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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

EDITORIAL 28.09.09

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: editorial@samarth.co.in

 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

Editorial

month september 28, edition 000309 , collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

1.      NIGHTMARE PRESIDENCY

2.      VIJAYA DASHAMI PLEDGE

3.      COALITION ERA ENDING SOON-ARUN NEHRU

4.      DD, DISTINCT AT A DISTANCE-PRIYADARSI DUTTA

5.      THE WEST’S DUPLICITY-PREMEN ADDY

6.      DEMAGOGUERY AT ITS BEST-BARRY RUBIN

7.      AD-HOCISM AS FOREIGN POLICY-CP BHAMBHRI

8.      INNOCENCE TRAPPED IN A SOCIETY IN TURMOIL-DEEPIKA THUSSOO

 

TIMES OF INDIA

1.      G-20'S HOUR

2.      HIRE CALLING

LIFE BEGINS AT SIXTY-

4.      'CHANDRAYAAN-2 WILL TRY TO GET DETAILS ABOUT WATER ON MOON'

5.      LAUGHING AT THE MIRROR -BACHI KARKARIA 

TOO MANY ROLES...-

 

HINDUSTAN TIMES

1.      BONFIRE OF OUR FRAILTIES

2.      SIGNS OF OTHER TIMES

3.      IT'S A BIT OF A STRETCH

4.      HIGH OFFICE, HIGHEST PROPRIETY-PANKAJ VOHRA, POLITICAL EDITOR

 

INDIAN EXPRESS

1.      RADICAL CHIC

2.      PITTSBURGH PROMISES

3.      THE CHOSEN ONES-SEEMA CHISHTI

4.      PODIUM FOR MAVERICKS-ALIA ALLANA

5.      ‘NUMBER OF ATTACKS DRIVEN BY RACIST ATTITUDE WOULD BE MINORITY... WE ARE GOING TO MAKE SURE THAT A VISA THAT’S GIVEN FOR EDUCATION IS USED FOR EDUCATION’

 

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

1.      OIL’S WELL, FREE PRICES

2.      AND THEN THERE WERE TWENTY

3.      WHY SMALL IS BIG-GEETA NAIR

4.      CHINA’S YUAN UP, CAN WE CATCH UP?-VIMAL B

5.      FEAR FACTOR IN GLOBAL NEGOTIATIONS-MEGHNAD DESAI

 

THE ASIAN AGE

1.      G-20: LOFTY VOWS, BUT NO RESULTS

2.      THE WISDOM OF RAVAN-DEVDUTT PATTANAIK

3.      RISING PRICES: WHAT IS THE GOVT DOING?-PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA

4.      UNDILUTED TRUTHS ABOUT RICH POLLUTERS-JAYANTHI NATARAJAN

 

THE TRIBUNE

1.      G20 IS HERE TO STAY

2.      US AID TO PAKISTAN

3.      NEAR-ANARCHY IN BENGAL

4.      CUTTING AFPAK GORDIAN KNOT

5.      HOW THE US HAS BECOME A PROBLEM-BY B.G. VERGHESE

6.      WHERE HAVE ALL THE DHOBIS GONE?-BY SUDHAMAHI REGUNATHAN

7.      POWER PLAY IN PUNJAB

8.      SHIMLA CONCLAVE CLEARS WAY FOR JUNIOR BADAL-BY GOBIND THUKRAL

9.      AIDS VACCINE HERALDS NEW DAWN-BY JEREMY LAURANCE

10.  MANY ASPIRANTS FOR CM’S POST-BY DEVI CHERIAN

 

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

1.      MORE PITFALLS AT PITTSBURGH

2.      TACKLING LABOUR REDUNDANCY

3.      MUMBAI WALKS MORE

4.      WHAT'S GOOD FOR THE GOOSE-SOMA BANERJEE

5.      MARKET LIKELY TO BE CHOPPY, BUT TRADERS SEE NO MAJOR CORRECTION-NISHANTH VASUDEVAN

6.      LIQUIDITY TO KEEP CALL RATES STEADY; RUPEE MAY TRADE STRONG

7.      'THIRD-PARTY LOGISTICS BUSINESS LIKELY TO REACH $90 M BY 2012'

8.      STORIES ARE NOT JUST FOR CHILDREN-MARGUERITE THEOPHIL

9.      FOREIGN BANKS OFFER NO SERIOUS COMPETITION HERE-GEORGE CHERIAN

10.  'WE NEED UNIFORM EXCISE DUTY ON CARS'-CHANCHAL PAL CHAUHAN

11.  ENTRY OF 3G WILL CHANGE THE MARKET DYNAMCIS FOR NOKIA

12.  CIGARETTE TAXES ARE DISCRIMINATORY: KURUSH GRANT-ANURADHA HIMATSINGKA

 

DECCAN CHRONICAL

1.      G20: LOFTY VOWS, BUT NO RESULTS

2.      UNDILUTED TRUTHS ABOUT RICH POLLUTERS -BY JAYANTHI NATARAJAN

3.      VOILA! RED CHINA DECIDES TO GO GREEN -BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

4.      THE WISDOM OF RAVAN -BY DEVDUTT PATTANAIK

5.      OBAMA AT THE PRECIPICE -BY FRANK RICH

6.      THE DEVIL WEARS CROCS -BY MAUREEN DOWD

 

THE STATESMAN

1.      UK STEPS UP EFFORTS TO SAVE WILDLIFE

2.      RACHEL SHIELDS

3.      TALKS & SANCTIONS

4.      SUBALTERN & STEEL

5.      OF FEWER FIGHTERS

6.      NEHRU AND PARTITION-NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT

 

THE TELEGRAPH

1.      RACE RAGE

2.      GOOD EVENING

3.      THE NEW GOLD RUSH

4.      THE ODDEST LINKS HAVE BEEN CREATED IN INDIA’S ECONOMIC SPHERE -ASHOK MITRA

5.      HALFWAY DOWN THERE -GWYNNE DYER

 

DECCAN HERALD

1.      MUSLIMS NEED A HINDU LEADER-BY SAEED NAQVI

2.      DASARA GOES DULL WITHOUT DOLLS-BY N NIRANJAN NIKAM

 

THE JERUSALEM POST

1.      JEWISH SELF-RELIANCE

2.      METRO VIEWS: THREE DAYS A YEAR

3.      MARILYN HENRY

4.      'DOC, SHOULD I FAST?'

5.      BENJAMIN W. CORN

 

HAARETZ

1.      NETANYAHU'S PATRONIZING ATTITUDE -BY HAARETZ EDITORIAL

2.      WHAT HAS REALLY CHANGED IN ISRAEL SINCE 1973? -BY GIDEON LEVY

3.      JEWS, WE HAVE IT GOOD -BY DORON ROSENBLUM

4.      ISRAEL NEEDS A SOLUTION, NOT NETANYAHU'S PR -BY AMIR OREN

5.      A TALE FOR YOM KIPPUR -BY YOSSI SARID

 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

1.      THE F.D.I.C. AND THE BANKS

2.      MR. DUNCAN AND THAT $4.3 BILLION

3.      HIGH COST OF DEATH ROW

4.      GRIZZLIES, BACK ON THE LIST

5.      CASSANDRAS OF CLIMATE -BY PAUL KRUGMAN

6.      A WAR PRESIDENT? -BY ROSS DOUTHAT

7.      READING INCOMPREHENSION -BY TODD FARLEY

 

I.THE NEWS

1.      A NEW BEGINNING

2.      SWINE FLU CASES

3.      IS AID THE ANSWER?-BY DR SANIA NISHTAR

4.      RIGHT TO INFORMATION-BY LAWRENCE CARTER

5.      POLITICS OF DEALS-BY MALIK AMIN ASLAM

6.      GOOD INSTINCTS ARE NOT ENOUGH-BY TALAT MASOOD

7.      STATE AND ETHNIC CONFLICT-BY DR RUBINA SAIGOL

8.      POSTMEN AND LIBRARIES-BY CHRIS CORK

 

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

1.      INDIA’S ORCHESTRATED PAK BASHING

2.      LET VAT BE THOROUGHLY DEBATED

3.      PAKISTAN NEEDS MORE SIALKOTS

4.      PEACE WAGON IN A RUT?

5.      FRIENDLY FIRE-KHALID SALEEM

6.      EID, EIDS & THEIR IMPLICATIONS-COL [R] RIAZ JAFRI

7.      LIMITED WAR & EMERGING THREAT-ASIF HAROON RAJA

8.      MYTH AND REALITY OF PAKISTAN-B A MALIK

9.      THE TWIT AND HIS TWITTERING..!-ROBERT CLEMENTS

 

THE INDEPENDENT

1.      HEART DISEASES

2.      VANISHING TREES

3.      KNOW YOUR VICE-PRESIDENT..!

 

THE AUSTRALIAN

1.      GOOD START FOR G20

2.      THE WORLD CANNOT ACCEPT A NUCLEAR IRAN

3.      GOING THE DISTANCE

 

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

1.      JOBS, JOBS, JOBS - AND MORE HOURS

2.      THE WICKET IS GETTING STICKIER

 

THE GURDIAN

1.      LABOUR IN BRIGHTON: HEY, HO, THE WIND AND THE RAIN

2.      DRUG TRIALS OUTSOURCING: CLINICAL CONCERNS

3.      IN PRAISE OF… BRIGHTON

 

THE JAPAN TIMES

1.      LOCAL ACCOUNTING IRREGULARITIES

2.      GRAYER POPULATION

3.      CHINA'S CHALLENGE MOVES INDIA TO EXPECT THE WORST-BY HARSH V. PANT

 

THE KOREA HERALD

1.      G20 LEADERSHIP

2.      REVIVING HALLYU

3.      SUCCESS IN AFGHANISTAN REQUIRES CHINA AND RUSSIA -RICHARD WEITZ

 

CHINA DAILY

1.      AFGHAN PEACE NEEDS A MAP

2.      SEEK BALANCED RECOVERY

3.      THE CASE FOR CULTURE

4.      COUNTRY ROADS TAKE MIGRANT WORKERS HOME

 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

NIGHTMARE PRESIDENCY

OBAMA IS RUINING INDIA’S SECURITY CLIMATE


He may not relish the comparison but it is now becoming increasingly obvious that Mr Barack Obama is the most hostile American President for India since Richard Nixon. In the eight months he has been in office, Mr Obama has snubbed India more than once. He has sent repeated signals that New Delhi is not integral to his Asian security architecture. Partly as a result of his country’s economic crisis, he has bent over backwards to accommodate China. His open advocacy of protectionism has been most visibly targeted at outsourcing of technology jobs to India. He headlined anti-trade legislation by saying it would punish those who created jobs in Bangalore rather than Buffalo, a special mention that was extraordinarily impolitic and did not go unnoticed in India. In contrast, the tariff war against Chinese tyres has not been posited in such stark bilateral terms. This past week, the Obama team reversed a decade of American nuclear pragmatism and went back to an outdated non-proliferation agenda that should have died, really, in the 1990s. Once more, India has been asked to give up its nuclear weapons and sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a second-tier power. Most alarmingly, Mr Obama has swung wildly on Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak). At various points his diplomats and Generals have said different things. Yet, in all this the overarching political message has been missing.


There has been a remarkable absence of clarity on Mr Obama’s strategic goals. In the early months, it was easy to pretend he was making up his mind. Now, it would seem he has no mind. His confusion on AfPak and constant shifting of tactical milestones would suggest he has little understanding of the nature of the challenge there and, behind those engaging phrases, is thoroughly confused. If the Obama Administration’s most recent thoughts on AfPak are taken as final, the American President is looking to cut and run. He would want to begin bringing troops home by early 2012, in time for his re-election. This would mean delegating Afghanistan to the Pakistani Army, and asking it to control the Taliban. It would also activate a lethal Saudi-Pakistani-Taliban alliance. This formidable combination of wealth, geography, religious appeal, unending foot-soldiers and nuclear weapons would create a monster power straddling south and west Asia. To some degree, it could be offset by a strong India and a stable Iran, which would flank AfPak. However, Mr Obama is determined that Teheran must not pursue its Bomb and India should be pressured to sign the NPT. Strangely, he has not considered asking Pakistan to give up its nukes in return for billions of dollars of “sustained and expanded commitment”.

Given the intensely and admirably egalitarian nature of the United States presidential election process, it has always been a theoretical possibility that the country will send to the White House a person inexperienced in global affairs and unequal to the international situation before him. Often this has not been the case, and incumbents have risen to the job. Sixty years ago, Harry S Truman had limited first-hand knowledge of great power bargaining but turned out to be farsighted enough to anticipate the Cold War. Mr Obama is the antithesis of this phenomenon. He is completely out of his depth and will probably leave behind a dangerous and unsure legacy. India could have done without this neophyte.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

VIJAYA DASHAMI PLEDGE

LET DHARMA PREVAIL OVER ADHARMA


As the country celebrates yet another Vijaya Dashami symbolising the victory of good over evil, it is a measure of the times we live in that our celebrations do not reflect the reality in the country. This does not go to say that we should not cash in on the festivities. But the stark contrast between our celebrations and the ground realities should help us contemplate. For, there is nothing to suggest that we are any closer to conquering the forces of evil conspiring against this country. On one hand, the threat from jihadi terror outfits continues to loom large, while on the other, the Maoist menace shows no signs of abating: On Saturday, the Bastar MP’s son was shot dead. Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the chief of the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba, is still a free man despite having orchestrated one of the most heinous terror strikes in history, the scars of which the city of Mumbai still bears. Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone terrorist caught alive in the attack, still languishes in his high security prison cell, feeling the urge to demand for mutton biryani and perfume from time to time. It is a sheer travesty of justice that in spite of a special court hearing Kasab’s case, the trial seems to have lost steam altogether.


Though the Centre and the States have finally come to a common understanding about the activities of the Maoists, branding them as a threat to national security, we still are a long way away from completely liberating vast areas of our countryside from the Red terror. If the internal security situation seems a little grim, the external security situation doesn't exactly inspire confidence. The Chinese incursions that have hogged a lot of media space in the last few weeks have a sinister air about them. Although the prospect of an all-out war with China is far-fetched, it is worrisome that given the frequency of the incursions we seem to be unable to do anything about them. The candid admissions of our former naval chief and present Air Chief Marshal regarding China’s superior military prowess is certainly not for the faint-hearted. When your own top men in uniform tell you that there is no way that you can match up to your potential foe, it takes more than military rations to perk up spirits. Security concerns apart, the demon of rising food prices is yet to be slain. An erratic monsoon coupled with the lack of a cogent food security policy has pushed thousands of farmers literally to the brink of their survival. Yet, despite the ominous circumstances we celebrate. And celebrate we must. It is the hope that we will triumph over the forces of evil and conquer the challenges facing us that keeps us going. So let Ravan’s effigies burn and may Durga rid the earth of sinners. A happy Vijaya Dashami to all.

 

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            THE PIONEER

COLUMN

COALITION ERA ENDING SOON

ARUN NEHRU

 

The great by-election battle is over and electoral results from 49 seats cutting across 12 States give a clear political message. Nonetheless, it would be premature to form conclusions about future political trends on the basis of these. The Congress in total lost seven seats while the BJP gained a sum of five seats. The latter’s success mainly came from Gujarat where the party won five out of seven seats that were held by the Congress. The BJP won one out of two seats in Madhya Pradesh, both of which were Congress seats. In Bihar where the RJD-LJP combine won nine of the 18 seats that went to polls, the BJP managed to retain its three seats. The losses in the State were mainly confined to the JD(U). In Uttar Pradesh the BSP won three seats, whereas in Delhi the Congress lost both the two seats that were up for grabs and also performed poorly in the Delhi University Students’ Union election.


There is a clear political message in these results for all political parties. Assembly elections are very complicated compared to Lok Sabha elections. Selection of candidates in the former is a very important issue and often local issues and local leaders prevail over the decisions and choices imposed by the State leaders. For example, look at the plight of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar who gave many a ticket to defectors from the RJD after the Lok Sabha election earlier in the year. However, most of them lost in the by-elections. The BJP confusion on leadership and ideology had cost the party in the Lok Sabha election, but the effect of this was not apparent in the by-elections.


The Congress setback in Gujarat reinforces the need for a change in leadership in the State. Although statistically speaking the party did not lose much in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. But the question is whether these trends will repeat in the Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana. I don’t think this will happen since the forces underlying the by-election trends cannot be taken to be representative of an entire State. Conditions vary in each region and in Maharashtra the Congress-NCP alliance looks stronger than the BJP-Shiv Sena combine, which can suffer due to the MNS factor. While inflation in food prices and anti-incumbency trends are major issues, I see the Congress emerging as the single largest party in the State. In Haryana the Congress should win comfortably as the INLD, Bhajan Lal and son, the BJP and the BSP individually are prone to fragmentation. The Opposition in the State is in confusion and is hardly expected to match Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda although he may have trouble handling dissidence within his party.


There are no vacations in politics and important Assembly elections in 2011 may determine the Lok Sabha trends for 2014 in key States. Five States representing close to 200 Lok Sabha seats go for Assembly polls in 2011. These are West Bengal, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu. The Congress with 200 seats plus in 2009 may well look at 250 to 300 seats in 2014. This is within its reach as the party is favourably placed in West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is Uttar Pradesh and Bihar that hold the key to the future. The political battle in Uttar Pradesh is evenly matched between the BSP, the SP and the Congress while in Bihar the fight is still between the JD(U)-BJP combine and the RJD-LJP alliance. We must follow developments in these five States keenly as they hold the key to the future formation of the Union Government. After more than two decades of coalition politics we may be heading for majority rule once again. And for all political parties good planning and governance is always based on a long-term strategy.


Meanwhile, we have witnessed a great deal of activity with regard to Hafiz Mohammad Saeed who masterminded the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai. But despite pressure from the US and repeated insistence by India to try the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba chief for terrorism, Islamabad is unmoved. This is because the entire Pakistani establishment has been infiltrated by hardliners who are sympathetic to groups such as the LeT and the Jaish-e-Mohammad. Our bilateral relationship with Pakistan is like a game of musical chairs. Islamabad takes two steps forward, but when its aid from the US is threatened, it takes three steps back. For, it knows that the US is stuck in Afghanistan and have few options other than relying on Pakistan.


Hafiz Saeed is supposed to be under house arrest but was an honoured guest at a Pakistani Army iftar! Our options with respect to dealing with Pakistan are limited. But are we displaying the right attitude towards those who indulge in terror acts against the country? Political compromises are a part of life. But is it not strange that while we go through the rituals of paying tribute to our martyrs and heroes of the Kargil conflict, we still entertain and give prominence to the Pakistani Army dictator who was responsible for this conflict?


The position is no different in the case of the 26/11 attack where the lone terrorist caught alive Ajmal Amir Kasab’s trial can take five to 10 years to be decided, and then perhaps another five to 10 years for the Government to take a decision on the court verdict as we see in the case of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.

The Home Minister is without a doubt creating the infrastructure and the expertise needed to handle the security situation in the country better. But what we need is the political will and determination to pursue a ‘zero tolerance’ on terrorism.


More often than not political accidents determine the course of events. In the past 50 years little has been achieved through planned political action. External and internal security constitute our greatest challenge for the immediate future and the situation is deteriorating by the day. This is due to our denial of the ground reality. The GDP growth of the past few years has generated enormous wealth in our political structure and dynastic strains have now extended to individual seats. The prospect of acquiring huge financial assets combined with the allure of excessive security and Government facilities is weakening our polity.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

DD, DISTINCT AT A DISTANCE

PRIYADARSI DUTTA


For Doordarshan, the national broadcaster, the life may begin at 50. On September 15 the channel completed half a century of its existence — but no longer as sole runner, or even front runner, in this long distance race. Mr Vasant Sathe, the Minister of Information and Broadcasting during the 1980s, advised Doordarshan to scrap the autonomy of Prasar Bharati and give more functional autonomy at every level to help the in-house talent blossom.

Despite the limited technological advancements in the second half of the 20th century India, Doordarshan offered a mixed bag of news and entertainment programmes. The channel must be commended for its reasonably good coverage of the Khalistani insurgency in Punjab, the Indian Peace Keeping Force operations in Sri Lanka, Asian and Olympic Games in 1980s. As the only source of visual entertainment at home during 1980s, it evokes a strong nostalgia in the minds of those who belong to the generation that associates itself with soap operas like Giant Robot, Hum Log and Buniyaad. The glitz and glamour of the 24x7 channels today cannot replace the simplicity of Doordarshan.


Some may like to compare either the black and white films of the Doordarshan era with that of today, or the test-match era with the T-20 age. But the former always had sobriety and class, which today’s multiplex culture lacks, for, it is just an overdose of indecent entertainment. Despite having labyrinthine red-tapes and most of its staff with greying hair, Doordarshan had a rare aplomb. Even its announcers had a measured voice with a civilising effect, so different from the anchors of 24x7 channels today who try to dominate the show by depressing the voice of their guests.


Every serial on Doordarshan, Hum Log, Yeh jo Hai Zindagi, Buniyaad, Rajani, Neemb, Bharat Ek Khoj, Byomkesh Bakshi, to name just a few, followed an original story line. They were connected with the lives of ordinary people. Today, every other serial is shot on larger-than-life sets that look so similar, showcasing unbridled glamour and viciousness. The reality shows may the latest chip, and the competition is how to get cheaper. Thankfully, on a few Bengali channels, including DD Bangla, the picture is not so grim so far.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

THE WEST’S DUPLICITY

AMERICA AND ITS TRANS-ATLANTIC ALLIES HAVE WILLINGLY SHUT THEIR EYES TO CHINA’S NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION AND BEIJING’S SUPPLY OF NUCLEAR KNOW-HOW TO ISLAMABAD. THIS IS IN SHARP CONTRAST TO THE WEST’S CASTIGATION OF IRAN FOR ITS NUCLEAR PROGRAMME. FOR US, A PAKISTANI BOMB IS GOOD, AN IRANIAN BOMB IS BAD!

PREMEN ADDY


The plot thickens. A purloined letter penned by Pakistani rogue scientist Dr AQ Khan is in the possession of Dutch intelligence following a raid on his niece’s house in Amsterdam; a copy with his London-based daughter, Dina, was destroyed on the instructions of her sobbing father after a harrowing session of ISI interrogation. There was, however, another copy; it belongs to the English journalist Simon Henderson, who has been on the trail of the ‘father’ of Pakistan’s Islamic bomb since the mid-1970s, when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto ruled the roost in Islamabad as premier. The trail went cold; Henderson’s projected biography of Khan was in deep freeze until 2003, when America’s fraught relationship with Iran reached critical mass. Khan’s dealings with the Tehran regime made him the cynosure of baleful eyes, the ISI’s most of all, since Washington was keen to nobble the errant doctor Frankenstein.


The story was up and running again, ignited by a call from Henderson’s ‘Deep Throat’ telling him of Khan’s renewed interest in establishing contact through a telephonic code. Henderson’s tale in The Sunday Times Magazine (September 20) is as riveting as it is intriguing. He writes: “The first customer of its (Khan Research Laboratories) enrichment plants was China — which itself had supplied Pakistan with enough highly enriched uranium for two nuclear bombs in the summer of 1982,” and subsequently tested one of its own on Pakistan’s behalf in May 1990, as revealed in a book, titled Deception, by two other journalists working for the paper.


After 9/11, US pressure on the Pervez Musharraf Government mounted. The General was probably offered a way out by his American interlocutors: “Work with us and we will support you. Blame all the nuclear nonsense on Khan”. Done. Gen Musharraf’s peans to Khan may have echoed in every corner of Pakistan, yet our hero soon put Khan under house arrest under ISI watch. Li Chew, the senior Minister who ran China’s nuclear weapons programme, had Khan warned about the Pakistan Army: “As long as they need the bomb, they will lick your balls. As soon as you have delivered the bomb, they will kick your balls.” Khan’s demure rephrasing to his wife read: “The bastards first used us and are now playing dirty games with us.”


The West’s haste to impugn Iran for its nuclear ambitions contrasts strangely with its discreet silence on China’s complicity in the illicit traffic of nuclear proliferation, masterminded by their common ally, the Pakistan Government and its military controllers.


Years before the inconvenience of Al Qaeda and the Taliban became corrupting flesh, the Reagan Administration and its immediate successor headed by George Bush Sr provided the protective arm of the CIA around AQ Khan, when Richard Barlow at the agency’s Pakistan desk blew the whistle on his dubious activities. The recalcitrant Barlow got the boot for his refusal to recant. Questions remain about the murky Anglo-American relationship with Pakistan. What are its true contours, what its hidden depths? And how do they fit in with Beijing’s anti-India realpolitik?

 

The philosopher Hegel went to some pain explaining his “Cunning of Reason;” but it was base cunning surely that drove the Countess of Minto’s triumphal entry in her diary on the troubled future that awaited India following the birth of the All India Muslim League in Dhaka in 1905 after her husband, the viceroy of India, had presided over its rite of passage. Against malevolent odds, India survived partition and has prospered.

Meanwhile, in the north and east of the sub-continent was created an Army cantonment called Pakistan, where are today seeded myriad agonies that wait to blight England’s once green and pleasant land.


Islamic terrorism, incubated in the very Muslim dominion whose seed was blessed with the holy water of the Raj, stalks the United Kingdom. The bomb plot designed to destroy transatlantic airliners in mid-flight and the long gaol sentences awarded the plotters — Tanvir Hussain, Abdulla Ahmed and Assad Sarwar — by a London court, are further evidence of the looming Pakistan-bred Islamic monster.


The late Robin Cook, spoke boldly of an ethical British foreign policy, on assuming office as New Labour’s Foreign Secretary. He cut a forlorn figure on the back benches of the Commons as his master, Mr Tony Blair, announced Britain’s support for the US war to destroy Saddam’s non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.

And so to a panoramic view of games great and small. British media Piranhas are much given to ritual attacks on Stalin’s August 1939 non-aggression pact with Hitler, describing it as the road to World War II. The British Government’s betrayal of Czechoslovakia in the Munich settlement of 1938, which forced the surrender of Czech Sudetenland to Nazi Germany and Hitler’s subsequent march into Prague are rarely mentioned. Similar indulgence marks their approaches to the dilatory tactics of the British delegation at the Moscow talks with the Soviet Union to forge a common front against the Third Reich.


The Right-wing Max Hastings in his recent study of Churchill as warlord refers to the intense hatred of Russia in the higher echelons of the British establishment where hopes burned brightly for a Russo-German conflict of mutual destruction. Stalin refused to oblige, buying time with his own accord with the Fuhrer. He repeated the performance with fascist Japan a year later (without being blamed for Pearl Harbour), thus laying for the Soviet Union the spectre of a war on two fronts. The Germans suffered irreparable loss at Stalingrad when Soviet forces from the far east joined the battle to deliver the coup de grace to Hitler’s vaunted Sixth Army.

Hastings reveals British disbelief at the possibility of French defeat, with an Army ensconced behind the supposedly impregnable Maginot Line; the same British elements dismissed any prospect of sustained Soviet resistance to the Nazi onslaught.


At the fag end of the war, Winston Churchill asked his military staff to draw up a plan for an Anglo-American assault with remnants of the Wehrmacht on the Soviet Union. Operation Unthinkable, as it was called, would have been an act of unsurpassed treachery. Conceived in Churchillian folly as a defence of the national interest, it was never implemented.


Joseph Stalin, true keeper of the seamless robe of grand strategy, had the last word. His stock in Russia is high and rising. Understandably so.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

DEMAGOGUERY AT ITS BEST

OBAMA TALKS A LOT, BUT YET TO ACT

BARRY RUBIN

 

It is difficult to overstate the absurdity in context of President Barack Obama’s performance at the Israeli-Palestinian photo opportunity at the UN. The outstanding theme is his commandist style.


We will reverse man-made global warming, he has said. We will have a health care bill. This is like the style of an Arab dictator, proclaiming that his will is all and that uttering words make something so. It is not the style of someone helping two parties solve a problem or of a mediator.


But let’s allow William Shakespeare to explain it:

 

“Why, man, he stands on top of the narrow world

Like the Colossus of Rhodes, and we little men

Walk under his huge legs and peep about

To find ourselves disgraceful graves.”


Yet this thundering, you-will-do-this style is combined with an extraordinary weakness, equally self-willed. Giving orders when you are tough is scary; giving orders when you are weak provokes derision. If America won’t use force or be tough or face confrontations or define enemies as such, then the gap between such arrogance and weakness is a chasm into which US foreign policy will fall.


This might wow them in elite salons of the United States but in lots of other countries, people have to lean against the wall to try to stop themselves from laughing.


Personal note: I don’t want to keep bashing Mr Obama, it’s simply that he keeps saying and doing things that defy satire and beg for the harsh criticism and exposure of absurdities that he is not getting in the mainstream media.

But how can one do otherwise when confronted with these statements by him:


“It is past time to stop talking about starting negotiations; it is time to move forward,”
Arab-Israeli negotiations have been going on for 60 years but Mr Obama really seems to believe they have just been waiting for him to give the go-ahead signal.


As I keep stressing the only reason there have been no negotiations for six months — a point the media never points out — is that Mr Obama introduced the demand that Israel freeze all construction on settlements. This issue had never prevented talks before but once Mr Obama raised the anti, well the Palestinians couldn’t be less militant than America’s President.


Instead, the New York Times tells us rather vaguely: “(Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud) Abbas has in the past refused to return to peace talks unless Israel freezes settlement growth in Palestinian territories.” Really? In the past like before January 20, 2009?


“There is a way, I think,” said Mr Obama in an interview with ABC, “to relaunch the peace process and not get bogged down with this question, because we’ve just wasted six months on this issue. We could waste another six months. I think that’s not good. I want to move on to peace.”


This could be called the stamping my little foot strategy. And incidentally I’d wager that Mr Obama has no idea of any way to resolve the conflict quickly. Those questions he doesn’t want to get bogged down with are basic and existential ones. And, again, it is his fault that six months have been wasted (he’s also wasted six months on confronting Iran, but that’s another issue).


Instead, Mr Obama wants to leap to permanent status. When was the last time that happened? Think back to 2000 when President Bill Clinton advanced to final status talks and that only after more than six years of preparation called the Oslo peace process. At Camp David the talks quickly fell apart and the Palestinians launched massive violence. And for the last nine years those involved have been saying that it was a mistake.


The best way to get the limited progress possible is not through grandstanding and demagoguery but finding solutions on small things that can strengthen the status quo and limit violence for the decades needed by the Palestinians to want to make real peace with Israel.


Yet perhaps Mr Obama thinks he’s Alexander the Great who, when faced with the Gordian Knot, rather than untie it merely cut through it with his sword. Mr Obama, who carries no sword, can’t do that with a dozen issues that could be listed at this point.


The fact that this man has no real experience in international relations is beginning to tell. No matter how good (or bad) the advisors are, they cannot fully make up for a President who hasn’t a clue of how to deal with an issue like this. I don’t want to be unfair but this seems literally to be true.


And then there’s his style. Mr Obama makes it sound as if countries must do things not because it is in their interest to do so (with American help, pressure, and even threats being part of that interest) but because he wants it and it will benefit him.


“We cannot continue the same pattern of taking tentative steps forward and then stepping back,” Mr Obama said. “It is absolutely critical that we get this issue resolved.”


But a man who knows more about these issues, Nahum Barnea, the Left-of-Centre Israeli columnist, put it this way: “The Americans discovered that they want an Israeli-Palestinian agreement more than the leaders of both sides desire one.”


Barnea might have more accurately written, “Should have discovered” because evidently the President hasn’t yet found this out.


Instead, Mr Obama stated, “It is time to show the flexibility and common sense and sense of compromise that’s necessary to achieve our goals.”


Flexibility? Common sense? Sense of compromise? What place is he talking about?


The writer is director of the GLORIA Centre, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader and The Truth About Syria.

 

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THE PIONEER

                                             OPED

AD-HOCISM AS FOREIGN POLICY

FROM THE CASUAL REFERENCE TO BALOCHISTAN AT SHARM EL-SHEIKH TO THE DILLY-DALLYING ATTITUDE ON THE RECENT CHINESE INCURSIONS, THE UPA CONTINUES TO FLOUNDER

CP BHAMBHRI


It is hardly expected of our regional political party leaders to offer an appropriate and coherent agenda of foreign and security policies for the country because their worldview is limited - even narrowly confined - to a universe of reality which is co-terminus with their own State or region or even sub-region. However, a national party in power at the Centre, with a coalition of other parties, cannot be forgiven if it fails to do so.


First, by de-hyphenating terrorism and referring to the Baluchistan issue in a joint communique issued after the meeting between Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers at Sharm el-Sheikh in July, the Manmohan Singh Government has completely disregarded the public opinion back home. The UPA Government’s ‘ad-hocism’ was further demonstrated on the issue of intrusions by the Chinese in the Indian territory. The issue of Chinese intrusion continued to engage the attention of Indians, including a section of former diplomats and military personnel. But the Government did not consider it proper to state facts and it completely failed to provide effective leadership on such a sensitive issue.


When the Manmohan Singh Government finally woke up, the Government in its wisdom warned the media to stop the ‘China hype’ because it could be ‘dangerous’ to the bilateral relations of the two countries. What a response by a Government of a democratic country?


The problem of ill-defined boundaries between India and China is root to the ups and downs in relationship. All kind of conflicting statements were made by all and sundry and the Government repeatedly stated that India-China relations are quite ‘normal’. Instead, the focus was on scientist K Santhanam’s statement that Pokharan II nuclear test of 1998 was a ‘dud’. The Government should have either firmly snubbed him or it should have maintained that the statements in defence of the effectiveness of nuclear test made by former President Abdul Kalam and former NSA Brajesh Mishra are authentic and the Government does not accept any other version on this issue. Later, National Security Advisor MK Narayanan made an official statement that India does not need any more nuclear tests because Pokharan II of 1998 was quite adequate.


Why such silences on sensitive issues of foreign and security policies?


To top it all, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s statement that Pakistan had always used American aid to build its security apparatus against India, spoiled the UPA Government’s party of completing 100 days in office. Should not have the Government lobbied against Gen Musharraf’s claim and ask the US to reconsider its monetary help to Pakistan in its fight against terrorism? But no. And that US as a friend has been the latest discovery of the Manmohan Singh Government. In the inimitable words of VK Krishna Menon, American guns supplied to Pakistan cannot fire only in one direction because every gun can be turned against an enemy by the person who possesses that gun.


The US has been equipping Pakistan for fight against Taliban, Al Qaeda and in the ongoing American-led war in Afghanistan. Does the UPA Government accept this alibi of America and Pakistan and still continue to believe Americans or Pakistanis?


Pakistan has its own interests in Afghanistan and those interests do not converge with the national interests of Americans in this whole region of south and central Asia. India also has its own interests in Afghanistan but in this ongoing war of America in Afghanistan, it is not India but Pakistan which carries great leverage with the Americans. This deep linkage between America and Pakistan has been revealed in a report on September 22 by the US General Stanley McChrystal in which he has warned that Indian influence in Afghanistan has been increasing and he further states that “…increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan or India”.


This report by an American General again exposes the lack of foresight in Indian policymaking because Afghani people or the Hamid Karzai Government may be positive about India’s economic and humanitarian activities in the building of Afghanistan but we do not have any military leverage to defend our interests in Afghanistan. On the other hand, Pakistan, Al Qaeda and Taliban forces are determined to rule over Afghanistan where Indians will have no role to play.


It should not be forgotten that several workers from India and even the Indian Embassy have been targeted by Islamists in Afghanistan who enjoy patronage and protection of Pakistan.

 

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THE PIONEER

                                             OPED

INNOCENCE TRAPPED IN A SOCIETY IN TURMOIL

LACUNAE IN LAWS WEIGH HEAVILY ON YOUNG OFFENDERS IN MILITANCY-INFESTED JAMMU, WRITES DEEPIKA THUSSOO


In the District Court in Jammu when I was rushing to appear before the excise magistrate in November 2008, I saw a boy, barely 10-year-old, handcuffed and being brought to the court by a policeman from the District Jail. As I realised this was a blatant disregard of the law, which clearly stipulates the rules for juvenile trial, I confronted the policeman but got a rather sheepish response.


He reluctantly answered, “The boy has been arrested with his father and uncle on the international border. Today he is to appear before the court. Since every one is brought here handcuffed, why not he?”


This was clearly a gross violation of child rights and what made the matter even graver, it was in the premises of the court, meant to uphold justice for all.


As I probed further, I found the policeman quite forthcoming. He said that the police have been ordered to take juvenile delinquents handcuffed to the court. This was an outright violation of the law and it was happening in a State where the Juvenile Justice Act, 1997 stands extended.


Clearly, in my sincerity of purpose and intensity of emotions, I had overstepped the authority. I was called into the court which demanded my reasons for interviewing the accused and the policeman. The court grilled me on my actions at interviewing this young offender without the permission of the district judge. A little intimidated but knowing that I was on sure ground, I stated my reasons plainly. This went against the letter and the spirit of the Juvenile Justice Act. I knew that had I waited for permission, it would have been a lost chance. Such offenders are often bundled out of the court room as soon as the hearing is over and taken to the ‘felons’ or the district jail where these juvenile delinquents are kept. I openly said as much to the court, deciding it was better for all the cards to be on the table.


I left the court making a humble submission that such juvenile offenders should not be brought handcuffed. I knew I had made a point, not merely in terms of a humanitarian appeal which is demeaning to the offender but on the strength of the legal point. The judge kindly acquiesced on the matter and it was a small battle won for restoring the dignity of a young boy who was on the wrong side of the law. My submission worked as I later came to know that the accused boy was being taken without the handcuffs.


The incident raises a number of questions about the state of child rights in militancy-infested Jammu. One can take this single case as a sample which demonstrates how the children in conflict with law in the insurgency-ridden Jammu are treated. Directly or indirectly due to militancy, poverty and unemployment, many children are pushed towards crime and militancy. There is a crying need to address this issue with clarity, compassion and action. Concerned individuals and organisations need to come forward to the rescue and rehabilitation of the such children who need protection, guidance and a supportive framework to make a transition from offenders to law-abiding children caught in a society of turmoil.


The treatment and proceedings governing juveniles delinquents have a legal basis in India and these need to strictly adhered to. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child contains provisions that specifically relate to the situation of children in conflict with the law. Article 12 states that children have the right to be heard in judicial proceedings affecting them, Article 37 refers to the prohibition of Torture and Deprivation of Liberty and Article 40 deals with the Administration of Juvenile Justice.


The CRC goes beyond the procedural aspects to ensure that the dignity and sense of worth of a child in such circumstances is not compromised. Article 37 clearly addresses that no child shall “be subjected to torture, cruel treatment or punishment, unlawful arrest or deprivation of liberty.” Article 40 states that a child in conflict with the law has the right to treatment, which promotes the child’s sense of dignity and worth.


The current status of the Juvenile Justice Act, 1996 in the State is that it has been extended on the pattern of the earlier Central Act, which stands repealed by the Children Care and Protection Act, 2000, at the Central Government level. Sadly in Jammu & Kashmir, which needs a legal protective mechanism for young offenders, the provisions of even the earlier law being adhered to are not evident. It is pertinent to note that the State Government has neither ratified the new Act by the Central Government nor has it implemented the beneficiary provisions of the older Act.


The lacuna in the legal provisions weighs heavily on young offenders who are being kept behind the bars along with professional
criminals.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

G-20'S HOUR

 

Move over, G-8. From now on, G-20 is the ''premier forum'' for global economic cooperation. That's the message from the Pittsburgh summit of developed and major developing nations. Cynics mock the too-many-cooks approach to economic firefighting and decision-making that they claim will result.

 

But others hail the change, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh many of whose policy prescriptions appeared in the final communique. Indeed, the worst downturn since the Great Depression is reason enough to go beyond the symbolism of G-20's elevation. Status quoists forget that the world has been executing an economic bailout demanding all hands on deck. That's why managing a crisis triggered by Wall Street's meltdown has seen China and India push growth vigorously, doing their bit to keep the world economy from tanking.

Thanks to their growing clout, China, India and Brazil need a prominent place in any international decision-making architecture. Given emerging economies account for around half the world's output, only pretension can drive G-8's claim to calling the shots.

 

It's good that a levelling framework will allow G-20 countries to work together to ensure their policies promote sustainable, balanced growth. G-20 also did well to agree to shift a higher percentage of IMF's quota share to developing countries. Since IMF will keep tabs on global economic stability, it can't remain associated with a few rich nations.


G-20 rightly backs a rebalancing of US-China economic ties. For years now, the US has seen inflated import bills while China has ridden on trade surpluses. America pledging to reduce debt-fuelled spending and China committing to boost domestic demand isn't just a G-2 affair. The action the two sides take will be critical for future global stability.

 

There was consensus as well on an issue strongly pushed by India: stimulus measures will stay for now. While G-20 can pat its back for preventing a recession from turning into a depression, it's too early to end rescue operations. Exit strategies may be globally coordinated but, for now, countries need more than green shoots to sign on.


Multilateral consensus-building is always work in progress. Broad guidelines were adopted to raise regulatory standards for financial institutions, with the Financial Stability Board assigned to mark progress. But there was some discord on bankers' pay and banks' capital requirements. It's, however, debatable whether there can be rigid global prescriptions in such matters.

 

There was also talk about resisting protectionism, but many nations haven't walked this talk. Overall, the summit formally initiated the move away from an economic governance structure straddled by an elite club of rich industrialised nations. Economic diplomacy has to reflect 21st century realities, and that's where Pittsburgh scores.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

HIRE CALLING

 

Noble vocations are the manifest destiny of many a neta's offspring. Look at Maharashtra. When party tickets to fight elections are given to 'kin'dred souls, it's thanks to a kinship less of blood than of the sweat and tears that go into public service. Inspiringly, kids, grandkids, nephews and nieces of luminaries like the president and assorted people's representatives are entering or aspire to enter the assembly poll fray. The bad press they're getting for it is unfair. The child shouldn't pay for the sins (or bills) of the father; in politics, the favour's usually done the other way round. Why, then, must political GenNext be told 'no-kin-do' about a line of duty pa or grandpa chose? Why wait till kin-dom come to fulfil a higher calling?


As Friends of Kin say, the hereditary principle applies to everything under the son. Take the triumvirate doctor-lawyer-engineer that's pursued in the marriage market. Doctors' children become doctors, and it's not just to get the best brides. Shaadi-related monopolies stand shaken in any case due to post-slowdown job insecurity. Forget doctor & co, even golden babalog like phoren-settled IT engineers or bankers have been replaced by humble babulog as eligible bachelors. Like blondes, government servants now have more fun. That's thanks not only to Sixth Pay Commission generosity but also the babus' sinecure...er, secure...posts.


Besides, in 21st century India, people no longer wear job-linked straitjackets. There's eased professional mobility. The employment market is so diversified, the call of political duty even goes unheeded. Else, a potential political heir wouldn't step into Rakhi Sawant's stilettos rather than his dad's kohlapuris. Clearly, the Great Indian Wedding is itself now a televised career option. Just think: picking out a dulha or dulhaniya and getting paid for it! More, swayamvar or biwi-hunt assignments don't end with getting hitched. Getting unhitched and rehitched to the power of infinity is on hire as well.


Again, a political heavyweight in Maharashtra has an actor-son; a similar biggie in Bihar has a cricketer-son. Neither Junior has scored big yet, but neither desires vote-garnering as a job alternative. Finally, with the wrecking of the old work-linked caste system, greybeards too have professional wanderlust. A political veteran recently renounced mute membership of his strife-torn party, becoming an idol breaker-cum-bestseller writer. Refusing to say "Jinnah yahan, darna yahan", he took the plunge. So, political dynasty is doubtless a venerable institution. But its babylog on vocation should realise politics isn't always Naukri No. 1.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

LIFE BEGINS AT SIXTY

 

Sixty years after the founding of the People's Republic of China, the country has undergone astounding changes. Beijing's achievements are still more impressive when you consider that for nearly half of those 60 years, politics had taken China on a detour away from economic development, responsible governance and engagement with much of the rest of the world.

 

Thirty years ago, nobody imagined China could become the world's third largest economy, that Beijing and Taipei would transcend long-standing hostility. Nobody predicted Chinese leaders would travel the world to lavish welcomes, because their arrival brought the prospect of investment, trade, aid and perhaps even salvation from the financial crisis of the time.


Nearing its 60th birthday, the People's Republic of China is at the crossroads. Now it has spent exactly half its national life pursuing the sort of free market economic "reforms" perceived as radical departures when first introduced by Deng Xiaoping.

 

After 30 years of what Deng called "reform and opening up", or 'gaige kaifang', China is ready for a new era of change. It needs a new model to address some negative effects 'gaige kaifang' has brought. From battling environmental degradation to mending the rift between rich and poor, from tackling corruption to re-examining foreign trade practices the international community perceives to be mercantilist, China's challenges are many.


In years past, the media sometimes nicknamed China's political sensitivities as "the three Ts": Tiananmen, Tibet, Taiwan. A decade ago another taboo topic was added; the list became "three T's and an F", to include the emergence of the religious sect Falungong.

 

Today Falungong is barely on society's radar. Many young Chinese have little idea about what happened in Tiananmen Square 20 years ago. Tibet is a source of political tensions, but today those types of frictions derive from new economic realities and extend far beyond Tibet. And Taiwan? For much of society, Taiwan is seen as a source of popular music, tourists and investment, no longer the adversary Mao Zedong faced off against 60 years ago.


China faces fresh challenges: how to foster creativity, and how to control Han Chinese chauvinism. For all its manufacturing muscle, scientists and engineers, China is not yet perceived as a centre for technological innovation. One problem is the educational system.

 

It focuses on rote learning and hierarchical thinking. Another is lack of adequate synergies between government, academia, industry and capital. For nearly 15 years the government has had something called the "863 project", intended to channel state funds and policy support behind an effort to develop, buy, borrow or steal modern technologies.

 

Yet a funny thing happened. It dawned on Beijing that many Chinese students and engineers who'd spent time overseas could bring back a whole new mindset. If China's academic system is too big and unwieldy to change totally, at least some Chinese returnees can be wooed back to run labs and other facilities where people can be trained to think outside the box.


The future of Chinese innovation may depend partly on the contribution of these returnees they're called "sea turtles" or 'haigui', in a pun on the phrase referring to Chinese who went abroad and then returned. Thousands of these "sea turtles" are already working in labs, universities, companies and R&D centres in China. Two ministers are "sea turtles", one at the ministry of science and technology and another at the ministry of health.


I am not equally optimistic about how or whether Beijing can solve the challenge of growing Han Chinese chauvinism. As China has grown more assertive in the world, Chinese have grown more confident and proud about not just their state but also their race. The result: a surge in what some call "patriotism" and others call "nationalism" a deep pride

 

 in being Chinese and, sometimes, a resentment of members of other races perceived to be slighting the Chinese people. In some cases, this has worked in the government's short-term interests. When unrest broke out last year in Tibet and Xinjiang, ordinary citizens supported the government's eventual suppression of protests by Tibetans and Uighurs and virulently opposed foreign critics of the Chinese government.


