed by Prof Yashpal, recently indicated that some private professional institutes were charging up to Rs 40 lakh from a student as capitation fee. This despite a Supreme Court judgment six years ago which sought to clear the confusion caused by an earlier judgment by imposing a total ban on capitation fees.
That the pernicious practice of some private managements charging exorbitant capitation fees from aspirants in the name of development has been continuing unabated has much to do with the fact that influential people, including ministers in some states, have jumped on to the education bandwagon with the sole motive of making a fast buck. Recently, Tamil Nadu’s Directorate of Medical Education decided to recommend criminal proceedings against Sree Balaji Medical College, owned by Union Minister of State S Jagathrakshakan, after it failed to reply to the second show cause notice on the collection of capitation fees from MBBS aspirants. This followed a ‘sting’ operation by a newspaper in which officials of two leading medical colleges, including Sree Balaji Medical College, were caught on camera demanding Rs 20 lakh to Rs 40 lakh for an MBBS seat.
While Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal is a well-intentioned man, it is to be hoped that the legislation that he is proposing will not have loopholes which the unscrupulous can exploit. As the Yashpal committee recently indicated, the errant institutes have a free run as regulatory bodies have failed to check the illegal practice, partly due to reluctance to tackle the problem. Significantly, Mr Sibal has also indicated that if an institute promises something and delivers something else, that will amount to malpractice and the institute will face de-recognition. These intentions must be translated into action and the law, when enacted, must be enforced strictly without fear or favour. Capitation cannot be allowed to be charged if education has to be less iniquitous than it is today.
POWER POLITICS IN PUNJAB
POPULISM WILL HAVE TO END
Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is not known for accepting defeat easily. What he said at Ludhiana the other day, therefore, came as a surprise. “The government”, he said, in a candid admission, “is helpless over the power shortage in the state”. The next day, back to his usual ways of politics, Mr Badal said he was ready to “face cuts of at least seven hours at my residence to share people’s plight”. His weaker moments prompted some Congress leaders to come out with a piece of ill-meant jibe advice to him: Please retire from politics as “that would be your best contribution to Punjab”.
The power crisis in Punjab is too serious an issue to be used for political point scoring. The Congress governments have as much contributed to the present power situation as those led by the Akali Dal. Both have indulged in competitive populism for short-term electoral gains. By giving free power to farmers and later to sections of the poor, the successive governments have not only bankrupted the Punjab State Electricity Board and depleted its own treasury, but also deprived the state of cheap Central and World Bank funds otherwise available for development works. It is doubtful whether free power has politically benefited any party.
If the Akalis have to appease farmers, the BJP has urban voters to look after. The BJP has forced the coalition government to absorb the recent power tariff hike imposed on industry and the domestic power consumer. Because of this as well as the recent condition attached by the 13th Finance Commission to the waiving of part of the Central loans to Punjab, the government has decided to review subsidies. Since the Finance Minister has been excluded from the review committee, the outcome may not be encouraging. By cutting political and bureaucratic extravagance and pruning subsidies reasonably, the government can raise resources as well as avail of Central funds to undertake power and other development projects.
WHY GOLD GLITTERS
IT IS A SAFER BET THAN STOCKS
It is common for gold prices to rise with the onset of the festive season in India. However, this year the rise has been steeper and this has not deterred people from buying more. Indian fondness for gold is well known. A bride is loaded with ornaments, which are intended to provide her financial security. But there is more to gold buying now than for its traditional use in weddings and festivities. With the introduction of gold futures and trading of gold funds on stock exchanges, many investors have succumbed to the lure of gold. Its prices are closely monitored and price gyrations are not as wild as those of stocks. Hence, the risk-averse prefer gold to stocks.
Punjabis have turned active gold traders, going by media reports of the daily trading figure of over Rs 1,200 crore, which is substantial in these days of slowdown. The recent upswing in the gold prices is attributed to many factors. Financial institutions and funds, it is reported, are switching to gold from equities, whose prices have doubled or tripled from their lows in March on hopes of global recovery. There is a risk of stock prices plunging after an almost non-stop bull run. Secondly, the US dollar is on the decline. A fall in the dollar usually leads to a gold price rise. The dollar hit almost a one-year low recently. With uncertainties gripping the currency markets, investors are shifting from currency to gold buying.
However, ordinary retail investors should think twice before buying gold at the current high prices. For one, the hyped-up demand for gold may not sustain beyond the festival season. For another, since global developments have a bearing on gold prices, it is difficult for ordinary investors to keep track of them. It is better to avoid trading as speculators often suffer the most when institutional investors change their priorities.
THE WHEAT MIRACLE
HOW NORMAN BORLAUG MADE IT POSSIBLE
BY PROF M. S. SWAMINATHAN
I wrote an article on the Punjab Wheat Miracle in The Illustrated Weekly of India (May 11, 1969) at the request of Mr Kushwant Singh, then Editor of the Weekly. I then pointed out that the catalyst of the miracle was the new plant type sent by Norman Borlaug in 1963. This plant type had a semi-dwarf plant stature and was capable of utilising fertiliser and water very efficiently. When grown with good agronomic practices and soil fertility management, varieties like Lerma Rojo - 64A and Sonora 64 gave about 5 tonnes of wheat per hectare, in contrast to 1 to 2 tonnes per hectare of the earlier tall varieties.
The earlier varieties like C306 bred by Chowdhry Ramdan Singh had amber grains and excellent chapati making properties. Fortunately, Borlaug had also sent segregating populations from which wheat breeders at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi, and Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana, selected high-yielding amber grain and good culinary-quality varieties like Kalyan Sona and Sonalika. This resulted in enormous enthusiasm among the farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Western UP, and I described the role of farmers in the revolution as follows:
“Brimming with enthusiasm, hard-working, skilled and determined, the Punjab farmer has been the backbone of the revolution. Revolutions are usually associated with the young, but in this revolution age has been no obstacle to participation. Farmers, young and old, educated and uneducated, have easily taken to the new agronomy. It has been heart-warming to see young college graduates, retired officials, ex-Army men, illiterate peasants and small farmers queuing up to get the new seeds. At least in Punjab, the divorce between intellect and labour, which has been the bane of our agriculture, is vanishing.”
It was in 1961 that I got an invitation sent to Dr Borlaug for visiting India and sharing with us the semi-dwarf wheat material which he had developed in Mexico using the Norin 10 dwarfing gene from Japan. Borlaug visited India in March 1963 and we travelled all over Punjab, Haryana, Western UP, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh during March 1 to 24, 1963. Dr D S Athwal, then the Head of the Plant Breeding Department of PAU, Ludhiana, provided dynamic leadership in testing, selecting and spreading the new varieties. After watching the performance of the material sent by Borlaug in September 1963 at several locations in North India, I proposed the initiation of a National Demonstration Programme to get the views of farmers on the new varieties. This programme was started during rabi 1964. As a result of their enthusiasm, a small government programme
became a mass movement.
I had prepared in 1963 a paper titled “Five Years of Dwarf Wheats”, describing what needs to be done between 1963 and 1968. This was later published by the IARI. Although predictions are risky in the biological world due to many factors beyond human control such as weather, the programme went as planned and Indira Gandhi released a stamp titled “The Wheat Revolution” in July 1968 to commemorate the quantum jump in production achieved. We were fortunate to have the total support and guidance of Bharat Ratna C Subramaniam, who was the Union Agriculture Minister during 1964-67.
An important feature of the wheat revolution is an increase in production through higher productivity. For example, the yield of wheat in Punjab went up from about one tonne per hectare to over four tones after the Green Revolution. The same happened in Haryana and Western UP. Also, in this region, which is the heartland of the Green Revolution, farmers now take one high-yielding variety of rice in addition to wheat. Sometimes a potato crop is also taken as a result of the availability of irrigation water. However, such intensive cropping has also led to the over-exploitation of the aquifer. This is why I pleaded with the Punjab farmers that they should work for an ever-green revolution which can result in higher productivity in perpetuity without associated ecological harm. I hope, Punjab, Haryana and the other important agricultural areas of our country will take to conservation farming and say goodbye to exploitative farming.
In 1966, India imported 18,000 tonnes of seeds of Lerma Roja 64-A and a few other varieties from Mexico with the help of Borlaug as part of a “purchase time” strategy, resulting in a quantum jump in wheat production from 12 million tonnes in 1965 to 17 million tonnes in 1968. Similar results were being obtained in rice, as a result of the introduction of the Dee-gee-woo gen dwarfing gene from China in tall varieties of indica rice at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines. Dr William Gaud of the US coined the term, “Green Revolution” in 1968 to denote productivity-led advances in production. For example, India produced 80 million tonnes of wheat from 26 million ha in 2009. If this production was to be achieved at the pre-Green Revolution yield level of 1 t/ha, 80 million hectares would have been needed. This is why the Green Revolution is also referred to land or forest saving agriculture.
Though a plant breeder, Borlaug always emphasised that for the plant to reveal its full genetic potential for yield, appropriate agronomic practices were needed. “Breeding” for high yield, he used to stress, must be accompanied by “feeding” for high yield.
“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.” These were the sentiments expressed by the Nobel Committee while presenting the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize to Norman Borlaug. What led Borlaug to make such a significant contribution to fighting hunger? The secret of his success is reflected in his last spoken words on the night of Saturday, September 12, 2009. Earlier in the day, a scientist had shown him a nitrogen tracer developed for measuring soil fertility. His last words were “take the tracer to the farmer”. This life-long dedication to taking scientific innovations to farmers without delay sets Borlaug apart from most other farm scientists carrying out equally important research.
On the occasion of his receiving the Congressional Gold Medal from the US Congress on July 17, 2007, Borlaug said:
“The Green Revolution was a great historic success. In 1960, perhaps 60 per cent of the world’s people felt hunger during some portion of the year. By the year 2000, the proportion of hungry in the world had dropped to 14 per cent of the total population. Still, this figure translates to 850 million men, women and children who lack sufficient calories and protein to grow strong and healthy bodies. Thus, despite the successes of the Green Revolution, the battle to ensure food security for hundreds of millions of poor people is far from won”.
He urged the US Congress “to launch a new version of the Marshall Plan, this time not to rescue a war-torn Europe, but to help the nearly one billion, mostly rural poor, still trapped in hunger and misery”. This then is the unfinished task bequeathed by Borlaug to scientists and political leaders worldwide.
The writer is Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) and Chairman, M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai.
BY P.C. SHARMA
True stories of love and affection are not rare but those of labour of love are rare, indeed.
Jhumroo, a comely girl, is the joy of her parents. Fresh as a daisy, she started going to school when she was four years old. Watching her going to school and returning home was a routine that delighted her parents.
But this schoolgoing started getting disrupted. Jhumroo became pale and weak. Disturbed parents went from one specialist to another to get their child restored to health. But they were devastated when they learnt that the child was suffering from blood cancer. That was their most painful moment. Resolving to give Jhumroo the best possible treatment available they took her abroad, consulted well-known specialists but returned disappointed.
Thomas Hardy’s “theory of chance” played its hand then.
Coming home to enquire about Jhumroo’s health, a friend advised the parents to show her to Dr Vandana.
Hailed as a doctor with Midas’ touch, an angelic person who kindled hope and removed fear of the ailment, Vandana was known not just for her success in treatment but also for affection and care. While medicine cured, her affection dimmed the pain. No wonder Jhumroo bore the treatment well and continued her studies.
The doctor and the parents knew all, but resolved to persevere with the treatment. Mother was ready to leave her job and invest all her time in Jhumroo’s care. The father turned down an offer of a lucrative assignment abroad to stay with his daughter.
The treatment was a painful ordeal. But after a long wait the miracle started to happen. Seeing Jhumroo recover, the doctor’s joy and the parent’s happiness was limitless. Tears of joy washed the pain they all suffered. Love’s labour was not lost.
Herself a doctor now, Jhumroo, has resolved to follow her role model Dr Vandana, to pursue specialisation in blood cancer cure.
Dr Vandana’s story does not end here. While she was treating Jhumroo, a parallel saga of treatment of a young man was also going on. A bright student with engaging features put all his trust in the doctor, who in turn, spared no effort in his treatment. The doctor succeeded this time again. Regaining his health and his looks, Ravi stirred something in the doctor’s heart. Mutual attraction blossomed into a romance which culminated in their marriage. A quiet marriage was their way of tying the knot.
The couple has since moved abroad. Acutely conscious of Ravi’s genetic profile, they have decided not to go in for a child of their own. They have adopted a cute little girl who is their delight.
Union of Vandana and Ravi is their destiny and their bliss. It has a ring of Churchillian saying, “We married and lived happily ever afterwards”.
HAS AMERICA REACHED TURNING POINT IN AFGHANISTAN?
BY RUPERT CORNWELL
Six months after proclaiming a new commitment to the war in Afghanistan, President Barack Obama is under growing pressure to make what would amount to a U-turn in US policy and scale back America’s commitment to a conflict that many experts – and a majority of the public – now fear may be unwinnable.
The debate, which divides Mr Obama’s most senior advisers, was thrown into stark relief by the leaked report of General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US and allied forces in Afghanistan, warning that the war might be lost within a year without a further boost in troop strength and a major change in strategy to combat the spreading Taliban insurgency.
General McChrystal’s bleak assessment coupled with Washington’s frustration with the Afghan leader Hamid Karzai and the fraud-ridden election over which he presided, has reignited a rift between Vice-President Joseph Biden and Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, over how the war should be waged. It has also left Mr Obama facing a fateful choice: whether to go along with his generals and send yet more troops, or stand current policy on its head.
Spoken or unspoken, behind the debate lurks the shade of Vietnam. It emerged that The Washington Post, the first to report General McChrystal’s devastating 66-page memorandum, agreed to delay publication by 24 hours, omitting elements relating to future tactics that the Pentagon and White House said might endanger American troops on the front lines in Afghanistan.
Bob Woodward, the paper’s investigative reporter, who broke the story, compares the document to the secret history of the Vietnam war that caused a sensation when it was obtained in 1971 by The New York Times. The so-called Pentagon Papers “came out eight years too late,” Mr Woodward says.
The stakes are now huge – so huge that the President barely mentioned Afghanistan in his address to the United Nations General Assembly. If Washington is perceived as opposing a further troop build-up, or leaning towards a reduction, then other countries in the coalition, where the eight-year-long war is even more unpopular than here, will rush for the exits.
Hitherto, the issue of the war in Afghanistan has seemed straightforward. In contrast to Iraq, Afghanistan has been the “good war” – a war of necessity, fought to make sure that a repeat of the 9/11 attacks, directed from Afghanistan by an al-Qa’ida sheltered by the Taliban, would never occur again.
Underlining this reinvigorated commitment, Mr Obama authorised an increase in US strength in Afghanistan to 68,000 by the end of the year, and named General McChrystal, previously in charge of US special forces, as his new commander on the ground. But the latter’s recommendation of a boost of 30,000 to 40,000 confronts this president with a dilemma akin to that facing his predecessor over Iraq three years ago: to surge or not to surge? And views within the administration differ sharply.
Essentially the choice, in strategic jargon, is between counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency. The latter, implying a broad war against the Taliban to prevent it returning to power, seems to be what General McChrystal has in mind, and has long been backed by Mrs Clinton. Only this week, she had scathing words for those who argued that al-Qa’ida was no longer a factor in Afghanistan. “If Afghanistan is taken over again by the Taliban, I can’t tell you how fast al-Qa’ida would be back.”
The Vice-President, on the other hand, wants a narrower focus on al-Qa’ida itself, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where security forces have scored some important recent successes against the terrorist organisation and its Taliban allies. Under this approach, the US would require fewer forces in the field.
Instead of trying to protect the general population from the Taliban and operating a “hearts and minds” policy to win over civilian support, it would concentrate on targeted strikes on al-Qa’ida operatives, relying on umnanned drones, missile attacks and the special forces where General McChrystal is an expert. Simultaneously the training of Afghan government forces would be speeded up.
A third faction advocates a compromise, either scaling back the requested troop increase, or even starting to reverse it, while at the same time ensuring that the country does not collapse into chaos.
The White House and Pentagon are now studying the report, and it will be “weeks” before a decision is made, administration officials say.
But Mr Obama, once so trenchant on the subject, is now hedging his bets. All options are on the table, he indicated during his blitz of the Sunday talk shows last weekend. “The first question is, are we doing the right thing?” he told CNN.
As it is, public support for the conflict is dropping sharply, too. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll yesterday, 59 per cent of those surveyed were now “less confident” that the US could achieve a successful end to the war. More than half opposed an increase in American forces, while a third wanted an immediate pullout.
This growing pessimism is visible on Capitol Hill, too. Earlier this month, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, warned that neither Capitol Hill nor ordinary voters are in the mood for sending more soldiers to a war that has already taken almost 900 American lives – and 51 in August alone. Then Michigan’s Carl Levin, chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, declared that the US should send no more troops before a “surge” in Afghan security forces. But as even Pentagon officials concede, training Afghan forces up to the required standard of competence – not to mention loyalty – will be even more difficult than it was in Iraq.
Complicating matters further, Congressional leadersare now demanding a personal accounting from General McChrystal on how the war is going. For the moment Robert Gates, the Defense Secretary, has resisted the pressure, insisting the commander will only appear on Capitol Hill when a new policy has been decided. But if US casualties continue to grow, he may have little choice in the matter. In the meantime, Mr Obama is increasingly in a corner.
As Republicans constantly remind him, for the US to wind down its commitment would send a message of weakness and inconsistency to friends and foes alike. But to press on with a long, inconclusive war in a distant corner of Asia carries well-known and equal perils.
Once again, events are bearing out the famous aphorism of Mark Twain, that “while history doesn’t repeat itself, it rhymes”.
By arrangement with The Independent
BATHINDA IN FOR MORE POLLUTION
BY G. S. DHILLON
After facing an environmental threat from the two thermal plants, the Bathinda area will have to cope with the adverse effects of the proposed oil refinery being set up by HPCL-Mittal Energy Ltd. The refinery may start by 2011. The two thermal plants, to be operational in two-three years, will use 77,585 tonnes of coal daily.
As refineries need large volumes of water for processing steam and cooling, it is not known whether the proposed refinery will tap groundwater or use water from the Bathinda canal.
The refinery will emit gases like carbon dioxide, carbon mono-oxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which will have to controlled to bring the emissions within the prescribed limits.
The refining process releases numerous chemicals into the atmosphere resulting in an “odour” problem, if not
The liquid effluents generated by the refinery will also have to be controlled and managed to obtain “zero outflow” as there is no natural stream flowing in the area to receive the treated
The risk of industrial accidents such as fire and explosions and also industrial noise may affect the health of the people of the surrounding area.
The Bathinda area is already affected by a large number of cancer deaths, which last year alone were counted to be 321.
Waste water produced by the refinery processes may contain ammonia and other heavy metals present in the crude oil being refined and is required to be treated at the plant site.
The treated effluent is mixed with cooling water and discharged into a natural stream or is “recycled” for reuse. Efficient rainwater harvesting will be needed to control water run-off. A hydrogen peroxide treatment may have to be given during the effluent treatment process. The traditionally used ferrous treatment normally results in a large volume of “chemical sludge”, which is hard to handle. With the use of the hydrogen peroxide treatment, the formation of sludge is eliminated.
Most of the solid wastes are recycled either on or off the site and part of the sludge may get disposed of in landfills.
The contamination of soils from the refinery processes is generally a less significant problem compared to the contamination of air and water.
An emergency venting may be acceptable under specific conditions where the flaring of the gas stream is not possible on the basis of an accurate risk analysis and integrity of the system needs to be protected.
The justification for not using a gas flaring system should be fully documented before an energy gas venting is considered. The flaring network should be carefully designed and the maximum volume of gas ‘flared’ during the various events must be recorded. A continuous improvement of the “flaring system” through implementation of the best practices and new technologies should be demonstrated.
In conclusion it may be stated that the refineries are considered to be a major source of hazardous pollutants such as benzene, toluene and ethyl benzene and some of these chemicals are suspected to cause cancer.
These may also aggravate certain respiratory conditions such as childhood asthma. So they are a cause of worry for the residents of the surrounding areas. The government needs to take steps to ensure that adequate health and safety precautions are built into the project.
IN THE NEWS FOR ALL THE WRONG REASONS
It is now four months since Law Minister Veerappa Moily announced with much fanfare his plans to reform the legal system in India during his five-year tenure.
But so far nothing has moved, notwithstanding all the right noises the minister keeps making from time to time to streamline the judiciary and speed up the system of justice delivery.
Instead, his ministry has been making news for all the wrong reasons, the latest being the controversy over the proposed elevation of Karnataka High Court Chief Justice PD Dinakaran to the Supreme Court.
And now that National Scheduled Castes Commission Chairman Buta Singh has also jumped into the imbroglio, accusing the media of targeting Justice Dinakaran because he is a Dalit, Moily has started blaming jurist Fali Nariman and his four associates for releasing to the media their letters to the President and the Prime Minister, questioning Dinakaran’s integrity, which the media played up.
Congress leader accused of selling ticket
With the rush of ticket seekers, the AICC headquarters was a hub of excitement last week. It saw some real action, courtesy an angry woman ticket seeker from Maharshtra. Not seeing her name in the list, she chased a party leader from her state, accusing him of having “sold off” the ticket.
Looking for cover, the leader ran and briefly hid in the room of an AICC office-bearer. After a while hoping that the woman might have left, he stepped out, but to his surprise the lady was waiting and literally got him this time. The poor fellow had a hard time, physically shaking her off and sprinting to the safety of his car.
Unhealthy discourse from Health Minister
Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad was so excited about the progress his ministry made on the 100-day agenda that he called a press conference the other day to share his successes.
In attendance were almost all joint secretaries of the ministry who sat religiously throughout the unusually long press conference, coming to the minister’s rescue occasionally when Azad fumbled or stuttered.
As his stretched discourse crossed all time limits, restive journalists began interrupting and shooting questions.
But Azad, as he must have intended, clearly deflected major questions on crucial issues, including the progress on NRHM, which remains lax as ever.
Having taken up all the available time, the Health Minister walked away from the conference saying: “Next time” to the numerous queries. Now that’s some healthy trend!
Contrbuted by R Sedhuraman, Vibha Sharma and Aditi Tandon
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
After four years of signing a cease-fire agreement, the Central and State Government finally started the process of talks with the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB), but it remains to be seen whether the talks can bring any permanent solution to the problem as the NDFB has been divided and one faction headed by Ranjan Daimary is still waging a war against the nation. Both the Government and NDFB blamed each other for the delay in holding of talks for the last four years and the division in the ranks of the militant outfit also slowed down the peace process. The failure on the part of the NDFB to submit the charter of demands is also responsible for the delay and though formal talks between the Government and the NDFB started on September 23, it will be difficult for the Government to find an amicable solution immediately. Efforts must be made by the Government to bring the other faction of the NDFB to the negotiation table as it is doubtful whether holding of talks with only one faction of a militant group will yield the desired results. Of course, the police and security forces achieved considerable success in the operations against the anti-talk faction of the NDFB in recent months and this may force the faction to come for talks. Moreover, with the improvement of relations between India and Bangladesh, it will be tough for Ranjan Daimary and his supporters to stay in the neighbouring country for a long time and this may also put pressure on the faction to come for talks by accepting the pre-conditions put by the Government to come forward to solve their problems through negotiations.
The NDFB was formed to fight for a sovereign Boroland and it is reported that the pro-talk faction, which started talks with the Government, has given up the demand for sovereignty and is now demanding creation of a separate State. But the Government of India has already ruled out the possibility of further division of Assam and now the Central and State Governments should sit down and decide what they can offer in lieu of a separate State. Following the signing of a peace agreement with Bodo Liberation Tiger (BLT), the Boroland Territorial Council (BTC) under the provisions of the amended Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India was created in 2003 and now it remains to be seen what the Government can offer the NDFB to satisfy the group. Same is the situation in regard to talks with the Dima Halam Daogah (DHD) as the Government of Assam has already constituted a Cabinet Sub Committee headed by the Revenue Minister to study the demands of the outfit and the same committee can be asked to examine the demands of the NDFB to suggest measures for the solution of the problem.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
Durga Puja is among the few religious festivals that have a universal appeal among the masses, cutting across the confines of community or creed. This is largely because its religious essence notwithstanding, mirth and merry-making get precedence over the religious fervour as the Puja spirit embraces one and all. Probably no other religious festival evokes the kind of spontaneous and universal participation as the Durga Puja does. A general feeling of bonhomie and camaraderie pervades the Durga Puja ambience, making it truly a festival of the masses. The all-pervasive spirit of zest and merry-making finds its best expression through the beautifully-decorated Puja mandaps and the rush of the people dressed in their colourful best. But amidst all this zest and jubilation of Durga Puja, we should not be oblivious to the harsh realities confronting us. The unprecedented rise in prices of essential commodities, particularly foodstuff, has hit the commoners very hard. Add to this the increasing vagaries of flood and drought, and a sizeable section of the populace would not be able to be a part of the celebrations. Then, it is also essential that we reaffirm our pledge to fight the forces of evil as symbolised by Goddess Durga in her demolition of the evil demon, Mahisasura. The society is passing through trying times, with violence and disturbance taking a serious toll on the age-old unity and harmony of the different communities inhabiting the State. Mistrust and tension among the people are slowly but surely casting a shadow on the ethos of peace and bonhomie that has been a hallmark of the composite Assamese society. If we take pride in the Durga Puja being a unifying force, it is for us to ensure that this unifying spirit is carried beyond the days of the festivities.
While the Puja festivities have naturally undergone changes in recent times, some of these are not in consonance with the true Puja ethos. Businessmen are compelled to make big ‘donations’ to meet the Puja extravaganza, with the common man ultimately bearing the burden. Some of the so-called cultural programmes during Puja-time are a nuisance and noise pollution. Too much of anything is unacceptable, and a total sacrifice of the occasion’s sanctity at the altar of modernity and commercialisation is far from desirable. The celebrations also expose our lack of self-reliance, as we are totally dependent on outside to meet everything – from idols and flowers to dhakis (drum-beaters) and technicians.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
SURRENDER, STATUS QUO AND PERMANENT PEACE
The lack of sincerity of the governments and the tactical moves by the NSCN-IM may hamper the situation and continue the status quo in this hill district following the surrender by the DHD-J. Without a positive and pragmatic political initiative with a clear developmental agenda by all stake holders no peace and development is imminent in the hill districts of Assam.
There has been hope and optimism following the en-masse surrender of dreaded DHD (J) outfit which has been terrorising the two hill districts of Assam in the last one and half decade. This surrender by one of the most brutal ethno-national insurgent groups has also created concerns among the peace loving people of the State over the prospect of permanent peace in the N.C. Hills and Karbi Anglong districts. The people of Assam, who are wary of many such surrenders and ceasefires–which so far have failed to bring peace, amity and development, are skeptical whether this latest surrender by the DHD(J) could bring peace or to just maintain the status quo of insurgency and lack of developmental works in this region.
The surrender drama by militants began way back in 1990 when the ULFA cadres laid down arms before Governor late Lok Nath Mishra in Nowboicha, Lakhimpur. Since then many insurgent outfits, besides ULFA like BLT, Br. S.F, B.T.F, N.D.F.B, various Karbi, Adivasi and Religious Minority organisations have been surrendering before the authorities to return to the 'mainstream’ and to bring peace and stability. However the general public has been observing that all such surrenders have multiplied the already existing problems of the State with zero contribution for peace and developments. Many surrendered ex-militants are seen engaged in open use of arms, intimidations, extortions, forced entry to the business of contract works and subsequent reign of tyranny, involving in petty criminal activities with tacit support from various political organisations. Most of the surrendered cadres are found deviating from their earlier stated objectives and ideologies with no political plan to bring peace and development to the society or the concerned ethnic group. However, as most of these surrenders have taken place individually with no leadership taking the way, the ex-cadres are found with no plan or strategy for peace and other positive objectives.
On the otherhand the Central Government has been following a policy of maintaining status quo in the insurgent scenario of the NE States by promoting surrenders since the success in the case of Bijoy Hrangkhal of Tripura in 1989. There have been a very few instances of insurgent leaders of the NE region returning to the democratic political system like Laldenga and Hrankhal after laying down arms. Similarly the reluctance by successive Central governments to initiate a dialogue for peace in this region has contributed to Balkanipsation of insurgency and ethno-identity assertive movements here where many establishments wants to look it from a mere strategic perspective. The Indian government, since 1990 has been purusing the policy of splitting various armed insurgent groups of Assam and the other NE States through surrenders and ceasefires. But this policy aimed at splitting and dividing the insurgent forces has contributed to multiplying the problems in a more complex form. This is evident in the continuation of violence and terror acts despite the creation of SULFA and the truce by NDFB. The surrendered militants and those who are in a ceasefire agreement are also actively involved in extortion and other nuisance. In this way the peace and development process has been affected.
After any surrender or ceasefire the cadres of insurgent groups are facilitated a safe haven in designated camps and they move with armed guards in luxury SUVs. But peace talks with these militants inside the designated camps are always delayed indefinitely for which there is no fresh move for peace and development. This leads to the status quo where everything remains same as before with a possibility of rising of another militant group. Such a development is seen in the case of pro-talk ULFA cadres. If the same thing happens to DHD-J it will bring more trouble to the State.
DHD was formed in the backdrop of Karbi assertive politics concerning autonomous hill state demand movement. The movement of autonomous state by ASDC and its deviation contributed to the emergence of Karbi armed outfits like KNV and KPF. Their ethnic assertive postures led certain Dimasa leaders to form DNF. DNF’s return to ‘mainstream’ in 1995 led to the emergence of DHD in 1996 and its surrender in 2003 by Dilip Nunisha led Jewel Garlosa to form DHD-J whose trajectory acts created a spate of mindless killings and ethnic cleansing operations in NC Hills of Assam. This case is very similar to that of NDFB when its leader Dhiren Bodo entered a truce with Indian government in 2005 by passing its supremo Ranjan Daimari. As anti-Nunisha Garlosa unleashed terror and mayhem in the hills of Assam with support from NSCN-IM, Daimari masterminded deadly bomb blasts across the State with the help of Bangladeshi establishments.
Now if the concerned governments and other stake holders lack sincerity in bringing peace and development after the surrender of the DHD-J in NC Hills, it will not only keep the status quo but carry the possibility of bringing unprecedented ethnic imbroglio to the hills of the State. Besides the most apparent two tribes of Karbis and Dimasas, the hill districts of Assam are home to a diverse group of ethnic tribes like the Bodos, Kukis, Hmars, Tiwas, Garos, Khasis, Chakmas, Zemi and Rengma Nagas. Following the ceasefire by Karbi outfit UPDS, another splinter group called KNPR are active in these two hill districts. Insurgent groups from neighbouring Nagaland and Manipur are also playing a crucial role in the present ethnic turmoil of these hill districts of Assam. Hmar People’s Convocation-D has already established one of its camps in Ziran valley near Halflong by coming from Manipur. Similarly the NSCN-IM has been promoting Christian Kuki Revolutionary Army in NC Hills to counter the Kuki National Army whose territorial objective confronts Nagalim. Amidst all there has been a general apprehension of retaliatory action by organised Zemi Nagas in the post surrender landscape of NC Hills as they suffered at the hands of the DHD-J. The lack of sincerity of the governments and the tactical moves by the NSCN-IM may hamper the situation and continue the status quo in this hill district following the surrender by the DHD-J. Without a positive and pragmatic political initiative with a clear developmental agenda by all stake holders no peace and development is imminent in the hill districts of Assam.