Civil unrest has served to strengthen the government's hand by consolidating grassroots Han Chinese support behind the regime. Today, we see how that dynamic can boomerang. Han Chinese residents in Xinjiang recently took to the streets in protest against local government authorities, demanding hasher action against ethnic Uighurs accused of attacking Han Chinese with syringes. The result of rising chauvinism may be that cracking down against ethnic Uighurs or Tibetans is seen as the less risky alternative to cracking down on Han Chinese.


How Beijing deals with the surge of ethnic Chinese chauvinism or nationalism could be a test of the country's remarkable achievements. The government must use wisdom and foresight to accommodate Chinese pride without alienating the ethnic minorities and without alarming the international community which is hoping to see China grow into a superpower that is as responsible as it is rich.


The writer is Beijing bureau chief of an international news magazine.

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TIMES OF INDIA

Q&A

'CHANDRAYAAN-2 WILL TRY TO GET DETAILS ABOUT WATER ON MOON'

 

G Madhavan Nair , chairperson of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), has played a key role in the design and development of the four-stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), the workhorse of ISRO. The PSLV launched the Indian mooncraft, Chandrayaan-1 on its journey to the moon. The mission has won worldwide acclaim after one of its foreign payloads, NASA's Moon Mineralogy Mapper, discovered water molecules. Nair spoke to Srinivas Laxman :


WHAT'S THE IMPACT OF THE DISCOVERY ON OUR SPACE PROGRAMME?

The discovery of water has really reinforced India's position as a growing space power. Its status has considerably gone up and this is evident from the several congratulatory messages which we have received from different parts of the world and the various space agencies. We will be getting more and more significant data.

WHAT'S THE NEXT STEP?

In the mooncraft there are a number of supporting instruments. These will be used for further confirmation of the presence of water molecules. This whole process is expected to take three to six months. In addition, we are also eagerly awaiting the results from NASA's LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite) spacecraft that will crashland at Cabeus, a crater near the moon's south pole, on October 9. This mission is also expected to search for water ice.

 

ON FRIDAY, YOU SAID IT WAS ISRO'S MOON IMPACT PROBE (MIP) WHICH CRASHLANDED NEAR THE SHACKLETON CRATER IN THE LUNAR SOUTH POLE ON NOVEMBER 14, 2008, THAT FIRST DETECTED SIGNS OF WATER. WHY WAS THIS IMPORTANT FACT NOT PUBLICISED EARLIER?

The MIP first detected signals of water while it was descending towards the lunar surface on November 14. Since it was a short duration flight we could not make any positive announcement that it had detected signals of water until we got firm proof and confirmation. This took about 10 months and now that we have concrete evidence about the presence of water we decided to announce the discovery by MIP.


IN WHICH PART OF THE MOON WAS WATER FOUND?

In the polar regions.


WHAT IS THE STATUS OF THE SECOND INDIAN MOON MISSION, CHANDRAYAAN-2?

We expect to launch it in 2013. It is a joint Indo-Russian mission that, apart from the orbiter, will have a lander and two rovers. This mission will also attempt to obtain more details about water.


HAS ISRO STARTED RECEIVING SCIENTIFIC PROPOSALS FOR THIS MOON FLIGHT?

Yes, suggestions have started coming in and the process of evaluating them will start soon.

WHICH IS ISRO'S NEXT MISSION?


We are preparing for the launch of the Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle towards the end of December that will have an indigenous cryogenic engine. The rocket will carry the GSat-4 communication satellite.

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TIMES OF INDIA

SUBVERSE

LAUGHING AT THE MIRROR

BACHI KARKARIA 

 

"Where should the ego go? Id is difficult to say.'' In fact, it is so big that it cannot fit anywhere other than in its own inflated niche, mounted on a pedestal, and lit up in flashing neon.


By now, this series has explored all the reasons why Indians find it so difficult to produce a true, belly-shaking, sides-aching, tears-streaming, rolling-in the aisles kind of laugh. We have deconstructed humour to the point where we have mangled the life out of it. Now it's time to subject it to the real ELISA test. Do we harbour the humour-immunodeficiency virus? Not just any one of this HIV's many mutants, but its most critical.


The million-dollar question is: "Can we laugh at ourselves?" Goon, take a wild shot. Actually a tame, even domesticated, guess will do. The answer lies all around us. And, no, we don't find it funny.


The ultimate test, the gold standard of humour is the ability to be able to take a dig at ourself. Not just a squeamish half-hearted prod, but a full-blooded ripping apart as if we were about to uncover a great mystery if not King Tut's tomb itself.


Some of us have learnt the civilised art of laughing politely at a joke at our expense though the rest of our body language invariably and unmistakably reveals our real response to such an affront. However, the self-deprecating genre of humour is something we find almost impossible to acquire.


This is silly. One, because to laugh at ourselves is far better (and safer) than being the target of someone else's arrows. And, two, when you say something disparaging about yourself, the subtext is exactly the opposite.

If i say that i suffer from a hopeless case of techlexia, what i am actually conveying is that my brain is wired to higher things, and/or i wouldn't be a techmeister if someone gave me a bumper, Diwali, 'upto 70 per cent off!' offer of attaining Geekdom 2.0. So while the laugh may appear to be on me, it's i who is actually having the last smirk.

Yet this simple point seems to elude us. We cannot laugh at ourselves, and we certainly cannot stomach anyone laughing at us. Our egos are way too big (read, way too fragile) to be able to survive such desecration. The medical term for both conditions is acute and irreversible self-confidence failure.


The most recent example is the way Congress knickers went into a twist over Shashi Tharoor's tweet. In matters of this haiku of the hi-tech age, it is an infinite relief to come across a smart, urbane message as opposed to the usual tsunami of banalities: "Have just settled down to a packet of Maggi. Have refused to share even one squiggle with Sunita. Or Snowy."


The party should have ignored the cattle class and holy cows retort for the trivia that it was even if they could not bring themselves to ha-ha-hee-hee over it. In our newspapers, politicians are always 'quipping' even when all they have said is "I am a disciplined soldier of the party." (Actually that is a joke, albeit an unintended one.) So when a minister actually does make an upfront, applaud-cheer-or-just-throw-money quip, we should be falling over our feet in gratitude, not stoning his gym-hard body.


Instead Shashi baba was made to stand in the corner with his finger on his lips by Madam. And, worse, subjected to the prim, pursed-lipped, "We are not amused" disapproval of Queen Victoria Natarajan on prime time news.


The irony is that it was left to the most po-faced man in the party, habitue of the 'dismal science' of economics, Manmohan Singh, to see it as it was, and declare that "It was just a joke."


You'd think Tharoor had revealed a state secret. Or had he? The truth is that all of us fancy ourselves as a holy cow. How can we turn the sublime into the ridiculed? That's our farce. And our tragedy.

 

bachi.karkaria@timesgroup.com

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

DÉJÀ VU

TOO MANY ROLES...

 

Play the characters of twins. Turn into triplets if necessary. As in all forms of art, quality cinematic creativity is born out of the need to look around the stereotype. Similarly, when an actor gets an opportunity to play both father and son, for instance, he is able to showcase his versatility and make a creative impact that matters. But the problem begins when people try too hard, leaving aside the need to restrict their imagination.

 

They create not one or two but a handful of characters, all played by the same person. Priyanka Chopra plays as many as 12 characters in Ashutosh Gowariker's What's Your Rashee? While Priyanka has acted beautifully in the film, is it realistic to expect that the audience will ignore one basic similarity between the many characters, which is that all of them are being played by the same actor? Many of us might appreciate Priyanka's chameleon-like ability to change colours, but what about the average viewer who limits himself to watching Priyanka replace Priyanka, before she replaces herself once again?


The late Sanjeev Kumar played nine characters in Naya Din Nai Raat. Kamal Haasan played as many as 10 characters in Dasavatharam. Known to be an actor par excellence, Sanjeev Kumar displayed an amazing ability to change from one character to another. But while the masses applauded the man when he played two characters in the comic epic Angoor, Naya Din... fell flat at the box office. That Dasavatharam wasn't a rock show either makes a point for others to learn from. No matter how talented an actor might be after all, nobody can doubt either Sanjeev Kumar's or Kamal Haasan's abilities it is important to ensure that the person isn't made to do too much.

 

A film in which the protagonist turns up in virtually every scene, and that too in a different avatar that merely reminds us that she is the same person, is a bad idea. The average viewer does not go to a film to analyse the actor's talent. A seeker of entertainment, one can get bored very easily when the same actor tries to do many different things. Does that mean film-makers and actors should stop conducting experiments that satisfy their creative urges? Certainly not. But when they create, or play, so many characters, one thing they should not expect is magic at the box office.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

BONFIRE OF OUR FRAILTIES

THE VICTORY OF GOOD OVER EVIL EVERY DUSSEHRA SHOULD REMIND US OF OUR DUTIES

 

As on every Dussehra evening, we will be reminded again about the natural victory of the forces of good over evil. Thousands of effigies of Ravana will play metaphor to this universal belief that takes shape from universal hope. And yet, while the war against darkness in its many forms is played out every year on the platform of mass theatre, in the real world there exists a more dangerous symmetry between good and evil, a more evenly matched battle. For one, there lies the problem of fixing what is good and what is evil. India in 2009 is at the crossroads. That inaction itself can be a vice, even an evil, can be gauged from decades of indifference that not only the Nation-State has shown towards vast swathes of its own people, but also that of the citizenry at large.

The innocuous-sounding term `chalta hai' has arguably been the most potent enemy of our country that still sees India's schizophrenic reality of First World capabilities with Third World miseries exist in full widescreen Technicolour. It's easy -- far too easy -- to blame that behemoth called The Government for all that ails us. People get the kind of government and its auxiliaries that they deserve, or at least that they grow comfortable with. The prime function of a democracy is to make popular will policy. Not always has popular will been for the obvious good.

 

On another level, there is another battle between good and evil going on -- a real one. The Prime Minister has reiterated that tackling Maoist extremism is India's most dangerous challenge. On his part, the Home Minister has made a strong argument for not shirking from the necessary duty of physically uprooting this menace and then going on a damage control mission for decades of under- or non-development among so many of our citizens. Amartya Sen, in his magisterial book, Idea of Justice, invokes the argument and counter-argument exchanged between Arjun and Krishna before the Kurukshetra war. While the former makes a cogent point about the means being more important than the end, the latter wins out when he states that one must do one's duty. If there is any lesson to be learnt from the victory of Rama over Ravana, it is this: a just war against the many ills beleaguering our nation must not be avoided. Being in denial about them is more than half the battle lost.

As on every Dussehra evening, we will be reminded again about the natural victory of the forces of good over evil. Thousands of effigies of Ravana will play metaphor to this universal belief that takes shape from universal hope. And yet, while the war against darkness in its many forms is played out every year on the platform of mass theatre, in the real world there exists a more dangerous symmetry between good and evil, a more evenly matched battle. For one, there lies the problem of fixing what is good and what is evil. India in 2009 is at the crossroads. That inaction itself can be a vice, even an evil, can be gauged from decades of indifference that not only the Nation-State has shown towards vast swathes of its own people, but also that of the citizenry at large.

The innocuous-sounding term `chalta hai' has arguably been the most potent enemy of our country that still sees India's schizophrenic reality of First World capabilities with Third World miseries exist in full widescreen Technicolour. It's easy -- far too easy -- to blame that behemoth called The Government for all that ails us. People get the kind of government and its auxiliaries that they deserve, or at least that they grow comfortable with. The prime function of a democracy is to make popular will policy. Not always has popular will been for the obvious good.

On another level, there is another battle between good and evil going on -- a real one. The Prime Minister has reiterated that tackling Maoist extremism is India's most dangerous challenge. On his part, the Home Minister has made a strong argument for not shirking from the necessary duty of physically uprooting this menace and then going on a damage control mission for decades of under- or non-development among so many of our citizens. Amartya Sen, in his magisterial book, Idea of Justice, invokes the argument and counter-argument exchanged between Arjun and Krishna before the Kurukshetra war. While the former makes a cogent point about the means being more important than the end, the latter wins out when he states that one must do one's duty. If there is any lesson to be learnt from the victory of Rama over Ravana, it is this: a just war against the many ills beleaguering our nation must not be avoided. Being in denial about them is more than half the battle lost.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

SIGNS OF OTHER TIMES

WE SEEM TO BE SLOWLY LOSING OUR NATIONAL SYMBOLS ONE BY ONE. MAYBE IT'S TIME TO GET SOME NEW ONES

 

Just when India was getting set to roar on the world stage, bad news regarding the dwindling population of its national animal, the mighty tiger, started making headlines. Now we hear the lotus is wilting, nay, dying. And before there's a burst of celebration in certain camps, let us warn you that this is not a reference to India's main opposition party's diminishing fortunes, but the very real possibility of a rare species of our national flower being lost forever. According to a BBC News report, the extremely rare Nymphaea tetragona -- a rare species of the lotus -will be gone soon, as conservation efforts to save this unusual flower have come to naught.

 

Add to this mix the rise in peacock poaching, and the fact that no one even remembers what a hockey stick looks like, then swirl the thought around in the muddy waters of a shrinking Ganga, and you might chance upon the very real possibility that our national symbols could be disappearing one by one. Perhaps we need a new, easy-to-recall list, including icons that represent the signs of our times, and are not nearing extinction. For example, we could replace the peacock with the pigeon as a tribute to the Great Indian Communications Revolution. Given the abundant reminders these birds liberally leave behind in our offices and homes, they'd be pretty hard to forget.

 

Well, we never hear the strains of Vande Mataram every time the Boys in Blue lift a championship cup, or Leander Paes his doubles partner, so maybe it's time to tune in to that other national song of jubilant times -`Chak de'. But for the handful of our readers who fear that all will soon be lost, here's some good news. That wily ol' banyan tree has a long innings ahead and mangoes are always just a season away. As for the rest, maybe it's time to give ourselves a national makeover.

Just when India was getting set to roar on the world stage, bad news regarding the dwindling population of its national animal, the mighty tiger, started making headlines. Now we hear the lotus is wilting, nay, dying. And before there's a burst of celebration in certain camps, let us warn you that this is not a reference to India's main opposition party's diminishing fortunes, but the very real possibility of a rare species of our national flower being lost forever. According to a BBC News report, the extremely rare Nymphaea tetragona -- a rare species of the lotus -will be gone soon, as conservation efforts to save this unusual flower have come to naught.

Add to this mix the rise in peacock poaching, and the fact that no one even remembers what a hockey stick looks like, then swirl the thought around in the muddy waters of a shrinking Ganga, and you might chance upon the very real possibility that our national symbols could be disappearing one by one. Perhaps we need a new, easy-to-recall list, including icons that represent the signs of our times, and are not nearing extinction. For example, we could replace the peacock with the pigeon as a tribute to the Great Indian Communications Revolution. Given the abundant reminders these birds liberally leave behind in our offices and homes, they'd be pretty hard to forget.

Well, we never hear the strains of Vande Mataram every time the Boys in Blue lift a championship cup, or Leander Paes his doubles partner, so maybe it's time to tune in to that other national song of jubilant times -`Chak de'. But for the handful of our readers who fear that all will soon be lost, here's some good news. That wily ol' banyan tree has a long innings ahead and mangoes are always just a season away. As for the rest, maybe it's time to give ourselves a national makeover.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

IT'S A BIT OF A STRETCH

IT'S WRONG TO LINK A NATION'S ATTITUDE TO WAR WITH THE NATURE OF ITS PEOPLE AND ITS SPORTING ACHIEVEMENTS, SAYS PRADEEP MAGAZINE GARY KIRSTEN AND PADDY UPTON ARE HERE TO TRAIN A CRICKET TEAM. THEY SHOULD REFRAIN FROM GIVING US LESSONS ON OUR HISTORY, CULTURE, RELIGION AND RACE

 

Afour-page dossier that is not just meant to improve the Indian cricket team's performance but also make them better human beings has generated a lot of debate, praise and even derision for all the wrong reasons. Messrs Gary Kirsten and Paddy Upton, the two South Africans responsible for coaching and providing psychological inputs to Team India, have circulated a document to the players which touches upon various aspects of team development, some very routine, some supposedly very bold and even revolutionary in nature.

 

It refers to India's history and gives reasons why we are a docile nation that has always been reactive in nature. It urges the team to be proactive and adopt strike-first methods to win matches, especially outside India.

 

This is something that should please our right-wing politicians and their followers. The document does not stop there -- it gives us examples from the 1971 war, saying how Indians reacted only after cities in northern India were bombed by Pakistan, and then links it with statistical data of how poorly we have done overseas in cricket by never attacking any team. This incursion into the past needs a serious debate; had any Indian coach said this, he would've already been reprimanded, if not sacked.

 

But the portion that has hogged a lot of news space and generated a lot of mirth among cricketers from even more `aggressive' and `liberated' countries is that which links fulfilling sexual urges with performance on the field. It talks about how excessive testosterone levels lead to aggressive behaviour and how increased sexual activity leads to rise in testosterone levels.


The inference to be drawn here is that since we are docile as a race, sexual activity will lead to the players being more aggressive, and hence to better performers on the cricket field.

 

How we wish that we had known of these findings when China attacked India in 1962! Our soldiers could have been sufficiently advised and even provided with partners before sending them to the battle field. Maybe a war that we lost could've been won?


But jokes apart, the relationship between sex and performance on the sporting field has been debated endlessly and there has been a lot of research done on the subject over the years. Among the many theories, however, none is as conclusive as Kirsten and Upton (or perhaps only Upton, since Kirsten tried to distance himself from the document on Friday) would like us to believe. Football teams and their coaches have grappled with this problem and have not come to any satisfactory conclusion. It has been left to each individual who, as long as he does not breach the team's discipline, and the moral and ethical code of the society he lives in, is free to indulge in what he thinks is good for him.

 

Sex as a part of training input has, to my knowledge, not been part of any coaching manual, especially in cricket. That is why we could see players from other countries blushing and demurring when told about team India's new `vision' document. And since many of the Indian team members are married, obviously `going solo' would be a better option for them unless their wives are patriotic enough to forgive them their indulgences for the sake of India's victory.

 

 

That the coaches have good intentions and want India to be aggressive so that they become the best team in the world is not in question here. But to use war terminology to make `us' understand our limitations as a sporting nation is as amusing as it should be shocking. Going by this logic, the empire on whom the sun never set should have been the best team in the world, something it rarely was. England, who colonised almost half of the world, is a struggling cricket nation and does not have an enviable record even in other sports.

 

How do we explain the rise of the colonised `slaves' -- the West Indies cricket team -- which for the better part of Eighties was the most outstanding team the history of the game has known, giving lessons to their English `masters' and to the rest of the world?


Australia has never been at war, yet it was the best team in the world for the last decade. The point I'm trying to make is that to link a nation's attitude to war with the nature of its people and its sporting achievements is fraught with serious danger. Even the best of historians have refrained from passing such judgments.

 

In any case, is being the aggressor and going to war such a good thing that youngsters should feel proud of it? Should they feel embarrassed that their forefathers never attacked any nation? In fact, if anything we feel proud of the fact that India never had any imperial designs and did not loot and plunder other nations?
Kirsten and Upton are here to coach and train a cricket team -- something they are qualified to do.
They should refrain from giving us lessons on our history, culture, religion and race. Pradeep Magazine is the author of Not Quite Cricket

Afour-page dossier that is not just meant to improve the Indian cricket team's performance but also make them better human beings has generated a lot of debate, praise and even derision for all the wrong reasons. Messrs Gary Kirsten and Paddy Upton, the two South Africans responsible for coaching and providing psychological inputs to Team India, have circulated a document to the players which touches upon various aspects of team development, some very routine, some supposedly very bold and even revolutionary in nature.

It refers to India's history and gives reasons why we are a docile nation that has always been reactive in nature. It urges the team to be proactive and adopt strike-first methods to win matches, especially outside India.

This is something that should please our right-wing politicians and their followers. The document does not stop there -- it gives us examples from the 1971 war, saying how Indians reacted only after cities in northern India were bombed by Pakistan, and then links it with statistical data of how poorly we have done overseas in cricket by never attacking any team. This incursion into the past needs a serious debate; had any Indian coach said this, he would've already been reprimanded, if not sacked.

But the portion that has hogged a lot of news space and generated a lot of mirth among cricketers from even more `aggressive' and `liberated' countries is that which links fulfilling sexual urges with performance on the field. It talks about how excessive testosterone levels lead to aggressive behaviour and how increased sexual activity leads to rise in testosterone levels.
The inference to be drawn here is that since we are docile as a race, sexual activity will lead to the players being more aggressive, and hence to better performers on the cricket field.

How we wish that we had known of these findings when China attacked India in 1962! Our soldiers could have been sufficiently advised and even provided with partners before sending them to the battle field. Maybe a war that we lost could've been won?
But jokes apart, the relationship between sex and performance on the sporting field has been debated endlessly and there has been a lot of research done on the subject over the years. Among the many theories, however, none is as conclusive as Kirsten and Upton (or perhaps only Upton, since Kirsten tried to distance himself from the document on Friday) would like us to believe. Football teams and their coaches have grappled with this problem and have not come to any satisfactory conclusion. It has been left to each individual who, as long as he does not breach the team's discipline, and the moral and ethical code of the society he lives in, is free to indulge in what he thinks is good for him.

Sex as a part of training input has, to my knowledge, not been part of any coaching manual, especially in cricket. That is why we could see players from other countries blushing and demurring when told about team India's new `vision' document. And since many of the Indian team members are married, obviously `going solo' would be a better option for them unless their wives are patriotic enough to forgive them their indulgences for the sake of India's victory.

That the coaches have good intentions and want India to be aggressive so that they become the best team in the world is not in question here. But to use war terminology to make `us' understand our limitations as a sporting nation is as amusing as it should be shocking. Going by this logic, the empire on whom the sun never set should have been the best team in the world, something it rarely was. England, who colonised almost half of the world, is a struggling cricket nation and does not have an enviable record even in other sports.

How do we explain the rise of the colonised `slaves' -- the West Indies cricket team -- which for the better part of Eighties was the most outstanding team the history of the game has known, giving lessons to their English `masters' and to the rest of the world?
Australia has never been at war, yet it was the best team in the world for the last decade. The point I'm trying to make is that to link a nation's attitude to war with the nature of its people and its sporting achievements is fraught with serious danger. Even the best of historians have refrained from passing such judgments.

In any case, is being the aggressor and going to war such a good thing that youngsters should feel proud of it? Should they feel embarrassed that their forefathers never attacked any nation? In fact, if anything we feel proud of the fact that India never had any imperial designs and did not loot and plunder other nations?
Kirsten and Upton are here to coach and train a cricket team -- something they are qualified to do.
They should refrain from giving us lessons on our history, culture, religion and race. Pradeep Magazine is the author of Not Quite Cricket

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

HIGH OFFICE, HIGHEST PROPRIETY

PANKAJ VOHRA, POLITICAL EDITOR

 

The Congress's decision to field President Pratibha Patil's son, Rajendra Shekhawat from Amravati in the Maharashtra Assembly elections, was a needless one. Equally, for the President's family to ask for a party ticket while she holds this high office is in violation of propriety. This one single action has put a shadow on the perception that the head of State is above the pressures and pulls of politics.

 

Various parties do field candidates for presidentship but once an incumbent is elected, he or she is expected to dissociate from any party affiliations. There are certain constitutional positions whose sanctity needs to be preserved at all costs.

 

There appears to be little justification for the President's son to contest on a party ticket in these polls. If Rajendra Shekhawat indeed was so keen on proving his mettle, he should have either waited for his mother's term to get over or entered the fray as an Independent. The President's office cannot be dragged into any controversy.

 

From the Congress standpoint, it would have been difficult to refuse a ticket to the President's son. But uncomfortable decisions need to be taken in the larger interests of the country. In giving the ticket to Rajendra, the party has sought to deprive its own minister and two timeMLA, Sunil Deshmukh, of another chance.

 

Deshmukh is contesting as an Independent and if he wins because of his commendable work, there will be many people who'll be embarrassed. And even if he loses, and so does the President's son, there will be some difficult moments.

 

According to party activists, Rajendra has not done enough work in Amravati and his father, Devi Singh Shekhawat, the President's spouse, had lost his deposit from the seat when he contested on a Congress ticket in 1995. This happened when the President herself was the MP from the area. Since the election process has started, many allegations are bound to resurface and the President's office will be needlessly dragged into controversies.

 

Rajendra had also embarrassed his mother earlier when as part of the official entourage of the President on a tour of Latin America as a VVIP member in April last year, he had gone off to Miami on a private visit for a day. Officials had explained that he had a business meeting with University of Florida functionaries in connection with the educational institutions run by the family.

 

The embarrassment caused by the first family is similar to what happened many years ago when V.V. Giri was President.
There were numerous stories that were doing the rounds and the late Chand Joshi wrote an exclusive report in HT in the early seventies on how vegetables grown in Rashtrapati Bhawan were being exported. The then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was deeply embarrassed by all this but maintained a silence as Giri was her candidate against Neelam Sanjiva Reddy when the Congress split in 1969 for the first time.

 

The President's office is sacrosanct.

Many Presidents like Rajendra Prasad, S. Radhakrishnan and Zakir Hussain served with great distinction and brought dignity to the position. There are a lot of expectations from Pratibha Patil. She may be a mother but she cannot forget that she is also the President. She must intervene and prevent the controversy from getting out of hand. One way would be to ask Rajendra Shekhawat to withdraw his nomination.Between us.

 

pvohra@hindustantimes.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

BIG BROTHER?

 

Ever since George Orwell so clinically documented the travails of Winston Smith, state control over the lives of its citizens have come to be judged by the standards of ‘1984’. How then does one judge the national intelligence grid proposal that makes 20 databases held by ‘public authorities’ accessible to 11 Central agencies? NATGRID, it is claimed, would enable law enforcement agencies to better pool their information, including bank accounts and insurance details, rail and air travel itineraries, internet and telephone logs and income tax histories.

 

Government officials dismiss worries of privacy being infringed by pointing out that this is innocuous information that can already be accessed by investigating agencies. But unlawfully accessed, a citizen’s surfing history, phone lists and income tax details can be used to intimidate, coerce and blackmail. Even in the hands of a vindictive state official, they could be used to harass, especially if the intention is to grind an axe or blackmail. These are not idle concerns, these are very real worries that the proposed national intelligence grid must answer well before it gets off the ground.

 

The tension between civil liberties and national security exists in every liberal democracy. The question will always be asked: how much personal freedom are we willing to give up to feel more secure. But the question is nuanced and the tension subtle. Rigorous checks on what information is pooled, on what grounds agencies can ask for it, and what the punishment is for leakage, would go a long way in protecting privacy as well as enabling the intelligence agencies to do a more efficient job. Claims of national security operate on public trust, trust that the government will not use it as an excuse to infringe on a citizen’s liberties. The national security grid must, therefore, not dismiss the need for checks.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

RADICAL CHIC

 

Kobad Ghandy has gripped the popular imagination — what is the London-schooled son of a strawberry ice cream magnate doing in the thick of revolutionary guerrilla warfare? In interviews, he spoke with a sobriety that seemed at odds with the apocalyptic Naxalite vision — he spoke of schooling problems, of boiling water to beat disease, of reducing child mortality. His wife and comrade, Anuradha Shanbagh, also shunned her cushioned life after her encounter with urban poverty. Ghandy and Shanbagh were part of a category of young people who were jolted awake to politics, by the moral urgency of addressing widespread rural exploitation. At a time when the Congress and the big two Communist parties were situated on different points of a “democratic” socialist spectrum, the Naxalite revolt brought the “spring thunder” of Maoism to India, as Gail Omvedt puts it, with the goal of agrarian revolution and armed struggle.

 

Certainly, over the decades that dream disintegrated for many young revolutionaries, and the brutality of the Naxalite way has ensured that none but the most militantly committed to their extortionist ends have stayed on. The extremism of their goals and the excesses of their method make them the most dreaded enemies of the state. And yet, as a perceptive Planning Commission study admitted, growth and good administration has simply passed over certain geographies and people, and Naxalites thrive in this development and governance vacuum. When extremist movements of any stripe supply much-needed healthcare or schooling, they supplant the state’s legitimacy. If they are seen to provide a certain rough justice through people’s courts (violent and imperfect as they may be) or by the enforcement of minimum wages or forest rights, that is because the state is perceived as an indifferent, abstract entity.

 

But what is arresting about examples like Kobad Ghandy (however repellent their ideology) is the fact that what stirred them to action was a cause so utterly removed from their insulated worlds. That possibility of a fierce sympathy between someone from the urban overclass and a forgotten, faraway group of tribals, is fascinating. And while romanticising the Naxal cause is ignorant, hollow and extremely dangerous, it would be as short-sighted to ignore grievances that that cause feeds on.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

PITTSBURGH PROMISES

 

WILL history judge Pittsburgh as the inflexion point in global political economy in terms of substantively, as opposed to symbolically, broadening the power base? There were things agreed to at the G-20 meeting that, say, two years back would have been considered near unmentionable. The best example is peer review of major countries’ macroeconomic health. Perceptive economists have long argued that if some of the world’s biggest economies run fiscal/monetary/exchange rate policies that seem destabilising and if there’s no mechanism to discuss the dangers of such policies, global economic management is effectively meaningless. Pittsburgh has made the idea of such a mechanism politically acceptable. How this works out, whether in the short term this works out at all, how America or China (the two great de-stabilisers) will take to peer review, are all valid questions. But the potential now exists for a better system, of which a better and reformed IMF, another Pittsburgh promise, will be a key part.

 

Pittsburgh may have delivered in some areas it didn’t seem to deliver. The vagueness and the evident lack of unanimity on financial regulation is an efficient outcome. Remember, globally applied Basle norms did not stop the crisis. Bank behaviour does need to change, banks’ capital reserve requirements should become pro-cyclical (increasing in booms and reducing in busts) — but these are really national questions dependant on internal financial/political structures. India, Indonesia and Italy shouldn’t be looking at a common set of finance guidelines.

 

The Indian delegation has let it be known that it is happy with Pittsburgh’s outcome. There’s reason to be happy. But there’s also reason to be self-aware. India’s place at the global high table, or India’s relative ranking there, is dependant on the economy producing about a decade of high growth. This is wholly doable provided the national purpose is clear. For example, India must address the problems with its overpopulated, small holding model of farming. It must act upon the recognition that its manufacturing base needs to be hugely broadened, that its basic education system needs a huge revamp, that its banks are too hemmed in by regulation (there’s a space between the way Lehman functioned and the way SBI has to function). These are essentially political questions. India’s politics will need to be consistently motivated by its economic ambition. Can we bet on that?

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE CHOSEN ONES

SEEMA CHISHTI

 

Some years ago, just as his hold over the television watching public in India had peaked, Lalu Prasad made a trip to Pakistan, the land of the well-heeled, well-spoken and khandani politician. He charmed his hosts with his ready wit, one-liners and, most of all, the shocking revelation that he was a first generation politician and that his early school years were spent wandering around on the back of a portly buffalo in the wilds of Bihar. It said a lot about India.

 

Several others over the years — whether thrown up by the national movement, Periyar’s, JP’s, Communist and Telangana, Lohia, Ram Mandir or Mandal movements — were marvellous testaments to the large Indian political canvas, its openness, its ability to accommodate not just dissent or difference but diversity of origins. This is obviously something rare, and to be treasured in a poor and large democracy. There was even a stone-cutter woman MP from Bihar, and several silent examples still exist.

 

But suddenly, it is threatening to become like Bollywood, an arena of immense possibilities being choked by just sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, even a nephew-in-law. It appears that people in key leadership positions in several parties are anxious to hand over to immediate and blood relations. Like family jewels, the “MP-ship” or “MLA ticket” is part of the family inheritance. Even caste seems to have been narrowed down to an obsession with kinship. Initially, the BJP tried to be snooty about it and indicate that playing house was something just the Congress did, they did not have a “dynasty”. But, over the years, children of various leaders have taken over, projected as legitimate heirs of political jagirs of all sorts.

 

In small towns and panchayats, this is sometimes more starkly evident and more openly talked about. Mayoral elections and other municipal-level elections offer an excellent microcosm to watch a phenomenon which is now played out at all levels in political parties.

 

It cannot be legitimately argued that those who are sons, daughters or even nephews-in-law carry a millstone, and that they not be permitted to do what their parents did. That would violate basic individual rights, and would also militate against the virtual guild system that has very much been part of the Indian tradition (doctors, lawyers, engineers all taking up their parent’s craft without a murmur). Also, in cases where political kin actually secure huge margins of victory and pass the democratic test, to make a case for not allowing sons and daughters to contest would be problematic.

 

But a damning consequence of this obvious change in the criteria for who gets the ticket, an implicit recognition that leaders’ children would inherit, and that too in the lifetime and under the watchful eye of the parent, has resulted in the weakening of the political party system in India. As even those who are first generation “fighters” in politics — for example, Karunanidhi, Thackeray, Mulayam Singh, Sharad Pawar, Purno Sangma and innumerable many in the Congress and the BJP (most recently Vilasrao Deshmukh, Shinde and Gopinath Munde) — hand down opportunity directly to their families, how elections are fought has changed.

 

As the party machinery is not exactly cranked up to help candidates uniformly, those anxious about their scions pump in disproportionate amounts of influence and money to ensure that they land a victory. The older democratic process of the party machinery taking responsibility for ensuring victories has been virtually replaced by a smaller (in the short-term, more “efficient”) family core, which then proceeds to run politics and campaigns like a contractor would, something which ultimately saps traditional essence of a political party. This system is not transparent and ultimately shuts the door to new entrants and aspirations, taking away the only thing that has the power to help people in an unequal society like India — the promise of equality of opportunity.

 

What is ironic is that most cases of “handing over” to children are made on the basis of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. But the script is very different from what it is made out. In the mid-late sixties Indira Gandhi was struggling to make a mark, but her father, India’s first prime minister, never really left it for her. A cursory reading of the political history of the times functions as a textbook tutorial on how to capture a party as large and restless as the Congress. Young Indira moved smartly and politically. Apart from intelligently using her confidantes (most of them Kashmiri pandits like herself, though not necessarily related to her), she even adopted an ideology to take on the old and snarling guard brilliantly after

 

her father’s death in order to settle herself in. This was a succession ensured by the successor well after the predecessor had passed on! Of course, there is something about hailing from political families — the expectations, dinner-time conversations, turbulence, personal tragedies and possible horrors that sharpen the mettle of children and those watching from up close, something that trains those schooled in it in a very special way. Consider again, in neighbouring Sri Lanka, a Sirimavo Bandaranaike or a Chandrika Kumaratunga who have seen and undergone miseries which are the stuff of screenplays, something that earned them their place in the power matrix, family, history, tragedy and personal fortitude all mixed in a way that detangling them is not always possible or recommended.

 

The problem is not that children of leaders cannot do what their parents did. To suggest that is unconstitutional. But what subverts the spirit of this great democracy is when the only problem confronting leaders seems to be to secure their kin a foothold.

 

Several of us laughed cynically when there were reports of laptops being used to evaluate the winnability of ticket-seekers before decisions were taken. But, in retrospect, there was something promising in the whirring of the hard-disk as it chose somewhat randomly. The certainty of some of the choices made in the most recent ticket distribution could not be filling anyone with much hope.

 

seema.chishti@expressindia.com

 

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

PODIUM FOR MAVERICKS

ALIA ALLANA

 

The assembly of theatrics — that is how the United Nations General Assembly (GA) is frequently dismissed. The fact that some maverick routinely steals the podium and then dominates the airwaves gives greater ammo to such criticism. Perhaps it would all make greater sense if we understood the General Assembly’s use as a stage, a venue for rhetoric and drama, rather than a forum of straight forward discussion.

 

This year it has been dominated by Libya’s Colonel Gaddafi. Some of the more colourful snippets from his speech included his opinion of the Security Council as the “terror” council; the prospect of the UN’s relocation on account of delegates’ jet-lag and immigration woes. Of course, he conspicuously avoided mention of the Pan Am 103 Lockerbie bombing — the one subject that has commandeered international attention.

 

Similarly, Castro’s four-and-a-half-hour anti-America tirade can be waved away as mere sensationalism. Castro stood behind the podium dressed in military uniform, decked out with a pistol holster (he was asked to leave his pistol behind at the door). Was this not to display that The General was addressing them? Bay of Pigs was the talk du jour, but Castro’s speech did not touch upon it. That was left to take place on the sidelines.

 

The importance of the assembly lies as much in what is not said about the pressing issues of the day. Take the Khrushchev shoe banging incident for example. A Philippines delegate asserted that the peoples of the Eastern Europe had been “deprived of political and civil rights” as the Soviet Union had “swallowed” them up. This made a great splash, but there was no talk of the Union. Khrushchev later confided, “It was such fun! The UN is sort of a parliament, you know, where the minority has to make itself known, one way or another.”

 

Then there was Hugo Chavez a few years ago: “Yesterday, the devil came right here... the president of the United States... The stink of sulphur is still hanging around the table in which I stand in front of.”

 

The Assembly has, for the past four years, been the Ahmadinejad Show. In his 2007 address he said: “Some seek to rule the world, relying on threats, while others live in perpetual insecurity and danger.” This was in the same speech where he once again called for the “annihilation of Israel”.

 

While this year the most pressing issue that the UN faces is that of nuclear non-proliferation, there was no talk from Ahmadinejad on the nuclear issue. Yet, within a week Ahmadinejad for the first time in the Islamic Republic’s history sits in front of the international delegation to talk of the country’s nuclear programme.

 

What then explains this trend? Why do these “despots”, “tyrants”, “bad boys” skirt around important issues? Propaganda analysts maintain that remote communities, communities with a heavily censored press though lacking basic facilities, have access to news. Thus, the orator needs to ensure that the bite-sized information he transmits and which will be repeatedly played is in keeping with his policies. Such that those who tune in hear “the advertising jingles and political slogan which either desire to shape their social and economic reality or which in fact they already do so”.

 

Note the role media plays in this as well. The much hyped “terror council” snippet is said within this context:

 

“Sixty-five wars broke out after the establishment of the UN and the Security Council... The Security Council since its establishment did not provide us with security but on the contrary provides us with terror and sanctions.”

 

So what use is the General Assembly then, critics ask.

 

The GA still remains the concert of nations. What happens on the sidelines is the real deal. On the sidelines of the GA the Security Council met to discuss nuclear non-proliferation and Resolution 1887 was passed.

 

Bernard Gwertzman of the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations maintains: “In this era of international relations, we may need to start thinking less about formal international treaties and agreements and much more what you might describe as coordinated national policies.”

 

So as far as the General Assembly goes, maybe we should just sit back and enjoy the show because the real transactions of international politics are taking place all around it.

 

alia.allana@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

‘NUMBER OF ATTACKS DRIVEN BY RACIST ATTITUDE WOULD BE MINORITY... WE ARE GOING TO MAKE SURE THAT A VISA THAT’S GIVEN FOR EDUCATION IS USED FOR EDUCATION’

 

Hello and welcome to Walk the Talk. I am Shekhar Gupta at the Australian High Commission in New Delhi and my guest this week a very distinguished Australian and believe it or not, he is not even a sportsman or a cricketer. Peter Varghese, the new High Commissioner of Australia to India. Welcome to Walk the Talk

 

PV: Thank you

 

SG: And good day to choose when you have this exhibition on sort of pictures exhibiting your multiculturalism

 

PV: That’s a wonderful coincidence actually because there is a great way of demonstrating that contemporary Australia has a very multicultural society and the question of who is an Australian would involve an answer that will just bring in every part of the world

 

SG: Maybe take a whole foolscap sheet

 

PV: Yes, absolutely

 

SG: But you know you don’t need an exhibition because you are a very good example of that. Parents born in Kerala, you born in Kenya, brought up in Australia. You are a wonderful example of multiculturalism

 

PV: That’s true. And my experience is not at all unusual for contemporary Australia that we have people from all over the world. You know something like 40 per cent of Australians have either born themselves overseas or one of their parents have been born overseas. So even though we are a small country in population terms, I think, the multicultural story in Australia is quite an exciting one when you look at the way, really in the space of a generation, not longer than that, we have developed into what is a very pluralist, multicultural but distinctively Australian community

 

SG: I’ve noted you say Australian, not Australian

 

PV: Well the Australian accent is going to vary

 

SG: Accents are varying all over the world now as populations get globalised

 

PV: Not a regional variation, but an individual variation in Australia

 

SG: There are surveys done on nationalities, ascribing certain characteristics to them, the famous roper survey. Very interesting that for so many decades now they have characterized the Australians as people in the category called fun-loving. That speaks for the great sporting tradition as well

 

PV: That’s certainly one element in the Australian character, but I think Australia is also, you know, a country that puts a lot of premium on hard work, and even though our international reputation may be for being relatively laid-back , I think Australia these days is a country and economy which is moving at quite a fast pace

 

SG: I don’t think anybody has ever seen an Australian sportsman who would look laid back – in any game

 

PV: We hope not because that competitive spirit in Australia is very strong

 

SG: Sport is an indicator of national character and I don’t think anybody takes chances with the Australians.

 

PV: Well we have a wonderful tradition of sporting competition between India and Australia

 

SG: Oh absolutely and you beat us a bit too often.

 

PV: Well you are doing pretty well at the moment

 

SG: So we need to restore that balance….but it’s a great rivalry now. For a long time nobody could beat Australia. And then India sort of leveled it.

 

PV: Yeah. All these things always go in cycles. You can never afford to be complacent or too despondent, I think.

 

SG: But you know, the timing of your appointment. Everybody has been quick to draw the linkages, linkages in India as well as the Australian media. And linkage being the current state of our relationship because of the attacks on students,etc

 

PV: Yes

 

SG: Do you see a special responsibility or burden or concern as you come in

 

PV: Well I think the timing of my appointment is really, completely coincidental because this is a decision that has been in the making for a very long time. And well before, we ran into any of these difficulties over students. So I don’t think anyone should read anything particular into the fact that I am coming to India to take up this position at this time. I mean, I’ve been a professional diplomat for over 30 years. And for me this job represents a wonderful professional challenge. Because this is a relationship which is already moving quickly, growing fast but it has huge potential and there are very few big relationships with the growth issue left in them if you are a professional diplomat

 

SG: Right. All the others are in close control now.

 

PV: Well all the others are well developed relations and I mean, obviously they are also moving but the room for moving with India is bigger than any other of the big relationships

 

SG: But there is a special, there has to be a particular appreciation of the situation now because Australia has got sort of difficult press in India over the past few months

 

PV: We have. We have. I mean I don’t think you can go through this sort of negative coverage that we have had in the Indian media over the student issue and not take a bit of a hit

 

SG: Right

 

PV: And one of the things that I want to do while I am here is to explain what is happening in Australia, to explain what we are doing where we see problems, and we do recognize where there are problems

 

SG: What’s your understanding of what’s been happening?

 

PV: Well, its actually quite a complicated story because it has a law enforcement dimension, it has an

educational institution dimension, and it has almost a sociological dimension. We’ve seen a very rapid rise in the number of Indian students coming to Australia and of course, we welcome them as we welcome all our international students. Many of the Indian students who

 

SG: It’s also a big export for Australia – education

 

PV: It is, it is. But you know education is one of those things which I don’t think you can view in a very narrow perspective. Sure, it’s a service export for Australia and its an important part of our economy. But the thing about education is that its much more than that. and it is absolutely crucial in building relationships because when you leave your country and go to another country to study, you are not just engaging in some sort of transaction, you are learning about another country, you are experiencing something different. And you are contributing to the country to which you have gone and one of the things that I keep saying is that the educational relationship is a reciprocal relationship, its not a one-way relationship. You know I had the privilege of serving in Malaysia, as my last position as high commissioner and there I saw the way in which an educational relationship can create real connections between two communities and also how students who come to Australia can change the perspective of Australians.

 

SG: But some of that unfortunately is not happening vis-à-vis the Indian students in Australia

 

PV: Well there is no reason why it shouldn’t happen

 

SG: Yeah

 

PV: And I don’t think that we should look upon the Indian student experience as a negative experience in Australia. The great majority of Indian students in Australia, our surveys confirm this, say that they enjoy being in Australia, that they are, appreciative of the way in which they have been welcomed in Australia and that they are having generally a very positive experience.

 

SG: You said that there are three dimensions to the problem

 

PV: Yes. Well, the first dimension is this is an issue of crime in urban areas. And much of the crime is going to be opportunistic and it will depend a little bit on where you are and when you are there. Indian students, many of them are working part-time, often because they have taken out loans and they need to earn money as well as to look after themselves, find accommodation, pay for their food and clothing. So many of them are working late shifts. They, in Melbourne…

 

SG: Legally or illegally?

 

PV: No, no legally. Legally. I mean, we allow students to work 20 hours a week, during the holidays they can work for as long as they like

 

SG: I see

 

PV: and so, we are not, not suggesting that they are working illegally. But typically many of them will live in low-cost neighbourhoods because they cant afford to live in more expensive neighbourhoods

 

SG: Or in rough neighbourhoods

 

PV: So in some ways they put themselves at double the risk because they’re working shift hours, they’re commuting in the early hours of the morning to neighbourhoods which have probably a higher crime rate than they were living in affluent, middle class suburbs. So, they, as a result I think have been victims of opportunistic crime. Now, I am not saying that in Australia there haven’t been any cases where some of these attacks had a racial element to it.

 

Sg: But not all of them have a racial element

 

PV: Not all of them and not even close to the majority of them would have. I think the number of attacks which had driven by a beggeted racial attitude would be very much the minority and something that I think most Australians would find apparent

 

SG: What is the element of racism in Australian society

 

PV: Well, you know, I often say that for a country to go from where Australia was say in the 50s to where it is today could not be possible if racism was embedded in the society. You cannot absorb that number of people from different countries, different cultures, different colours and remain a socially cohesive and united society if people had a fundamentally racist attitude. So I think the Australian story is actually an example of how at the individual level Australians have been remarkably willing to accept someone for who they are

 

SG: But have the economic stresses of the past few years caused a problem

 

PV: Well the economic stresses I think

 

SG: Drought, downturn

 

PV: well, I think times of economic stress will always accentuate some difficulties but if they do it is very much at the margins. And I don’t think there is any evidence that economic stress is causing fundamental intolerance to develop in Australia. And Australia has been very fortunate with economy. I mean, we have had

 

SG: you benefited from the commodity boom

 

PV: We have benefited from the commodity boom. We had 16 straight years of economic growth

 

SG: We heard about crane drivers getting 70,000 Australian dollars a year

 

PV: Wow. Its true. The resource boom, particulary in Western Australia and Queensland attracted a lot of labour to those parts. And quite highly paid

 

SG: You said there is a law and order enforcement aspect to it and what are the other two aspects

 

PV: Well the other aspect is, we have had some cases where students have come from India to Australia and enrolled in educational institutions which turned out to be not properly prepared and equipped to teach the courses. And that has caused problems

 

SG: So they were fly by night

PV: Some of them were operators that weren’t capable of delivering what they promised

 

SG: So are you moving against them?

 

PV: We certainly are. We are introducing legislation requiring institutions to re-register under tougher criteria and if they don’t meet those criteria they would be struck off the list

 

SG: Frankly some of this is also a function of the brutal undersupply in India

 

PV: Sure

 

SG: Because in India now the yearning for higher education is so desperate and because India doesn’t give enough capacity, people just go overseas and then maybe sometimes they don’t choose very carefully

 

PV: Well it could be that. it could be that people are being given incorrect information, like to believe that they will get something when they get there, they don’t. but your point about the incapacities is very relevant because from where I sit, the possibility to work in partnership with India on education issues is really quite large because this is a very big structural issue for India. And India recognizes there is an education deficit which needs to be filled and government here is working very hard to do that. so I think there is a natural fit between where India wants to get to and Australia has to offer

 

SG: So do you see India and Australia working together in this?

 

PV: Absolutely, absolutely

 

SG: is that part of your agenda as well?

 

PV: It’s very much part of my agenda but I believe it is also part of the Indian government’s agenda and certainly

 

SG: Indian government is desperate because now people want education and they will be angry if they don’t get it

 

PV; And I think we can do this in several ways. We can continue to offer education in Australia to Indian students. But I think there is also scope now for us to look at doing something here in India, preferably in partnership with an Indian partner

 

SG: Helping build Indian institutions…one reason you get sharp reactions to attack on Indian students is that people also know there is a certain degree of anger about the fact that they are being forced to go just because there is no capacity available. Then you pay money, you beg, steal and borrow, and then you hear about some kid getting thrashed. So a lot of the families start worrying

 

PV: Yes, yes. I fully understand the worry that parents would have particularly if what they are seeing in the media back home is some suggestion that the whole Australian community has gone on an anti-indian rampage. I mean, any parent, I am a parent, if your kids are a long way away you are going to worry and I think its important to get across the message that Australia is by and large a very safe country. No country has zero crime, regrettably. But by any measure, I think, the crime rates in Australia are low

 

SG: And you said the third aspect was sociological

PV: Well the third aspect relates more to the way in which the education and migration systems seem to have been blurred. And we have had some cases where those coming to Australia ostensibly to study appear to be really there in order to aquire a visa and permanent residency. And this is relevant because often they will be doing even more of the sort of shift work

 

SG: So the main purpose is to work and the educational affiliation is a smoke screen

 

PV: Is a smoke screen. And we are taking steps to prevent that from happening.

 

SG: Will you sort of make visas tougher?

 

PV: Well we are not going to make visas tougher, but we are going to make sure that a visa that’s given for education is used for education. So, we are a country of migration, the integrity of our immigration system is very important to us, we have a global non-discriminatroy point system and we are determined to ensure that that system continues to operate

 

SG: Tell me, you as somebody of Indian origin, from your childhood, in your years as student, as a professional did anything ever happen that made you feel like you were an outsider in Australia? Did you face any racism of any kind?

 

PV: My overall experience in Australia has been very positive. I came to Australia when I was eight years old. so I did virtually all of my primary education in Australia, all of my secondary, all of my university education in Australia. And my experience was that I found Australians willing to accept me for who I was

 

SG: Right

 

PV: did I ever encounter a hostile reaction or an incidence of racism? Sure. But I could probably count on one hand in the 40 plus years that I have been in Australia, way that has happened. And I think it is the strength of Australia that individuals…

 

SG: And have you seen it get better or worse over the decades

 

PV: Well, I think if anything the objective evidence suggests it’s got better because Australians have been dealing easily with much larger numbers of people coming into the country from different backgrounds. I mean when we came to Australia in 1964 it was very unusual to see anyone of an Asian background in the streets

 

SG: And now there are whole Asian streets

 

PV: Well, now you walk down the street, and it is such a kaleidoscope of faces

 

SG: You were heading the office of national assessment, like our national security council, and you spoke to the prime minister directly. What did the prime minister tell you about India, where did he place India in the big picture from Australia’s point of view, particularly when you were coming in here?

 

PV: Well he is a huge enthusiast about India and my instructions are very simple. He wants to take India to the frontline of our diplomatic relations. He is someone who sees India as a country which will exert increasing influence regionally and globally. He sees India’s economic rise as one of the pivotal developments of this century and he recognizes that india’s strength as a pluralist democracy is something which will bring it closer to Australia. So he is very keen on building up this relationship

SG: There’ve been many hiccups of late. Attacks on student is one thing which plays badly in the media

 

PV: Yes

 

SG: But there is also the decision to go back on the decision to sell uranium to India when you had a change of government there?

 

PV: Yes

 

SG: There was also that Mohd Hanif case

 

PV: Yes

 

SG: Indian doctor who was arrested and now there’s been this ADB vote. So it looks like a series of setbacks, in a relationship which was completely non-controversial, except sometimes on the field of cricket

 

PV: Well those controversies on the cricket field can be quite important

 

SG: Well some of the TV channels here actually linked attacks on students to that. so that became particularly nasty press

 

PV: I mean, I wouldn’t put it as a series of setbacks and I think you’ve got to look at each of these issues in their own right and on their own merits. And sometimes not all of the facts are right when they are being discussed. I mean, uranium I recognize is an issue between India and Australia. But you know this is an Australian policy that goes back a very long way. It was started in fact by Malcom Fraser. He was the libro prime minister of Australia. And it is been the consistent policy of successive Australian governments

 

SG: Previous government had decided to make it shift

 

PV: Mr Howard made an exception to long standing Australian policy and the Rudd government is returning to what has been long standing Australian policy and this was something which was in the Labour party platform at the last election and it’s an issue which

 

SG: They could not have gone back on it

 

PV: Well, it’s an issue that attracts very strong views in Australia and as I say it’s not a new policy and I think it’s very important to understand that this is not a policy that is explicitly directed at India. This is all about Australia’s position vis-à-vis the non-proliferation treaty

 

SG: Well, the nuclear deal was a policy explicitly directed at India by the NSG and the rest, there was an exception made by 46 countries and there was an expectation that you know the follow ups also will be on the same basis, expectation in this country

 

PV: Well, Australia was an active supporter of lifting the ban in the NSG because we recognized that this was an issue that was important to India and we recognized the broader significance of the US-India nuclear agreement. So, from my point of view, we wanted to do what we could do to ensure that that global restriction was lifted

 

SG: Right

PV: But it was never part of the deal when we lifted, when we agreed to lift the restrictions on the NSG, that we would be locked into selling uranium to India. I mean, the two are quite separate. One, is a national position

 

SG: and one is a party position

 

PV: No, no. one is a national position about Australian sales to India. The other is about the way in which the international community engages India

 

SG: Because you know it will not be seen like that in India. It will be seen as you know we were getting the dividend that was logically ours after the nuclear deal and a change of government in Australia has gone back on that

 

PV: Well

 

SG: That’s a statement of fact

 

PV: Yeah, I think the Indian government appreciated the position Australia took on the NSG. They appreciated the fact that we did not oppose lifting the ban and indeed they appreciated the fact that we actively supported lifting the ban. So let’s take that as a positive, in its own right.

 

SG: And the vote at the ADB?

 

PV: Well, here again, I think

 

SG: Because Chinese objected to loans being given to projects in Arunachal Pradesh because they claimed it was disputed territory and there was a vote and you know it looks like the western world was divided too because in some ways you see Australia is a western power, not an eastern power

 

PV: Right, well here again I think it is important to understand what the facts of the case were. Australia fully supported the inclusion of Arunachal Pradesh in the India country strategy for the ADB. So there can be no question of what Australia’s position is on whether or not Arunachal Pradesh projects should be included in the ADB’s programme.

 

SG: right

 

PV: And that’s the key point. This is only an issue about how the ADB should publicly characterize the India country strategy. And the position we took there was to support what the ADB management wanted which was to issue a press statement on the India country strategy which was silent on Arunachal Pradesh. And the reason the ADB management wanted to take that position was that they didn’t want the ADB as an institution getting involved in a political border issue between India and china. So Australia wasn’t casting a vote in favour of china and against India, Australia was casting a vote to support the ADB’s leadership position

 

SG: Let me ask you a direct question

 

PV: Sure

 

SG: Does government of Australia have a position on the status of Arunachal Pradesh as a part of India

 

PV: Look, with most territorial disputes Australia’s position is to urge peaceful resolution between the two contesting parties and that is the position of most countries to disputes relating to the borders of other countries. So we neither support nor oppose the Indian position on the status of Arunachal Pradesh.

 

SG: Because there is a feeling that Australia, particularly the Rudd government, feels overawed by China, there is a mood of quick capitulation to China

 

PV: Well, I think that would be to completely misread the way in which Australia and China interact. And I don’t think Australia is an unique position here. we have a very strong economic relationship with China, we seek to engage China in a range of issues

 

SG: But you have some of the same problems that we have, that we keep hearing about, you recently rejected Chinese getting 50 per cent share holding in one of your mining companies, one of your regulators have now talked about keeping China limited to 15 per cent equity in your resource companies. So you see the same anxieties here

 

PV: We didn’t actually reject that bid, the bid in a sense fell apart

 

SG: Your Rio Tinto people have been picked up for espionage no less

 

PV; Well, that’s right. But you know what’s the issue here, the issue here for all of us is how do we constructively engage with China and how do we ensure that China’s rise will not be destabilizing and I think the strategy that we all have which is that we engage China, we bring them into regional and international institutions, we encourage China to play by the rules, and we give China the room to have a voice in regional and international forum. I think what we are doing there is precisely what India is doing with China, it is precisely what the United States is doing with China, it’s what Japan is doing with China, so I think to characterize ours, our position as a capitulation would be quite inaccurate.

 

SG: And where do Australia and India go? We had an exercise together last year, Malabar

 

PV: Yes, yes

 

SG: We are doing well on trade

 

PV: We are doing very well on trade, I think it is our fastest growing

 

SG: Some part of our relationships on strategy, on trade are doing fine

 

PV: Yes

 

SG: How do we build on that now?

 

PV: Well, I think the fundamentals are doing very well and I think the way we build on that is to keep broadening out those areas of mutual interest that serve each of our country well. I think on the economic front there is a lot that we can do together, particularly on energy security, with coal and natural gas and this is a big, an important issue for India. I think we can do more to promote direct investment by our companies. I think if we can look at the merits of free trade agreement that have

 

SG: Now that India has one with ASEAN

PV: ASEAN and we have just about to finish a feasibility study so we hope that will be a positive conclusion I think on the security and strategic side we are both Indian ocean countries, we both have a very strong maritime focus in our strategic thinking. I think as India comes closer to east Asia

 

SG: India has a Look East policy

 

PV: India has a Look East policy and the gravitational pull of your economic interests will take you even further east. I think that will create a common agenda for India and Australia in terms of east Asian regionalism, architecture, confidence building measures. I think multilaterally there is a lot we can do together.

 

SG: well, all I can say is you will have a very fruitful and very exciting tenure here. there wont be one dull moment

 

PV: Well, I am very excited about..

 

SG: So if I use a cricketing term, I think you are set for a good long innings, may you score a lot of centuries and runs

 

PV: Thank you

 

SG: And enjoy yourself and before someone else tells you I’ll tell you what we say about Malayalis in India. There is no corner of the world where you wont find one Malayali. So I think this very good Malayali has found a very good corner

 

PV: Thank you very much. I enjoyed the conversation

 

SG: Thank you. Just the right man at the right time

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

OIL’S WELL, FREE PRICES


Global oil prices have hardly made the headlines in recent times, hovering as they are between $60 and $70 per barrel. This is widely considered to be the upper end of the comfort zone for oil marketing companies in India, given the administered pricing mechanism. So, it is interesting to note that even in a period of relatively benign oil prices, ie. the first quarter of financial year 2009-10, leading oil marketing companies are reporting under-recoveries. For IOC, BPCL and HPCL, the under-recoveries on account of transport fuel in Q1 FY 10 were to the tune of Rs 2.2 billion, Rs 1.5 billion and Rs 1.7 billion respectively. The under-recoveries are larger on account of cooking fuels—Rs 29.6 billion, Rs 9.2 billion and Rs 8.1 billion respectively. Obviously, the under-recoveries for 2009-10 are likely to be much less than for 2008-09 because oil prices are not expected to hit close to $150 per barrel any time soon. Yet, global prices of crude oil are surely going to inch upwards as economic recovery takes stronger hold, particularly in the US and EU but also in China and India.

 

The government may not be feeling the heat at the moment. Upstream oil companies are offering discounts to cover the under-recoveries on account of transport fuel subsidy and the government is issuing oil bonds to finance the shortfall in cooking fuel. But this is unlikely to be a sustainable solution as oil prices rise. The only solution, as we have argued repeatedly in these columns, is to deregulate the pricing of petroleum products. The government has appointed yet another committee, to add to a long list of previous committees, to look into the issue of deregulation of oil prices. There isn’t anything new another committee can say. They can, however, urge the government to deregulate while global prices are still in the $60-70 range. At this price, there won’t be a significant rise in transport fuel prices when deregulation does take place. If oil goes above $100, and it well might, then the government will be reluctant to incur the political cost of deregulation. Also, the government is struggling to contain a widening fiscal deficit at this point in time. It is too early to withdraw stimulus, but it can cut expenditure on oil bonds. In FY 09, the government spent Rs 713 billion on oil bonds. In FY 10, this amount will be less, but could still be a significant Rs 305 billion, according to some estimates. Surely, that money is better spent elsewhere or even saved.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

AND THEN THERE WERE TWENTY


In the end, contrary to what the cynics believed, the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh actually achieved quite a lot, a lot more than international clubs of this kind end up achieving usually. Perhaps most importantly for the immediate future, the G-20 countries pledged to continue with fiscal and monetary stimuli measures, dropping the thought of an ‘exit’ strategy for now. That is a wise decision. While things have improved for the global economy in the last few months, we are still not clear of the woods. Any withdrawal of stimuli at this stage could have sent the global economy into another sharp glut. Another issue of importance in the near medium term was bankers’ pay. There was reportedly significant divide between key G-20 members on this subject before Pittsburgh, but it seems to have been sorted quite sensibly. There will be no formal caps on executive pay. As we have argued in these columns before, such caps would not have solved the fundamental problems in finance. However, countries have agreed to examine rules that would compel bankers to be paid with a longer time frame and perhaps more in stock options than cash. This would prevent some of the short termism that was at the root of this crisis. Obviously it isn’t easy to arrive at precise rules and one can’t be sure everyone will sign up to them, but for now the intent of the G-20 leadership is clear—no caps, but no short-termism either. Also capital adequacy norms will likely be evolved in the future to prevent excess leverage.

 

But beyond these two immediate issues, what is perhaps the most important outcome from the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh is the clear shift in the balance of power that emerged in the aftermath. By committing to replacing the G-8 with the G-20 as the main body to preside over the international economy, rich countries have ceded considerable space to important emerging economies in the governance of the global financial architecture. India, of course, played a crucial part in this change—as India did in forcing developed countries to restructure IMF to give greater voting rights to emerging economies. The time frame for the change could have been quicker than two years but given that this change has taken 65 years coming, one can’t quibble too much over two years. But it isn’t simply about structures. There is a noticeable change in substance as well. For the first time, developed countries will subject their own economic performance to peer review by other countries and by IMF. Of course, enforcement remains a problem but if the US has in principle agreed to reduce its deficit and increase savings, while China and Germany have agreed to reduce their surpluses and increase domestic consumption, then much progress has been made in addressing the fundamental macroeconomics behind this crisis. A word of caution to the Indian leadership: we are still marginal players compared to China, the US, and EU—we need to grow at 9% for another decade before we have as much influence as they do.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WHY SMALL IS BIG

GEETA NAIR

 

The rear mirror view is not flattering. Did automotive companies get it all wrong in India? Was their India entry strategy right? Did they err in not attacking the small car market earlier? They have taken 5 to 10 years to discover a gaping hole in their portfolio. Is it too late now to explore the small car market when every other company is looking at the small car to push their volumes and sustain growth in the Indian market? Ford has unveiled the Figo. General Motors has a small car and has also tied up with Reva for the small electric car. Toyota Motor Co, Honda has started work on their small car. Work is on for Bajaj’s small car. Volkswagen is racing ahead, so is Nissan. Not having a small car in the portfolio now looks suicidal.

 

It is the Nano Effect. Ever since Ratan Tata delivered the Nano, automotive makers have scratched their head and scurried back to their drawing boards to work out their small car strategy. They may not acknowledge it but it was a wake-up call for them. It only highlighted the fact that the Indian market was and will continue to be a small car market, with a 70% of the market share currently.

 

Passenger vehicle sales have grown from 7,07,198 units in 2002-03 to 15,51,880 in 2008-09 but if these carmakers had a small car strategy these numbers could have looked different. Considering the kind of volumes most of the players have in India, it may not be wrong to say that their choice of vehicles for the Indian market was not the best. They chose to focus on low hanging fruits and play it safe. Whatever was there in their portfolio was tweaked and launched in India.

 

Why did they fear to take this route? An explanation could be that they were totally intimidated by the volumes clocked by Maruti Suzuki when they entered India and thought is safe to be in segments where Maruti Suzuki did not have leadership.

 

Globally there is a now a shift expected towards the smaller car. Had these companies made efforts to have a small car for India, they would have been in a better position to grab this opportunity and ramp up. They could have benefited from this global shift in consumer preferences from fuel guzzlers to small cars.

 

geeta.nair@expressindia.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

CHINA’S YUAN UP, CAN WE CATCH UP?

VIMAL B

 

The rise of a currency as the intervention currency, anchor currency and the reserve currency is not an accident. There were clear reasons why the dollar emerged as the uncontested leader among other international currencies such as the pound, yen and the deutsche mark after the Second World War.

 

Firstly, the US economy surpassed the UK economy in size in 1872. Secondly, the two World Wars pushed the US from being a net debtor to a net creditor. The emphatic claims of dethroning the dollar after the breakdown of the Bretton Woods regime did not result in the same. The current account surpluses and low inflation rates constituted an obvious set of explanations as to why the dollar retained its supremacy into the nineties.

 

Will these reasons play out once again and help the yuan become an international currency? The attempt by the Chinese authorities to make transactions using the yuan more prevalent suggests that policy efforts to internationalise the yuan has been initiated.

 

If the past were to be an indicator of the determining factors of internationalisation, much of it on the yuan remains to be done. On the trade front, the currency of a country that has the largest share in international output, trade and finance has a natural advantage. Being the manufacturing hub for the world and racing ahead to become the world’s largest economy, China has clearly made headway on this front. Furthermore, early this year, Hong Kong was the first city outside Mainland China to have been allowed to start trade settlement using the yuan. The three-year swap lines worth 650 billion yuan ($95 billion) with Hong Kong, Argentina, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia and Belarus since the start of the year has increased the access to the yuan for trade settlement.

 

Earlier this month, the Chinese Ministry of Finance began to issue six billion worth yuan-denominated bonds in Hong Kong. Although Bank of China and Export-Import Bank of China have been issuing such bonds for a couple of years now, this was the first time government bonds were issued. All these point to the policy intention of internationalising the yuan.

 

In order to use the yuan as a vehicle currency, quotation currency and as a currency in which investment into debt is possible, capital and money markets in China should be open and free of any controls.

 

Comparing the development on this front, the Chinn-Ito and Lane-Milesi Ferreti databases measuring de jure and de facto openness of economies allows one to take a snapshot of relative openness across economies.

 

In 2007, on the de jure front, China scored -1.13 compared with 2.53 for Hong Kong, the United States and other advanced economies. On the de facto front, China scored relatively better than its own de jure score at 1.12 compared with 2.78 for the United States and 23.90 for Hong Kong. Clearly, much work remains to be done to make the yuan convertible. A fully liberalised capital account is not a sufficient condition to create an enabling environment for internationalisation of the yuan. Deep and liquid markets, debt and otherwise, are far more crucial. Domestic financial development is also an integral part of going global as markets that cannot provide sufficient liquidity and depth will not be able to support its currency going global.

 

The policy challenge for the authorities to tackle is that of simultaneity: deep and liquid markets cannot happen without greater liberalisation of the capital account, while liberalisation of the capital account may yield no result without deep and liquid markets. The Chinese authorities have some homework to do to develop its financial sector before an international yuan is present in the global markets.

 

Another important determinant of an international yuan is to do with network externalities. The value of the yuan as an international currency is derived from the number of people who use it. Given that the currency is tightly managed, and that the PBOC decides who gets to use more of the currency, internationalisation comes in direct conflict with the goal to manage the currency, and to prevent any erosion of value of its external assets.

 

In other words, a currency cannot be a reserve currency unless it is international, and the currency cannot be international when confidence in the value of the currency is not high because of intervention and poor domestic inflation management. Once again, China needs to take its stance on this matter before the goal of an international yuan is materialised. The dollar, euro, yen and the pound have been on the centre stage for many years. The rise of the yuan and even the Indian rupee is certain. The Chinese have started making their moves for internationalisation of the yuan although the euphoria over the baby steps towards internationalisation has no economic significance until macroeconomic policy challenges are resolved.

 

India, with similar macroeconomic policy issues in this regard, will eventually have to start thinking about putting the rupee on the global platform.

 

The author works with NIPFP

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

FEAR FACTOR IN GLOBAL NEGOTIATIONS

MEGHNAD DESAI

 

The Chandrayaan has detected water on the moon. When you see the NASA presentation, you realise why physical sciences are way ahead of the social sciences. There is no machine that will detect ‘green shoots of recovery’ on any surface on Earth with the accuracy that the Chandrayaan did with the M3 instrument. No one is agreed about whether the recession is finally over or if the recovery will be this year, next year or never.

 

G-20 which intervened dramatically in April last, needed no subtle instruments to know that the world was facing an abyss. It acted quickly to restore confidence, suppressed its internal disagreements and came up with a fat number of $ 5 trillion for the expected reflation. Or was it just $ 1 trillion ?

 

The details did not matter. Six months later, there is a feeling that the output recession is over though employment is lagging behind. The worst is behind us. But while that is good news, that also creates a problem. Lacking real urgency, countries emphasise differences. Global imbalances need correction and IMF has launched new SDR bonds which have had a modest take up. But China is not ready for any greater change in its economic policy. It is easier to say that China in particular and Asia in general should abandon its export obsession and redirect itself to domestic consumption. America should stop being the World’s lone excess consumer and save and export more. The US would like everyone to agree to a sustainable growth strategy and have a global supervisor to check on national policies.

 

Obama may want IMF or Gordon Brown a revamped G-20 secretariat to do oversight, yet the US Congress will

refuse to cede such powers to an outside agency. The Germans and French already know that their reluctance to match the Anglo- Saxon splurge of fiscal reflation has paid off and their recovery is quicker and sounder. The corner having been turned, the full recovery to a level that prevailed before September 2007 will take different shape and speed in different economies. There is no case for co-ordination let alone concerted action, even if we knew what to do.

 

Still the G-20 has been a good thing for global governance. The reason for this was clear to see last Wednesday in UN General Assembly. If Gaddhafi could rant on for 90 minutes and obey no rules, who would trust the UN to solve the world’s problems? The Commonwealth expels members for violating its norms; the WTO insists that members qualify to join by adapting their economies to a common set of rules. They have serious agenda and voting procedures. The UN has neither and every year the UNGA is a spectacle of the impotent and irresponsible wasting everyone’s time and the powerful staying away.

 

Hence the G -20 . It is small and serious and covers 90% of world’s GDP. It acted under emergency conditions last April and will tick over at a less effective but still useful pace. But the G-20 has lessons for the climate change problem. Despite the best scientific evidence and many concerned people—Rajendra Pachauri and Nicholas Stern among them, the world is still not seized of the urgency of the issue. The UN session was hot air and while many efforts were made to detect movement on part of China or the US, the findings were less reliable than what the M3 found on Chandrayaan.

 

Kyoto has come and almost gone. Copenhagen is already in danger of failing and many are saying that it should be postponed for another year so that serious business can be transacted. I am sceptical of any concrete result. Treaties may be signed, targets may be agreed but when the leaders go home, their short-term economic interests override. The reason is simple. The leaders know that while the warnings of several degrees rise in temperature are credible, their citizens are not yet focussed on the issue enough to suffer. It is not like the recession; it will happen by 2030 or 2050. The world lived for 60 years with the threat of nuclear annihilation and did nothing.

 

So let us have every treaty we can , but what will work is much more modest thinking on how to change household and company behaviour. How to make small changes in prices via taxes and subsidies to cut consumption of carbon emitting products and services, how to initiate new technologies which will help people adapt their behaviour without too much hardship—an electric car rather than a petrol driven one rather than no car, for example.

 

It will be many small changes as people slowly adapt in light of changing environment which will work. I doubt that we will have a real climate catastrophe like the recession scare which has just happened. The difficult task is to act in absence of a scare.

 

The author is a prominent economist and Labour peer

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

G-20: LOFTY VOWS, BUT NO RESULTS

 

It is not surprising that the two-day G-20 summit in Pittsburgh did not produce any breakthroughs because the various views were clearly defined and irreconcilable even on the eve of the summit. There was no substantial decision on financial sector reforms even though the financial sector was the main villain in the downfall of the global economy. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh put it starkly when he said the collapse of the US financial markets caused a huge loss of $900 billion in just one year to the non-oil developing countries for no fault of their own. There was also no road map of how and when the stimulus packages would be withdrawn. This is frightening because no politician wants to take the risk of withdrawing stimulus packages, preferring to continue and add to the fiscal deficits in their countries. This means there is another bubble in the making in the stock markets and real estate sectors, to name just two, and there could be another crisis waiting to happen, if not round the corner then at least in a few months, unless some action is taken.

 

US President Barack Obama, in his now famous trademark style of dishing out warnings like a schoolmaster to errant students, is unable to rein in the powerful financial lobby in the US. In fact, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a club of rich nations, has already cocked a snook at the G-20, warning that overemphasis on banks, bonuses and under-regulation would only do more harm than good. They say it would only treat the symptoms, not the cause. So a major struggle is ahead and it’s not going to be pretty. In this context, the re-balancing of the world economic order by giving a greater say to the G-20 over the G-8 seems a pyrrhic victory for India, Brazil, China and South Africa. It sounds good on paper, but what it actually means in reality remains to be seen. It could turn out to be a mere debating society on the world stage which does nothing for ushering in a new economic order.

 

The bottom line is that unless the US reforms its financial system, the world economies are in danger of yet another crisis. The US has poured in billions of dollars primarily to save the banks that caused the global financial meltdown. If they had put even half of that money into the real economy it could have built their badly needed infrastructure, whether bridges, railroad systems or power, and created much-needed employment. It is only the government that can put money of that magnitude into infrastructure. If it doesn’t and falls prey to the machinations and money power of the financial sector, the problems of the US will not go away. It is an irony that unemployment figures in the US are growing by the week while hefty bonuses to bankers have been resumed. The situation is bad and, according to some statistics, 1.4 million people are losing their medical insurance every day not to mention an equal number of foreclosures on mortgages. If these statistic are correct, it’s a scary situation for the US and the other national economies. Mr Obama talked of the rest of the world bearing equal responsibility, but what can the rest of the world do if he doesn’t set his house in order? America is still the world’s largest economy and consumer spending accounts for 70 per cent of this economy. And this spending keeps some of the world’s other economies ticking.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

THE WISDOM OF RAVAN

DEVDUTT PATTANAIK

 

Ravan abducted Lord Ram’s wife, a crime for which he was killed by Ram himself. So says the Ramayan. The epic makes Ravan the archetypical villain. And since Ram is God for most Hindus, Ravan’s actions make him the Devil incarnate. This justifies the annual burning of his effigy on the Gangetic plains during the festival of Dussehra.

 

But in the hills of Rishikesh or in the temple of Rameshwaram, one hears that tale of how Ram atoned for the sin of killing Ravan. Why should God atone for killing a villain? One realises that like most things Hindu, the Ramayan is not as simple an epic as some are eager to believe.

 

Ravan was a brahmin, the son of Rishi Vaishrava, grandson of Pulatsya. Ram, though God incarnate, was born in the family of kshatriyas. In the caste hierarchy, Ram was of lower rank. As a brahmin, Ravan was the custodian of Brahma-gyan (the knowledge of God). Killing him meant Brahma-hatya-paap, the sin of Brahminicide, that Ram had to wash away through penance and prayer. Another reason why this atonement was important was because Ravan was Ram’s guru.

 

The story goes that after shooting the fatal arrow on the battlefield of Lanka, Ram told his brother, Lakshman, "Go to Ravan quickly before he dies and request him to share whatever knowledge he can. A brute he may be, but he is also a great scholar". The obedient Lakshman rushed across the battlefield to Ravan’s side and whispered in his ears, "Demon-king, do not let your knowledge die with you. Share it with us and wash away your sins". Ravan responded by simply turning away. An angry Lakshman went back to Ram, "He is as arrogant as he always was, too proud to share anything". Ram comforted his brother and asked him softly, "Where did you stand while asking Ravan for knowledge?" "Next to his head so that I hear what he had to say clearly". Ram smiled, placed his bow on the ground and walked to where Ravan lay. Lakshman watched in astonishment as his divine brother knelt at Ravan’s feet. With palms joined, and with extreme humility, Ram said, "Lord of Lanka, you abducted my wife, a terrible crime for which I have been forced to punish you. Now you are no more my enemy. I bow to you and request you to share your wisdom with me. Please do that for if you die without doing so, all your wisdom will be lost forever to the world". To Lakshman’s surprise, Ravan opened his eyes and raised his arms to salute Ram, "If only I had more time as your teacher than as your enemy.

 

Standing at my feet as a student should, unlike your rude younger brother, you are a worthy recipient of my knowledge. I have very little time so I cannot share much but let me tell you one important lesson I have learnt in my life. Things that are bad for you seduce you easily; you run towards them impatiently. But things that are actually good for you fail to attract you; you shun them creatively, finding powerful excuses to justify your procrastination. That is why I was impatient to abduct Sita but avoided meeting you. This is the wisdom of my life, Ram. My last words. I give it to you". After these words, Ravan died.

 

With 10 heads, 20 arms, a flying chariot and a city of gold, the mighty Ravan is without doubt a flamboyant villain. His sexual prowess was legendary.

 

When Hanuman entered Lanka in search of Sita, he found the Demon-lord lying in bed surrounded by a bevy of beauties, women who had willingly abandoned their husbands. Ram, by comparison, seems boring — a rule-upholder who never does anything spontaneous or dramatic. He is the obedient son, always doing the right thing, never displaying a roving eye or a winsome smile. It is not difficult, therefore, to be a fan of Ravan, to be seduced by his power, to be enchanted by his glamour, and to find arguments that justify his actions.

One can’t help but wonder: Why does the poet Valmiki go out of his way to make his villain so admirable, so seductive, so enchanting?

 

Valmiki describes Ravan as the greatest devotee of Shiva. In many folk versions of the epic, such as Ram-kathas and Ram-kiritis, we are informed that Ravan composed the Rudra Stotra in praise of Shiva, the ascetic-God. He designed the lute known as Rudra-Veena using one of his 10 heads as the lute’s gourd, one of his arms as the beam and his nerves as the strings. The image of Ravan carrying Mount Kailash, with Shiva’s family on top, is an integral part of Shiva temple art.

 

Perhaps, say some scholars, this expresses the legendary battle between Shiva-worshippers and Vishnu-worshippers. Ram, who is Vishnu on earth, kills Ravan who is Shiva’s devotee. But this argument falls flat when one is also told that Ram’s trusted ally, Hanuman, is a form of Shiva himself. Valmiki is clearly conveying a more profound idea by calling Ravan a devotee of Shiva. And to understand this thought we have to dig a bit deeper.

 

Shiva is God embodying the principle of vairagya, absolute detachment. He demonstrates his disdain for all things material by smearing his body with ash and living in crematoriums. The material world does not matter to him. Ravan may be his great devotee; he may sing Shiva’s praise and worship Shiva every day, but he does not follow the path of Shiva.

 

In reality, Ravan stands for everything that Shiva rejects. Ravan is fully attached to worldly things. He always wants what others have. He never built the city of gold — he drove out his brother, Kuber, and took over the kingdom of Lanka. Why did he abduct Sita? Avenging his sister’s mutilation was but an excuse. The real reason was his desire to conquer the heart of a faithful wife. And during the war, he let his sons brothers die before entering the battlefield himself.

 

Ravan has 10 pairs of eyes, which means he can see more. Ravan has 10 sets of arms, which means he can do more. Ravan has 10 heads, which means he can think more. And yet, this man with a superior body and superior mind submits to the basest of passions.

 

Despite knowing the Vedas and worshipping Shiva, he remains a slave of his senses and a victim of his own ego. He arrogantly shows off his knowledge of detachment but is not wise enough to practice detachment. Deluded, he gives only lip-service to Shiva. This pretender is, therefore, killed by Ram, who, like Shiva, is another form of God.

 

Dr Devdutt Pattanaik is a Mumbai-based mythologist who has authored books on the relevance of sacred narratives and rituals in modern times

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

RISING PRICES: WHAT IS THE GOVT DOING?

PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA

 

The spectre of inflation has returned to haunt India. It is not even six months since the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government returned to power but its inability to control food prices is arguably its single biggest failure till now. The inflation rate will eventually come down sometime in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future and the government will surely take credit for bringing prices down as and when that happens. But the near-term appears rather bleak.

 

Unfortunately for the majority of people in the country, food prices are expected to continue to rise in the coming months. Those in positions of power and authority may not be particularly bothered as the spurt in inflation has come quite early in the tenure of the UPA-2 government. But this government’s management of the country’s food economy clearly remains inadequate and this deficiency is guaranteed not to increase the popularity of the ruling coalition.

 

Many believe that the haphazard way in which the country has exported food products (in particular, dal, and also rice and wheat to an extent) over the recent past, has been less than prudent. One example would suffice: in the course of calendar 2006, exports of onions surged by over 60 per cent while retail prices at home shot up by around 150 per cent. Managing food supplies, calibrating exports and imports and coordinating the activities of at least three important ministries — agriculture, commerce and finance — is not simple.

 

Add to this, corruption and the scenario becomes murky. The outcome of the official inquiry into the rice export scam is awaited. During 2008, at a time when there was a ban on its exports, consignments of non-basmati rice from Indian found their way to a clutch of African countries — ostensibly as "humanitarian aid" — through a selected group of exporting firms. Curiously, some of these consignments were diverted through Europe.

 

Since elections to the Maharashtra Assembly are round the corner, a section within the Congress in the state has vent its ire against Union agriculture minister and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar for his alleged inability to keep sugar prices low during the festive season. Mr Pawar’s defence of his track record in Krishi Bhavan has not been particularly convincing since the country is now preparing to import sugar. His biggest challenge is to balance the interests of farmers and consumers. After all, he is both agriculture minister as well as minister for consumer affairs. This particular balancing act is not easy in the best of times — it is certainly tougher than managing cricket in the country.

 

The Congress and the NCP will fight the elections together. Past bickering will be forgotten. Both parties are quite happy that Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena will cut into the votes of his uncle and cousin’s party, the Shiv Sena. And, as always, crocodile tears will be cynically shed for the plight of the proverbial aam aadmi but little will be done to alleviate the hardships of ordinary households as their real incomes get sharply eroded on account of high food prices.

 

Even official data indicates how alarming the situation is. For the week ending September 12, the rate of inflation as measured by a point-to-point comparison of the wholesale price index (WPI) stood at 0.37 per cent against 0.12 per cent in the previous week, after having remained in negative territory for 13 weeks. But this hardly tells one the real story for the WPI is an economy-wide index covering as many as 435 commodities.

 

If one looks at the disaggregated figures, the true picture emerges. Even within the WPI, prices of primary food articles jumped by over 15 per cent while prices of vegetables shot up by a huge 45 per cent. The home-maker is naturally sceptical if she is to go by what is often called "headline" inflation figures measured by the WPI.

 

The governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Duvvuri Subbarao recently remarked that the annual rate of inflation as measured by the WPI could go up to 5.2 per cent by the end of March 2010. The deputy governor of the RBI, K.C. Chakrabarty, has said this figure could be six per cent by the end of the fiscal year. What is not clear is how much of the rise in inflation would be driven by high food prices, but if current trends continue (and one hopes it will not), the scenario ahead appears particularly dismal.

 

The monster of inflation is not easily tamed because it is a consequence of a variety of factors, some of which cannot be easily quantified, such as psychological expectations. A combination of two broad sets of factors — described by economists as "demand-pull" and "cost-push" factors — contribute to inflation. The drought, the rise in rural incomes on account of (among other things) the rise in minimum wages given under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the higher minimum support prices for wheat and rice given to farmers, are among the factors that have contributed to the current rise in food prices.

 

The artificially low WPI rate of inflation is a consequence of a statistical aberration, what economists call a "base effect" since the rise in the index was at a high of nearly 13 per cent in August 2008, the highest level in 13 years, that is, since May 1995, the last year the current Prime Minister had served as finance minister in the P.V. Narasimha Rao government. (In August 1991, three months after Manmohan Singh became finance minister, the WPI inflation rate had hit a high of around 17 per cent.) The high inflation rate in 2008 was to a great extent driven by high energy prices since India imports three-quarters of the country’s total requirements of crude oil and petroleum products.

 

If there is one economic phenomenon that affects the lives of everybody, it is inflation. Irrespective of their ideologies, all economists agree that inflation is like a tax on the poor as it results in an indirect transfer of resources from the poor to the rich. Inflation shrinks the real incomes of the underprivileged while the incomes and profits of the affluent rise. When inflation is driven by high food prices, it becomes a double tax on the poor because the poor spend a relatively much higher proportion of their total incomes on food unlike the rich.

 

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPED

UNDILUTED TRUTHS ABOUT RICH POLLUTERS

JAYANTHI NATARAJAN

 

It came as no big surprise to anyone at all that US President Barack Obama made a speech filled with noble intentions, but very little concrete action, on the issue of climate change at the Climate Change Summit, which just concluded in New York. Environment activist had great hopes that the US President would think "out of the box" and take the lead in ensuring that the US, one of the worst offenders on climate change, would offer something solid and substantial to the world by way of emission cuts, thereby setting a benchmark for other countries to follow. The annual emission of CO2 by the US has been 23 tonnes, as opposed to a world average of four tonnes, and a lowly one tonne per annum by India. However, Mr Obama did not make that all-important commitment and the future of the Climate Change Summit at Copenhagen on December 7, 2009 remains a triumph of hope over experience.

 

The Indian perspective on climate change is obviously shaped by the further truth that per capita energy consumption in India is one of the lowest in the world, with India consuming 530 kg of oil equivalent per person of primary energy in 2004 compared to a world average of 1,770. There can be no doubt that in dealing with the issue of climate change it is vital to emphasise that the only equitable way to deal with the issue would be to have common but differentiated goals and responsibilities for all nations.

 

In other words, those who were responsible for creating the problem in the first place — those rich and developed countries that ruined the environment for all these years — will in all equity have to contribute more significantly than less developed countries who never really polluted the atmosphere, and whose growth and development have lagged behind.

 

Historical emissions are something which have to be factored into any reasonable discussion on climate change. After all, carbon emissions released into the atmosphere centuries ago are just as lethal as emissions that continue to be released even today.

 

The Centre for Science and Environment has put out a very disturbing and important publication containing basic facts about climate change. It observes in this section: "Rich countries account for seven out of every 10 tonnes of CO2 emitted since the start of the industrial era. Historical emissions amount to about 1,100 tonnes per capita of CO2 for the US and the United Kingdom compared to 66 tonnes per capita for China and 23 tonnes per capita for India. This is the natural debt of the rich countries as against the financial debt of industrialised countries and it has to be paid." As far as current emissions go, "Rich countries are still the major emitters of total CO2. Between 1980 and 2005 the total emissions of the US were almost double that of China and more than seven times that of India. The current emissions of the developed countries are also very high. With just 15 per cent of the world’s population, they account for 45 per cent of its CO2 emissions".

 

It is, therefore, very clear that although developing countries have and even now contributed little to the problem, the impact of climate change will be the greatest upon developing countries like ours.

 

The frequency of extreme weather events leading to natural disasters may increase and we may face multiple risks arising from increase in sea levels, recession of Himalayan glaciers, problems with water availability, food security and public health. This disproportionate impact of climate change will be further magnified as a result of our vulnerabilities, inadequate means and limited capacities to adapt to its effects. In fact, adaptation, which is the key to the development process, is constantly being challenged by the variability of climate change and its impact on us.

 

Thus it is that following upon some years of excellent growth, we are now staring at the bleak fallout of drought this year and assessing the fate of our agriculture. In fact, the issue of adaptation is so crucial to a developing country like ours that we spend nearly two per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP) on adaptation measures like cyclone warning and protection, coastal protection and flood control, food security and flood relief. At this point in time, India accounts for 16 per cent of the world’s population and accounts for less than five per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, India accounts for about 1.1 to 1.2 tonnes per capita of CO2 equivalent.

 

We have estimated that even if our growth continues at 8.5 per cent in 2020, our emissions would not have crossed 2.5 tonnes and we will therefore, in keeping with the commitment made by our Prime Ministers, remain at all times below the per capita emissions of developed nations, whereas China has gone ahead to emit nearly 23 tonnes per capita at current emission rates.

 

It is for this reason that India talks about common but differentiated responsibilities. In order to prevent environmental catastrophe and maintain world temperatures at below two degrees Celsius, it would become incumbent upon known polluters, historical polluters and developed nations to agree to as much as 40 per cent cuts in their CO2 emissions. Even with those cuts, they would be emitting far more and using up far more energy per capita than a developing country like India.

 

It is also very important to remember that our emissions are development-related emissions, while those of developed countries are lifestyle-related emissions. Equity will be ensured only when developed countries own up to their profligate ways and cut back upon emissions instead of taking a back-door route, which is increasingly being resorted to, namely investing in cheap technology transfers on climate change technology to a developing country, thereby earning "offsets", or brownie points, which are meant to condone their lack of responsibility in not cutting back on emissions.

 

Technology transfer, an equitable intellectual property regime and resource mobilisation for climate change strategies are commitments which developed countries must make to developing countries, sans conditions or offsets. The world is too small now to allow for inequity and greed and it is this spirit which should inform the discussions at Copenhagen later this year.

 

Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.

The views expressed in this column are her own.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

G20 IS HERE TO STAY

EMERGING ECONOMIES LEAVE AN IMPACT

 

A broadening of the global governance structure is manifest in the manner in which G20 has emerged as the premier forum for discussing international economic issues, eclipsing G8. If there was any ambiguity on this count it was removed by the statement of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the end of the Pittsburgh summit that “with the rise of Asia, with growth of India, China and Brazil, the economic decision-making has to take into account the views of these countries if it is to have an optimum impact.” That this summit bore the unmistakable stamp of Dr Singh was clear from the manner in which he managed to convince the developed world that the time was not ripe to withdraw the stimulus packages aimed at helping countries — especially the developing and poor economies — overcome the worst economic crisis in eight decades. Before leaving for Pittsburgh, Dr Manmohan Singh had called for reform in global financial institutions. His suggestion has not gone unheard. Besides, the IMF has been empowered to monitor G20 economic policies so that the members stick to the agreed goals.

 

Banks and bankers’ pay came under sharp focus. It was quite a climbdown for French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who had threatened a walkout on the issue of capping pay packages of bankers. Germany too pushed the issue of limiting bankers’ remuneration, but the US and Britain stressed that imposing a ceiling was not practical. The tendency of large banks to gamble, putting to risk depositors’ money, was hotly debated, but there was no agreement on separating banks’ retail and investment operations. The summit was worried about financial institutions repeating mistakes of the past, falling in the “too-big-to-fail, too big-to-save” trap.

 

Chinese President Hu Jintao focussed on the “yawning development gap” between the developed and the developing countries. US President Barack Obama summed up the spirit of the summit when, calling for a “new era of engagement”, he said: “We cannot tolerate the same old boom and bust economies of the past. We can’t grow complacent. We can’t wait for a crisis, to cooperate.” One could not help feeling at the summit’s end that the emerging economies were now making an impact and that the world order was on the mend.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

US AID TO PAKISTAN

ONE SMALL STEP TOWARDS ACCOUNTABILITY

 

India’s concerns expressed at the misuse of US financial assistance to Pakistan have ultimately resulted in the legislation tripling US aid for Islamabad getting the rider that it will have to ensure that the funds are used for the intended purpose only —fighting terrorism. This is the result of a concerted drive against the Kerry-Lugar Bill, promising $1.5 billion US aid to Pakistan annually for five years. The inclusion of the accountability clause in the legislation was a must for allaying India’s fears owing to the conduct of Pakistan in the past. Recently a noted US security expert pointed out that “most of the aid we have sent them over the past five years has been diverted into their nuclear programme”.

 

Former Pakistan President Gen Pervez Musharraf himself admitted some time ago that much of the aid his country got from the US during his tenure went into strengthening Pakistan’s defence forces vis-à-vis India. This should have been enough for the Obama administration to stop all kinds of financial assistance to Pakistan in the interest of peace in South Asia. But the US has gone ahead with what it had promised to Pakistan. The pretext to help Pakistan financially is the unending threat from Al-Qaida, the Taliban and other terrorist organisations. However, the way Pakistan has been fighting terrorist forces shows that it has developed a vested interest in not eliminating these elementing root and branch. The terrorist factor has been helping Islamabad in getting an uninterrupted flow of funds from donor countries.

 

But this has been adding to the problems of India, as all such aid, given in the name of combating terrorism, has been promoting arms race in the subcontinent. This can be prevented if there is a strict aid monitoring arrangement. The accountability clause in the Kerry-Lugar legislation must lead to the creation of an aid monitoring mechanism to ensure that Pakistan is unable to misuse the funds it will get from the US for battling the forces of terrorism.

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

NEAR-ANARCHY IN BENGAL

CPM AND MAMATA MUST FIGHT MAOISTS JOINTLY

 

Political violence in West Bengal is acquiring bizarre dimensions. Maoist leaders have been calling up newspaper offices to warn that the CPM office in Enayetpur, 10 kilometres from Midnapore town, would be blown up if the armed CPM activists holed up in the office do not surrender. CPM leaders have gone on record to say that the party would take up arms and retaliate in kind. While this latest “encounter” continued earlier in the week, security forces were nowhere to be seen. Indeed, they were not expected to reach Enayetpur before Tuesday morning. The tandava of political violence, so evocatively described by West Bengal Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi, continues unabated and West Bengal, or at least a part of it, appears to be spinning completely out of control.

 

With the state police unable to curb lawlessness, disarming political activists in the state was never going to be easy. In West Bengal, all political parties are guilty of encouraging the gun-culture but it is the CPM, being the ruling party, which has repeatedly been caught on the wrong foot. The party’s misadventure in Nandigram is still fresh in public memory. But it is the CPM which is now targeted by Maoists. Scores of local CPM leaders in Midnapore have been killed by Maoists in recent months, but the state police has not been able to stop the killings or catch the culprits. Under the circumstances, the Left Front government will find it difficult to persuade the cadre to give up arms. But if law and order is to be restored and Maoists are to be isolated, that is precisely the “poison” that the CPM must swallow and set an example for others to follow.