(The writer teaches English at Lakhimpur Commerce College)
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
SHAKTI CULT AND GODDESS DURGA
APATI BARUAH KASHYAP
The advent of Goddess Durga every autumn reminds us of the age-old tradition of Shakti cult in Assam. People invoke Shakti or energy in them by worshipping Goddess Durga during this season. Shakti is the life-force or moving force of the universe. Durga’s annual visit to earth symbolises the fact that Shakti is the ultimate root of our very existence. Goddess Durga, through her incarnation as shakti is all-pervasive in strength and her absolute power can transform the evil on earth into good.
The worship of Shakti or Shaktism has been prevalent in Assam from time immemorial. Ancient Assam was one of the most important seats of Shaktism. Eminent historian and scholar Dr H K Barpujari, in his five volume, The Comprehensive History of Assam had said that traditionally Kamrupa has remained the principal centre of the Shakti cult with the Kamakhya temple being its epicentre.
According to Barpujari, “The concept of Shakti or primordial energy symbolised in a woman is an amalgam of many elements drawn from various sources, pre-Aryan, non-Aryan, Aryan and aboriginal. The processes in fertility and motherhood and the active and energising forces involved therein apparently led to the emergence of the concept of a supreme Goddess who is considered to be the repository of all energy governing the universe. In this aspect she is said to preside over creation (srishti), preservation (sthiti) and destruction (samhriti).”
Another eminent scholar Dr Satyendra Nath Sarma on the other hand has said, “It was King Narakasur who initiated the cult of Shaktism. Narakasur for the first time worshipped Shakti in the form of Yoni as well as Kamakhya. Subsequently Kamakhya became assimilated with Devi Durga.” Thus, from about l3th century till 15th century, worship of Shakti was the most dominant religious activity among the people of Assam.
The Hindu influence on the primitive religion and also a tribal influence on Hindu religious ceremonies can be noticed right from the very beginning in Assam. According to Dr Barpujari, “This process of mutual influence was obviously preceded by the introduction of the Hindu religion in Kamrupa. The religious leaders responsible for the import of the Hindu rites and rituals were the Brahmins. The type of religion propagated by them in those days may be designated as the Brahminical religion. The worship of innumerable Gods and Goddesses came to occupy important position in the religious system. Some of these Gods and Goddesses gave rise to special cults and sectarian rites and beliefs. There arose various religious myths in connection with these sectarian deities. The epics, and mainly the Puranas, were composed for the propagation of the sectarian cults. The extent of the Brahminical religion may be best understood only if the form and extent of sectarian cults like those connected with Siva, Shakti, Vishnu and Surya are properly surveyed.”
Noted Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang on the other hand stated that he saw hundreds of Deva temples in Kamrupa during his visit here. He was a personal guest of Kumar Bhaskarvarman, one of the most illustrious kings of ancient Kamrup. Hiuen Tsang’s note is a definite evidence of the spread of the Brahminical religion in ancient Assam by the early seventh century. Moreover, in the Chinese records King Bhaskarvarman is mentioned as a Brahmin by caste. In the Harsha Carita, he is described as a devotee of Siva from his very boyhood. Kumar Bhaskarvarman incidentally was as a personal friend of Harshavardhana, a contemporary king of central India.
According to the Kalika Purana, Naraka, the mythical ancestor of the Kamrup kings, deliberately established in his kingdom, a large number of families who were masters of Vedas and other Shastras. “Naraka brought in Brahmanas from outside and settled them in his own territories and who were responsible for the propagation of the Brahmanical cult.” The Kalika Purana, composed in Assam in the 11th century, is not only the most extensive treatise on the Shakti cult, but also on Tantra.
The Kalika Purana records that before the arrival of the Aryans, ancient Kamrup was inhabited by people who were worshippers of Siva. Naraka’s contemporary Asura king Bana of Sonitpur was also a devotee of Siva. Thus, the earliest Hindu faith which had a place in Assam was Saivism, which was later heavily encroached upon by Shaktism.
In the Brahminical system Saivism had been the most dominant faith in Assam from time immemorial as is known from tradition, both literary and epigraphic. The Kalika Purana states that Siva was regarded as the guardian deity of this territory even before the time of Naraka and that it was ‘reserved’ by Siva as his own royal domain. Siva was primarily a non-Aryan deity and the Kalika Purana has a list of as many as fifteen sacred places in Assam associated with the worship of Siva.
According to Prafulladatta Goswami, “The ancient religion of this land, according to the authoritative Yogini Tantra was of Kirata origin. The Kirata religion was Saivism, itself an Aryan importation. The Aryanized conquerors under Narakasura later made an attempt to put it under a ban and impose the Shakti cult in the shape of Kamakhya worship.”
From about the 13th century till the 15th century, majority of the people of Assam worshipped Shakti. Like Saivism, Shaktism is the cult of worshipping a female goddess as the supreme deity. This deity is variously called Devi, Durga, Kali, Kalika, Uma, Kamakhya, Tara, Chandi, Chamundra, Sakambhari and so on. Different names imply diverse manifestations or aspects of the same goddess. But shakti may be taken to be the common name for all the various forms of this female deity.
According to the Comprehensive History of Assam, in Kamrup the goddess is superior to even the supreme godhead in so far as He has to remain inert without the inspiration drawn from the Goddess Shakti.
In Hinduism, Durga represents the empowering and protective nature of motherhood. Dr Nirmal Prabha Bardoloi, in her famous work Devi, discussed widely the significance of the concept of Mother Goddess. According to her, “From prehistoric times, Yoni worship had been prevalent in Assam. And the worshipper believed that it would increase the fertility. Burhi Gosani worshipped by Jaintias, Goddess Kamaika of the Khasis, Khamakha of the Bodos, Kechaikhati worshipped by the Chutiyas and the Deoris, Goddess Tamai of the Rabhas, Goddess Haramdi of the Dimasas, Goddess Kalika of the Tiwas and the Mother Goddess Phajaw of the Garos — all these names bear testimony to the fertility cult as Shakti cult of Assam.”
The origin of the tradition of Shakti cult has a deep-rooted past. Hence, the annual worship of Devi Durga reminds of the supreme and bening power of the Goddess. Human beings are being blessed by Her supreme power from time immemorial.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE INDIAN CODE
The ongoing controversy in Britain over whether its attorney general had employed an illegal immigrant from Tonga as her housekeeper for six months has all the makings of political pot-boiler worthy of a BBC drama mini-series for TV someday. More so since the beleaguered government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown has let Britain’s top law officer and peeress, the grandiosely named Baroness Scotland — herself a Dominican-born naturalised Briton — off the hook with the equivalent of a gently waggled forefinger. Lady Scotland was fined only half the usual amount for such transgressions (£5000 instead of £10,000) and allowed to keep her job despite growing protests by opposition parties and a media storm. The government bought her argument that by not keeping photocopies of the Tongan’s papers that she supposedly examined, she was “technically” only in minor breach of the law (which she formulated and piloted, incidentally) that enjoins employers to verify the status of their employees. That plea would have been given short shrift in the British courts, but Brown is obviously in a bind: by sacking her he would provide more ammunition to his detractors who insist the party is crumbling, but by hanging on to her he risks having the opposition’s barrage strike a chord with voters. With the Tongan now expected to sell her story to the tabloids, the heat may become too much even for the normally stoic British PM and Lady Scotland may have to return to her legal practice.
We would have handled it differently in India, for a variety of reasons. First, are we Indians interested in the household staff of ministers? No, unless they happen to be child labour. If a minister’s excuse, lame or otherwise, is accepted by the government and the party high command, do we Indians persist in quibbling over it? No, unless fresh evidence shows that he may have been not entirely forthcoming about some details. Do we Indians ever howl for scandal-hit ministers’ resignations — and do they ever comply? Rarely. Britain should learn forbearance from us!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
OVERHAUL MINING POLICY
In a bid to be proactive in mining and to boost investments, the Centre reportedly plans to change some of the extant rules at the margin. Instead of just tweaking the norms, what’s called for is a fundamental overhaul of mining policy so to rev up transparency and efficiency levels right across the board in the minerals economy. Given that the entire sector is rife with routine opacity and we have a perverse ‘case-by-case’ approach when it comes to okaying mining proposals, contemplating a series of half-measures and sundry tentative policy steps would hardly do. The move to modify the tortuous process for issuing the no objective certificate (NoC) for undertaking mining activity, for instance, does seem logical, as is the provision to enlarge mining-area size and attendant guidelines. However, the fact is, across minerals and mining segments, there’s much ad-hocism and subjectivity involved, whether it’s foraying into reconnaissance, essaying mineral prospecting or seeking grant of mining lease. The whole process can take any length of time, and there’s policy uncertainty along every step. There’s no real provision for successful reconnaissance leading to a prospecting licence, and on to mining lease.
The environment ministry plans an independent expert body to issue approvals: we urgently need similar institutional reform in mining and minerals. The way ahead is to have a statutory, mutli-disciplinary body to expedite approval for mining investments, based on objective criteria that are forward-looking and research-based. The mining ministry needs to co-ordinate with the state departments to firm up the ground rules — and then leave it to the expert body to enforce those rules and recommend mining lease. Further, we need a specialised tribunal for adjudication. In tandem, what’s required is reasonable mineral royalty rates for the states, so that they are ad valorem and linked to the going mineral rates. It’s absurd that the royalty rates for, say, iron ore are as low as Rs 9/tonne. The point is that incremental changes in mining policy would really not deliver the goods, and leave much to be desired. A deep-seated problem surely calls for path-breaking reform.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NO NPT, UNCLE SAM!
The US-sponsored resolution on non-proliferation adopted by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Thursday adds another irritant to Indo-US relations at a time when they are already decidedly more prickly than under the previous US administration. If the bonhomie of the Bush years has been replaced by a certain wariness, nowhere is this better reflected than in the UN resolution calling for tighter international controls on proliferation of nuclear weapons and universalising membership of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), a treaty India regards as grossly unfair as it sanctions the continuance of an unequal world order of ‘nuclear haves and have-nots.’ Though the principal target of the resolution was, presumably, ‘rogue’ states like North Korea and Iran, there is no denying this is the thin edge of the wedge as far as India is concerned. By calling on all countries to sign the NPT, it goes counter to India’s position (reiterated by the prime minister in Parliament) that “there is no question of India joining the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state.”
We are all for non-discriminatory and global nuclear disarmament; the key words being non-discriminatory and global. But till such time as that happens, a big if for now, nuclear weapons will have to remain an ‘integral’ (if unfortunate) part of our national security. The present second-class railway compartment mentality of the existing formally-recognised nuclear powers that allows them to retain their nuclear weapons while the rest of the world is denied access is unacceptable. It is, therefore, entirely appropriate that the government has minced no words in making known its opposition to the resolution. Lest it be construed that India is not a responsible member of the global comity of nations, the truth is we are already on record in calling for a ban on nuclear weapons. We are also perfectly happy to go along with intermediate steps like a Global No-First-Use Agreement. But we will not be arm-twisted into signing an NPT that is outrightly discriminatory and damages to our own interests. On that the country is one. More beef to the PM then when he stands his ground on NPT.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
DR MANMOHAN SINGH: QUICK TO PROTECT THE ECOLOGY
No growth can be possible by ignoring the environment. If the cost to be borne wasn't immediate, it only escalated in time to follow even for the most powerful of nations: In that lies a huge fillip for India whose rather young tenure in the global scheme of affairs works out clearly to her advantage, according to prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh.
"As we go forward in the march of development, we have the opportunity not to repeat those past mistakes...our growth strategy can and should be innovative and different," he claims.
"We are still at early stages of industrialisation and urbanisation. Our energy needs will increase sharply in the decades to come. We can and we must walk a different road, an environment friendly road...For this we need access to new technologies that are already available with the developed countries.
We must also make our own investments in new environment-friendly technologies. We need to strengthen the scientific foundations of our environment policies and strengthen our capacity to deal with the challenges that lie ahead. We must involve more stakeholders particularly our youth to lead the movement for environmental protection and regeneration."
At the inauguration of the 95th Indian Science Congress at Visakhapatnam, Dr. Manmohan Singh reiterated the government's commitment to invest more in science education. The Eleventh Five Year Plan was, in fact, a National Education Plan, the Prime Minister said. He stressed on the need for a global response, a national response and a local response to meet the challenge of climate change. Dr. Singh also urged the scientific community to tap into our traditional knowledge base, to develop environment-friendly and efficient technologies.
At the occasion he said, "Let me take this opportunity to emphasise the importance of collecting relevant data, especially with regard to climate change. For example, we need data on what is happening to the Himalayan glaciers and not just on what is happening on our side of the border but to the system as a whole. I believe we must improve the quality of data we collect and also improve the quality of analysis of the available data.
We have adopted a pro-active and pragmatic approach to the problems of environmental degradation. Our approach is based on our understanding that as our economy grows and modernises, we must pay increasing attention to the environmental impact of the technological choices we make, the investment choices we make and the consumption choices we make as individuals and as a nation."
Most importantly, he stressed on the fact that the world cannot walk down the path of environmentally harmful development that developed industrial economies have pursued so far. "They undoubtedly bear the greatest responsibility for what has happened and must also bear therefore the greatest responsibility for correcting damage. But we too have to take action. We cannot replicate the western model of wasteful consumption and environmentally harmful industrialisation. We need an alternative approach more mindful of our resource endowments, and also of the need to avoid damage to our environment," he said.
The PM also stresses on "the need to ensure that local communities benefit from forest conservation. Tribals have guarded our forests for centuries. Their wisdom and experience should be utilised for conservation rather than turning them into environmental refugees".
He said the Tribal Rights Act was the best way to guarantee these rights. The PM soundly seconds Mahatma Gandhi's famous dictum that our planet has enough to cater to all our needs but not enough to cater to our greed.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
DR MANMOHAN SINGH: A BRAND TO TRUST
It wasn't without reason that a billion plus in India heaved a sigh of relief when prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh's most recent bypass went through without any hitches. After decades, we had got a PM whose commitment towards India could be trusted blindly.
Integrity seems to be prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh's middle name. After the 2004 general elections, during which the Indian National Congress (INC) became the political party with the single largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi declared Dr Manmohan Singh, a technocrat, as the UPA candidate for the prime minister’s post.
Now, considering the fact that Dr Singh hadn't won a single Lok Sabha seat, it was an innate trust in his integrity and commitment that won him the support of the UPA allies and the Left Front. The first Sikh and non-Hindu to hold office, Singh took the oath as the Prime Minister of India on May 22, 2004.
After Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr Manmohan Singh is the first PM to return to power after having served a full term of five years. And, very successfully, he quashed all opposition talk of being a "weak" PM by leading Congress to a resounding win in the 2009 polls in which the party and its allies put together a comfortable majority with support from 322 members out of a total 543 members. True to his wont, Dr Singh maintained a restrainedsilence while his retractors wentto town with talk of being "weak" vindicating his stand adequately with a resounding success in polls.
"After many years, we've got a prime minister who, besides being so highly educated, maintains such a distinguished non-controversial profile," says Raigad resident Devdatta Jogalekar. "Besides being bad for tourism, our relations with other nations also take a bashing if we're associated with riots, communal killings and hard-nosed politics," he adds. "Having a married ex-finance minister for a prime minister helps us home-makers a lot," says his wife Savita. "Like they say, aate daal ka bhaav pata hoga," she says. "Even in his interviews, he comes across as one who isn't distanced from reality," adds Savita.
Today, as he turns 77, the nation's entrepreneurs and business community join in with the common man and environmentalists alike to wish him good health and a long life ahead. After all, Manmohan Singh's role in India's liberalisation is historic, to say the least.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WATCH THE BREATH. IT’LL MAKE YOU SMARTER
VITHAL C NADKARNI
All of us breathe,” the celebrated yoga maestro B K S Iyengar told your columnist recently. “But most of us do so unconsciously. We are aware of food while eating, but we are unaware of the breathing that goes on constantly except when we are ill. The moment we become conscious of our breath, the pattern of the breath changes and that is its beauty,” says the great yogi who still does four to five hours of arduous asanas and pranayama every day at the ripe age of 92.
But it wasn’t always so. “If you read my book, Light on Pranayama, you’ll know how I struggled to learn the techniques of breath control. In my youth, I had tuberculosis. If I took one deep inhalation I could not exhale or take a second breath.”
Today he can inhale at a stretch for forty seconds and exhale for as long an interval with uninterrupted force of flow. And he does the practice for an hour, day after day. “Doctors say that we take about fifteen breaths a minute,” he explains. “Even if you observe these fifteen breaths, one can notice that each one is quite different from the other.
By such observations and study did Sage Patanjali begin the science of breath. But you also have to exercise extreme caution in your practice, he warns. It’s not for nothing that in the Hathayoga-Pradipika, Swami Swatvarama likens the taming of the breath to the mastering of wild lions, tigers or elephants, to be carried out gradually (shanai-shanai).
Many benefits then follow. “The energy produced by breath-control keeps you young even in old age. The aspirant lives on in the present, as he watches the movements of his own breaths,” Iyengar avers. Modern research has uncovered spectacular benefits of mindfulness breathing. One recent study found evidence, for instance, of daily meditation thickening the very parts of the brain’s cerebral cortex that were responsible for attention, memory and decision-making.
Research has also indicated that meditation retards the natural thinning of the cortex that occurs with advancing age. Ironically, the same effects cannot be achieved by goofing off or by taking a nap. Doctors have found that meditation restores nerve cells much like sleep but without associated grogginess.
That may explain why a growing number of MNCs including Google and Hughes Aircraft are offering meditation classes for their workers. Their EQ soars.
So watch that breath. It’ll make you smarter.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FIRST MOON MISSION WILL CHANGE THE WAY WE LOOK AT PLANETS, SAYS SRO CHAIRMAN
BANGALORE: “Our mission is indeed a resounding success,” ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair said of Chandrayaan-1 following its discovery of water molecules on the Moon. Excerpts from an interview:
What was your first reaction to Chandrayaan-1 finding water on Moon?
I am very excited. For the first time, India has made a scientific contribution that’s global in nature. And, for the first time, a mission has confirmed water on the Moon on this scale. The discovery is remarkable.
What does this discovery mean to Indians?
It’s a demonstration that India can do pathbreaking science in planetary exploration . And that we can do science as well as anybody else in the world. India’s first moon mission is on the verge of changing the way we look at planets.
How will the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft be designed?
We’ll have two Rovers instead of one in the original plan - one Indian and the other Russian. They will fly along with a lander and the orbiter will be ours.
Is there possibility of habitation?
We have the first possibilities of the Moon turning into a base for further planetary exploration. We can say setting up stations is now a distinct possibility and therefore human habitation. But, there is still no life on the Moon.
Can we extract water from what we have discovered?
It could be possible if we develop novel techniques. But from 1 tonne of soil, we may get only half a litre of water and that’s a real challenge. We are still some distance away from getting water we see but we’re seeing water on a scale never seen before.
Did ISRO expect to find water?
The instruments were planned for many things, predominantly to locate minerals and understand the Moon’s surface.
While that may have revealed things anyway, we sometimes stumble upon findings we may not have exactly planned for. We’re very thankful to Carle Pieters who saw something different in the M3’s measurement of sunlight. She took a look at that different data again and through a slow but carefully examined process arrived at the conclusion that minerals apart, there was water. Because she saw something special in the M3 data, stopped and researched , we have what we have - water . It was lovely the way Nasa called me and gave a full presentation of how they arrived at the presence of water.
What’s the position on the manned mission to the Moon?
All the corrections we bring from Chandrayaaan-1 and 2 will go into the manned Moon mission that will happen in the 2020s...
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NIFTY COULD CORRECT TO 4200-4300 BY OCTOBER END: PRABHUDAS LILLADHER
Dilip Bhatt , Joint Managing Director of Prabhudas Lilladher a leading broking house feels that the markets have clearly moved ahead of fundamentals and that a correction is round the corner. On a longer term basis he is positive on stocks such as EIL, Yes Bank, Reliance Infra and Bajaj Auto. Here is text of his full interview with ET Now:
What are you advising your clients to buy?
Good question, when the markets are really rising that seems to be the common refrain, the left out feeling is so strong at the moment and complementing that is the abundant flow of liquidity. So both the things put together really are driving the markets up and we clearly think that markets have really moved much ahead of the fundamentals. So we think that one should really exercise a lot of caution and be extremely stock specific in the approach because correction seems to be just round the corner in my opinion, maybe by October end we should see a good correction.
Your recommendations are, Engineers India, Reliance Infra, Yes Bank, let’s understand why, a one line on some of them? Why do you like them?
Engineers India with a market cap of Rs 6,000 crores, cash of almost about Rs 2000 crores on a balance sheet size of Rs 1375 crores and then ROE, ROC of something like 30% and order book to sales is almost 5 times. It gives a good visibility of growth for next couple of years. So, Engineers India, I think it can be a potential multi-bagger.
Coming to Reliance Infra, that’s another one which is very well funded, has a cash of something like almost about Rs 16,000 to 17,000 crores on the books, may be there are some discrepancies here and there on that which need to be sorted out. They have very strong order book, very strong visibility and you can play even Reliance Power through this. So I think once again the growth visibility looks very strong in that and though it is a high beta stock I do not think it has got its due so far the way the markets have moved up. So I think there is a good amount of scope in this particular stock.
Yes Bank, has a very strong ROE of around 21-22% and I think it is just quoting around 13 to 14 times 2010-11and it is quoting something like 1.9 times 2010-11price to book and has a good visibility. I think very shortly we will see the branches really expanding in a big way and even the balance sheet size also should grow in a very big way. So that’s the stock which probably can offer very handsome returns from the current levels. Which was the fourth stock that you mentioned?
Engineers India, Yes Bank, and the fourth stock which you like as a house is Bajaj Auto
I think Bajaj Auto is one stock where if you see month on month the numbers are really going up. We had something like 1, 65,000 motorbikes which they sold in the month of August. They are heading close to 2.25 to 2.3 lakh in the month of September and maybe 2.5 lakh.
So very shortly by November-December we may see a magical figure of 3 lakh per month which translates into an annual run rate of 3.6. You have the three-wheelers over there and then if you see the normal parameters it looks pretty compelling head on head with Hero Honda close to 40% ROC, 40% of balance sheet in cash, so it is not expensive considering the overall growth I think that’s another stock which can really show a good appreciation.
Right, I was reading your equity strategy report and in that amongst the mid-cap spaces, PL clearly favours education and retail over the long term, take us through why do you like these spaces?
I think clearly if you have gone through the strategy report the composition of demographic pattern clearly suggest that these are the sectors which in the years to come probably will receive maximum kind of attention and with the rising incomes I think these two sectors will be the most beneficiaries in terms of the growing India.
Would you stick to large caps in that or would you even play the small caps, any stocks that you probably can name?
I think you have very few stocks in both the segments. You do not have too many stocks, so naturally you will play the frontlines among these because these have to really move up and the second line will then follow.
Right and one last question on the Nifty per se, you spoke about a correction being round the corner. Now again in the strategy report it mentions that the Nifty could well touch the 4000 to 4200 mark. You think that’s the distinct possibility?
Very much, I think by October end we should see a 10% to 15% correction from the current levels, so maybe 4200-4300 is something which does not look impossible because I think markets really seem to be too much in a hurry and seem to be forgetting a lot of things as far as the fundamentals are concerned. So I think probably sanity will prevail, and overall the world economic problems have not really been resolved, so I do not think we can have ostrich like attitude. I do not think that will work. So I think a correction is due and probably will be also very healthy, markets have to really come back to its normal shape.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'WE ARE TARGETING 5-10 YRS OF DOUBLE-DIGIT GROWTH IN INDIA'
Devin Wenig has been at the helm of transformation at Thomson Reuters, which is now evolving as a platform for a new set of consumers, who are more tech savvy and want information to be served at real time, anywhere and on any device. Mr Wenig, CEO (markets division) of Thomson Reuters, with around $7.9 billion annual revenues, told ET in an interview that the world is moving towards more ubiquity, and India is playing an instrumental role in creating newer user experiences, apart from the technology innovation. Excerpts:
What shifts do you see in the business of serving information?
Our next generation services are designed to serve information on any devices and with the same user experience. The world is moving from laptops to more ubiquitous devices, professionals are always on the move and they want information to be served when they are at the airports, in the car and inside their offices. It doesn’t matter what device and where, we need to plan accordingly. In India, handheld is becoming a very important part of users from the younger generation.
And we are not necessarily only serving sophisticated users. In Maharashtra, we are offering MarketLight service to farmers, which provides them agricultural prices through mobile text messages.
Now, most of it is easier said than done. The real challenge is to ensure the same user experience across these platforms and devices. What works in a large television screen does not fit in smaller mobile screens of few inches. You need to optimise the display.
We have demonstrated a true convergence by launching a new mobile application, which works with both BlackBerry and iPhone.
How is your business in Asia and India progressing?
Asian markets have performed better, compared with the US and Europe, but it continues to be a tough environment even now. We are beginning to see a turnaround, but there is still some uncertainty. For us, Asia registered over double-digit growth rates past year, and we expect it to grow by 5% or more this year.
India, as a market, is relatively small for us, growing at around 10% this year. We are looking at 5-10 years of double-digit growth.
Despite early signs of recovery being talked about, many are questioning a jobless growth. What are your views?
Usually, recovery starts before job growth. We have been hiring here in Bangalore, even when everybody else was looking to trim the workforce. We started five years ago with few people, we are already around 5,000 staff here. And these professionals are today doing everything, the Bangalore operation is a mirror for the entire organisation (Thomson Reuters).
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INDIA IS FASTEST GROWING MARKET FOR LINKEDIN: CEO
Between coffee breaks, opening virtual fortune cookies and uploading your latest picnic pictures on social networking sites, think about managing your career online as well. Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, the largest professional networking site with around 48 million members worldwide, believes that in the online world, professional networking is all about how business gets done. Mr Weiner, who replaced LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman as CEO in June, considers India as the fastest growing market of his site. On his first visit to the country, he talks about professional networking and his firm’s plans for India.
Historically, professional networking has been over lunch, on the golf course or in a bar. Can LinkedIn replicate the real experience?
In the analog (or real) world, professional networking is a learned skill. In the digital world, professional networking is how business gets done. As the world becomes increasingly competitive and increasingly flatter, I think it’s important for people to be online for them to establish their professional identity, their professional brand, to build their professional network to the best of their ability so that they can tap that network to remain competitive, be more productive and more successful.
And when you think of networking world online, you can think of three overlapping circles. There is professional networking, personal networking and family networks. LinkedIn is entirely focused on professional networking.
What all does LinkedIn enable and how significant is the Indian market?
We want to connect the world’s professionals and enable people to be as productive and as successful as possible. There are three primary ways we do that. We enable people to build their professionals brands, enable them to build their professional networks and enable people to collaborate and exchange news, information and knowledge with the people most valuable to them. We have 48 million members. We are approaching three million in India, about triple of what we were last year. India is our fastest-growing market. Now we are close to putting together a team in India.
How do companies use LinkedIn?
There are companies interested in recruiting and finding most valuable candidates. That’s a key part of enabling our members to manage their careers. Helping members in business development and sales more cost effectively and more intelligently is another key use for companies.
Users put their profiles and hope to find a job. How different is it from a job site?
LinkedIn is about more than enabling people to find a job and enabling companies to fill a job. We provide tools to enable people to create value, build out a professional network, enable users to prospect for business and help them share knowledge and information they need to be successful in their role. Those are key ways in which it goes beyond finding a job or filling a job vacancy. It’s really about managing your career.
What’s the future of professional networking?
Today, the value proposition is largely around establishing and managing your professional brand and identity and connecting with your professional network. Going forward, it will be about collaborating.
Once you have established your identity and built a network around connecting with those individuals, people will collaborate and share information to be more productive and successful. It could be working together on a project or solving a problem. Another area we are excited about is enabling third party developers to introduce new applications on our platform.
NPT CANNOT BE FORCED ON INDIA
To no one’s surprise, India has rejected UN Security Council Resolution 1887 passed on Thursday, a measure authored by US President Barack Obama that seeks to “universalise” the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); in other words, force it down the throats of countries that have refrained from signing it. The evolution of the efforts that materialised as the NPT in 1970 leaves little doubt that the so-called US-inspired non-proliferation concord was targeted specifically at India. Given the politics of our own day, it is not difficult to see that Resolution 1887, too, primarily has India in view. Pakistan and Israel are also NPT holdouts. But Pakistan’s position is special. It was helped to build the bomb by China with the US and some West Europeans looking the other way for reasons of political convenience. The recent disclosures of officially disgraced Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan, and numerous observations of former Dutch Prime Minister Rudd Lubbers (suggesting CIA intercession for the release of Dr Khan from arrest after the scientist was caught smuggling nuclear materials out of Holland), leave little doubt on this score. Such assistance was in clear violation of the letter and the spirit of the NPT, which President Obama is pushing so strenuously. As for Israel, its unique position as the sole repository of Western trust in the difficult and intrinsically unstable West Asia region gives it extraordinary leverage in dealing with NPT-related pressures, especially in the light of Iran’s burgeoning ambition to acquire nuclear weapons in spite of its status as a NPT signatory. India has made the valid point that not having signed the NPT, it can’t be made to accept it merely because the Security Council has passed a unanimous resolution to that effect. Without question, the point is sustainable in international law. But it is a pity that in the resolution it moved in the Security Council, America chose to recall elements of earlier NPT review conferences that reaffirmed that countries that don’t sign the NPT shall be denied opportunities of trading in nuclear materials for peaceful purposes. This flies in the face of the Nuclear Suppliers Group clearance obtained by India in September last year in the context of its civil nuclear agreement with the US. If America insists on pushing its NPT-love to such a degree, it risks putting in question the repair work it has managed to do in recent years to its relations with India. President Obama first signalled his dedication to the cause of the NPT at Prague in April this year. While stressing non-proliferation, and indicating his preference for reducing America’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, the US leader revealingly also said, “Make no mistake: As long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defence to our allies.” This underlines that the US proposes one set of standards for itself, and another for India. This country’s long-held position has been that it is in favour of comprehensive nuclear disarmament, and that non-proliferation is not a substitute for this. President Obama is yet to offer disarmament as an attainable goal. So long as that remains the case, it will continue to be on the wrong side of political morality. India too has been lax in not publicly countering the American stance under Mr Obama right after Prague. It has also been remiss on another count. After the passage of UNSC Resolution 1887, its official view is that it won’t sign the NPT as a non-nuclear weapons state (whose obligations are of a different order under the NPT from those who have come on board as nuclear weapons states). This is at variance with this country’s original stance that the NPT ought to be rejected on grounds of being an inequitable arrangement that allows nuclear weapons only in the hands of a few.
PAMPHLETS DON’T FIGHT RACISM
BY BY FARRUKH DHONDY
“The Caliph said, ‘Let no fool look upon my face’.
His minister ordered every mirror in the Kingdom to be smashed”.
From the play Kya Bhole? Bhej Dey Soney aur Chandi Ke Goley! by Bachchoo
Years ago, I earned a sporadic living writing songs for undistinguished Reggae groups. The bands which failed in Britain would console themselves by claiming that they were “big in Azerbaijan” — or in some other place where they had sold a record or performed in a tent. It was the last recourse of unwarranted vanity. And so at last, after certain events last week, I can claim that I am “big in Australia”. Or was for an hour or two.
Here’s how it happened. I was minding my own happy business when a young woman from a popular Indian TV channel phoned to ask if I would appear in a programme to comment on combating racist attacks in Australia. I said she must have dialled the wrong person, told her my name again and said I lived in London. No, she insisted, it was me she wanted. I said, I knew very little of Australia, having spent less than a month there but still remembered a few outdated facts about Calgoolie and Koolgarlie gleaned from school geography lessons. She said she’d leave those for another time and was soliciting my views on the recent racial attacks in Melbourne, Victoria, on three men of Indian origin.