 

The last decade has been marked by growing political violence in the state. Political rivals have been burnt to death, rival villages have been attacked with bombs and people have been killed on the flimsiest of provocations. But even the presence of 6,000 central paramilitary forces in the Lalgarh area does not seem to have brought the situation in Midnapore under control. Maoists have continued their killing spree, striking terror and ambushing policemen. They have become a threat to all political parties and Ms Mamata Banerjee will be well advised to make common cause with the CPM on the issue of law and order.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

             COLUMN

CUTTING AFPAK GORDIAN KNOT

HOW THE US HAS BECOME A PROBLEM

BY B.G. VERGHESE

 

EVEN as the United States last week piloted a unanimous resolution through the UN Security Council calling for universal adherence to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and stricter controls over potential proliferation, London’s Sunday Times reproduced the letter A.Q Khan sent his Dutch wife for publication in 2005 as insurance against his being harmed by the Pakistani authorities whilst under interrogation in Islamabad. He disclosed that he had on instructions from above both supplied and received nuclear-related material and technology from China and North Korea and supplied nuclear technology to Iran and Libya.

 

Further, an ISI functionary, Mr Khalid Khwaja, told Islamabad’s ARY TV on September 9 that he had arranged at least five meetings for Osama bin Laden with Mr Nawaz Sharif, a former Prime Minister, and had himself held over a hundred meetings with the Al-Qaeda chief before 9/11. All these “revelations” have been well documented and known for years.

 

In a season of confessions, President Zardari told retired Pakistani officials on July 7 that “militants and extremists were … deliberately created and nurtured (by the Pakistan State) as a policy to achieve some short-term tactical objectives” (obviously against India and within Afghanistan). These “strategic assets” and “heroes of yesteryear until 9/11 … began to haunt us as well”. General Musharraf, currently a fugitive from a treason charge at home, next stated that US military aid given it for the war on terror was diverted by Pakistan to bolster its defences against India, a fact well established but persistently denied.

 

In recent years, Pakistan had emerged as the epicentre of both terror and nuclear proliferation. Most terror trails around the world lead back to Pakistan. But the country remains in denial and pleads that it is possibly a greater victim of terror than anybody else. But pleading innocence and blaming non-state actors will not wash as they are still protected and patronised by Pakistan. This is evident in the manner in which the Jamat-ud-Dawa chief and former head of the now-”banned” LeT has been treated as a state guest even as India has provided evidence of his leading role in the planning and execution of the 26/11 attack on Mumbai. That the mastermind was not caught on the spot with a smoking gun has been used by Islamabad to argue that there is not a scrap of evidence against Hafez Saeed. If so, Osama bin Laden is as blameless.

 

Despite the most damning evidence of complicity and guilt, Pakistan remains Washington’s favourite frontline protégé that can do no wrong. Now General McChrystal, the US Commander in Afghanistan, has reported that “while India activities” ($1.2 bn investment in the country’s reconstruction and development) largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian (economic and political) influence is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan and India”. This is not the first time that the US has advised the world to do more but India to do less in Afghanistan lest this upset Pakistan. The bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul by suspected ISI agents was one reminder of Islamabad’s strange nervous disorder. It believes that Afghanistan is a privileged backyard that it needs for “strategic depth” against imagined Indian machinations.

 

This totally sick mindset has seen Pakistan symptomatically tilting at Indian windmills since its very inception to prop up a missing self-identity, a pastime regrettably encouraged by the US and Britain. Thus Pakistan’s established invasion of J&K in 1947 and violation of its related UN commitments thereafter has been converted into a “dispute” with India. This has enabled it to practice blackmail through blatant nuclear proliferation and state-sponsored jihadi terror, with the knowledge and financial assistance of the US despite spawning the Taliban and its offspring and the spread of lethal arms and drug trafficking in its wake. When the US mistakenly uses 9/11 as the reference point for global terror, it ignores the preceding decades of vicious and bloody terror unleashed by its protégé on India which has suffered enormous collateral damage that is scarcely ever acknowledged.

 

This charade cannot go on. Ms Hillary Clinton, in a moment of candour while testifying before the Senate at her confirmation hearings, described US policies towards Pakistan and Afghanistan over the past couple of decades as “incoherent”. The nature of the “incoherence” was not spelt out but can be listed as permitting the most flagrant and dangerous nuclear proliferation that has gone unpunished, the siphoning away of US arms and finances to build the Taliban to fight the US and India, using drugs as a currency of control and subversion, and providing an inspirational home for exporting radical Islam and related terror.

 

The Americans now realise they simply cannot win the botched-up war in Afghanistan. What is planned is another “surge”, which could well be followed by a declaration of “victory” and withdrawal while Afghanistan burns and is left under Pakistan-Taliban hegemony. The latter scenario flows from the unrequited $ 7.5bn dollar military assistance promised to Pakistan over the next five years over and above economic aid. This will further entrench the Pakistan military and ISI in what has become a garrison state at the cost of civil-democratic ascendancy. The critic will denounce this thesis as anti-Pakistani. On the contrary, it is the current US-NATO policy that can be so labelled whereas the “demilitarisation” of Pakistan would be a truly pro-Pakistan posture.

 

The basic fact to understand is that the US is not part of the solution in the AfPak theatre: it is the problem. This does not mean that it should cut and run. On the contrary, it must stay and fund and provide logistical support for a turn-around of the mess it has created, and the reconstruction of Afghanistan to follow. A US-NATO military withdrawal will by itself reduce the military heat while a UN-led regional peace-keeping and enforcement force takes over. The $ 7.5bn military assistance to Pakistan could be drastically cut and civil aid to that country made strictly contingent on a genuine withdrawal of the Pakistan Army to the barracks in its own country except for any legitimate aid-to-civil power role, verifiable disbandment of all jihadi formations and nodal institutions, and an end to state-sponsored cross-border terror.

 

The military and the ISI must be brought under civilian control and the powers of the National Security Council, that vests the military with civil power, redefined. Equally, a programme for disinvestment or civilianisation of the Fauji Foundation and the other military foundations that dominate economic life must be rolled out. Finally, A.Q Khan must be properly investigated and China’s nefarious role fully exposed. Aid could be leveraged to achieve these ends

 

A regional conference on Afghanistan under UN auspices, that includes Pakistan, Iran, India, Russia, China and Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbors, along with the US-NATO combine, must create a new framework and timetable for peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan with all forces being placed under a UN, not US, command. Both Pakistan and India could play a military role in this peace-enforcement exercise. The entire arrangement should have the backing of Afghanistan’s Loya Jirga or supreme tribal assembly. This is the way forward. Otherwise, the latest UN resolution will remain another dead letter.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

WHERE HAVE ALL THE DHOBIS GONE?

BY SUDHAMAHI REGUNATHAN

 

Ram ram ji, “he would call…and we knew the dhobi had come. When the dhobi announced himself, there would be a desperate desire to escape or else you would be landed the job of counting the clothes he brought back and writing the list of the new clothes he would be taking to wash. Now that may sound simple, but do you remember where the diary in which the list last noted down was?

 

A search will begin. Enquiries will begin with, “Who wrote the list the last time?” “How many times do I tell you to put things where they belong?” And so on. Finally beneath the three-day-old newspapers, or above the almirah or even amongst our schoolbooks it would be found, but rarely on the dhobi box where it was meant to be.

 

The dhobi was an institution who would collect all the dirty clothes, wash, iron and even starch them. There are places dedicated to the dhobi in almost all towns of India. There is the Washerman’s Peth in Chennai, called so even today and there are dhobi ghats in every city or town. Even in Malaysia and Pennag there are streets still known as Dhoby ghaut.

 

By now the old man (generally dhobis were old, I don’t know why) would have spread out the clothes item wise on a clean white sheet. You had tick mark against the clothes that had come and if anything had been left behind then you had to note it down and tell him…one pant remains, two shirts have not come…and so on.

 

Generally the dhobi could recognise garments as belonging to a certain household but nevertheless he had a mark made in indelible black ink on one corner of the garment, which was generally like two lines and a dot or three lines and so on.

 

The dhobi was very much a part of the family. He would advise the brothers not to dirty their shorts and study more or he would share problems of inflation with the grandmother or mother and take instructions on starching their saris real crisp. He would wash the dhotis of men with extra care and flourish.

 

Periodically there would be questions on where he washes and if the water was clean and the dhobi always presented the picture of a very clean dhobi ghat. When my father wanted to irk my mother he would point out to the sewage waters falling into the Yamuna and say the dhobi actually washed there. I do not know which is right, but we still gave him clothes when he came the next time.

 

Today as my washing machine hurtles in a spin, I miss my leisurely dhobi time, when the world seemed one large family, all working for you!

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

POWER PLAY IN PUNJAB

SHIMLA CONCLAVE CLEARS WAY FOR JUNIOR BADAL

BY GOBIND THUKRAL

 

The Akali conclave in Shimla may have disappointed those who thought that the ruling party in Punjab would devise a policy framework to take Punjab out of the present fiscal mess, pitiable state of governance and stinking sleaze.

 

Those who know the Akali supreme leader, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, now into his fourth term as Chief Minister, understand the limited capabilities of the leader, though he commands wide acceptance. They ought to have little doubt as to how much he and the Akalis can deliver.

 

The much-publicised “vichar baithak” had one-point agenda: put a strong stamp on the leadership of the younger Badal, Sukhbir Singh. Gradually and definitely the way to the top slot for this ambitious young man is being cleared from any potential hurdles.

 

Mr Badal, an old war horse, has no rivals among the Akalis today. His status demands unflinching loyalty. He has placed his immediate family and close relations in positions of power and has drawn his line of succession whether one appreciates it or not.

 

To recount, his son Sukhbir Singh Badal is the party president and Deputy Chief Minister and he rules the party and directs the state apparatus.

 

His nephew, Manpreet Singh Badal, though embittered, is the Finance Minister; his son-in-law, Adesh Partap Singh Kairon looks after the all important food and supply and excise portfolios.

 

There are other not-so-distant relatives. His daughter-in-law is a member of the Lok Sabha and her brother, a minister till yesterday, is a powerful MLA, calling shots in Punjab’s Majha region.

 

There are no rivals to the house of Badals. Once an arch rival, Gurcharan Singh Tohra, who headed the SGPC for over 25 long years and deprived Mr Badal a few chances to lead the state, is no more.

 

Mr Jagdev Singh Talwandi, the Dal president who commanded a good following, is a spent force. Capt Kanwajit Singh, the late Cooperation Minister, was a formidable challenger as an ideologue and strategist. Mr Badal never had such a free hand to run the affairs of the party and the state.

 

It is important to note the hidden purpose of the conclave rather than what was dished out to the waiting media. It is all right for the Akalis to drum up issues like federalism, autonomy, riparian laws for river waters and transfer of Chandigarh.

 

But the Dal has to be consistent. These issues are basic to Punjab: to be forgotten when sharing power at the national level and brought back when the Congress is in power. People who filled jails, faced bullets and died observing a fast-unto-death do understand the game now.

 

It is indeed laughable when a senior leader like Mr Badal says that he does not want a Chief Commissioner for Chandigarh and the Administrator, the Punjab Governor, should head the administration as this would dilute Punjab’s claim to Chandigarh. He accepts a badly administered city which is the Capital of both Punjab and Haryana.

 

No experts are needed to declare that Punjab’s economic and fiscal matters are in the doldrums. Short of cash and faced with a huge subsidy bill, the cash-strapped government has virtually been selling over Rs 400 crore worth of government securities each month this year, in order to pay salaries and meet other dire expenses.

 

Since January 2009, it has raised Rs 3,458 crore by getting its state development loans auctioned through the Reserve Bank. It has to raise Rs 5,000 crore this way during this financial year. Its annual plan is in a limbo.

 

Punjab has a huge annual subsidy bill of Rs 4,500 crore. The power subsidy bill has gone up to an astonishing Rs 3,142 crore – up from Rs 2,602 crore last year – and there are no signs of an increase in its revenue.

 

Manpreet admits this dire situation and was looking forward to clear policy lines at Shimla. In an interview, two days before the conclave, he tried to set the agenda for a debate on the current fiscal situation, lack of schools, health facilities and acute power shortage, but failed miserably.

 

Many centrally sponsored schemes offer huge funds for development. Since the government has no money to contribute its matching share, many such schemes are falling by the way side.

 

Punjab’s cities and towns are the filthiest and slums dot all around. This often leads to sickness and a huge expenditure on medicines and wastage of manpower due to illness. But look at the lackadaisical attitude of the government. Punjab’s response to the Centre’s flagship programme, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission, tells a sad story. The total Central allocation for Punjab was Rs 617 crore. However, during the past four years, the state managed to use only Rs 69 crore.

 

Punjab has to come up with projects worth about Rs 1,100 crore to avail the remaining Rs 535 crore. Despite efforts by the Union ministers and officials, there has been little progress. Meanwhile slum dwellers are condemned to live sub-human lives.

 

The Badals do not have to dish out demands each passing day and blame the Congress for Punjab’s ills. Who, by the way, has pushed Punjab’s current debt to Rs 62,000 crore?

 

Manpreet was prevented from raising any serious issue. Three senior leaders told him not to spoil the bright and breezy mood as the party report card was full of achievements.

 

It is good to demand special agricultural zone status for Punjab, with all incentives, facilities and fiscal subsidies on the lines of those extended to SEZs for industry. And ask for a 50 per cent share in the state’s contribution to the Central taxes.

 

It is also good to document the history of the Akalis since 1920, put up a museum of history at the party office in Amritsar, though the Akalis are not yet an object of a museum. A documentary and a book on its history are also in order. But do the leaders have to travel all the way to Shimla and spend huge money to announce these programmes?

 

Sometime back the Chief Minister had publicly censured his young Finance Minister and asked him to refrain from earning “brownie points by betraying people”. But Manpreet is in no mood to leave the arena without a good fight. He wants the “leadership to catch the imagination of people, convince them hard decisions are good in the long run. My treasury is not for buying votes, but for the welfare of Punjab. I am willing to take the risk of opting out of elections or even politics... My own honour is not bigger than Punjab’s. Competitive populism has consumed the state – it has downgraded our human resource element.”

 

All he hears from his colleagues is “let’s take loans”. Nobody is bothered as to how these will be returned. He wants a referendum on free power. He says he is more than sure the farmers will overwhelmingly reject free power.

 

Strangely, he too does not talk of good governance and corruption. Is anyone a game for a debate on Punjab?

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

AIDS VACCINE HERALDS NEW DAWN

BY JEREMY LAURANCE

 

The scientific naysayers who claimed a vaccine against HIV would never be possible have received their comeuppance. After years of setbacks and growing doubts, a jab to prevent the worst disease of modern times, which currently affects 33 million people worldwide, may be in prospect after all.

 

The world's largest HIV prevention trial, involving 16,000 people in Thailand, reported yesterday that giving a combination of two vaccines lowered the risk of contracting the virus by 31.2 per cent. That is not enough for a viable vaccine that could be used globally against HIV but it is the first indication that an effective jab – one that provides at least a 50 per cent reduction in risk – might be possible.

 

The World Health Organisation and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids hailed the result as a "significant scientific breakthrough". Seth Berkley, president of the International Aids Vaccine Initiative, said it was "very exciting news".

 

The advance comes after more than 20 years of research, the expenditure of billions of pounds and four previous vaccine trials with single agents which failed to demonstrate any protective effect. It is a victory for the US and Thai researchers who pushed through the $120m trial in the face of heavyweight scientific opposition. One of the chief critics was Robert Gallo, a discoverer of HIV, who had scoffed: "We'd learn more if we had extract of maple leaf in the vaccine."

 

Another blow came when a group of two dozen scientists wrote to the journal Science in 2004 that the inclusion of one of the candidate vaccines, made by Vaxgen – which had failed a previous trial – was "completely incapable of preventing or ameliorating" HIV infection. The group questioned "the wisdom of the US government's sponsoring" the Thailand trial.

 

A poll of 35 international Aids researchers published by The Independent in April 2008 revealed a mood of "deep pessimism" within the scientific community, with a substantial minority admitting an HIV vaccine might never be developed. Aids organisations had called for the funds spent on the search for a vaccine to be diverted to other prevention efforts. Now the results of the Thai trial are in, its critics may have to eat their words.

 

The first vaccine used in the trial, called ALVAC, is based on a canarypox virus that has been disabled which is used as a "Trojan horse" to smuggle three genetic fragments of HIV into the body, priming the immune system to recognise and kill HIV-infected cells. The second vaccine, AidsVAX, contains a protein designed to encourage the body to produce neutralising antibodies to destroy HIV before it infects healthy cells. The researchers warned that the two vaccine components might not work in other parts of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa, where different strains of HIV are circulating and the population has a different genetic make-up.

 

Thailand was chosen 18 years ago by the WHO for HIV vaccine trials that were then thought to be imminent. Scientists predicted that a vaccine to prevent the infection would be ready long before a treatment for the symptoms could be developed but the opposite turned out to be true.

 

Millions of people are keeping the virus under control with drugs. But these are not a cure. In contrast to virtually every other microbe known, there is no documented case of anyone who has ultimately cleared the virus from their body completely. That is why developing a vaccine to prevent the infection has been a priority.

 

The trial, funded by the US Army and the US National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was run in Thailand because it is a country with a high rate of HIV, with a good health infrastructure and the Thai government was willing to host it.

 

Sheena McCormack, senior clinical scientist at the UK Medical Research Council, and the African-European HIV Vaccine Development Network, said the results of the Thai trial were statistically significant. "This is encouraging. It is proof of concept and strongly suggests we may be able to achieve a vaccine. It will help us select and design vaccine candidates for the future," she said.

 

The next stage would be to examine the immune response generated by the vaccine in the Thai trial. Each volunteer received four doses of one vaccine and two of the other – six jabs in all. Some got strong immune responses which failed to protect them from HIV infection while others with weaker immune responses were protected.

 

"Obviously, if the immune response is very strong but it is not protective that is no good. The next task is to analyse the immune responses. But with 16,000 participants in the trial that is a challenge," she added. — By arrangement with The Independent

 

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THE TRIBUNE

CHATTERATI

MANY ASPIRANTS FOR CM’S POST

BY DEVI CHERIAN

 

The Maharashtra state Congress panel was formed by the AICC to frame a poll strategy and hold alliance talks with the NCP. We have veterans Vilasrao Deshmukh and Sushil Kumar Shinde, CM Ashok Chavan, state minister Narayan Rane and PCC chief Manikrao Thackeray acting together to make sure they come back.

 

But party men often wondered how this panel worked because the end goal of all its members is the same. All of them want to be the CM. While Deshmukh thinks he is born for a record-stint at the CMO, Shinde prays Sonia Gandhi will reward him with the office that was snatched away from him in 2004.

 

Ashok Chavan, who rocked Prithviraj Chavan's mid-day dream, hopes Rahul will continue to bless him. And despite the odds, Rane hopes to finally make it. Thackeray expects he'll emerge as the dark horse.

 

While all this is odd, the weirdest is that we have the screening committee headed by a Haryana minister. He has never been in the organisation or really has any knowledge of Maharashtra.

 

Congressmen wonder if this was a ploy to get him out of Hooda's way during the candidate selection in the state too or was this a promotion of sorts? Hooda and he really don't have any love lost.

 

RAJIV FOUNDATION

Priyanka Gandhi's entry into public life is eagerly awaited. She has taken over the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, established in 1991, exactly a month after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination. The foundation works in areas where Rajiv's interest lay: national development.

 

This foundation has always kept a low profile, but has been doing some excellent work. The trustees of the foundation include, besides her mother and brother, Dr Manmohan Singh, P. Chidambaram, Suman Dubey,

 

M.S. Swaminathan, Y.K. Alagh, R.P. Goenka, V. Krishnamuruthy and former Commonwealth Secretary General S. Ramphal. Their efforts will soon begin to show results.

 

RAMLILAS GO HIGH TECH

Ramlila celebrations are no more as simple as they used to be. This year they have gone high tech and innovative and can give serious competition to any Star Wars movie.

 

To ensure that swine flu does not dampen the spirit of Delhi-ites, Ramlila committees also have the facility of watching the show live on the web.

 

High-tech innovations are also being used to attract people. Showing Hanuman flying across the stage to get "Sanjivini booti" and special light and sound effects to create the thunder, clouds and war scenes have become common across Delhi.

 

This year some of the Ramlilas will also have sparks coming out of the swords of Rama and Ravana when they clash. The swords will be connected to welding machines to give this effect. A high-quality sound and lighting system and a flying Hanuman have become really common in all Ramlilas.

 

Because of special effects, Kumbhkaran, when woken up from his sleep, will be seen spitting fire. CCTV cameras have also been installed in some areas for security reasons. Ravan effigies may go as high as 110 feet.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MORE PITFALLS AT PITTSBURGH

 

The biggest takeaway from last week’s meet of global leaders of the G-20 countries is that the G-20 will effectively replace the G-8 as the new body of self-appointed policemen. It will be the “premier forum for our international economic co-operation,” is how the leaders’ statement at the conclusion of the Pittsburgh Summit put it. But if you look more closely at the 23-page statement released at the end of the two-day meet or the track record of the G8 in a similar role, there’s not much reason to pop the champagne.


The statement does not say how the G-20 is to go about its new role. Many of the trickier areas have been left to the Financial Stability Board. There is no fresh thinking on the largely discredited Basle norms of capital adequacy nor is there any mention of how banks will be prevented from gaming it, apart from mention of a leverage ratio.


A yet to be reformed International Monetary Fund has been given pride of place in evaluating how “respective national or regional policy frameworks fit together”. Given that these are often likely to be in conflict with one another, it is not clear how much clout the IMF will carry either when it comes to disciplining more powerful nations like the US, or how much credibility it will carry with developing ones.


For now the agenda reflects the concerns of the developed rather than the developing world. The two main issues — how much capital banks need to hold and bankers’ bonuses — are not major issues in the non-G8 part of the grouping, most of whose banks are in a relatively better shape. But to the extent events in the developed world have a disproportionate impact on the rest of the world, it is but inevitable that it should set the agenda. But only for now!


In the not-too-distant future the old order must give way to the new and in a far less niggardly fashion than envisaged in Friday’s statement. The promise of a 5% shift in voting rights in the IMF from “over-represented to under-represented countries” without spelling out the details (which are these over-represented countries that are to make the necessary sacrifices and by how much?) is both vague and inadequate. Likewise the promise of 3% increase in voting power of developing countries in the World Bank. We must demand, and get, more.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

TACKLING LABOUR REDUNDANCY

 

Killing a company executive in reaction to dismissal from employment is not justifiable under any circumstances. Such acts, including the brutal murder of Roy George, vice-president for human resources of the Coimbatore-based auto component maker Pricol, by angered workers are absolutely reprehensible. In a civilised world, workers should seek refuge in legitimate means to get their grievance redressed.


Unfortunately, this is not the first instance of company executives falling victim to barbaric mob justice — a year ago CEO of an Italian car parts firm, Graziono Transmissioni India, was beaten to death in his office in Noida by laid-off workers. Retrenchment is a difficult reality employees face, particularly when business cycles turn adverse or when a company goes through a difficult phase. In many instances, when all other cost control measures are exhausted, downsizing staff becomes critical to keep the company afloat.


In such circumstances, restrictions imposed on retrenchment through legislation such as the Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, can prove ineffectual, as businesses will find ways to get around it. Industry and the working class may benefit overall if the country’s laws allowed companies more flexibility to adjust their workforce with change in business cycles. Besides, incidents such as the ones at Pricol and Graziono Transmissioni India could have been avoided if the government had put in place a comprehensive social security system to provide retrenched workers a fallback mechanism.


Amending labour laws is a torturous task. The sensitivities and the livelihood of the working class have to be protected even as industry is given more flexibility. Besides, any attempt to dilute the law in favour of industry would invite strident opposition from trade unions. Indeed, plans to amend labour laws proposed in the past have made no progress in the face of opposition.


This situation cannot continue in perpetuity. The government must seize the opportunity to relook the labour and industrial development laws, identify change that are required, and begin the consultation process. The middle ground must be found, and that should also include putting in place safety nets.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MUMBAI WALKS MORE

 

A worldwide fund for Nature (WWF) report highlighted in The Times of India says Mumbai is India’s most walker-friendly city. The report estimates that 55% of Mumbai’s population walks regularly, as opposed to 40% in Ahmedabad, 32% in Delhi, 17% in Bangalore and 12% in Kolkata. The WWF study of 30 Indian cities estimates an average of 39% of all trips in urban India do not require motorised transport, with 28% walking and 11% cycling. The proportion is higher in smaller cities where not only is the distance travelled less but the roads are not that congested.


The study notes that whether a city is walker-friendly or not depends on “a whole gamut of urban design requirements like density, mixed use, street life, pedestrian crossings, tree shade, public spaces”. Sanjeev Sanyal, the founder of the Sustainable Planet Institute, has been quoted as saying that, in India “the problem is walking and cycling are not being included as a legitimate form of transport.”


Which brings us to the key question. Is the WWF survey looking at walking as a recreational activity or as just another way of getting to work and back? Coastal cities like Mumbai have an inherent recreational advantage in their beaches like the one at Chowpatty where parents bring their children (or vice versa!) on weekends and holidays.

Whereas, in the erstwhile garden city of Bangalore, not only are there no beaches but so many trees have been uprooted and pavements dug up over the last few years to make way for that work-in-progress called the metro that walking has become quite difficult.


Bangalore pedestrians literally feel so squeezed out that, if he had been around today the father of the nation who walked out of choice, would have hesitated to take a stroll even on the city’s Mahatma Gandhi Road where non-stop construction work on the metro has taken all the fun out of walking!

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

WHAT'S GOOD FOR THE GOOSE

SOMA BANERJEE

 

India's oil and gas sector, which has seen its fair share of committees and working groups, has been honoured with yet another pricing committee, this time led by Dr Kirit Parikh, former planning commission member (energy) and the author of the Integrated Energy Policy. And the mandate set for this committee is to fix the pricing policy for India’s petroleum sector. It’s the same old wine and worse this time, in an old bottle as well.


Most of the members of this committee , from the petroleum secretary to finance secretary, have worked on this vexed issue earlier too, and each time the recommendations have been broadly the same. It is unlikely to be very different this time around. The last report submitted barely a year ago by B K Chaturvedi, former cabinet secretary and petroleum secretary, had given out an extensive roadmap on how pricing needs to be addressed. What came of that report is hard to remember as it remained like every other committee report “only on paper.”

There is little reason to expect much from the new Parikh committee. The members are more or less the same set of people, the issues have not changed and the change agents too are much the same. So the government’s move to constitute another committee is best described as a delaying tactic and underlines a lack of political will to bell the cat. Fuel pricing has been a political decision and has always been dictated by political reasons rather than economic ones. The answers to the issues are all known to every stakeholder, yet there is little action to show.

Even today, the committee has been formed to look at how the financial health of the public sector oil companies can be restored . While it is true that the government’s warped pricing policy has had its biggest impact on the bottom lines of PSU oil companies , the solution will have to be found, while looking at the industry as a whole. The Kirit Parikh committee can be different from the earlier ones if it chooses to look at the industry as a whole without any distinction between public and private when it comes to fuel pricing. Policies have to be framed keeping in mind all players. And the regulator — a key component of any vibrant market — has to be independent of the parent ministry, which often controls the PSUs.


A case in comparison is the telecom sector. The success story of the telecom sector in India can be attributed to one single factor — competition — the absence of which is gradually killing the oil and gas sector. While telecom policies from the early days of liberalisation were framed to promote larger number of players leading to the development of a vibrant market, investors who sunk money in India’s refining and marketing sector have been forced to shut shop and abandon markets as policies remain only on paper.


Result? While markets grew and telephony consumers saw sharp cuts in mobile and fixed phone call rates, new players in the refinery industry have lost markets as the government continues with its skewed pricing policy, which leaves every stakeholder, the consumers , producers and government poorer.


If the government feels that oil companies should have only limited freedom to fix fuel prices given the volatility in the energy markets , then that has to be true for all oil marketing companies, public and private. In other words, if the government believes that it needs to intervene and step in when global prices breach a certain threshold limit, then the same should be done for all irrespective of whether they are private or public.


A few of the private refiners and marketing companies are willing to accept controlled pricing regime provided they are given similar bail-out packages like oil bonds that are doled out to public sector oil companies at the end of the year. Many of these private majors have had to shut retail outlets and carry losses on their books as they have been unable to compete with their public sector counterparts who are compensated by the government.

The government has put in place an arbitrary solution to the impending crisis in the fuel sector by issuing oil bonds in a subsidy sharing regime. So while oil producing companies like ONGC see sharp declines in their profitability even in the best of years, thanks to the huge subsidy burden they share, the fisc is burdened with huge outstandings that it would have to make through deferred payments as and when the bonds mature.


This is only an ad hoc solution which begs transparency. No investor, big or small, not to speak of an independent regulator, can approve of such an opaque system. Worse, it leads to complete monopoly and stifling of growth where competition is given a burial. Private sector companies that had come in to take advantage of India’s growing market and fuel requirements are busy converting their refineries to export-oriented units to cater to foreign customers.


It is simply impossible for private oil companies, which have to answer shareholders unlike PSU companies that have the government as their largest shareholder, to sustain and remain in business under the current regime. Petroleum product pricing policies have to be framed keeping in mind all players — public and private It is simply impossible for private sector oil companies to sustain and remain in business under the current regime The regulator has to be independent of the parent ministry controlling the PSUs.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MARKET LIKELY TO BE CHOPPY, BUT TRADERS SEE NO MAJOR CORRECTION

NISHANTH VASUDEVAN

 

MUMBAI: Equities may remain choppy in the shortened trading week ahead, in the absence of any major trigger for sharp movements either sides. Despite concerns about stock prices being stretched, after more than doubling since March, market participants do not see any significant declines, as expectations of a correction in recent weeks have resulted in a sizeable creation of short-positions in futures and options.


Traders are likely to reverse these short-positions on every drop to lock in profits, thereby cushioning any major fall near-term, they said. Financial markets will be shut on Monday and Friday due to Dassera and Gandhi Jayanti, respectively.


“I am optimistically cautious about India, because, so far, there is nothing that indicates that the recent rally is not sustainable,” said Angus W Stening, CEO-Asia, Pioneer Investments Management. “Valuations of Indian equities at these levels are still not near their historic higher, but they are not cheap either,” he added.


Analysts estimate that the Sensex is trading at roughly 15 times 2009-10 expected earnings. At the peak of the bull run in 2007, the index traded at over 18 times future earnings estimates. Pessimists argue that existing valuations are not comparable with that in 2007, as India economic growth then was 8-9%, while now, it does not exceed 6%.


Market participants said the July-September quarter earnings season next month will help investors judge whether corporate earnings growth has revived or not. With no key disappointments in companies’ earnings in the April-June quarter, there are expectations of an improvement in the current quarter.


After the recent rally in software shares recently, sparked by reports of top companies looking to hike salaries, a section of the market has turned pessimistic about the sector. Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, in a recent report, reiterated its ‘underperform’ rating on the sector. The bank said, “The market will be disappointed in the near term on margins, and in the longer term, on revenue growth trajectory.”

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

LIQUIDITY TO KEEP CALL RATES STEADY; RUPEE MAY TRADE STRONG

 

Call rates clawed back to their usual range of 3.20-3.30% from the previous week’s close of 3.40-3.50%. Rates rose slightly intra-week, but the ample liquidity prevailing in the banking system kept rates capped at 3.35%. Call rates were mostly steady near RBI’s main borrowing rate owing to a demand in the second half of the bi-weekly reporting cycle, resulting in low volumes. Moreover, banks appeared to have covered fortnightly requirements well in advance.


At the LAF, RBI mopped up an average of Rs 92,560 crore sharply lower from the previous week’s Rs 1,16,279 crore, as banks also set aside funds to meet their half-yearly needs. Call rates would continue to remain steady, as liquidity continues to be ample in the coming days.


GILTS MARKET

Government bonds ended down, snapping a 2-week rally, as investors trimmed positions eyeing heavy debt supplies in the week, while the impact of positive influences from the past couple of sessions seemed to have taken a backseat. The GOI benchmark yield-curve witnessed a wide movement. Yields at the 8-year and 9-year segment also fell on some value buying by traders, though the overall trend remained in favour of short-term bonds. The 10-year benchmark yield ended higher at 7.17% from 7.09%. The spread between the 1-year and 10-year yield widened to 283 bps from 265 bps.


With all eyes and ears now fixed on the upcoming monetary policy, bond traders also seemed cautious until cues about the government’s market borrowing for the October-March period of current financial year emerged, as reflected by the range-bound trading in the 10-year paper. RBI’s bond buyback OMO announcement offered some respite to the market, but the result of the OMO left disappointed traders, with RBI accepting only Rs 19.69 billion out of the total Rs 60 billion.


Bond yields could move in a narrow range, as the mood would remain cautious in a holiday-shortened week, while most investors would avoid taking fresh positions before banks’ half-yearly closure of accounts due Wednesday. The market would also keenly watch for the outcome of the meeting between the finance ministry and RBI for cues on the government borrowing plan. Meanwhile, the suspense on the “HTM” limit of banks, along with the anxiety building about inflation, would keep playing on investor sentiment.


CORPORATE BONDS

Corporate bond market activity was lull and ‘AAA’ 5-year benchmark stayed in the range of 8.40-8.45%. The credit spread was slightly narrower at 127 bps, as the yield on the underlying government bond saw a marginal rise. A couple of state-owned companies tapped the bond market to meet immediate borrowing needs, while most borrowers held back, awaiting more clarity on interest rates. Several banks issued quite good amount of certificate of deposits (CDs), while the commercial paper (CPs) segment had trivial issues, indicated by low volumes.

The 3-month P1+ CD rate touched a low of 3.75%, while the 3-month CP rate touched a low of 4.70%. Yields could continue in the prevailing trend, holding to a narrow range with activity in both primary and secondary markets expected to remain subdued since not much demand is seen from investors. Only few primary issues are lined up for the coming days. However, the short-term non-SLR segment could witness issuances with healthy volumes.

FOREX
The rupee’s attempt to gain past week’s high of 47.85/$ was thwarted by dollar demand from importers, while event-risks across the globe amid volatility in major currencies, allowed the currency to hold to a range despite bouts of volatility. Positive FII flows continued to aid the rupee while the currency showed some resilience despite dollar rise overseas. Meanwhile, month-end dollar demand from importers curbed further advances in the rupee. However, given the overseas 2-way movement of dollar and anticipation driven by global growth recovery, regular support was received from exporter supplies.


Premia on medium-to-longer-dated contracts eased, as profit-booking on higher premium emerged though forward dollar demand from importers contained sharper declines. Six-month premium ended lower at 2.93% from the previous week’s close at 3.02%. Premia have been pretty active over the past couple of weeks with 2-way action. Sentiment appears biased in favour of the rupee with 47.75 being eyed by the market. Dollar movement overseas and global economic cues will set the week’s trend.


VERITY ANALYTICS

(Former Research arm of Credence Analytics)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'THIRD-PARTY LOGISTICS BUSINESS LIKELY TO REACH $90 M BY 2012'

 

NEW DELHI: The third-party logistics (3PL) business in India is likely to reach $90 million by 2012 from $58 million now, as the model is fast catching up among the country’s businessmen due to its cost advantage, an industry lobby report says.


“Currently 3PL outsourcing among Indian companies is estimated at $58 million as 55% of them are outsourcing services like supply chain management and warehousing,” the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) said in a paper.


A 3PL firm provides outsourced or third party logistics services to companies for part, or sometimes all of their supply chain management function. According to the chamber, India’s logistics market size will reach $125 billion by 2010 from $105 billion now, growing at an average rate of between 16-17% in the next two years.


“Logistics will register exciting growth in the next two years as manufacturing, retail and real estate, which currently are under severe stress, will return to their buoyancy,” the paper said. More companies are turning towards 3PL as it helps them bring down conventional logistics costs and handle more complicated tasks, Assocham said.


“Companies are eager to expand into new market which is creating more logistics challenges. This is driving more companies to partner with providers who are already operating in global market,” the report said.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

STORIES ARE NOT JUST FOR CHILDREN

MARGUERITE THEOPHIL

 

Story is a healing art that enables us to explore the emotional dark pockets of the psyche in a non-threatening way. In fact, some therapists acknowledge that story was originally used for healing in a broader everyday context, only later transmitted into the therapy room because it worked.


Since story-work provides distance from one’s direct experience, it is less likely to trigger off resistance, and can help a person develop new attitudes and actions towards situations and relationships.


We mistakenly imagine that storytelling benefits only children. Its uses and advantages are obviously relevant for ‘grown-ups’ too — helping us make sense of new experience; communicating the meaning we find; reinforcing values and ethics; appreciating of differences. Story taps into our higher emotions and guides us to make appropriate choices. Increasingly these days, story is used in corporate, religious, medical and therapeutic settings.

Dr Rachel Naomi Remen, a physician, best-selling writer and educator in the field of medicine, became discouraged by medicine’s tendency to treat patients as problems, not as people. In her book Kitchen Table Wisdom, she encourages doctors to listen and work with patients’ stories, because “... a story is like a compass. It points to what’s important.”


Story not only guides individuals and communities to what is precious and what they needed to hang on to, it also teaches how to let go of what has outlived its meaning and purpose in our life.


A while back I worked with a group of five bright young women in their twenties — religious novices, preparing for a life of active service in expression of their faith. After we had explored the deeper meaning of a story I had chosen to work with, I asked them how a many-sided exploration of this story or others like it could help them in their lives and work.


Their responses, like those of almost any kind of group, were about perceiving familiar things in a whole new way, compassionate acceptance of one’s ‘faults’, clues to moving on, the joy of knowing oneself more deeply, understanding others’ differing perspectives and approaches and experiencing gentle healing.


One of the reasons story, or any of the healing arts, works for all ages and all kinds of groups is that it is invitational rather than directive. It invites us to remember an old truth, learn a new truth or a see truth in a way that we hadn’t seen before, thereby enriching our lives.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

FOREIGN BANKS OFFER NO SERIOUS COMPETITION HERE

GEORGE CHERIAN

 

He believes that foreign banks are no longer competition, that disruptive entry strategies that disturb the risk-reward equation only end up in pain and that there’s enough opportunity for every bank in the Indian financial system. In an interview with ET NOW’s banking editor, HDFC Bank managing director Aditya Puri also says the next frontier for banks is small town and rural India. Excerpts:


You’ve said credit growth is beginning to look up. Which sectors are you seeing maximum growth coming from?
There are two parts to the way we define credit growth. One is, people are looking at a base where the economy was booming. So, when you look at year-on-year growth, that may not be so good. But sequential credit growth is much better, because we saw the worst in December. We’re seeing companies demanding working capital, healthy growth in car loans, mortgages, personal loans, small business banking, even investment demand for new projects is very healthy. The last bit has not been drawn, but many sanctions have been made.

But within mortgages, what has been your experience? Because we’ve seen PSU banks come in and price that market at rates much below what other older and well-entrenched players have been offering. Has that in some manner impacted demand for your products?

No, because the point to understand in the Indian market is that demand exceeds supply for retail credit. So, even if someone is giving loans at a much lower rate, it doesn’t mean you will not be able to meet your targets. HDFC as a group has never come up with unrealistic pricing to gain market share. So, we will grow, balancing risk-reward and we will not have a problem maintaining our growth rate even if some others are quoting cheaper.

What has been the experience with unsecured lending because that’s where most banks have been hit?

From our point of view, we didn’t take much of a hit. The issue is that the people who took a hit in unsecured lending... How do I put this politely... were a little more ambitious than they should have been. So, if you go below a certain level of creditworthiness and extend unsecured loans, you are likely to have defaults. But that doesn’t mean unsecured lending is bad. Unsecured lending to the right segment is not a problem. In fact, personal loans is one of our reasonably well growing areas.


Over the past 9-10 years, we’ve seen disruptive entry strategies being employed by a number of players to gain market share. Would you say disruptive entry strategies can come back to haunt you the way we’ve seen happen over the past 6-8 months?

I wouldn’t say it, but history does say that if you go in with disruptive strategies that disturb the risk-reward equation, then by definition, mathematically, they will come back not only to haunt you, but they will also bite you. Without commenting on anyone specifically, I would rephrase that to say that if risk-reward is not properly priced, there will be pain in the horizon.


The past quarter was a difficult one for banks, given the muted credit growth we saw. But they did get saved by their treasury income. Now in the current quarter, credit growth is beginning to look up, but treasury income is not expected to look so good. What is the business outlook in general for the current quarter?

Yes, we would not have too much of treasury income, but we have never depended too much on treasury income. Our base businesses have picked up very well, our margins are holding, our CASA ratio has actually gone up and credit is growing well. So, we do not see any problems in terms of either our growth or our profitability. And most importantly, our portfolio is showing no stress at all. But our pricing on assets has also come down.


So, the question now is whether our cost of funds has come down more than the pricing on assets? I would say, no. So, to maintain a margin in the current scenario would be a good deal. Because today, there’s excess liquidity in the market, assets are priced much lower than they should be.


When HDFC Bank was set up in the mid-90s, your big competition was foreign banks. Would you say that in today’s market, they are no longer a threat?

I would say they are not serious competition unless they bring in a lot more money and come up with a completely differently strategy. I do believe they are competition, but not serious competition of scale. I would say the competition is between the private sector and public sector banks. But I have been saying for a long time that we do not need differentiated pricing etc.


India, by and large, in the financial services sector, is an underpenetrated market. If you take our retail loans to GDP, they are 10-12%, may be 14% arguably, depending on the estimates you take. There are very few countries that have a ratio of less than 50%. Almost 60-70% of the people who come to borrow from us are first time borrowers. So, there’s no shortage of demand in this country. GDP is growing at arguably 6% or 6.5%. That means, overall systemic credit is growing at about 18%. So, I don’t think demand is an issue. I think, there’s enough for everyone and if we handle it properly, we will continue to have a safe and secure banking system.

Metro markets are viewed as being saturated. So, where are you seeing the next big opportunity? Small town India?
Absolutely. For instance, when banks cut down on two-wheeler financing, we thought Hero Honda would come back (it had doubled and tripled its production capacity), requesting us to get back in the business. But it can get its payments cash down in smaller markets. I haven’t seen too many such companies having to reduce prices to spur demand in smaller towns and cities. Even our business... we’ will soon have approximately 1,700 branches... more than 50% of those branches are in underbanked centres outside the top 25 cities and large portions of our business depend on these markets, especially credit cards.


Large portions of our population, supported by the growth in GDP and the increase in services, are very well off today right down to small towns. Some of our smaller centres give us over Rs 80 crore in deposits. So yes, going beyond the metros is a major opportunity. The development of bond markets is a major opportunity. The development of commodities financing, which includes the entire retail chain on agriculture, is another opportunity. The debt market will also come about. So, I don’t think, there is a lack of opportunity for the banking system. It’s really the ability to be able to execute in a defined parameter, maintaining your profitability and risk.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

'WE NEED UNIFORM EXCISE DUTY ON CARS'

CHANCHAL PAL CHAUHAN

 

Mahindra and Mahindra (M&M) is the first home-grown auto maker to enter the US, the world’s most competitive car market. Much of the credit for making M&M a global company, with the launch of its pick-up trucks and a yet-to-debut sports utility vehicle (SUV) in the US market, goes to its president for automotive sector Pawan Goenka. He has now taken over as the president of Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers. In an interview with ET,, Goenka discusses the prospects for the industry. Excerpts:


What is your agenda to take the Indian auto industry to next level?

Indian automobile industry should now focus on creating a brand image for itself in both domestic and international markets. Like the governments in Europe, Japan and Korea that support auto makers to create strong domestic brands, we need government support and self-innovating expertise in engineering to become a force to be reckon with. Only then will our products be taken seriously in developed markets.


Do you have a blueprint for that course?

We have outlined a 10-year Auto Mission Plan for the Indian auto sector to become $145 billion industry by 2016. When we announced the plan in 2006, the industry was estimated at $36 billion. Over the past three years, we have grown to be a $45 billion industry. All ingredients required for growth are there. For greater focus on overall brand building — both at the level of SIAM and individual companies — we need greater cooperation to develop technology together, while drawing clear lines to be competitive .


So will the focus be on exports?

We have been exporting around 14-15% of 1.3 million cars produced here and hope to raise that to 20-22% in a few years. We plan to rev up our cars with improved quality and technology, and develop platforms conforming to global standards. Some incentives could be accorded through tax sops and better infrastructure to promote exports and develop India as a global manufacturing hub.


That brings us to the high taxation regime for the auto industry in India...

There has been phased reductions in the past, but we need some critical rationalisation. Tax differential for different segments of vehicles — 8% excise for smaller car against 20% for bigger models — should be replaced with uniform excise. There are no real incentives for exporting cars from India; that needs to be accorded priority to make our products cost competitive. We need to cut the cost of power and eliminate infrastructure bottlenecks.


What about automobiles propelled by alternative fuels?

Efforts are underway to develop alternative fuels and seven projects are under implementation. Major ones are the National Hydrogen Energy Plan and National Hybrid Propulsion Platform under which few automakers will jointly develop mild and semi-hybrids till the prototype stage to display at the Delhi Commonwealth Games. We have a goal to drive a million vehicles on hydrogen in the country by 2020. The technology is available but make it practical and affordable for the customers.


Are you looking at any corpus to develop the technology together?

There is no such plan to develop a corpus or a kitty for common technology development but under the National Hybrid Propulsion Platform, the government has set aside Rs 200 crore. Industry will contribute in kind. The government is not shying away from funding R&D projects, but the processes for that should be in place and like-minded people should come together.

How does the Indian auto industry plan to beat the slowdown blues?

It has been a great learning phase, with each company having its own experience. They have become more leaner and efficient. While FY ’09 was a bad year, the first quarter of the current fiscal has been good. We hope the upward trend will continue. All the major segments such as cars, two-wheelers and three wheelers are expected to post double-digit growth this fiscal. Trucks and buses may continue to struggle, but we are hopeful of a comeback by the end of the fiscal.


Do you feel the easing of interest rates on auto loans will help in early revival?

There has been a continuous slide in interest rates but we would be more comfortable at 10%. While PSU banks have shown the way with single digit interest rate, a more competitive environment will help to ease the impact of interest burden on customers.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

ENTRY OF 3G WILL CHANGE THE MARKET DYNAMCIS FOR NOKIA

 

It’s a fact that Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo (OPK) states very proudly: There are more Indians in Nokia’s Finland HQ than Finns in India’s HQ in Gurgaon. But then it’s the way of life for Nokia. After all, India happens to be Nokia’s second-largest market and a key base for global operations. On his annual visit, OPK was in India last monthon a three-day tour, the highlight of which was his chairing the prestigious ET Awards jury for selecting the 2009 award winners. He spoke exclusively to ET on the world economy, trends in mobile handset market and the transformation he is trying to bring about in Nokia. Excerpts:


It’s been three quarters of gloom. Do you see a recovery in the global economy?

I think it will take quite a while for the world to recover from the downturn. It relates to unemployment, it relates to how much money is being spent for stimulus before it starts to have an impact. It will take a while and that money will need to be re-earned. There has been a reset in the global economy but it will take place at a lower level.


Do you think that the ultimate device debate is settled in handset’s favour?

Mobile handsets have been successful in capturing value from the adjacent categories. It’s not a telephone but a multifunctional device with music, camera, imaging and so on. Now we are adding even more functionality on top of that platform with the help on new application software services. Conceptually, we continue to do the same, we continue to add value to the mobile handset — and it’s very clear that as PCs or what we know as PCs, or notebooks and mobile computers, their markets are getting closer to each other.

Definitely new types of devices will also emerge as well in this converging device market. And the first examples of this have been notebooks. In that way the possibility of a consumer to choose a device that suits his or her needs will only increase. I don’t think that it’s the mobile device versus anything else. It’s a question about the convergence space where a lot of opportunities will arise.


The competitive landscape for Nokia has changed rapidly with new competitors coming in from all corners. Firstly, it was only Ericsson and Motorola, then Research In Motion and Apple. Koreans want a slice of the market too, and even Google is in the fray now.

The point here is that we are talking about several industries coming together. The definition of the industry is changing and we are redefining what an industry is. As the industry expands into newer categories, new players come to that converging industry. What it means for us is that we have new competition on the one hand and, on the other hand, it’s the best possible illustration of the fact that the space we are in is interesting. We need to be competitive against the both traditional competitors and new competition.


A lot of industries are going through a fundamental structural shift. You spoke in your AGM speech about some fundamental shifts in the handset business too. What are they?

The fundamental changes are primarily about adding the services layer on top of the handset. We’re adding the contextuality, the social dimension, the location dimension and this for Nokia is a major transformation. We’ve been talking about the target of 300 million subscribers, or active users, by 2011. That’s a target we could not have imagined earlier when we were simply selling devices as opposed to also getting on board users for our services. That’s a big change.


You have spoken about co-operating with the competitors. Why does a market leader want to work with competition?
The borderlines of the industries are being redefined. Of course, there is much more complexity and possibility in that area. And in a complex world, you need to sometimes both partner and compete with same people depending on the area you are in.


A good example in this is we are working with Microsoft in some areas, at some times we are also competing with them. Going forward, many people will have to show this flexibility. Another dimension is that it’s more and more about ecosystems competing as supposed to companies competing only. The ecosystem will necessitate partnerships in much wider way than has been in the past.


What is your view on some of the large Chinese handset manufacturers, whose names may not be very well known but they could be the next big players?

The largest Chinese handset manufacturer is Nokia. Also the biggest in Korea, because we’ve got the biggest factory there. And India. (laughs). It is correct that some Chinese competition has definitely entered the market. We also have more competition in grey markets. India should be alert to this, it should look at the safety concerns that may be relevant here when it comes to grey market goods.


Nokia’s growth in India has been a 100-metre dash — nearly Rs 25,000 crore sales in 14 years. But that kind of hypergrowth is unsustainable. What do you think will be the next biggest growth drivers in India? Is it the fastest rate of growth that you’ve seen anywhere in the world?

We have seen similar fast growth in China, Brazil and definitely India is in the same league. It is about selling even more sophisticated handsets to India with services piled on top of that. Nokia live tools is the perfect example of this. 85% of people have been renewing their subscriptions of the live tools. That’s a good retention number.

And, of course, India has been a market that has not only been low-end. It’s a common perception but that’s incorrect. It has been low-end shifted, now we must target to sell more and more sophisticated handsets to our Indian consumers. Also, 3G will come to India soon and it will mean that the possibilities to use handsets. It will inject some energy in the Indian market. It is now happening in China. Of the big markets, India is still pending.

Another area where Nokia has taken a lead was by putting an Indian woman — Lalita Gupte on the Nokia board. What prompted that move?

First, I would claim that of all the companies in the world with similar market cap, Nokia is one of the most global in terms of market positions, geographical distribution, management; for example my CFO is based in NY, I am in Helsinki. Our board has great diversity too — India, France, Germany, Sweden, the US — they’re all represented.


It’s a question of finding an excellent profile to fit into your board and looking at the diversity you want to bring and local knowledge as well. She (Gupte) met the criteria. Diversity is great because it brings new dimensions to any discussion and in that way can create positive friction that generates innovation. If everybody thinks alike, innovation is less likely to happen.


What is really admirable about Nokia is how a small company from Finland has gone into a truly global case study, whether in terms of R&D, manufacturing facilities or in terms of markets. Why is it that traditional manufacturing giants like Japan didn’t do the same?

When you don’t have a large home market, it helps you a lot. It makes you flexible, faster and more aggressive at penetrating new markets. When you have a sizeable home market, you tend to limit your thinking.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

CIGARETTE TAXES ARE DISCRIMINATORY: KURUSH GRANT

ANURADHA HIMATSINGKA

 

Discriminatory taxes on cigarettes have not helped reduce the tobacco consumption in the country, says ITC divisional chief executive (tobacco division) Kurush Grant. In an exclusive chat with ET, he says that the move has only led some consumers moving to smuggled and tax evaded cigarettes:


What are your views on discriminatory taxes on cigarettes vis-a-vis other tobacco products?

Though cigarettes account for less than 15% of the total tobacco consumed in India, it contributes more than 90% of the total tax revenue collected from the tobacco industry. While the intent of the government has been to reduce the aggregate consumption of tobacco, extremely high tax rate on cigarettes has only served to squeezed demand for the cigarette form of tobacco, even as total consumption of tobacco in the country continues to grow.

In fact, it is only tax which makes cigarettes more expensive than bidis and chewing tobacco. Even Ministry of Health, in their publications, has said that increase in taxation on cigarettes leads a section of consumers to move to revenue-inefficient tobacco products, including smuggled and tax evaded cigarettes.


Conversely, when cigarette tax rates are stable and the economy is growing, people upgrade to cigarettes from other revenue inefficient forms of tobacco. This, in turn, helps tax collections as well. Though the tax rates on other forms of tobacco are much lower (compared to cigarettes), tax avoidance is high in that sector.


Apart from disparity in taxation on tobacco products, is the cigarette industry beset with other problems?
While disparity in taxation on tobacco products has always been a cause for concern, it has now led to other alarming consequences. The high arbitrage opportunity in tax avoidance, given the extremely high rates, have led to the trade moving into unscrupulous hands. The markets are today flooded with contraband and tax avoiding illegal cigarettes.


On the one hand, you have cigarettes getting smuggled into India from neighbouring as well as western countries. I am told that these contraband cigarettes have a market share of higher than 20% in some markets like Indore. This apart, the vacuum created by exit of the popular low priced non-filter cigarettes has been occupied by duty-evading regular size filter cigarettes which are sold to consumers at Rs 10 per packet of 10 cigarettes (a rate lower than the tax payable on these cigarettes).


These low-priced illegal cigarettes are a growing threat to the legitimate industry, government revenue, market stability and the social objective of regulating tobacco consumption.


Will imposition of graphic health warnings adversely impact cigarette manufacturers?

Imposition of graphic health warnings on tobacco products has impacted cigarettes more than other tobacco products. But it has given a fillip to the growth of smuggled contraband trade as these cigarette packs do not carry the specified graphic warnings. Legitimate cigarette industry strictly following the graphic health warnings are impacted by such blatant avoidance by the illegal industry.


Q. The severe taxation and regulatory milieu for cigarettes in India remains a cause for concern. Coming close on the heels of the smoking ban in public places, the cigarette industry was subjected to imposition of pictorial graphic warnings during the quarter. In this backdrop and keeping in mind that the cigarettes business still accounts for nearly 50% of the total earnings, how challenging has marketing of cigarettes become for a company like ITC?

KG: The marketing of cigarettes to existing tobacco consumers has always been a competitively challenging task. Due to the taxation regime and large scale illegal trade taking advantage of it, it becomes even more challenging since the level playing field is an uneven one. However, our robust strategies and attention to quality have seen us in good stead. This has resulted in our strong brands such as Goldflake, Navy Cut, Bristol, Flake, Classic and others receiving constant consumer preference.


Q. What, according to ITC, should be the structure of the proposed goods & service tax (GST) which would benefit both government as well as cigarette manufacturers?

KG: Historically, highly taxed products have a specific rate rather than ad-valorem rates and are ideally taxed at a single point at the factory gates itself. Cigarettes, given the high rates of taxation, merit only a single point central excise duty as it has been proved to be the most efficient way of collecting tax for such a product.

The goods and services tax (GST) is meant to be a tax on value. In cigarettes, more than 90% of the value is created at the manufacturing point itself and should be taxed at a specific rate at that single point, since it is impractical to collect levies from millions of small retailers and convenience shops. For a highly taxed product like cigarettes, where taxes are almost 190% of the ex-factory price, it is best to keep it outside the ambit of the proposed GST.


Cigarettes should continue with single-point, specific central excise levy with a revenue neutral additional excise duty which can be passed on to the states. In fact, a single point specific duty has been recommended by most of the expert tax panels set up to look into the structure of taxation and centre-state share of taxes. The Tobacco Institute of India has made several representations in this regard.


Q. Will implementation of GST impact the movement of smuggled contraband cigarettes which already enjoys an illegal advantage of tax arbitrage? Please elaborate.

KG: It will depend entirely on the manner in which GST is implemented on tobacco. A single point, first point specific excise duty subsuming all other taxes would certainly be the more revenue efficient methodology.


Q. ITC’s marketing and distribution network services some 2 million outlets a day. How is the company planning to expand its distribution reach, especially since the company has been launching a spate of products in the personal care and branded packaged food segment?

KG: The reach of ITC’s distribution network is well known. Any expansion in this reach will always be based on a combination of growth in new channels and requirements of existing and new products.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

G20: LOFTY VOWS, BUT NO RESULTS

 

It is not surprising that the two-day G20 summit in Pittsburgh did not produce any breakthroughs because the various views were clearly defined and irreconcilable even on the eve of the summit. There was no substantial decision on financial sector reforms even though the financial sector was the main villain in the downfall of the global economy. The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, put it starkly when he said the collapse of the US financial markets caused a huge loss of $900 billion in just one year to the non-oil developing countries for no fault of their own. There was also no road map of how and when the stimulus packages would be withdrawn. This is frightening because no politician wants to take the risk of withdrawing stimulus packages, preferring to continue and add to the fiscal deficits in their countries. This means there is another bubble in the making in the stock markets and real estate sectors, to name just two, and there could be another crisis waiting to happen, if not round the corner then at least in a few months, unless some action is taken. The US President, Mr Barack Obama, in his now famous trademark style of dishing out warnings like a schoolmaster to errant students, is unable to rein in the powerful financial lobby in the US. In fact, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, a club of rich nations, has already cocked a snook at the G20, warning that overemphasis on banks, bonuses and under-regulation would only do more harm than good. They say it would only treat the symptoms, not the cause. So a major struggle is ahead and it’s not going to be pretty. In this context, the re-balancing of the world economic order by giving a greater say to the G20 over the G-8 seems a pyrrhic victory for India, Brazil, China and South Africa. It sounds good on paper, but what it actually means in reality remains to be seen. It could turn out to be a mere debating society on the world stage which does nothing for ushering in a new economic order. The bottom line is that unless the US reforms its financial system, the world economies are in danger of yet another crisis. The US has poured in billions of dollars primarily to save the banks that caused the global financial meltdown. If they had put even half of that money into the real economy it could have built their badly needed infrastructure, whether bridges, railroad systems or power, and created much-needed employment. It is only the government that can put money of that magnitude into infrastructure. If it doesn’t and falls prey to the machinations and money power of the financial sector, the problems of the US will not go away. It is an irony that unemployment figures in the US are growing by the week while hefty bonuses to bankers have been resumed. The situation is bad and, according to some statistics, 1.4 million people are losing their medical insurance every day not to mention an equal number of foreclosures on mortgages. If these statistic are correct, it’s a scary situation for the US and the other national economies. Mr Obama talked of the rest of the world bearing equal responsibility, but what can the rest of the world do if he doesn’t set his house in order? America is still the world’s largest economy and consumer spending accounts for 70 per cent of this economy. And this spending keeps some of the world’s other economies ticking.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

UNDILUTED TRUTHS ABOUT RICH POLLUTERS

BY JAYANTHI NATARAJAN

 

It came as no big surprise to anyone at all that the US President, Mr Barack Obama, made a speech filled with noble intentions, but very little concrete action, on the issue of climate change at the Climate Change Summit, which just concluded in New York. Environment activist had great hopes that the US President would think “out of the box” and take the lead in ensuring that the US, one of the worst offenders on climate change, would offer something solid and substantial to the world by way of emission cuts, thereby setting a benchmark for other countries to follow. The annual emission of CO2 by the US has been 23 tonnes, as opposed to a world average of four tonnes, and a lowly one tonne per annum by India. However, Mr Obama did not make that all-important commitment and the future of the Climate Change Summit at Copenhagen on December 7, 2009 remains a triumph of hope over experience.


The Indian perspective on climate change is obviously shaped by the further truth that per capita energy consumption in India is one of the lowest in the world, with India consuming 530 kg of oil equivalent per person of primary energy in 2004 compared to a world average of 1,770. There can be no doubt that in dealing with the issue of climate change it is vital to emphasise that the only equitable way to deal with the issue would be to have common but differentiated goals and responsibilities for all nations.


In other words, those who were responsible for creating the problem in the first place — those rich and developed countries that ruined the environment for all these years — will in all equity have to contribute more significantly than less developed countries who never really polluted the atmosphere, and whose growth and development have lagged behind.
Historical emissions are something which have to be factored into any reasonable discussion on climate change. After all, carbon emissions released into the atmosphere centuries ago are just as lethal as emissions that continue to be released even today.


The Centre for Science and Environment has put out a very disturbing and important publication containing basic facts about climate change. It observes in this section: “Rich countries account for seven out of every 10 tonnes of CO2 emitted since the start of the industrial era. Historical emissions amount to about 1,100 tonnes per capita of CO2 for the US and the United Kingdom compared to 66 tonnes per capita for China and 23 tonnes per capita for India. This is the natural debt of the rich countries as against the financial debt of industrialised countries and it has to be paid.” As far as current emissions go, “Rich countries are still the major emitters of total CO2. Between 1980 and 2005 the total emissions of the US were almost double that of China and more than seven times that of India. The current emissions of the developed countries are also very high. With just 15 per cent of the world’s population, they account for 45 per cent of its CO2 emissions”.


It is, therefore, very clear that although developing countries have and even now contributed little to the problem, the impact of climate change will be the greatest upon developing countries like ours.
The frequency of extreme weather events leading to natural disasters may increase and we may face multiple risks arising from increase in sea levels, recession of Himalayan glaciers, problems with water availability, food security and public health. This disproportionate impact of climate change will be further magnified as a result of our vulnerabilities, inadequate means and limited capacities to adapt to its effects. In fact, adaptation, which is the key to the development process, is constantly being challenged by the variability of climate change and its impact on us.

Thus it is that following upon some years of excellent growth, we are now staring at the bleak fallout of drought this year and assessing the fate of our agriculture. In fact, the issue of adaptation is so crucial to a developing country like ours that we spend nearly two per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP) on adaptation measures like cyclone warning and protection, coastal protection and flood control, food security and flood relief. At this point in time, India accounts for 16 per cent of the world’s population and accounts for less than five per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, India accounts for about 1.1 to 1.2 tonnes per capita of CO2 equivalent.


We have estimated that even if our growth continues at 8.5 per cent in 2020, our emissions would not have crossed 2.5 tonnes and we will therefore, in keeping with the commitment made by our Prime Ministers, remain at all times below the per capita emissions of developed nations, whereas China has gone ahead to emit nearly 23 tonnes per capita at current emission rates.It is for this reason that India talks about common but differentiated responsibilities. In order to prevent environmental catastrophe and maintain world temperatures at below two degrees Celsius, it would become incumbent upon known polluters, historical polluters and developed nations to agree to as much as 40 per cent cuts in their CO2 emissions. Even with those cuts, they would be emitting far more and using up far more energy per capita than a developing country like India.
It is also very important to remember that our emissions are development-related emissions, while those of developed countries are lifestyle-related emissions. Equity will be ensured only when developed countries own up to their profligate ways and cut back upon emissions instead of taking a back-door route, which is increasingly being resorted to, namely investing in cheap technology transfers on climate change technology to a developing country, thereby earning “offsets”, or brownie points, which are meant to condone their lack of responsibility in not cutting back on emissions.


Technology transfer, an equitable intellectual property regime and resource mobilisation for climate change strategies are commitments which developed countries must make to developing countries, sans conditions or offsets. The world is too small now to allow for inequity and greed and it is this spirit which should inform the discussions at Copenhagen later this year.

 

Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.


The views expressed in thiscolumn are her own.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

VOILA! RED CHINA DECIDES TO GO GREEN

BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

 

Most people would assume that 20 years from now when historians look back at 2008-09, they will conclude that the most important thing to happen in this period was the Great Recession. I’d hold off on that. If we can continue stumbling out of this economic crisis, I believe future historians may well conclude that the most important thing to happen in the last 18 months was that Red China decided to become Green China.
Yes, China’s leaders have decided to go green — out of necessity because too many of their people can’t breathe, can’t swim, can’t fish, can’t farm and can’t drink thanks to pollution from its coal- and oil-based manufacturing growth engine. And, therefore, unless China powers its development with cleaner energy systems, and more knowledge-intensive businesses without smokestacks, China will die of its own development.


What do we know about necessity? It is the mother of invention. And when China decides it has to go green out of necessity, watch out. You will not just be buying your toys from China. You will buy your next electric car, solar panels, batteries and energy-efficiency software from China.


I believe this Chinese decision to go green is the 21st-century equivalent of the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik — the world’s first Earth-orbiting satellite. That launch stunned us, convinced President Eisenhower that the US was falling behind in missile technology and spurred America to make massive investments in science, education, infrastructure and networking — one eventual byproduct of which was the Internet.
Well, folks. Sputnik just went up again: China’s going clean-tech. The view of China in the US Congress — that China is going to try to leapfrog us by out-polluting us — is out of date. It’s going to try to out-green us. Right now, China is focused on low-cost manufacturing of solar, wind and batteries and building the world’s biggest market for these products. It still badly lags US innovation. But research will follow the market. America’s premier solar equipment maker, Applied Materials, is about to open the world’s largest privately funded solar research facility — in Xian, China.


“If they invest in 21st-century technologies and we invest in 20th-century technologies, they’ll win”, says David Sandalow, the assistant secretary of energy for policy. “If we both invest in 21st-century technologies, challenging each other, we all win”.


Unfortunately, we’re still not racing. It’s like Sputnik went up and we think it’s just a shooting star. Instead of a strategic response, too many of our politicians are still trapped in their own dumb-as-we-wanna-be bubble, where we’re always No. 1, and where the US Chamber of Commerce, having sold its soul to the old coal and oil industries, uses its influence to prevent Congress from passing legislation to really spur renewables. Hats off to the courageous chairman of Pacific Gas and Electric, Peter Darbee, who last week announced that his huge California power company was quitting the chamber because of its “obstructionist tactics”. All shareholders in America should ask their CEO’s why they still belong to the chamber.


China’s leaders, mostly engineers, wasted little time debating global warming. They know the Tibetan glaciers that feed their major rivers are melting. But they also know that even if climate change were a hoax, the demand for clean, renewable power is going to soar as we add an estimated 2.5 billion people to the planet by 2050, many of whom will want to live high-energy lifestyles. In that world, ET — or energy technology — will be as big as IT, and China intends to be a big ET player.

“For the last three years, the US has led the world in new wind generation”, said the ecologist Lester Brown, author of “Plan B 4.0”. “By the end of this year, China will bypass us on new wind generation so fast we won’t even see it go by”.


I met this week with Shi Zhengrong, the founder of Suntech, already the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels. Shi recalled how, shortly after he started his company in Wuxi, nearby Lake Tai, China’s third-largest freshwater lake, choked to death from pollution.


“After this disaster”, explained Shi, “the party secretary of Wuxi city came to me and said, ‘I want to support you to grow this solar business into a $15 billion industry, so then we can shut down as many polluting and energy consuming companies in the region as soon as possible’. He is one of a group of young Chinese leaders, very innovative and very revolutionary, on this issue. Something has changed. China realised it has no capacity to absorb all this waste. We have to grow without pollution”.


Of course, China will continue to grow with cheap, dirty coal, to arrest over-eager environmentalists and to strip African forests for wood and minerals.


Have no doubt about that. But have no doubt either that, without declaring it, China is embarking on a new, parallel path of clean power deployment and innovation. It is the Sputnik of our day. We ignore it at our peril.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

THE WISDOM OF RAVAN

BY DEVDUTT PATTANAIK

 

Ravan abducted Lord Ram’s wife, a crime for which he was killed by Ram himself. So says the Ramayan. The epic makes Ravan the archetypical villain. And since Ram is God for most Hindus, Ravan’s actions make him the Devil incarnate. This justifies the annual burning of his effigy on the Gangetic plains during the festival of Dussehra.


But in the hills of Rishikesh or in the temple of Rameshwaram, one hears that tale of how Ram atoned for the sin of killing Ravan. Why should God atone for killing a villain? One realises that like most things Hindu, the Ramayan is not as simple an epic as some are eager to believe.


Ravan was a brahmin, the son of Rishi Vaishrava, grandson of Pulatsya. Ram, though God incarnate, was born in the family of kshatriyas. In the caste hierarchy, Ram was of lower rank. As a brahmin, Ravan was the custodian of Brahma-gyan (the knowledge of God). Killing him meant Brahma-hatya-paap, the sin of Brahminicide, that Ram had to wash away through penance and prayer. Another reason why this atonement was important was because Ravan was Ram’s guru.


The story goes that after shooting the fatal arrow on the battlefield of Lanka, Ram told his brother, Lakshman, “Go to Ravan quickly before he dies and request him to share whatever knowledge he can. A brute he may be, but he is also a great scholar”. The obedient Lakshman rushed across the battlefield to Ravan’s side and whispered in his ears, “Demon-king, do not let your knowledge die with you. Share it with us and wash away your sins”. Ravan responded by simply turning away. An angry Lakshman went back to Ram, “He is as arrogant as he always was, too proud to share anything”. Ram comforted his brother and asked him softly, “Where did you stand while asking Ravan for knowledge?” “Next to his head so that I hear what he had to say clearly”. Ram smiled, placed his bow on the ground and walked to where Ravan lay. Lakshman watched in astonishment as his divine brother knelt at Ravan’s feet. With palms joined, and with extreme humility, Ram said, “Lord of Lanka, you abducted my wife, a terrible crime for which I have been forced to punish you. Now you are no more my enemy. I bow to you and request you to share your wisdom with me. Please do that for if you die without doing so, all your wisdom will be lost forever to the world”. To Lakshman’s surprise, Ravan opened his eyes and raised his arms to salute Ram, “If only I had more time as your teacher than as your enemy. Standing at my feet as a student should, unlike your rude younger brother, you are a worthy recipient of my knowledge. I have very little time so I cannot share much but let me tell you one important lesson I have learnt in my life. Things that are bad for you seduce you easily; you run towards them impatiently. But things that are actually good for you fail to attract you; you shun them creatively, finding powerful excuses to justify your procrastination. That is why I was impatient to abduct Sita but avoided meeting you. This is the wisdom of my life, Ram. My last words. I give it to you”. After these words, Ravan died.

 

With 10 heads, 20 arms, a flying chariot and a city of gold, the mighty Ravan is without doubt a flamboyant villain. His sexual prowess was legendary.


When Hanuman entered Lanka in search of Sita, he found the Demon-lord lying in bed surrounded by a bevy of beauties, women who had willingly abandoned their husbands. Ram, by comparison, seems boring — a rule-upholder who never does anything spontaneous or dramatic.


He is the obedient son, always doing the right thing, never displaying a roving eye or a winsome smile. It is not difficult, therefore, to be a fan of Ravan, to be seduced by his power, to be enchanted by his glamour, and to find arguments that justify his actions.


One can’t help but wonder: Why does the poet Valmiki go out of his way to make his villain so admirable, so seductive, so enchanting?


Valmiki describes Ravan as the greatest devotee of Shiva. In many folk versions of the epic, such as Ram-kathas and Ram-kiritis, we are informed that Ravan composed the Rudra Stotra in praise of Shiva, the ascetic-God. He designed the lute known as Rudra-Veena using one of his 10 heads as the lute’s gourd, one of his arms as the beam and his nerves as the strings. The image of Ravan carrying Mount Kailash, with Shiva’s family on top, is an integral part of Shiva temple art.


Perhaps, say some scholars, this expresses the legendary battle between Shiva-worshippers and Vishnu-worshippers. Ram, who is Vishnu on earth, kills Ravan who is Shiva’s devotee.


But this argument falls flat when one is also told that Ram’s trusted ally, Hanuman, is a form of Shiva himself. Valmiki is clearly conveying a more profound idea by calling Ravan a devotee of Shiva. And to understand this thought we have to dig a bit deeper.


Shiva is God embodying the principle of vairagya, absolute detachment. He demonstrates his disdain for all things material by smearing his body with ash and living in crematoriums. The material world does not matter to him. Ravan may be his great devotee; he may sing Shiva’s praise and worship Shiva every day, but he does not follow the path of Shiva.


In reality, Ravan stands for everything that Shiva rejects. Ravan is fully attached to worldly things. He always wants what others have. He never built the city of gold — he drove out his brother, Kuber, and took over the kingdom of Lanka. Why did he abduct Sita? Avenging his sister’s mutilation was but an excuse. The real reason was his desire to conquer the heart of a faithful wife. And during the war, he let his sons brothers die before entering the battlefield himself.


Ravan has 10 pairs of eyes, which means he can see more. Ravan has 10 sets of arms, which means he can do more. Ravan has 10 heads, which means he can think more. And yet, this man with a superior body and superior mind submits to the basest of passions.


Despite knowing the Vedas and worshipping Shiva, he remains a slave of his senses and a victim of his own ego.


He arrogantly shows off his knowledge of detachment but is not wise enough to practice detachment. Deluded, he gives only lip-service to Shiva. This pretender is, therefore, killed by Ram, who, like Shiva, is another form of God.

 

Dr Devdutt Pattanaik is a Mumbai-based mythologist who has authored books on the relevance of sacred narratives and rituals in modern times

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

OBAMA AT THE PRECIPICE

BY FRANK RICH

 

THE most intriguing, and possibly most fateful, news of last week could not be found in the health care horse-trading in Congress, or in the international zoo at the United Nations, or in the Iran slapdown in Pittsburgh. It was an item tucked into a blog at ABCNews.com. George Stephanopoulos reported that the new “must-read book” for President Obama’s war team is “Lessons in Disaster” by Gordon M. Goldstein, a foreign-policy scholar who had collaborated with McGeorge Bundy, the Kennedy-Johnson national security adviser, on writing a Robert McNamara-style mea culpa about his role as an architect of the Vietnam War.


Bundy left his memoir unfinished at his death in 1996. Goldstein’s book, drawn from Bundy’s ruminations and deep new research, is full of fresh information on how the best and the brightest led America into the fiasco.

 

“Lessons in Disaster” caused only a modest stir when published in November, but The Times Book Review cheered it as “an extraordinary cautionary tale for all Americans.” The reviewer was, of all people, the diplomat Richard Holbrooke, whose career began in Vietnam and who would later be charged with the Afghanistan-Pakistan crisis by the new Obama administration.


Holbrooke’s verdict on “Lessons in Disaster” was not only correct but more prescient than even he could have imagined. This book’s intimate account of White House decision-making is almost literally being replayed in Washington (with Holbrooke himself as a principal actor) as the new president sets a course for the war in Afghanistan. The time for all Americans to catch up with this extraordinary cautionary tale is now.
Analogies between Vietnam and Afghanistan are the rage these days. Some are wrong, inexact or speculative. We don’t know whether Afghanistan would be a quagmire, let alone that it could remotely bulk up to the war in Vietnam, which, at its peak, involved 535,000 American troops. But what happened after L.B.J. Americanized the war in 1965 is Vietnam’s apocalyptic climax. What’s most relevant to our moment is the war’s and Goldstein’s first chapter, set in 1961. That’s where we see the hawkish young President Kennedy wrestling with Vietnam during his first months in office.


The remarkable parallels to 2009 became clear last week, when the Obama administration’s internal conflicts about Afghanistan spilled onto the front page. On Monday The Washington Post published Bob Woodward’s account of a confidential assessment by the top United States and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, warning that there could be “mission failure” if more troops aren’t added in the next 12 months. In Wednesday’s Times White House officials implicitly pushed back against the leak of McChrystal’s report by saying that the president is “exploring alternatives to a major troop increase in Afghanistan.”
As Goldstein said to me last week, it’s “eerie” how closely even these political maneuvers track those of a half-century ago, when J.F.K. was weighing whether to send combat troops to Vietnam. Military leaders lobbied for their new mission by planting leaks in the press. Kennedy fired back by authorizing his own leaks, which, like Obama’s, indicated his reservations about whether American combat forces could turn a counterinsurgency strategy into a winnable war.


Within Kennedy’s administration, most supported the Joint Chiefs’ repeated call for combat troops, including the secretaries of defense (McNamara) and state (Dean Rusk) and Gen. Maxwell Taylor, the president’s special military adviser. The highest-ranking dissenter was George Ball, the undersecretary of state. Mindful of the French folly in Vietnam, he predicted that “within five years we’ll have 300,000 men in the paddies and jungles and never find them again.” In the current administration’s internal Afghanistan debate, Goldstein observes, Joe Biden uncannily echoes Ball’s dissenting role.


Though Kennedy was outnumbered in his own White House — and though he had once called Vietnam “the cornerstone of the free world in Southeast Asia” — he ultimately refused to authorize combat troops. He instead limited America’s military role to advisory missions. That policy, set in November 1961, would only be reversed, to tragic ends, after his death. As Bundy wrote in a memo that year, the new president had learned the hard way, from the Bay of Pigs disaster in April, that he “must second-guess even military plans.” Or, as Goldstein crystallizes the overall lesson of J.F.K.’s lonely call on Vietnam strategy: “Counselors advise but presidents decide.”


Obama finds himself at that same lonely decision point now. Though he came to the presidency declaring Afghanistan a “war of necessity,” circumstances have since changed. While the Taliban thrives there, Al Qaeda’s ground zero is next-door in nuclear-armed Pakistan. Last month’s blatantly corrupt, and arguably stolen, Afghanistan election ended any pretense that Hamid Karzai is a credible counter to the Taliban or a legitimate partner for America in a counterinsurgency project of enormous risk and cost. Indeed, Karzai, whose brother is a reputed narcotics trafficker, is a double for Ngo Dinh Diem, the corrupt South Vietnamese president whose brother also presided over a vast, government-sanctioned criminal enterprise in the early 1960s. And unlike Kennedy, whose C.I.A. helped take out the Diem brothers, Obama doesn’t have a coup in his toolbox.
Goldstein points out there are other indisputable then-and-now analogies as well. Much as Vietnam could not be secured over the centuries by China, France, Japan or the United States, so Afghanistan has been a notorious graveyard for the ambitions of Alexander the Great, the British and the Soviets. “Some states in world politics are simply not susceptible to intervention by the great powers,” Goldstein told me. He also notes that the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Vietnam share the same geographical advantage. As the porous border of neighboring North Vietnam provided sanctuary and facilitated support to our enemy then, so Pakistan serves our enemy today.


Most worrisome, in Goldstein’s view, is the notion that a recycling of America’s failed “clear and hold” strategy in Vietnam could work in Afghanistan. How can American forces protect the population, let alone help build a functioning nation, in a tribal narco-state consisting of some 40,000 mostly rural villages over an area larger than California and New York combined?


Even if we routed the Taliban in another decade or two, after countless casualties and billions of dollars, how would that stop Al Qaeda from coalescing in Somalia or some other criminal host state? How would a Taliban-free Afghanistan stop a jihadist trained in Pakistan’s Qaeda camps from mounting a terrorist plot in Denver and Queens?


Already hawks are arguing that any deviation from McChrystal’s combat-troop requests is tantamount to surrender and “immediate withdrawal.” But that all-in or all-out argument, a fixture of the Iraq debate, is just as false a choice here. Obama is not contemplating either surrender to terrorists or withdrawal from Afghanistan. One prime alternative is the counterterrorism plan championed by Biden. As The Times reported, it would scale back American forces in Afghanistan to “focus more on rooting out Al Qaeda there and in Pakistan.”

 

By arrangement with theNew York Time

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

THE DEVIL WEARS CROCS

BY MAUREEN DOWD

 

At the end of many Shakespearean dramas, self-destructive leaders are usually strewn dead on stage.
With modern presidencies, we have to watch the poignant tableau of such leaders realising that they have squandered their chance for greatness even as they suffer the indignity of rejection by those who once sought their blessing.


These painful periods for W. and Bill Clinton, falling low after starting with such grand hopes, are recounted in two new books.


The pen-and-tell by Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer, “Speech-less”, is being denounced by some former Bushies and Republican commentators as a Devil Wears Prada betrayal. (Except, in this case, the Devil wears Crocs.


Preparing to make a prime-time address explaining why the 2008 economic bailout wasn’t socialism — “We got to make this understandable for the average cat”, the President tells his speechwriters — W. pads around the White House in Crocs, an image that’s hard to get out of your head.)


“The guy is a worm”, Bill Bennett told Wolf Blitzer about Latimer, adding: “He needs to read his Dante. He probably hasn’t read The Inferno.


The lowest circles of hell are for people who are disloyal in the way this guy is disloyal, and at the very lowest point Satan chews on their bodies”.


Despite all the devilish critiques, the book is not that hard on W., except to state the obvious: that he was a Decider who made bold but bad decisions. And it’s positively dewy-eyed about two of the worst decisions, Dick Cheney and Rummy.


My favourite part is when the White House political office suggests that W. go to Monticello and make a speech pointing out that his legacy matched Thomas Jefferson’s. “Jefferson had founded the University of Virginia”, Latimer writes, describing the aides’ reasoning. “Well, they said, Bush had gotten the No Child Left Behind Act passed. Jefferson had authored the Declaration of Independence. Well, Bush had launched the Freedom Agenda in Afghanistan and Iraq. Jefferson had authored the Virginia statute for religious freedom. Well, that was just like the President’s faith-based initiative”. Latimer balked, noting that “if Bush actually went to Monticello to proclaim himself the Thomas Jefferson of our day, there’d be grounds to question his sanity”.


His book ends with the downbeat time when Bush supports McCain simply because “a McCain defeat would be a repudiation of the Bush administration”. Both Republicans were uncomfortable. McCain was distancing himself from the unpopular Republican President and W. “was clearly not impressed with the McCain operation”.


One day, W. was told that a joint appearance in Phoenix with McCain, designed to show the two men could stand to be on the same stage together, was going to be closed to the press.


“If he doesn’t want me to go, fine”, W. snapped. “I’ve got better things to do”.

Then the President was informed that the event was going to be closed because McCain was having trouble drawing a crowd. Latimer writes that an incredulous Bush mordantly asked: “He can’t get 500 people to show up for an event in his hometown?”


Happy he wasn’t the only political wallflower, W. drove home the point: “I could get that many people to turn out in Crawford. This is a five-spiral crash, boys”. Like W., Bill Clinton had an awkward final act supporting Gore, even though Gore was distancing himself from Clinton, and Bubba was chafing at the misguided Gore campaign. Like W. with McCain, he felt a Gore defeat would be bad for his legacy.


In his new book, The Clinton Tapes, Taylor Branch describes an explosive meeting between Clinton and Gore after the election characterised by Clinton as “surreal”.


Gore said people around him blamed Clinton’s scandalous shadow for the defeat. And Clinton, who told Branch that W. was “an empty suit, meaner than his dad”, shot back that if Gore had used him more in the last 10 days in places where he was still popular, he could have swung the election.


He chastised Gore for not running on bigger themes and for dropping the issue he was most passionate about: the environment.


Gore asked Clinton for an explanation of Monica Lewinsky; he wanted an apology. Clinton blew up. Focusing on his mistakes, he told his VP, demeaned voters and ignored the public’s business.


Branch summed up Clinton’s bottom line to Gore: “By God, Hillary had a helluva lot more reason to resent Clinton than Gore did, and yet she ran unabashedly on the Clinton-Gore record” for the Senate and won handily. Gore, Clinton said, was in “Neverland”.


The wrong turns Clinton and W. took made it harder for Gore and McCain to get elected. But in the final analyses, Clinton and W., both clever pols, were right: Gore and McCain tripped themselves up with awful campaigns.

 

By arrangement with the New York Times

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

UK STEPS UP EFFORTS TO SAVE WILDLIFE

RACHEL SHIELDS


Some of England's most endangered species could be brought back from the brink of extinction as the result of a year-long government wildlife review to be launched tomorrow, which will focus on "rewilding"~ returning land to its natural state and extending habitats.


The review, to be announced this week by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Ms Hilary Benn, is aimed at expanding "ecological corridors". These will allow animals to migrate across the country when climate change threatens their existing homes, and will slow the dramatic loss of species caused by decades of intensive farming and urban development.


According to Natural England, the English countryside has suffered over the past 50 years, with biodiversity loss widespread across the country. Only 3 per cent of grasslands remain rich in native plants, while a decline in the quality of wetlands has led to a 90 per cent decline in breeding snipe, and a lack of woodland management has contributed to a 50 per cent decline of woodland butterflies.


Globally, a third of all amphibians, a fifth of all mammals and an eighth of birds are threatened with extinction.
The Independent

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

TALKS & SANCTIONS

US REVIEW OF MYANMAR POLICY


THERE appears to be a distinct change in the USA’s policy towards Myanmar with Hillary Clinton declaring that talks with the junta would be “stepped up” in parallel with the sanctions. This certainly is a forward progression not least because the imprisoned democratic leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has lent support to the move. There may be hope yet that direct engagement with the rulers will provide the impetus to democratic reforms. There is increasing realisation in the West that the sanctions regime hasn’t been effective against a ruthless junta that is even prepared to resist diplomatic isolation. There is acknowledgement too in certain quarters that the West’s hard line has been a disaster... with scarcely a change in the prolonged predicament of Suu Kyi. Much will depend on the pace at which Myanmar names its interlocutor for the bilateral talks. The shift in the US style of engagement becomes clear from the Secretary of State’s address at a meeting of the Group of Friends on Myanmar in New York: “Any debate that pits sanctions against engagement creates a false choice. Going forward, we’ll need to employ both of these tools.” She has taken care to couch her prescription with the caveat: “Lifting sanctions now would send the wrong signal... But we will be willing to discuss the easing of sanctions in response to significant actions that address the core human rights and democracy issues that are inhibiting Myanmar’s progress”.


For both sides, it will be a very delicate balance to sustain given the country’s brutal record in stifling democracy. Yet it must be conceded that the gesture raises hope. As much is clear from the immediate response of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy: “The new US approach will bring an improved and more transparent relations.” She herself has backed the move with the very reasonable suggestion that the US dealings ought to be conducted with both the junta and the pro-democracy leaders. One need hardly add that only then will the Obama administration’s review of its policy towards Myanmar be meaningful.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

SUBALTERN & STEEL

KEEP THE POLITICIAN AT A DISTANCE


JHARKHAND’S Dayamani Barla may claim to have taken a leaf out of Mamata Banerjee’s book, but the crippling opposition to industry is both the same and different. Ergo, the impediments being faced by ArcelorMittal in the fledgling state ~ as exposed by this newspaper ~ are not quite in parallel with Tata Motors in West Bengal. For the latter, the opposition was essentially political, directed against hamhanded state intervention in the acquisition of land. In Jharkhand’s Khunti district, the investor has had to countenance a robust opposition, crucially against direct purchase of land ~ ‘market economy’, do they call it? ~ for the proposed Rs 40,000-crore greenfield steel plant. Unlike in Singur, it was the Jharkhand government that had asked the company to buy the land in Khunti. And the opposition has turned out to be seemingly insurmountable. It is now officially established that ArcelorMittal is pulling out of Khunti district, if not from the state as a whole. Unlike again in West Bengal, this is a thoroughly subaltern movement, spearheaded by the Adivasi-Mulvasi Janadhikar Manch, a tribal outfit led by Ms Barla. As yet, neither the investor nor the government have hinted at any political involvement. Indeed, the tribal disaffection has escalated and spread to Gumla, the other district the investor was considering as an option.


Central to the imbroglio is that fashionable, though tangibly meaningless, phrase ~ corporate social responsibility. Even if it is a matter of direct purchase, both the company and, if to a lesser degree, the government owed the tribals a minimum rehabilitation package. Not least because the steady loss of forest land and rights and the denial of forest resources have been the primary factors behind the tribal and/or Maoist upsurge. Which explains the orchestrated slogan of the Khunti tribals: “we are fighting for jal-jungle-jameen”. An emotive variant of ma-mati-manush perhaps as both slogans suggest displacement and loss of land and livelihood. But whereas for the Bengal opposition it became the politician’s emotively populist slogan after Singur was a lost cause, in Jharkhand it is the strident cry of the subaltern over an issue that is genuinely close to the bone. It will be the state’s loss if the Arcelor Mittal steel project eventually flounders on the laterite soil.

 

Dayamani Barla and the tribals of Jharkhand have kept the politician at a distanc

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

OF FEWER FIGHTERS

AND OVERSTRETCHED MIGS 

 

COMPARISONS can complicate. So even though the Chief of the Air Staff has also chanted the current pop-hit, “How tranquil is the LAC”, some misgivings could follow his pointing out that his force has only one-third the number of combat aircraft at the disposal of his Chinese counterpart. Reality cannot be relegated to the backburner, for even if Air Chief Marshal PV Naik had flown around the Chinese storm-clouds there could have been no evading the truth that the IAF fleet has been on the decline for quite a few years.
Today it can field ~ if every single plane was operationally serviceable ~ only 650 frontline fighters: which is at least 150 short of the comfort-zone. Only politicians, bureaucrats, and officers silenced by the “brass” they carry will draw comfort in the first steps having been taken in the proposed acquisition of 126 Medium Multi-role Combat Aircraft. It could take more than a year for the deal to be finalised, a minimum of three years for the first deliveries to materialise: some experts say it could be 2020 before all the jets are inducted. And ever-looming will be the tendency of the present defence minister to scrap a deal/acquisition process at the first allegation of corruption ~ rather than take it upon himself to monitor the process so effectively as to eliminate the potential for mischief. Sadly, there will be no early end to the days of the IAF functioning at subsistence level. Anyone who tries to laud that on the grounds of “austerity” ought to be shunted to the hostile environs of the frontier.


It’s worse than dwindling numbers. For there are no fewer than 150-160 obsolete MiG-21s still playing the role of workhorse. The upgrade from BIS to Bison, and some effective PR, may have ensured that the “flying coffin” description is no longer in vogue but these planes are inevitably showing signs of extreme fatigue. Had the projected replacement, the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft development not been so shamefully behind schedule only a handful of MiG-21s would still be within their “best before” date. So every time a Tejas takes to the sky it serves as a reminder of how it has, indirectly, contributed to the story of the IAF’s MiG-21s ~ an epic era for most other air forces ~ drawing to a close under tragic clouds.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

NEHRU AND PARTITION

ALL THE CONTEMPORARY LEADERS WERE RESPONSIBLE

NIRMALENDU BIKASH RAKSHIT 


SOME Congress leaders have claimed that an attempt is being made to blame Jawaharlal Nehru for the Partition of India. However, it is a historical fact that he played a crucial role in the division of the country. Equally is it a fact that Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy, left India after partitioning the country. But he did not impose his decision on the unwilling Indian leaders. Some of them, notably Mohammad Ali Jinnah, had clamoured for it and fanatically so. The Congress leaders were in a dilemma. So when Mountbatten dangled the carrot before them, they just swallowed it.


Soon after coming to India, the Viceroy realised that nothing short of Partition would satisfy Jinnah. Mountbatten’s primary duty was to convince the Congress that Partition was the only way out. It is true that initially, Mahatma Gandhi vehemently opposed Partition. But before long he realised that he was fighting a losing battle, and eventually agreed to it.


At a meeting with Mountbatten, Gandhi proposed that the British should hand over all power to Jinnah and depart. The Viceroy was amazed at the suggestion; he convinced the Congress leaders that they should not waste time with so weird a proposal. It was promptly rejected by the AICC. A sullen Gandhi left for Bihar and didn’t take part in the negotiations.


DAY OF SILENCE

WHEN an all-party meeting was convened by Mountbatten to finalise the Partition plan, Gandhi attended the proceedings as an invitee. He submitted a piece of paper indicating that it was a “day of his silence”. There was no question of raising a voice of dissent.


Meanwhile, Mountbatten had won over Sardar Patel who convinced other leaders that Partition was the only solution. The Viceroy then turned to Nehru and was able to overcome his hesitation regarding Partition. Of course, Lady Mountbatten played a more prominent role in the closing acts of the drama.

 
When Mountbatten was appointed as the Viceroy, Clement Attlee, then the Prime Minister, had remarked: “He is also blessed with a very unusual wife”. Maulana Azad has made the position clear. “There were some factors involved in Nehru’s change of front. But one of them was certainly Lady Mountbatten” (India Wins Freedom). Thus it was that Nehru also changed his mind and convinced other leaders that Partition was the only solution.
However, there are certain aspects that need to be examined. First, Nehru, like Jinnah, was very ambitious.

 

Personalities played a major part in the run-up to the Partition.


Second, following its electoral success in 1937, the Congress formed cabinets in six provinces. In Bengal, however, none fared well. Hence Jinnah proposed to set up a coalition government with the Congress. But, Nehru, as the theoretical spokesman of the party, rejected the proposal, a move that alienated the minorities.

 

Muslim League leaders alleged that the Muslims were ill-treated in the Congress-ruled provinces. They expressed fears that there would be no justice or fairplay once the British left India.


The election of 1937 and the attitude of the Congress rapidly vitiated communal politics. In 1940, the League passed the Pakistan resolution in its Lahore session.

Third, Nehru had a very poor opinion of Jinnah, and on one occasion described him as an “opportunist”. This naturally enraged Jinnah and widened the gulf between the two parties.


In his presidential address of 1938, Subhas Chandra Bose said that India must drive out the British government by an uncompromising and fierce battle and that negotiation-politics would divide the country. He even cited the example of Ireland to substantiate his viewpoint.


But the Congress, particularly Nehru, was always engaged in unnecessary negotiations, which only fanned the communal fanaticism of the League, and with the connivance of the British. For example, Stafford Cripps arrived in Delhi on 22 March 1941, for a political settlement. As he had nothing tangible to offer, Gandhi curtly advised him to go back by the next flight. But Nehru continued to interact with him, though on 12 April Cripps had to leave after a failed mission.