Reports said that a mob of up to 70 assailants and onlookers had shouted slogans, exhorting their victims to “go back to their own country”.
Perhaps I would go on the box after all? What would I say? I had lived in the late 60s, 70s and 80s in Britain, at first at university, cocooned and somewhat insulated from the environments in which Asian immigrant labour in Britain lived. Over those decades, small sections of British cities were being settled by Asian labour — mill workers in Lancashire and Yorkshire and in the East End of London Pakistani labourers who worked in the sweat shops that mass-produced leather and cloth garments.
At my second university, Leicester, I had a room in the “immigrant ghetto” and, socialising with predominantly Punjabi factory workers, became acquainted with the hostility of the “host community” towards immigrant workers. Far from being “hosts” many of them were aggressively racist.
In London, a few years later, I was part of a group of political agitators and pamphleteers called the Race Today Collective. We were asked by a group of Pakistani workers from the East End for some assistance with a political issue around housing. Once there, we soon became aware that the Asian community lived in fear of constant racial assault and invasion by gangs who attacked isolated, mostly defenceless older men, for sport and out of twisted political “ideology”. The phenomenon was dubbed “Paki-bashing” by the racists themselves and by the press.
Our group, built around the magazine Race Today, had cadres and contacts all over the country. We began by initiating community meetings and gathered first-hand evidence of these assaults. It became clear that the local elected authority was unconcerned and even covertly sympathetic to the racists and that the local police did nothing and intended to do nothing about these random attacks on the streets and housing estates supposedly under their protection.
Abuse and assault on the street by gangs of racist men gave way to the breaking down of the doors of Asian homes and then to projecting burning rags through their letter-boxes in acts of arson.
The Asian community of the East End, in the main young men of East Pakistani (later to be Bangladeshi) origin, determined, after a massive community rally, to form themselves into vigilante groups who would evolve a strategy of self defence on their streets and estates.
The organisation of this self-defence went ahead and proved very successful. Apart from the inhibiting presence of groups of young men on the streets willing to confront the racists, the organisation was publicity for the idea that Pakistanis were no longer willing to be bashed.
It also forced the hand of the central government to instruct the senior policemen of the London force to make the prevention and detection of such assaults a priority — not out of any great love for Bangaldeshis but, understandably, to preserve peace in our time.
All this I recalled in very precised form for the Indian TV current affairs show that evening. I was alone in the Westminster studios, electronically linked to India where Vinod Mehta, the distinguished editor of Outlook, had been invited as a commentator.
Vinod said India ought to withdraw its high commissioner until such time as the Australian government took the problem of racism against Indians seriously. His argument, that of an editor who each day passes, as part of his profession, opinions on the conduct of governments and public policy, has, as I see it, two flaws.
The first is that some Indian students are citizens of India on a study visa and are legally entitled to every protection the Indian state can extend. Others are sons and daughters of Indian Australians. So also, the bulk of Indians who face racism in Australia are quite possibly not Indian citizens any more. They are that part of the immigrant diaspora which will form, as it has in Britain, the multiracial society of the country of settlement, of Australia itself.
The scattered racism of the assaults we have seen could turn into the organised racism of the Ku-Klux Klan or the British National Party. It has happened in the United States and in Europe. It is part of the gestation of multiracial societies which has been the tide of the last century and continues to be today. Racism has no part in such a future and the societies must come to grips with it and eliminate it themselves. The protective role of foreign governments falls away.
Secondly, the state and the police cannot be the prime movers of safety from racist assault. An element of self-defence has to be mobilised from within the Asian community. The first task of this mobilisation will be to demonstrate that people of Indian origin are not defenceless victims begging the protection of a benign state. It is the essential PR (public relation) not only of freedom from assault but of progress in the multiracial environment.
No Black Panther Party of America in the 60s and 70s, no Obama in the White House today.
CLIMATE CHANGE: IT’S JUST EASY BEING GREEN
BY BY PAUL KRUGMAN
So, have you enjoyed the debate over healthcare reform? Have you been impressed by the civility of the discussion and the intellectual honesty of reform opponents?
If so, you’ll love the next big debate: the fight over climate change.
The House has already passed a fairly strong cap-and-trade climate Bill, the Waxman-Markey act, which if it becomes law would eventually lead to sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. But on climate change, as on healthcare, the sticking point will be the Senate. And the usual suspects are doing their best to prevent action.
Some of them still claim that there’s no such thing as global warming, or at least that the evidence isn’t yet conclusive. But that argument is wearing thin — as thin as the Arctic pack ice, which has now diminished to the point that shipping companies are opening up new routes through the formerly impassable seas north of Siberia.
Even corporations are losing patience with the deniers: earlier this week Pacific Gas and Electric cancelled its membership in the US Chamber of Commerce in protest over the chamber’s “disingenuous attempts to diminish or distort the reality” of climate change.
So the main argument against climate action probably won’t be the claim that global warming is a myth. It will, instead, be the argument that doing anything to limit global warming would destroy the economy. As the blog Climate Progress puts it, opponents of climate change legislation “keep raising their estimated cost of the clean energy and global warming pollution reduction programmes like some out of control auctioneer”.
It’s important, then, to understand that claims of immense economic damage from climate legislation are as bogus, in their own way, as climate-change denial. Saving the planet won’t come free (although the early stages of conservation actually might). But it won’t cost all that much either.
How do we know this? First, the evidence suggests that we’re wasting a lot of energy right now. That is, we’re burning large amounts of coal, oil and gas in ways that don’t actually enhance our standard of living — a phenomenon known in the research literature as the “energy-efficiency gap”. The existence of this gap suggests that policies promoting energy conservation could, up to a point, actually make consumers richer.
Second, the best available economic analyses suggest that even deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions would impose only modest costs on the average family. Earlier this month, the Congressional Budget Office released an analysis of the effects of Waxman-Markey, concluding that in 2020 the Bill would cost the average family only $160 a year, or 0.2 per cent of income. That’s roughly the cost of a postage stamp a day.
By 2050, when the emissions limit would be much tighter, the burden would rise to 1.2 per cent of income. But the budget office also predicts that real GDP will be about two-and-a-half times larger in 2050 than it is today, so that GDP per person will rise by about 80 per cent. The cost of climate protection would barely make a dent in that growth. And all of this, of course, ignores the benefits of limiting global warming.
So where do the apocalyptic warnings about the cost of climate-change policy come from?
Are the opponents of cap-and-trade relying on different studies that reach fundamentally different conclusions? No, not really. It’s true that last spring the Heritage Foundation put out a report claiming that Waxman-Markey would lead to huge job losses, but the study seems to have been so obviously absurd that I’ve hardly seen anyone cite it.
Instead, the campaign against saving the planet rests mainly on lies.
Thus, last week Glenn Beck — who seems to be challenging Rush Limbaugh for the role of de facto leader of the GOP — informed his audience of a “buried” Obama administration study showing that Waxman-Markey would actually cost the average family $1,787 per year. Needless to say, no such study exists.
But we shouldn’t be too hard on Mr Beck. Similar — and similarly false — claims about the cost of Waxman-Markey have been circulated by many supposed experts.
A year ago I would have been shocked by this behaviour. But as we’ve already seen in the healthcare debate, the polarisation of our political discourse has forced self-proclaimed “centrists” to choose sides — and many of them have apparently decided that partisan opposition to President Obama trumps any concerns about intellectual honesty.
So here’s the bottom line: The claim that climate legislation will kill the economy deserves the same disdain as the claim that global warming is a hoax. The truth about the economics of climate change is that it’s relatively easy being green.
THE WILD LIFE IN S. AFRICA
BY BY SHOBHAA DE
At the time of writing, our “boys” are in Jo’burg doing what they do best — avoid losing matches. The ICC Champions Trophy is on in the rainbow nation, and chances are, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Co. may end up like the zebras fed to lions in the famous park just outside the city limits. I bite my tongue while making this prediction (for one, I know very little about cricket, for another, I’m certain if nothing else motivates Dhoni, the world’s highest-earning cricketer, at least the desire to hang on to his juicy endorsement deals will get him to perform). Oh, but even Gary Kirsten’s sex dossier may not get it up for the guys.
I was in South Africa last fortnight to participate in “Shared Histories — Words on Water” a three cities Lit Fest, and it was my second trip. The first one doesn’t really count, since my husband and I were Vijay Mallya’s guests. Which means, one travels in a bubble minus any meaningful contact outside that pampered space. It is a great way to travel (it doesn’t get any better!), but for all the luxuries and privileges that Vijay lays on, it is impossible to wander off and connect with the real world. As it turns out, Vijay was absolutely right. You really don’t want to wander off or have any contact with the outside world while in the rainbow nation. Unless you like the idea of getting your head blown off. He’d insisted on a gun-toting bodyguard accompanying us at all times. Now I understand why.
South Africa, where the Father of Ahimsa was born, is now one of the most dangerous destinations on earth. And Gandhi himself is seen in a totally different light “back home”, even by the Indian community. As one scholar explained, “We gave you M.K. Gandhi… and you gave the world a Mahatma”. I am not sure whether that was a loaded remark, so I asked around and most people nodded their heads and stated, “For us, Gandhi is a second tier leader… nothing more, nothing less”. That was revelation number one. I had imagined Gandhiji was revered and worshipped across South Africa, and was right up there with Nelson Mandela. But that is not so.
Mandela himself is a shadow of his former self. He remains incommunicado most of the time, protected by his over-zealous minders, who insist he is too frail at 92 to meet visitors.
Perhaps, South Africa does not want the international community to know just how frail their “most recognised brand” really is (dedicated boutiques sell the famous presidential shirts, marketed by Mandela’s personal designer). For, without Mandela, who or what does that nation have to boast about? President Jacob Zuma may have survived rape charges (imagine the ignominy of the head of state being accused of rape!!). But that’s South Africa — a brutally violent society at war against itself.
Yes, it is indeed dangerous to venture out at any time of the day or night. Our very polished diplomat, Navdeep Singh, based in Jo’burg, kept reminding me that this was not Mumbai! He was spot on. I was staying at a charming guest house no more than half-a-block from his sprawling mansion, and yet, strolling over was out of the question.
I’d wondered why most shops and establishments pulled down their shutters by 4.30 pm, and remained open for just a few short hours over weekends. “Because of armed robberies”, South Africa’s most famous and controversial cartoonist Nanda Soobben told me bluntly as he drove me around in Durban in a gleaming black Mercedes. He had hardly got those words out of his mouth when, at a traffic signal, a drug addict lurched up to the car and thumped on the window aggressively. Nanda remained unfazed as he told the man to go look for some work. He turned to me and grinned, “People are very jealous of my car here. I tell them I’ve worked very hard to buy it. They can own a Merc too, if they work for it”.
I asked a prominent crime writer I was sharing a panel with in Cape Town, what the explanation could be to this ugly phenomenon. She lowered her voice (there was a predominantly black and coloured audience, while she herself was white) and said, “My father is a paediatric surgeon. Most of the surgeries he performs are on little girls — their private parts… to reconstruct torn vaginas. Open the papers and you will find at least seven or eight reported rapes a day. Most victims are underage kids. Ours is a very, very unstable society. I put the blame squarely on apartheid and what it did to destroy the human spirit. Our people don’t know the meaning of love”.
I spoke to several other people, including “coloureds”, who seem to be the most bewildered of the lot. They look white, think white, act white, but fall into the coloured category. Even they can’t explain how they got there. All they know is that they were relocated (“regrouped’’) to designated areas meant exclusively for them, their lands seized, their homes destroyed… and that was that. Do they feel bitterness and hate? “It’s inevitable”, replied a college professor, who pointed out the ghetto in which he grew up after his family was identified as coloured by the regime.
“Neighbours deposed against neighbours. People like us were ‘outed’ by those who envied our success”. Perhaps the positive fall out of that “regrouping” is the existence of mosques and temples standing cheek by jowl in crowded areas sans any signs of “disturbance”.
For all that, South Africa remains a dynamic and ambitious nation. FIFA is round the corner, and the entire country is gearing up for the world event, which is expected to boost tourism in a big way.
People are also very proud of the IPL coup, which was handled with great success at short notice. “If we could pull that off in such a short time, we can definitely score big with FIFA”. The countdown has begun, and there are gigantic electronic boards at strategic places that display the exact number of days still to go before the World Cup.
I sorely missed running into any Black Diamonds during my week long stay there. This is a mocking reference to the posh, Westernised ladies-who-lunch, flashing the latest fashion labels and wearing pea-sized solitaires. There is a lot of money hidden in South Africa — a lot. But it remains out of sight. Tanya, a beautiful woman (but not a Black Diamond) repeatedly warned me not to speak on the cellphone while in a car, or open my handbag and flash cash — not even small notes. “People here kill for less than that”. Sure enough, while driving back from the Cape of Good Hope (or, more appropriately, the Cape of Storms), Calvin, my tour operator, did a sharp about turn as we approached what may possibly be an even bigger urban slum than Dharavi on the outskirts of the city. “What’s wrong?” I asked. He pointed to a few cars in the distance, “Look… it’s shootout… a hold up. Most vehicles are bullet proof, but these days, burglars pump bullets into the tyres, and then into the occupants”. Phew!! I was glad to be taking the flight back to India at dawn.
Readers can send feedback to www.shobhaade.blogspot.com 
IT’S TIME TO BRING ISMAIL HOME
BY BY KISHWAR DESAI
We have woken up to a beautiful end-of-summer day — with birds alight in the sky and warm sunshine gliding off the flowers in the garden, scattering a glow of goodwill. All seems well — but strangely, it is not. It is a day on which friends should be called and remembered — yet in the news is another reminder of time passing by.
It seems that next week will be the auction of Ismail Merchant’s memorabilia at Christie’s. Of course it is a good idea in some ways — because how long can his partner and collaborator, James Ivory, possibly find the space and time to look after what undoubtedly will be a fascinating collection. Therefore, it is best to find another home for these items. However, it also appears inconceivable that a man like Ismail, who had such a careful eye for ideas and art, could ever be content that his collection will be now scattered all over the globe. It is a moment when again the Indian government and film lovers in India must intervene — because there are very few producers like Merchant who are able to transcend national barriers and create a name for Indian cinema abroad.
At a time when the ministry for information and broadcasting has very ambitiously planned a museum for cinema in Mumbai, it is material like this which would make the museum worthwhile. Genuine, bona fide items — some of which had been used in Merchant-Ivory productions and others which are part of his personal life — could be used to configure the trajectory of Merchant’s very prolific and highly successful career. Instead of it falling into the hands of private collectors, after which it is very difficult to prise it loose, perhaps it is not too late for the ministry to negotiate with Christie’s or with James Ivory in the same manner in which it had attempted to be proactive over the Mahatma Gandhi memorabilia auction.
Indeed, if the government shows interest, it is likely that other collections may begin to come forward voluntarily to them so that a comfortable and diverse bank of film archives may begin to be built up. It is not necessary that the government picks up all the memorabilia, but it would be interesting if at least a few, well-curated and meaningful pieces were acquired.
As we move to a more commercial and better documented appreciation of Indian cinema history, undoubtedly more and more of these cases will begin to emerge. Already we have seen the price of old cinema posters and song booklets jump up from a few paltry rupees to thousands of rupees. Similarly, cinema photographs and other publicity material are slowly inching up the price ladder, but most of them are ending up in the hands of private collectors, which is a shame because with a vibrant film culture it is essential that the government makes more effort to accumulate material from all over the world and make it accessible to all.
In fact, even from existing production houses and actors, directors, there should be an on-going effort to acquire, mandatorily, not only copies of films but also digital copies of the material supporting the film, so that a proper film library is built up. They could even ask for voluntary donations from these film personalities and name several wings of the museum after the donors.
Apart from the more obvious, there is also other fascinating memorabilia — copies of costumes and hairstyles and even replicas of sets — which should be accumulated. It is not always necessary to get the original, even copies and photocopies will do because it is essential to keep a record for posterity before these are swallowed up rich collectors who do not have any altruistic motives in mind.
The Merchant Collection goes on display at Christie’s from October 3 and will be auctioned on October 7, 2009. On display will be ceramics, silver, furniture, shawls, and even an 18th century tent panel embroidered with peacocks! There are also reportedly some props from films — a book case from Howard’s End, a print of cubist painting used in Surviving Picasso.
The material has been culled from Ismail’s apartments in Mumbai, London and New York, as well as from a company apartment in Paris. James Ivory has said in a recent interview that there is a lot of material from India — as Ismail was particularly fond of shopping in the narrow gallies of the Chor Bazaar in Mumbai and also on Portobello Road in London.
There is little doubt in my mind that Ismail had very eclectic, discerning taste and that he was also a very thoughtful human being. I still remember when I first met him at a dinner at his house in London, where he had cooked up a lovely simple Indian meal of bhindi and biryani, and among his guests, equally casually, sat Helena Bonham Carter with her daughter, and Jerry Hall, better known as the estranged partner of Mick Jagger — of the Rolling Stones. There was no fuss or bother and all of us had a wonderful evening and an animated conversation on cinema.
Later, we continued to meet — and very specially, he attended our wedding in London and was one of the witnesses to the ceremony. So, in fact, I have to say that I have my own very special memorabilia — his signature as a witness on my wedding certificate. Something I will never forget.
Nor will I ever forget that he came without fanfare to the ceremony and left exactly the same way. On a London bus all the way home. The lasting irony for us is that we had planned to meet for lunch on the day that he died.
Everyone who ever met him continues to miss him. He was an extremely talented man — and yet again, another person who is not celebrated enough in the country of his origin. It is now time to embrace him and bring him home with fanfare. I do hope that the Indian government will try to acquire at least a few of his possessions and not let them be lost forever. Or, perhaps, the government could invite private donations to try to buy up some of Ismail’s memorabilia. Any takers?
The writer can be contacted at email@example.com 
THE AFGHAN IMPERATIVE
BY BY DAVID BROOKS
Always there is the illusion of the easy path. Always there is the illusion, which gripped Donald Rumsfeld and now grips many Democrats, that you can fight a counter-insurgency war with a light footprint, with cruise missiles, with special forces operations and unmanned drones. Always there is the illusion, deep in the bones of the Pentagon’s Old Guard, that you can fight a force like the Taliban by keeping your troops mostly in bases, and then sending them out in well-armoured convoys to kill bad guys.
There is simply no historical record to support these illusions. The historical evidence suggests that these middling strategies just create a situation in which you have enough forces to assume responsibility for a conflict, but not enough to prevail.
The record suggests what Gen. Stanley McChrystal clearly understands — that only the full counter-insurgency doctrine offers a chance of success. This is a doctrine, as General McChrystal wrote in his remarkable report, that puts population protection at the centre of the Afghanistan mission, that acknowledges that insurgencies can only be defeated when local communities and military forces work together.
To put it concretely, this is a doctrine in which small groups of American men and women are outside the wire in dangerous places in remote valleys, providing security, gathering intelligence, helping to establish courts and building schools and roads.
These are the realistic choices for America’s Afghanistan policy — all out or all in, surrender the place to the Taliban or do armed nation-building. And we might as well acknowledge that it’s not an easy call. The costs and rewards are tightly balanced. But in the end, President Obama was right: “You don’t muddle through the central front on terror... You don’t muddle through stamping out the Taliban”.
Since 1979, we have been involved in a long, complex conflict against Islamic extremism. We’ve fought this ideology in many ways in many places, and we shouldn’t pretend we understand how this conflict will evolve. But we should understand that the conflict is unavoidable and that when extremism pushes, it’s in our long-term interests to push back — and that eventually, if we do so, extremism will wither.
Afghanistan is central to this effort partly because it could again become a safe haven to terrorists, but mostly because of its effects on the stability of Pakistan. As Stephen Biddle noted in a recent essay in The American Interest, the Taliban is a transnational Pashtun movement active in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is part of a complex insurgency trying to topple the Pakistani regime. Pakistan has a fragile government with an estimated 50 or more nuclear weapons. A Taliban conquest in Afghanistan would endanger the Pakistani regime at best, create a regional crisis for certain and lead to a nuclear-armed Al Qaeda at worst. A Taliban reconquest would also, it should be said, be a moral atrocity from which American self-respect would not soon recover.
Proponents of withdrawal often acknowledge the costs of defeat but argue that the cause is hopeless anyway. On this, let me note a certain pattern. When you interview people who know little about Afghanistan, they describe an anarchic place that is the graveyard of empires. When you interview people who live there or are experts, they think those stereotypes are rubbish. They usually take a hardened but guardedly optimistic view. Read Clare Lockhart’s Sept. 17 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to get a sense of the way many knowledgeable people view the situation.
Amidst all the problems, the Nato (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) coalition has a few things going for it. First, American forces have become quite good at counterinsurgency. They have a battle-tested strategy, experienced troops and a superb new leadership team. According to the political scientists Andrew J. Enterline and Joseph Magagnoli, since World War II, counter-insurgency efforts that put population protection at their core have succeeded nearly 70 per cent of the time. Second, the enemy is wildly hated. Only six per cent of Afghans want a Taliban return, while NATO is viewed with surprising favour. This is not Vietnam or even Iraq.
Third, while many Afghan institutions are now dysfunctional, there is a base on which to build. The Afghan Army is a successful institution. Local villages have their own centuries-old civic institutions. The National Solidarity Programme was able to build development councils in 23,000 villages precisely because the remnants of civil society still exist. We have tried to fight the Afghan war the easy way, and it hasn’t worked. Switching now to the McChrystal strategy is a difficult choice, and President Obama is right to take his time. But Obama was also right a few months ago when he declared, “This will not be quick, nor easy. But we must never forget: This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. ... This is fundamental to the defense of our people.”
By arrangement with the New York Times
CREATION OF WEST BENGAL
Pranab Mukherjee’s statement that even Shyama Prasad Mukherjee supported Partition is an oversimplification of a complex phase in Indian history, whose roots date back to 1937. Shyama Prasad (1901-53) entered the political arena in 1939 at the age of 38. That initiation was performed by Savarkar who was trying to mobilise public opinion for safeguarding the interests of Hindus.
Among the prominent leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha were Ashutosh Lahiri and Nirmal Chandra Chatterjee, father of the former Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee. Another influence on Shyama Prasad was Swami Pranabananda, the founder of the Bharat Sevashram Sangh. After the Congress came to power in several states following the election of 1937, Shyama Prasad was disenchanted with its policy on Hindu-Muslim relations. Prior to joining the Hindu Mahasabha, he believed in the Congress philosophy and was elected to the Bengal Assembly as a Congress candidate.
In the 1930s, the British took two decisions which greatly dissatisfied the Hindu leadership of Bengal: (a) the communal award of 1932; and (b) the Government of India Act of 1935. As Nirad C Chaudhuri wrote in his autobiography, after these promulgations, Hindus would not be able to come to power unless the Muslims make a charity.
IN such a situation, the Hindu leadership ought to have reached a power-sharing arrangement with the Muslim leadership on the basis of a loose parity. Such an opportunity arose for the Hindu leadership of the Congress, one that it squandered. In the election of 1937, the contenders for power in Bengal were the Hindu-backed Congress, whose leader was Sarat Chandra Bose, the elder brother of Subhas. A Muslim League supported by the landed aristocracy and the zamindars, led by Khwaja Najimuddin, and a mass party supported by the Muslim farmers, the Krishak Praja Party led by the legendary leader, Fazlul Haq. The result demonstrated that there was no clear winner and it was a hung assembly in a House of 250, in which the Congress had 60, Muslim League 40, KPP 35, Independent Muslims 41, a Scheduled Caste grouping 23 and Europeans 25. The independent Muslims either joined the Muslim League or the KPP, their individual tally being 60 and 58 respectively.
Fazlul Haq disliked the Muslim League because of its class character and wanted to form a coalition with the Congress. This proposal was turned down both by the central Congress leadership led by Gandhi and the provincial Congress, headed by Sarat Chandra Bose. In consequence, a liberal and secular Fazlul Haq had to tie up with the Muslim League. This rigid decision of the Congress defied any political logic and paved the way for the mass killings of the Hindus in East Pakistan. Had the Congress aligned with Fazlul Haq and formed the coalition government in 1937, the history of the subcontinent in general and that of Bengal in particular would have been quite different.
Amidst this confusing political scenario, Shyama Prasad entered the political scene. Fazlul Haq’s coalition arrangement with the Muslim League was hobbled by mutual suspicion. Though Haq moved the Pakistan resolution in the Lahore session of the Muslim League in 1940, the gesture wasn’t effective enough to sustain the coalition in Bengal. Haq walked out of the alliance with the Muslim League and announced a new coalition arrangement with the Congress along with the young Shyama Prasad, whom he had inducted in his council of ministers. Many of his close associates had serious reservations about Shyama Prasad joining the cabinet but Haq assured them that though he belonged to the Hindu Mahasabha, he was a liberal and a well-wisher of Muslims and whose replacement was impossible by any other Hindu leader of the Congress. Both Haq and Sarat Bose, still in detention, hailed it as glorious examples of Hindu-Muslim unity. But as Rajmohan Gandhi writes: “Though apparently successful, the bud was four years too late. Hindu and Muslim legislators should have been combined in 1937. The opportune moment was missed by Bose and others in the Congress. The November 1941 exercise did not bring Hindus and Muslims together. Haq’s exercise was seen by Bengal’s Muslims as a Hindu manoeuvre. Elections were held in 1944-45 and the province’s Muslim votes went solidly in the League’s favour”.
The Governor of Bengal, Sir John Herbert, was not happy over the exit of the Muslim League from the governing coalition. Sarat Chandra Bose was supposed to be the second in command after Haq as the deputy Prime Minister. But before he could take the oath of office he was arrested and the Haq ministry took charge without Bose. Shyama Prasad was the second man in the cabinet. The Muslim League was a continuous source of friction and the new coalition was shortlived.
Governor Herbert suggested an all-party government which could be possible only if Haq resigned. The latter agreed and submitted his resignation confidentially. As it turned out, the Governor had other plans and on 24 April 1943, Khwaja Najimuddin became the Prime Minister, leading a Muslim League- led government. Shyama Prasad, as the opposition leader in the midst of the Bengal famine of 1943, exposed the government’s inaction and corruption, and emerged as a forceful Hindu leader.
The next phase of Shyama Prasad’s political life centres around Suhrawardy in the context of the great Calcutta killing on 16 August 1946. There never was a stronger condemnation of the massacre. Calcutta witnessed a communal riot; Noakali the massacre of Hindus. Shyama Prasad spoke against forced conversions to Islam and favoured the process of re-conversion.
HIS most important achievement was the creation of West Bengal. Ironically enough, a proposal for an independent sovereign Bengal was mooted by Suhrawardy in the aftermath of the riots. It was backed by the provincial Congress leaders, notably Sarat Chandra Bose and Kiran Shankar Roy. It was supported as well by the Governor, Jinnah and Liaquat Ali. But it wasn’t endorsed by the central Congress leadership. The objectives of the Muslim League leadership were clear: there would be no parity in the provincial transitional committee as it would consist of 16 Muslim and 14 Hindus.
Shyama Prasad was totally opposed to this plan. He convinced the Hindus of West Bengal that such a plan would be suicidal. Partition was the only plausible way to safeguard the interests of the Bengali Hindus. The dream of a United Bengal would never have succeeded as Suhrawardy’s intentions were not sincere. His ultimate plan was to include sovereign Bengal in Pakistan.
Shyama Prasad has often been blamed for having endorsed Partition. His stand ought to be examined in the historical context. It was plainly a consequence of the blunders committed by the central and provincial leaderships of the Congress in 1937 and subsequently by its provincial leadership, championing a sovereign Bengal.
In the Lok Sabha, Nehru once accused Shyama Prasad of supporting the division of the country. To which the latter retorted: “You have divided India, I have divided Pakistan”.
The reply is self-explanatory. As Jinnah’s supreme achievement was the creation of a nation, Shyama Prasad’s glorious contribution was the creation of West Bengal, which was the only feasible solution in 1947. He ought to be remembered for achieving the best possible arrangement at that point of time.
The writer is a retired Professor of Political Science, University of Delhi
A RATIONAL FORMULA MUST BE HAMMERED OUT
FACULTIES of IITs across the country were denuded on Thursday when their members went on a hunger-strike to buttress their demand for higher salaries and appointments... on their terms. The claim that such an agitation was “unprecedented” scarcely enhances their position, still less the validity of their demands, one of which is “world class salaries”. The short point must be that the faculties of such rarefied institutions abroad are not known to have gone on fast for more pay. The HRD minister may not agree with the teachers on the contentious issues, but he is spot-on when he asserts, “we want the faculty to produce future Nobel laureates, not spend their time on hunger-strikes.” The faculties have blurred the distinction between global institutes of excellence and a factory union. They have a duty towards the students, the funding agencies and the cause of science and technology in the larger context.
The only positive development to have emerged amidst a chaotic scenario is that Kapil Sibal is “open to talks”. That said, it must also be acknowledged that an IIT campus can’t be reduced to a venue for collective bargaining between teachers and the government. The demand that when a fresh PhD joins the faculty, he/she must be made permanent immediately is somewhat unreasonable. And the minister is right when he refers to the world’s best universities, where a minimum tenure is mandatory before confirmation. The stipulation that a first class under-graduate degree is essential to be eligible for the professor’s post is obviously intended to ensure uniform academic attainments and eventually improve teaching standards.
It bears recall that this was once a mandatory requirement for a stint at Kolkata’s Presidency College, till such time as the Left Front introduced the system of mechanical transfers. The cavil at the IIT faculty level is a mite contrived, one that takes a myopic view of the wider perspective. The 40 per cent cap, placed by the new pay regime, on professors eligible for the higher grade is arguably open to negotiations but not at the expense of quality. As is the condition on experience in similar institutions at the time of appointment. The fact remains that the terms of engagement can’t be dictated by the faculties alone. Nor for that matter is it an exclusive prerogative of the political dispensation. A rational formula deserves urgently to be hammered out. This will call for a consensual approach. The government is open to negotiations; so too must the IIT faculties.
A BILL WITH AN ACADEMIC APPROACH
AMIDST the fairly justified cavil that madrasas tend to get bogged down in fundamentalist instruction, it is a salutary development that the Central Madrasa Board Bill is set to be redrafted. One must give it to the liberal fringe within the community that it has been able to prevail upon New Delhi to broadbase the composition of the Central Madrasa Board, the apex body that has been tasked with regulating instruction in this segment of schooling. It thus comes about that in addition to the clerics, the board will now also comprise eminent academics. However delayed, this is indubitably an academic approach to learning in place of the decidedly theocratic one. It bears recall that the lyricist Javed Akhtar, a nominated member of the Central Board of Secondary Education, had questioned the composition of the madrasa board. Instead of a ten-member entity, comprising seven clerics, the modified Bill will provide for 15 members ~ the additional five being educationists. That the chairman of the board will be an educationist and not a cleric signifies another safeguard. In place of the clergy, the representation of academics ~ with proven contribution to the pure sciences and social sciences ~ is set to be pronounced.
The change in the nomenclature of the board is doubtless a landmark development. But at the end of the day, it must also translate to a dramatic change in instruction and in the curricula; in other words, to make madrasa education more meaningful than it is today. Its syllabus will have to be in step with the times, a task that many a chief minister, pre-eminently West Bengal’s, has not been able to accomplish on account of the party’s fear of upsetting the vote-bank.
While the union HRD ministry’s move inspires optimism, it must also ensure that the madrasa is not a fundamentalist outfit. The system as a whole needs to be rationalised and safeguarded. It is fervently to be hoped that the redrafted Bill will mark a modest beginning towards reform.