RIFT WIDENS

THE prolonged negotiations only widened the rift between the two warring outfits. Moreover, the government hardly cared for a settlement, because, as Michael Edwards has written: “Churchill, the Prime Minister, danced over his table when he knew that Cripps had failed”. (The Last Years of British India).


Finally, Nehru’s tactical folly aggravated the crisis. As Frank Moraes writes in his book, Nehru: Sunshine and Shadow, Nehru accepted Partition as a political necessity. In his view, “by cutting off the head, we shall get rid of the headache.”


Both the Congress and the Muslim League accepted the Cabinet Mission’s plan in 1946. But suddenly Nehru decided that the party would humbly enter the Constituent Assembly, but would, by virtue of majority support, perform as it deemed fit. Jinnah took the opportunity to convince his community that without Partition the Muslims would not be able to live safely. As Michael Bracher, his biographer, observes, “it was one of the most fiery and provocative statements in Nehru’s forty years of public life.” It actually hastened the end of the Partition drama. Thus was the fate of India decided.


Mountbatten wanted to do the job promptly and, then, assume the higher assignment in London. Jinnah, increasingly worried about his health, was also in a hurry. Mahatma Gandhi was the docile victim of circumstances. Patel and Nehru couldn’t wait to taste power. Maulana Azad, Rajendra Prasad and others hopelessly waited for the disaster.


In varying degrees, all of them were responsible for Partition. But the main responsibility must be shared by Jinnah and Nehru.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

RACE RAGE

 

Australia is known in India as the country of kangaroos and cricketers, and among global investors as an exporter of raw materials. Its two principal exports are coal and iron ore. But the third most important export is education. Foreign students paid AU$14 billion in fees and another AU$13 billion for goods and services in 2008. Among them, Indian students were important; 18 per cent of foreign students came from India, next only to the 24 per cent who came from China. The number of Indian students was 11,000 in 2002; by 2008 it had grown to 96,000. Australia has 14 offices all over India giving information about its educational facilities and generally selling Australian education.

 

The number of Indian students going to Australia is expected to fall sharply in 2010. The reason is violent attacks by hooligans on Indians. Australian education marketing offices in India have recorded an 80 per cent fall in student enquiries. Indians are turning away from Australian education for only one reason — that hooligans have targeted Indians. Australian streets have become unsafe for Indians; going to the cinema or a pub is becoming an invitation to be beaten up. The violent incidents have revived memories of Mohammed Hanif being victimized on completely unfounded suspicions of being a terrorist, and Harbhajan Singh being targeted by uncivilized crowds. The Cronulla riots of 2005 were directed at beach visitors whose only fault was that they looked like Arabs. Australia has acquired a reputation for being a country in which it is unwise to be non-white.

 

Australian reputation would not have sustained such rapid erosion if there had been strong Australian voices against racism. In particular, the Australian government could have taken a firm stand against anti-Indian violence. It has failed to do so. Instead of admitting and tackling the problem, the prime minister, Kevin Rudd, flatly denied that Australia was unsafe for Indian students, though later he made correct noises. Altogether, it has been difficult to avoid the impression that Australia was trying its best to avoid recognizing that it had a problem. There have also been serious questions about the quality of Australian education. The best Australian universities are as good as elsewhere. But there are also a great many fly-by-night operators who take fat fees from unsuspecting foreign students and teach them nothing. After going there, young Indians see no future in their studies. They hesitate to come back and face the humiliation among their relatives and peers. Thus they fall prey to slave drivers; and of course, Australian work regulations make sure that it is they who are in the wrong, and not their employers. So the flood of young Indians to Australian pseudo-universities has been a bad idea from the start. If it dries up because of the spreading race scandal, it will not be such a bad thing.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

GOOD EVENING

 

Business with a social face can have truly positive effects. The Federation of Hotels and Restaurants of India has an excellent plan to make the elderly happy while bringing in more business for restaurants. The plan is to offer discounts for families or younger people bringing in relatives who are senior citizens. This might give younger people a mental nudge: not only are old people useful to take out to dinner, they may be happier if they are remembered when the family is having a good time. While the plan shows a wise understanding of family dynamics as well as a sensitive nose for business and goodwill creation, implementing it may need a little preparation. The federation realizes there must be some special training for the members of staff, so that senior citizens feel wanted and comfortable. Restaurants may also need to adjust their furniture and facilities a little if the elderly become regular visitors. But the real responsibility lies elsewhere — with the families themselves. If older people are often unwilling to go out because they feel they are not wanted, or are a source of embarrassment to others, will they feel differently if it is clearly a case of a discount on a family dinner? To be a ticket to a good time for others may not be quite the route to feel useful again; it is possible to be ignored by children and grandchildren in a restaurant as much as in the home.

 

It would be interesting to watch if the offer of a discount does prompt a new consideration among families and a new confidence among senior citizens hesitant to go out in spite of family encouragement. A change of mindset might do wonders, and this goes for restaurants as well. They could make a special effort to welcome and accommodate differently abled persons, those whom India finds so difficult to remember at all. The old, the ailing, the differently abled: all of them would appreciate a good time once in a while.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

THE NEW GOLD RUSH

THE ODDEST LINKS HAVE BEEN CREATED IN INDIA’S ECONOMIC SPHERE

ASHOK MITRA

 

Norman Borlaug, the American plant pathologist and geneticist, died the other day. Eulogies and tributes to his memory have choked the media. He had developed the dwarfed variety of wheat; this is supposed to have ushered in the Green Revolution in countries such as ours. Political leaders and academic doyens are in total accord: Borlaug was a great hunger-fighter.

 

Some facts run parallel to one another and yet fail to develop a mutual relationship. Borlaug, the cognoscenti say, could claim credit for India’s attaining self-sufficiency in food. The reality that stares us in the face has a different flavour: the country is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts in recent decades and food is likely to be in very short supply. Three-fifths of the nation who depend on agriculture and allied activities for their livelihood are going to experience a steep fall in their earnings. Millions of people, particularly small farmers and landless wage-workers, will possibly starve; quite a few will commit suicide; some will die. Notwithstanding Borlaug, India’s agriculture still remains a gamble in the monsoon; output fluctuates, in frightening proportion, with the vagaries of the rain god’s mood. This is a fact as solid as rock, at least as solid as Borlaug’s reputation as a hunger fighter.

 

Another fact, receiving equally wide coverage in the media, concerns movements in India’s gross domestic product. It is official: our GDP this year is to grow at a rate exceeding six per cent. What a wonderful achievement; dainty ladies who come and go talking of Michelangelo will now be excitedly mentioning this fantastic feat on the part of India. A global recession, the worst in 80 years, is on; the growth rate in the United States of America is zero; in West Europe, too, it is barely positive. While such is the daunting picture in most of the rest of the world, India has by and large held on to its growth targets. The services sector continues to be buoyant, partly because orders placed earlier for softwares from the industrially advanced countries have either not yet run out or not been reneged. Growth in manufactures was rather turgid for some time, but is of late showing signs of picking up. Foreign exchange is rolling in, almost gushingly; many expatriate Indians are in fact closing down their accounts in crash-prone American banks and sending the money home. The stock market is booming because of these cumulative factors; the sensitive index might indeed touch the 20,000 mark very soon.

 

In these circumstances, why be moronic and worry over agriculture which constitutes less than one-fifth of the economy, even though it provides livelihood to more than 60 per cent of the country’s population? International recognition is awesomely dependent on a satisfactory rate of GDP growth. It is pointless to be sentimental; whether a sizeable number of people in the country go hungry or suffer from undernourishment is of no relevance in the context.

 

Parallel lines do not meet, parallel facts, too, keep to their respective grooves. Agriculture, the major source of livelihood for the Indian people, is in the throes of a severe crisis; the rate of growth in the agrarian sector could be negligible or even negative this year. At the same time, India will flaunt about the highest rate of GDP growth on the global stage. Each datum has its own significance.

 

On the face of it, the GDP can do without growth in farm output: the two categories would seem to be without any link. There are, however, other linkages at work. Take, for instance, some stray news being reported in the media. New Zealand cricket authorities, one such report says, have chosen to curtail their Test series against England. This decision was considered necessary to enable their players to participate in the Indian Premier League. It was a very serious matter. Had their cricket bosses tried to be funny, the New Zealand players would have revolted: after all, they have to eat and enjoy reasonably good living, the IPL money would help them in that direction, Test cricket gives them only a paltry sum; first thing first, namely, the IPL.

 

Another news item: Ricky Ponting, the Australian cricket captain, has announced his retirement from the country’s Twenty20 team. He will however honour his commitments with the IPL and play the Twenty20 fixtures organized by it. A third, equally exciting, piece of news is about ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, undoubtedly one of England’s major cricketing heroes in recent times. Flintoff has reported physical tiredness and announced his withdrawal from any future Test series. He is nonetheless keen to continue playing both One Day Internationals and Twenty20 fixtures. He has made a further announcement: he will henceforth play as freelance. He has just turned down a contract offered by the England Cricket Board, and is busy negotiating with the IPL, which has dangled before him an amount one hundred times as much as what the ECB offered.

 

These snippets of tidings from the cricketing world constitute a collage of hardcore realities which has a direct causal relationship with India’s gross domestic product running on the fast forward track. Spectacular growth registered by India’s GDP implies availability of more money with the country’s affluent set. A substantial fraction of this money will drift towards the durable and non-durable consumer goods and services markets. The media, it follows, will be overwhelmed by advertisements to entrap customers itching to spend. The money earmarked for such advertisements will mesh in with the live broadcasts of IPL matches. A five-second television advertising spot, one report suggests, fetches Rs 500,000 for the IPL, which will sit atop an astronomically huge pile of money. Coconut water, the old Harry Bellafonte song chanted, is good for your daughter; the IPL gravy is good for cricketers of the world.

 

Brendan McCullum, Ricky Ponting and Andrew Flintoff have therefore all a stake in India’s prosperity and uninterrupted GDP growth. Three-fifths of the nation, who subsist on agriculture, cannot claim any similar stakes; they are not an adjunct of the GDP growth matrix, they are evidently not beneficiaries of this growth.

 

Sixty-odd years of independence have produced very odd sorts of links and non-links in the economic sphere. The economy, as measured by wise grammarians, expands and supposedly prospers. This prosperity does not, however, touch the nation’s majority. The economy bursting at the seam invites foreigners to come and partake of the feast sumptuously spread before them: it is almost like a gold rush. The nation’s majority is left out of this bonanza.

 

In the meantime, more exciting news from elsewhere hints of a new link. The so-called Doha initiative of the World Trade Organisation has, rumour suggests, a bright idea: the Indian government must lower tariff on import of farm products from the rich countries, the latter would then allow more of India’s manufactures enter their countries; it would be in the nature of a quid pro quo; men and women dependent on agriculture in India should agree to further deprivation in order that more affluence could be showered on the nation’s creamy layer; the missing link then could cease to be missing. True, a link of this nature is not much of a contribution to original thought. The British rulers had similar ideas right from the middle of the 19th century; they had also put those ideas into practice with great gusto. So we at least discover a link with a colonial past too.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

HALFWAY DOWN THERE

GWYNNE DYER

 

Let us suppose that Manuel Zelaya, the ousted former president of Honduras, is an intelligent man with a good understanding of how politics works. Then the question is: what is his game? Because he started all this.He was removed from office three months ago in circumstances of doubtful legality. Both the supreme court and the Congress had demanded his removal for “repeated violations of the constitution and the law”. But the way it was done — woken up by soldiers and hustled out of the country by plane — smelled more like an old-fashioned military coup.

 

A member of Zelaya’s own Liberal Party, Roberto Micheletti, the speaker of Congress, was sworn in as interim president, and everybody promised that normal democratic service would be fully restored after the elections due on November 29. But every non-Honduran with access to a microphone took up Zelaya’s cause — from the Organization of American States to the US state department — and he emerged as a full-fledged democratic martyr.

 

The leftwing leaders who have proliferated across Latin America in recent years were particularly supportive of Zelaya. Despite firm denials by Luiz Inácio (“Lula”) da Silva, the Brazilian president, the suspicion lingers that Zelaya’s sudden re-appearance in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, last Monday, did not come as a complete surprise to Brazilians.

 

Now he is holed up there, surrounded by the Honduran army. It’s the perfect scene for a media watch that puts enormous pressure on Zelaya’s opponents to make concessions — or alternatively, the ideal location for a massacre of his supporters by trigger-happy soldiers, in which case, popular opinion shifts to Zelaya’s side and he returns triumphantly to power.

 

Or at least, that is probably his plan. Am I being too cynical? Okay, let’s consider the evidence.

 

PAST FOLLIES

Manuel Zelaya was in the closet before he became president. He secured the nomination of the Liberal Party, a slightly left-of-centre party, which has traditionally alternated in power with the rightwing National Party, and he narrowly won the presidency in the 2006 election. But it was only after he was safely in the presidential mansion that he dropped the mask and started moving Honduras sharply Left.

 

But he did not achieve much in practice for the poor, and failed to build mass support. He was also running out of time, since the Honduran constitution allows presidents one term in office, and his term ended this year. So he did something peculiar: he announced there would be a non-binding referendum on creating a constituent assembly to change the constitution and allow presidents a second term.

 

It was peculiar because he had no legal right to hold such a referendum, nor does the constitution allow a constituent assembly to be elected for such a purpose. Even if the illegality was ignored, there was no chance that it could all happen in time to let him run for a second term in the November election. In any case, his own party would refuse to re-nominate him. So what was his game? Zelaya’s only chance of holding on to power was to create a crisis that would sweep all those considerations aside. So he pressed ahead with the referendum even after the supreme court declared it illegal.

His dramatic return to the country has created semi-siege conditions, and it’s unlikely that the November polls would go ahead. That already improves his prospects, as it drives the country beyond the usual constitutional procedures. Zelaya has painted himself as the democratically elected victim of a coup, and as such enjoys a lot of foreign support. If his domestic opponents are stupid enough to use force, he could win. And judging by the past, they may be that stupid.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

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.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

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. 

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

JEWISH SELF-RELIANCE

 

There's a very chilling symbolism in the fact that on the eve of Yom Kippur we learned that the Ukrainians had proposed to erect a hotel, of all places, where the Babi Yar memorial is located. It has now been announced that these plans are being scrapped. Nevertheless, that anyone could have considered it proper to desecrate the site in order to prepare for the 2012 European soccer championships, is an outrage in itself. It signifies callousness - if not outright disdain - towards Jews.

 

According to the Hebrew calendar, it was on Yom Kippur eve in 1941 that Kiev's Jews were ordered by Nazi occupation forces to report for evacuation with documents, valuables and even warm clothing and undergarments. The deception was maintained until the end, when small groups were led separately to a gaping pit. Driven through a narrow corridor of executioners, they were beaten, commanded to undress and then machine-gunned. In a two-day orgy of ruthless bestiality, 33,771 Jews were murdered - more than all the casualties renascent Israel has suffered in its decades of struggle to survive.

 

The killing field at Babi Yar would likely have been forgotten, as were numerous other bloodlettings in that area in that darkest of times, were it not for Yevgeny Yevtushenko's 1961 epic poem. Yevtushenko shamed the Soviets into erecting a monument at the site, though it didn't mention Jews; a commemorative menorah was put up by Jewish groups in 1991. Previously the Soviets had dammed and flooded the ravine with mud and the runoffs from nearby quarries.

 

Independent Ukraine hardly excelled either in honoring the dead. No major government-sponsored commemoration took place there in the years after the Ukraine extricated itself from the USSR.

 

Only in 2006, responding to accusations of Ukrainian antipathy, did Kiev announce that the massacre site would be turned into "a state historical and cultural reserve," which would include "a museum dedicated to Jewish victims."

 

This wasn't an easy announcement to make in a country that still bristles with anti-Semitism and where it is routine to equate the Holocaust with the Stalin-instigated 1932-33 Ukrainian famine. It was apparently considerably easier to renege, and instead opt for the reverse of somber remembrance - the construction of lodgings for football fans. The change in plans occurred this weekend, only after protests, fear that Ukraine would lose face and the personal intervention of President Shimon Peres.

 

THE HOLOCAUST'S trail of destruction moved Ukraine and Eastern Europe to the sidelines of current existential Jewish concerns. Nazism's torchbearers today reside closer to the Jewish homeland - foremost in the regime that rules Iran, and emblemized by its President, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, who denies the Holocaust while in the same breath calling for its extension: wiping Israel off the map. Iran's fundamentalist leadership seeks nuclear firepower to further that genocidal goal and remake the world order.

 

Last Wednesday, Ahmedinejad restated his toxic themes at the UN General Assembly. Prime Minister Netanyahu's articulate condemnation - of the speaker and those who had shamelessly stayed to hear him - from the same platform the next day was intended as a wake-up call to a slumbering international community. One fears it fell on disinterested ears.

 

EVERY YEAR for the past 36, this nation has labored with the trauma of the 1973 war, which broke out on this most solemn of days and for which, in our hubris, we were so unprepared. Each year anew, on this day of introspection and reckoning, we must resolve to act with courage and wisdom to protect our existential interests.

 

Our prime minister, rightly and commendably, sought again last week to impress upon world leaders that the struggle against Teheran's Islamist fanaticism pits "civilization against barbarism, the 21st century against the ninth century, those who sanctify life against those who glorify death."

 

Ultimately, however, our own history has demonstrated that the Jewish nation dare count only on itself, that others cannot be relied upon to watch over us.

 

Nazi Germany was emboldened by the world's thundering silence in the wake of Babi Yar to industrialize mass-murder. The difference almost 70 years later, while the international community largely conveys the same message of indifference as Teheran incites toward genocide, is that the Jews today have a state of our own and the means to protect it.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

METRO VIEWS: THREE DAYS A YEAR

MARILYN HENRY

 

My Conservative shul, like many others, has a core group of lovely people who show up every Shabbat, participate in Torah study and stay for a Kiddush luncheon. People know each other, their family histories, pet tales, job woes, home-repair horror stories - the kinds of things that haimish people know about people they see and schmooze with each week.

 

My shul - in Cliffside Park, New Jersey - is like many other Conservative and Reform synagogues around the US. It was crowded for a good part of the High Holy Days. I recognized a lot of people and was happy to see them, but although I am the rebbetzin, I don't know the majority of them.

 

These are the people who are pejoratively known as the "three-day-a-year Jews," the ones who come for part of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur because they feel obliged. They are easy to spot. They look embarrassed, bored.

 

The liturgy is foreign to them - and not only because it is in a different language. They don't know the prayers, the tunes, and probably cannot name the people sitting in front of them. They don't know the rhythm of the service, so they tend to check their watches without a clue about when the endless services will conclude, or tend to leave the sanctuary at some of the more inappropriate times.

 

Many rabbis, including ours, have offered classes on "synagogue skills" and a guide to the holidays to help these occasional worshipers prepare and become comfortable. Most classes were cancelled for lack of interest, or because the people who signed up were the very ones who had no need to; they were the Shabbat morning regulars.

 

Why people are willing to show up for three days of boredom is beyond me. How can this strange and mind-numbing experience possibly feel spiritual? If anything, it is more likely to seem rather menacing. Prayers (in English translations) speak about judgment, the seal on the book of life, who shall live and who shall die.

 

Yikes.

 

If this is your sole experience with synagogue, how can you sit through all this doom and gloom and come back for more the following year?

 

THIS YEAR I did something radical. I sat next to a lovely 30-year-old woman whom I have known superficially for nearly 20 years, and whom I see in shul each year, during at least one of the three days. She seemed relieved at my presence - a familiar face to break the stultifying monotony of the morning.

 

"I am glad to see you and glad you came to shul," I told her. "But please don't come on these three days. Come on a Shabbat. Come for Tu Bishvat. Come for Purim. Come on three days that will be interesting, fun, much shorter, give us the chance to speak, give you the opportunity to learn to be comfortable among us."

 

For all who still come three days a year, we are sorry that you are bored, that we are merely passing acquaintances who do not sing with you, or enjoy a pleasant meal with you. We know there is every likelihood that your discomfort ultimately will override any sense of Jewish obligation, and the holidays will not draw (or drag) you to shul.

 

The rabbis will not be happy to hear someone suggest that Jews skip services on the haggim. But sooner or later, these Jews will skip more than the haggim; they will skip Judaism itself. They will be lost to us, and we will be lost to them. Before that happens, we should encourage them to give us another chance. If they are only going to come three days a year, pick any three different days to join us.

 

May we all have a new year whose sweetness is based on respect for each other.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

'DOC, SHOULD I FAST?'

BENJAMIN W. CORN

 

Every year around October, when the autumnal Jewish holidays and the fall foliage simultaneously reach their respective peaks, I confront a dilemma as a religious physician. Particularly as Yom Kippur approaches, a sense of solemnity envelops many Jews. Suddenly, the existential questions of "who shall live and who shall die" seem to reverberate with greater amplitude.

 

Although few will admit it, many avowed secularists begin to wonder whether there truly is a Book of Life that is being inscribed by a divine author. In a country where practically one in three Jews identifies as completely nonobservant, surveys indicate that nearly 90 percent of the population performs at least some of the rituals on this holiest day of the year.

 

For me, these Days of Awe revolve around my fear that I will be asked by my cancer patients, "Doc, should I fast?"

 

During three decades of practice as an oncologist in the US and abroad, I have developed a comfort level in advising folks about risky modalities like chemotherapy and radiation treatments. But the fasting question is much more challenging than the usual inquiries about the side effects of a specific drug or even the cure rates associated with a given regimen. When attempting to respond to this query, I am reduced to an inexperienced rookie. Why do I feel ill-equipped to answer a legitimate question from a well-intentioned person?

 

WHEN PEOPLE under my care inquire about fasting, I wonder if they are signaling something that evades me. For instance, since recent studies have asserted that most patients silently wish that physicians would address their spiritual well-being, am I being alerted to a religious awakening that is taking place?

 

I am also curious if this could be an effort to invoke an unconventional therapeutic tool, as indeed a classic article from the prestigious M. D. Anderson Hospital in Houston demonstrated that more than 80 percent of cancer patients seek complimentary and alternative medicines. If a religious patient prefers not to fast on Yom Kippur, is he announcing that he has thrown in the towel, or is he merely worried about the consequences of no nutritional intake? Could the decision to fast or even the decision not to fast simply represent an attempt to regain control of a life that seems to have sputtered away from any semblance of order?

 

As one who endeavors to respect the mores of patients, I tend to activate safeguards to protect against imposing my value system on others. My agenda does not include preying on the vulnerable to cultivate a flock of born-again religionists who wish to return to their faith. How does one sort through this entanglement to help patients?

 

It turns out that this is not a new conundrum. In the Babylonian Talmud (Yoma 83a) we read that "Rabbi Yanai asserted that when a sick person feels he must eat on the Day of Atonement but his physician opines that it is not necessary for him to eat, we side with the patient, for it is written in Proverbs [14:10] that the heart knows the bitterness of its soul." This patient-centric stance belies the fact that the statement was uttered nearly 2,000 years ago.

 

RESPECT FOR the core values of a patient is the centerpiece of the Medical Humanism movement that has gained traction in modern health care. In an editorial that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this year, Hartzband and Groopman pointed out that another pillar of this worldview is the notion of "shared decision-making," which connotes a commitment on the part of both parties in the doctor-patient dyad to listen carefully to the priorities of the other.

 

Toward this end, I have recently resolved to expand the dyad into a triad by bringing a rabbi into the equation.

 

In Israel, rabbis have hardly assumed the pastoral role that Americans have come to expect from their clergy. Rather, rabbis who are hospital-based have historically restricted their attention to noncontroversial tasks such as checking that the food on meal carts is kosher and that every room is adorned with a mezuza. Fortunately, despite the fact that there is still no Hebrew word for "chaplain," Israeli rabbis have suddenly become interested in playing a significant role in the therapeutic arena.

 

By inviting rabbis to become active players, patients gain access to a comprehensive sounding board to reach decisions. Such three-way consultations are often emotionally charged, as each protagonist exposes deep concerns in trying to figure out what is best for the cancer patient when it comes to fasting and many other matters. Usually there is a sense that a sacred bond has been formed.

 

At present, I have no outcome data to report from this experiment, but I am pleasantly surprised to learn that I have finally come up with a new year's resolution that I can live with.

 

The writer is the chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Tel Aviv Medical Center and the founder of Life'sDoor.org.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

NETANYAHU'S PATRONIZING ATTITUDE

BY HAARETZ EDITORIAL

 

In his speech at the United Nations General Assembly last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unveiled his vision of Israel's place in the Middle East. Netanyahu spoke about the historical link between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, stating that "we are not a foreign occupier" and how Israel yearns for peace. He also described the struggle against Iran and fundamentalism as a struggle between "a 21st century civilization" and "a ninth century civilization."


Netanyahu, if his speech is any indication, believes that Israel is a country that stands apart and stands alone; an island state that is forced to protect itself from its Arab and Muslim neighbors by security fences and cultural defenses. He did not express any desire to become acquainted with these neighbors or their culture, or for Israel to become part of the Middle East community. As far as Netanyahu is concerned, the peace Israel wants is a deal between leaders and not peoples. "Any time an Arab leader genuinely wanted peace with us, we made peace," he said.


According to Netanyahu, Israel is the paradigm of technological advancement, has a highly sophisticated media, is responsible for decoding the human genome and saving the environment. Iran and its supporters, in contrast, are primitives from the dark ages. In terms of the repression of women, minorities and homosexuals under Islamic regimes, he is quite right, but by portraying Israel as an island of progress in a sea of cultural and technological backwardness, he goes too far. Iran also has Internet access and science and research institutes, just as minorities are discriminated against in Israel. Israel's opposition to the Iranian regime and its hostile ideology cannot justify a condescending and patronizing attitude.

 

Netanyahu is not the only one guilty of this patronizing attitude. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has in the past described Israel as "a villa in the jungle." Many Israelis see their cultural inspiration as coming from New York, Paris and London; they take no interest in the people and lands surrounding us. The study of Arabic is a minor discipline in the Israeli education system and, for the most part, is used as preparation for military service in the intelligence arm or Shin Bet security service, rather than as a bridge to understanding Arabs and their culture, in Israel or aboard.


Only one Israeli prime minister, Moshe Sharett, spoke Arabic, since his family lived in an Arab village after immigrating to Palestine. Sharett was and remains the only Israeli leader who recognized that Israel needs to open up to its nearest neighbors and learn about them from up close. Netanyahu, who was educated in the United States, has never shown any interest in Arabs or Islam. The sources of inspiration he quoted in his General Assembly speech were the Hebrew prophets and Western leaders - mainly Winston Churchill.


Netanyahu demands that the Palestinians and the Arab states recognize Israel as a Jewish state. His call for such recognition would be a lot more convincing and understandable if he, for his part, would recognize the history and culture of the Arabs and Muslims who live in and next door to Israel. In his UN speech, Netanyahu missed an opportunity to call on Israel's neighbors to tear down the walls of suspicion and isolation to create peaceful relations between societies and cultures, even though political differences remain. Peace of this kind would be stable and more profound than any legal agreement between governments and leaders.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

WHAT HAS REALLY CHANGED IN ISRAEL SINCE 1973?

BY GIDEON LEVY

 

In the morning we decided to take a trip. I was staying as a guest with a couple of friends at Kibbutz Hatzerim. From there, we took a car belonging to the kibbutz and headed south, to Sinai. We crossed Rafah and reached El-Arish. We drove as if the area were our own backyard. It was only when we realized we were running low on fuel and the Israeli gas stations were closed that we changed course and abandoned plans to reach the Suez Canal.

It was Yom Kippur. Once we returned to the kibbutz, we noticed a large crowd forming in the cafeteria. MK Aharon Yadlin, a member of the kibbutz and one of the Labor Party's most senior officials, received a phone call summoning him at once to a meeting with the prime minister. This was Yom Kippur, the year 5734 on the Jewish calendar. War.


There is no need to give an answer now to the question of what would have happened had we continued on our trip, but this of course is not the only question that has reverberated since that year. Our complacency - mine and that of the paratroop officer from Hatzerim during our last trip together to Sinai - was not out of step with Israeli society in the fall of 1973.

 

This past weekend, I leafed through the newspapers of the 30 days that preceded "the earthquake." There is no better barometer in sampling the spirit of the time. "Cairo: Impose economic blockade against Israel if it doesn't withdraw from the territories," "Richard Nixon: U.S. attaches supreme importance to settling conflict in the Middle East," "The Seventh Brigade celebrates 25 years in Latrun," "Golani conference in Yarkon Park," "Palmach veterans reunion set for October 16," "Sam Peckinpah's 'The Getaway' and 'Last Tango in Paris' playing for the 23rd week at Studio Cinema," "Haaretz now being sold in Sharm el-Sheikh courtesy of the Arkia corporation." The newspaper labels the heads of the PLO as "terrorists," as usual. Military affairs commentator Ze'ev Schiff wrote: "The IDF assures itself there will not be a stalemate in thinking along the chain of command." More headlines declared: "Israel celebrates 1,900 years since Masada" and "The Israeli Opera presents 'The Queen of Sheba.'" "Expedite your holiday blessings," says a notice from the postal service. "Three-day march gets underway from Beit El, marchers hug and kiss the chief of staff, David Elazar," Sasi Keshet sings at the Magic Carpet nightclub and Shimon Dzigan presents "Shehecheyanu V'ki'imanu."


IDF generals would park their Valiant cars on the sidewalks of Kings of Israel Square and grab a bite to eat at Eli Ronen's steakhouse, the best steakhouse in the entire country, whose walls were adorned with the generals' photographs. Every child knows by heart the names of everyone in the IDF General Staff, men whose faces would soon be plastered on the walls of Sukkot tents. There are no real parties in town without a general on hand. Moshe Dayan came up with an idea: "a deep-sea port" at the Israeli settlement of Yamit. Transportation minister Shimon Peres is quick to offer an explanation to the press, stating that "professional considerations" were behind the port project, which will break ground in another 12 years.


And then there's the cherry on top of the whipped cream: an announcement from the Labor Alignment in preparation for the elections to the eighth Knesset. It was given the heading "The Bar Lev Line," above a picture of the strapping group of individuals who comprised the party's dream team. "Quiet reigns on the banks of the Suez. So too in the Sinai desert, the Gaza Strip, Judea and Samaria, and the Golan. The borders are secure, the bridges are open, Jerusalem is united, settlements are arising and our political standing is strong. This is the result of a carefully-weighed, daring, bold and visionary policy. Vote by inserting the Emet slip into the ballot box." This was September 19, 1973, 17 days before Judgment Day.


Three-and-a-half years before this, in April 1970, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat invited the head of the World Zionist Organization, Nahum Goldmann, to visit Cairo. Prime minister Golda Meir prevented the trip, doing so with scorn. In February 1971, Sadat presented his conditions for peace with Israel to the United Nations' envoy Gunnar Jarring. The Israeli government rejected these conditions out of hand. Defense minister Dayan said at the time how it was better to have Sharm el-Sheikh without peace than peace without Sharm el-Sheikh. In July 1973, he offered a prediction to Time Magazine that war would not break out in the next 10 years and that Israel would remain in its borders.


"If Israel rejects our outstretched hand, I will enlist a million soldiers and we will embark on war," Sadat vowed in an interview with an Austrian newspaper. "They're not even capable of crossing the canal," Golda Meir said. The rest is history.


Even now, "quiet reigns on the banks of the Suez." Now, on the eve of Yom Kippur, in the Jewish year 5770, quiet reigns on the Golan Heights, the northern border, the West Bank, even in Gaza, relatively speaking. This is not the time to make a move toward peace. Why should we? Anyway, there is quiet. It is true, the generals are not as adored now as they were then, and Haaretz is not being sold in Sharm el-Sheikh, and Dzigan is dead. Aside from all that, though, what has changed?

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

JEWS, WE HAVE IT GOOD

BY DORON ROSENBLUM

 

There's no time like Yom Kippur to atone for sins and recognize one's wrongs, and if there's one area where we have erred, sinned, slandered and misjudged, it's our approach to that long-standing slogan about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that "Bibi is good for Jews." The catchphrase's authors - the right wing and Chabad - have disowned it, reclaimed it and disowned it once again umpteen times. But after a decade of disillusion and sobering realizations, even Netanyahu's toughest opponents can't help but admit that Jews have it good with Bibi. Good is not even the word for it anymore: Jews have fun.


He's good for the right, which gets a nudge and a wink signaling that the settlement drive will continue. He's good for the left, which gets a nudge and a wink signaling that the earlier nudge and wink were noncommittal. He's good for the Jews of both Zion and the Diaspora, who get such an eloquent spokesman, outlining in a clear and resounding voice his deepest fears - of global anti-Semitism, of being caught making a sucker-like concession, of Western hypocrisy, of Holocaust denial and of any shifts at all, since shifts only change things for the worst. He's good for Israel, which, embroiled in a rearguard war against this golem of a world finally has someone to teach the goyim a lesson. And he's good for Western civilization, which gets such Churchillian warnings of Tehran's Fuhrer out of the mouth of such a proud and upright Jew.


To fully appreciate how good Jews have it with Bibi, we need only recall how much disappointment, astonishment and sheer annoyance we've had with his predecessors and successors over the last decade. Grandiose hopes vanquished, promises of local and regional peace not kept, mountain-moving, bulldozer-like plans suddenly quashed, and blood flowing like water in futile war and terrorist attacks. But now, with Netanyahu at the helm, our battered souls may rest at ease. Why? It's simple: There are no hopes now, no promises, no plans.

 

Even the talks, travels and meetings, which were never more than fawning rituals void of content, have been emasculated even further: Since the preconditions for talks without preconditions are not yet ripe, we only travel without holding meetings, or hold meetings without talks. Even "dramatic speeches" promised every now and then sound more like rehashed bar mitzvah sermons (with presentations) than empowering visions or plans. What can one do after Netanyahu's UN speech other than clap one's hands and tut-tut about the rest of the world's hypocrisy? Our knees are failing, our motivation to do anything whatsoever is nearing zero. Pessimism is catchier than swine flu, and certainly catchier than hope. Even the luminous, energetic Barack Obama has been dimmed by the inverse Midas touch of our woeful knight.


Netanyahu, flag-bearer of "lower your expectations," prophet of the Gospel of Nothing to Report, and once considered just another killjoy, has returned to power on the tidal wave of despair, celebrating the victory of experience over hope. But why complain? If there's no hope there's no plan, if there's no plan there are no shifts, if nothing shifts there is no terrorism, if there's no terrorism there are no moves, if there are no moves, there are no coalition crises. To borrow a phrase from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and put it briefly, this is heaven.

And that's even before we got to the big fat bonus that comes with lowering our expectations; when these are at permanent ground level, even the worst political fiasco can be presented as a gratifying surprise. If there's a Grand Canyon-sized abyss between us and the White House, Netanyahu's office throws a party to celebrate that "at least we've made our position clear." If Obama, for all intents and purposes, calls on us to withdraw to the 1967 lines, Netanyahu's office pops a bottle of champagne to mark the fact that "at least we didn't get a baseball bat over the head," to quote a senior official after Obama's Cairo speech. So is it really that surprising that with the extinction of any hope to renew the diplomatic process, the festivities at Netanyahu's office have reached a high point?


"It's fun to be thirsty with Kinley," an ad here used to say. It's even more fun to be hopeless with Bibi. Expectations are so low that if we don't get bombed at 8:35, we're all but euphoric - provided we don't spoil it by wondering what will happen at 9:00, and whether Bibi is good for the Israelis, too.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

ISRAEL NEEDS A SOLUTION, NOT NETANYAHU'S PR

BY AMIR OREN

 

In Washington they were not impressed with the Israeli occupation; the president began pressing and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rushed to support. He is keen on explaining.


A long time before Bibi there was one B.G. Ben-Gurion's diary documents, in his writing, a meeting with Benzion Netanyahu, Bibi's father, in mid-November 1956, following Israel's conquest of the Gaza Strip and Sinai in the war. Ben-Gurion was dizzy with excitement and declared the start of Israel's Third Kingdom. U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower brought him down to earth in one fell swoop.


Ben-Gurion wrote: "At 5, Netanyahu came over, editor of the encyclopedia. He had told me earlier that he had no personal intent or purpose for coming over, nor a party-related motive. Since the establishment of the state, he had left the Revisionist party. Between 1940 and 1948 he was in the U.S. and ran the propaganda operation of the New Zionist Organization. Fear of Russia had not yet emerged, but in certain circles they were already feeling the Russian threat. He spoke of a vacuum in the Mideast, and the threat of Soviet penetration, and explained the significance of Zionism. He believes that our public relations mechanism in the U.S. is weak and he is offering his services. He will get a year's leave from the encyclopedia. His cover will be that he will be lecturing at some university. His subject is Jewish history. He wrote a book on Abarbanel."

 

"We must set up a non-Jewish team, among the most important authors, journalists, congressmen. We need to buy those who hate us - or at least we can make them neutral. For the first half year there might be a need for about a quarter million dollars. Later he will find money in America itself. There is no point in appearing before Zionist Jews. It is Americans that are needed and it is important that this organization would not be felt to have ties to Israel, but in practice it must be answerable to the Prime Minister's Office. Because propaganda needs to be adjusted according to policy.


"I said that I do not agree with all his comments, and that a great deal has been done in rallying public support, and that the U.S. government has assisted us a great deal since the establishment of the state, but that there is a need to step up activities, and that I would give him an answer in a week."


The answer was given last week at the United Nations. Benjamin Netanyahu jumped back to the future: if not a full half century and the initiative put forward by his father to Ben-Gurion, then a quarter century, to his own appointment as ambassador to the UN. At the Foreign Ministry they consider Israel's mission to the UN a podium for making speeches for the crowds back home. When a speaker from the Middle East rips up a document, he is applauded - if he is named Chaim Herzog; if his name is Muammar Gadhafi, they ridicule him. Netanyahu's world, that of an ambassador dressed up as a prime minister, proved better than that of his father: The propaganda lives within it without connection to policy.


It is not Netanyahu who invented "If they give, they'll get." That has been Israel's formula since the days of Ben-Gurion, and was created by his wizard, chief of staff Moshe Dayan, whose apprentice was the commander of the Paratroops, Ariel Sharon. If they give us peace along the 1949 borders, they'll get peace. If they give us a terrorist attack, they'll get payback. If they give an atrocity, they'll get war.


The tremendous Israeli victory of the Six-Day War filled the framework with new content in the form of Security Council Resolution 242, on which, like his predecessors, U.S. President Barack Obama is relying. If the Arabs give the promised peace along the borders of 1949, with slight adjustments, they will get the territories. They will not get anything unless they give. What does this have to do with Auschwitz and Iran's nuclear program?


Israel's Third Kingdom lasted in reality from June 10, 1967, to close to Ben-Gurion's death. At 1:50 P.M. on Yom Kippur 1973, Israel was at the peak of its power. Whoever experienced that moment in the office of the chief of Military Intelligence, on the third floor of the old building of the General Staff, will not forget how Eli Zeira became pale when he saw the note that told him of attack aircraft taking off from Egyptian and Syrian bases. By 1:51 on that bitter day, the arrogant illusion of eternal occupation and annexation - one without peace but also without war - had broken.


Before Netanyahu, with the shameful assistance of Ehud Barak, takes pleasure in his enormous success at stemming a construction freeze in the settlements, which were in fact born as a means (for encouraging the Arabs to accept the land-for-peace formula "before facts on the ground are created"), but became an end in themselves, it would be good for both of them to remember the pleasure Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan took in foiling the mission of UN envoy Gunnar Jarring in implementing 242, and to recall who cried last. Netanyahu is still playing the role of corporate deputy director for marketing and external relations. But Israel does not need public relations. Israel needs a solution.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

A TALE FOR YOM KIPPUR

BY YOSSI SARID

 

The fact that I was not a businessman during the course of my life doesn't mean that I didn't have various entrepreneurial ideas. If they never came to pass, it's because they were ahead of their time. And there is no better day than Yom Kippur to tell of such an idea, one that combines business with spiritual awakening.


The year 5769 was an entirely spiritual year. That spirituality is likely to pick up steam in the new year, 5770. The letter het in the Hebrew word for "spirituality" (ruhaniyut) ought to be written with the vowel shva rather than the obligatory kamatz, because ruhaniyut with a shva resurrects itself and takes the place once occupied by the soul of the dead. This is a major rule of crisis theory: As materialism becomes crasser, this fashionable spirituality also ascends.


My idea was ingenious in its simplicity. It could have established our standing for generations as the founders of a spirituality movement in Israel.

 

In those distant days, we lived in the Galilee. We found ourselves to be residing in a land riddled with tombs. Each tomb bears the name of some righteous individual. It also has a number of estate executors. To our surprise, we even discovered the tombs of Mordecai and Esther. Perhaps they got to that point together while riding on the same horse they had received from Ahasuerus. Esther was half-naked during the entire trip, much like Madonna, who has devoted herself almost exclusively to kabbala.


I suggested to my wife that we too should build a tomb-like structure and find some available, abandoned tzadik. If we don't find him, I said, we can make him up. Since every holy site possesses its own unique quality, we can attribute our old-new site a reputation as one that restores the light of vision to the blind. Why the blind? Because the blindness in this country is a national plague, one that will provide a good living. Also, this happens to be my wife's specialty, for she is someone who has often opened my eyes.


We managed to find a neighbor who was ready to appear on a TV morning show and describe how after one visit, after one act of genuflection, and one touch of the hand, he began to see the light. We had no doubt that the next day our site would fill with people, and our cash register would fill with shekels.


To this day I am not quite certain as to why my wife abandoned the idea at the last minute. Perhaps it is because she was thinking we would attract only the downtrodden who seek assistance from the heavens to guide them through their troubles. In recent months, though, she was proven wrong. This year we saw the country's rich and powerful - politicians as well as members of the jet set - accompany real-life righteous ones to the graves of the righteous dead. They go as far as Ukraine and Bulgaria. They would certainly have found time for the Galilee, just as they find the time to go to Netivot.


In the year 5769, we discovered that the owner of the controlling interest in a major bank hears hidden voices and sees hidden prophecies. She, too, is spiritual, with a shva. I prefer her over her colleagues who behave as she does, only through other means. At least she communicates with the spirits directly, while the others need the services of middlemen who charge a fee. "You see," I tell my wife, "we could have been millionaires while hobnobbing with billionaires. Not only did we lose capital, but we also lost wayward followers. And you wasted your charisma, the authority you project and the trust that you engender."

After hearing my grumbling, she sends me to the doctor, but she warns me to keep away from witch doctors.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE F.D.I.C. AND THE BANKS

 

The nation’s big banks are stable, for now, thanks largely to taxpayers. But small and midsize banks are failing left and right, undone by bad loans and a brutal recession. So far this year, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation has closed 95 banks, compared with 25 for all of last year. Another 416 banks are at high risk of failure, according to a recent tally by the agency.

 

The carnage is straining the federal deposit insurance fund. As a result, when the board of the F.D.I.C. meets on Tuesday, it will have to sort through several options for raising tens of billions of dollars of extra cash.

 

A dwindling insurance fund does not put depositors at risk. Even if the fund ran dry — a far-fetched prospect given the F.D.I.C.’s many options — the federal government would be obligated to protect insured deposit accounts of up to $250,000. But a shortfall in the insurance fund could impede the agency’s efficiency, say, in seizing ailing banks. That, in turn, could allow relatively small problems to become bigger and more expensive. Even more fundamental, keeping the F.D.I.C. healthy is key to restoring and maintaining confidence in the banks.

 

Still, rebuilding the deposit insurance fund is a delicate task. Here’s what taxpayers need to understand, and what the F.D.I.C. should do:

 

Deposit insurance is financed by premiums paid by banks. When bank failures surge, the F.D.I.C. can impose a special assessment, as it did last May. More special assessments now could be counterproductive, however, because they immediately reduce banks’ earnings, weakening their bottom line just as they are recovering.

 

The best solution is to have the banks prepay their regular premiums, say for the next two years or so. That way the F.D.I.C. would get billions of dollars upfront, but banks would be able to delay the hit against earnings because prepayments can be accounted for in increments over time rather than all at once.

 

The next best alternative would be for the F.D.I.C. to use some of its more-than-ample $500 billion credit line with the Treasury. Since borrowing from the government is a use of taxpayer dollars, it should be undertaken only if more money is needed than the banks could prudently provide. The banks bear primary responsibility for the deposit fund; taxpayers are a backstop only. Indeed, borrowing from the government, as the F.D.I.C. did during the savings-and-loan crisis in the early 1990s, only delays the banks’ obligation. The loan must be repaid through subsequent special assessments on the banks or from the proceeds of selling failed-bank assets.

 

The worst alternative — no surprise — is the one big banks like best. A 1991 law allows the F.D.I.C. to borrow from select banks, though the agency has never done so. With piles of cash that they are not lending to consumers, the big banks would be more than happy to lend it to the government.

 

But even the big banks have only recently bolstered their capital cushions, and there may be more economic blows to come. It would be financially and politically awkward for the F.D.I.C. to be a customer of a bank that may need more assistance. Worse, making the banks a mainstay of the F.D.I.C., even temporarily, would only increase their political power at a time when their outsize influence is already weakening whatever resolve politicians have for strong and thorough regulatory reform.

 

The F.D.I.C. has its work cut out for it. By putting the public good first, the fund can be fairly and efficiently replenished.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

MR. DUNCAN AND THAT $4.3 BILLION

 

With sound ideas and a commitment to rigorously monitor the states’ progress, Education Secretary Arne Duncan has revitalized the school-reform effort that had lost most of its momentum by the closing days of the Bush administration.

 

His power to press for reforms was dramatically enhanced earlier this year when Congress gave him control of $4.3 billion in grant money — the Race to the Top fund — that is to be disbursed to the states on a competitive basis. Mr. Duncan will need to resist political pressure and special pleadings and reward only the states that are committed to effective and clearly measurable reform.

 

Mr. Duncan’s exhortations, and the promise of so much cash, have already persuaded eight states to adopt measures favorable to charter schools, which Mr. Duncan rightly sees as crucial in the fight to turn around failing schools.

 

To be eligible for the money, every state must also show how student performance will be factored into their systems for evaluating teachers. And Mr. Duncan has asked the states to come up with plausible plans to turn around failing schools — so-called dropout factories — and to better serve minority students.

 

He has also made clear in preliminary guidelines released earlier this year that his system for evaluating the states’ reform efforts will be rigorous — and that financing can be revoked if states renege on their promises. Even the National Education Association, the aggressively hidebound teachers’ union, seems to understand that the time for defending the status quo has passed.

 

For all that, the difficult part is yet to come. Mr. Duncan must be prepared to reject grant applications that do not meet the eligibility requirements, but he also must be willing to encourage states to innovate.

 

As he decides which applications to accept and which to reject, Mr. Duncan can expect a lot of outside pressure from politicians demanding that he finance all of their states’ programs and from community purists demanding that he reject projects that don’t comply with their views.

 

He will need to resist those pressures and choose substantive, innovative proposals that stand the best chance of improving the schools. For that, he will need courage, stamina and cover from the White House.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

HIGH COST OF DEATH ROW

 

To the many excellent reasons to abolish the death penalty — it’s immoral, does not deter murder and affects minorities disproportionately — we can add one more. It’s an economic drain on governments with already badly depleted budgets.

 

It is far from a national trend, but some legislators have begun to have second thoughts about the high cost of death row. Others would do well to consider evidence gathered by the Death Penalty Information Center, a research organization that opposes capital punishment.

 

States waste millions of dollars on winning death penalty verdicts, which require an expensive second trial, new witnesses and long jury selections. Death rows require extra security and maintenance costs.

 

There is also a 15-to-20-year appeals process, but simply getting rid of it would be undemocratic and would increase the number of innocent people put to death. Besides, the majority of costs are in the pretrial and trial.

 

According to the organization, keeping inmates on death row in Florida costs taxpayers $51 million a year more than holding them for life without parole. North Carolina has put 43 people to death since 1976 at $2.16 million per execution. The eventual cost to taxpayers in Maryland for pursuing capital cases between 1978 and 1999 is estimated to be $186 million for five executions.

 

Perhaps the most extreme example is California, whose death row costs taxpayers $114 million a year beyond the cost of imprisoning convicts for life. The state has executed 13 people since 1976 for a total of about $250 million per execution. This is a state whose prisons are filled to bursting (unconstitutionally so, the courts say) and whose government has imposed doomsday-level cuts to social services, health care, schools and parks.

 

Money spent on death rows could be spent on police officers, courts, public defenders, legal service agencies and prison cells. Some lawmakers, heeding law-enforcement officials who have declared capital punishment a low priority, have introduced bills to abolish it.

 

A Republican state senator in Kansas, Carolyn McGinn, pointed out that her state, which restored the death penalty in 1994, had not executed anybody in more than 40 years. In February, she introduced a bill to replace capital punishment with life without parole. The bill gained considerable attention but stalled. Similar arguments were made, unsuccessfully, in states such as New Hampshire and Maryland. Colorado considered a bill to end capital punishment and spend the money saved on solving cold cases. But this year, only New Mexico went all the way, abolishing executions in March.

 

If lawmakers cannot find the moral courage to abolish the death penalty, perhaps the economic case will persuade them to follow the lead of New Mexico.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

GRIZZLIES, BACK ON THE LIST

 

Last week, a federal district judge in Montana put the grizzly bears in the greater Yellowstone National Park area back on the endangered species list. Judge Donald Molloy said the Interior Department’s 2007 rule removing the animal from the list — and the protections of the Endangered Species Act — had not provided adequately for the bears’ survival. Although the department may appeal, the wiser course would be to devise a better plan.

 

The judge agreed that the recovery of the grizzly, whose numbers had climbed from some 200 at their lowest to around 600 at the time of delisting, had been remarkable. But the decision to delist — driven in part by the numbers and in part by the Bush administration’s desire to declare a success — had provided only vague plans for maintaining bear populations and no specific responses in case they began to decline. It also relied too heavily on flawed state plans in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

 

Further, Judge Molloy agreed with the environmental groups challenging the delisting that the Interior Department had failed to take into account the effects of climate change on the bears’ food supply.

 

Warmer temperatures have caused an outbreak of mountain pine beetles, which have spread to higher slopes and killed millions of acres of whitebark pine trees, whose nuts are essential to the grizzly bear diet. This, in turn, has led the bears to forage elsewhere, increasing their contact with humans, including hunters. In 2008 alone, nearly 80 grizzlies were known to have died in the Yellowstone ecosystem.

 

Judge Molloy’s ruling makes it clear that saving a species like the grizzly isn’t just a matter of counting bears. It is also a matter of saving habitat. And where habitat has been degraded as rapidly as it has for the grizzly, extraordinary measures are required. Setting aside more habitat may be one of them. Whatever the answers, restoring the bears to the endangered species list is the essential first step to saving them — again.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

CASSANDRAS OF CLIMATE

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

Every once in a while I feel despair over the fate of the planet. If you’ve been following climate science, you know what I mean: the sense that we’re hurtling toward catastrophe but nobody wants to hear about it or do anything to avert it.

 

And here’s the thing: I’m not engaging in hyperbole. These days, dire warnings aren’t the delusional raving of cranks. They’re what come out of the most widely respected climate models, devised by the leading researchers. The prognosis for the planet has gotten much, much worse in just the last few years.

 

What’s driving this new pessimism? Partly it’s the fact that some predicted changes, like a decline in Arctic Sea ice, are happening much faster than expected. Partly it’s growing evidence that feedback loops amplifying the effects of man-made greenhouse gas emissions are stronger than previously realized. For example, it has long been understood that global warming will cause the tundra to thaw, releasing carbon dioxide, which will cause even more warming, but new research shows far more carbon locked in the permafrost than previously thought, which means a much bigger feedback effect.

 

The result of all this is that climate scientists have, en masse, become Cassandras — gifted with the ability to prophesy future disasters, but cursed with the inability to get anyone to believe them.

 

And we’re not just talking about disasters in the distant future, either. The really big rise in global temperature probably won’t take place until the second half of this century, but there will be plenty of damage long before then.

 

For example, one 2007 paper in the journal Science is titled “Model Projections of an Imminent Transition to a More Arid Climate in Southwestern North America” — yes, “imminent” — and reports “a broad consensus among climate models” that a permanent drought, bringing Dust Bowl-type conditions, “will become the new climatology of the American Southwest within a time frame of years to decades.”

 

So if you live in, say, Los Angeles, and liked those pictures of red skies and choking dust in Sydney, Australia, last week, no need to travel. They’ll be coming your way in the not-too-distant future.

 

Now, at this point I have to make the obligatory disclaimer that no individual weather event can be attributed to global warming. The point, however, is that climate change will make events like that Australian dust storm much more common.

 

In a rational world, then, the looming climate disaster would be our dominant political and policy concern. But it manifestly isn’t. Why not?

 

Part of the answer is that it’s hard to keep peoples’ attention focused. Weather fluctuates — New Yorkers may recall the heat wave that pushed the thermometer above 90 in April — and even at a global level, this is enough to cause substantial year-to-year wobbles in average temperature. As a result, any year with record heat is normally followed by a number of cooler years: According to Britain’s Met Office, 1998 was the hottest year so far, although NASA — which arguably has better data — says it was 2005. And it’s all too easy to reach the false conclusion that the danger is past.

But the larger reason we’re ignoring climate change is that Al Gore was right: This truth is just too inconvenient. Responding to climate change with the vigor that the threat deserves would not, contrary to legend, be devastating for the economy as a whole. But it would shuffle the economic deck, hurting some powerful vested interests even as it created new economic opportunities. And the industries of the past have armies of lobbyists in place right now; the industries of the future don’t.

 

Nor is it just a matter of vested interests. It’s also a matter of vested ideas. For three decades the dominant political ideology in America has extolled private enterprise and denigrated government, but climate change is a problem that can only be addressed through government action. And rather than concede the limits of their philosophy, many on the right have chosen to deny that the problem exists.

 

So here we are, with the greatest challenge facing mankind on the back burner, at best, as a policy issue. I’m not, by the way, saying that the Obama administration was wrong to push health care first. It was necessary to show voters a tangible achievement before next November. But climate change legislation had better be next.

 

And as I pointed out in my last column, we can afford to do this. Even as climate modelers have been reaching consensus on the view that the threat is worse than we realized, economic modelers have been reaching consensus on the view that the costs of emission control are lower than many feared.

 

So the time for action is now. O.K., strictly speaking it’s long past. But better late than never.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

A WAR PRESIDENT?

BY ROSS DOUTHAT

 

All spring and summer, it looked as though Joe Lieberman, the independent from Connecticut, would play the same role in the debate over President Obama’s Afghanistan policy that he played in the struggle over Iraq: as a champion of the surge-style counterinsurgency that Obama endorsed in March and as a defender of a wartime White House against the Democratic Party’s leftward flank.

 

But that was before Afghanistan’s fraud-riddled elections, before Obama’s new top commander there, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, came back with a dire report and a request for further reinforcements and before a spooked White House entered full-scale reassessment mode.

 

Now, while Obama weighs his options, Lieberman is waiting to find out if he’s going to be the president’s ally on Afghanistan or one of his sharpest critics.

 

In a conversation last week, the Connecticut senator was careful to avoid taking the president to task for pausing before he escalates. After seven years of war, Lieberman noted, we’ve only now “begun the first serious national debate about Afghanistan: whether we should be there and what we should be doing there. In that regard, it’s entirely appropriate that the president is deliberating.”

 

But he was simultaneously careful to imply that Obama’s ultimate decision should be a foregone conclusion — not least because the president’s past statements allow for no alternative.

 

Throughout our discussion, Lieberman repeatedly cited Obama’s own arguments (“as the president said the other day. ...”) to buttress the case for sending more troops to Afghanistan. And he suggested, more than once, that the president’s choice essentially amounts to deciding whether to abandon a strategy to which Obama has already committed himself.

 

I heard a similar theme, in public and private, from many counterinsurgency advocates last week. Having recently described Afghanistan as a “war of necessity,” they asked, can the president really turn down a request for more troops from a general he himself appointed to support a campaign that he personally endorsed?

 

The answer is very likely no. However serious his doubts about escalation, Obama seems boxed in — by the thoroughness of McChrystal’s assessment and the military’s united front, by his own arguments across the last two years and by his party’s long-running insistence on painting Afghanistan as the neglected “good war.”

 

But if Obama takes us deeper into war out of political necessity rather than conviction, the results could be disastrous.

 

That’s because the counterinsurgency strategy he’s contemplating is the worst possible option — except for all the others. It looks attractive only because the alternatives involve abandoning southern Afghanistan to the Taliban’s tender mercies, playing Whac-a-Mole with Al Qaeda from afar with hopelessly inadequate intelligence and pushing the nuclear-armed Pakistani military back into a marriage of necessity with a resurgent Taliban next door.

 

Even allowing for these perils, the case for escalation remains a near-run thing. In the words of Stephen Biddle, who advised McChrystal on the review, increasing our military involvement in Afghanistan is “a close call on the merits,” whose “outcome is uncertain” and which is “likely to increase losses and violence in the short term in exchange for a chance at stability in the longer term.”

 

This kind of war may well be worth fighting. But it can only be prosecuted by a president who believes in it wholeheartedly.

 

It will have to be sold to an American public battered by recession and weary of seven years of conflict.

 

It will require rallying a Democratic Party whose support for sending more troops to Afghanistan — the better to outhawk the Republicans — has vanished with the Bush presidency.

 

And it will need to be conducted with a constant eye not only on Iran, but on the fragile situation in Iraq, which has fallen out of the headlines but remains, even now, our most important military theater.

 

In other words, fighting to win in Afghanistan will require that Obama become as much of a war president as his predecessor. And that’s a role for which he has shown little appetite to date.

 

Maybe this will change. “My hope,” Lieberman told me, is that once Obama finishes his “very public process of deliberation, he will have brought the public along with him” — and placed the war effort on a firmer footing in the process.

 

But the president can only bring the country with him if he really believes in the war that he’s inherited. For now, that remains an open question.

 

And if Obama takes us deeper into a conflict for which he doesn’t really have the stomach, then the outcome will almost certainly be tragic — for him, for us, and for Afghanistan.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

READING INCOMPREHENSION

BY TODD FARLEY

 

LAST week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan acknowledged standardized tests are flawed measures of student progress. But the problem is not so much the tests themselves — it’s the people scoring them.

 

Many people remember those tests as lots of multiple-choice questions answered by marking bubbles with a No. 2 pencil, but today’s exams nearly always include the sort of “open ended” items where students fill up the blank pages of a test booklet with their own thoughts and words. On many tests today, a good number of points come from such open-ended items, and that’s where the real trouble begins.

 

Multiple-choice items are scored by machines, but open-ended items are scored by subjective humans who are prone to errors. I know because I was one of them. In 1994, I was a graduate student looking for part-time work. After a five-minute interview I got the job of scoring fourth-grade, state-wide reading comprehension tests. The for-profit testing company that hired me paid almost $8 an hour, not bad money for me at the time.

 

One of the tests I scored had students read a passage about bicycle safety. They were then instructed to draw a poster that illustrated a rule that was indicated in the text. We would award one point for a poster that included a correct rule and zero for a drawing that did not.

 

The first poster I saw was a drawing of a young cyclist, a helmet tightly attached to his head, flying his bike over a canal filled with flaming oil, his two arms waving wildly in the air. I stared at the response for minutes. Was this a picture of a helmet-wearing child who understood the basic rules of bike safety? Or was it meant to portray a youngster killing himself on two wheels?

 

I was not the only one who was confused. Soon several of my fellow scorers — pretty much people off the street, like me — were debating my poster, some positing that it clearly showed an understanding of bike safety while others argued that it most certainly did not. I realized then — an epiphany confirmed over a decade and a half of experience in the testing industry — that the score any student would earn mostly depended on which temporary employee viewed his response.

 

A few years later, still a part-time worker, I had a similar experience. For one project our huge group spent weeks scoring ninth-grade movie reviews, each of us reading approximately 30 essays an hour (yes, one every two minutes), for eight hours a day, five days a week. At one point the woman beside me asked my opinion about the essay she was reading, a review of the X-rated movie “Debbie Does Dallas.” The woman thought it deserved a 3 (on a 6-point scale), but she settled on that only after weighing the student’s strong writing skills against the “inappropriate” subject matter. I argued the essay should be given a 6, as the comprehensive analysis of the movie was artfully written and also made me laugh my head off.

 

All of the 100 or so scorers in the room soon became embroiled in the debate. Eventually we came to the “consensus” that the essay deserved a 6 (“genius”), or 4 (well-written but “naughty”), or a zero (“filth”). The essay was ultimately given a zero.

 

This kind of arbitrary decision is the rule, not the exception. The years I spent assessing open-ended questions convinced me that large-scale assessment was mostly a mad scramble to score tests, meet deadlines and rake in cash.

The cash, though, wasn’t bad. It was largely for this reason that I eventually became a project director for a private testing company. The scoring standards were still bleak. A couple of years ago I supervised a statewide reading assessment test. My colleague and I were relaxing at a pool because we believed we’d already finished scoring all of the tens of thousands of student responses. Then a call from the home office informed us that a couple of dozen unscored tests had been discovered.

 

Because our company’s deadline for returning the tests was that day, my colleague and I had to score them even though we were already well into happy hour. We spent the evening listening to a squeaky-voiced secretary read student answers to us over a scratchy speakerphone line, while we made decisions that could affect somebody’s future.

 

These are the kinds of tests, after all, that can help determine government financing for schools. There is already much debate over whether the progress that Secretary Duncan hopes to measure can be determined by standardized testing at all. But in the meantime, we can give more thought to who scores these tests. We could start by requiring that scoring be done only by professionals who have made a commitment to education — rather than by people like me.

 

Todd Farley is the author of the forthcoming “Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry.”

 

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

VISA VICTIMS

 

Anybody who has had the misfortune to apply for a UK visa in the last year will have entered the Byzantine domain of the British High Commission visa application process. Complaints about the inefficiency of the system, its impenetrability and virtually universal lack of response to enquiries be they by phone, email, FAX or tied around a rock and thrown over the wall – have become the stuff of dark legend. The matter has been highlighted by a Briton who has his adopted home in Pakistan – and has married a Pakistani. He appears regularly on our TV screens and in print – and went into print in the British newspaper ‘The Guardian’ recently (reprinted here in another English-language newspaper) to relate the tribulations associated with getting a UK visa for his wife.


The story he relates is similar to thousands of others – nobody answers the phone in Abu Dhabi where the visa office is located (yes, Abu Dhabi…security concerns); calling a visa hotline number that is now non-existent; generic ‘Dear Sir/Madam…’ emails from Islamabad or Abu Dhabi – a wall of silence and smothering fluff. The actual business of receiving the applications has been outsourced to a local courier company, who are also responsible for the initial interviewing of applicants and the screening of their applications. Smart new offices dedicated to this activity have been opened by visiting British dignitaries who speak flatulent nonsense about enhanced services, better customer relations and ‘being here to serve’. Today, irate and visa-less Pakistanis berate the local company to whom the work is outsourced – because they are at least visible and staffed by living breathing human beings.


Behind the meaningless and patronising platitudes we are offered in lieu of anything worthwhile there is a monster cock-up. Two years ago the UK re-jigged its immigration controls and agencies. The Border and Immigration Agency, HM Customs and UK Visas were all merged into a single body – the UK Border Agency. Merging agencies as disparate as that was a recipe for disaster; a disaster which has duly befallen this dribbling Frankenstein creature and become a global embarrassment to the UK generally. So far as Pakistan is concerned, the move of the principal decision making regarding visas to Abu Dhabi was made in the light of legitimate security concerns; as well as fears about the pressures that local staff here may come under once the identity of their employer becomes known to their extended family. There may be a backlog of up to 40,000 unprocessed visas in the pipeline. Thousands of students awaiting a visa to join their studies in the UK have seen the start of their semester come and go with no visa in sight – and no way of finding out when it might appear. Memo to UK Border Agency… ‘We are not all terrorists. Why do you treat us like a bunch of criminals? And can we have our passports back? Please.’

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

A NEW BEGINNING

 

It is now quite clear the US will remain engaged in Pakistan for some time to come. The significant aid packages that have been announced mean that there is no possibility of a swift pull out from the region. There are two ways of looking at this. There can be no doubt at all that the US has played a negative, neo-imperialist role in the region – for many decades and most notably since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. As the US secretary of state has herself said, it has over this time contributed greatly to the problems faced today. There is a lot to be said for a US pullout. It is hard to believe this would not help resolve matters, especially as hatred for the US has given rise to much of the angst and violence we face.


On the other hand, when we take a realistic assessment of the grim situation we face, there must be some doubt as to whether we can cope with it on our own. Many classical theories about how the world works stand in ruins: the Taliban are fiercely opposed to Washington, they also align themselves – in theory at least – with the poor and oppose feudalism. But they are never the less highly undesirable; even more so than the US. This then is the quandary we must live with. Perhaps Washington should be held responsible for all the wrongs it has done and be made to help us climb out of the deep pit into which we have been pushed. This is an issue that needs debate. Islamabad meanwhile must also find ways to lay down the blueprint for a new kind of relationship with Washington. The money they pour in must not allow them to assume the role of masters. The equation must be a more equitable one. The challenge for Pakistan is to find a way to make this possible and set the necessary wheels in motion to drive towards this goal.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

SWINE FLU CASES

 

Four cases of swine flu have now been confirmed in Pakistan. It was of course always unrealistic to believe we would not see the sickness at our doorstep, given that the WHO has said swine flu is now fast emerging as the most prevalent variety of the influenza virus and continues to spread. The patients remain under treatment, in isolation wards. Doctors appear confident they will recover. But at the same time panic is growing. Concern has been demonstrated in many quarters. Schools have issued orders that all sick kids be kept at home. Clinics report a demand for vaccinations.


One of the reasons for this degree of alarm is the lack of information about swine flu. People perceive it as a fearful illness. Its name evokes terrible images, all the more so given where the virus originates from. But now that we have it in our midst, there is a need to create awareness about how to prevent spread. Good hand-washing techniques and obtaining flu shots can all help in this. Our health ministry must act to inform people about what is to be done, tell them that the illness is often no different to regular flu and thereby calm the many fears that exist.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

IS AID THE ANSWER?

BY DR SANIA NISHTAR


The meeting of Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP) convened on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York concluded by signalling unprecedented support to Pakistan. This was evidenced in both the representation at the meeting as well as in the approval announcement of the Kerry Lugar Bill, which is aimed at facilitating economic, security and socioeconomic assistance. This comment, with its focus on the development perspective is centred on exploring if aid is the answer to the current development challenges the country faces. The importance of three points is being underscored in this regard.


First of all, it must be recognised that the best way to improve development outcomes is through sustaining growth, increasing the employment rate and per-capita income and by addressing the core disparities of power, money and resources. This notwithstanding, it is generally accepted that if aid is used as a strategic input into a system and if the central systemic barriers which continue to impede its greater impact are addressed, it can be a useful tool and can catalyse development in a developing country setting. Based on this premise and research results, it is justified to argue for increased aid. However, expectations about its impact must be kept at reasonable levels in a country as large as Pakistan where aid is often grafted on local institutions without strengthening them from within.


Experiences from around the world show that “more resources” do not automatically translate into “more development.” If that was the case, Nigeria and Angola would be advanced countries based on oil resources alone, and would not rank 154th and 157th out of 179 countries on the Human Development Index. Clearly, the effectiveness of aid is dependent on some specific characteristics of a country—the critical link being the effectiveness of governance.


Secondly, even if we imagine that development depended critically on external resource transfers, there are many sources besides aid, which should additionally be leveraged. Friends could forgive more debt and could even go as far as wiping out external indebtedness, as they have done for some countries in Africa. They could give Pakistan better market access, a point being repeatedly made by Finance Minister Tarin these days. Friends must also carefully explore the amount of tariffs they collect vis-à-vis the money they provide in aid and facilitate trade by dismantling the barriers to exports from Pakistan, if they want a sustained effect of the goodwill they have signalled yesterday.


They could also facilitate ethical “export” of human resource on the premise that the approach can enable earning foreign remittances, albeit whilst concomitantly building country capacity to implement appropriate retention regulation to ensure that the critically needed workforce is retained in the country. They could also help widen the definition of public goods by easing some of the impediments that are inadvertently placed on development such as through Intellectual Property Rights, particularly in the domain of medical products and technological solutions. Pakistan will have to be fully compliant with the patent regime under the stipulations of World Trade Organisation Agreements and Pakistan’s Patent Ordinance, in 2016, which is when these considerations will assume importance. Furthermore, as Pakistan is envisaged to face the most deleterious consequences of global warming, given the storage capacity of glaciers and monsoon patterns, the Friends can also help by building capacity for responsible environmental management. Most importantly, strategic technical inputs, subsidies, diplomatic and market interventions in many other areas can ensure energy, food and water security—all of them critically needed as the backbone of development.

Thirdly, much can be done within the purview of traditional bilateral and multilateral Official Development Assistance (ODA) to enhance effectiveness. As a starting point, clarity of objectives is critical. A historical review of ODA in Pakistan shows that integration of foreign policy and development objectives has not yielded far-reaching development dividends in Pakistan, so far. There has traditionally been a very strong correlation between geo-political motivations and the volume of ODA channelled into Pakistan. The increase in ODA in the decade of 1954-64 in concert with Pakistan’s signing of mutual defence assistance agreements with the US in the Cold War era; in the 1980s in the wake of the Afghan war; post-9/11 for obvious reasons and the troughs in the pattern of aggregate allocations in the periods in between, are illustrative in this regard. Donors must therefore clearly separate objectives and develop broad-based channels of communication so that they can benefit from impartial inputs from a broad constituency of stake holders, and analyse the implications of integrating foreign policy and development objectives in Pakistan’s complex body politic.


The mode of channelling of resources is another consideration. Over the years, donors have rallied around a number of approaches to disbursement, each with its own set of problems. Experiences with Project assistance and Sector Wise Approaches led to intra and inter-sectoral imbalances. Programme assistance was introduced as a way of mitigating these challenges. It was envisaged that by agreeing on a set of criteria with the government and reimbursing them according to a predetermined percentage, as in the case of the Social Action Programme (SAP), earlier problems could be mitigated. SAP dominated donor disbursement strategies from 1992-96 but without the impact envisaged. More recently, the tendency to give aid on budget is the third disbursement channel—an approach endorsed by the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda. Many bilateral development agencies operating in Pakistan have made increasing use of this disbursement channel, on the understanding that coordinating and pooling aid in support of strategies led by the government, can strengthen country systems and minimise duplication and high transaction costs. However, systemic weaknesses have prevented the government from fully benefiting from ODA inputs, whilst also precluding realisation of donor development objectives. Donors are experimenting with yet another approach to disbursement in the new package of assistance, as evidenced in yesterday’s announcement through the creation of a multi-donor trust fund. The approach has the potential to be useful if the fund parameters include a truly impartial, inclusive, and participatory governance arrangement, open disclosure policies and third party audit.


There are other things that both sides can do to improve aid effectiveness. The Pakistani government should strengthen fiduciary systems and prioritise, transparency-building measures, a call for which has been renewed in the tabling of Transparency International’s recent reports. The Friends, on the other hand, must be sensitive to connotations of conditionality, refrain from using regional unified approaches to policy such as Af-Pak, which the foreign office dislikes and ensure that aid does not undermine local accountability. Donors should also look beyond traditional modes of development assistance to help create frameworks that can incentivise private-sector participation in development and infrastructure building; some core considerations in this regard have been flagged in these columns by the author on June 11, this year.


Most importantly, in the present drive to scale up, it is also important not to promise too much and be mindful of the fact that the Tokyo pledges remain fully unrealised. This package of support is not analogous to the Marshall Plan for many reasons, which have been highlighted by the author in these columns on April 28. This is a very different world; the donors are just emerging from the throes of a financial crisis and Pakistan is faced with many internal and external, conventional and unconventional security challenges. We need to use donors’ inputs and development resources to catalyze broad-based change rather than pursuing conventional time bound outcome based targets. Aid can only be a catalyst and that too, if effectively used. The ultimate onus of responsibility for making the quantum leaps needed in Pakistan today lies on the shoulders of those who govern it.
The writer is founding-president of Heartfile. Email: sania@heartfile. org

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

RIGHT TO INFORMATION

BY LAWRENCE CARTER


Almost a year has passed since President Zardari, addressing the parliament for the first time after taking office, promised to protect the right to information of the people of Pakistan. So far there has been no indication of when this will take place, thus raising questions over Zardari’s commitment to recognising this fundamental human right.


In a speech on August 19, however, Senator Raza Rabbani reasserted PPP’s commitment to promoting freedom of information, stating that the issue would soon be taken to the parliament for consideration and arguing that citizens “should have knowledge about all important issues, including those related to economy and defence.”


While this affirmation is a welcome development, it is important to remember both Zardari’s unfulfilled pledge and the fact that Pakistan already possesses legislation in the form of the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002, which remains largely unused. Indeed, both Sindh and Balochistan possess similarly unused laws. While it may appear that the government supports freedom of information, the swiftness with which it is given legal force and the quality of the enacted legislation will be the true tests of this commitment.


Despite being the first country in South Asia to grant its citizens a right to access official documents, Pakistan’s freedom of information legislation has, thus far, not been used as well as similar laws in India or, say, Mexico. This can partly be attributed to a lack of political will. The introduction of the law was a precondition of an Asian Development Bank (ADB) loan and, as a product of the Musharraf regime, never debated by the parliament. The political momentum to see the legislation fully implemented has consequently been absent.


Deficiencies within the legislation have been even more fundamental to the lack of implementation. For example, the law places no clear obligation on the federal and provincial governments to educate people about their right to access information. Moreover, it does not place a clear obligation on the authorities to design and conduct training programmes for officers who are to implement this law.


It has consequently fallen to civil society groups and non-governmental organisations to attempt to raise awareness and educate the public. A recent workshop in Karachi organised by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Shehri-CBE and Liberal Forum Pakistan, for example, focused upon practical techniques for effectively utilising Pakistan’s Freedom of Information Ordinance. While the Ordinance is a deeply flawed piece of legislation, it is clear that gathering momentum around the issue of freedom of information by institutionalising the practice of submitting requests is imperative if there is to be change. It is only through attempting to use this legislation that citizens can come to understand its many deficiencies and realise the value of a well-formulated law.


It is thus essential that the government consults with the civil society over the contents of freedom-of-information legislation. Indeed, this very issue was given prominence when journalist and human-rights activist Husain Naqi gave a lecture on ‘The promise of and demand for freedom of information in Pakistan.’ Speaking in Karachi, Naqi argued that the 2002 Ordinance was flawed and that new legislation should be based on recommendations presented by civil society.


As things currently stand, gaining access to information in Pakistan is an exercise in futility. In order to ensure that future legislation is effective, it must take into account international standards of best practice, such as the set of “Principles on Freedom of Information” endorsed by the United Nations Special Rapporteur in 2000 or those established by Right to Information legislation in India, the UK and, more recently, Bangladesh.


It is essential, for instance, that limits on disclosure are minimal and extremely specific. The general standard must be one of maximum disclosure, with the burden of proving that restricting access is in the public interest resting with public bodies. It is crucial that the authorities appreciate the fact that information held by the government belongs to the people. It has been paid for with public funds and has been collected by government institutions that exist to serve the people of Pakistan.


Unfortunately, the previous regime’s lack of consultation with stakeholders has meant that the ordinance falls far short of this standard. In particular, the definition of what constitutes information is extremely restrictive.

 

Section 8, for instance, excludes from the public domain: minutes from meetings, opinions and recommendations, records relating to national security, classified documents and “any other record which the federal government may, in public interest, exclude from the purview of this ordinance.” This contrasts greatly with India’s Right to Information Act, 2005, in which exceptions are narrowly defined and which enables citizens to acquire information relating to allegations of corruption and human-rights violations.


In addition to permitting the public to submit requests, institutions must also be required to proactively disseminate information related to their functioning. This is particularly important, since it places information that citizens may not have existed into the public domain, while also reducing the number of requests submitted to authorities. While the ordinance does indeed legislate for proactive dissemination, its provisions are inadequate, failing to mandate the disclosure of financial information and ignoring the difficulties of publishing information in remote areas. The issue of costs is also a major factor in the failure of the ordinance. The process of requesting information should be as simple and inexpensive as possible. Yet, under the current law costs are prohibitively high and do not take into account financial disparities, undermining the capacity of the poor to use the legislation to protect their rights.


The freedom of information has long been recognised as a fundamental human right. Indeed, it is now more commonly referred to as the Right to Information (RTI). While Pakistan acknowledged its importance back in 2002 it is clear that the current law is merely a paper tiger, largely failing to facilitate the public’s right to information. Despite this, the existence of the ordinance does provide a vital tool with which to agitate for reform. Bombarding officials with information requests, for example, could force them to modernise record-keeping systems or, at the very least, set in motion a change in mindset among civil servants. Alternatively, the failure to introduce such procedures could lead to popular discontent and heightened pressure for a satisfactory law. Either way, increased action, rather than apathy, will pave the way to reform.


The writer works at Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

POLITICS OF DEALS

BY MALIK AMIN ASLAM


H G Wells said that “in politics, strangely enough, the best way to play your cards is to lay them face upwards on the table.” But Pakistani politics is played out with the cards firmly placed face down. The recent admission by President Asif Zardari that the resignation and exit of former president Musharraf was part of a “political deal” has been a rare exception to this. In an air of denials and counter-denials the president, at least, needs to be commended on telling the truth for a change. The evidence of the “golf deal” was visible in Musharraf’s farewell address, the full guard of honour and then the trouble-free stay and exit from the country. What is quite surprising, however, is the sudden PML-N outburst on the issue, considering that it was kept fully abreast of the situation through the visits of the foreign “patrons” weeks before the event to cement the arrangement.


Unfortunately, the politics of foreign-brokered political deals has now become a regular feature and bane of our country’s politics. The roots of this ailment lie in the limitations of the weak leadership that this country is cursed with at the moment – with these individuals captive to their slippery pasts, chained to their assets and interest abroad and fully compromised by their exposed weaknesses. All of these provide effective levers of control over them as they invariably need to dance to the tunes of their respective foreign patrons who also have to be invoked every time a political change occurs in the country. The enactment of the visionless government solely based on a doctrine of donor dependency and the “loot” sale of our national sovereignty is, thereby, a natural consequence of this ailment.


The initiation of this shameful chapter in our political history was the continuously denied but undeniably evident “palace deal” when the leaders of the PML-N were whisked out of Attock Jail to their palatial abode in Saudi Arabia and then, upon their return, again needed a royal escort to enter the country. This was the politics of expediency which gave a first foothold to the, now well entrenched foreign guarantors of our national polity. This deal marked a sharp slide from our political past which had proudly witnessed a brave leader go to the gallows instead of bow to a dictator or beg for foreign mediation. Quite ironically, however, the party of that leader also went astray as they also treaded the path of pragmatism with the soon to be followed “NRO deal.” This political arrangement, again through foreign doors, allowed the late Benazir Bhutto to re-enter the fray of Pakistani politics. To her misfortune, it turned out to be a “deal with the devil.” Being a people’s leader, she got swayed by popular sentiment and started slipping away from the deal for which she had to eventually pay with her life — as an artificially crafted political setup took the reigns in Pakistan.


The usual suspects of our political deal-making were again invoked when the time came for Musharraf’s exit through the “golf deal.” The mannerism of his exit confirmed, even to a political layman, that it had happened with full immunity and consent of the major political forces and, of course, guaranteed by the foreign protectors. The recent chain reaction meetings in the holy city provide ample circumstantial evidence of the players who were party to the deal. At the same time, since his exit, the sharp escalation of US “ground” presence in the country points towards the enhanced levels of submissive acceptance that the tenants of the deal had agreed to. With the passage of a year the benefactors of the “golf deal” are all justifiably obvious — Zardari snatched the Presidency, Nawaz smoothly removed his arch enemy out of the Presidency, Musharraf secured political indemnity and the foreign “benefactors” ensured an enhanced erosion of our sovereign space to play their war games in – dirty political collusion at its best and all at the cost of Pakistan.


Quite ironically, however, in this era of political deals the only deal that our leaders do not warrant worth honouring is the deal made with the hapless people of Pakistan – the “Charter of Democracy.” Signed and sealed in 2006, it was heralded as a landmark achievement marking a historic turnaround of our political fortunes. It was the rallying cry of the elections in 2008 and was the solemn pledge given to the people of the country by the two major political parties. The people of Pakistan, as always, responded to yet another slogan of hope and returned both the major parties to the assembly which, at its inception, resounded with pledges of religiously adhering to this holy political charter.


Almost two years down the line, a midterm review of this political commitment presents a pitiable scorecard. Almost 80 percent of the Charter lies unfulfilled including the promises for the immediate restoration of the 1973 Constitution, the institution of a high-powered parliamentary commission for appointment of judges and establishment of an independent election commission and the holding of party based local body elections in the country. The “flowering of undiluted democracy” as enshrined in the public resolve remains a fleeting dream. It seems that the spirit of democracy, which was supposed to be rekindled by the CoD has been conveniently bartered away for a self serving era of institutionalised corruption. The “reconciliation” mantra is being used, or abused, only to extend a blanket pardon for a decade of earlier misdeeds and corruption. The oft-used term “Parliament will decide” has become an acronym for political inaction as major elements of the CoD have been relegated to the shelves of procrastinating parliamentary committees. All the while, the Parliament which should have become the forum for people’s power and the basic pillar of this revived democracy has been rendered completely rudderless and a meaningless debating forum as the political parties remain committed to this “Barter of democracy.”


In the above backdrop, the only deal with is solidly standing the test of time and regime changes in the country is the “Mother of all deals” made by our successive political, or non-political, players with our foreign “guarantors.” This bargain of our national sovereignty in lieu of a spate in power in the country is a continuing arrangement which ensures that, as long as our leadership remains surviving on foreign crutches and subsumed by their dirty deals, the country helplessly slides downward towards a collapse of governance most evident in two vitally impacted areas – food and security.


The people of Pakistan have been left alone, and exposed, to cope with “Blackwater” mercenaries while the government hides in a cocooned existence behind heightening walls, barriers and bullet-proof vehicles and the expanding and increasingly intrusive presence of foreign armed forces cast a looming shadow over our national security. Simultaneously, mismanaged governance is leading to artificial shortages of food items – sugar, flour and milk – pushing people to the brinks of despair and despondency.


The ugly decade of underhand political deal-making has landed us in a pitiable position. The only silver lining on the horizon is that this sad predicament is rapidly exposing the current players and creating a leadership vacuum, which is growing wider every day and by its nature cannot stay for long. Hopefully this situation may unearth an uncompromised leadership which can steer this country away from the disastrous abyss it is perilously heading towards.


The writer is a former minister of state. Email: amin@isb.comsats.net.pk

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

GOOD INSTINCTS ARE NOT ENOUGH

BY TALAT MASOOD


The country faces an extraordinary situation. No one trusts its top political leadership. The print and electronic media is in overdrive to give it a bad name and some commentators are leading the onslaught against President Zardari. The politics of negativism is gaining ascendancy. The media no doubt are justified in criticising some of his actions, but it has personalised the issue and brought in lot of subjectivity and emotion. President Zardari is stonewalling the criticism by ignoring it, not realising that it creates despondency among the public.


Clearly, Nawaz Sharif has gained a lot in popular standing but is not in a position to challenge Zardari for a show-down. The PML (N) realises that any attempt on their part to dislodge the government will undermine the system and encourage the army to reassert politically. Nawaz Sharif is also aware of the sensitivities of the smaller provinces as any move on his part to destabilise the government could be perceived as an attempt by “Punjab-military axis” to deny smaller provinces their right to being equal partners in the federation.


The army has learnt its lesson that military take-overs have cost the army and the country heavily. Its extensive involvement in counterinsurgency operations and the fact that militants will be emboldened if the army assumes political control is a major deterrent against any adventurism. Foreign countries, especially the US and the western powers, will react strongly to military rule and Pakistan’s isolation will increase manifold. At the domestic level the judiciary will not provide the usual legal cover. Moreover, General Kayani would like to stay away from political power. This however, does not imply that the military will be indifferent to widespread corruption and a deteriorating law and order situation.


Similarly, it would be imprudent on part of President Zardari to take Washington for granted. The United States is investing heavily in terms of financial assistance, political capital and military resources and will not tolerate the squandering away of its assistance to bad governance and massive corruption. President Zardari is well advised to draw lessons from how Karzai brought Afghanistan on the brink of a chasm and his own reputation to an all-time low. The fight against Taliban has been the first casualty of the inept handling by Karzai.


If the president will not make a serious effort to improve his reputation by countering rumours of corruption, they will stick and largely neutralise the benefits of US assistance and goodwill. Above all, it will be sad if Pakistan once again misses this great historic opportunity by failing to capitalise on the prevailing international goodwill.

It is also true that cynicism, prejudices and a simplistic black and white approach towards issues blinds us from seeing the positive side of our leaders. Surprisingly, in many areas, the president’s instincts are right. His unambiguous and categorical stand on terrorism and extremism, support to the military in counter-insurgency operations and the desire to promote good relations with India and Afghanistan must be given credit.


President Zardari’s visits to China every quarter have been a subject of ridicule. But again, if seen in the context of China as an ascending global economic and military power, developing multi-faceted economic and strategic linkages with it could be extremely rewarding. One can surely fault him for micro-managing some of the business transactions which is not his job. He should be giving general direction and then leave the implementation to the relevant functionaries. There is a growing demand on him to conduct the affairs of the state in a more transparent manner and invoke institutional accountability all around to improve his credibility.

His idea to have the “Friends of Pakistan” forum can turn out to be a useful instrument for the assembled countries to assist Pakistan. The country needs political support and economic assistance, and this is an excellent platform for doing the same.


The president should, however, know that it is not enough to have good instincts unless they are matched by a coherent vision. He needs to translate his instincts into an overarching vision and then market it to the nation. His working mostly outside the normal institutional framework of the government does not help in improving his credibility or the image of the country. The indictment of Transparency International coinciding with the “Friends of Pakistan” meeting will only reinforce the apprehensions that our leaders are engaged in personal aggrandisement and personal vanity.


It is fleeting moment and we have to use it to the best advantage by engaging in nation-building tasks. President Zardari and the current leadership will be judged by the people only by these criteria.


The writer is a retired lieutenant-general. Email: talat@comsats.net.pk

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

STATE AND ETHNIC CONFLICT

BY DR RUBINA SAIGOL


In a highly centralised and authoritarian state, the rights of the federating units tend to be undermined. The issue of provincial autonomy has acquired added urgency in the face of simmering discontent and alienation among the provinces against the monopolisation of power and resources by the centre. The state in Pakistan has engaged in prolonged and serious conflicts with four out of five of its original units because of the denial of provincial autonomy.


When the state was initially imagined, a federal structure was envisaged. The Pakistan Resolution of 1940 declared that “areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.” Maximum autonomy and sovereign control were inherent in the very foundation of the new state. However, increasing centralisation led to the construction of a state that was severely distorted.


Religious nationalism, which in the struggle for Pakistan was a unifying force, had outgrown its validity once Pakistan was created. As Hamza Alavi points out, “the moment that Pakistan was established, Muslim nationalism in India had fulfilled itself and outlived its purpose. Now there was a fresh equation of privilege and deprivation to be reckoned with in the new state. Virtually overnight there were ethnic redefinitions. Punjabis who were the most numerous could boast of a greater percentage of people with higher education and were most firmly entrenched in both the army (being 85 per cent of the armed forces) and the bureaucracy. They were the new bearers of privilege, the true ‘Muslim’ for whom Pakistan was created. The weaker ‘salariats’ of Bengal, Sindh, Sarhad and Balochistan did not share this and accordingly they redefined their identities as Bengalis, Sindhis, Pathans and Baloch who now demanded fairer shares for themselves.” The authoritarian state attempted national integration through the use of religion in an attempt to weaken language-based ethnic nationalism. For example, Ayub Khan declared in 1962 that “it is immaterial whether you are a Bengali or a Sindhi, a Balochi or a Pathan or a Punjabi – we are all knit together by the bond of Islam.”


The sense of deprivation and anger among the federating units began as early as the 50s when the language conflict broke out over Urdu being declared the national language despite Bengali representing the language of the majority. Moreover, the foreign exchange earnings from East Pakistani jute went into the development of West Pakistan while the Eastern half was deprived of development. The economic disparities were such that when Ayub Khan seized power in 1958, the per capita income differential between the two wings was 30 per cent. By the end of the first five-year plan in 1965, this difference increased to 45 per cent and by the time of Ayub Khan’s removal in 1968, it had grown to 61 per cent. The West Pakistani rulers were unwilling to share power with East Pakistanis or recognise them as equals. When the Awami League won 151 out 153 national assembly seats in the 1970 elections, the military and civilian rulers of West Pakistan refused to transfer power to the legally elected party. A reign of terror was unleashed on East Pakistan, the leaders were declared traitors and conspirators, and finally the Punjab-dominated army committed untold atrocities upon the Bengalis leading to a resistance movement which culminated with the separation of East Pakistan from its exploitative western wing.

In West Pakistan, the creation of one-unit in 1955 led to the fear of erasure of cultural and ethnic identities among the units. Balochistan, where the Shahi Jirga had voted to join Pakistan, was repeatedly denied its just share and rights in the new federation. There were resistance movements in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. In the 70s, an armed movement began in which combat helicopters were used against 55,000 Baloch guerillas fighting 80,000 troops. Around 15,000 Baloch were killed in the army action. In 2004, the military built cantonments and resistance against militarisation by the centre led to the death of Nawab Akbar Bugti and seething resentment against the centre. The capture of Baloch resources such as gas, zinc, gold, copper and marble, and the failure to pay just royalty have led to alienation among Baloch youth who have joined liberation movements. The disparities are glaring: the per capita income of Balochis is 60 per cent of Punjabis and their representation in civil services is around one fourth compared to other provinces. The literacy rate is the lowest in Pakistan while its share of industrialisation in the 80s was 0.7 per cent. In recent times, the largest number of missing people was from Balochistan.


The state was once again embroiled in violent conflicts in the decades of the 80s and 90s in Sindh. August-December 1983 saw a massive civil disobedience movement in Sindh, during which several activists courted arrest and risked imprisonment and state violence. Helicopter gunships were used by the military to suppress the revolt in which hundreds were killed and wounded. Selig Harrison reports that in this uprising, 45,000 Punjabi troops faced make-shift Sindhi guerilla outfits and the Sindhi death toll came to 300 people. According to Shahid Kardar, “the alleged death of 50 students at the Thori Railway crossing and the horror of the action taken to suppress the Sindhis in 1986 have left very deep wounds in Sindh.” Sindh contributes 67 per cent of the national revenue and receives roughly only 23 per cent as its share in the NFC award. The tail-end of the Indus receives so little water in the IRSA system that Sindh’s agriculture is threatened with extinction. The insistence of Punjab that the Kalabagh Dam should be constructed is yet another wound that threatens violence in this historically peaceful and tolerant land of Sufi saints. In the 90s, Karachi saw a prolonged conflict between the state and the Urdu-speaking Mohajirs with crimes committed by all sides in the conflict. Even though the Sindh Assembly was the first to vote to join Pakistan, Sindhis have not received their due share and rights as the province that feeds the country.


The latest conflict is the military action in Pakhtoonkhwa to root out militants created and nurtured by the state itself. Scores of civilians have been killed by both the military and militants. Pakhtoonkhwa too has historical grievances. Its leaders were declared traitors for their commitment to peace and composite nationalism. It has not received just royalty for its water resources, and its objections to the Kalabagh Dam are ignored by Punjab. The intransigent attitude of Punjab in objecting to the change of name to Pakhtoonkhwa can have serious consequences for a state locked in struggles with its units. The ethnic and linguistic sharing of identities across the Durand Line can ultimately challenge the integrity of a state perpetually at war with itself.


A highly centralised state has suppressed the unique and multiple identities of the federating units. There is a long concurrent legislative list that encroaches upon provincial rights. The only way for the state to survive is to recognise the rights of the sovereign and autonomous units and, with the exception of defence, foreign affairs, currency and communication all subjects should be in the provincial list only. The NFC award needs to be based on multiple criteria including under-development, population and revenue generation. The lower riparian should receive its just share of the waters of the Indus river. Until the state dismantles its colonial structure of exploiting the units as colonies, conflict and insecurity are likely to persist.


Email: rubinasaigol@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

POSTMEN AND LIBRARIES

BY CHRIS CORK


Ms Louise Price sailed over my front gate yesterday – not in person, but in spirit. She came in a large buff envelope all the way from Margate library, where she works. Margate is a seaside town in England, popular with day-trippers and holidaymakers of ‘a certain age’. Also in the envelope was a small slice of my own childhood and family history in the form of photocopies of a newspaper published in August 1955.


To explain…I have been researching the background for a piece on family holidays and tourism and decided to include a tale from my own past, a tale of which my memory is dimmed by time and so went in search of source material on the internet. Eventually I found myself, via the Kent Archives office, in the Margate library. Had I been conducting my search pre-internet and email, this would have taken weeks, perhaps months, but within a few days I was in contact with a person who was able to find what I was looking for. We discussed the means of transmission – I don’t have a fax so that was out, the documents I wanted were not scannable and thus could not be emailed to me, so in the end it came down to the postman. It is a chain of events like that which are the genetic codes of columns such as this, and I fell to thinking about libraries and postmen.


We have libraries here in Pakistan to be sure, some of them wonderful, but they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. Public libraries are usually underfunded in a country where hunger and poverty have a greater call on the public purse; and those I have been in here seem to be populated by men so ancient as to be worthy of classification as museum pieces themselves. I have spoken to librarians, dedicated men and a very few women, who have managed to scratch a living out of their love for books and learning, and they tell of having to fight for scant resources and never being at the front of any queue when it comes to money being handed out. Were I to talk to the Chief Librarian in Margate I am sure he or she would tell me a rich-country version of the same story; the difference would be in scale but the narrative very similar I suspect.