WHY NOT A BILATERAL ENDEAVOUR?
MILITARY humourists insist that there is an unpublicised reason behind soldiers being instructed to bang their heels down hard, seemingly to testify to their smartness on parade. The joke, or theory, being that intense pressure on the heel actually dulls the brain, which renders the fellow accepting that “theirs’ not to reason why/theirs’ but to do and die.” Well, time marches on and the days of a soldier being deemed little more than cannon fodder are over, his well-being and creature comforts are being given due consideration. So much so that the men in charge of the Border Security Force unit at the Attari-Wagah international border crossing are seeking to “soften” the ground on which their sentries “take on” their opposite numbers from the Pakistan Rangers in the celebrated ceremonial as the flags are lowered at sunset. The unique ceremonial draws cheering, admiring crowds from both Amritsar and Lahore, particularly on Sundays and holidays when the numbers swell to over 3,000. In some ways it is unfortunate that what began as a competition in “spit and polish” has acquired a confrontationist complexion ~ indeed when Indo-Pak tensions ran high after 26/11 a message went out to “cool it”. All that stomping of boots takes a toll, the “shock” runs up the legs and affects the spine too, officials of the paramilitary force concede. Yet rather than “de-escalate” the ceremonial stand-off they have floated tenders for a road-surfacing material that is softer than traditional tarmac. Fair enough.
Yet would it not be a trifle unfair if the BSF jawan was better protected than the Ranger? What prevents the authorities on both sides of those gates that are closed during the ceremonial to have the more comfortable surfacing laid across the entire “ceremonial area/combat zone”? After all, even in war the rules of engagement require that an injured adversary be provided requisite medical attention, and prevention is better than cure. A joint exercise of this surface-softening nature calls for only a little reduction of misplaced prestige, it could actually serve as a confidence-building measure. At least for the squads that strive so hard to do their respective nations proud.
RIGHT OR REASONABLE
He was described by Mohan Bhagavat as an intellectual, after he suggested that the RSS take over the crisis-ridden BJP. And intellectuals as a class would rather be right than reasonable. To assail them is tantamount to sacrilege. Which was why no one questioned his description of a controversial business house as a good example of corporate governance; and he did not retract even after the owners started washing their dirty linen in public.
He does not believe in conventional views. And so his views on Narendra Modi are dynamic. He wanted Modi out after the 2002 riots. But in the wake of the 2009 polls, he said Modi would make a good PM, throwing a spanner into Advani’s works. Now he is back to being critical of Modi. Why? He had hoped his nomination to the Rajya Sabha from Gujarat would come through, but Modi was lukewarm. Well, intellectuals adjust quickly in politics, just as lesser politicians do.
WHAT A FALL
The only sure thing about luck is that it changes. While at Udyog Bhavan, he was literally the lord of all he surveyed. He was close to the “family”. Besides he was part of the Sanjay Gandhi brigade. The other Gandhi, that is Indira, was said to be fond of him. He brooked no interference and ran his ministry with flamboyant ease and considered only the then finance minister a competitor.
All this changed in the UPA’s second innings. He was shifted to Transport Bhavan, and to a seemingly less glamorous portfolio. And he took it without demur, which was quite unlike him. His stock sunk to such an extent that his successor in Udyog Bhavan started digging into old files, including those relating to SEZs.
Worse still, his note seeking permission for a team of officials to accompany him to the US was pruned by the finance secretary. The cabinet secretary questioned the need for a “huge” delegation for just an investor meet. However, Kamal Nath managed to restore the name of at least two officials deleted by the babus. But what a fall.
It pays to be a recognisable face. But high visibility of one can sometimes be to the detriment of others. It happened in Kolkata the other day when Salman Khurshid, MOS, ministry of corporate affairs, sank into his chair after the West Bengal IT minister, Debesh Das referred to him as Jairam Ramesh. Unlike Salman, Jairam has a well-placed strategy to be in the limelight, which is to cultivate media persons selectively, and then talking in season and out of season about everything including Jinnah!
A WILY BARON
Every corporate chieftain wants to be seen as being close to the powers that be. Expensive gifts are one route but not the only one. It helps them find their way through the labyrinth to out-of-the-way approvals and sanctions. Naveen Jindal, a Congress MP, after having been seen as a crusader for the National flag, loses no opportunity to be seen as championing social causes while rubbing shoulders with the glitterati on the golf course or the race track.
He tried a PR stunt with the Crown Prince but it backfired. It is said that he gifted an imported bullet and missile-proof car to Rahul Gandhi that was returned promptly with thanks. Jindal had imported four cars of this type, each reportedly worth Rs 2.50 crore. The prince did take a ride in the car but the grapevine has it that mama said no.
TWIT OR THE TWEETER
A frequent query in the corridors of power is: What is it that makes Manmohan Singh back a political greenhorn like Shashi Tharoor to the hilt? For one who dropped his former media adviser sensing the opposition to his second coming, his support for this incorrigible, raucous arriviste is raising many eyebrows.
Giving him a ticket from God’s own country in spite of stiff opposition from local Congressmen, providing him a berth in the Cabinet against the wishes of senior leaders like Pranabda and allocating the external affairs portfolio in the face of protests from the IFS fraternity wasn’t enough. Defying the jeers of many party men and braving frowns of the royalty at 10 Janpath, Manmohan Singh has given the tweet of a joke a hasty burial. But the whispers linger.
If ever one needs lessons on writing up minutes of important meetings, one can knock at the doors of the State Trading Corporation (STC). After being ripped off to the tune of nearly Rs 2,000 crore by unscrupulous customers, including Ispat Industries, the PSU framed the minutes of the 28 July meeting of the Board of Directors in a manner that suggested the-rip off was a favour to the government owned company. All transgressions were glossed over.
But why has this come to light after two months? Apparently, the minutes were drafted and re-drafted since independent members of the Board, sensing trouble, objected to the wording and wanted changes. After three amendments, the draft was finally cleared. And lo and behold, it is a sanitized version that says nothing. It remains to be seen if the CBI probe also comes to such a pass.
(Delhi Durbar will not appear for the next two weeks)
MY INTENTIONS WERE GOOD’
Balasaheb Bhausaheb Thorat, the 56-year-old agriculture minister of Maharashtra, was recently in the eye of a storm when he entered the tiger’s cage at the Nagpur zoo, leading to a hue and cry by animal activists protesting that he was endangering the life of an animal facing extinction.
On 17 August, Naresh Kadyan, representative of the International Organisation for Animal Protection in India and founder chairman of People for Animals (PFA), Haryana, lodged a complaint with the Commissioner of Nagpur Police against Mr Thorat. However, the Congress leader is unfazed by the incident and is confident it would have no repercussions on the upcoming Assembly elections in the state.
Mr Thorat, who has been active in politics since his student days, is also the guardian minister for Nagpur and Latur. In an interview with SRI KRISHNA, he spoke on a wide variety of subjects.
Do you think farmer suicides in Vidarbha and the drought situation will have an impact on the Assembly elections?
The Opposition is making that an issue. But farmer suicides were prevalent even under the BJP-Shiv Sena rule in the state. The state government has increased the cotton farming area and the cotton yield per acre. It has been giving a good price for produce in the last five years which is bound to help the cotton growing farmers. Besides, the Centre and state government’s packages have given relief to the farmers and therefore this is no longer an issue.
With the current turmoil in the BJP and the uncertainty of the Congress-NCP alliance, how do you visualise the political alliances in the Assembly elections?
There is bound to be some internal conflict in an alliance, but the basic point is for all like-minded and secular parties to come together and fight the polls jointly.
You were recently at the centre of a controversy when you entered a tiger’s cage at the Nagpur zoo thereby angering animal rights activists. What are your comments on this issue?
The zoo in question is in the agricultural university and maintained by the university of which as the agriculture minister of the state I am the pro-chancellor. The authorities wanted to apprise me of the functioning of the zoo and requested me to pay a visit to get firsthand information. A tigress had died after giving birth to two cubs in the Vidarbha jungle. The two-day-old cubs were rescued and brought to the zoo for care. On my visit to Nagpur, I was asked to see how they were being looked after and how the human-animal bond was being fostered. My intention was to see the hygienic conditions and healthcare measures taken by the zoo staff. My intentions were good and I have already apologised to the Union minister for forest and environment. Therefore the issue has come to an end.
Do you think this incident will have any impact on the elections?
This will have no negative impact on the elections as the people of the state and the country are aware that my intentions were good even if there has been any breach of law.
Last year we were exporting sugar but this year there is an acute shortage and we are importing huge quantities of sugar. Was there any fault in the sugar policy?
In the last ten years, there have been ups and downs in sugarcane production. A farmer grows more sugarcane when the monsoon is good. The sugarcane production goes up and the sugar price reduces. Sometimes the price becomes so low that it becomes uneconomical for the farmer to grow sugarcane. The farmer then shifts to other crops resulting in shortage of sugarcane which in turn results in shortage of sugar and the price of sugar shoots up. This invariably happens two to three times in a single decade. One has to find a balance between remunerative sugarcane price for the farmer and a reasonable price for sugar for the consumer. We, therefore, have to see how to control both and have a long term policy with that aim in mind. This is a problem for other crops and products also. We have to create a mechanism which will not bring tears to the eyes of the farmer or the consumer.
After the good performance of the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections, what do you have to say about seat sharing in the Assembly elections?
This is an issue which has to be dealt with by the Congress high command. There have been discussions on this issue in Delhi and I do not consider it appropriate on my part to comment.
What is your view on the erection of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj’s memorial in the Arabian Sea when some critics feel that the money could be better utilised to tackle the drought situation?
We had given an assurance in our election manifesto that we would erect a memorial for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, and accordingly the state government is going ahead with the project. The expenditure is not so huge that it will affect the state government’s development programmes. I am confident that we will successfully face the drought situation and simultaneously go ahead with the development projects.
Do you think the 26/11 incident and the focus of terrorism will have an impact on the elections?
Terrorism is a national and an international issue and Maharashtra also has to face it. We have had terrorist attacks on Parliament, on the Akshardham Temple and in Mumbai. We have to tackle this issue on all fronts jointly. I feel the state government has tackled the issue quite well. New forces have been created and new arrangements are underway. I am sure that the state government is in a better position to face such situations.
What is the agricultural land situation in Maharashtra?
The lowest irrigated area, that is, about 16% of the total land, is the basic negative feature in the agricultural scenario of Maharashtra. This is mainly due to the state having a mountainous terrain with predominant light soil. Under such adverse natural conditions, one has to depend heavily on a good monsoon. With only 16% irrigated land, Maharashtra ranks very low in comparison to cultivable land in other states. I think we have done reasonably well in facing the challenge of irrigating the land despite poor monsoon. Maharashtra has developed dams keeping this in mind. This has been given top priority. The state government has this year allocated Rs 8,000 crore.
However, we have limitation in building dams. Even after utilising all available surface water, we can increase irrigation only up to 33% . To overcome this limitation, soil and water conservation along with optimum use of available water is the only solution. For soil and water conservation, a watershed development programme is being implemented in the state.
MORE THAN BLACK
“You lie!” These are the words with which Republican Joe Wilson interrupted his president’s speech in Congress earlier this month. Mr Wilson’s grammar is ambiguous. His words hang between a specific allegation and a general truth: the president is lying, or the president lies. To jump from that to the next stage is easy. If one knows that the president lies, then is Mr Wilson’s you referring to only the president, or to the president and his kind? If the latter, then who belongs to Barack Obama’s kind? Already, that thing of darkness is calling out to be acknowledged. And this is precisely what Jimmy Carter, ex-president and octogenarian Democrat, did on TV soon after. From his long knowledge of the American south, he had no doubt at all that much of the animosity towards Mr Obama was based on the fact that he was a black man. But, even more significantly, the president himself publicly disagreed with Mr Carter’s view, saying that race was not the “overriding issue” here. And with this cool dismissal, the first black president of the United States of America went back to being what he is much more comfortable being: a president who happens to be black.
This is a tightrope that Mr Obama, the person as well as the president, will never be spared from having to walk. When he called the police stupid for arresting a black man trying to break into his own home after locking himself out, he had to control the dam age by inviting this man and the policeman who arrested him to his own home for a drink. There, he oversaw a peace-making chat between the black professor and the white policeman, during which his own stakes in the situation — as a man whose colour was more complicated than either black or white — were played down with a calculated mix of the smart and the casual. Earlier, while campaigning for presidency, he had to dissociate himself from the radicalism of his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, without disavowing his love and respect for the reverend. He did so, in his “race speech” of March 2008 in Philadelphia, by writing his personal story into it and yet avoiding a “racial stalemate” by making sure that “our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black”.
Mr Wilson shouted out that Mr Obama lied immediately after the president had reassured the Congress that his plan for a healthcare system would not cover illegal immigrants. Perhaps Mr Wilson could not believe that a coloured president would not turn a new welfare system into yet another kind of affirmative action, bringing about a biased redistribution of the nation’s wealth. When apologizing later for his outburst, Mr Wilson said that he had let his “emotions get the best of [him]” — an apology that unwittingly gets to the heart of the matter. His anger had welled up from a place deeper than from where policy emanates — a realm of inchoate feeling that is no less historical or political for being momentarily ungovernable.
BEAUTY OF COMPROMISE
AN EXCESS OF SECULARISM MAY BE AS PROBLEMATIC AS BIGOTRY
POLITICS AND PLAY - RAMACHANDRA GUHA
In September 2004, the French government formally banned the wearing of headscarves by Muslim girls in schools and colleges run by the State. The decision was opposed by most French Muslims, but supported by an overwhelming majority of the citizens as a whole. The tradition of French republicanism is robustly secular; against King and Church in equal measure. Any sign of religious affiliation in public institutions is frowned upon.
The French authorities imposed the ban for two main reasons. The first argument they made was on the basis of gender justice. They claimed that the headscarf was a sign of women’s subordination within the home and the family. The second argument rested on the case for assimilation. The headscarf marked the wearer out as Muslim, and hence something foreign and alien to the culture of the French nation.
The ban on the headscarf was issued as part of a general edict forbidding all religious signs and symbols in State-run schools. So Sikh boys were barred from wearing the turban, Jewish boys from wearing the skull cap, and Christian children from wearing the crucifix. But it was evident all along that the particular target of the ban was Muslims. There had, in recent decades, been substantial immigration of Muslims from North Africa. The new migrants tended to live in separate neighbourhoods, limiting their interactions with the host population to the workplace. This ghettoization was deemed bad for them, and bad for French culture as a whole. The ban on the headscarf was very clearly an attempt to hasten them into the mainstream.
Reading of the controversy in France, I felt at the time that a ban could be counter-productive, encouraging parents to withdraw girls from State-run schools and send them to religious schools instead (or educate them at home). In any case, I thought, it was an odd form of nationalism (or secularism) which insisted that all citizens must, apart from speaking the same language and swearing allegiance to the same flag, also dress exactly alike. So long as an artefact of clothing is not offensive (which a headscarf or turban clearly isn’t) and can be worn alongside a regular school uniform (as a headscarf and a turban clearly can) there seemed to be no real reason to forbid a student from wearing it.
The question of whether or not to allow the headscarf in schools and colleges is also hotly debated in some other countries, such as Turkey (as discussed in Orhan Pamuk’s memorable novel, Snow). In France itself, after imposing the ban in schools, the authorities appear to have — with or without the pretext of the law — extended it to other spheres as well. An essay in The Guardian reports that women wearing headscarves in France have been forbidden to vote, not allowed to open bank accounts, and in some cases, even barred from their own wedding ceremonies! A French businesswoman of Muslim origin, wearing a scarf along with her suit, went for a holiday with her family, only to be turned away by the apartment into which they had been booked on the grounds that she was sporting “an instrument of women’s submission and oppression”. A human rights activist observes of these cases that “this is clear discrimination by people who wrongly use the school law to claim that France is a secular state that doesn’t allow headscarves in public places”. A history professor involved in the ‘French Collective against Islamophobia’ remarked (in terms that would be very recognizable to Indians) that “what people have to understand is that the concept of French secularism is not anti-religion per se, it is supposed to be about respecting all religions”.
In January 2005, some months after the French imposed their ban, I was speaking at the University of Calicut. The university is located in the district of Mallapuram, which is one of the handful of Muslim majority districts in India outside the Kashmir Valley (the others lie along the West Bengal-Bangladesh border). The Kerala Muslims, known locally as Mapillas, were converted not by the sword but by trade and commerce. They date to at least the eighth century AD, and have (in all senses) a substantial presence in the state, with particular influence in business and politics. Where Muslims in some other southern states claim Urdu as their mother tongue, the Mapillas have a deep identification with the language of Kerala, Malayalam. (Arguably the greatest Malayalam novelist was a Mapilla, Vaikom Muhammad Bashir).
My talk at the University of Calicut was held in a gloomy auditorium, but the composition of the audience lit up the event for me. For, of those who attended the lecture at least half were women. This was not in itself surprising, since rates of female literacy in Kerala are close to 100 per cent. What was especially notable was that most of these women (or young girls) were Muslim, their faith marked out for me by the black headscarf they wore, the self-same headscarf that had just been forbidden in schools in France. In that old Western democracy, the scarf was seen by the State as oppressive, and hence banned in public. In this new Eastern nation, the scarf was actually liberating. It permitted these girls to acquire a university education denied to their mothers and grandmothers. For the scarf denoted a certain propriety and modesty; by wearing it, these girls could reassure their parents that they were going to college to study rather than to socialize with members of the other sex.
In Calicut, the headscarf is acceptable, but a few hundred miles up the west coast of India, it apparently is not. Thus, in recent months, some colleges in the district of Mangalore have forbidden its use. Mangalore is a stronghold of Hindutva organizations, which have been emboldened by the coming to power in Karnataka of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Earlier in the year, they attacked girls for going to pubs; now, they seek to prevent girls who wear headscarves from attending college. In the first case, they protested against an alleged scantiness of clothing; in the second case, against an alleged excess of clothing. Any stick is apparently good enough, so long as it can be used to intimidate the minorities.
It is necessary to make some distinctions here. The burqa, or full veil, is oppressive and demeaning: by hiding a woman’s face and eyes, it marks her out as subordinate to (and under the control of) men. But to cover only one’s head is another matter. In India, at any rate, the practice is not restricted to Muslim women. Hindu women often cover their heads with their saris, whether to keep out the sun, enter a temple, or convey respect to elders. Sikh men and boys are obliged by their faith to wear a turban, while many Hindu and Muslim peasants voluntarily wear one. Had their students appeared before them in a burqa, some teachers in Calicut University might have been embarrassed or offended; clad as they were, no one in the university, whether teacher, student or staff, could in any way have seen it as other than normal and wholly acceptable.
For me, the ubiquity of the headscarf in Calicut University is a perfect illustration of what Mahatma Gandhi liked to call “the beauty of compromise”. The pragmatism of the Malayali stands in salutary contrast both to the thoroughgoing secularism of the French and to the narrow bigotry of the Hindutva-wadis.
MUSLIMS NEED A HINDU LEADER
POLITICIANS PROMOTED SENIOR IMAM OF JAMA MASJID AS A MUSLIM VOTE CATCHER BUT HE CAME A CROPPER.
BY SAEED NAQVI
It was heartwarming to find several newspapers publish photographs of Eid congregations, Navratri and Durga Puja side by side. We shall live to rue the day we take this exquisite mosaic for granted.
The biggest danger to this marvelous tapestry comes from electoral uses of the minority issue. The Sachar Committee report on the socio-economic condition of Muslims was an audacious step taken in good faith by the UPA. But a report of this nature is meaningless without follow up action. It is here that electoral politics trumps altruism.
Since the 80s, atleast, the Congress, including the Muslim component of its leadership, lives in fear that its Hindu vote might slip away because the party, in their faulty perception, if seen to be pro Muslim, will annoy the Hindus. This leads to a cyclical fear that the minorities will desert them.
The quest, therefore, begins for the Muslim leader who will help attract the flock. This is a much more complicated process than most people imagine. It is complicated, because, without our being aware of it, we live in a system of uninstitutionalised apartheid. Monochromatic evolution of settlements around Jama Masjid and Jhandewalan respectively gives an idea of the phenomenon.
The prevalence of this separation entails that the party, say, the Congress will not know which kind of a leader resonates with the community. In the absence of knowledge, the easiest approach is to pitch in for a religious leader. This explains the proliferation of lengthy beards and headgear at official Iftar parties.
Empirical evidence should have taught politician that this variety of Muslim leadership has religious, functional uses rather like the Purohit at marriage ‘pheras,’ but it has limited say in political matters.
Remember, Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistani had influence on the establishment, but never on the voters. The party seldom won seats upto the 90s. The Muttahida-Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) is the army creation to control secular, political surge. Just as in Kerala where there are ‘Munanis’ with links to the Sangh Parivar but no seat in the assembly.
Politicians promoted the senior Imam of Jama Masjid as a Muslim vote catcher. The Imam came a cropper. In fact, the projection of bearded clergy on political platforms has a communalising visual effect. Muslims thus projected come across only as a religious quantity. The whole projection is a falsehood. Of the country’s 150 million Muslims, not even a million would resemble the characters politicians attach to themselves as vote-catchers. Remember the Osama bin Laden look-alike Ram Vilas Paswan carted on his bandwagon during the campaign? Paswan is not even in the Lok Sabha now.
From the clerical extreme, the search lights are then beamed to search the liberal Muslim leader. The liberal Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or Christian leader is a contradiction in terms. You can have a liberal leader who will, per chance, belong to anyone of those denominations. Maulana Azad was a liberal, national leader who happened to be a Muslim. Those who have not read Ghubar-e-Khatir will know nothing of his elegant descriptions of playing sitar by moonlight at the Taj Mahal! Let any of the Imams match that one. Or Azad’s knowledge of the Quran.
Who then should lead the Muslims? Under the given circumstances, not a Muslim certainly, because that choice leads to the sole spokesman syndrome. Remember until his death in 1964 the undisputed leader of Indian Muslims was Jawaharlal Nehru as he was of the majority of Indians. In other words, Muslims need a liberal, secular Hindu to lead them. This does not obviate a leadership role for Muslims.
But these Muslim leaders will require the majority community as well to line up behind them. Only with this cross-knitting can we weld the country together. Only in this fashion can we proceed towards a just society for all, including Muslims. Otherwise tokenism fuels communalism and the falsehood of Muslim appeasement.
What can be done? To begin with, dismantle the Ministry of Minority Affairs. And if you must have such a ministry, place it under a liberal Hindu. Reason? I have never seen a Muslim minister do a jot for Muslims for fear of losing his or her secular credentials. And if you do find the rare Muslim who helps other Muslims, he will instantly open himself to the charge of being communal. A liberal Hindu in that slot can be a much more useful and harmonising entity.
Subsidies and a special air terminal for Haj helps only an infinitesimal minority of Muslims and irritates many more Hindus. Why must the Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia be a Muslim?
More to point is the lamentable absence of an Arabic speaking ambassador or even junior staff in any Arab country except, perhaps, Egypt. Why? Somewhere here can we begin to shed tokenism, which irritates, and do the real things which serve the national purpose.
DASARA GOES DULL WITHOUT DOLLS
EXCEPT FOR A FEW HOMES, WE DON’T SEE THE PASSION NEEDED TO ARRANGE THE DOLLS.
BY N NIRANJAN NIKAM
My friend RG called to invite me for the ‘gombe mane’ exhibition at Mysore and I jumped at the chance. Dasara and festival of dolls are synonymous and what better way to relive the past than visit the forgotten art of dolls’ display. Except in a few homes, hardly do we see the kind of passion that is needed to painstakingly arrange them. It is sad to see that Channapatna dolls have disappeared simply because the persons who made them are no more and the gen.next was hardly interested in continuing the tradition.
Not long ago the dolls’ display was in vogue in most of the houses in Mysore because of the strong influence of the Maharajas and one particular home where I looked forward to visiting was that of philosophy professor M Yamunacharya. His wife Rajamma and daughter-in-law Vaidehi would decorate the dolls with great love and attention to details. Every year the theme would be different and they would offer sweets to those who visited them.
In recent years it is in my friend Vaidyanathan’s house where the tradition is kept alive. Here dolls over 100-years old are on display. What was heart-warming to hear from him was that it was his son, a techie, who had taken interest in arranging them.
RG’s ‘gombe mane,’ was teeming with customers, a majority of them from traditional homes buying dolls sourced from different parts of the country. The research that had gone into getting some of these dolls made was really appreciable. As RG’s brother Rajesh said, “an old lady who came to visit the exhibition was overjoyed because she had collected over a thousand dolls spread over a period of 40 years but she could get more variety in just a few hours.”
The artistes themselves who make these dolls have a peculiar mindset. Here was one Mahalingappa, a Chamarajendra Technical Institute artiste who used to make lovely wooden animal toys of extremely good quality. Unfortunately, he never nurtured anyone to carry on the tradition and the art of making animated elephants, giraffes, zebras, horses, cows etc died with him. Swine flu might be striking terrors in the heart of the people because of the casualties, but the lacquered pig faced pepper-and-salt containers from Channapatna at one time were sold like hot cakes.
After all this, I have to confess that I do not possess a single doll of that era to show my love for dolls except showing my appreciation.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
GOV. PATERSON’S CHOICE
Americans are never sure when to take politicians at their word. One good time is when they tell the world that they don’t really want the office they are seeking. Or in the case of Gov. David Paterson of New York, the office he is holding.
Earlier this week, Mr. Paterson suggested that he never really wanted to be governor. “I did not sign up for this,” he said. When he ran for lieutenant governor, it seems, he had a “grand plan” that involved then-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton becoming president and Gov. Eliot Spitzer appointing him to her seat.
Joking or not, Mr. Paterson put into words what has been increasingly clear in the 18 months since he became governor following Mr. Spitzer’s resignation: As well meaning as Mr. Paterson has been, he is not the right person for New York over the long haul.
Now the best thing he can do for his state is to announce that he will not seek a full term next year.
The governor of New York has to lead one of the nation’s biggest states during a time of economic turbulence, when the economy requires cutting the state budget drastically. The governor of New York also has to wrangle a cantankerous Legislature, including a Senate that has become astonishingly self-absorbed, erratic and ineffective — even by Albany-standards.
That does not, by the way, make the White House’s attempt to shove him out of the election next year any less unwelcome and amateurish. But it does provide a focus for what Mr. Paterson ought to be doing in coming months.
With Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch now at his side, he should let his Democratic Party get about the business of choosing a strong gubernatorial candidate. Freed from the political distraction of a campaign, he and Mr. Ravitch could focus on two critical jobs: passing a solid, balanced budget that maintains a good credit rating for the state and trying to get the Legislature to clean up its seedy act.
In a series of recent interviews, Mr. Paterson has laid out the challenge he wants to address. Mainly, the state has a growing deficit steadily moving up from $2.1 billion at last count, with an even bigger gap possible next year. The easy cuts and the one-time infusions of money are gone.
No one gives him good odds of doing that, but he will have a better chance if he gives up the idea of staying in office after 2010.
Mr. Paterson likes to say that any governor can become “vastly unpopular” by cutting budgets and raising taxes, even on the rich. It has happened in California to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and in Pennsylvania to Gov. Edward Rendell, a Democrat. And both were actually elected. But Governor Paterson’s approval rating is far worse, hovering at a historic low of about 17 percent.
Dealing with the budget properly would certainly make him more unpopular with the Legislature, the interest groups and the unions, but if he’s not running for election, he wouldn’t have to worry about that. Freeing himself from the need to raise money from favor seekers would give him extra credibility in trying to make the State Legislature less of a national embarrassment.
Instead of the sub rosa political competition now going on between Mr. Paterson and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who is clearly looking to run for governor next year, the two offices could work together to produce major reforms in campaign financing, ethics, budgeting and redistricting.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE BIG CHEAT
Iran has a long history of lying and cheating about its nuclear program, so the news that it has been secretly building another plant to manufacture nuclear fuel is hardly a shock. But it provides one more compelling reason (are any more needed?) why the United States and other major powers must be ready to quickly adopt — and enforce — tough new sanctions if negotiations fail to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
The new facility — revealed on Friday by President Obama and the leaders of France and Britain — is near the holy city of Qum and has been under construction since 2006. Western officials said there was evidence of excavation, tunneling and the infrastructure to accommodate the centrifuges used in enriching uranium. They estimated it could be operational in a few months.
Intelligence officials have long speculated that Iran might build a second clandestine plant since the one at Natanz was exposed by Iranian dissidents in 2002 and placed under international monitoring. The new facility near Qum is too small to produce commercial quantities of fuel for a nuclear power plant — Tehran’s stated goal — but just the right size to produce a bomb’s worth of weapons-grade fuel.
Iran has been caught red-handed time and again — buying equipment from Pakistan’s nuclear black market, hiding sites and even bulldozing the evidence when the world got wise. As a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran was required to disclose the Qum project when it decided to begin construction. And more than three years after the United Nations Security Council ordered it to stop producing nuclear fuel at Natanz, the centrifuges are still spinning.
Given that long, faithless history, there are some who insist there is no point in talking at all. But their alternative — military strikes — would be a disaster, and unlikely to set Iran’s efforts back for long.
Talks scheduled to begin on Oct. 1 must proceed. It should soon be apparent if Iran’s leaders are serious. If not, the United States and the Europeans must push robust sanctions in the Security Council. They must also be prepared to toughen their own penalties if Russia and China (too often Tehran’s protectors) balk.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A COMMITMENT TO CITIZENSHIP
Here’s a good federal stimulus project: citizenship. Reports this week that the United States citizenship agency was yet again struggling with a budget shortfall, and considering raising fees on the hopeful immigrants who are its main source of revenue, could have led any American to wonder what kind of beacon to the world we are anymore.
Congress requires Citizenship and Immigration Services to be self-supporting. For years, the agency languished, its ambitions and effectiveness sorely limited by the principle of economics and government known as You Get What You Pay For. Bureaucratic backlogs built up, as did frustrations. Would-be citizens spent years waiting for paperwork. Their long ordeals were compounded by a notoriously surly, inattentive bureaucracy.
In 2007, the director of Citizenship and Immigration Services under former President George W. Bush raised fees drastically and declared that the era of bad faith and slow service was over. With the cost for services rising more than 65 percent across the board — a $400 naturalization now cost $675 — the agency was going to be re-energized and well financed for the 21st century.
Just two years later, in a terrible economy, citizenship applications are down sharply, along with requests for skilled-worker visas. Agency revenue is down by $118 million, reviving talk of budget cuts and higher fees.
The agency has made strides recently in becoming more responsive and friendlier to the people it serves. It created a thoughtful new citizenship test, abandoning an old emphasis on rote memorization of civic trivia. It has just unveiled an easier-to-use, bilingual Web site that allows immigrants to track their cases, even with e-mails and text messages to their cellphones.
But the agency is still hobbled by its fee-based revenue stream. It deserves a direct Congressional appropriation to supplement its budget so it can better withstand economic downturns, keep improving services and keep fees from rising too high for the poor and working class.
The need to properly finance America’s citizenship agency — and to keep naturalization affordable — is an issue both for now and later. At some point soon, if President Obama and Congressional leaders keep their promise to pass a comprehensive immigration bill, the agency will face a welcome but overwhelming surge of Americans-in-waiting. The machinery of citizenship needs to be ready and humming well before then, not struggling and broken.
Turning immigrants into Americans is a mission tied intimately to this country’s self-interest and identity, if not its very soul.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE CLIMATE IMPROVES
This week’s speeches at the United Nations by President Obama and President Hu Jintao of China raised hopes that — with vision, political will and a lot more work — the world may eventually reach a new agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile, back in Washington, the struggle continued on a retail level.
The Senate’s Democratic leadership managed to beat back an extraordinarily mischievous amendment to a spending bill offered by Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican. The amendment would have blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from using its authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from major sources like power plants and vehicles.
The amendment was in clear conflict with a landmark 2007 Supreme Court decision giving the agency explicit authority to regulate such gases from vehicles and implicit authority to regulate them from other sources. With a global climate summit in Copenhagen less than three months away, the move would also have sent a terrible signal about Washington’s lack of commitment.
In another positive development, a federal appeals court ruled in favor of eight states, New York City and two conservation groups that had sued five big electric utilities to get them to curb their carbon dioxide emissions. The case, brought in 2004 and based on the common law of public nuisance, said the companies threatened health and welfare.
The ruling can be appealed, and will have no immediate impact on the companies’ emissions. But it affirms that polluters can be held accountable in the federal courts, and provides another pathway to action against carbon pollution.
The preferred path, the one that will have the greatest impact on global negotiations and the atmosphere, would be a comprehensive bill committing this country to binding cuts in emissions. The House passed such a bill in June. The Senate must now follow suit.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
OBAMA’S TORTOISE TACTICS
BY CHARLES M. BLOW
Has President Obama outsmarted us all?
This was conservatives’ seething summer of discontent and unhinged hysteria: town halls, tea parties and tirades. They captured headlines and gained momentum. Misinformation ran amuck. President Obama’s approval ratings tumbled. Through it all, Obama maintained a Pollyannaish, laissez-faire disposition. Some found this worrisome. Others, like me, even thought it weak. But maybe not so fast.
According to Gallup poll results released on Wednesday, the president’s approval rating has stopped falling and has leveled out in the low-50 percents, about the same as Ronald Reagan’s and Bill Clinton’s at this point in their presidencies (both two-termers, lest we forget).
The United Nations General Assembly and the G-20 summit have catapulted Obama back onto the world stage where leaders treat him like the best jock in the high school cafeteria. Even his adversaries praise him. His leadership in these forums to tighten the screws on Iran for its nuclear programs project a presidential certitude and sense of steel and authority that was sorely needed and sorely missed.
Furthermore, after Dick Cheney’s thrashing and whining about the Obama administration making us less safe, a rash of recent terror arrests has sent the signal that the aggressive pursuit of terror suspects remains a top priority.
Then there is the interminable health care debate. It seems that the Republican babble may have backfired.
According to a poll released last week by the Pew Research Center, most Americans think that the health care debate has been “rude and disrespectful” and most of those who hold this view blame the opponents of the proposed legislation.
Obama told “60 Minutes” last week that if a health care bill passes, “I own it.” But, if it fails, the Republicans will own it.
According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll published on Wednesday, a plurality of respondents said that if health care reform fails, the Republicans will be at fault. Those who disapproved of the way that Republicans are handling the health care debate outnumbered those who approved of their behavior by a margin of more than 3 to 1.
And, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll released on Thursday, more people said Republican opposition to Obama’s health care proposals is politically motivated than those who said that Democratic support of them is politically motivated.
Maybe Obama was wise to hang back. While anger can simmer forever, overheated outrage is exhausting and ultimately counterproductive.
Anyone familiar with Aesop’s fable “The Tortoise and the Hare” surely remembers this lesson: slow and steady wins the race. I was beginning to think of Obama as the hare, but maybe he’s the tortoise.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SCORE ONE FOR THE DIPLOMATS
BY GAIL COLLINS
We are gathered here today to praise the United Nations, not to make fun of it.
Although it’s sort of hard to resist when you’ve got Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi working on a plan to dismember Switzerland. This thought is not central to my argument about the U.N., but we live in troubling times and it might be very soothing to stop worrying about Iran for a while and listen to world leaders argue about the Swiss Menace.
The president of Switzerland, Hans-Rudolf Merz, paid a conciliation call on Qaddafi, who is camping out at the Libyan Embassy in New York City this week after literally being unable to find a patch of ground on which to pitch his tent. Merz has been trying to get Libya to spring two Swiss businessmen, who have been stuck in Tripoli since 2008, when Qaddafi decided that Switzerland is a “world mafia and not a state.” He also withdrew Libya’s assets from Swiss banks, recalled his diplomats and closed the Nestlé office in Tripoli.
This would be immediately after the Geneva police arrested Qaddafi’s son Hannibal and his wife for beating two servants with a coat hanger and belt while they were staying in one of the city’s luxury hotels. The servants later withdrew their complaint after receiving what The Associated Press said was “compensation from an undisclosed source.”
Unappeased, Qaddafi submitted a U.N. proposal to abolish Switzerland altogether and divide the territory among its next-door neighbors.
Hannibal has an interesting résumé, which includes being picked up in Paris for drunken driving at 90 miles per hour on the wrong side of the Champs Élysées. On another occasion, he was taken into custody by French police after he allegedly pulled a gun on officers who came to his hotel room to investigate reports that he was beating his girlfriend. After he was released, he was quickly arrested again in another hotel for breaking up the furniture. Perhaps he has a problem with rented rooms.
But we digress. About the United Nations: For eight years, the Bush White House regarded the U.N. mainly as an annoyance, a mole in the garden of the new American world order. Now we are in the age of the Obama, and trying to once again play well with others.
Qaddafi’s weird performance before the General Assembly on opening day was a bit of a blow to the American plan to deal with the U.N. seriously, although the 96-minute speech may have suffered from the fact that his translator collapsed somewhere into the second hour. But things improved a lot when Obama got the Security Council to pass a resolution on nuclear proliferation, just before he and the leaders of Britain and France dramatically blew the whistle on Iran for hiding a second uranium-enrichment plant from U.N. nuclear inspectors.
The resolution encourages member nations to consider whether the folks who buy their nuclear technology are allowing the U.N. to keep track of what they’re doing with it. It also encourages nations to get their nuclear materials secure within four years.
There has never been so much encouragement this side of elementary school tee-ball leagues. Basically, the Security Council resolved that it would be really keen if members refrained from selling nuclear bomb kits to just anybody who happened to show up at the door.
There are two ways to look at this. One is that it just goes to show that the U.N. can’t really step up to the plate. “Fluff and stuff,” grumbled John Bolton, the U.N.-hating U.N. ambassador during the Bush administration.
The other is to feel that while the United Nations can be feckless and frustrating, it’s not any more so than, say, the United States Senate, which has been busy this week trying to make sure that health reform does not involve anything that might really work.
Legislative bodies are maddening, even when they’re made up of people from the same country. In fact, if the United Nations was the New York State Senate, instead of passing a semi-toothless resolution, the Security Council members would have started locking the doors on each other and arguing about whether France could be counted as part of a quorum if its delegate just walked across the room to get a cup of coffee.
If it was the Connecticut House of Representatives, China and Russia would have been too busy playing solitaire on their computers to pay attention. The State Legislature in Hartford was recently embarrassed by pictures of two lawmakers playing card games on their state-issued laptops during a late-night budget debate. However, if the U.N. had handed out similar equipment to the General Assembly, there might have been a lot more people hanging around through that Qaddafi speech.
Anyhow, I’m thinking — good work, Security Council. At least it wasn’t a study commission.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE THAW AT THE ROOF OF THE WORLD
BY ORVILLE SCHELL
SPEAKING this week at the United Nations, President Hu Jintao of China declared that his country “fully appreciates the importance and urgency of addressing climate change." As well it should. China is beginning to realize that it has a lot to lose from the carbon dioxide that the world so blithely emits into the earth’s atmosphere.
Mr. Hu’s words made me think back to a day not long ago when I found myself on a platform 14,000 feet above sea level, surrounded by throngs of Chinese tourists in colorful parkas. A chairlift had brought us that much closer to the jagged peaks of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the glacier that cascades down its flank. People cheerfully snapped photos of the icy mass, seemingly unaware of the disaster unfolding before them.
Because of climate change, the roughly 1.7-mile-long Baishui Glacier No. 1 could well be one of the first major glacial systems on the Tibetan Plateau to disappear after thousands of years. The glacier, situated above the honky-tonk town of Lijiang in southwest China, has receded 830 feet over the last two decades and appears to be wasting away at an ever more rapid rate each year. It is the southernmost glacier on the plateau, so its decline is an early warning of what may ultimately befall the approximately 18,000 higher-altitude glaciers in the Greater Himalayas as the planet continues to warm.
Because the Tibetan Plateau and its environs shelter the largest perennial ice mass on the planet after the Arctic and Antarctica, it has come to be known as “the Third Pole.” Its snowfields and glaciers feed almost every major river system of Asia during hot, dry seasons when the monsoons cease, and their melt waters supply rivers from the Indus in the west to the Yellow in the east, with the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irrawaddy, Salween, Mekong and Yangtze Rivers in between. (The glaciers on Jade Dragon Snow Mountain contribute much of their water to the upper reaches of the Yangtze River.)
From a distance, Baishui Glacier No. 1 looks as immovable as the defiant mountain above. In reality, it is a fluid field of ice and rock in constant downward motion. Scientists speak about the reactive behavior of these glaciers as if they were almost human. The Tibetan and Naxi peoples who inhabit this region treat them, and their mountain hosts, as embodiments of deities and spirits.
Now, a growing number of glaciers are losing their equilibrium, or their capacity to build up enough snow and ice at high altitudes to compensate for the rate of melting at lower ones. After surveying the Himalayas for many years, the respected Chinese glaciologist Yao Tandong recently warned that, given present trends, almost two-thirds of the plateau’s glaciers could well disappear within the next 40 years. With the planet having just experienced the 10 hottest years on record, the average annual melting rate of mountain glaciers seems to have doubled after the turn of the millennium from the two decades before.
Moreover, temperatures on the Tibetan plateau are rising much faster than the global average. A good portion of the area’s existing ice fields has been lost over the past four decades, and the rate of retreat has increased in recent years.
The slow-motion demise of Baishui Glacier No. 1 will have far-reaching consequences. In the short run, there will, of course, be an abundance of water. But in the long run there will be deficits. These will have national security consequences as countries compete for ever scarcer water resources supplied by transnational rivers with as many as two billion users.
It was not so long ago that the Tibetan Plateau was seen as a region of little consequence, save to those few Western adventurers drawn to remote regions that the early 20th-century Swedish explorer Sven Hedin once called the “white spaces” on the map. Today, these white spaces play a crucial role in Asia’s ecology.
Sadly, it may be too late to change the destiny of Baishui Glacier No. 1. But President Hu, by promising this week to try to cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product and to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption, signaled his willingness to act. China can’t solve this problem alone, and President Obama’s scheduled visit to Beijing in November presents an opportunity to forge a bilateral alliance on climate change. After all, the ice fields in the majestic arc of peaks that runs from China to Afghanistan are melting in large part because of greenhouse gases emitted thousands of miles away.
Orville Schell, the director of the Asia Society’s Center on United States-China Relations, is the author of “Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangri-La From the Himalayas to Hollywood.”
I. THE NEWS
FUNDS FROM FRIENDS
At the first summit meeting of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan, that rather unusual body set up to help the country find stability and sustain the war against terrorism, there has been agreement on setting up a multi-donor trust fund to offer regular help to Pakistan. Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown got things rolling along by extending Pounds 50 million in aid for economic development in the tribal areas. Brown, who co-chaired the meeting with President Barack Obama, was, like others who attended the gathering, generous in his praise for Pakistan's efforts. President Asif Zardari, in his address to the summit, spelled out Pakistan's need for investment and stressed that as a frontline state it had acted boldly to combat terrorism and save the world. President Zardari will indeed be returning home with major promises of assistance, with the Kerry-Lugar Bill also passed by the US Senate. Islamabad's depleted coffers may finally start to fill. This is good news for harried finance managers and also for citizens.
But there is a need for caution. The Friends forum is also intended to act as a watchdog body. Islamabad's reputation in the past, as far as fund use and abuse goes, is not a good. This time round it will need to understand that confidence must be built in the integrity of its government and its ability to utilize funds. The doubts being expressed over this, both at home and abroad, need to be dispelled. Equally important is the need for stability. Without this there can be no economic growth. Pakistan cannot hope indefinitely for handouts. It must build on its own very considerable potential. To do so it must realize that the battle against militancy needs to continue. It cannot be abandoned. While world leaders have been enthusiastic in their encouragement to recent efforts, many realize there is still a great deal to be done. People at home know this far better than those outside.
I. THE NEWS
The release by Transparency International of its global annual report on September 23 is being presented as an embarrassment for President Zardari and his delegation currently rattling the begging bowl at the UN and elsewhere. The PPP information secretary, Fauzia Wahab, has cast aspersions on the integrity of Transparency International, an organisation which her party seems to have been unruffled by when TI was issuing reports such as that in 2007 which were deeply critical of the Musharraf regime. The section in the report dealing with Pakistan is not new – it was trailed in a TI press release on June 17, 2009 – and the new report differs in no way from the material released then. It should also be noted that it is around this time every year that TI releases its annual report – the fact that the release coincides with a high-profile presidential visit is an awkward coincidence, but it does not smack of conspiracy as has inevitably been suggested.
There are few surprises, just more bad news. We still have no anti-corruption legislation after more than a year-and-a-half of this government. There is no parliamentary ethics committee despite a verbal commitment to establishing one. This suits the parliamentarians well, because no sitting member of parliament or a provincial assembly can be arrested without taking into consideration the recommendations of the special parliamentary committees on ethics. No committee means zero accountability. Corruption is calculated to have increased by 400 per cent since the 2002 report. The police, power and health sectors remain at the top of the corruption league tables but the judiciary, customs and taxation have all improved their position. Interestingly, the respondents (and there were 5,200 of them spread over four provinces) rated civilian government as more corrupt than military. A majority of the population wants to see an agency similar to the National Accountability Bureau which comes under the control of the Supreme Judicial Council, independent of political interference or control. There is a strong perception that the media have played a strong role in combating corruption with 77 per cent supportive of it. All in all, a grim picture with spots of light here and there. Yes, the timing is awkward but this material is not news for our potential donors. Donor money will – eventually – get here. The challenge then as always will be keeping it out of the pockets of corrupt officials, politicians and vested interests. We may not like the strings that aid comes wrapped about with – but you can hardly blame the donors for putting it there.
I. THE NEWS
Private wars are breaking out across our country. Seven members of an anti-Taliban 'lashkar' in Bannu, close to Waziristan, were killed in an ambush by the Taliban. In retaliation, nine Taliban militants were killed by 'lashkar' members. The Taliban action appeared to be designed to prevent a local tribal chief, who also died during the attack, from raising a militia against the extremists. More and more such incidents have been reported from across the northern areas. A fierce gun battle in Swat just weeks ago, pitching 'lashkar' members against the Taliban, led to several deaths.
The 'lashkar' strategy was devised with good intention. It acted also to demonstrate that the Taliban did not have the uniform support of local people. But perhaps the time has come to reconsider its merits. Using irregular armies against the Taliban poses its own dangers. These private militias are heavily armed but in most cases lack discipline or training. Retaliatory killings and acts of vengeance could create yet more violence. What we need most at this time is the ushering in of an era of peace. The government must also ask itself if it is fair to pitch ordinary citizens against the Taliban. This is a job that should be taken on by the army. Our military, it is true, has limited ability in a guerrilla war situation. This was one of the reasons why the 'lashkars' were raised. But perhaps this shortcoming needs to be overcome given that our army is likely, in the future, to be battling outfits such as the Taliban rather than engaging in conventional war against a regular rival force. Putting the lives of civilians at risk is unjust. There is no knowing either how the 'lashkars' may act in the future or in which direction they may turn their weapons. The help sought from anti-Taliban tribesmen in the northern areas has served its purpose. The militants are on the run. The wisdom of creating private militias now needs to be rethought.
I. THE NEWS
RETURN TO THE BACK CHANNEL
BY ASIF EZDI
As a presidential candidate, Obama publicly acknowledged the importance of resolving Kashmir. His interest of course was not in getting the Kashmiris their rights, but in winning Pakistan's full cooperation in supporting the US war in Afghanistan. He even did some loud thinking about appointing Bill Clinton as a special envoy on Kashmir. India immediately shot down the idea and Obama quickly and quietly dropped it. Also, Obama kept Pakistan-India relations out of Holbrooke's mandate in deference to Indian wishes.
While rejecting any US role in Kashmir, Delhi also told Washington that the back-channel dialogue initiated by Musharraf and Manmohan Singh in 2005 offered the best way of moving towards a settlement of the Kashmir issue. Also, if Washington wanted to be helpful, it should persuade the new government in Islamabad to resume these negotiations from the point reached in March 2007, when Musharraf's downward spiral began, stalling finalisation of the deal.
Since Musharraf's fall, the resumption of the back-channel dialogue has been the central strand of the Manmohan Singh government's Kashmir policy. A proposal to pick up the thread was made by Delhi to the new government in Islamabad shortly after Musharraf's exit. Zardari hinted at his press conference on September 9, 2008, the day he took oath as president, that Pakistan was not just willing but keen to reactivate the back channel. "[Because of] back-channel diplomacy," he said, "there will be good news before the Congress-led government in India goes for the election [in 2009]."
The Bombay attacks in November upset this time-table but did not scuttle the plan. Even after Delhi suspended the composite dialogue, it continued working behind the scenes to get the back-channel going again, leaving the diplomatic footwork mainly to Washington. Delhi's skilful diplomacy, in which Washington has fronted for India, has now borne fruit. The government's decision to appoint former Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan as Pakistan's new representative in the back-channel dialogue means that the process is in place, though it cannot start in earnest before the resumption of the composite dialogue. Publicly though, both sides are not saying much.
The important question now is whether, as India would like, the resumed back-channel talks would take place on the basis of the five-point agreement worked out under Musharraf. Its central point was that there would be no redrawing of the Line of Control (LoC), apart from some minor adjustments. The remaining clauses provided for devolution of power to the regional level; a gradual reduction of Indian troops as the militants scaled down their activities; cooperative management of resources such as water and glaciers; and soft borders.
In other words, India would get what it has always sought: the renunciation by the people of Kashmir of their struggle for azadi and recognition by Pakistan of India's occupation of Kashmir as permanent. All that the Kashmiris would get are some powers locally, more open trade and travel across the LoC and a promise of withdrawal of some troops conditional upon the good behaviour of the population.
This is the settlement that Musharraf wanted to impose on the Kashmiris and which Kasuri naïvely continues to tout enthusiastically. It is essentially nothing but a rehash of the autonomy agreements reached by Sheikh Abdullah with the difference that Pakistan will also now become a party. If this settlement is finalised, it will not extinguish the Kashmiri people's desire for freedom and will meet the same fate as the earlier deals.
What is at stake is not how much power is devolved to the State Assembly or how much trade takes place between the two parts of the state. That is not why more than 100,000 Kashmiris have laid down their lives. They did it to win freedom for Kashmir and to maintain a separate identity, not only of the present generation of Kashmiris but also of the countless generations yet to come. The people of Pakistan are pledged to support the Kashmiris in this struggle. The government must, therefore, repudiate the deal made by Musharraf. It must decide a fresh approach after holding free and frank consultations with the Kashmiri leadership and a national debate within Pakistan.
While the back-channel dialogue with Pakistan forms the central strand of Delhi's Kashmir policy, it also realises that Kashmiri representatives, including at least some from the APHC, will have to be associated with any settlement before it can be finalised. However, Delhi is wary of holding any talks held in a tripartite format involving the participation of Kashmiris without first ensuring the support of the Kashmiri representatives. To win this backing, Delhi has been working hard on a prior deal with the APHC. It is holding out to them the prospect of a share of power in the state government if they settle for enhanced autonomy within the Indian constitution.
With this in view, Delhi has reportedly held a series of secret meetings with the APHC leadership this summer. Delhi is pinning its hopes on the moderate faction led by Mirwaiz Farooq. However, he is holding back because of indication that support for his faction is slipping. This was demonstrated during the mass protest triggered last year at the decision of the Srinagar authorities to transfer land to the Amarnath shrine.
In an article in the daily Hindu (Sept 5), Praveen Swami, a well-informed journalist on Kashmir politics, also wrote about the "stark fact" that the "realists" (that is, those who "want a negotiated end to a battle they cannot win") have never been in a weaker political position. "Even in his old-city Srinagar heartland, Mirwaiz Farooq's repeated calls to pro-Islamist youth to end their now-routine clashes with the police have been ignored. Sajjad Lone's historic decision to fight the Baramulla Lok Sabha elections ended in an ignominious defeat," Swami wrote.
Given this strong pro-azadi sentiment, it is no wonder that the APHC would like to get a nod from Islamabad before sitting down at the negotiating table with Delhi. There are reports in the Indian media that Pakistan is being asked, presumably through Washington, to endorse the talks. Delhi's decision to allow Geelani to visit his son in Pakistan is also meant to conciliate Kashmiri opinion and win it over to a dialogue with Delhi on its terms.
Delhi also realises that for the back-channel dialogue on Kashmir to take place, the composite dialogue has to be resumed. Therefore, behind a smokescreen of tough talk to pacify its domestic opinion, Delhi has been lowering the bar it had set for the resumption of these talks. For some time, the only condition it has been demanding is that Hafiz Saeed should be prosecuted. On 18 September, in a further climb-down, Indian Home Minister Chidambaram said that even "half a step is a good step."
But the Indian Government cannot afford another storm of the kind that broke out after Sharm el-Sheikh. It is therefore doubtful that the arrest of Hafiz Saeed on charges which are not directly related to Bombay would be enough. Still, a breakthrough at the upcoming meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the two countries in New York cannot be ruled out. A failure will not be a tragedy though. In any case, there will be an opportunity for a summit-level meeting two months later at the Trinidad CHOGM.
The veteran Indian columnist Prem Shankar Jha wrote in December 2007 that the back-channel agreement "conceded 95 per cent of India's conditions." He was being conservative. Actually it is 99 per cent. In a fair compromise, each side gives ground in more or less equal amount but when one party concedes virtually everything, as Musharraf was prepared to do, there can be no other name for it than a sell-out.
Pakistan now has a chance to walk away from this shameful betrayal of the Kashmiri aspirations. This opportunity must be seized. The Government has already said "Yes" to back channel diplomacy. It must say no to the deal that Musharraf was about to make.
The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
OCCUPYING HEARTS AND MINDS
BY ASAD DURRANI
The US has won our hearts and minds (H & M) with little effort. At the cost of a drone mission, many of us, even if not exactly enamoured by the US, were bowled over. This was only the collateral benefit since Baitullah Mehsud had to be eliminated. That is the fate of all rogues when they have served their purpose.
The problem is that America is not in the H&M business. Big powers usually aren't. In case of the US, it is also a cultural constraint. Only American soldiers are indoctrinated to "kill the enemies of the United States." All others are trained to defend their country.
No one believes that the US' professed, exalted, aims are for real. A country used to grabbing more than its pound of flesh does not go around building nations. We have other reasons too to be sceptical. "To ensure that never again would the US be attacked from the Afghan-Pak soil" is too open-ended an objective. How would one know if it has been achieved? "We'll know when we see it," was Holbrooke's response.
Some measures have indeed been spelled out to accomplish this mission. The creation of an Afghan security force is one of them. In a country where security can only be ensured if the regions and tribes are on board, this force, whenever employed against the Taliban, will either be decimated or will join them.
Yet another undertaking, eradicating drugs from Afghanistan, has in the meantime been abandoned. Annually $350 million were being spent for this purpose. Lately, it was more than double that amount. The increase every year has ranged from 50 to 100 per cent. Other than the Taliban and the three million Afghans, the government in Kabul too cannot do without it. It is half the country's GDP.
There is, however, one goal that is not only becoming more desirable, but is also achievable: getting out of this 'graveyard of empires'. Obama has already mentioned the need to have an exit strategy. The surge could well be a part of it. It cannot defeat the insurgency, but is in sync with all the right manoeuvres -- a credible election, some local deals (all politics in Afghanistan is local and all Taliban 'reconcilable'), and help from the neighbouring countries -- it can create the right environment. That may sound like the Iraqi model, but then so do all exit strategies.
I do not know how long it will take the Americans to work out the mechanics or the Taliban to convince them that all other options had been exhausted, but one has an eerie feeling that the US was not leaving the region anytime soon. It is not only because of the upcoming Alamo in Islamabad, or since Al Qaeda, the other rogue but nebulous superpower, was now believed to have found its new haven in Pakistan.
Afghans do not take too kindly to the presence of foreign forces in their country, but Pakistanis have traditionally been more hospitable. The elites, always game for a deal, can be relied upon to sell their soul even to the devil. The masses may be a pain in the neck, but in due course can be conditioned. After outrage over the drones "violating their territory, sovereignty and any remaining national dignity", they did not create much fuss. In the meantime, the predators have become benevolent: they only take out the militants and spare the innocent. The time may, therefore, be ripe to desensitise Pakistanis a bit more.
Over issues like the foreign bases in Baluchistan, training teams (there is one not too far from Kahuta) and the fortress in Islamabad, the anguish lasts only till the next crisis. With an avalanche of them hitting the common man in quick succession, it is thinkable that instead of mobilising against this "creeping occupation", the people would start looking for relief from the US' largesse so blatantly being dangled in front of them. Little do we know that in the American system, the trickle-down is merely 10 per cent.
The stage seems set for the ultimate melee for Pakistan's remains. While the parasites within are bleeding it dry, it is inevitable that the vultures without would be raring to feast on its carcass. Some of us might have no stomach for this scrap, but what if there were still people around with guts to fight back.
The writer is a retired lieutenant-general. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
OBAMA'S DILEMMA IN AFGHANISTAN
BY ZAFAR HILALY
Barack Obama has reached his "Lyndon moment" sooner than many expected. This moment occurs when a US president has to decide whether to commit his country and his own political future to a war that America must win but which she manifestly cannot, or to safeguard his political career, and American lives, by withdrawing behind the walls of fortress America.
Lyndon Johnson opted to stay and fight in Vietnam. He became unelectable and hence forfeited a second term. Nixon, who inherited the Vietnam war, like Obama did Afghanistan, at first tried to win the war but then realised that he could not, sued for peace nay surrendered, and left. He was rewarded by a grateful electorate with a second term in office.
While Obama was trying to make up his mind whether to be a Johnson or a Nixon, General McCrystal's report on America's predicament in Afghanistan landed on his desk, making his decision all the more urgent and vastly more difficult.
McCrystal reports that: the situation in Afghanistan is getting from bad to worse; the Taliban insurgency is "resilient and growing;" Afghans are experiencing a "crisis of confidence" as they trust neither the Karzai regime nor the NATO force; the next twelve months will be "decisive" and "failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible." His report concludes that the US effort faces failure in Afghanistan without an urgent infusion of troops although if reinforcements are made available, "success is achievable."
By way of a strategy McCrystal proposes that the US-led NATO force provide a "bridge capability" until the Afghan army can be equipped, trained and expanded to "sufficiently control its territory to support regional stability and prevent its use for international terrorism." Of course, this will never happen as Afghanistan is a country riven by ethnic differences which have been further exacerbated by America singling out the Tajik minority for special favours and relegating the majority Pakhtuns to oblivion when it comes to power-sharing. For example, in the Afghan army, Tajiks who constitute 25 per cent of the Afghan population have 56 per cent of the officer slots. Hence there is little "national" about the Afghan National Army.
Like any military commander McCrystal has not ruled out victory (strange because his own report suggests that victory is a pipedream) but then nor did General Paulus in his penultimate message to Hitler while his troops were being ravaged at Stalingrad in 1943. Paulus also asked for an unspecified number of forces pointing out, like McCrystal, that if they were not made available quickly he too feared for the worst. In Paulus's case that is precisely what happened. It may also happen to McCrystal notwithstanding a desultory few thousand more troops that may eventually arrive.
General McCystal's report has divided America and split Congress. Republicans Senators and Congressmen are asking for the despatch of the additional forces requested by McCrystal and so too the Joint Chiefs. On the other hand, Democrat Senators including Speaker Pelosi and Senator John Kerry oppose the "jump" in the number of troops and are advising a more deliberative approach. One observer, speaking to The Washington Post, summed up the situation deftly: "Obama can send more troops and it will be a disaster and he will destroy the Democratic Party. Or he can send no more troops and it will be a disaster and the Republicans will say that he lost the war."
Ironically, when it comes to assessing the prevailing situation in Afghanistan General McCrystal and Mullah Omar are in agreement that defeat stares America in the face. It is the spectre of defeat and the ensuing disgrace that may prompt Obama to linger on for a while longer and accede to McCrystal's requests for additional troops, in the hope of creating a more propitious set of circumstances to manage an "honourable" exit. One suspects that work is already under way on the wording of an acceptable agreement with the Taliban. Needless to say it would be a hollow agreement and as enduring as a sand castle on the beach at high tide. Or, like the agreement that Le Duc Tho, the savvy North Vietnamese negotiator reached with America's Metternich, Henry Kissinger, namely, one that amounted to an ill disguised capitulation.
Lest matters reach such a pass Vice President Biden, according to The New York Times, has happened upon an alternative strategy. This strategy calls for, "scaling back the over all American presence. Rather than trying to protect the Afghan population from the Taliban, American forces would concentrate on strikes against the al Qaeda cells, primarily in Pakistan, using special forces, Predator missile attacks and other surgical tactics. The US would accelerate training of Afghan Forces and provide support as they took the lead against the Taliban. But the emphasis would shift to Pakistan where the main threat to America's national security interests lies. It amounts to a shift from a counterinsurgency strategy to a focus on counter terrorism. It would turn the administration's current theory on its head."
Actually, such a strategy which presupposes the presence of US forces in Pakistan, possibly operating out of bases in Pakistan with Predators raining missiles from above would direct the 180 million inhabitants of Pakistan nowhere else but headlong into the arms of the Taliban. It is the measure of the bankruptcy of ideas that America suffers nowadays that such a "strategy" is being touted about as a panacea. That its provenance is a man who is a heart beat away from the American presidency beggars the imagination. Because, as Hilary Clinton remarked, when asked to comment on Biden's harebrained scheme, why should al Qaeda want to remain in Pakistan if the Taliban are back in control of Afghanistan which, she implied, is what would happen if this strategy is followed. Why indeed should al Qaeda prefer to reside in Pakistan than a country controlled by their Taliban enablers?
The message that the American predicament in Afghanistan conveys is a clear one, America should not wage wars that she has neither the guts nor the gumption to pursue to victory; nor the ability to plan or strategise. Nor should America seek friends merely to desert them at the first whiff of trouble; treat self respecting allies as menials or profess to be a friend while acting as a master. Americas ignominious withdrawal from Vietnam; the bunk that she did from the region after the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan in 1990; the pasting that she received in Iraq from an enemy that had little by way of sophisticated weaponry and now the impending defeat in Afghanistan at the hands of antediluvian warrior monks is a sad epitaph for a one time super power.
While campaigning earlier this year Obama said that Afghanistan was the "good" war. Another prominent American politician, Benjamin Franklin, once said that "there never was a good war (or a bad peace.)" Who should we believe?
The writer is a former ambassador. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR OUR PROBLEMS?
BY DR MASOODA BANO
The death of twenty women in a stampede in Karachi last week when a trader started to distribute 10kg sacks of flour and other food items free of charge is an extremely sad incident and a critical reminder of the dire state of affairs and deteriorating living conditions in Pakistan. The popular myth in Pakistan has been that everyone gets at least his basic food needs met. However, such claims are becoming openly contestable now. Families, not necessarily the absolute poor but equally those in the lower middle-income bracket, are finding it extremely difficult to cover the cost the basic food items. The stampede in Karachi over bags of flour and other food items is not then very surprisingly. It is however shocking that despite such visible levels of deprivation among the public, there is no sign of reform at the top political or bureaucratic levels.