Also similar would be the ‘can I help you’ culture that seems to be a feature of libraries the world over (I make a point of visiting libraries wherever I go…libraries tell you things that you don’t overhear at bus stops or in bars). It was that ‘can I help you’ mindset that was the motive power behind the envelope that came over my gate, and it seems hard-wired into librarians everywhere. Libraries are a vital global resource and many of them are online these days with much of their material free at point-of-use. I have a lifetime of using libraries behind me and use then almost unthinkingly, so much a part of my ‘working tools’ are they. But it was that combination of the old and the new, the internet and Ms Price and the postman (who must be close to claiming his pension) that made me stop and think. Without that combination of people and services, the piece I am writing would be the poorer, a light has shone on a childhood memory and two people who will never meet – Messrs Price and Cork – shook cyber-hands across continents and went their separate ways. And the postman? Well I wish he would ring the bell before hurling English lady librarians over the gate.


The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: manticore73@gmail.com

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

INDIA’S ORCHESTRATED PAK BASHING

 

PAKISTAN has done well by taking timely notice of the statement by Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in which he blamed Islamabad of using terror as an instrument of state policy against New Delhi. Foreign Office spokesman regretted over these uncalled for and harsh assertions of the Indian leader ahead of meetings of Foreign Secretaries and Foreign Ministers of the two countries.


The statement by the Indian Prime Minister on the side lines of the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh is in line with New Delhi’s decades old policy of blaming Pakistan at international forums and projecting itself as a secular democracy without giving any consideration to the state sponsored terrorism in occupied Kashmir and against its minorities.Unfortunately India instead of appreciating Pakistan’s fight against terrorism has opted for the orchestrated campaign of Pakistan bashing and linked itself with the tirade of the West against Islamabad. From the statement of the Indian leader it should be clear to those powers that wanted to see resumption of dialogue between the two countries that New Delhi has its own agenda of Pakistan bashing rather than addressing key issues that confront the two South Asian neighbours including the long standing dispute of Jammu and Kashmir, resolution of which is important for lasting peace and prosperity of the toiling masses. In fact Dr Manmohan Singh gave a clear message that there would be no forward movement in talks between the two countries in New York. The Indian Prime Minister had been under tremendous pressure from the ruling Congress Party and the Opposition BJP after the Sharm el Sheikh meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani at which he agreed to delink the dialogue process from the issue of terrorists attacks in Mumbai. Pakistan took timely action and arrested those behind the dastardly act of Mumbai but there is need for concrete evidence to prosecute them. Pakistan as a sovereign country takes decisions on its own and cannot accept the dictates of others. Instead of sticking to just one point agenda of Mumbai attacks, India must pay heed to the demand of the civil society and masses of the two countries so that their meagre resources are diverted for the welfare of the poverty stricken millions. New Delhi must see reasons and give up its old stance of bashing and pressurising the small neighbours. Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary after his talks in New York with his Indian counterpart rightly stated that relationship between the two countries cannot be held or brought to a standstill because of a trial or one investigation and the need is to move on the basis of positive momentum set at Sharm el Sheikh for good neighbourly relations and resolution of outstanding disputes.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

LET VAT BE THOROUGHLY DEBATED

 

THE Chairman of the Federal Board of Revenue(FBR) Sohail Ahmed at a meeting with businessmen in Karachi has stated that introduction of Value Added Tax(VAT) to replace the GST to be introduced from next year would require approval by Parliament for bringing goods and services under federal regime.


While discussing the replacement of GST with VAT he elaborated that it was at the preliminary stage, as it will be levied on goods and services. The issue is ticklish, as provinces are demanding more share in taxes and even some have their reservation on handing over the collection of VAT on services to the Centre. The collecton of tax on services is a provincial subject while on goods it comes under the Federal Government regime. Without taking the Provinces on board, implementation of VAT may be difficult as there is feeling that the Federal Government was interfering in their internal affairs and impinging their autonomy. We appreciate that the FBR is trying its level best to increase the revenue generation to meet the development and other needs of the country and without full cooperation of the business community it will not be possible to achieve the given targets in view of the sluggish nature of the economy in the present day scenario. Some experts are of the opinion that more than Rs 600 billion of taxes were not being paid and that was why the country was relying heavily on foreign aid to meet its development needs. Another worrying aspect is that rampant smuggling of foreign goods is denying the national exchequer of billions of rupees taxes. To achieve the revenue target of Rs 1380 billion, which the FBR Chairman said was not ambitious when compared with the previous years trends, support of trade and industry is vital and some innovative ideas would be needed to widen the tax base. The interaction of the FBR Chairman with the business community would surely leave a positive impact on them but we would stress that as far as VAT is concerned all stake holders must be taken on board so that it is introduced with consensus.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

PAKISTAN NEEDS MORE SIALKOTS

 

SIALKOT Chamber of Commerce and Industry celebrated its Silver Jubilee by hosting a grand function, which was attended by Minister of State Saleem Mandiwalla, members of the SCCI, businessmen from other chambers and prominent people from various walks of life.


Sialkot is famous for production of surgical instruments, leather goods, embroidery, ready-made garments, musical instruments and sports goods. Most of the goods produced are exported the world over and their quality is appreciated. Through these exports the country earns valuable foreign exchange and at the same time the city provides job opportunities to the local people. It was also once famous as a centre for the manufacture of damascened ware and paper and its other industries include flour and cotton mills. Realizing the importance of the city, a dry port was set up and now an international airport is under construction in the city, which is also being funded by business community of the city. Sialkot, known as the city of Iqbal, has a rich culture and it has the highest rate of literacy in Punjab. As Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry is very active having a progressive mindset and continue to promote and develop industrial units through innovation and adopting changing trends in technology, the Minister of State assured that the government is taking steps to provide enabling atmosphere for the entrepreneurs of Sialkot to make their industrial units more vibrant and profitable. While lauding the landmark projects of the Chamber and its contributions in the national economy we strongly believe that there is need for at least three or more cities to be developed and run on the pattern of Sialkot so that they too contribute in industrial development of the country.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

PEACE WAGON IN A RUT?

FRIENDLY FIRE

KHALID SALEEM


The results of the Sharm-el-Sheikh meeting between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan and its confusing aftermath appear to have generated more questions than answers. For the moment one would confine oneself to the prospects of the much-vaunted composite dialogue between Pakistan and India, The situation remains murky. One pens this more in grief than anger, because one had put by considerable hope and aspiration on this process. The process had had its ups and downs, but one had not lost confidence in the native wisdom of the leaderships of the region to rise to the occasion and proffer what their peoples had been clamouring for all these past years. This, it now appears evident, has not materialized. From all appearance, we are where we were at the start of this blessed exercise. All that the two sides have been doing so far is – to use military parlance – marking time. Are we to conclude, then, that this is in the destiny of our peoples?


The restoration of a democratic dispensation in this country had raised hopes that the process would at long find its true bearings. For one thing, there was the possibility that the elusive ‘political will’ to settle issues could at long last emerge to spring a surprise on an expectant populace. Nothing of the sort happened. All one heard was more of the oft-repeated rhetoric. One just does not know what - or what not - to expect from our Foreign Minister’s visit to New York. Should our Foreign Ministers opt to stay put in the CBM rut – which appears highly likely - what hope is there for any forward movement? What the Peace Wagon needs is a shoulder to the wheel. And now, a reality check! To begin with, let us have a look at whatever happened to the so-called ‘core’ issue. Very little was reported about the outcome of the ‘back-channel diplomacy’ that was being indulged in by the two sides, except for inspired articles once in a while in an obvious attempt to keep the interest alive.
Now that one hears that the new dispensation appears to be inclined to continue this “clandestine diplomacy”, one can only hope and pray for the best. The nation had some expectation that that the luminaries who indulged in this commendable exercise would have produced a rabbit or two out of their undercover hat, but one can hardly be certain of this or anything else for that matter. A new name is being touted in the press as the back-channel representative of the Land of the Pure. One can only hope he does not carry the label of “made in the USA’.


The man-in-the-street can hardly be blamed for laying great store by these hush-hush parleys that apparently went on unannounced in various exotic locations at not inconsiderable cost to the tax-payer. What is he to surmise now? Diplomacy is an art that is not overly easy to fathom. At the risk of being branded old-fashioned, one has always held on to the belief that successful diplomacy can never be conducted either by being overly coy or by displaying one’s hand in advance. Nor can one gain much by leaning on the crutch of the media to further one’s cause. Admittedly, diplomacy is the art of the possible. It would be advisable, nonetheless, to make it a point in negotiation not to reach out for the moon nor, alternatively, to be content with a view of its reflection in a muddy pond.


A skillful negotiator would never stoop to tell a deliberate lie, since such recourse is bound to undermine his credibility for good. There would appear to be little harm, though, were a negotiator opt to “withhold the truth” should the circumstances so demand. Simulation and dissimulation have come to be regarded as acceptable norms of international diplomatic behaviour. Having got these rather disjointed remarks off one’s chest, one can perhaps now move on to a reality check of the much vaunted India-Pakistan ‘composite peace dialogue’. At the risk of being brusque, one has no hesitation in averring that the composite dialogue process appeared to have run out of steam even before the Mumbai episode put a spoke in the wheel. It must be admitted that all the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) that were put on the table and, by and large, put into operation have singularly failed to create a dent in the somewhat brittle state of relations between the two countries.
In the meetings of the negotiating groups, two of the significant issues that had been taken up related to Siachin and Sir Creek. On neither was any forward movement discernable. One makes particular mention of these issues since they have major implications in the process of normalization of relations between the two countries. To these has been added the water apportionment issue, no less weighty. The Siachin issue will not only have an impact on whatever future dispensation is to be agreed upon by India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir, but will also have a direct bearing on the future equation between the subcontinent and the Peoples’ Republic of China. The significance of the boundary agreement arrived at between Pakistan and China in the sixties can hardly be ignored. India’s insistence on “recognition of ground realities” in Siachin could knock the base out of Pakistan’s case vis-à-vis China on the boundary question. Any understanding on the Siachin squabble will have to be enmeshed with, and become an integral part of, any eventual settlement of Jammu and Kashmir, presuming that such a denouement is on the cards.


The issue of Sir Creek, that is due to come up for discussions in due course for the umpteen time, is of particular importance since it will have a direct bearing on the India-Pakistan maritime boundary and, thereby on the demarcation of Pakistan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) under the Law of the Sea Convention. An equitable settlement on Sir Creek could well be regarded as the litmus test of honourable (or otherwise) intentions of either side.


The region of South Asia has suffered a lot due mainly to self-inflicted wounds over the past many decades. The question that presents itself begging for an answer is: will the leaderships of the two countries now rise to the occasion and tackle the root cause of the underlying disease rather than being content with paying lip service to mere alleviation of the symptoms? Meanwhile, the man in the street can do no more than wait and see – all the while hoping and praying for the best.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

EID, EIDS & THEIR IMPLICATIONS

COL [R] RIAZ JAFRI


I do not remember celebrating such an insipid and bland Eid ul Fitr as of this year at my home town Peshawar ever since I gathered my senses. The Eid was always a festive occasion full of joy for all. Men offered Eid prayers dressed in their best in throngs and multitudes. People called upon relatives and friends throughout the day embracing and back thumping each other. The children thrilled at the local fairs and the merry-go-rounds and spent their Eidees on candies, eatables and toys to their hearts’ content. Nothing of the sorts was seen this year. Partly due to the lurking fear of the suicide bombers, but mostly because of the handiwork of our mullahs and politicians. No one seemed to be sure if it was the real day of Eid or still the last day of Ramadan and fasting! A young man known for his piety in the neighbourhood was asked by the Pesh Imam of the mosque to quit Eitekaf as the Shawwal moon had been sighted. The man was shocked to find that everyone at home was observing fast and he was the only one ‘celebrating’ Eid.


There must have been many more cases like that. Half the family observing fast and the other half celebrating Eid. Why did it all happen and how to put an end to it all needs some serious introspection. It was an accepted fact even before the partition days that a few districts/cities of the NWFP such as Mardan, Shabqadar, Charsada, Swabi etc. used to commence fasting and also celebrate Eid ul Fitr a day or two earlier than the rest of the province and country. The general raison d’etre for it was that the villagers around bigger cities wished to have the Eid at their homes and with their near and dear ones and then take off for the towns the next day to beat it up there well and proper. Movies, rides, roulette/betting at the fairs in the cities were the main attractions for them. However, with the passage of time and overall general development in the villages/towns, particularly after the creation of Pakistan, the nearby cities lost their charm and the villagers though now not thronging the cities yet, retained their tradition of starting the fast a day or two earlier and consequently celebrating the Eid also the same way.


So far so good and no body seemed to have objection to it. However, soon this practice acquired a political tinge and colour. These areas were and at times even now are the stronghold of the followers of Bacha Khan (Abdul Ghaffar Khan – also called Sarhadi Gandhi) a notable leader of great eminence of All India National Congress party, who after the partition launched the Red Shirts movement in Pakistan which gave birth to the NAP (National Awami Party) and now the ANP. Late Bacha Khan had no love lost for Pakistan and made no secret of it either, to the extent that he willed to be buried in Afghanistan (Jalalabad) after his death which was according to him a free country and Pakistan a slave country.


He and his followers have played and are playing abundantly the Pushtoon card. First they demanded Pukhtoonistan – an independent state on both sides of Durand Line and extending up to River Jhelum in Pakistan. They have still not given up the idea though have changed the strategy – a subtle strategy of indirect approach. In that first the name of the NWF province is to be changed to Pukhtoonkhwa resembling Pukhtoonistan and reminding people all the time of its roots and reason of its origin. Simultaneously, by alienating itself on such national, cultural and religious days a message is to be sent to the rest of Pakistan and the world in general that the Pukhtoonkhwa is ideologically and ethnically different and not part of Pakistan. It is not incumbent upon it or its provincial government to follow the common practices and announcements of Pakistan. In matters of religion and common tradition it aligns itself either with Afghanistan or the Saudi Arabia. In times to come the Durand Line is to be undone gradually so that the Pukhtoons on both sides could move freely without travel documents. Naturally, the ANP leaders and followers would like to pay homage to the Mizar of Bacha Khan frequently and as and when someone desires. Why visas and pass ports, what for?
Eid ul Fitr provides them with the psycho-religio opportunity of subtly influencing the mind of the naïve, as the people are highly religious. Since the first-day-moon is usually very thin and up on the horizon for a short period its sighting can be difficult and hence disputed. It is for this very reason that the innocent masses can be misled who do not accept the modern technological means and the computing methods invented by the Kuffars and Mushrik – the Westerners. To them the word of the mullah is final which is a God sent opportunity abundantly exploited by the old Congressites like Bilour brothers who are not even remotely Pukhtoon by any count.


Mufti Shahbuddin Popalzai, chairman of Peshawar-based unofficial Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, on the strength of the evidence of about 40 eye witnesses announced Eid to be celebrated on Sunday the 20th of September 2009 after only 28 days of fasting during the month of Ramadan. The rest of the country celebrated Eid on Monday 21st September as per the verdict of Mufti Muneeb ur Rehman – Chairman official Ruet e Hilal Committee Pakistan. Mufti Popal Zai asked his followers to fast for one day (Qaza e Roza) for the day that they did not fast in the beginning of the month of Ramadan. Who is right and who is right should not be difficult in this modern era to determine.


Even a child knows that the moon is needed to determine the number of the day and the sun the season. Just by looking at the moon on any night one can say how old it is. Then we have Puran Mashi the full moon complete circle - on the 14th night and exact semi circles – half moons - on the 7th and 21st of the lunar month, which one can judge very accurately with the naked eye. According to Mullah Popalzai the full moon should fall on Friday 2nd October and according to Mufti Muneeb it should fall on Saturday 3rd October 2009. We can also find out who is right and who is wrong on the 7th Shawwal falling on the 25th of September for Mullah Popalzai and on or 26th September for Mufti Muneeb. Similarly we can do the exercise on 21st Shawwal falling either on the 9th or 10th of October correspondingly for Popalzai or Muneeb ur Rehman. As simple as that!
To my mind, Mufti Shahbuddin Popalzai has committed a big blunder by waiting till the 28th of Ramazan in announcing that a Roza had been missed in the beginning of the month. He could have very easily found it out by determining the life of the Ramadan moon on ANY given night after a few days, when the moon had taken a reasonably recognisable shape, particularly on the 7th or 14th of the month when the moon was either exact half circle or full circle, and warned the people of the Roza they had missed. This would have corrected the date and the day then and there. By his not doing so, the Akhri Ashra which is the most important Ashra has gone hay wired. Those sitting in Eitekaaf could not start it on the exact evening. All taaq (odds) nights have become Juft (even) nights. Important Taaq nights to search Laila tul Qadr, Sataeesween – the night of Nazool e Quran - and the duration of the Eitekaf have all been disturbed. Who is to be blamed for it? As we have still a few days and nights left for the full moon and the half moons to appear, I suggest the entire nation should watch for these and determine once for all whom to follow – the Popalzais or the official Ruet e Hilal Committee. It is time we decided for ourselves and not be exploited anymore politically or religiously.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

LIMITED WAR & EMERGING THREAT

ASIF HAROON RAJA


The process of evolution of warfare is never ending. From the limited wars of kings to both the world wars, the world has seen a variety of the forms of warfare. The possibility of a full fledged armed conflict has been dampened by the emerging trends in the complex global security environment. Limited war on the other hand is now becoming an important element of modern warfare. The term limited war was introduced in the 1960s. It refers to a wide range of politico-military activities less intense than conventional war. In the words of Lauren B. Thompson limited war is a limited venture that requires neither national mobilization nor an extensive commitment. Martin van Crevald in his famous book “The transformation of war” has said that limited war has rendered obsolete the large scale conventional war for which soldiers now train.


Limited war finds its mention in ancients Hindu scriptures like Arthshastra where Chanakya Kautillya in 303 BC refers to it as TUNSIM YUDH, which is silent warfare, conducted in a quiet manner by spreading rumours and disaffection in the ranks of the enemy forces. However, modern day theory has its origins in the 17th century. It was mainly based on experiences of Spanish wars of succession and later wars fought by Frederick the Great. During 17th and 18th centuries, Balkans were the main scenes of banditry.


During the era of Ming dynasties, insurgency was a regular feature in northern China. 19th century was the century to Europe in which European based colonial powers reigned supreme. Seeds for limited war were planted in affected areas. We saw a glimpse of it closer to home in War of Independence in 1857. In early 19th century (1808-1813), first major guerrilla bands appeared in Spain against the French. This movement introduced the term “guerrilla”. In mid 19th century the link between insurgency and radical political movement was first established. In 1916, Lawrence of Arabia succeeded in initiating an Arab uprising against Turks. After World War 1, partisan insurgency in Siberia and Russia were witnessed. According to many observers, the modern day guerrilla warfare owes its origin to Mao Tse Tung. Since 1945, there have been over 160 armed conflicts around the world. Over 20 million people died world wide in these hostilities, nearly all of them belonging to the developing countries.


International environment and acquisition of nuclear deterrence by India and Pakistan have restricted freedom of action of both countries to wage all out conventional war. However, atmosphere of hostility between the two countries will continue to exist due to the outstanding issue of Kashmir. Post 9/11 scenario has added new and dangerous elements to the external and internal security environments of the country. Therefore, limited war is a threat that cannot be ignored and demands appropriate response and understanding of its political ramifications and military complexities. While limited war threat is comprehensively planned and executed, so must be the response.


Subversion, sabotage, terrorism, insurgency, counter insurgency, internal security, guerrilla war, and asymmetric warfare are other terminologies associated with limited war. India has not only based its Cold Start Doctrine on basis of limited war but is also actively engaged in above noted forms of warfare internally and externally particularly against Pakistan. In the face of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence, India is following the guidelines of Kautillya and the saying of Sun Tzu who said, “Conventional war should only be resorted to if enemy cannot be overthrown by activities of spies and agents sowing dissentions and nurturing subversion”.
Late John F. Kennedy had said, “Limited war is another type of war, new in its intensity, ancient in its origin. War by guerrillas, subversives, assassins, war by ambush instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy it preys on economic unrest and ethnic conflicts and these are the kinds of challenges that will be before us in the next decades. If freedom is to be saved, a whole new kind of strategy, a wholly different kind of military training will be needed”. Pakistan military and other South Asian states will have to evolve a new doctrine and different kind of training model to meet the emerging threat.


The writer is a Rawalpindi based defence, security analyst.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

MYTH AND REALITY OF PAKISTAN

B A MALIK


Myth is based on belief before understanding while reality is founded on understanding before belief. Myth is therefore by nature irrational and reality is rationally rooted scientific inquiry .Myths by definition block thinking and encourage addiction to living in the past perceived to be golden. The history of Pakistan is heavily penetrated and dominated by beliefs and notions which lack objective reality .As myths are emotional rather than rational the holders of the former become dogmatic and extremist labeling every alternative as blasphemy and apostasy .This is the real crisis of the state of Pakistan. An attempt has been made in this piece to catalogue major myths which have defined the psychology of the nation since it’s independence from foreign occupation .The list may not have encompassed all of our myths but it does enumerate the most widely held beliefs.
Pakistan is unfit for democracy because the people don’t understand this concept and they deserve a system which suits their genus .Ayub Khan had once unabashedly remarked that democracy flourishes in cold climate only .The people have been brainwashed and duped to accept this thesis without question. Islam and democracy are opposites .This idea has been drilled into public consciousness by the erstwhile mullah led apparatus of the state .That Islam is democratic in spirit and that democracy is Islamic in character have been lost in the issueless debate ravaging our print media and electronic waves. This myth is the mother of all manners of terrorism we are facing today..The country is more important than the constitution .This thesis which has been popularized by the advocates of the infamous law of necessity has landed us in a cal de sac from which we have not been able to extricate ourselves so far.


Mush enlarged press freedom more than any other ruler .This is utter nonsense because dictatorship and press freedom do not match. Myth #5.Pakistani Generals alone are the real champions of national interest ,economic development and security of the state .This statement is horrendous because The Washington Quartet consisting of Ayub, Yahya,Zia and Musharraf (an epithet correctly coined by Tariq Ali) have destroyed the national fabric of Pakistan far beyond recognition and repair. Recent disclosures by former spy masters show how the power thirsty Generals have messed up the business of the state. Books written by Ayub and Mush distorted history with abandon .Thank God ,Yahya and Zia did not publish any book although their actions are a louder statement on their treason and geographical as well as moral destruction of the state .This gang of four deprived Pakistan of moral high ground on Kashmir. Only Islamic system can save humanity and only Muslims will be accepted in heaven .Only the Creator knows whom He will admit to the comforts of heaven and why He will keep the rest of humanity out of the said luxury but I know for sure there is no Islamic system which can unite the Muslim world .That the Muslim Ummah stands divided permanently on this issue needs no proof.
India dismembered Pakistan I 1971.India did exploit the “opportunity of the century” but our own blunders primarily led to this colossal debacle. Peace in South Asia is not possible without settlement of Kashmir .This outdated stereotype is belied by the experience of European Union which has become a super state after two world wars between major powers of Europe. Nuclear arsenal is a sure guarantee of national security .The experience of Soviet Union contradicts this assurance. Afghan and Pak Taliban are fighting for the glory of Islam .Nothing is farther from the truth than this deception. America massively interferes in the domestic affairs of Pakistan. True but how can we block this interference without normalization with India and other immediate neighbors?


The parliament ,the government ,the judiciary and the fourth pillar of the state ie. the media owe it to the people to move Pakistan from the darkness of the myths mentioned above to the light of reality and progress .The parliament carries the heaviest burden to accomplish the mission assigned to it by history .The law makers need to gear up speed to match their performance with the spirit of our times .They need to wake up and assert their independence and enforce high moral standards on their fraternity .I am confident, once the constitution of 1973 is restored by parliament to it’s original form all institutions of the state will function to full capacity to eliminate poverty and it’s concomitants .The government performance on the other hand is not as poor as depicted by a powerful section of the media .There is no doubt that the Gillani administration needs to do more for the well being of the poor .The success of the government meanwhile in the fight against extremism and mainstreaming of Gilgit Baltistan as well as Tribal Areas is commendable and needs to be appreciated .Once the war on terror is out of the way the government will find it much easier to address other pressing problems facing the country more aggressively.While mentioning 11 myths above I have hinted at solutions which can help our leaders to break the serpentine grip of inflation, terror, and deprivation.


The judiciary is performing more than it’s share of governance .Other pillars of the state will find it useful to work in unison with the new Judiciary of Pakistan .A section of the media is unfortunately using it’s new found freedom to malign the government and spread speculation, smear and uncertainty .The government must be criticized where it needs to be corrected but in a manner which is objective and constructive .Media must avoid slide into the dreaded past. The government has not disappointed me so far but I expect it to rise higher to the mounting challenges and make Pakistan a place where reason rather than myth rules the roost .History has a lot in store to guide the present leaders .The lessons have to be learnt otherwise the history has the inexorable habit to repeat itself. I have suggested some think tanks to the government .Let us start thinking and take Pakistan out of the woods ,the wilderness and dark shadows of the directionless past .The sacrifices of our martyred heroes can not be wasted for petty personal gains of self seekers masquerading as saviors.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

THE TWIT AND HIS TWITTERING..!

ROBERT CLEMENTS


“Does the Twit know what he is doing? That nobody expresses his views out loud, says anything, even thinks before clearing it with the High Command? Who is this man? Who does he think he is? Why is he twitting? How long will this Twit last?”


These and other questions are disturbing members of the ruling party as they learn about the Twit’s latest twit on the twitter. “The problem with the Indian minister-of-state for external affairs,” said a famous psychiatrist as he looked in the general direction of Delhi, “Is that he hasn’t learnt to shut up!”


“Imagine if he’d become the UN Secretary-General,” said his assistant, also a psychiatrist but still learning the profession. “Imagine him twitting after an Israeli Palestinian peace talk that the Palestinians are a bunch of jokers and that Jerusalem was were the holy cows grazed?” “I agree,” grinned the famous psychiatrist, “But he can be taught to shut his mouth!”


“How would you do that sir?” “Just one tablet before a cabinet meeting,” said the psychiatrist holding out a blue pill, “and the problem will be solved!” “What is it?” asked the assistant, “It looks like those blue pills that help you in bed?” “Exactly,” said the famous psychiatrist smiling, “But this blue pill works on the mind. The Twit feels like a small inconsequential nobody in the cabinet, with this pill his real self will emerge, he will feel huge and big and with his insecurity gone he will stop twitting!” “May I give him a pill sir?” “Of course, go ahead!” said the psychiatrist. “It will do our nation good!” It was a few days later that the Twit popped a pill into his mouth given to him by the psychiatrist’s assistant before he went off to a regular cabinet meeting. “So how are you my friend?” asked the PM as he looked fondly at the young man. “You are not my friend!” growled the Twit.“And why is that?”” asked the PM pleasantly.“You have made me shift from the Presidential Suite!” said the Twit. “The Presidential Suite is only for Presidents and not for minister’s of state!” said the PM firmly.
“And you are making me fly cattle class! Cattle class is meant only for holy cows and buffaloes like you!” The psychiatrist’s assistant looked at his boss, “Sir I think the pill failed!” Why what happened?” “The Twit might lose his job!”


“Then the pill worked!” said the psychiatrist, “It exposed his giant sized ego! Cabinet posts are not meant for king sized egos but for those who shut their mouths, close their twitting fingers and serve country and people silently...!”

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

HEART DISEASES

 

The World Health Organisation (WHO), on the occasion of the World Heart Day, has issued a dire warning that heart ailments are likely to become an epidemic within 15 to 20 years. Already heart diseases take a heavy toll of lives, over 17.2 million globally, each year. What is, however, so galling is the fact that 80 per cent of such deaths are avoidable if only people can change their habits in relation to tobacco, unhealthy diet and physical inactivity. Even in Bangladesh the risk factors of heart disease are worryingly showing an upward trend. About 24 per cent rural and 25 per cent urban adults have high blood pressure, a cause for potential heart ailments.
Clearly, the emphasis should be on preventive aspects rather than on the curative. Since the rule of thumb is not very difficult to follow, there is an urgent need for launching a vigorous campaign to make people aware of the risk factors as well as encourage them to follow a daily health routine. The routine has to take into consideration the convenience of the people vis-à-vis their work and other schedules. Once proper motivation is in place, the rest is simply managing one's own life in one's own style and interest.


Sure enough there is a need for striking a balance between individual life and social life. If the authorities know they also have much to gain from costly but persuasive programmes aimed at health benefits of workers and even of common people, they will definitely opt for changes in service rules and health policies. The benefits will outweigh the costs. For example, non-smokers may get an extra point in matters of promotion and other benefits. Then those who take regular exercise can be given yearly incentive bonuses. A few such measures can help bring about revolutionary changes in the lifestyle of employees and people in general.

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

VANISHING TREES

 

Despite a long-standing national ban on logging and increasing global concerns about deforestation, illegal logging continues unabated in Bangladesh. Evidently law enforcement is lax and the required urgency is just not there. As it is, Bangladesh has less than four per cent of vegetative cover, which ideally should be around 25 per cent. But far from increasing its forest cover the country is fast losing whatever it has.


The amount of virgin forest is negligible and many of the protected forests like the semi-deciduous Madhupur forest in the central region have been thinned out. The forests of north Bengal, which were quite significant in the '60s, have all but vanished. The last patches of forest left in the country are in Sylhet and Chittagong Hill Tracts. But those too are increasingly coming under threat from loggers.


It is understandable that logging in the reserved forests cannot take place without the connivance of forest officials and other law enforcement agencies concerned. This has to stop somewhere and we must end this deadly game, sooner than later. A significant enhancement of the penalty for such offences would unquestionably discourage offenders from repetition.


Then enactment of laws alone is not enough to ensure compliance. Those in charge must feel that they have a job to do, which is of great national and global significance. But for that to happen the administration has to take some severe deterrent action against the current offenders along with their accomplices. If this is not done, no amount of exhortation will change the ground reality. At a time when global climate change is right on top of the global political agenda and Bangladesh is projected to be most vulnerable, it is strange that we are hastening the destruction of the last patches of our "carbon sinks."

 

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THE INDEPENDENT

EDITORIAL

KNOW YOUR VICE-PRESIDENT..!

 

Sure, you know your President, you got to know her, because if you're travelling to the airport and miss your flight it's because her terribly long cavalcade and she sure has a stream of cars and ambulances and police jeeps, mucked up your travel plans and everybody else's travel schedules. But the Vice-President? Just imagine a show, something like 'Kaun Banega Crorepati' or 'Smarter Than a Fifth Grader,' and you come onto the show, all confident and sure of yourself, wave to the crowd do a hi five to Amitabh, a hi five to the computer and then Amitabh asks, "Name the third Vice President of India?"


 "The what?"


 "The third Vice-President?"


 "May I use 'Phone a friend?"


 "And who is this friend?"


 "My dad!" And you phone your dad and ask, "Dad who's the third Vice-President of India?"


 "Put me on to Amitabhji!"


 "Dad you got to answer the question!"


 "Put me on to Amitabhji!" And you put him on, "Amitabhji, I think this is ridiculous, why don't you ask my son simple questions about stem cell research or the names of all the craters on the moon, but this is not on!"


"Okay," says the Big B, "Who is the present Vice-President?" And you look at the audience who look as puzzled as you, then look at Computerji and quietly walk back and out. And just near the door you turn round and ask the Big B, "Do you know the answer?"


 "My job is to ask," says the Big B, going red faced, "Now let's take a break!" I agree that the VP is also Chairman of the Upper House, another institution which is more a relic than of any use except to give a retirement pension to unneeded politicians and government servants who want to stay on in Delhi at government expense. But who really knows the VP? He needs more visibility! "Madam President I need more visibility!"


 "Mr Vice President will you step behind me, that cameraman is taking a photo!"


 "Madam where are you tomorrow and day after and the day after that?"


 "Tomorrow I open a shop at Mumbai, the day after one at Gauhati, and after that back in Mumbai for another opening!"


 "Let me look after one of those openings?"


 "What? I have only one term not two like the US presidents!" And so the VP remains unknown, unrecognised, unheard, a good question to ask so no one wins the millionaire show! You want to win a million; know your Vice President...!

bobsbanter@gmail.com

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

GOOD START FOR G20

MR RUDD DID VERY WELL TO ENSURE AUSTRALIA WILL BE HEARD.

 

AS a young diplomat, Kevin Rudd undoubtedly aspired to changing the world for the better, and now he has helped do it. From the start of the global financial crisis, the Prime Minister was a strong advocate for the G20 co-ordinating a worldwide response and he has served Australia well in ensuring that it has happened. Last week's G20 meeting in Pittsburgh has decided that this group of 20 countries, representing 90 per cent of the world economy, will now be the peak international economic forum, replacing the G8 that included only industrial powers from the northern hemisphere. Reflecting the way the world has changed, the G20 includes southern hemisphere agriculture and energy exporters and Asian industrial powerhouses, India and China, Brazil and Australia, all countries that will drive global growth through the coming century. That Australia now has a voice in the councils where problems in the global economy are debated is enormously important. Australia is the 14th-largest economy, with one in five jobs tied to international trade and with such a globalised economy it is essential our voice is heard.

 

But while the G20 will serve Australian interests far better than the old colonialists club that was the G8, it has certainly not solved the global financial crisis, nor will it ever tailor one-size-fits-all economic answers for its members. Although Wayne Swan points to the G20 agreement that member countries continue stimulus spending as vindication of the government's strategy, our circumstances are superior to most member countries and what is necessary in Europe and the US is no necessary indication of what is required here if the evidence of a return to growth is correct. Nor do all the G20's prescriptions automatically apply to our circumstances. That the meeting instructed finance ministers of member countries to come up with ways to fund greenhouse gas cuts in developing countries before the Copenhagen climate change conference in December is a positive step. But it does not make the case for the Rudd government to force a vote on its emissions trading scheme before then. And while the G20 has committed members to an overhaul of global financial governance, expanding the role and membership of the Financial Stability Board, an assembly of regulators and central bankers, the domestic politics of member countries are too diverse for a prescriptive approach. The French and Germans, for example, wanted a cap on bankers' pay set in Pittsburgh, which the US would not accept.

 

In the end, the circumstances of countries across the planet are simply too diverse for the G20 to be anything other than a meeting of sovereign states seeking consensus. That French President Nicolas Sarkozy said countries that do not tackle climate change could face increased tariffs is as much an attack on agricultural exporters in support of French farmers as it is a move to reduce carbon emissions. And sooner or later, the world economy is set for another slump unless China and the US work out a way to address the impact of the underpriced Chinese currency and the US's unsustainable deficit. But while national interests will inevitably assert themselves, the global financial crisis made a paramount role for the G20 unavoidable. However, what is inevitable is not always obvious. Mr Rudd did well to recognise that the bilateral diplomacy George W. Bush and John Howard preferred is out of date, and even better to ensure Australia is well-positioned in the new arrangement.

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

THE WORLD CANNOT ACCEPT A NUCLEAR IRAN

TEHRAN MUST STOP ENRICHING URANIUM OR FACE SANCTIONS.

 

A ROGUE state announces it has secretly developed a capacity to create weapons of mass destruction and demands the world leave it alone- now where we have heard that before? With Iran admitting it has a second, hitherto hidden nuclear enrichment plan, the world faces a new crisis of a North Korean kind. For years, North Korea has bluffed and blustered, denying it was creating a nuclear weapons program and then threatening to use them, depending on which approach suited. Iran watched how Pyongyang has played world powers off against each other and has used the same approach. The world learned of Iran's nuclear development facility at Natanz only in 2002 when Iranian dissidents revealed it. And now Tehran admits to a second plant. Oil-rich Iran always argues that the centrifuges in its public plant are processing uranium to fuel nuclear-powered electricity generators, and will doubtless say the same about the new one. But it is easy to adapt this process to create the highly enriched uranium that nuclear weapons require. Nor does the Iranian argument that they are being treated unfairly by demands they stop their program stack up against their refusal of an international offer to supply nuclear fuel for power plants. That Tehran is also building medium- range missiles, capable of hitting targets all over the Middle East, demonstrates Iran's aspirations to have both WMDs and the means to deliver them.

 

News of a second plant will especially worry Israel, the target of consistent threats from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and it will terrify the Sunni states of the Arab world who know they have as much to fear from the Persian Shi'ites of Iran as does the Jewish state. As the June elections demonstrated, Mr Ahmadinejad's authority comes less from the electorate than from fundamentalist clerics and the armed forces, especially the religious militia that he uses to suppress dissent. The prospect of such an unstable state possessing WMDs is a risk to world peace that equals the danger from North Korea.

 

The world community will need to improve on its performance in attempting to contain North Korea if it is to convince Iran to give up on building a bomb. For years, the North Koreans have relied on China to reduce pressure from the UN and regional powers. Similarly, the Chinese, who import oil from Iran, have spoken against sanctions on Tehran. The Russians, who have supplied nuclear technology to Iran, have also opposed stringent sanctions and the Europeans have dithered in the UN, as they did for years over attempts to investigate Saddam Hussein's arsenal. Until now, pressure on Tehran has come from the US and Israel, which undoubtedly has plans to attack Iran's facilities if it believes its cities are at risk of nuclear attack - the Israelis mounted a successful surprise attack on a Syrian nuclear facility in 2007. But there are signs the world is now united in thinking Iran has gone too far. French President Nicolas Sarkozy says there must be sanctions by December if Iran does not halt its enrichment program. And at the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, Russia called for an immediate investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is a start, but only that. The main reason North Korea has kept its weapons program in place is diplomatic divisions between Russia and the Chinese and the US and its allies. This must not happen with Iran. The only way to make Tehran end its armaments program is for the world to speak for peace with one voice.

 

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THE AUSTRALIAN

EDITORIAL

GOING THE DISTANCE

WE HAVE SEEN SOME FAST AND FANATICAL FOOTBALL THIS SEASON.

 

WHILE it was not the victory Saints supporters and sentimentalists hoped for, the outcome of the AFL grand final on Saturday was a fair end to a great game. With 22 wins, St Kilda was on track all season to win its first grand final since its only previous title in 1966. And until the final quarter, it looked like it would do it. But in the end Geelong was a fitter, faster and more fanatical side, overwhelming St Kilda's desperate defence in the last quarter. For Saint Kilda, it was a desperate day erasing the achievements of a brilliant season. But for the Cats, it was a triumph to dull the memory of last year's grand final loss to Hawthorn. With two flags in three seasons, a 44-year premiership drought no longer dogs the Cats.

 

While it may be irrelevant to disconsolate Saints supporters and exultant Geelong loyalists, this was a grand final that people who did not care who won will remember. Certainly it was a low-scoring game: but although Geelong prevailed by just 80 to 68, every point was paid for with skill, sweat and pain. It was certainly a more engrossing game than the Cats 119-point demolition of Port Adelaide in the 2007 grand final. Saturday saw a fitting end to a great season.

 

There will be as much emotion in next Sunday's National Rugby League grand final. The Melbourne Storm is in its fourth consecutive grand final, but has won only one of the previous three. And Parramatta has come from eighth place to secure a grand final berth by beating the Bulldogs. Stand by for as titanic a struggle as we saw in Melbourne on Saturday.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS - AND MORE HOURS

 

THE confirmation by the Treasury Secretary, Ken Henry, that the jobless rate will peak below the Government's previous forecast of 8.5 per cent is certainly welcome. But simply to celebrate that headline fact is to ignore the real pain in the job market. The jobless rate is still expected to climb from here, not reaching its zenith until late next year, meaning more individual careers in tatters and more families unable to pay the mortgage. But, as Henry points out, the real impact of this economic downturn has been felt through reduced working hours.

 

The Herald has previously praised the efforts of employers who have eschewed job cuts in favour of temporarily reducing staff working hours. Many employers have negotiated with their staff for them to work a four-day week, rather than five. It is a direct result of the foresight and flexibility of both employers and employees that official statistics have recorded only a modest rise in the unemployment rate from a generational low of 3.9 per cent last February to 5.8 per cent.

 

But this headline figure masks a tectonic shift under way in the job market from full-time to part-time employment. So as 200,000 full-time jobs have been shed, part-time employment has increased by about 180,000. As Henry points out, this has led to a substantial fall in total working hours. Adding it up, Treasury calculates the loss of hours is equivalent to the loss of more than 230,000 jobs. That is a staggering figure.

 

No doubt there will be a few employees who are happy with a few extra hours or days off each week. But the vast majority of these formerly full-time employees have joined the ranks of the underemployed - part-time employees who would prefer to be working more hours. So it is not true that if you have kept your job, this downturn has not affected you. A growing number of employees are now struggling with a lack of hours. The associated drain on family incomes can mean the difference between meeting the mortgage repayment that month, or not.

 

It goes a long way to explaining why this downturn has felt so much like a recession for so many, even if the official figures deny it. The Rudd Government must continue its focus on jobs, jobs, jobs. But as the recovery gathers pace, employers must also do the right thing and, as soon as possible, reinstate the working hours of their dedicated staff.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE WICKET IS GETTING STICKIER

 

A STEADY parade of federal ministers, including Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan, has visited India recently to counter Australia's bad image from assaults on Indian students in Sydney and Melbourne. Last week, it was the turn of John Brumby, Victoria's Premier, to tell Indians that Australia really is a welcoming place for their students. As Matt Wade wrote in the Herald on Friday, Australian racism has replaced cricket as a topic about which Australians in India are now questioned. But a new report on social trends, from the Bureau of Statistics, tells another side of a story that poses Australian policymakers big challenges once the latest kerfuffle has passed.

 

India and China, the world's fastest-growing emerging economies, are now Australia's biggest markets for overseas students. Together they accounted for almost 40 per cent of the $13.7 billion Australia earned in export income from educating overseas students in 2007-08. The growth from India, in particular, has been staggering. Indian students' enrolments rose by around 46 per cent a year over the six years to June, almost three times the Chinese enrolment growth rate.

 

Indian students here have flocked to so-called vocational courses, located in some suburbs where crime risks are higher. The Chinese, by contrast, have stuck more to universities. But the surge in student numbers reflects a similar rise in skilled immigrants from China and India. Last year, the 550,000 Australian residents from those countries accounted for 10 per cent of our overseas-born population, versus just 3 per cent 20 years earlier. The Chinese and Indians here are up to three times more likely to hold a university degree than Australians as a whole. They are much younger than the average population, speak English well and are most likely to be qualified in management, commerce, engineering and information technology.

 

So a picture emerges of an entrepreneurial group from which any country could benefit. Australia's first foray into overseas education through the Colombo Plan, almost 60 years ago, was largely a paternalistic exercise in giving clever students from Asia a chance to study here. The 21st century version is more market-driven, in which Australia must compete with Canada, the US and other rich countries for the best. In doing so, Australia should look upon education as a golden chance of making soft diplomacy in our region work to our benefit. China is now our biggest trading partner, India our seventh biggest (with education services a strong part of the picture). The nexus between trade, education and diplomacy is too big for Canberra to get this one wrong.

 

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THE GURDIAN

EDITORIAL

LABOUR IN BRIGHTON: HEY, HO, THE WIND AND THE RAIN

 

"By swaggering could I never thrive," the Fool sings in Twelfth Night, "for the rain it raineth every day." Gordon Brown must know how the poor man felt. He is sinking politically, his decline painful to watch, goaded by questions about his health, his relationship with the American president and the cabinet's intentions. Prime ministers, even when in trouble, should carry a sense of command. Mr Brown has been dominant for most of his career and believes that he deserves to dominate still because of his work in the financial crisis a year ago. He has a point. But no one is impressed. Even the chancellor says the Labour leadership has "lost the will to live". It must be unpleasant to find oneself becoming a victim or, worse, an irrelevance.

 

In the run-up to this week's conference, Mr Brown tried to break the mood in his usual way, but his UN visit went wrong, his G20 action on bonuses was overspun, his policy announcements on debt and health leaked to the weekend press seemed confected, and even his resilient defence of Lady Scotland may prove unsustainable. Not all these things are his fault. In other circumstances, people would not pile unsubstantiated stories on top of each other in order to suggest a crisis. They might have allowed him some breathing space. But before Mr Brown blames others for his troubles – and yesterday his staff were furious with the BBC for allowing Andrew Marr to ask about drug treatments, a question that seemed to horrify him and which he denied – he ought to think what he could do differently.

 

The prime minister still thinks his critics are wrong, that they have been dazzled by the Tories' superficial reinvention and poll success, or mourn the loss of Tony Blair, and that he is the intellectual, rooted leader in British politics. Perhaps it feels like that to him. But he has not managed to convey his sense of purpose to the electorate. Powerful language has not been matched by sustained work. Instead, the government has darted around – yesterday, absurdly, suggesting out of the blue that it would pass a Fiscal Responsibility Act, as if a promise from Mr Brown to bind himself into a fiscal straightjacket would impress an electorate that does not believe what he has to say on spending. On bank bonuses he now promises to lead the world, although the Netherlands has already capped them and Britain has not, and his message until now has been that any action must be taken internationally. At the G20 he sided with America against a crackdown on bonus culture.

 

Such contradictions are the reason Mr Brown finds it hard to get a hearing now. His conference speech needs to be different. He must stop talking down to people, restating his record or relying on policy gimmicks. The passages passed to the media yesterday were not encouraging. Even now, a majority of voters do not want the Tories to win. Such people want to hear why they should support Labour. Apart from opposition to the Conservatives, does anyone really have an idea?

 

In many corners of this government there are still bright moments of energy, and there is a cause to fight for. There are good things to say – about the green agenda, which will be discussed today, or economic recovery (or at least an absence of the feared great depression). If Mr Brown can find a way of bringing them to the front, his speech could leave voters clearer about why it is Labour should be re-elected. The fact that no one thinks he will manage it would make the impact greater if somehow he did. He must speak about the world he wants to see after polling day, not the world that has already passed and in which he finds comfort. If he retreats into that, voters will make an obvious judgment: Labour, exhausted, cannot summon up hope. "But that's all one, our play is done," as Shakespeare's fool sings. "For the rain it raineth every day."

 

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THE GURDIAN

EDITORIAL

DRUG TRIALS OUTSOURCING: CLINICAL CONCERNS

 

Human exploitation is a simple concept: one man gains at the expense of another. It is easy to see the rapid trend towards testing new drugs in less developed countries as a contemporary paradigm, whereby possibly desperate individuals are offered experimental drugs that may work – and may not – and which they cannot afford but the west can. There are 50,000 clinical trials under way at any one time. Last month Pfizer paid out £49m to settle claims after a controversial trial for a meningitis drug in Nigeria. China and India – where the business is expected to grow fivefold in two years – offer the major pharmaceutical companies a health infrastructure, technicians and vast populations, often with untreated or undertreated conditions. It is quicker to recruit volunteers, cheaper to conduct and monitor trials and, it is feared, easier to get past ethical rules.

 

The picture is not entirely gloomy. Last week, the Pan-African Clinical Trials Registry was launched, the first in Africa app