The question that Pakistanis have to ask is that is the failure of the state to ensure basic needs of all purely a result of lack of resources? Are the government schools failing because the taxes do not generate enough funds to pay for adequate number of teachers to be supplied to government schools or ensure their training? Are families belonging to the low middle-income bracket failing to cover the basic food costs purely because of low production? Are the frequent spells of wheat and sugar shortage in Pakistan purely a result of poor crops or population expansion making the local production inadequate to meet the local demand? In other words, are the problems purely to do with economics?
Or, are the real issues very different. Is it that the government schools are failing mainly because the political elite of the country continues to use the teaching positions and transfers of teachers as a means of gaining political mileage? Similarly, is it that the frequent lack of shortage and increased prices of basic food items is a result of calculated hoarding by large producers who also enjoy political power and are able to twist the system to earn extra profits from their production? In other words, are the questions more to do with the political economy of Pakistan rather than having purely economic solutions? The answers to these are obvious enough to all ordinary Pakistanis.
Pakistan is a country rich in natural resources, has fertile land, and hardworking people. The problem remains however with the failure of the Pakistani public to exert enough pressure on the civilian and military leadership to move towards more accountable system of governance. The result is that rent seeking, exploitation of power bestowed due to holding of public office, and outright corruption has become more and more of an accepted norm. Morality and a sense of public responsibility have no space left in Pakistani governance structure. This is the real cause of the death of the twenty women who died in the Karachi stampede. The systematic corruption that has become part of the state governance structure is now resulting in level of deprivation that are only going to find more and more violent and saddening expressions on the ground level.
When the political, civilian and military elites have become so comfortable with such exploitative structure, it is no wonder that the increased flow of aid actually makes no difference to the ordinary public. The reason is simple: the money meant for the people simply never is spent on them. Rather aid in countries, where the leadership structures are so unaccountable, actually has a reverse impact as it ends up strengthening these very traditional elites who spend the aid funds, as they like. Therefore, when President Zardari in his recent visit to United States has been trying to pressurise the US government to release funds pledged at the Tokyo conference, the issue is that what would these funds achieve unless a system is in place to ensure that the funds will genuinely be used for the allocated purposes and that they will be spent efficiently.
Sadly, there is no movement in that direction. If the government was to only start using the tax money in a more accountable member that alone can address many of the basic needs of the public. The question however is that how does the Pakistani society makes the governance structures more accountable. It is here that the answers are not very clear.
The writer is a research fellow at the Oxford University. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
OUR CORRUPT WAYS
BY BABAR SATTAR
Transparency International has issued its annual report listing Pakistan amongst the most corrupt nations in the world and has highlighted General Musharraf's National Reconciliation Ordinance as the point when we voluntarily regressed into a state of madness that justifies looters.
While the NRO continues to outrage citizens for perverting the very concept of rule of law, the Holders of Public Offices (Accountability) Bill, 2009 – meant to replace the NAB Ordinance – is coming to be seen by concerned citizens as a permanent NRO. But our problem of corruption is not limited to the NRO or the new (un)-Accountability Bill, but is much more deep-seated. While we continue to focus on financial corruption that the elites indulge in, we tend to ignore various forms of social and intellectual corruption being practiced in our midst with vigour, which allow financial corruption to exist in the first place. The bane of our existence is a deeply entrenched logic of necessity and the unscrupulous ethic of success it produces wherein the end justifies all means however rotten.
"When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion – when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing – when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favours – when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don't protect you against them, but protect them against you – when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice – you may know that your society is doomed," wrote Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged back in 1957. She could well have been writing about Pakistan today. Have we not started promulgating and justifying laws that indeed redeem and protect the looters? Have we not turned into an economy where becoming middlemen is so much more profitable than indulging in the business of actually producing goods or services? Are we not becoming a nation where mastery of shrewd street-smart ways of dodging work is preferred over investing time and effort to learn the ethic of diligence? Are we not degenerating into a society where honesty and integrity is indeed a burden that retards upward social mobility of the individual infested by these virtues?
Notwithstanding reports of international accountability groups, can we remember a time over the last few decades when ordinary people felt a visible decline in the level of corruption in Pakistan? Have the land transfer departments, the police, the magistracy, the municipal authorities, cantonment boards, public utility providers or the taxation authorities become any less corrupt under any regime? Are we not aware that a patwari, a police inspector or a magistrate cannot sustain himself and his family in the paltry compensation being provided by the state and will indulge in bribery and extortion because he has the power to do so? And while we do nothing about the deformed salary structure that eliminates the possibility of an honest individual surviving in public service let alone attracting fresh talent, we continue to justify graft as an occupational hazard for public officials while also continuing to participate in a system of patronage where huge bribes are paid and favours called to get friends and family members inducted into jobs where the salary is pittance but which bring along the possibility of extracting bribes.
Do we expect an individual, who has paid half a million and used all his political pull to get the job of a sub-inspector that pays around Rs10,000 a month, to derive pleasure from serving the people and the penal justice system? Is a lawyer of dodgy reputation feverishly lobbying to be elevated to the bench in order to get access to means of state patronage, influence and power likely to uphold the rule of law and contribute to the evolution of sensible jurisprudence?
If we continue to sustain a political culture where men of wealth and influence seek to acquire political power only to make more money to fight the next round and dispense state authority and patronage to satisfy the fair and foul demands of their cronies and constituents, what will become of the men of ability and integrity who cannot play this dirty game? This is not to say that in order to address the problem of corruption Pakistan must first be transformed into a fairyland where no one conceives an impure thought and where nobility and virtue prosper unabatedly. But that we need to revamp the rules of the game in this polity to create a social, political and professional incentive structure where ability, integrity and courage to speak candidly is rewarded and not penalized. We will need to understand clearly that every corrupt individual is no lone miscreant but part of a patronage system supported by a cultural and ethical code that places a higher premium on loyalty, subservience and personal allegiance than ability, professionalism and dedication to principle.
The existence of this system of patronage has been made possible not necessarily because of the pawns who physically take bribes, but by the intellectually dishonest who justify and support it with full knowledge that it is wrong and by our collective acquiescence as a society to a morbid value set that is simply unethical. This is not a moral judgment meant to denounce materialism or the desire to promote self-interest. For there is nothing wrong with being driven by material comforts, or considerations of wealth or fame so long as the means are fair. But we need to engender a culture that celebrates fame and fortune when it is the product of personal work and ability. And such value structure then needs to be braced by laws that prevent looters from stealing a fortune or gate-crashing their way into fame and power. The big picture is not meant to justify that there is no work to be done immediately. To stem the rot we need to undo instruments such as the NRO that make stark the gulf between law and the justice it is meant to produce, and prevent the (un)-Accountability Bill from becoming law which is based on the depraved yet simple idea that when all other elites have been molesting this country and getting away with it, why shouldn't politicians be able to make hay while the sun shines.
No one piece of legislation will rid us of the looters and their corrupt ways and not the mightiest court will be able to prevent the abuse of public office until such time that we as a nation refuse to abide by a value set that remains tolerant toward social and intellectual corruption practiced in the name of need, loyalty and expediency. So long as we are willing to justify access to power acquired through dishonesty in any form – intellectual, social or financial – or access to patronage dispensed by the holders of such power in the name of necessity and ground reality, we will continue to feed the roots that bear the evil fruits of corruption. The logic of necessity that an ordinary citizen uses to justify an ill-gotten favour from a local policeman or politician is the same logic used in the highest echelons of power to rationalize manifest abuse of authority. Unless we refute this logic of necessity that defines our ethic of success collectively as a nation, corruption will continue to thrive and it will become harder to locate men and women of ability and integrity in public life.
I. THE NEWS
AID NOT THE ANSWER
BY TASNEEM NOORANI
Ever since one can remember, there was a comfortable master-servant relationship in the urban areas and a chaudhry-tenant relationship in the rural areaS. It was a relationship of give and take and some understanding.
The government's knee-jerk response is schemes involving free distribution of cash like the BISP, launching of Waseela-e-Haq schemes, giving away tractors/rickshaw and according to one report duty-free import of vehicles for generating income (we learnt nothing from the yellow cab scandal) or giving out almost free atta, as in Punjab and Karachi.
So while the government is buying time by distributing cash and food, there is little talk of making schemes for reviving industry in order to restore lost jobs and create more. Our economic debate now centres on shortages; power, sugar, gas etc. There is no urgency in government utterances to attend to basic issues of industry or agriculture. At the macro level we seem to be consciously pushing ourselves into complacency with the daily announcements of large sums of dollars being committed by this country.
But what good is this aid for the poor of the country, when record and history has shown that the benefits of aid hardly leave the confines of Islamabad and Washington. Most of it is taken back by international consultants and contractors. What remains is spent on projects which are the priority of the donor and not of Pakistan. Resultantly not a single job in the private sector is due to foreign aid, not a single significant infrastructure project due to foreign assistance. The only exception I can think of is the World Bank aid in the sixty's for the infrastructure created under the Indus Water Treaty. We keep breaking and remolding our begging bowl with pride.
The hunger and pain in the eyes of the poor has intensified. At the same time the affluence and the flab on the rich has increased. The villas of the rich and famous in Murree and Nathiagali now keep waiting for years, because the owners now find the climate of Europe and US more bracing. While earlier there was one Gulberg or KDA, now there are 8 to 10 additional phases of Defence Housing in each city. The shantytowns, where people live in abject poverty or rural population living below the poverty line, are increasing at a faster pace. Every other house has a tail of having been robbed. Every other urban dweller has a tale of being held up at pistol point and deprived of his mobile, car, etc. The fastest growing industry is of security providers.
Despite the efforts of the donor, accentuated by his own convoluted bureaucracy, the money from the Kerry Lugar Bill has not even left the shores of US, even though we have been hearing about it for almost a year.
The answers, I admit, are difficult, but the reality of seeing Pakistan literally being crushed under poverty is too horrendous to be swept under the carpet by cash distribution schemes. The leadership has to be shaken out of its mistaken belief that begging for more aid will solve Pakistan's problem. There is no option but for the leaders to patiently attend to the less glamorous tasks of slowly improving governance, dispensation of justice, revival of existing industry, making a good agriculture policy, administering the educations system well rather than make yet another education policy, etc.
Escaping from our internal weaknesses and taking comfort and pride in more aid is going to land us in a deeper ditch.
The writer is a former federal secretary. Email: tasneem. firstname.lastname@example.org
NUCLEAR WEAPONS FREE WORLD
THE adoption of a unanimous resolution by the UN Security Council expressing determination to work for a nuclear free world has widely been acclaimed by the international community terming it as a historic and landmark event in the history of the world body. The resolution, which endorses a broad framework of actions to reduce global nuclear dangers, urges all States to comply with the obligations of the NPT, refrain from conducting nuclear test explosions, ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and calls for talks on drafting a treaty to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.
The concern of the humanity about dangers of the nuclear weapons is quite understandable as several countries of the world possess enough destructive material to ruin the globe many times. People have not forgotten what happened to unfortunate souls in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the threat has multiplied due to latest technology and innovation as well as complicated, exploitative and self-centred nature of diplomacy being pursued by some regional and global powers to the disadvantage of the weaker nations. Under these circumstances, any move towards reduction of the nuclear danger would be welcomed by peace loving people of the world. However, going by what happened to similar pledges made in the past and selective and discriminative approach to nuclear proliferation issue, one can hardly expect any breakthrough in the near future and that too on the basis of the new resolution that is also another example of nuclear apartheid. This is because instead of addressing the issue in a holistic manner, the main thrust of the resolution is on preventing more countries from acquiring nuclear capability. It calls upon all countries to join and adhere to NPT, sign and ratify CTBT and work towards FMCT but fails to provide goal posts to achieve the cherished objective of total elimination of nuclear weapons. It only speaks of reducing the nuclear danger and does not bind the nuclear haves to part with their stockpiles. This is despite the fact that all formal and known nuclear powers, with the exception of Pakistan, enjoy superiority in conventional weapons and will have to lose nothing if they give up their nuclear arsenal. Coming to the region, Pakistan’s nuclear programme is entirely India-specific and is aimed at safeguarding its national security in the face of ever-bullying tactics by the eastern neighbour. It was India that introduced nuclear weapons in the region whereas Pakistan has repeatedly floated a number of proposals to make South Asia a nuclear weapons free zone but all of them were quickly rejected by India. Now again, India is the only country in the world that has lost not a moment in rejecting the newly adopted unanimous resolution of the UN Security Council. Therefore, Pakistan should sign the CTBT only if India does so. Similarly, Pakistan must not succumb to the unjust and immoral pressure on the issue of FMCT and stick to its principled position for the sake of national interests.
MUSHARRAF’S MISPLACED FEARS
FORMER President Pervez Musharraf, who is having leisure time these days in the West, frequently talks to media and engages into interaction with political and other personalities to highlight his point of view on different issues. In an interview with ABC News, the former President and COAS touched on several domestic, regional and international issues agitating the minds of different circles.
On the basis of his rich experience and hindsight, Mr Musharraf spoke with authority on various aspects of the ongoing war on terrorism and extremism and how to proceed further. We welcome his warning to the United States against harbouring the idea of sending troops to Pakistan saying that it would be a big mistake for the US if it thinks that Pakistan would remain silent over breach of its sovereignty. But it is astonishing rather startling that a person of the calibre of the former President should have advised the United States not to think of leaving Afghanistan as it would spell havoc for Afghanistan, Pakistan and even for India. This is because the fact remains that American invasion of sovereign and independent Afghanistan and gross interference in regional affairs are the root cause of terrorism and extremism in the region. One might not like the way of governance introduced by Taliban in Afghanistan but the country enjoyed peace and stability during their tenure. Poppy cultivation was banished, heroin factories destroyed, arms smuggling checked and the regime was gradually exercising control over each and every nook and corner of Afghanistan raising hopes for a strong and united Afghanistan. However, the right of Afghans to choose their own way of life was denied and trampled on the pretext of 9/11 tragedy. There was no legal, diplomatic or moral justification for continued occupation of a sovereign country and that is why Afghans are resisting the presence of foreign troops on their soil and their resistance is being dubbed as terrorism. General Musharraf is former Army Chief, a statesman and strategist and we expect of him to come out with honest and candid assessment of the situation and not the one that sounds pleasant to the ears of the superpower. One might have different opinion on aggression against Afghanistan but there should be no two opinions about the need for the American troops to leave that country immediately. There can be no peace and stability as long as occupation forces are there in Afghanistan. We would, therefore, urge Mr Musharraf to re-visit his thesis and adopt a pragmatic and realistic approach to the issue.
KING ABDULLAH’S GIFT TO WORLD
KING Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, who is known as a man of vision, has taken a concrete step to help the Arab world regain its lost glory in the realm of knowledge and education. The establishment of the state-of-the-art King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) on the shores of the Red Sea would not only lay solid foundations for the Kingdom to make strides in the 21st century but also has the potential to contribute immensely to the progress and prosperity of the world by way of scientific research and development.
There were times when Muslims were leading the world in knowledge and research as achievements of some of the Muslim scientists and scholars gave birth to modern disciplines that form basis of the present-day development. However, with the passage of time, Muslims fell not only from their political zenith but also from the enviable position of torchbearers in pursuit of knowledge. It is unfortunate that the Muslim world has no share in top ranking institutions of the world. The Muslim world is bestowed with immense natural and human resources but it has failed to harness them because of lack of will, determination and a committed leadership. That is why the Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia are lagging far behind the West in the level of development in various fields. King Abdullah, therefore, deserves credit for establishing a modern science and technology university as higher education and research are key to development. We hope that this would emerge as another MIT on the earth and based on its experiment the King would take initiative of establishing many more institutions of the sort.
OBAMA ON THE HORNS OF DILEMMA
NEWS & VIEWS
US Generals sometimes lauded for its prodigious role in war on terror, and at others criticized Pakistan for either not doing enough or ensconcing Taliabn leadership. But this is the first time that top US Commander General Stanley McChrystal has been candid in his report to Pentagon about destabilizing effects of increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan, saying it could further escalate tension in the region of high-stakes importance to the United States. He admitted that the current Afghan government is perceived to be pro-Indian; and Indian activities and increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions, fearing serious Pakistani concerns in response to the development. President Barack Obama should pay heed to General McCrystal’s revelations and should address concerns instead of giving sermons that Pakistan has no threat from India.
President Barack Obama is on the horns of dilemma. If he continues with the policy of former president Bush vis-a-vis ‘staying the course’ in Afghanistan, he is in for ‘drubbing’ not only by American public but also by the leaders of his own party. If he decides to pull out from Afghanistan he will draw flak from neoconservatives and Jewish lobby. President Obama’s indecisiveness is obvious from his recent statement in his series of television interviews broadcast on Sunday that he has no deadline for withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan. He however pledged at the same time that there will not be an indefinite American occupation. However, the focus of Obama administration is on Al Qaeda leaders that are perceived by it to be either holed in near Pak-Afghan border or in Pakistan. In fact, his administration does not have any clue about Al Qaeda’s top leaders otherwise it would have taken them out. However, one fails to understand that when drones can hit the Taliban and Al Qaeda leadership in Waziristan, why the US has not been able to trace the top Al Qaeda leadership? Yet, President Obama said that a tightly focused war strategy in Afghanistan would help in hunting for Osama bin Laden and going after Al Qaeda, and once again, propaganda has been unleashed to create hype that Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders are in Pakistan. A couple of years ago, international press had carried reports that Mullah Omer was seen in Quetta, which was indeed travesty of the truth because Al Qaeda leaders would never come to the surface because of the fear of being targeted. Anyhow, it is now more than eight years that the US and allied forces and CIA are in Afghanistan but could not find any clue about Osama bin Laden. There is every possibility that he is no more in this world, and the US is using the ruse to advance its agenda in the region.
America is in dire straits vis-à-vis its economy, worsening situation in Afghanistan where Taliban fighters are coming back with greater ferocity after surge in US troops. American leadership, fed up with the performance of President Hamid Karzai and his corruption-tainted government, has been looking for an alternative but could not find a ‘better evil’. First presidential election was a farce because of being held under the aegis of occupation forces. Unofficial results of the second presidential election are being viewed with suspicion and there are allegations of large-scale ballot stuffing and phantom polling stations. In some areas turnout above 100 per cent has been recorded, which has undermined the credibility of the election. American leadership is, therefore, thinking of putting some arrangement in place whereby the elected president, whosoever he may be, will be overseen by a ‘regent’.
American leadership neither trusts Karzai nor Abdullah Abdullah who have on their backing some groups of Northern Alliance warlords, almost all accused of drug-trafficking, and there will not be much difference if any one of them is elected in the run-off elections. However, America could appoint him as a ‘regent’ to look after its interests in Afghanistan. Daoud Ali Najafi, Chief Electoral Officer of Afghanistan, urged the UN-backed watchdog to speed up a fraud investigation in order to avoid delay in a potential second-round poll until after winter snow has melted in mainly-rural Afghanistan. “Based on the climate situation in Afghanistan, if we could not have a run-off in the third week of October, then it’s not possible for us to have a run-off this year,” he told Reuters.
On Wednesday, Independent Election Commission (IEC) announced that incumbent Hamid Karzai had secured 54.6pc of votes in a preliminary count of the August 20 election - enough to be declared the winner in a single round. The result cannot be declared officially until after the recount ordered by the Elections Complaint Cell (ECC) - a separate body which says it found clear and convincing evidence of fraud in 2500 polling stations out of 24183. If enough ballots are cancelled because of fraud, and Karzai ends up with less than 50pc of the total, the President’s victory would be overturned and a run-off would have to be held between him and his main opponent, Abdullah Abdullah. Ashraf Ghani was considered by Obama administration as a better choice as compared with both of them but he is now completely out of election race.
The problem is that Afghanistan never had a strong central government. Secondly, it does not have industry to create job opportunities and its entire economy is based on illegal production of poppy, which the US and NATO forces have failed to stop. To top it, corruption has eaten into the vitals of the state organs. In other words Afghanistan has all the ‘ingredients’ of a failed state. Last year, Mike Mullen had testified to a Congressional hearing that America is not winning the war in Afghanistan but it can. The bland truth, however, is that America has practically lost the war, which is reflective of the failure of the world’s best ‘war machine’ – the US and NATO forces during the last eight years. Though the US has increased its forces bringing the coalition total to 110,000 yet things are getting from bad to worse. According to their own commanders 400000 fully equipped troops would be required to win the war.
European strategists put the number around 800000, but at the same time no nation is ready to chip in with more boots. So, the US should prepare an exit strategy and let the people of Afghanistan decide about their destiny because the US and its allies have not only failed to protect life and property of the citizens but also failed to make any headway in the nation-building process. Syndicated columnist George Will has suggested: “The forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively revised policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, air strikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500-mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters”. Pakistan can help the US in having an honourable exit, and the wounds can be healed by showing the will to change the policy of ‘staying the course’ and subjugating the people of Afghanistan. The US has to give a gesture of goodwill by giving a timeframe to withdraw from Afghanistan, which will have a soothing effect on the majority of the Afghan people – Pushtuns.
NEED FOR REFORMS IN MADARIS SECTOR
Despite recent achievements of the Government of Pakistan in eradicating the menace of terrorism from the northern areas of the country, it would be naïve to conclude that the victory over extremism is comprehensive and decisive because there are chances that such elements may regroup themselves to strike back yet again. The main reason for their re-emergence is existence of extremist tendency in the religious schools (Madaris) which are in abundance in Pakistan.
For the last three decades, the Pakistani society has been radicalized by reactionary forces sponsored by the USA-led west and engineered by the late Gen. Zia ul Haq’s rule (1977-1988) against Soviet forces that invaded Afghanistan in 1979. America and its allies wanted to defeat Soviets at all cost and they aptly identified that they needed valorous zealots who could provide shoulder to the modern weaponry supplied by the USA against the Soviet aggressors. Winning the cold war necessitated the ignition of religious feelings amongst the Muslim youth in Afghanistan and Pakistan so that the smouldering fire could continue to get ample supply of human fuel.
The religious schools played an important role in indoctrinating the youth to wage ‘jihad’ against the Soviets. Gen. Zia ul Haq sponsored these seminaries (Madrassahs) by providing them funds and state sponsorship, thus strengthening the clergy. The number of Madaris (plural of Madrassah) multiplied during his rule and rose to more than forty thousands with over two million students. His efforts to Islamize the society yielded results as the citizenry in Pakistan which already have strong affiliation with religion, deemed Zia’s efforts as sincere and emancipating. They conveniently forgot that his efforts were directed towards retrogression of the society. The masses could not unearth the real designs of their ruler who had been dancing to the tunes of USA.Unlike the formal education sector in Pakistan, the Madrassah has always been working on sectarian lines. Since centuries the institution of Madrassah has been part of the Muslim societies but its role in the society remained insignificant as they only used to produce clerics who took over charge of Mosques and new Madaris as teachers or preachers who could lead religious ceremonies. Financially dependent on charity and alms, psychologically the students and graduates of Madaris represented a deprived segment of the society. When the shrewd politicians in the western capitals and their allies in Islamabad decided to use the religious sentiment against the Soviet aggressors, it transformed the role of subdued Madaris and they acquired status of self-proclaimed custodian of the values of the society.
The curricula of most of the Madaris has always been based on medieval teachings of Islam leaving little room to enlighten the students - who usually hail from poor families and are given not only free education but without cost boarding and lodging as well. By extending this ‘favour’ to the students, the Madaris administration considers the student as its own product that can be utilized in any way. In most of the Madaris the orthodox teaching – upbringing the child by molding his personality by keeping him under strict observation all twenty four hours for several years crushes the personality of the student, emotionally and psychologically. Amongst various sects of the Muslims, those who have been adhering to the puritan version of Islam and followed more orthodox interpretation of religion fell easily in the trap set by the rulers who needed jihadists. The sects that preach mystic philosophy and base their beliefs purely on love for the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him), His family and cronies and who follow the teachings of saints which envisage love for humanity abstained from joining the Jihad. Other orthodox sects known for their ambitious worldview and aggressive outlook started efforts to Islamize the world by force.
After September 11, 2001, the world realized that there was a need to address the problem of bigotry attached with the Madaris in Pakistan as it was breeding extremism. Taliban rule in Kabul gave sanctuary to Al Qaeda which successfully gathered extremists and trained them to carry out violence in various parts of the world in retaliation to USA’s policy towards Palestine and various other Muslim territories. These zealots’ activities were not only injuring the interests of the western countries but by declaring Jihad against the Muslim rulers who sided with the USA after 9/11managed to disturb the peace in many Muslim countries, including Pakistan. The bombings in London, Madrid and various other parts of Europe were linked to these fanatics who, in the name of religion, committed heinous crimes against humanity.
USA and Europe offered help to the Islamabad Government to introduce reforms in Madaris sector but such efforts were resisted by clerics who had never been willing to let their influence wane over an army of obedient fanatic youngsters and unchecked wealth flowing from all directions. Another stakeholder in the issue of controlling the Madaris students, the Pakistani army has used them to strike against India as and when necessary, especially in the occupied areas of Kashmir. Here the independence movement had been alive since 1947 when India occupied the scenic valley and pledged to hold a plebiscite which it never did. Until 2007 the Pakistani army never realized that the extremism could prove fatal for the state itself. The extremists went out of the control of even their own mentors by committing hundreds of suicide bombing which killed hundreds of security personnel.
The world continued to express fears of an extremists take over of the nuclear armed Pakistan but at the beginning of 2009, the Pakistani army launched a full scale operation against the extremists — united under the banner of Tehreek-e-Taliban, (“Movement of Religious Students”), Pakistan, an affiliate of Al-Qaeda who challenged the writ of the Government in the tribal areas of Pakistan. With the change of heart in army’s cadres and more importantly, with changed perception of the masses about the so-called religious jihadists, the issue of Madaris needs to be addressed seriously and this gives an opportunity to the west to act decisively by helping the authorities in Pakistan to introduce reforms in the Madaris sector by ignoring the clerics’ hue and cry. The prevailing mood in the general public is anti-America so any financial help from USA will be taken with a pinch of salt. Here comes the moment when Europe should take a step to provide financial assistance to the Government of Pakistan to start the process of registering and secularizing the Madaris. The Madaris students with their limited worldview fall prey to bigotry, hence their need to have a better exposure to the world affairs should be taken care of by the European States.
Provide annually at least two hundred educational scholarships in European universities to top-performing students from Pakistani Madaris. Coordinate with the federal and the four provincial Governments of Pakistan to arrange a month-long study tours in various European states for at least five hundred Madaris students in a year. Apart from the main intent of initiating change their word view, these steps would yield political pluralism and religious tolerance and promote a healthy competition amongst Madrassah students in the country.
‘USCIRF’ SALUTES INDIA
The national flag of a country is no doubt the most sacred asset for a nation. A true patriot always considers the flag of his country more important than his own life. History is replete with the names of soldiers who sacrificed their lives just to keep their flag fluttering. But there happened something just opposite to it in India on the 26th January, the Republic Day of India when a huge crowd of low-caste Indian Dalits raised the Pakistan flag in Meerut to protest against the series of atrocities they have been suffering from since long. They raised slogans against the Hindu extremists who have deprived them of the basic human rights.
Although the leaders of the protesters were immediately arrested by the security agencies yet their novel way of protest became a hot topic for the world media. This type of protest by the low-caste Hindus on the days of national importance is nothing strange and new. Raising slogans against the Hindu maltreatment and atrocities, burning effigies of national leaders and copies of the Constitution of India, have become a cultural tradition on such occasions. Regarding the Dalit protest on the Republic Day of India, the world known Dalit activist and Professor of the Jawahar Lal Nehru University , Surinder Singh Jodkha told the South Asia Tribune: “Such incidents are the manifestation of alienation and frustration. I cannot say that Dalits are safe in Pakistan or not. This is not the main question. The main question is if the Dalits are safe in India or not”.
According to the sources there are about 140,000 cases of atrocities against Dalits pending in various Indian courts. Justice is delayed for the victims and they feel alienated and frustrated. Neither the law-enforcing agencies nor the courts are willing to take care of these low-caste Hindus. This indifferent attitude of them is turning the lives of these voiceless and helpless citizens of the ‘Democratic India’, into a blazing inferno. In the last August, the international media reported the worst example of human rights violation in India regarding the low-caste Dalits when a nine year old Dalit girl at Faridabad Model School was compelled to parade naked on the school premises after her family failed to deposit the tuition fees. This shocking incident took place only 40 kms away from the national capital in the northern Indian city of Faridabad . The girl was a student of class three. The condition of the Sikh community in India is more or less same as that of the Dalits. They are also treated in the same humility, insult and disgrace.
Jasbeer Singh, the editor of a bi-lingual Punjabi & English monthly magazine, Parivartan, is considered an authority on the internal social and political affairs of India . In one of his recently published articles he has criticized the government of India for ignoring the basic human right of all minorities including the Sikhs. He says, ‘While India never tires of claiming to be ‘the largest democracy’ in the world, one wonders, what did India ’s leaders or its government, do to make it so? One of the tests for any ‘democratic’ regimes is how the minorities feel and fare?’ There are three types of minorities in India ; Regional, religious and racial and all of them are maltreated in the worst possible manner. That is the reason one finds a state of havoc everywhere in India .
From the north-east states of Assam , Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram to the blood-dripping valley of occupied Kashmir ; everywhere there is a resounding and resonating tale of human rights violation. Keeping in view the human rights violation in India the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom USCIRF has placed India on its Watch List. USCIRF is an independent U.S. federal government commission. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives. USCIRF’s principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress. USCIRF issues its annual report on religious freedom each May. This year’s India chapter was delayed because USCIRF had requested to visit India this summer.
The Indian government, however, declined to issue USCIRF visas for the trip. That is why the annual report was released in the second week of August; 2009. Any country that is designated on the USCIRF Watch List requires close monitoring due to the nature and extent of violations of religious freedom engaged in or tolerated by the government.
The other countries currently on USCIRF Watch List are Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Laos, the Russian Federation, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Venezuela. India earned the Watch List designation due to two basic reasons; first the disturbing increase in communal violence against religious minorities, specifically Christians in Orissa in 2008 and Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 and secondly the government’s largely inadequate response in protecting its religious minorities. Condemning the communal riots in Gujarat, the Commission says, “The Indian government not only failed to prevent the attacks against religious and racial minorities, but that state and local officials aided and participated in the violence.” The USCIRF has suggested that Obama Administration must urge the government of India to take new measures to promote communal harmony, protect religious minorities, and prevent communal violence.
The recommendations and suggestions of the USCIRF are no doubt very useful and beneficial for the suffering minorities of India but it would be almost impossible for the government of India to act upon these recommendations. Caste discrimination is a cultural trait of the Hindu society and the government of India can never crush the culture of the people it belongs to.
MUSLIMS’ RIGHTS IN INDIA
The Indian government has finally rejected a recommendation of the Sachar Committee to create Indian Wakf Services on the lines of the Civil Services to appoint officers to boards that manage Muslim religious and community properties. Although Minority Affairs Ministry has filed an application to find out for the reasons the rejection of the recommendation but the fate of this application would not be different from those being rejected since the division of Indian subcontinent into Pakistan and India. According to presently enforced Wakf Act of 1995, only Muslim officers from Indian Administrative Service (IAS) or an officer appointed by Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) can be appointed as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the central and state Wakf boards.
However, the Sachar Committee, which was appointed by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to study and prepare a report on the social, economic and educational status of Indian Muslims, found that there was an acute dearth of Muslim officers in the country. It is pertinent to note that the Wakf Boards across India are in a pathetic condition but the government is least pushed as if Muslims are not part of Indian society while an attempt to improve them has been sidelined by the Indian government.The concept of Waqf is rooted to the Quranic injunctions, which deal with charity. The followers of Islam transformed this concept of charity into an institution known as Waqf that formed the most important branch of Muslim Law for it is interwoven with the entire religious life and social economy of the Muslims. Literally, Waqf means endowment of moveable or immovable property dedicated to God by the Muslims for the welfare of needy and poor people. The Waqif (settler) in his deed appoints Mutawalli (Manager) for the administration of the Waqf. The Waqif is has authority to either appoint himself or any Muslim as Mutawalli.
After the collapse of Muslim Empire the institution of Waqf remained under sustained controversy. During 19th century an Indian dispute over the Wakf was declared to be invalid by the British judges and they described the Wakf as “a perpetuity of the worst and the most pernicious kind”. It was Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah who persuaded the Legislative Council in Delhi to pass the Wakfs Act of 1913. Consequently, the British which confiscated several Waqf properties on the plea of anomalies in their administration restored them to the Muslims. The British during their rule in India and later after independence, the Indian government, passed various regulations, judicial decisions and enactments of Waqf Acts like Religious Endowment Act 1863 to streamline the Waqf administration according to their own convenience. Same is the reason that till to-date solution to the problem could not be found. The Indian government passed Wakf Act 1954 which had provisions for survey of Wakfs, constitution of Central Wakf Council and State Wakf Boards. Certain changes were made in administrative structure of Waqfs through Waqf Amendment Act which provided more power to the Central Government over various Waqf Boards. Later the Act was repealed in 1995 with enactment of Waqf Act 1995.
Although it is compulsory in India to register a Waqf but due to the reasons best known to Indian government there exact numbers in India are not known. Various surveys and registration of Wakf reveal that there are more or less 304000 registered Wakaf which are scattered all over the country. These Awqaf are either managed by the Waqifs (settlers) themselves or their descendants if mentioned in Waqfnama (endowment) or by their appointees or appointed by the Waqf Boards duly constituted my the Muslim community under the provision of Waqf Acts time to time enacted by the government. Most of the existing symbols of Islamic rule in India are theologically Waqf that often becomes a source of communal dispute in India. There are 27 Wakf Boards throughout India, functioning under different state governments. Apart from these Wakf Boards there is a Central Wakf Council which gives direction to them. It is ironical that most of the CEOs of the Wakf Boards in India are promoted officers and not of the appropriate seniority level, which is not in consonance with the Wakf Act. The Sachar Committee recommended in its report for the appointment of IAS or UPSC officers due to the fact that CEO is not high ranking in the hierarchy of the state bureaucracy so the interests of the Wakf Board often suffer. With the same spirit the committee recommended that in the Civil Services tests conducted by the UPSC, an examination for the cadre of Indian Wakf Services should also be included and those Muslims candidates who qualify in the examinations be made CEOs of Wakf Boards.
Pakistan was created for only the Muslims of Balochistan, Bengal, NWFP, Punjab and Sind as well as adjoining independent states willing to accede to Pakistan. It is true that mass migration from India to Pakistan and vice versa did took place but it was due to further division of Punjab and Bengal otherwise whole Punjab and Bengal would have been part of Pakistan. Now it is the responsibility of India government to accept all the Muslims residing in India states as citizens of India and treat them at par with other nationalities living in the country.
THE AFGHAN IMPERATIVE
Always there is the illusion of the easy path. Always there is the illusion, which gripped Donald Rumsfeld and now grips many Democrats, that you can fight a counterinsurgency war with a light footprint, with cruise missiles, with special forces operations and unmanned drones. Always there is the illusion, deep in the bones of the Pentagon’s Old Guard, that you can fight a force like the Taliban by keeping your troops mostly in bases, and then sending them out in well-armored convoys to kill bad guys.
There is simply no historical record to support these illusions. The historical evidence suggests that these middling strategies just create a situation in which you have enough forces to assume responsibility for a conflict, but not enough to prevail. The record suggests what Gen. Stanley McChrystal clearly understands — that only the full counterinsurgency doctrine offers a chance of success. This is a doctrine, as General McChrystal wrote in his remarkable report, that puts population protection at the center of the Afghanistan mission, that acknowledges that insurgencies can only be defeated when local communities and military forces work together. To put it concretely, this is a doctrine in which small groups of American men and women are outside the wire in dangerous places in remote valleys, providing security, gathering intelligence, helping to establish courts and building schools and roads.
These are the realistic choices for America’s Afghanistan policy — all out or all in, surrender the place to the Taliban or do armed nation-building. And we might as well acknowledge that it’s not an easy call. The costs and rewards are tightly balanced. But in the end, President Obama was right: “You don’t muddle through the central front on terror. ... You don’t muddle through stamping out the Taliban.”
Since 1979, we have been involved in a long, complex conflict against Islamic extremism. We’ve fought this ideology in many ways in many places, and we shouldn’t pretend we understand how this conflict will evolve. But we should understand that the conflict is unavoidable and that when extremism pushes, it’s in our long-term interests to push back — and that eventually, if we do so, extremism will wither. Afghanistan is central to this effort partly because it could again become a safe haven to terrorists, but mostly because of its effects on the stability of Pakistan. As Stephen Biddle noted in a recent essay in The American Interest, the Taliban is a transnational Pashtun movement active in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is part of a complex insurgency trying to topple the Pakistani regime.
Pakistan has a fragile government with an estimated 50 or more nuclear weapons. A Taliban conquest in Afghanistan would endanger the Pakistani regime at best, create a regional crisis for certain and lead to a nuclear-armed Al Qaeda at worst. A Taliban reconquest would also, it should be said, be a moral atrocity from which American self-respect would not soon recover. Proponents of withdrawal often acknowledge the costs of defeat but argue that the cause is hopeless anyway.
On this, let me note a certain pattern. When you interview people who know little about Afghanistan, they describe an anarchic place that is the graveyard of empires. When you interview people who live there or are experts, they think those stereotypes are rubbish. They usually take a hardened but guardedly optimistic view. Read Clare Lockhart’s Sept. 17 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to get a sense of the way many knowledgeable people view the situation. Amidst all the problems, the NATO coalition has a few things going for it. First, American forces have become quite good at counterinsurgency. They have a battle-tested strategy, experienced troops and a superb new leadership team. According to the political scientists Andrew J. Enterline and Joseph Magagnoli, since World War II, counterinsurgency efforts that put population protection at their core have succeeded nearly 70 percent of the time. Second, the enemy is wildly hated. Only 6 percent of Afghans want a Taliban return, while NATO is viewed with surprising favor. This is not Vietnam or even Iraq.
Third, while many Afghan institutions are now dysfunctional, there is a base on which to build. The Afghan Army is a successful institution. Local villages have their own centuries-old civic institutions.
The National Solidarity Program was able to build development councils in 23,000 villages precisely because the remnants of civil society still exist. We have tried to fight the Afghan war the easy way, and it hasn’t worked. Switching now to the McChrystal strategy is a difficult choice, and President Obama is right to take his time. But Obama was also right a few months ago when he declared, “This will not be quick, nor easy. But we must never forget: This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. ... This is fundamental to the defense of our people.”—The New York Times
Bangladesh Biman, our national flag carrier, had started nosediving a long time back. At some point, a managing director was appointed to salvage it. Now comes the report that the man who had been given the responsibility in fact took measures that proved mostly counter-productive. A recent investigation report, according to a news carried in this newspaper yesterday, points accusing fingers at the then MD Dr MA Momen who was supposed to be Biman's rescuer. The report prepared by a high-power task force during the last phase of the caretaker government brings a number of charges, including irregularities, 'professional inefficiencies and professional misconduct' against him. No wonder, the probe report recommends 'stern action' against him.
The charges - no matter whether they were committed deliberately or otherwise - are serious because under his management, Biman suffered the most. The investigation reportedly pinpointed where the man had erred and on which count did he contradict his own decisions. Retrenchment of experienced hands constitutes the major blunder. The task force has rightly held him accountable and he must explain what prompted him to take such self-defeating measures.
It is not clear whether the then MD did all these in the name of restructuring to advance his personal interests at the expense of the national cause. But one thing appears clear that the national flag carrier has suffered a serious setback. The government may now refer the matter to the Anti-corruption Commission for action. It is for the court to decide what punishment should be meted out to those who were responsible for reducing the national flag carrier to what it is now.
HOLIDAY HEALTH SERVICE
Whenever there is a lengthy holiday, doctors and medical attendants at various hospitals and clinics in the city become scarce, even though a skeleton staff is expected to be on duty. If people have to go in search of medical help during such holidays, there is something intrinsically wrong with the management of our essential services.
As is clear from reports in various newspapers, innumerable citizens have had to suffer because of the lack of attention at hospitals and clinics in the capital. When even the large hospitals like Suhrawardy and Mitford refer patients to DMCH on the plea that their anaesthetists and other staff have gone on leave, it is amply clear that, to quote Shakespeare, "there is something rotten in the state" of our health service. But the sight of seriously ill or badly injured individuals lying unattended on hospital floors does not seem to move anyone and simply indicates the level of indifference. Is it too much to expect the health ministry to take cognisance of these facts?
The state of the health services of a nation is an important indicator of the importance the government attaches to people's welfare. We do not need to undertake a survey to find out what ails our hospitals. All that is needed is to pay a visit to any of the government hospitals or health complexes to gain a direct experience of the condition of the patients during holiday. Since the poor cannot pay for services in a private hospital, the least we can do is for them to be treated in general hospitals or upazila health complexes, even during holidays. But under the present ground realities, this is too much to expect from doctors in public health facilities. The general public may be used to such neglect but it cannot continue for long. The consequences of long government inaction to this could be too costly, to say the least.
NINE DAYS OF JOY...!
Pretty girl, coy smile on her face twirling, whirling, swirling her dandiya expertly, eyes steadfastly locking onto handsome face in front who in the space of a few seconds also twirls, whirls and swirls, more himself than his dandiya, trying in those moments to be the best dancer around at least in the eyes of pretty one in front. And the exchange goes on while their colours beautiful, dazzling, shimmering, shining on material satiny and silvery, with threads of gold interlaced with embroidery seduce each other on their own.
And suddenly handsome face sees pretty girl in front give furtive glance to another on her right, he looks and sees her ma, but his eyes linger, for she, though she be stouter, weightier than her pretty child, dances with such gay abandon, that those around stop and stare and say, "She knows her dance so well!" Oh there be many who know their dance well; better than their daughters and sons. The men of old have danced before in native town or village and here as they twirl and whirl, their thoughts go back to same colourful scene many moons ago when they danced nine days away round village fire. A man of many years looks across the circle of pretty women and spots same woman, the mother; his wife and cautiously, steadfastly with every step draws near to her. He knows that though she be four score years and ten, yet the glances of those around watch her yet lithe step and winsome gait. He remembers, and his mind goes back to those nine days dance many moons ago when he saw this lovely lass swaying so rhythmically that she swayed and sashayed into his life and he with timid steps had danced in front and tried to win her glance, but she haughty and proud knowing all eyes where on her, touched his stick and moved on. But he his heart aflame and glance on no one else had followed and as she came around again he held her in his eyes and felt ever so slightly, their sticks linger awhile on each other for just a moment more than needed.
And then he had danced the dance of a man who knew he was about to conquer, and those around knowing such steps and knowing why, smiled; they had seen such often, when a glance, a touch, a brush of sticks had moved a bride into a husband's home.
Night after night, for nine whole nights, the music plays on, the drums beat and boys, girls, men and women leave all thoughts aside, and dance with joy.
Ah Navratri! India's own expression of joy, and in that dance and swirl of colours, in that steady clash of sticks, one peeps and sees the heart of India; a happy, vibrant, sparkling people…!
A LONG MARCH AHEAD
CHINA HAS COME FAR SINCE 1949, BUT THE JOURNEY CONTINUES
SOME 60 years since Mao Zedong's long march ended with victory in China's civil war, his political heirs must marvel at how far they have come. But as they review the troops on Thursday they will ponder the perennial problem they share with the emperors they replaced - how to hold on to power. There is no denying the Chinese Communist Party has done an extraordinary job in transforming the country since the red flag was raised in Beijing on October 1, 1949. Mao won the war against the US-backed Kuomintang not because of ideology because he harnessed Chinese nationalism, fighting the Japanese invasion in the 1930s, when the KMT would not. And he promised to free the peasants from feudalism, that they would have an "iron rice bowl" and never go hungry. Once in power, he delivered. Certainly in the first 30 years of Communist rule millions died due to ill-conceived central plans and purges. But for the peasants, Mao made good on his promise. And his successors have built on it. Since Deng Xiaoping started relaxing the CCP's central control of the economy 30 years ago China has grown ever richer. While China's authoritarian political system is anathema to Australians, life today is infinitely better for ordinary people there than before the revolution. Life expectancy has doubled to 73 years and while the population has nearly tripled, grain production grew by a factor of four. The economy's reliance on peasant farming reduced with a massive expansion of manufacturing. China's share of world trade expanded from 1 per cent to more than 8 per cent in 45 years. And trade has enriched the business elite, generally synonymous with the CCP leadership. According to the World Bank, China's per capita income purchasing power parity increased from under $US200 in 1977 to $US4990 in 2003.
These are astonishing achievements that concern many in the West, including Australia, who wonder whether China might use its increasing power to threaten its neighbours. Certainly Chinese officials seeking to secure the minerals and energy they need can be tactless in the way they negotiate, demonstrated by heavy-handed demands to buy resources here. And the prospect of a Chinese blue-water navy alarms some - the recent defence white paper mentions China in the context of plans for a new submarine fleet. But it is easy to overestimate the unknown. Many in the US and Australia feared Japanese economic dominance in the late 1980s, just before its stagnant political culture and an industrial base - which, like China's, is efficient but not innovative - plunged the country into a domestic slump. For all its economic growth, China has domestic problems to deal with before it looks beyond its homeland and near neighbours, the Koreas, Taiwan, Japan and perhaps Vietnam.
The challenge for the CCP is to spread the wealth, to ensure the prosperity of the coastal manufacturing provinces extends to the farmers of the interior. And the party must stop ordinary people feeling exploited by elite officials and their families. The nation's leadership is acutely conscious of this, understanding that its power depends both on appearing to be in control and protecting the people from the avarice of the powerful. In July, President Hu Jintao left the G8 meeting in Italy to deal with riots in the remote city of Urumqi. Last month, the former head of the company that owns Beijing International Airport was executed for corruption. Both demonstrate the CCP understands that, for all its authority, it must maintain the people's confidence to stay in power. This points to the party's fundamental problem - while it has adopted a market economy, it has not established the other two fundamentals of stable capitalist societies, democracy and the universal rule of law. That India, which has all three, is now beginning to challenge China as the world's most dynamic economy makes the point. On its 60th anniversary, the People's Republic has marched far from its poverty-stricken state in 1949 - but the journey is not over.
CLIMATE SCHEME NEEDS BETTER SCRUTINY
RIGOROUS DEBATE ON THE ETS IS THE BEST ANTIDOTE TO SPIN
THE emissions trading scheme, as Kevin Rudd says, is not "political slap and tickle". It is serious legislation that could potentially have a greater impact on productivity, capital flows and jobs than the GST, which was subjected to intense scrutiny and almost cost the Howard government office 11 years ago. We've seen plenty of hot air, but the ETS has received little more than "slap and tickle" coverage from supposedly serious sections of the media, including some in the Canberra gallery. Climate Change Minister Penny Wong's confected October 20 deadline for the opposition to propose legislative amendments led news bulletins this week, even though that was the Coalition timetable anyway. It would have been more helpful to examine the government's failure to unveil the regulations that will largely determine the impact of the scheme.
Alexander Downer belled the cat on the ABC1's Q&A program on Thursday when he branded persistent prodding by compere Tony Jones about Wilson Tuckey and the Coalition's position on the ETS as "the Labor Party's line". Far too often we hear "the line" obediently followed by those unwilling or unable to see past it. Phillip Coorey has been walking the line all week in The Sydney Morning Herald, while Kieren Gilbert celebrated "the perfect wedge" on Sky News. On Thursday, The Age took "Coalition hardliners" to task as Malcolm Turnbull "faces the heat". And of course he does.
But what about the government ministers, well known to many in the media, whose scepticism about the ETS and climate change privately rivals that of Mr Tuckey and Barnaby Joyce? While politicians on both sides correctly welcome population growth as a strong positive, green activists want it reversed because of the (unproven) impact on the climate.
But what about jobs? The coal industry is about to put the blowtorch to the ETS with a multi-million-dollar advertising blitz planned by Neil Lawrence, creator of the "Kevin 07" campaign. It will be interesting to see if its impact matches the ACTU's anti-Work Choices drive in 2007 and how tradies in regional and sunbelt seats will respond.
But what about the expectations of business? A recent survey by the Queensland Chamber of Commerce and Industry found 82 per cent of 250large and small businesses were desperate for more detail about how the carbon pollution reduction would affect them. A third believed it would cause them to cut employment or investment. And what about compensation? The government is back at the drawing board after Morgan Stanley advised that its proposed $3.5 billion fund for coal-fired generators might not be sufficient to avoid energy market disruption. Nor is it clear, as senator Ron Boswell asked this week, how Australia will respond to European Union plans to hand generous carbon permits to 164 industrial sectors on the grounds that driving them offshore would add to carbon leakage.
Then there is the science. The public has not been well-served by scientists' contradictory findings on such basic points as whether the world is warming or cooling. Figures predicting sea level rises fluctuate widely. Some have turned scientific method on its head, no longer proceeding through a process of conjectures and refutations, but rather conjectures and affirmation, crossing the line between inquiry and activism. The science has been politicised.
What is not disputed is that Australia's contribution to global emissions is barely 1 per cent and falling. The Weekend Australian supports the government's scheme not because it will achieve much environmentally - it is too small for that - but because, like the scheme John Howard took to the last election, it is cautious and market-driven. Public opinion polls show most Australians feel better that something is being done. But the extent of public knowledge about an ETS and its impact is debatable. There are no straightforward answers here. Which is why we need sophisticated discussion, less spin and the courage to ask awkward questions.
AND ANOTHER THING ...
KEVIN RUDD had a great time in New York, but not as good as New Zealand Prime Minister John Key. Certainly Mr Rudd addressed the UN and explained the importance of the G20, and he was praised as a smart statesman by Bill Clinton.
But he did not appear on David Letterman's TV talkshow. Mr Key did, presenting 10 reasons why people from the US should holiday in New Zealand, exponentially increasing American awareness of his country.
We hope Mr Rudd's staff took notice of how the list was compiled because now they will be writing one for their boss - the 10 reasons why they did not think to explain to Mr Letterman's producers why our PM is the Pacific statesman who matters.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
AS THE CRISIS PASSES, SO DOES A SENSE OF URGENCY
IN TWO speeches in the past week the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader have laid out in effect their alternative views of the way forward.
Australians know well - having been told often enough - that Kevin Rudd believes free-market fundamentalism was the reason the world's economy seized up 12 months ago, and that it is now time to return to regulated markets.
In part of his speech to the United Nations General Assembly, he sets out how this might be done. The program he wants the governments of the Group of 20 nations to implement - licensing systemically important banks, improved financial adequacy, reward for performance not greed, realistic valuation of assets, better prudential analysis - is intended to set the standards for the biggest market operators, and rebuild confidence in an interdependent world.
Rudd sees the future as one in which a well-regulated financial system guarantees more or less steady progress towards prosperity. Government, as the regulator, has a central role.
Malcolm Turnbull, on the other hand, sees intervention by governments in the market as ineffective at best, at worst dangerous. In a speech to the United Kingdom Policy Exchange in London, he set out his view of the lessons from the global financial crisis. Not surprisingly, it differed in almost every respect from Rudd's, and led him to diametrically opposed conclusions.
In Turnbull's view, the global financial crisis was a crisis of the US banking system, specifically linked to the problems of the US housing market. Turnbull is right that those problems were at the heart of the biggest economic shock since the Great Depression. It is true, too, that decisions of the US Government helped to create those problems. The Clinton administration pressed the two big US mortgage providers, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to lend to poorer Americans, and guaranteed their loans. By pushing loans on to people with poor credit records who were unlikely to be able to repay, the first step towards disaster was taken. It was, with hindsight, disastrously irresponsible.
But it was only the first step of many on a long road to disaster, which required the parcelling up of the loans into collateralised debt obligations which were then rated by supposedly independent ratings agencies, and sold to investors. These were the work not of governments but of large private corporations.
Turnbull, of course, has no program for change; rather he seeks to keep governments' hands off the market. He praises the Howard government for creating the budget surplus which its successor then used - squandered, he would say - to boost the economy when disaster looked imminent. He praises, too, the strength of Australian banks - although that, surely, is the product of far stricter regulation than in the United States or in Britain, where banks abused their freedom, failed, and had to be nationalised.
For many, the issue of ensuring responsible behaviour by financial institutions boils down to the question of executives' pay.
Although it is something of an oversimplification, there is a link with the performance of big financial institutions. When taking bigger risks attracts bigger rewards, the system is more likely to fail in difficult times, and if a bank is big enough, taxpayers get lumbered with the bill. As we report today, the G20 is seriously considering global rules on bank executive salaries, to ensure total pay is not so great that it reduces a bank's ability to strengthen its capital base. It is a reasonable compromise between those who want salary caps, and those who abhor all regulation.
The risk, though, is that banks will simply work around the rules to hire the staff who make the most money. Goldman Sachs famously paid back all the money the US Government had lent to stabilise it so that it could return to previous pay practices. And a recent spate of personnel moves among Australian banks suggests that the incentives here are once again on offer - but this time in a less publicly visible form.
President Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, famously said at the height of the financial crisis, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." Able politicians can use such times to achieve things on their agenda that might otherwise be beyond them. But crises pass, and with them opportunities. The crisis is not yet over, but governments and business are acting as if they believe the worst has passed. If it is, the opportunity for large-scale regulation of banks and financial institutions will not long outlive it.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
ONE SIP AND YOU'LL BE OVER THE MOON
SCIENTISTS believe they have discovered water on the moon. Before anyone rushes off to buy absolute waterfrontage on the Sea of Tranquillity, though, certain product disclosure statements ought to be made. The scientists in question are saying this not because they actually have found water, but because a satellite whizzing past on the way to somewhere more interesting, saw water-like glints on some rocks. Now that we mention it, not very water-like. To call this H2O would overstate things, because what it saw is, in fact, deficient in the H department to the tune of one. The hydrogen and oxygen will have to be recombined in the right proportions for water to appear. Any astronaut walking on the moon and needing a drink will thus have to bang a lot of rocks together to obtain it. The average temperature on the moon is below zero, so ice should not be a problem, but who knows what this banged-rock juice will taste like? Our advice: take plenty of Scotch.
IN PRAISE OF… THE CRICKET SEASON
English cricket's health and popularity hinge on many things. Test match success of the sort enjoyed against Australia this year is at the heart of it. More coverage of big games on terrestrial television would help too. A fine summer and match-fit top players are undoubtedly important. But it would make a huge difference if some order could be restored to the sprawl and incoherence of the cricket season itself. This season started nearly six months ago, on April 9, and it will finish tomorrow when, on grounds from Taunton to Headingley, the final one-day matches are completed. In between, as well as one-day internationals, Tests and the ICC World Twenty20 involving England (who are now playing in Johannesburg), we have had the Friends Provident Trophy, the Twenty20 Cup and the NatWest Pro40. The LV county championship, which began in mid-April, finally staggers over the finishing line today. All in all, it is a ridiculous schedule, with too many competitions, little sense of climax and not enough competitive cricket. Some fine cricket has been played in these dying days of the 2009 season, but if September had been as wet as much of the rest of the summer, this season would have deserved to die with the dampest of whimpers. Until recently the cricket season started in May and was over by the first weekend in September, four months instead of the current six. Cricket must reinstate that sort of coherence in its schedule if it is to stay as close to the national heartbeat as it claims to want to be.
IRAN: TIME TO COME CLEAN
When Iran was forced to acknowledge the existence of a uranium enrichment plant at Natanz in 2002, the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency could not believe what they saw. They discovered a programme which had developed clandestinely over 18 years. The IAEA reacted to yesterday's revelation that the Iranians have built a second enrichment plant near Qom with a demand for an immediate inspection. The likelihood that Iran's nuclear programme is wholly civilian, as its leaders continue to claim, diminishes with each unpleasant surprise.
The second plant is in a mountainside, reportedly on a former compound used by the revolutionary guards, and it is built to house only 3,000 gas centrifuges. With around 8,000 centrifuges installed at Natanz, only a fraction of which are in use, the Qom site is too small to provide uranium for a nuclear reactor. But it is enough to produce about one bomb's worth of material a year. As President Barack Obama said yesterday, the size and type of the enrichment plant at Qom is "inconsistent with that of a peaceful facility". This adds further weight to the fear of every Arab state in the region: that Iran's nuclear programme is run by the military.
In acknowledging the existence of a "pilot project" at Qom, Iran told the IAEA that no uranium had yet been introduced at the site. The Iranian government will claim, as they did when the existence of Natanz was revealed by an Iranian dissident group, that they have not broken any agreement with the IAEA, whose cameras monitor the centrifuges at Natanz, because the plant at Qom is not yet in operation. They only have to inform the IAEA six months before introducing uranium. But this is just a reprise of a long argument the IAEA had with Iran about its refusal to accept an additional protocol which would have obliged Iran to declare facilities and activities at an early stage in their construction.
The fact is that Iran has now been caught a second time trying to conceal a major facility for a programme it claims is above board and purely civilian. It is well past time Tehran stopped playing these games. Yesterday one could feel the international opposition to punitive sanctions melt. True, there was a marked difference in tone between Mr Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown at their joint press conference yesterday, with the US president stressing that a negotiated solution still existed, while Mr Brown talked of serial deception and drawing lines in the sand. The truth is that neither man has the luxury of waiting to find out what Iran's true intentions are. The existence of a second site, and the distinct possibility of others besides, makes a mockery of the IAEA's cameras at Natanz and their painstaking attempts to verify how many centrifuges are working, how much uranium they have enriched and to what level. Iran itself has just made the best possible case for the deadline that it will now have to meet – to agree to a new inspections regime by December or face a fuel blockade. Set to one side, if one can, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's obnoxious and primitive Holocaust denial at the UN this week. Iran's cat-and-mouse game with nuclear inspectors hands a propaganda victory on a plate to Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli premier who has made little secret of his air force's preparations for a long-range air strike.
If yesterday's revelation means that Iran is about to allow full inspection of its nuclear facilities and agree to a grand bargain which would guarantee enriched uranium for a civilian programme, then that represents progress. But that is unlikely. If instead it is a precursor to weeks of horse trading and brinkmanship, then Mr Obama should prepare himself for the real-time Middle East crisis of his presidency, one that will affect the flow of the world's oil, Iraq and Afghanistan, and test him as he has never been tested before. That is a daunting prospect.
GERMANY: GRAND BARGAIN
Whether at home or abroad, the British political class dislikes coalitions. "Set Angela free," the Economist implored German voters last week. "Unleash Merkel," chorused the Times yesterday. There are two main problems with this British wish for Germany to experience the smack of firm government under Angela Merkel. The first is that every plausible outcome of tomorrow's German general election will produce a coalition of some sort – with all the compromises and postponements of difficult choices which this involves. The second is that during the campaign the German electorate has shown very little sign of wanting to reject the "grand coalition" between the centre-right CDU and the centre-left SPD over which Mrs Merkel has presided for the past four years.
Ideological partisans reflexively assume that crisply defined government in their own image is or ought to be the norm. The trouble is that partisan government prospers more easily under unfair electoral systems like Britain's first-past-the-post system – and even better without any elections at all – than it does under fairer ones like Germany's checked and balanced proportional system. If the polls in Germany are even approximately reliable this time, no party in the next Bundestag is likely to have much more than a third of the electorate's support. According to yesterday's Stern-Forsa poll, the CDU-CSU is on 33% and the SPD on 25%, with the liberal FDP 14%, the Left 12% and the Greens 10%. A coalition government is therefore all but inevitable. The only questions are which coalition it should be and whether it is strong enough to govern effectively.
As the poll figures show, there seems to be no majority in Germany for a coalition of either the left or the right. Perhaps tomorrow's voting will spring a surprise. But the logical conclusion from the 2009 election campaign is that Germans have been reasonably happy with the grand coalition of the centre parties and would like it to continue, almost certainly under the popular and consensual Mrs Merkel. Who, least of all in this more unsettled country, is to say they are wrong? These have been difficult times for all industrial economies. A coalition which balances the CDU's historic commitment to the social market with the SPD's jobs and social justice concerns during such upheaval makes more sense than some of the alternatives.
British observers may sneer. But maybe we should be more humble. Part of what is wrong with our politics is our unfair electoral system. With a fairer system – and perhaps even without one – we too may one day face the need for coalition government. In such circumstances, a peacetime British grand coalition might not be as unthinkable as it seems right now.
THE JAPAN TIMES
NORTH KOREA'S WILL TO TALK
Meeting with a special envoy of Chinese President Hu Jintao in Pyongyang last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il expressed his willingness to resolve problems related to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through bilateral and multilateral talks.
Mr. Kim reportedly told Mr. Hu's special envoy Dai Bingguo that North Korea will adhere to the goal of denuclearizing the peninsula and make efforts to maintain and promote peace and political stability in the region.
It is remarkable that Mr. Kim mentioned joining multilateral talks over the nuclear issue. But it is unclear whether he meant a return to the six-party talks chaired by China and joined by the United States, North and South Korea, Japan and Russia. North Korea withdrew from the talks in April after the U.N. Security Council censured it over its test of a long-range rocket earlier the same month. The North in May carried out its second nuclear explosion test, which caused the international community to slap it with sanctions.
The U.S. has made clear its willingness to accept North Korea's request for bilateral talks. But North Korea should not forget the U.S.'s basic stance that bilateral talks should be held within the framework of the six-party talks.
North Korea is pushing a dialogue offensive. It released two captured American journalists after Mr. Kim met with former U.S. President Bill Clinton in Pyongyang; a North Korean delegation at the funeral of former South Korean President Kim Dae Jung met with South Korean President Lee Myung Bak; and Pyongyang has resumed inter-Korea Red Cross talks. The North may be hoping that China will loosen its sanctions.
In early September, North Korea announced that it was in the final stage of uranium enrichment and that its plutonium was being turned into weapons-grade standard. The North should not be allowed to gain recognition as a nuclear weapons state, and thereby force future talks to be slanted toward negotiations for nuclear arms reduction rather than an end to its nuclear weapons programs.
THE JAPAN TIMES
DANCING AROUND DELICATE ISSUES
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama met with U.S. President Barack Obama Wednesday for the first time amid concerns that the new Japanes government's policy could harm the two nations' long-standing alliance centered on the bilateral security treaty. Mr. Hatoyama apparently avoided friction by skirting touchy topics, but there remain tough problems of which he will not be able to easily steer clear.
The concerns stem from the Democratic Party of Japan's call for a close but "equal" alliance in which Japan is not subservient to the United States, and from the possibility that the DPJ-led government this January will end Japan's fueling mission in the Indian Ocean. This mission has been part of the efforts to fight terrorism and help reconstruct Afghanistan. It also seems likely that Japan will request relocation of the U.S. Marine Corp's Futenma Air Station to outside Okinawa Prefecture.
In the 25-minute meeting, Mr. Hatoyama said the bilateral alliance continues to be the central pillar of Japan's security policy and expressed the hope of deepening it. Mr. Obama said U.S.-Japan relations, in a wider sense, are very important not only for the two countries but also for the world. He also told the press that the alliance is the cornerstone of the two nations' security and economic prosperity and will be stronger in the 21st century.
Mr. Hatoyama said that the mood of the meeting was congenial and that he was able to build "some sort of trustful relationship" with Mr. Obama. But this is mainly because he and Mr. Obama avoided potentially contentious issues — the Indian Ocean refueling mission and the Futenma airfield. As for Afghanistan, Mr. Hatoyama said Japan will contribute through humanitarian assistance including farming aid and vocational training.
Mr. Obama's November visit to Japan will be an extremely important occasion in determining the future shape of Japan-U.S. relations. Mr. Hatoyama needs to carefully consider how to handle Japan-U.S. relations overall, as well as to push for concrete cooperation with the U.S. on various issues, including the economy, climate change, nuclear disarmament and North Korea.
THE JAPAN TIMES
NATURAL GAS DOWN UNDER BOUND FOR JAPAN BY 2014
BY ALAN GOODALL
SYDNEY — Resources-rich Australia has signed on to provide Japanese households and industries a reliable source of natural gas for decades to come.
As this country's biggest, most respected market for resources, Japan is first up for gas supplies from a newly approved undersea gas field off Western Australia called Gorgon. Construction on the multinational project starts within weeks, and decades-worth of shipments are already being sold, with more oil and gas fields still to be developed.
Six sales contracts worth hundreds of billions of dollars have been inked in recent weeks with Asian countries. Estimates of revenue from the bonanza stagger Canberra, where the Rudd Government is already hell-bent on an anti-recession spending spree.
Two Japanese customers, Tokyo Gas and Osaka Gas, will take at least 2.5 million tons of liquefied natural (LNG) a year for 25 years starting in 2014. Both have strengthened their priority purchasing in the highly competitive international market by investing capital in the Gorgon project. A decades-long partnership in Australian coal and iron ore mines to fuel Japan's electricity plants and steel mills has underpinned immense growth in both countries.
The new gas deal can only strengthen diplomatic relations in the leadup to the first meeting soon between Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Japan's new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama.
Canberra's insistence on environmental protection clauses in the Gorgon agreement and Tokyo's caution over carbon disposal ahead of this year's Copenhagen climate summit are considered enhancements.
Before Gorgon gas begins to flow, however, the threat of a Greens' protest is worrying Canberra. On Barrow Island, where gas piped from underwater wells will be liquefied for shipment, there are 24 species of birds and animals found nowhere else in the world. Stand by for the mobilization of worldwide protests.
To head off the expected outcry, Gorgon will build the world's largest carbon dioxide injection system. CO2 will be separated from the gas and re-injected two kilometers under the island in a pioneering geo-sequestration complex.
News of drilling under the Indian Ocean could not come at a worst time for the Greens. Not far away, in the vast underwater deposits up north under the Timor Sea, a West Atlas drill-pump is pouring 400 barrels of crude oil a day into the water. Already ranked as Australia's third-worst oil spill, the leak will stir public anger for years to come.
Knowing the political hazards, Gorgon developers are ready with environmental precautions. The project will be run by three of the seven sisters of global oil: Chevron, Exxon Mobil and Shell. At the contracts signing ceremony, politicians such as Resources Minister Martin Ferguson jostled with the likes of Shell's Jon Chadwick for publicity shots.
Gorgon partners have agreed to invest $50 billion to extract 1.2 trillion cubic meters of gas, 130 kilometers west of the remote, desolate West Australian coast. That gas will be landed at Barrow Island, then chilled to minus 161 C in three giant freezers. At that temperature, gas will be shipped as a liquid in huge cylinders on specially made ocean tankers.
Over the estimated 40-year life of Gorgon, the value of shipments is expected to generate $300 billion in export revenue, for starters.
Main markets in Asia, the United States and Europe now receive 180 million tons of LNG worldwide. Exxon Development President Neil Duffin estimates that global demand over the next 25 years will exceed 500 million tons. That will require at least 23 more Gorgons.
Australia is well-placed to supply a fair part of that demand. Already off the West Australian coastline, Australia's major oil supply company, Woodside, operates the $27 billion North West Shelf LNG project, built with the help of Japanese capital. Woodside now produces slightly more LNG annually than Gorgon will, though from a lesser reserve.
Further fields are in the pipeline, such as one under the Timor Sea that will financially save the struggling young country of East Timor.
Gorgon is Australia's largest single investment. When its first stage is ramped up, it will provide 8 percent of the world's LNG, most of it going to Asia. Hence Tokyo's involvement in encouraging Japanese corporate investment to ensure secure supplies.
Gorgon operator Chevron has inked three in-principle deals involving Japan's major gas corporations. This is part of a $70 billion deal to ship 3 million tons of LNG a year to Japan and South Korea until 2039. Osaka Gas will buy a 1.25 percent share in the project, and Tokyo Gas 1 percent, to ensure an operational involvement.
Another $100 billion worth of LNG projects are sitting on the Australian drawing boards of multinationals. One is a novel coal-seam methane gas project planned for Gladstone in the east-coast state Queensland. Coal-based methane sources are under scrutiny by American giants as well as Malaysia's Petronas and Britain's BG Group.
Japan has long been the major recipient of Australia's coal exports, but experts say LNG will soon surpass coal as Australia's biggest export earner.
Japan bought 45 percent of $55 billion in coal exports last year, but the Australian Bureau of Resources Economics predicts those sales will fall by one-quarter if Tokyo toughens emissions targets. China, South Korea and Taiwan will pick up the slack. But the Australian Minerals Council says Japan plans to add 2,940 megawatts of coal-fired power plants by 2016.
Japanese investment originally fueled the Australia coal-export boom, as it did with iron ore. Now, though, the keen new player is China. Japanese steel mills warily watch Beijing as they compete annually in contract talks over prices.
The China Iron and Steel Association, which took over Beijing's price talks last year and then complained about high prices, is expected to let the giant Baosteel company do the bidding in October. Steel mill combines in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan will find it tough to lower their benchmark prices for the next round of West Australian iron ore shipments.
Meanwhile, under the Indian Ocean, workmen are tooling up to build the world's next big energy-supply source,
a tough job under the Tropic of Capricorn sun. Whether there will be enough workers in light of Australia's low unemployment rate remains to be seen. Wages will be attractive, but not everyone wants to be a fly-in, fly-out worker, living under trying conditions two weeks a month. Yet, there are plenty of applications so far.
Alan Goodall is former Tokyo bureau chief for The Australian.
THE KOREA HERALD
NO SHORING UP
On Wednesday, the exchange rate fell below 1,200 won per U.S. dollar, the level long regarded by Korean exporters as a psychological barrier. The local currency closed at 1,194.4 won per dollar, marking an 11-month high for the Korean currency against the greenback.
The 9.4 won fall in the exchange rate, or the won's gain in value by the same margin from the previous day, was a matter of concern to the business community, which has been pressuring the government to keep the won weak for the promotion of exports. The Federation of Korean Industries said earlier that a majority of respondents to its latest survey believe the nation's improving economic indicators would prove to be an "optical illusion" if it were not for deficit spending and high exchange rates.
But the government will do well to keep itself from intervening unless the fluctuations are deemed so wild as to disrupt the foreign exchange market. The last thing it can afford to do is attempt to shore up exports by buying up dollars in the market.
But the sooner Korean exporters abandon the idea that the government will come to their rescue, the better it will be for them. What they need to do is prepare themselves for a continuously strengthening won. A consensus emerging among economic think tanks and financial experts is that the won will continue to strengthen not just in the months ahead, but in the years to come.
The Samsung Economic Research Institute forecasts the year-end exchange rate will range from 1,150 won to 1,160 won per dollar. This prediction is reportedly shared by foreign financial firms, such as Morgan Stanley and BNP Paribas. Some others say the fall would be more moderate. But few predict a reversal in the exchange rate anytime soon.
The reason is simple. More dollars are coming in than going out. This trend is most likely to continue at least in the foreseeable future.
During the first seven months of this year, the nation's current account had a $26.1 billion surplus. Exports are surpassing imports, further contributing to the current account surplus.
Moreover, the net equity purchases that foreign investors have made since the outset of this year amounts to 25 trillion won. The Korean stock market has yet another potential boost - the FTSE has recently upgraded Korea's status from emerging market to developed market.
Apparently based on all these developments, an international financial consultant, Global Insight, believes the exchange rate will fall below 1,000 won per dollar in 2011. But this should not come as too much of an alarm to Korean exporters. Such a strong won will not be new to Korean businesses.
If the memory fails to serve them right, they should be reminded that the exchange rate fell below the level of 930 won per dollar in the second quarter of 2006. At the time, businesses responding to a survey said they were losing money but they could break even when the exchange rate rose to 985.8 won on average.
All this is not to say that a continued fall in the exchange rate will cause exporters little pain. On the contrary, it would be painful, and all the more so if the fall is rapid.
But it should not be seen as insurmountable. Its impact on business conglomerates may not be as great as it looks, given that their increasing production abroad shields them much from fluctuations in the exchange rate. In addition, the impact is mitigated because a strengthening won will help import raw materials and parts at lower prices for the manufacture of export items.
Ultimately, however, businesses will have to push for innovations, cut costs, raise productivity and, by doing so, make themselves strong enough to tide over any change in exchange rates.
THE KOREA HERALD
When he met Korean President Lee Myung-bak in New York on Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said he has "the courage to face up to history." He offered to build new Japanese-Korean relations based on a shared perception of history.
His remarks were an extension of a 1995 statement issued by the then-Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, which said in unmistakable terms that Japan caused "tremendous damage and suffering" to Korea and other countries through its colonial rule and aggression.
Sex slavery, forced labor and other forms of atrocity the Japanese imperialists inflicted on the Korean people were, to borrow from Murayama, "irrefutable facts of history." As such, he expressed his "feelings of deep remorse" and offered a "heartfelt apology."
This officially professed accountability should have put an end to a dispute on Japan's colonial rule. It should also have served as the foundation for "constructive and forward-looking relations," which Murayama and his successors, including Hatoyama, wished to build with Korea.
But Japan has failed to build good neighborly relations with Korea because quite a few Japanese leaders have since attempted to not just ignore, but refute the irrefutable historical facts. Instead, Japan has been waging a war of attrition with Korea over comfort women and history textbooks.
As the second largest economy in the world, Japan has much to do in Asia. In his election campaign, Hatoyama said Japanese foreign policy under his leadership would give a greater emphasis on cooperation and Asian integration.
But Korea, China and other Asian victims of Japan's aggression and colonial rule will not rush to embrace Japan's offer of renewed cooperation until they are convinced it will not assert itself at the expense of its neighbors, as it did before and during World War II. Instead, they will watch what Hatoyama does to put his promise into action.
THE KOREA HERALD
ELECTRIC VEHICLES AND SUSTAINABILITY
JEFFREY D. SACHS
NEW YORK - The key to climate change control lies in improved technology. We need to find new ways to produce and use energy, meet our food needs, transport ourselves, and heat and cool our homes that will allow us to cut back on oil, gas, coal, nitrogen-based fertilizer, and other sources of the climate-changing greenhouse gases.
There are enough good options available to suggest that the world can accomplish the goal of controlling climate change at a reasonable cost (perhaps 1 percent of global income per year) while enabling the world economy to continue to grow and raise living standards. One of the most exciting developments on the horizon is the new generation of electric automobiles.
In the earliest days of the automobile in the late 19th century, many kinds of cars competed with each other - steam, battery, and internal combustion engine. The gasoline and diesel-powered internal combustion engines won the competition with the success of the Model T, which first rolled off of the assembly line in 1908. One hundred years later, competition is again stirring.
The age of electric vehicles is upon us. The Toyota Prius, a hybrid-electric vehicle first introduced in Japan in 1997, marked an initial breakthrough. By connecting a small generator and rechargeable battery to the braking system of a standard car, the hybrid augments the normal engine with a battery-powered motor. Gasoline mileage is sufficiently enhanced to make the hybrid commercially viable, and gasoline-saving vehicles will become even more commercially viable when consumers are taxed for the carbon dioxide they emit from their vehicles.
Much more innovation is on the way, led by General Motors' plug-in hybrid vehicle, the Chevy Volt, at the end of 2010. While the Prius is a normal ICE automobile with a small motor, the Volt will be an electric vehicle with an engine alongside.
The Volt's battery will be a cutting-edge, high-performance lithium-ion battery, which promises a range of 60 km per charge and a six-hour recharge time drawing from a normal wall socket. Based on typical driving patterns, the Volt will get so many kilometers on the battery that it will achieve around 400 km per gallon of gasoline!
Larry Burns, the visionary head of GM's research and development until his recent retirement, sees the electric vehicle as much more than an opportunity to save gasoline, important as that is. According to Burns, the electric-vehicle age will reshape the energy grid, redefine driving patterns, and generally improve the quality of life in urban areas, where most of the world's population will live and drive.
First, there will be many types of electric vehicles, including the plug-in hybrid, the all-battery vehicle, and vehicles powered by the hydrogen fuel cell, essentially a battery fed by an external source of hydrogen. These different vehicles will be able to tap into countless energy sources.
Solar, wind, or nuclear power - all free of CO2 emissions - can feed the power grid that will recharge the batteries. Similarly, these renewable energy sources can be used to split water into hydrogen and hydroxyl ion, and then use the hydrogen to power the hydrogen fuel cell.
Second, the storage capacity of the vehicle fleet will play an important role in stabilizing the power grid. Not only will battery-powered vehicles draw power from the electricity grid during recharging, but, when parked, they can also feed additional power back into the grid during periods of peak demand. The automobile fleet will become part of the overall power grid, and will be managed efficiently (and remotely) to optimize the timing of recharging from, and returning power to, the grid.
Third, electric-powered vehicles will open up a new world of "smart" vehicles, in which sensor systems and vehicle-to-vehicle communications will enable collision protection, traffic routing, and remote management of the vehicle. The integration of information technology and the vehicle's propulsion system will thereby introduce new standards of safety, convenience, and maintenance.
These are visionary ideas, yet they are within technological reach. But implementing these concepts will require new forms of public-private partnership.
Automakers, utility companies, broadband providers, and government road builders will each have to contribute to an integrated system. All of these sectors will require new ways of competing and cooperating with the others. The public sector will have to put forward funding to enable the new generation of vehicles to reach commercialization - through R&D outlays, consumer subsidies, and support for complementary infrastructure (for example, outlets for recharging in public places).
The new age of the electric vehicle exemplifies the powerful opportunities that we can grasp as we make our way from the unsustainable fossil-fuel age to a new age of sustainable technologies. Our climate negotiators today bicker with each other because they view the climate challenge only in negative terms: who will pay to reduce fossil-fuel use?
Yet Burns' vision for the automobile reminds us that the transition to sustainability can bring real breakthroughs in the quality of life. This is true not only in automobiles, but also in the choice of energy systems, building designs, urban planning, and food systems (remembering that food production and transport account for around one-sixth of total greenhouse gas emissions).
We need to rethink the climate challenge as an opportunity for global brainstorming and cooperation on a series of technological breakthroughs to achieve sustainable development. By harnessing cutting-edge engineering and new kinds of public-private partnerships, we can hasten the worldwide transition to sustainable technologies, with benefits for rich and poor countries alike - and thereby find the basis for global agreements on climate change that have so far proven elusive.
Jeffrey D. Sachs is a professor of economics and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. - Ed.
THE KOREA HERALD
ACCEPTANCE OF CORRUPTION AND DEMOCRACY PARADOX
PARIS - Elections stolen in Iran, disputed in Afghanistan, and caricatured in Gabon: recent ballots in these and many other countries do not so much mark the global advance of democracy as demonstrate the absence of the rule of law.
Of course, elections that lead to illiberal outcomes, and even to despotism, are not a new phenomenon. Hitler, after all, came to power in Germany in 1933 through a free, fair, and competitive election. Moreover, problematic elections constitute a specific challenge for the West, which is simultaneously the bearer of a universal democratic message and the culprit of an imperialist past that undermines that message's persuasiveness and utility.
In a noted essay in 2004, for example, the Indian-born author Fareed Zakaria described the danger of what he called "illiberal democracy." For Zakaria, America had to support a moderate leader like General Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan, despite the fact that he had not come to power through an election. By contrast, Zakaria argued, Venezuela's populist president, Hugo Chavez, who was legitimately elected, should be opposed.
In our globalized world, the potential divorce between elections and democracy has assumed a new dimension. With instantaneous communication and access to information, the less legitimate a regime, the greater will be the temptation for it to manipulate, if not fabricate, the results of elections. The "trendy" way is to manufacture a significant but not too massive victory. Today's despots view near-unanimous Soviet-style electoral 'victories' as vulgar and old fashioned.
But another new aspect of this phenomenon are opposition forces that are willing to attempt to negate such machinations by the party in power. Confronted with this dual process of illegitimacy, the West often finds itself condemned to sit between two chairs, and to face criticism whatever the outcome. Those in power, as in Iran, accuse Western governments of supporting the opposition, and those in opposition accuse the West of supporting the government, as has happened to France in the case of Gabon.
So what lessons should we draw from the inevitably messy nature of electoral processes in countries where there is either no middle class or only a rudimentary one, and where a democratic culture is at best in its infancy?
The time has come for the West to reassess its policies in a fundamental way. It cannot switch from "activism" at one moment to abstention the next. A refusal to act, after all, is also a political choice.
Of course, the temptations of isolationism are great, and will increase in the months and years ahead. But the West has neither the moral right nor a strategic possibility of withdrawing into an 'ivory tower,' something which in most cases does not exist. It is impossible to say to Afghanistan, for example, "You have deeply disappointed us, so, from now on, you must clean up your own mess." In Afghanistan, Gabon, Iran, Pakistan, and elsewhere, fundamental Western interests - though very different depending on the case - are at stake.
In Afghanistan, the danger is that a terrorist haven could be reconstituted. The risk in Iran is an ever more hostile regime armed with nuclear weapons. In Gabon, the priority for France is to transcend neo-colonialism without losing its important links to the oil-rich African nation.
But, in pursuit of these difficult objectives, the West must get both its ambitions and its methods right. Democracy is a legitimate objective, but it is a long-term one. In the medium term, the absence of the rule of law constitutes the most serious problem for the countries in question.
French television, for example, recently aired a terrifying report on Haiti, where a local judge, without bothering to hide his actions, was protecting a narcotics dealer from the country's own French-trained anti-drug force. Corruption eats away at a society from within, destroying citizens' trust in a future based on a shared sense of common good.
It is the West's acceptance of corruption - either open or tacit - that makes it an accomplice to too many nefarious regimes, and makes its espousal of democratic principles appear either hypocritical or contradictory. On the other hand, setting the rule-of-law standard too high will also misfire. Singapore-style incorruptible one-party state bent on modernizing society is probably a far too ambitious goal for most non-democratic regimes.
The distance that separates the West from countries that rely on sham elections is not only geographic, religious, or cultural; it is chronological. Their "time" is not, has never been, or is no longer the same as that of the West. How can they be understood without being judged, or helped without humiliating paternalism or, still worse, without an unacceptable "collateral damage," as in Afghanistan?
The West's status in tomorrow's world will largely depend upon how it answers this question. It cannot afford to ignore the issue any longer.
Dominique Moisi is a visiting professor of government at Harvard and the author, most recently, of "The Geopolitics of Emotion." - Ed.
REMEMBERING DAVID HAWKES
Returning to London after summer break, I was shocked to learn of the passing of David Hawkes. An Oxford scholar of classical Chinese literature, he was renowned for his translation of the beloved masterpiece of Chinese literature, A Dream of Red Mansions, or The Story of the Stone, as he translated it.
The last time I saw him was on a warm, sunny afternoon last April, when I called on him at his Oxford home, a nondescript two-story building easily missed when passing by. Coming out of a narrow passageway, he greeted me in the traditional Chinese manner: both hands held together to his chest and all smiles. He said "Welcome to my humble home" in perfect Chinese, just like any Chinese elderly.
We continued speaking in Chinese after sitting down in his somewhat crowded sitting room. Looking at the books scattered about - mostly traditional literary works in Chinese alongside a handful of contemporary novels - I began to understand how he had managed to remain fluent in Chinese 58 years after returning from studying in China. "I haven't read new books from mainland writers for quite a while," he said, a hint of regret in his tone. His wife Jean served warm English tea and home-baked biscuits. The conversation went on around Red Mansions, as the book is affectionately known.
More than 60 years ago, Hawkes first borrowed Red Mansions from his Chinese classmate Qiu Kean at Oxford. He was so enchanted by the saga of the characters and the kaleidoscopic view of Chinese society the book has revealed that it became his lifelong passion. In 1970, he embarked on an English translation; a monumental task that took him 10 years to complete. In order to concentrate on it, he resigned from his chair at Oxford - an act of remarkable dedication.
Red Mansions features two intertwined plot lines. One is the sad but romantic love story of a young nobleman, the women - stunningly beautiful but ill-fated - around him, and his struggles within the cocoon of feudal rules.
The second involves the decline and fall of the noble family and reflects the dramatic social upheavals of 18th-century China. Cao Xueqin, the author, never finished the book, leaving many unsolved mysteries that remain a source of interest for academics to this day. The catchphrase "reddologists" has been coined for scholars devoted to the study of the classic.
Translating the novel is almost an impossible mission - not only because of its quintessential Chinese character, but also because of its philosophical depth. What's more, many of the ideas are only hinted at or symbolized through the poems and songs that run through the narrative.
I first read it as a teenager and I reread it twice later in my years; still, I am unsure how much I missed. For Hawkes, the challenge was all the greater: He also faced the problem of bridging two vastly different cultures. Yet Hawkes was bold enough to maintain that the principle he followed was to translate everything - even puns.
Hawkes certainly fulfilled his aim. His mastery of classical Chinese and superb rhetorical skills in the English language, alongside his tireless effort, made it possible for him to carry this masterpiece across cultural boundaries and present it to British eyes and minds in its original flavor.
To me, his English version is a joy to read. I particularly admire his translation of the opening poem, which carries the central theme of the novel. The full meaning of the poem is revealed only at the end of the story when the pampered young man is reduced from nobility to a pauper and lonely outcast, and comes to realize that good times in life are but a fleeting dream. Hawkes tackled this poem beautifully. Let me quote a few lines:
"Men all know that salvation should be won,
But with ambition won't have done, have done."
"Where are the famous ones of days gone by?
In grassy graves they lie now, every one."
There were, of course, points at which Hawkes was less successful. His reluctance to use the word "red" drew criticism, for "red" is central to the message of the book, referring as it does in Chinese culture to all the good things in life: youth, love, prosperity, and nobility. He avoided "red" in the title of the book that he named The Story of the Stone, which has followed the original title of the book, rather than the more popular title Dream of Red Mansions. He also translated the hero's residence as House of Green Delight, instead of Happy Red Court as its Chinese name literally suggests.
He did so probably in order to accommodate his own cultural environment. As he remarked: "if I can convey to the reader even a fraction of the pleasure this Chinese novel has given me, I shall not have lived in vain." The Times Literary Supplement hailed his work as "one of the best translations into English of our time".
The sunlight came through the small window of Hawkes' sitting room during my visit. Fondly remembering his life in Beijing, he told us how he arrived in 1948 after a month-long journey and began studying ancient Chinese literature - a hard course, even for Chinese. Turning the pages of an album of black and white photos, he talked about the fun and friends he had at Peking University. He was a handsome teenager in the photos. He was there with the crowd in 1949 when Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of New China on the Tiananmen Rostrum. He had to leave in 1951 with his pregnant wife when the Korean War broke out. Caught by successive events, he never returned. But his lifelong devotion to the Chinese language and literature remained with him until the last day.
He will always be remembered for bringing the Chinese people's favorite classical novel closer to Western readers, making it readable and understandable, and for building a cultural bridge between the Chinese and British people.
The author is ambassador to the UK, and the article first appeared in The Guardian on Wednesday.
MORE RURAL FINANCE
Banks are indispensable to any urbanite, but for farmers in Fenxi county, Shanxi province, that convenience has been an unreachable luxury for the past decade.
It is a sad story. Due to inaccessible financial services in the past decade, many farmers conducting small business transactions have turned to watchdogs to safeguard their cash.
In 1999, 12 local credit cooperatives were closed after accumulating a debt of 670 million yuan ($98.5 million)
and being exposed for a series of frauds. Since then, more than 100,000 local farmers have had to live a life without a bank until one was set up last year.
This is a typical case of how inadequate financial services have curbed rural development in China. Although the nation has set up the policy-oriented Agricultural Development Bank, the commercial Agricultural Bank and rural cooperatives, the banking network is still far from sufficient in the vast rural areas. Many credit cooperatives are also poorly managed.
Official statistics show that 1,424 townships are short of local financial institutions at the end of last year. Farmers have tremendous difficulties in acquiring loans, even if the amounts are often very small.
The reason is clear. Rural financing is still much less profitable compared with financing in urban areas. Rural financial institutions often face high risks because many farmers are not able to offer mortgages. They are not good at risk control and have more difficulties than their urban counterparts in fundraising.
But China, the country with a rural population of 737 million, can be more prosperous only after narrowing the gap between rural and urban areas.
Many economists argue that China's economy should achieve sustainable growth by propping up domestic consumption. To this end, the country must speed up rural-financing reform.
On the one hand, the Agricultural Development Bank should shoulder its responsibility in supporting rural infrastructure construction and poverty alleviation. On the other hand, the commercial rural bank should be required to allot a certain proportion of loans to agriculture.
Besides guaranteeing capital for rural financing services, other commercial banks should also keep a certain share of rural savings to offer rural loans.
Voluntary mutual cooperatives, as well as village banks, should be developed to serve farmers.
It was reported that China has already opened 118 new rural financing branches by the end of June.
This is a good start. However, we should bear in mind that in the process of rural financing reform it is essential to attach more and more importance on risk control.
A TIMELY RESOLUTION
The United Nations Security Council, at a historic summit meeting on Sept 24, unanimously approved a resolution urging all states owning nuclear weapons to scrap their arsenals.
Such a meeting of heads of states is only the fifth since the Security Council's establishment in 1946.
Prior to the resolution's approval, President Hu Jintao made a statement of China's standpoints. He called for all countries to be committed to a world free from atomic weapons, to never seek nuclear deterrence, to abide by the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), to share the rights of peaceful use of the nuclear technologies, and to work together to police the distribution of nuclear materials.
The Security Council resolution, proposed by the United States, is important and welcoming because the world is right now at a very crucial point: Never in the past six decades has the world been so close to being free from the fear of massive destruction by traditional nuclear weapon states. At the same time, never has the world been so close to being held under the threat by groups trying to use the weapon in irresponsible ways - now that its technologies and components may no longer be hard to come by.
It is just as US President Barack Obama has put it: "The threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up." It is about time that the danger be removed, once and for all.
Most of the nuclear weapons in existence were built during the Cold War, when the US and the erstwhile Soviet Union were engaged in a frantic arms race. Now the Cold War has become history, but thousands of nuclear weapons have not. The US and Russia, which together account for 97 percent of the world's nuclear weapons stockpile, bear special and primary responsibility to rid the world of a nuclear threat.
The two countries should, as they say they would, drastically reduce their nuclear arsenals in a verifiable and irreversible way to clear the path for a thorough destruction of nuclear weapons and a ban on making new ones.
China has been very clear about its nuclear weapons program since its first successful nuclear test in 1964. It declared it would never be the first party to use nuclear weapons under any circumstances, and never use them against non-nuclear-weapon states. It is the only nuclear-weapon state in the world to have undertaken such a commitment and to have remained true to it ever since.
Nor has China ever deployed nuclear weapons in foreign countries or ever attempted to do so. It has never shown interests in the arms race for nuclear warheads.
From policy to practice, China has remained transparent on its nuclear program. It wants all countries to sign the NPT, and more power to be vested in the International Atomic Energy Agency so that it can play a more effective role in nuclear non-proliferation. The country also respects all other countries' equal right to use nuclear power for civilian purposes.
The Security Council resolution is a major step toward the goal of a final ban of nuclear weapons. It is all countries' moral responsibility as well as practical necessity that they should be sincere in working toward that goal while keeping up the NPT.
With its consistent strive for peace and development, its lack of interest in nuclear-aided strategic advantage over others, and its contributing ideas to the Security Council nuclear-free initiative, China has again shown its will and its ability to be a responsible large country in the world.
MORE CHALLENGES AND UNCERTAINTIES AHEAD
One year after the global financial crisis erupted, the world economy again stands on a crucial turning point. There have been clear signs since July that the global recovery is gathering strength. However, caution should prevail: Are these strong signs of a long-term sustained recovery, or it is just a short-term rebound from the bottom up caused by the stimulus plans?
The world economy is undergoing a stage of transition, swaying between rebound and recovery, government and market, outside stimulus and internal growth. Next year will be critical for the world economy, and could be full of uncertainties and challenges to test the wisdom of governments. We have seen the dawn of hope, but the task is still arduous.
Recently, signs of rebound were visible in leading economic indicators in the United States, the European Union, Japan and other main economies, signaling the intertwining of the robust world economy. The global growth estimates by the international institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development have gradually turned optimistic by improving their growth outlook for the global GDP.
Take the monthly IMF report. Its March report predicted the global economy will contract by 1.7 percent this year; in the April report, it was down 1.4 percent this year and up 2.5 percent for the next; the September report, down by 1.3 percent for 2009 and up 3.9 percent for next.
However, great risks, looming behind the initial growth, remind us to be cautious to the continuity, complication and twists of a further recovery. We are facing three problems: how to effectively achieve a mechanism that will drive growth forward; how to readjust financial policies; and whether expectations of inflation will be realized.
If these problems can be addressed, the year 2010 will give birth to a new round of global economic growth. Once they are badly dealt with, we cannot rule out the coming of the second world recession.
The first problem refers to how to achieve an effective replacement of the growth driving force. The imperative task of each government is to cultivate domestic demand, seek successors for government investment and reduce the potential fluctuation caused by policy adjustments in the future.
The current situation does not seem optimistic. First, the spillover effect of policies has dissipated. Large-scale fiscal stimulus plans and eased up monetary policies from governments around the world have reeled in the sharp global downturn. The impact of the economic stimulus will diminish by the middle of 2010.
Second, the sign of transforming the economic growth driving force from government stimulus to private demand and investment is not distinct. Sustainable economic recovery needs the rejuvenation of private demand, including consumption and investment.
Third, there are no new engines of growth in major developed economies. Before the crisis, consumption, the housing market and eased credit boosted the US economy but now none of them have any momentum. Without new emerging economic forces, the actual growth rate will be lower than the potential rate for a long time.
The second problem is whether the governments should change their loose monetary policy. According to statistics, the increasing budget deficit in major developed countries may weaken the effect of the stimulus measures and curb the recovery. Furthermore, as the source of global liquidity, the quick expansion of the US Federal Reserve balance sheet and the soaring of greenbacks printed have expanded the gap between "the real economy" and "the virtual economy." It will be the sternest test for governments of different countries to maintain the hard-earned recovery and at the same time avoid the potential of an overall stagflation against the background of increasingly unbalanced government revenue and expenditure and the amounting pressure of stagflation.
The third problem is whether the inflationary expectation will turn into real inflation. At the initial period of recovery, the rise in prices is restrained by the overcapacity and surplus product supply, so there is no risk of inflation. But base money, money multiplier and money circulation velocity will all blow up in the short-term, when people become optimistic to the economic performance. The outcome is the re-emergence of the contradiction in the supply and demand previously covered by the financial crisis. If the inflationary expectations become reality, the fragile recovery will receive a heavy blow.
The author is an economics researcher with the State Information Center.
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